Archive for the 'parenting' category

Back when I had a baby and a fellowship rejection in one week

Over four years ago, I came home from the hospital in the evening after a day that started with me thinking I was in labor (and so did the midwives, by the way) but ended with me not being in labor anymore while the baby was still in my uterus. I was exhausted and wanted to go to bed, but just before that I checked my email. Back then, my private email and most of my work email came to the same email address. And there it was: a long awaited email from the EU with the results of whether I was going to get a Marie Curie fellowship to do my own research back in the homecountry. As the EU did back then, the email just said something along the lines of "fellowship results", and then you had to click a link, log into their participant portal, find out that your password has expired, make a new password, log in again to then find a very cryptic message that still did not really say whether you got the money or not. I was exhausted from being in the hospital all day, but my heart was racing at the same time because I wanted to know if I got the fellowship or not.

Fast forward: I did not get the fellowship but I did have the baby 5 days later. And now that I look back at these emails I'm surprised to see that within 2 weeks of giving birth I was emailing with the professor who gave me feedback on this grant on how to rework it into a new grant. I so much wanted to succeed in academia that I kept thinking and working around birthing a baby. But before you get all judgy, I also remember very clearly how this was a way for me to stay connected to my normal world: my world that I was used to and to try and avoid the world I had experienced with my first-born: a world where I felt so alone with a crying baby. I was not - and am still not - someone who can sit still for a long time. I wanted to continue to think about science even though I had just had a baby. I want to take care of a baby and think at the same time.

I was reminded of this when the other day, a journalist tweeted the following:

And of course Twitter had lots of opinions, that Racael Pells summarized for Times Higher Education. But as you can imagine from the story I shared, this could have been me (that is - before you come to the part where she describes that the academic in question was male).

In hindsight, perhaps I wish my work email wouldn't come to my private email address. In hindsight, I wish I wouldn't have checked my email after a long day in the hospital. And in hindsight, I wish I could have been more in the moment with my little baby. I wish I had seen more examples of how people actually do this, as opposed to stories of women who submit manuscripts while in early labor. I wish academia wasn't so much of a linear career path, where I was afraid to take some time to be in the moment with a little baby. But there are many moments in a day. Some moments were spent mindfully bonding with my new baby, and other moments were spent sending emails. That is how it was.

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Thoughts I have when my kid is sick (just a little!)

Feb 07 2018 Published by under parenting, personal posts

This morning, BlueEyes woke up with a slight fever and a bad cold. Nothing really bad, but he clearly couldn't go to school. My thoughts:

"Oh no, my kid is sick."

Immediately followed by: "I'm glad today is Wednesday which is husband's regular day home with the kids so we don't have to arrange something".

"But what if he's still sick tomorrow, then I have a really busy day, so I will have to negotiate who gets to work when. I really don't want to have to miss the meeting that I have".

"I feel really bad and guilty that my first thoughts are about MY job instead of my sick kid."

"What if I had a kid that had an actual illness? I would worry to death and would never be able to think about anything else, how do people cope with that?!"

And then these thoughts continue to go in circles, occupying a good 65% of my brain for most of the day.

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On raising boys in the #metoo era

Jan 18 2018 Published by under everyday sexism, parenting

Yesterday I read this article from a mom writing about raising her girls to say "Don’t say that to me. Don’t do that to me. I hate it.". I don't have daughters but I do have two sons and have been thinking about parenting and what we can do to make a more equal society in which hopefully men won't believe they are powerful enough to abuse women or treat them badly without consequences. Obviously, I am not the first to think about this and the internet offers suggestions such as: not giving different chores to boys and girls, and don't use "like a girl" to say something is inferior. And then there was this great last year's New York Times piece on raising feminist sons.

These are the things that I consiously do to make my kids aware of consent and equality:

1. I always ask for consent to touch or kiss them: I always ask "can I give you a kiss" or "can I give you a hug". This may seem a bit ridiculous to some, and it actually started because my oldest often does not want to be touched and is very particular about when he likes to get a hug. But I also believe it makes it more normal to ask for consent in sexual relationships when you're used to asking for consent to touch each other's body. And now it actually really bothers me when people hug my kids without asking or warning them. I also sometimes talk to them about you being the owner of your body and that you have a say in who does something with it.

