A Neuroscientist’s take: Going on maternity leave while being on the tenure clock
I have thought a lot about writing a blog post on this topic. I still have a < 1 year old baby at home, but I am back at work, so I have a few things to reflect on and share. Number one, I am still learning a lot.
I took maternity leave in late 2021 and prior to it I spoke others and got lots of advice, which was helpful. I also did research online, but I did not find a lot, so this gave me another reason for writing this blog post.
When I went on maternity leave, I had an active foundation grant, one graduate student, 3 research assistants (2 veterinary and 1 dental medicine students), 1 medical student, and a relatively new research staff member doing research in my lab. I was also in my 3rd year on the TT. The day my baby was born I was notified about a successful grant. During my maternity leave my research did not slow down that much. My teaching and service at my institution did slow down.
I love making lists, so I have organized my advice and/or what worked best for me into a list!
1. Plan ahead – I love to plan. I made lists for all my students and we set-up goals together. We had regular check in’s while I was on leave, I think it helped both parties involved. I also made lists to prepare for the baby. When I make plans I know that sometimes things won’t work out because life is not perfect, but working towards something is helpful. Being flexible and adapting as things change helps a lot.
2. There is a new mom tax – regardless of what you have been told or read in terms of policy/rules. Someone at some point will make a comment about your inability to do science especially if you are a new mom. The best way to tackle this is form your own community and have some form of support both at work and outside of work (see previous blog post on this topic). This can take many forms, for me I have a massage therapist I am able to vent to, wonderful colleagues, and a strong friend network.
3. You are a good mom even if you are not making food for your baby and having someone else look after them. It takes a village to raise a child. I struggled taking my baby to be taken care of someone else that was not me or his father. I felt like the worst mother in the world. I thought I could do it all; take care of a 5-month-old, run a lab, teach, and keep up with my service activities. Then I learned, I can’t. What I can do is prioritize what’s important and that is different for everyone.
4. Once you have a baby, be strategic with your time – I write when my baby is sleeping and spend time with him when he is awake. Sometimes when my baby is fussy, he will sleep on my lap, and I will get things done on my tablet or phone. They way you work will change and so will your productivity – this is not a bad thing.
5. You will make mistakes, you might be new to being a mom, so you are learning. Give yourself lots of grace and time. This is something I am still learning. You will or won’t be supported, again make a community, and learn to think outside the box/be flexible. Celebrate the wins! They will likely carry you through the rough times until you hit your next win.
6. Read lots about raising babies from different sources, but in the end trust your gut/initiation. I love evidence-based recommendation, but sometimes things just won’t work for your baby, or they might work very well. When I was pregnant, I listened to several audiobooks because reading just put me to sleep. When you don’t know just Google it – I have and will continue to do this for many years.
I would highly recommend reading “Ambitious Like a Mother” by Lara Bazelon. I ate each word up and it really helped reinforce how I want to raise my baby. The irrational thoughts run wild after having a baby. This book helped ground me again.
7. Do something for yourself everyday, even if it’s 5 minutes of sitting still or drinking your favorite coffee. I love Chai lattes; my husband does a great job of making them and so does Starbucks.
8. I did not exercise after I returned to work, there was no time and that was a huge mistake for me. Exercise helps me focus and relieve a lot of my stress that comes from being in an academic. I had no outlet, so it sucked a lot. I have changed that now, my baby joins me when I go for a run or plays with his toys if I have a weight training day.
9. Focus inwards: if you, your baby, and family are doing good everything else will fall into place. People will ‘mom sham’ you, but remember what is best for you, your baby, and family is different.
10. Babies are wonderful, it’s amazing to see how fast they grow up and as a neuroscientist I am always wondering how many neurons he has already lost – nerd alert! I love picking up my baby at the of the day and giving him a tight squeeze and being silly with him. My new 20 pound and growing boss has brought some much-needed perspective into my life.