Taking the Baby Plunge: Q&A

Nae left a comment on a previous post with several questions related to my pregnancy. I'm glad you asked, Nae, as others might have been wondering the same thing. I've decided to address them here in sort of an interview format.

Was becoming pregnant a hard decision to make?

No, it was pretty easy. I'm grinning right now at your assumption that the pregnancy was a conscious decision on my/our part. But there was no way I could have played that off with a straight face: "oh, wow, this pregnancy was quite a surprise, but we're happy and will make the best of this unexpected situation!" Nah. Academic woman falls pregnant, baby is due in early May, just as the spring semester ends. How convenient...

What, after what you've been through, made you decide that now is the right time?

To start at the beginning, I should mention that until I was in about my late twenties, I didn't want children at all. Then I still didn't really WANT want them, but I did kind of think that having them was slightly preferable to not having them. So that covers me until I was in graduate school (first starting my PhD program). Beyond that, the general consensus in academia, expressed in forums, blogs, Chronicle articles, etc., is that graduate school is the best time to have a child. That's great if the situation works out; however, I wasn't just going to "have kids in graduate school" without being in a stable relationship with someone else who also wanted kids. At that point I still wasn't old enough to be brave enough to cease waiting for a relationship and pursue single parenthood. If I hadn't met and married Jonathan, though, I certainly would've gone ahead and had a child by myself, probably by around age 34-36.

Anyway, while I did get together with Jonathan in graduate school, I was almost finished by that time, having finished my comprehensive exams. I could have slowed my dissertation writing waaaaaaay down to sort of see how things would play out with him, but then I'd have been prolonging the dissertation phase for four or five years: let's say two years of building the relationship and making a commitment, nine months of pregnancy, and then a year or two of the intense attention an infant requires. And keep in mind, our relationship was long distance for about the first year and a half. I think I made the right decision to not deliberately put off finishing just so that I could have a child in graduate school.

So that's why I didn't do it *then.* Why am I doing it *now*? For a few reasons:

1. I have a great marriage, so lack of a stable relationship isn't an obstruction.

2. When I was born, my mother was 35 and my father was 37, and I'm an only child. All the time, people thought my parents were my grandparents. I have always thought I would never want to be as old as they were when I had kids -- not when I *started* having them, anyway.

3. I'm an only child (see above). So is Jonathan. Our child, then, will be starting out never to have any aunts, uncles, or cousins. It's very important to us that he has siblings at least, and (hopefully) nieces and nephews. I wanted to start out having children before it's too late or too difficult for me to have more than one.

4. I'm 33 years old now. By the time I go up for tenure, if I go up for tenure here, I'll be 39. Confronting that fact, I put my foot down and said that come what may, I was absolutely never, ever going to wait for the tenure decision to try to have a child. Doing that, to me, would have been just absurd. I reasoned that if I'm going to try to have a child without tenure, I might as well go ahead and do it now, at age 33 (actually, 32 at the time).

As a newly married woman entering a career with much potential, how do you make the choice to have a child?

You might be surprised by this answer. I think it's because I'm more confident now than I have been in the past. I know I'm productive, I'm talented, and I have a strong work ethic. I make significant contributions, I have good ideas, and I'm collegial. I'm an asset, and I really believe the people in my department and university are smart and sophisticated enough to understand that that will not change and I will not suddenly become worthless once I have a child. And for the sake of argument, even if it turns out they did think that, I believe I would be able to find another job in a department that would recognize the work I do.

Is having a child something you can speak rationally about right now (in a pregnant state)?

Oh yeah. I haven't noticed any kind of "pregnancy brain" sloppiness; I'm not convinced that exists. I am a little more emotional than usual, but I'm trying to process it whenever I get all weepy and what-not. I think that mentally, I'm about the same as I always was, but Jonathan may come in here with a retort.

Is it really one of those things you "have to experience" before you can comment?

I don't think so. You can have empathetic speculation about how you think you'd feel or behave, or what you think you'd do. It helps if you have a lot of friends who are pregnant or who have babies/small children.

Does being pregnant "change" you? Have any of your outlooks/positions on life changed? Do you see the world differently?