2. When it comes to equality I find it harder to find the right tone, especially because Dutch TV has a lot of pretty sexist children's shows. There is a channel that in the morning broadcasts shows like Lego Ninjago and Power Rangers and advertises it with:"BOZ - more for boys!".  And then there are numerous shows that have an element of competition and more often than not the competition will be boys versus girls. With obviously all sorts of tiny little remarks that girls are not as good at a whole bunch of things. I always imagine what it would look like if they wouldn't divide the kids by gender but by race and that would of course never happen on TV! So why does is it so normal and accepted when it comes to gender. Either way, I try to talk to them about this and fortunately (or should I say obviously) my husband and I share a very equal load of household tasks to model to our kids that men and women are very equal in what they can do and contribute. I try to model that for example your preference for particular chores (my husband likes cooking better and I like laundry better) should determine the discussion of who does what rather than what gender you have.

3. I let them cry if they need/want crying. I never say things like: "boys don't cry" or anything along those lines. I listen and let them express whatever needs expressing.

What about you? Do you consciously parent your children in what can be considered a feminist way?

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Repost: To a conference in babyattachmode

Six years ago I went to SfN in DC. It was close enough to where we lived that I could drive, which meant that on the weekend I brought my then 4 month old baby, and on the weekdays I brought my pump. I wrote about what that was like and will repost it below. However, at the time it didn't occur to me to address what a hassle it was to walk back and forth to the designated childcare area. I was a post-doc, I just had a baby and all I did was try to cope with that in whatever circumstances were given. This year, with SfN being in the same conference venue in DC, SfN blogger Rebecca Calisi Rodriguez is addressing the fact that the childcare and lactation "room" is less than ideal.

 

She started a google doc here, where parents and caregivers can leave their suggestions for improvement. I think it is awesome that people speak up about this, because for me, as a young parent and a post-doc, I didn't feel it was my place to speak up and I can imagine more sleep-deprived struggling parents feel that way. However, I do think that for the sake of inclusivity, breastfeeding success and overall happiness of new parents it is SO IMPORTANT to address this. Here is my experience from 6 years ago:

Last year’s society for Neuroscience meeting was right when I went back to work after my maternity leave. And since I had patched a whole bunch of cells while very pregnant, I even had something to present there. The meeting was right around the corner from where I live, which is why I decided that even though BlueEyes was only 4 months old, the whole family was going to the meeting (and in this case, with meeting I mean the actual science-part, and not so much the social and drinking part). So on Saturday and Sunday I put BlueEyes in a baby wrap (Girasol Chococabana for those of you interested), and walked around the conference.

SfN turned out to be very baby-friendly, since they even had a specific room for infant care, where you could nurse and change your baby. The only disadvantage was that this was kind of far away from the poster hall, so after I had checked out a poster or two I had to walk back there to nurse a hungry baby or change a diaper. Oh well, most people walk around the poster hall to meet people they know instead of actually look at the posters anyway, right? A major unexpected disadvantage was that when you show up at someone’s poster with a baby attached to you, they automatically assume that you’ve come to show your cute baby instead of ask a serious science question. So not much science talk for me that weekend…

On Monday BlueEyes went to his usual daycare, and I traded the baby-in-wrap for my breast pump. This was potentially even bulkier and certainly more annoying to drag around all day. The same sort of thing as before happened where I would check out a bunch of posters (at least now I got to ask science-questions and have people answer them), and then have to walk back to the infant care room to pump milk. And after I presented my own poster I realized that whoever thought of four hour poster sessions had probably never lactated him- or herself….
A last thing to note is that the night after we took BlueEyes to SfN, he had his longest night sleep so far (a 6 hour stretch of sleep!). And mind you, this was in November… So I guess nothing puts our baby to sleep like a couple 1000 neuroscience posters!

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The hardest thing I do each week

It is not often that a post sits in my drafts folder for such a long time as this one. I realize the privilege that my biggest worry is the change of pace in a day at home with my kids versus a day at work. It is a major first world problem post. But I'll post it anyway:

I work four days a week, and so does my husband.*  This is very common in my company, and many parents (men and women) do this. Compared to both working five days a week (which we did when we lived in the US), working four and being home with my kids by myself one day very much highlights the difference between those days. And switching from one to the other -to me- is the hardest thing in the week.

At work, I can be focused on my own things, be in the flow and quickly get things finished. It seems like the more I love my work because it a day is so full of energy, the harder it is to be home the day after. At work, there is a totally different mindset than at home, where I need to be patient, and I can only quite vaguely plan the day because generally toddlers have different ideas about priorities than me.

