In celebration of my son’s 2nd birthday this week, I have written a special blog post on becoming a mom while on the tenure track.
Prior to becoming pregnant I was a stepmom for several years, but becoming a mother in terms of the biological changes a body experiences and the cultural expectations people have is something else.
While I was pregnant, I did not think to read books on how the brain because of motherhood. Looking back, I wish I had read at least one book. I am a Neuroscientist and I know the brain changes in response to different experiences. Since becoming a mom, I have read several books (audio book versions since time is limited) and began to understand that things I was feeling as a new mom were real. The new mom brain changes a lot, and the literature has reported the brain keeps changing for 2 to 10 years after birth – yay neuroplasticity!
Looking back to when I gave birth, I felt bad for not doing better as a mom, but so many things changed after birth and the learning curve is steep for both parents and baby. As a first-time mom, I have found that I changed a lot and soon learned to accept that is OK. I think I have become a better version of myself. The change has been challenging to work through, but I think it is best for me and my family.
My pregnancy was full of anxiety, exhaustion, and nausea. Thinking of the post-pregnancy period was not on my mind. I remember being in the hospital room with my new baby and I was in shock that it happened, I gave birth. Prior to giving birth I was intent on doing a parental class, my husband and I went. We learned about how to change a diaper, how to swaddle, etc. I did find a lactation coach and met her before and after I had my baby, which was so helpful in all kinds of ways. Finding a prenatal class was useful, but talking with other friends it would have been nice to learn about how hard it would be, breastfeeding, sleep deprivation, changes to my brain, and just the exhaustion. I think it would be useful to hear that you will be pushed in all kinds of ways, it may break you, but you will come back together again and be so much stronger.
Mom guilt is real. I am a working mom, and my career is demanding, I am an academic. When I returned from maternity leave it was so hard to balance both being a mom and working. I thought I would be a professor and take care of my child fulltime. LOL!!! Becoming a parent also made be a bit more irrational. I have come to realize it is so important for me to take care of myself and make sure my cup is full. If I am not in good shape, then I can’t do the best job possible when I take care of my kids. I value being a scientist, educator, and leader – those things fill my cup. It is possible to be a working mom, but it is important to ask for help and set boundaries. I have noticed that I removed things I did not need in my life, such as spending time with people that drained me and travelling a lot for work. I have become selective about what I do now, I also ask students or colleagues to present work.
It takes a community to raise a kid. My child is lucky enough to have so many people in his life that care for him and love him. I have slowly come to terms with the fact that I can’t be his everything. I will be there to love and support him, but he will need to learn how to interact with other people.
Another life lesson that has been drilled into my head during this period of my life is the importance of selfcare. I love to exercise especially run. I had to stop running while I was pregnant, and then I became too tired to do it. I have finally started back up and I feel amazing. Making time to take of myself has been a game changer in terms of managing the stress related to being a mom and working.
I love being a mom and a professor. I have found being flexible is very important as well as having a support system. I am excited for what the future brings and all the adventures my little one and I will have.
Some books I would recommend to other mothers:
Ambitious Like a Mother: Why Prioritizing Your Career Is Good for Your Kids
I have not read this one yet, but it is on my list:
Mommy Brain: Discover the amazing power of the maternal brain