Actually, right now I'm reading -- finally! -- Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution by Adrienne Rich. She has three sons, and I'm having a boy, so I'm starting to notice and think about things I wouldn't have otherwise, but I still have the same world view I had pre-pregnancy. Perhaps when he's born I will go through a significant perspectival shift.

Does your husband view/treat you differently now that you are carrying "your" offspring?

No, not really; he's wonderful, just like he has always been. I'm going to address your very last question in this answer too, the one about the yours/ours distinction. I think it's easier for me to think of our little guy as ours because he's a boy. Jonathan is going to be responsible for a LOT of key components of his upbringing because of that. I keep thinking about all these things I have no idea about and would never be able to teach him, especially all-male social situations like how to behave in a locker room, how to participate in rough play, or the finer points of urinal etiquette. If anything, and it may sound awful to say this, I kind of think of him as more Jonathan's than mine.

Do you think having a child will influence how you teach?

Not sure. That will be interesting to find out. It may also affect my approach to administration.

Do you feel you will have to sacrifice your career?

Not at all. In fact, given Jonathan's and my shared views about financial security, I don't think we'd be comfortable in a single-income household situation, no matter which one of us stayed home. I know I'm too risk-averse and debt-averse to stay home -- too concerned about earning potential over the long term and retirement savings. It's great to do generally, but not for me.

Will your husband share child-rearing responsibilities so that you feel free to pursue your career?

He'll be delighted to, actually. He knows how disgusted I would be with him if he failed to take on parenting responsibilities. Also, his political views would demand that he assume equal responsibility, and he isn't a hypocrite, so I think he'll do great.

And I don't think either of us will have to give up career plans, but we are going to have to make out a schedule and re-evaluate it periodically so that we are each getting an equal amount of time to work on research. I can imagine that uninterrupted time and access to it may be a source of many future arguments.

Are you comfortable allowing your husband to be a stay-at-home father if that is what is best for the family, knowing that you may not experience the first step your child takes?

Oh yes, but again, I don't know how financially feasible that is for us. Another thing to keep in mind is that, as unpleasant as it is to contemplate, I might die of a hemorrhage during or right after childbirth like Jennifer Lopez's character in Jersey Girl or get hit by a Mack truck when the baby is three months old. I might not be able to raise him at all. I have no choice; I simply must put an enormous amount of trust in Jonathan, my and his family members, daycare workers, teachers, community members, and all kinds of other people. That has been a big challenge for me, and I still don't know if it will be surmountable. First poo diaper and first steps aren't important to me when compared to the big stuff, like my son's physical and emotional safety. I get really choked up and sobby when I think about the possibility that anyone would violate his trust, especially when he's so little and so completely trusting.


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"Is it really one of those things you "have to experience" before you can comment?

I don't think so. You can have empathetic speculation about how you think you'd feel or behave, or what you think you'd do. It helps if you have a lot of friends who are pregnant or who have babies/small children."

Re-visit this statement in a year. I'm gonna guess that you have a different perspective. I really think that this is something that you have to experience to understand. You aren't just parenting with your mind, but you are trying to parent with your body--your tired, exhausted, fatigued body. That's tough.

Congratulations to you and

Congratulations to you and Jonathan! I've been lurking, reading your blog this whole past year since I stopped mine. Sorry I haven't commented until now. Ian and I are hoping to get pregnant in the next few months (I'll be 32 this year). It's been wonderful to read about your feelings about pregnancy!

Sidelines Empathy

2 Board Alley

I'll never know what it is like to be pregnant or a parent, but from what I've seen as an aunt and friend, I can be empathic up to a point. I do think you have to have been through the process to really "get" it.

One important distinction

I think it's possible to talk about pregnancy without having experienced it, but actually having and living with an infant once it's out is something else entirely. That I *do* think one has to experience.

big question

Why is graduate school thought to be the best time to have a baby? At what point do people think one should become pregnant during the grad school process? Isn't it bad to have a baby when your income is limited to whatever your stipend affords you, before you finish your degree and find a job?

Having children in graduate school

Here's an article that runs through the common arguments. It seems to be the consensus that it's not so much that grad school is a good time to have children, but that it's not as bad as having them while a junior, untenured faculty member (ahem).

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