And while I was doubting whether to post this, because I can see it is rather whiny and can definitely be filed under first world problems, I came across this article about a new book that says that the kids - and therefore their parents - from where I live are the happiest in the world:

You won’t find a Dutch mother expressing guilt about the amount of time she spends with her children – she will make a point of finding time for herself outside motherhood and work.

I indeed don't express guilt about the time spent with my kids but I do feel guilty on days where I quietly think to myself that I would rather go to work and be there with my own thoughts than to spend a day trying to get groceries with a 3 year old. And actually, most days at the end of the day I've had a good (and sometimes even relaxing days), but on other days I'm stressing over work emails that continue to come in while my kids are being bored and beating each other over a toy that nobody had looked at for a year but now is the most wonderful thing in the world.

And like with many things, I realize that when it's almost over is when I finally come to enjoy it on most days. Is it because it is easier now that my kids are a bit older? Or have I finally learned how to be patient and how to appreciate the little things...?

 

* In reality, this means that I go into the office 4 days a week, but I generally keep track of my email on my day off, and occasionally call into meetings on that day. The same goes for my husband, who also works at night, which I rarely ever do.

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Tiny sad stories about our society

Jun 23 2016 Published by under parenting, role models

Story 1. A few weeks ago we (husband, BlueEyes, Little Brother and me) went to visit a friend of mine. My friend had pinkish red nail polish on her toe nails and both BlueEyes and Little Brother thought that looked really interesting. My friend asked if they wanted that too, which they did. She painted their toe nails and both of them were incredibly proud to have such pretty looking toe nails. The next day, Little Brother went to daycare, where he proudly showed his toe nails and continued to do so for the next couple of days. BlueEyes went to school and when he left he was very excited to show everyone his nail polish. When he came home at the end of the day, the first thing he asked me was to take it off, because "nail polish is for girls only".

Story 2. In the morning, BlueEyes asks to watch some tv and I turn the tv on for him. We search for a channel and at some point we find the power rangers, which he says he wants to watch.

Me: "I liked watching that too when I was little"

BlueEyes:"But you were a girl when you were little, right?"

Me:"Yes, why?"

BlueEyes:"Because power rangers is only for boys"

I am surprised and ask him why, but then when the show ends I realize why: because the channel specifically says so...

 

How do I tell my children that anyone can become whatever they want and like and wear whatever they want, when society tells them that certain things are for girls and other things are for girls? And when society seems to yell much louder than I ever can?

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Baby vs. work: sometimes you have to choose.

Yesterday, my anonymous friend wrote a guest post about bringing her baby to work and how - for now - this works very well for both of them. On twitter, @crazygradmama said the following:

which I wholeheartedly agreed with. Obviously, not every baby is the same and then we're not even talking about babies with disabilities or illnesses that make it much harder and more intense to care for them. I'm not sure BlueEyes was officially colicky, but he pretty early on was able to make known what his preferences were. He liked to be worn, but only if the person wearing him kept moving when he was awake. Only if he slept, that person could sit down, and he usually only napped for 30-40 minutes at a time, in a pretty unpredictable manner. He did not like to spend much time by himself in a playpen or something like that. He did not like to sit in his carseat and he did not like to be held by unfamiliar people.

In addition, it took quite some time for me to get used to my role as a mother and merge my scientist/professional-me with my mother-me (there's a post brewing about this, but it's not quite done yet). Especially in the beginning this made it kind of uncomfortable to bring my baby to work or to a conference because it felt really weird to be those two roles at the same time. Also, being able to focus on work and a baby on the crappy amount of sleep I was getting seemed a bit much for my already foggy postpartum brain.

With Little Brother, working during my maternity leave was easier. He was a bit less intense than BlueEyes in making known what he wanted and I was a bit better at going with the flow. At home, I put my laptop high enough that I could stand and work, so I could bounce him while wearing him and type at the same time. I took him to work every now and then just to check in at the lab, but we were also moving when he was four months old, so it wasn't that crucial to find a long-term solution of bringing him to work.

With BlueEyes, we were incredibly fortunate that when I had to go back to work three months after he was born, he went to the daycare at our university, where the teacher:baby ratio was 1:2.5. They assigned a particular teacher for each baby, so the babies were mostly cared for by one familiar person. We were fortunate to get a scholarship, because otherwise it would have been difficult to pay for this daycare on two post-doc salaries (and impossible on just one).

