Now that I’m 10 weeks into my maternity leave with Soren, I wanted to put down some thoughts about what leave from my tenure-track research job has been like.
I love my science, and I love teaching. So I wondered how I’d feel about completely switching gears to caring for an infant full-time (while maybe squeezing in some science around the edges). I was worried that I’d be bored, lonely, and isolated. I was worried that I’d feel I’d made a huge mistake in becoming a parent. I didn’t think that would be the case — after all, I’d been longing and working towards this goal for years — but I worried about it nonetheless. It reminds me of starting my job at a teaching-oriented liberal arts college. I’d never taught a class of my own before — just TAed in grad school and done a bunch of outreach, plus taking classes on teaching science. I was worried that once I started, I’d either hate teaching, or suck at it. Neither turned out to be true, thankfully. Well, despite desperately longing to be a parent, having never done it before I naturally worried that I’d either hate parenting, or suck at it. Fortunately, none of my worries seem to have come to fruition.
I love spending time with my son. He is endlessly fascinating to me, and he has changed and grown so much over the past 10 weeks — it seems like every day he does something new, or seems a little more aware, a little more like his own person. And he is a truly wonderful baby. I’ve mentioned before that I thought we were lucky, and with every passing day, I only feel that more strongly. He seems to have this quiet curiosity about the world. Every time I bring him out of the house, someone comments about how he just watches the world with his big eyes, and it’s true. At home, he’ll be goofy and smiley and fuss when he’s bored, but when we’re out and about, he just wants to take it all in. He’s amazing, and I’ve never been happier than these last 10 weeks of being his mom, full-time.
That said, no newborn is truly easy. Our struggles of the moment revolve around sleep, especially napping. Last week I transitioned him from napping exclusively on people (usually me) to napping in his crib. This works, to some extent — he will generally fall asleep in his crib, but only for about 45 minutes at a time, which doesn’t seem to be enough since he often wakes up fussy (and when he napped on people, he would occasionally go in for epic 2-3 hour naps and wake up smiling). I’m not sure what to do about this… it’s possible that he’s just too young for crib-napping, but being napped on for 6+ hours a day was getting physically uncomfortable (with my now 14lb baby!), and I also just hope he’ll eventually get used to crib napping and learn how to join sleep cycles together without being manually soothed in between. The main problem is that this experience also seems to have destabilized his night sleeping slightly — instead of the 6-8 hour chunk of time he had started to give us at night, he’s back to 3-4 hour chunks. Not that this is terrible — it’s totally survivable. I’m just worried that he seems to be regressing. Or maybe this is just the 3-month sleep regression hitting a couple of weeks early? Or maybe it’s part of the difficult reaction he had to his 2-month shots last week, which was the first night he stopped sleeping in long chunks? Hard to say. But I suspect every new parent worries endlessly about sleep, and this is the first real sleep issue we’ve encountered — and it’s not even that bad.
But, back to science and motherhood. When I do find time to do a little work, to think about science, it breathes extra life into me. I feel my brain stirring, and it feels really good. I haven’t managed to do much work — at most, a couple hours a day, and usually more like half an hour — but the skills I’ve developed as a young faculty member of making progress in small chunks of time have served me well. I wrote an entire new proposal in time for the once-a-year deadline for the large international facility that I use for my research, and revised and resubmitted another proposal that had been provisionally accepted last year but hadn’t managed to squeeze to the top of the queue. I’m also almost finished revising and resubmitting a journal article that I submitted two weeks before my son was born — it’s a pretty straightforward set of corrections, so I expect that the article will be accepted before the end of my leave. These things have made me feel really good.
And then there have been the funny intersections between work and parenthood. My son, at 10 weeks old, has so far napped in the following places:
- A lecture given by a famous astronaut
- A pizza lunch for physics students
- My department chair’s office
He has also nursed in two of those three places (hint: not my department chair’s office!). I never imagined myself breastfeeding at professional activities, but hey, I’m the full-time caregiver of my infant. When the baby’s hungry, it would be cruel to make him wait, and he’s not really at an age yet where I can do much to “tank him up” before events — if he’s not hungry, he doesn’t eat. I haven’t gone to many professional events, but some of them are important for recruitment and professional visibility, and I enjoy them as well. Being in a very male-dominated field, even at the undergraduate level at our university, it does feel slightly awkward to feed my baby at these events, but it helps that I know I’m backed up 100% by the other faculty in my department, who are all parents, most of them relatively young (even our chair’s kids are still middle-school age). Although as the sole female professor, breastfeeding is a new thing in our department. I suspect that it will become easier/less necessary as Soren grows, since he’ll eventually be in daycare and will be big enough to space out his feedings more. And I also like to feel like I’m doing my part to help normalize breastfeeding to the students, who haven’t thought about these issues yet. If it makes them uncomfortable, well… maybe they should think about why.
So, mostly our days are spent hanging around at home, snuggling, reading, playing, feeding, sleeping, and changing diaper after diaper after diaper. But now that Soren is old enough to go out in public I’m starting to get back into my university life just a little, and it feels really good. Overall, we are doing great together, and I’m looking forward to continuing to watch Soren grow.
And, because I can’t resist, here’s another picture.