I recently submitted a proposal for a substantial amount of time on a telescope that I've never used before - so it took me awhile to put together. Combined with caring for Little One, it meant for some very busy days. My husband and family were supportive during the process, but somewhat puzzled at the whole thing; when I explained what I was doing, I got a nod and then the question:
"But aren't you on maternity leave?"
Then I explained that I was, but that one can only ask for time to look at this part of the sky once a year. "But why not wait until next year?" Then I explained that the people I was working with could work best on this together in the coming year. "So let me get this straight. You're writing a proposal on your maternity leave that will give you more work to do during your maternity leave?"
To this, I could only answer "yes".
I see two reasons why I keep having this conversation: either I am going about my maternity leave all wrong, or maternity leaves in academia are very different from those in the rest of society. I think it's a bit of both.
What would happen if I did wait a year to propose? I could go on about how the scientific community doesn't take a break when I do, or about how I'll need more publications to get that next grant... but all in all, not much would happen. So why did I do it? Part of me really does think that the sky will fall if I don't stay connected to my research. But part of me also craves the intellectual stimulation and community that were a big part of my pre-motherhood routine. I like being on maternity leave, but I miss my old life sometimes...
I think that I still need to work on balancing astronomy and motherhood.