Little Brother went to daycare after we moved back to the homecountry, where the teacher:baby ratio was higher, and the amount of different teachers during the week was larger. He really only started to get comfortable there after he was a year old and could walk and start to talk. Before that, on some days he would sleep for 6 hours and barely drink anything (which he caught up on at night). When I was a post-doc, I felt that I should keep working to keep up, and that is also what the amount of maternity leave in most countries suggests. I'm also not sure if I would even want to be home full-time (and I realize that for many, this is financially not an option to even consider). For me, the ideal situation would be somewhere in between: work a couple hours a day, but also be able to be with your baby during the first year.

In the end, I think it is very valuable to share these stories, so that we can learn from each other. I'd like to hear how academics from countries with much longer parental leave have experienced their first year with a baby. Do you actually stop working, and do you think it is harder to get back? Share your experience in the comments or email me if you want to guest post!

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Guest post: Baby vs. work - why choose?

This is a guest post from a friend who would like to remain anonymous. She is a bioinformatics post-doc and a single mom by choice, and this is her story about combining work as a post-doc with being a parent.

 

I am incredibly lucky.

Let’s put that first, because I’m very aware that this is the case: not only do I get paid for doing what I love, but every day I get to bring my infant son with me, too. My boss is OK with it, the department is happy to tolerate my son’s occasional shrieks echoing through the hallway, and my office mate is completely in love with him. (I totally understand that last one, by the way.) Also, I’m not working in the lab at the moment, so there is no risk of spilling acid on my brand new baby. All of this means that I don’t have to choose between work and family: I get to do both, and whichever part insists the loudest gets most of the attention at any given time. I know that not everyone has this option; I am thankful that I do.

Here’s how the logistics work out: I have a playpen in my office, where he spends most of the time gurgling and attacking his mobile while I do low-level work; assembling figures, processing images. When he nurses, I read. In fact, I feel I get a lot more mileage out of my reading time now, as there is very little incentive to multi-task. And when he naps, I get to focus properly, and code or write. (He won’t nap in the playpen, only on me — but it turns out I am perfectly able to code with a three-month-old on my chest, drooling on my shoulder and snoring in my ear.)

That’s not to say that our arrangement does not lead to the occasional conflict. When I am trying to figure out something difficult, and he’s fussy or crying — or simply wanting my attention. Fortunately there is almost always a colleague who doesn’t mind taking a baby for 10 minutes (I never realized how much work could be accomplished in 10 minutes of baby-free time! Take note, ye childless!) while I finish whatever needs doing, so I can then focus on my child.

Also surprisingly doable, I found, are meetings and seminars — provided people are aware that I am there with a baby, and OK with it (or at least not too vocal in their disapproval). Carrying him in a sling usually means he falls asleep, and if he gets fussy I can walk around a bit to calm him down. He’ll never be completely quiet, but really he’s no more disruptive than a random audience member with a cough.

In fact, the biggest barrier to success in that case is me: I once snuck in a seminar after it had already started, with my son sleeping in the sling. Sleeping babies, I found out at that moment, are actually quite noisy, and his occasional squeals made some people turn around to check the source of the sound. That — not the noise itself — made me so self-conscious I spent all my time worrying about being disruptive and trying to shush a sleeping baby.

(Yeah. That makes no sense to me, either.)

Then a few weeks later, I joined a seminar at a university I was briefly visiting. My host quickly pointed out to their colleagues that “we have a very young scientist in the audience!”, everyone smiled, and the speaker started. This time, no one was annoyed at the intermittent baby noises — they already knew he was there, and I knew they knew, so I could relax, too. My host had opened the door so I could walk in and out in case he started to cry. This worked well for me (I could actually focus on the talk!), and while I didn’t poll the audience afterwards, I would guess it worked for them, too.

No, I am not as productive as I used to be and as I would be without him. But low-level productivity is productivity still. For example, when he was 10 days old, I submitted a paper. It took me two days, assembling all the documents and filling out forms in between feeds, diaper changes, and many, many cuddles. I typed the cover letter with one hand (which was not that bad, as my brain was about as slow as my typing at that stage). Nevertheless, at the end of these two days I could tick it off my list. Point here: there is a lot of downtime in taking care of an infant, and you might as well use it. That is not to say you shouldn’t use it for Netflix or naps — I did a lot of that, too — but think of it as an IKEA workday: some assembly required.

I know his is not going to go on forever: in a few short months he’ll be mobile (I both dread and look forward to that time), which will most likely throw a wrench in the works. But I’ll worry about that later: this is precious time in a baby’s life, so every day I get to spend and bond with him is valuable. For now, this is what works for us. And I feel very lucky indeed that it does.

