Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Two is hard

Well it's been a long time, and I hate blogs that are just lists of excuses, but I have to say two kids is hard... much harder than one! I'm also loosing interest in anonymous blogging - I find it actually reduces what I can say as I don't want to give too much away. And every (female) astronomer I've met knows who I am anyway so it seems a bit pointless! So I'm not sure where this blog is going in the future, if anywhere......

Anyway enough of that, here's a update:

First the good news - after a wonderful 6 months maternity leave I'm back at work and getting busy with several exciting projects. I can confirm (anecdotally) the increase in productivity pregnant women have second time round - I have 4 (first author) papers published in the last year. I won another grant for 2 more years funding, so I got a promotion and a payrise (still a postdoc, but now a better paid one!). All this makes things look a whole lot rosier.

More good news - despite a slightly bumpy ride, and the annoyance that the new baby can't go to the same nursery as my older daughter the childcare situation is pretty good. The baby is within walking distance, so instead of the mammoth pumping I did for my first baby I just wander over there at lunchtime to nurse. I have been able to get away with no trips away from him yet (and he's 10 months old) with the help of my wonderful husband and parents who have come with me and the baby on a couple of trips I couldn't get out of. Oh and my new grant allows me to claim childcare for conferences, so we have a couple of big trips planned bringing both kids with us (last year for that before my daughter starts school in September - how time flies!).

And the bad you probably know. Funding for astronomy is decreasing or flat. No-one has jobs. I have two years, but my husband's postdoc officially ends this summer. I've been a postdoc for 5 1/2 years so the clock is ticking pretty loudly on my career. Yada yada. The only advice is to try to wait it out - funny thing is it just seems to keep getting worse.....

So the only solution is good research. With that I'v got to get on with work. An exciting paper in the draft phase - my favourite part of research. :)

Oh and Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


A recent study presented at the last AAS meeting shows that 60% of female astronomers suffer from impostor syndrome, the (unjustified) "fear of being exposed by colleagues for a lack of knowledge or ability". In comparison, 47% of male astronomers say they suffer from this. Since these fears could be a factor leading people away from astronomy, it may be one of the many things explaining why so few women make it all the way.

I would be curious to see the results of such a study for mother-astronomers. If it's so easy to doubt oneself in general (even half of our male colleagues do it, apparently!), it's probably worse when you add on top of it all the worries and concerns of juggling babies and research.

Coming back to work after maternity leave is both thrilling and deadly stressful. After being away from work, there's the joy of getting back into it, but also the (self-imposed in my case) pressure of performing extra well to make up for the lost time. I find myself in meetings sometimes, wanting to contribute to the discussion, show that I'm back in business, but blanking out because baby didn't sleep well and I'm tired, or because I worry about x or y baby-related thing.

When this happens I get home afterward, and while I play with the kids, I find myself worrying about work, how I need to do more. Impostor syndrome at work, impostor syndrome at home.

These are bad days, but fortunately it's not always like this. A comment on a previous post expresses very well one of my believes about the work/family duality: if I'm happy at work, it benefits everyone, including my kids. Most of the time I'm able to convince myself that my colleagues are understanding, that I don't need to prove myself all the time, that as long as I do my best I can't ask more of myself; I throw the impostor syndrome out of the window. But it takes a constant effort to not let it creep back, doubting is so easy.

I liked reading the results of this study. Because I recognized myself, and because I now know that it's such a widespread phenomenon. Why didn't I know before? Because we're expected to be tough, and we put on a facade most of the time. But really, that's not helping anyone, actually it's probably doing more harm than good. We need to break this vicious circle! So let's make a first baby step here - if you're reading this and it sounds familiar at all, let us know, because everybody likes to know that they're not alone with their problems and worries. At least I know I do!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Congratulations to Astronomum on the birth of her beautiful new baby! We wish you all the best, and look forward to hear about your adventures as a two time astronomom!

We now have five kids between the three of us, including three babies less than a year old - hopefully we will be able to keep these posts coming!

Monday, February 8, 2010


I'm happy to report that things have suddenly taken a turn for the better: we have found some childcare for Baby!

