Friday, May 15, 2009

Will I really get a maternity leave?

Technically, yes. My institution gives me 16 weeks at full pay, and nobody is taking that away from me. But will that mean that I can put work completely on the side and focus on baby during these 16 weeks? Well, that's another question...

I am now about a month away from my due date, and still desperately trying to finish off a couple of research projects. It's not so much a countdown until the moment when I will get to meet my daughther, but more like keeping track of how much working time I have left. This could very well be the last time I'm ever pregnant, so I'm starting to be frustrated to be so obsessed with work deadlines, rather than focussing on the little person inside me. Something has to change soon though, because at this point we have no name for baby, not a single baby item in the house, and obviously haven't even thought of starting to pack a bag for the hospital!

On the other hand, I've been telling myself it's okay to be focussing on work right now, because when baby comes, I can put all of that aside, and focus on her for the next 3.5 months. But I'm really starting to wonder if that will be possible. I'm sure that throughout my maternity leave I'll keep finding in my inbox papers to review, problems to address, data to deal with, etc. And I know I will feel guilty if I don't deal with these things, because this is really a kind of job that never stops. Even though I would be in my right not to do anything work-related for 16 weeks, I know I won't be able to do it. Because it would feel so unnatural after so many years never really taking a break and because, as understanding and supportive as my colleagues/collaborators/friends are, they are in that set of mind too and will expect me to still be responding to work requests.

So I'm sad and conflicted about this. This is my one chance to have a little break from work, which in itself would be wonderful. But it's also a very special time when our family will grow from 3 to 4, a time we should spend together making memories, free of any nagging work problems. Even if I dared shutting off my email and tried ignoring work problems, I know they would keep running in the back of my mind nonetheless. This is why I say that I doubt I will get the real carefree maternity leave I'm dreaming about, in good part by my own twisted fault.

This all makes me again so glad we had Chatton mid-way through our PhDs when we were comparatively so carefree, and so admiring of women who have children as young faculty, when responsibilities and worries must be even worse that mine right now!


Mrs. CH said...

I can understand your frustration (not that I have children, but I can see why you're worried).

Would it be possible to pick 1-2 times per week where you could use it for work-related stuff? Then you could set up your email to have an automated response that would tell your colleagues/etc. when you have scheduled "work time". That way, you don't feel guilty for not checking your email constantly, but they know when to expect a response from you.

Anyway - good luck with it! I'm sure you'll get the hang of it and find balance.

AstroMaman said...

Thanks for the suggestion, it sounds like the kind of thing that could work... if I have enough discipline for it!
Once baby is here I will be able to let you know if my fears were justified, and if I've found a way to compromise. More soon!

Astronomum said...

I remember having exactly these worries when pregnant with my little one. In the end though I consider that the academic lifestyle has pluses and minuses for my maternity leave.

Yes I did do some work during the maternity leave. I completed the second review of a paper (which arrived in my inbox the day after I delivered- good timing huh!). I also answered email, and even attended a meeting by telecon (from my living room). I also spent time working while standing up at the kitchen counter with little one sleeping in a sling (she woke up any time I sat down at that point).

On the other hand I extended my official maternity leave of 13 weeks by taking holiday time and working flexibly (basically swapping with my husband) so that little one did not start daycare until she was almost 6 months old. I was lucky that my maternity leave ended on June 1st - so that the quiet summer helped us be able to do this.

All in all I think I would have liked more time off with little one, and I hope that if we have another I will be able to do that. I think the pressures aren't so unique to scientific research though - or even to working mothers. I suspect all mothers would like more flexibility in what they decide to do in the months right after the birth of their child.

Little one's early arrival also helped put all this in perspective for me. I think I was much more able to put work out of my mind as I cared for a pre-term baby. On that theme - please get some baby stuff asap! I have tried to stop warning pregnant women to be ready well in advance, but I can't help commenting that at a month before my due date I had a 6 day old baby....

Here's hoping you have plenty of time still to get ready, and can enjoy as much time off as you want.