As a student, I was told that there is never a good or bad time to have a baby. You will just manage your career around motherhood. As an early career researcher, I was nervous about being on maternity leave. I have worked so hard to get to where I am now and I am scared of the impact this career break would have on my trajectory. I’ve heard and read from plenty of women who have managed to balance an amazing career with parenthood. But have also read my fair share of stories from mothers who have quit academia to find a better balance in life.
As soon as I found out I was pregnant, my brain went into overdrive trying to protect my already slow progressing research career from disappearing even more into the abyss. With COVID putting a big dent on research grants, I focused on setting up smaller research projects as well as wrapping up current studies so I’d be able to focus on analysis and write up during maternity leave.
But isn’t maternity leave about healing, adjusting to motherhood aka having your body controlled by your cute offspring? And isn’t that what you write about when you’re addressing your academic career gap “relative to opportunity”?
Sure, that’s what the industry would like you to think and if you’re strong enough to stick to your guns and/or if your research career is established enough, you could get away with it. But being in academia has my imposter syndrome at crazy levels at it is. The expectation, pressure and guilt to continue pushing out research outputs while I’m on maternity leave has made me feel like I can’t and shouldn’t take my foot off the pedal.
Shortly after giving birth, panic started to set in that I was already missing out at work; and that I needed to be available and working (even on maternity leave). Thankfully, some of my colleagues and friends have been in my position and their continued encouragement and reassurance that work and research will always be there if I skipped a few meetings for a while has helped to ease the guilt.
Your child is only a newborn once. Cherish this time.
I acknowledge that I am greedy in a way. I want to be one of those women who have a successful career while being an awesome mum/wife/daughter/friend/everything. I have mentors who seemed to have achieved this balance. So in mind, it’s doable. But if there’s anything I’ve already learned from motherhood and life with diabetes is that what you see on the outside is often just the tip of a large iceberg.
You can never tell of all the insecurities, doubt, guilt and sacrifices that a person may be going through, which I guess, will always be there not matter what you do. It’s a matter of finding a balance that works for me and that includes accepting a comfortable level of all those feelings. Needless to say, I have had a bit of time to think and reevaluate what balance I want to strike from here. In particular, what do I want from my career and what or how will it fit in with my family? I have no idea but I know that finding the right balance will take lots of time, patience and trial and error.
Chasing perfection only leads to disappointment.