It was a slightly bumpy road to get there. Since nurseries are practically non existent here, which makes the few of them completely overbooked, we really had only two options (1) hire a nanny at home, (2) bring the baby to a "family nursery" (i.e. a woman who takes care of 2-4 kids in her own home). Option (1) was good because it is very convenient, and you get a say in the person you hire, but it's insanely expensive. Option (2) is much more within our budget, but it's the luck of the draw. We had found a person we could have hired as a nanny, and after much work we were offered a place in a family nursery, but we were not comfortable at all with the place or the woman (no specific reason, just gut feeling). So it was between the option we didn't like but could afford, or the option we liked but that would have sucked my entire salary. Talk about a choice... I think this is an example of a situation where the expression "catch 22" applies!

But then we lucked out. A new family nursery opened, a wonderful woman who decided to retire early to take care of children instead. We met with her, and immediately knew that this was exactly what we needed, it feels like she will be the cool young grandma that the kids don't have because we live so far from family. Baby started there right away, and we're now working on the transition. Because it took so long to find childcare, she is now old enough to have separation anxiety, to we have to take our time easing her in.

This means that in no time I'll be back at work full time, while feeling great that the kids are well taken care of. That feeling is priceless, I realize I had it at my previous job, without knowing it until we were put in this uncomfortable situation.

So last week I had my first full day in the office, uninterrupted, without Baby. It felt great. And that day I had a breakthrough with my research, nothing that will make the headlines, but I managed to do something I had been struggling with for a long time. That made for an absolutely wonderful day. Things are really looking up!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

6 months later...

Signing back in after a while. Since I last wrote in June, Nr.2 was born, we moved to another country, and I started a new job. Hopefully this will be enough to forgive my silence on this blog!

Let's go back to last June where I left this off. I was getting a lot of work done at the end of my pregnancy, which was making me very happy. Then of course something had to go wrong: my computer died, which virtually put me on maternity leave earlier that I had thought. There were some difficulties with getting the computer fixed, and I only got it back a few days before my due date (I had a "baby or computer first" bet going on!), at which point I was a bit too tired and anxious to do any real work. Then the birth went well - I was again lucky enough to be able to have a totally natural delivery, which means the recovery was quick. Fantastic baby, very awake during the day, good sleeper at night, couldn't ask for more. Big brother wonderful with little sister.

The summer went well, but flew right by too quickly. I will hopefully have time in the coming weeks to write more about my maternity leave, and about how the fears I described in an earlier post proved to be mostly unfounded. I was able to take a good break from work, which was a life saver since we did have to prepare at the same time to move abroad to start postdoc nr.2.

Said move went as good as can be, I guess, considering the inevitable problems with moving to another country with two young kids. Maternity leave lasted 16 weeks, so I went straight to the new job when Baby was 3.5 months old. Boyfriend and I had an agreement with our bosses that we could work half of the time from home until Baby was 6 months old, at which point she was supposed to get into daycare. That went pretty well, she was such an easy baby that we could actually get some work done with her around.

And then the problems started. That will be another post in itself, because there is a lot to say about living in a country where women are expected to stay at home with their kids, so childcare is almost impossible to find. The daycare spot we were promised long ago for Baby was refused to us in the end, so we still don't have any help of any kind with her. Our bosses are wonderfully supportive, but we are both nonetheless starting to feel frustrated not to be able to work more.

We have come to realize that we were living in a kind of bubble - the past 2 years were wonderful; Nr.1 had a great daycare and was thriving, we had good jobs, lived in a really nice place, and still had time to relax, travel, do activities... There were of course ups and downs, but mostly I wasn't finding that combining work and motherhood was especially difficult. The reality hit us in the face suddenly, like waking up after a good dream. I don't know if it's having 2 kids instead of 1, living in a place that is slowly changing but where the system still mostly does not support the working mothers, or if it's because our responsibilities at work are ever greater and the pressure increasing toward landing some real jobs soon. Whatever it is, it's definitely a whole new game now.

But I don't want to sound too dark - all in all, we are still very happy. Baby is still the most wonderful, easy little thing, and my heart melts when I see how she and her big brother are already so fond of each other. Work is extremely stimulating (just wish I had more time for it!), very happy about it. Everything just takes more effort. And there definitely isn't that much time left for anything other that taking care of kids and working... hopefully there will be at least a little bit for blogging!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Pink Stinks

Came across this website recently: Pink Stinks. Looks like a good resource for Mothers (and Fathers) of girls. My daughter does claim (at 2 1/2) that pink is her favourite colour - and I do sometime wonder where that comes from. Most of the clothes she is given as gifts are pink, although we tend to favour more neutral colours, and now with a boy on the way I'm kicking myself that more of the baby clothes weren't neutral. Oh well!