Dr. Mom, My Adventures as a Mommy-Scientist

Discussion of my journey from grad school to postdoc to tenure with two kids, a husband, (and a bit of breast cancer) in tow.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

What it's like to be a mother

I feel like many of my past posts have focused on the negativity of having a family. So I wanted to take this opportunity to emote on how wonderful it is to be a mother. To be sure, there are significant drawbacks and your whole life really does change, but it is the best thing that I have done in my life and I would not trade it for all the world.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I used to envision generations of pregnant women going back to the time immemorial. I was expecting a daughter, and she too would have the capacity to give birth as did all the generations before me. I felt connected to something greater in a way that cannot be described. I was 6 months pregnant when Sept. 11 happened. I remember watching with complete disbelief, and then horror, the news as I woke up. In class, my professor had the radio tuned to the news. She was from Israel and told us about her experiences growing up with terrorism. But the whole time I could not be sad, I just sat there rubbing my stomach as my daughter gracefully kicked in response. I thought, "The world that you are being born into is very sad, and yet, you have the power to change that."

After my daughter was born, I used to sit with her, after work, in the backyard, in a hammock. She would sleep on my chest as we gently rocked back and forth. I would watch the branches of the trees above rustle, listening to the birds sing, occasionally seeing a moth or butterfly flutter by. I thought to myself, when I die this is the moment that I want to hold onto, to flash before my eyes. For this tiny being is the greatest achievement that I have made.

As my daughter got older, I was struck by her view of the world. My academic idol is Feynman, and it is often said that he was like a child in his curiosity. Seeing the world through my daughters eyes has made me a better scientist. She asks me why is a car not alive, why does a leaf float, only to sink the bottom later, how does my nose work, why do I have two eyes, why can't I push your cells on the swing? She comes to work with me sometimes and I can see that in this small way I can make a great impact on at least one girl's view of women in science and engineering. My daughter proudly tells her classmates that her mom is a scientist, she talks about my work with them, and describes my lab, and all the while as if this is the most natural thing in the world for a mother to do. When I hear her, I am so proud.

But you know what, all of this is nothing to the day my son was born. Whereas I spent most of my pregnancy with my daughter pampering myself, rubbing and singing to my stomach, my son got few of those benefits. He was born the day after my defense. My first trimester I was busy interviewing for faculty positions and post-docs. My second and third trimesters were spent frantically finishing experiments and writing my defense. To be honest, there were many moments when I forgot altogether that I was pregnant. So when he came out and looked at me with such love and admiration, it was surprising and powerful.

I had been so nervous about having a son. I have no brothers, and my exposure to male children was minimal. I felt like I wouldn't know what to do with him. And yet, he loved, no adored, me from the beginning, and it was not long before I felt something equally powerful. The most interesting thing about my son is how closely he resembles my father. I feel as if I have the chance to raise my dad, in a way. And I love that I will always have something to remind myself of my father long after he is gone (may that not come to pass for a long, long time).

My son has my husband's sensitivity. He is gracious and kind and sweet, and he makes me understand the fragility of the world. I tend to be very focused on work and can be very critical of my labmates and colleagues. But my son, has softened me. Actually, having children in general has helped me to see the strengths and weaknesses of each person and appreciate each for what they are.

In addition, my children have given me perspective that I would not have otherwise. BC (before children) I worked longer hours and spent less time with my husband. I was very focused on my own potential success. AC I understand that work is just work. As they say, no one ever says gee I wish I could have worked more on their death bed. I love my job. It brings me pleasure to explore the world around me and at the same time make some contribution to society. But if given the hard choice between my job or my kids, I would give it up in an instant. Fortunately for now, I can have both.

So for those of you out there asking yourself if you are ready for kids, or if you should wait until you finish your PhD, or your post doc, or get tenure. I would say do it now. Children are the one thing in life that you will never regret, and the pleasure that they bring is unparalleled by any successful experiment or Science publication. They will indeed change your whole world...for the better.


At 11:17 PM , Blogger ScienceWoman said...

What a beautiful post.

At 3:23 PM , Blogger K said...

Thank you for the lovely post.

At 4:35 AM , Blogger Lucia Malla said...

This post... made me cry. Beautiful, beautiful.

At 5:35 PM , Blogger Nelumbo said...

I'm really glad I found your blog, especially this post!

At 9:35 AM , Blogger mvalon said...

Your thoughts on this post is the advice I was looking for. Thank you for your inspirational perspective.

At 1:17 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you!! :) (mommy to be in about 3&1/2 months)


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