Tuesday, March 4, 2014

"maternity leave"

Academia is generally a nice place to take maternity leave from a strictly time-scale perspective; one term off isn't a bad deal, and I also appreciated having several weeks off before we had the baby, since late pregnancy is not a fun time to stand a lot or to go out in the snow and ice.  I am very much aware that the US has terrible leave requirements and I am lucky to have so much paid time at home.  Mine has been a little more hectic than it should have been, though.

- My department is hiring a new tenure-line colleague, so I have been participating in phone interviews (sometimes while breastfeeding and trying to keep the kid quiet), dinners (kid was home with dad and I pumped for her), and on-campus events (I skyped in for some of it, which mostly worked but was not ideal).

- I am teaching in an immersion program next term and needed to participate in some weekly meetings (kid comes too) and evening seminars (kid is home with dad), though I didn't start that until several weeks postpartum.

- I am supervising two student projects (mostly email, rare on-campus meetings) and am on a committee that needed me to come in once.  I also have random research/leadership stuff to keep up with via email. 

Some of this was me being too nice (supervising students), and some of it was self-interest (job search) or not wanting to bail on things I had agreed to do and/or worrying about backing out of things as I go up for tenure.  I should probably have been less worried about other people and more worried about my own needs, in hindsight.  It hasn't been terrible, but I could have done without the hectic schedule in February and the amount of time away from kiddo during the terrible screaming evening hours; I have guilt that I took away the magical boobs when they were most needed.  If I had it to do over again, I would do some of this stuff but certainly not all of it.

I have been surprised by the response from my colleagues in some cases.  People in general are pretty supportive, and some of my colleagues have been very flexible and open to me doing what I need to do in terms of missing or moving meetings, bringing the baby, etc.  Others have been surprisingly thoughtless when it comes to making things happen in a way that makes it easy for me to participate, even after having an initial conversation about how my participation would have to occur. 

One mistake I made was assuming that people with young kids of their own would "get" my needs - this has not been the case.  In fact, some of the more supportive and flexible people are childless, and the most frustrating has two kids.  It is probably significant that all of these colleagues are men; I should not have made assumptions about how involved they were in their babies' lives or how their families chose to feed their kids as newborns.  Still, after being fairly specific about what I could and could not do (I thought), I have in some cases had to act in my own best interest and say no. 

Most of this extra work is finished now, but I'm left feeling that I was too accommodating.  I put myself through a lot of hassle, and Partner through some very frustrating time with the baby, when I probably didn't need to do so.  I know that there's never true "time off" in academia, when we can be completely off the radar for months, but if I do this again I will try much harder to get closer to that "I'm unavailable" ideal and stick to it.  I will try harder to be selfish.  And it will help a lot to be tenured.