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Random bits of busy

I just noticed it's been a month since I last posted here, which is mostly because it's busy here. Like I wrote before, I have this whole list of things that need to be finished before the end of the year because those are my targets. And really they need to be finished now because higher-up people need to put those things on longer lists to show the even higher-up people what we have been doing all year.

In the meantime on the internet, IBM did a poor attempt at drawing girls/women (?) into science and technology with the #HackAHairDryer hashtag. I agree fully with what @wandsci said on twitter about this:

And this:

 

I do this. Every time BlueEyes says:"this is for boys and that is for girls" I correct him and tell him anyone can be this or that. So for now, I have this awesome NASA video that we watched ad nauseam when BlueEyes had a space shuttle period, that shows men and women astronauts in a space station.

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A day in my life

Recently, The New PI asked what people outside academia do in a random work day. That random day is today, Monday November 9th.

As you know, I left academia a bit over a year ago and I now work as an R&D scientist in a company. To keep it kind of vague because of trying to stay somewhat pseudonymous here, I'll only disclose that my company makes stuff for patients and that we do preclinical and clinical studies to see if that stuff does something for the patients.

6:00 am: husband wakes me up after a night in which Little Brother was up a couple times and husband took him to the living room around 5ish but let me sleep for a bit longer. I make breakfast while husband showers and then all four of us have breakfast together. Then I shower while husband makes lunch for himself, BlueEyes and me (Little Brother gets lunch at daycare) and around 7:15 am Little Brother and I leave the house to cycle to daycare and work (husband brings BlueEyes to school which only starts at 8:30).

8:00 am: I arrive at work after dropping Little Brother off at daycare. I search for a spot in our open office, chat with colleagues and read my emails. I had already opened my email Sunday evening to see how much I could expect but now take the time to properly read them and respond. Then coffee with colleagues.

9:00 am: We are working on a big grant (yup, EU likes to fund public-private partnerships, so lots of grant writing still even outside academia) and I'm trying to decide what I can do before we have a meeting about this grant that I am chairing. I also need to prep for this meeting.

9:15 am: Unexpected fire drill. We all leave the building and go to the meeting spot outside. I chat with a colleague I had never met about what kind of work she does, which is interesting. Then I chat with our preclinical manager about an experiment I'm planning with a CRO and what I need to do for that. So not entirely wasted this fire drill time.

10:00 am: Meeting about the grant. Writing the grant precipitated some decisions about what direction to go, which still needs to be aligned with the marketing and regulatory people. This kind of stuff really distracts from the actual writing, which also needs to happen. Also, we have not yet heard from everyone in the consortium yet, even though we plan to have a first draft ready by the end of the week. Yikes, stressful.

11:00 am: Coffee with my manager who couldn't attend the meeting about the grant to update them. Again more about the larger decisions and why we had not made those earlier than about the grant.

11:30 am: Back at my desk staring at the grant. Typed a little section, tried to call one of the consortium members but left a message on their voicemail.

12:00: lunch with colleagues, chatting about a conference someone had just been and what they had seen there. Joking about how close the field is to a cure (not..).

12:30: back at my desk, more emails (about the experiment with the CRO) and prepping for a group of MSc students that are coming to visit the company later in the day.

1:00 pm: some more grant writing. Okay and some procrastination on twitter. And some panic about whether or not the experiment with the CRO is going to happen. The money needs to come from this year's budget so if I can't make it happen before the end of the year it won't happen at all.

2:00 pm: give a talk to the students together with another colleague about what our company does, how we got these jobs and what kind of work we do now. It's a really nice and interactive group of students who ask a ton of question. Then we give them a tour around our (new and pretty amazing looking) building.

4:00 pm: the students have just left and I briefly chat with a colleague. Then I look at the grant and try to figure out what I can still do while tired from the students visiting. I write a short boring section that still needed to be done.

4:45 pm: I check the weather forecast (rain for the next hour) and leave to pick Little Brother up from daycare. I am lucky today that husband worked from home and picked up BlueEyes, because normally I cycle first to the daycare (that is close to work) and then to the after school care (that is close to home) and then home. Husband has also already cooked so we eat together at 6:00 pm.

6:45 pm: we start the whole bath, toothbrush, read a story routine that lasts until 7:30 pm (which is a good day :-)..).

7:30 pm: answer a couple emails, write this blog post and then it's time to watch Walking Dead with husband (only in season 2, so no spoilers please!).

 

 

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