“We have to be accepting of whatever choices our fellow mothers make.”
I found out I was pregnant a few days after I defended my PhD. I got a job at a biotech start-up soon after. I didn’t hide my pregnancy, partly because I was throwing up frequently, but also because I felt I was in a safe environment. I never felt judged for my pregnancy, and got a whirlwind of support from them when the baby came. Being at a small start-up, I only had one coworker on the same project as me, so a lot was put on him during my leave but he never once made me feel guilty about it.
Though my leave was only 6 weeks and I had to fly family in to watch my daughter until the daycare would accept her at 8 weeks, I went back to work excited and ready. I truly had all the support you can dream of in such a small company. They had set up a pumping room for me, sometimes coworkers would watch my daughter after-hours so I could finish up experiments, and no one gave me grief about taking long lunches to go visit her at daycare. I felt so lucky to be part of such a great work environment.
But even though all of that was wonderful, I just thought one day, “Why am I doing this?” It felt like a rat race. Everyday was the same rush. I wasn’t happy with our childcare situation and my husband was about to leave on a series of deployments. I barely saw my daughter while she was awake. So I quit. I absolutely loved that job, I loved research, and I loved working, but I wanted something else from this period of my life.
I felt immense guilt for leaving, but those feelings have faded now that I am so in love with where I am in life. I now stay at home with my two daughters and write science books for kids while my husband attends medical school. I own being a stay-at-home-mom like I own my PhD. You would not believe the comments I’ve gotten: “Do you regret spending all that time on a degree you don’t use?” or “It’s fine to stay home if you’re ok with wasting your life.” (That last one was not to my face). You really can’t please anyone when you’re a mom. And luckily, this feels like the farthest thing from wasting my life.
I love catalytic RNA and prebiotic chemistry, but I also love wiping glitter glue and rainbow rice off my girls before snack time. Luckily, most of us have long lives and careers and I’ll be damned if I can’t do it all.
I’m excited to rejoin the workforce when my kids are older. It will probably be a challenge to convince some people that I didn’t just waste several years of my career, but if there’s anything motherhood has taught me, it’s to not care what others think.
To any men reading this, please take your paternity leave! When I was pregnant someone told me that they weren’t going to take theirs because it reflects poorly on them. While. I. Was. Pregnant. This is not a choice for women. Our bodies literally get ripped or cut apart when we birth your babies and maternity leave is not a privilege, it is a medical necessity.
The only way to normalise mothers in science is to normalise present fathers in science. You’re not weak or a bad scientist if you take your paternity leave, you’re just a decent father.
In summary, there is no one size fits all solution to the trials that face mothers in science. We have to be accepting of whatever choices our fellow mothers make. We each are individuals and we each love our children the same. It shouldn’t matter what path we choose or how long we’re on it, but it does matter how we support each other and lift each other up. I’ve got your back whether you choose to work or to stay home and don’t let anyone tell you that you made the wrong choice.