I still consider us quite newly-married, and I don’t anticipate us having kids just yet. So don’t get your hopes up or start to worry, depending on your disposition.
But I am a planner, so I have spent some time recently inquiring into kid issues, particularly as they relate to the academic lifestyle. At the Philosophy departmental holiday dinner, there were a number of kids around, those of grad students and faculty, both young and old. At the English holiday luncheon, however, I saw only one child. This, despite the fact that our department is 2/3 women, and roughly three times the size of the philosophy department. Part of this may be due to the fact that, in Sydney’s department, it’s the men who are subject to the academic lifestyle (which is not particularly friendly towards kids) and their wives may not be in positions that so clearly deem kids “detrimental to one’s career progress.” In my department, it’s the women who are coming up against those roadblocks, and who apparently have, at least in large part, decided that kids will need to be postponed until they are at a more stable time in their lives. Is that more stable time signaled by a real job? tenure? retirement?
And yet, I recently went to a class dinner at a professor’s house, only to find that she had three beautiful (seemingly normal) children, all nearly full-grown by now. So, if very few grad students seem to have kids, none of the young faculty have any (most of them don’t even have partners, much less kids), and all of the established professors’ kids are grown, when and how did they have them? Kids are starting to seem more and more miraculous the more I keep my eyes open.
Heidi’s inquiries into mothers in the law profession, David and Lisa’s recent juggling with twins and grad school, and some discussions with friends here in Ithaca have gotten me thinking about this topic. A lot of the general advice seems to be that having kids right after grad school, when you’re in your first job, with publishing pressure and your heaviest-ever teaching load, is not a good time to try to make a home for a child. Many people tend to wait, so that it’s common for the first child to be born in the woman’s early- to mid-thirties. But, to put it bluntly, Sydney will be edging toward 40 if we waited that long. The other idea is that the end of grad school may not be such a bad time: you have a pretty flexible schedule, a great deal of time at home, and you are less accountable for your income than at any other time in your life. So far so good.
But writing a dissertation either pregnant or with newborn? Are you serious? Having assisted a new mom recently for a couple of days, I’m sceptical of the idea that it’s possible (or at least humane) to expect to get anything done that resembles a coherent, sustained thought, much less a dissertation. I mean, thinking requires sleep! But let’s table that topic.
Something else that really bothered me, once I started paying attention, is the idea of being pregnant in the academic community at any point. Never having had any professors who taught with an ever-expanding belly, or had any fellow grad students announce that they’re expecting, it seems that attempting to have kids around here might be a somewhat lonely activity. Despite having a very family-loving church, where there are pregnant women galore, the situation up the hill seems to be quite different. I’m guessing a number of peers and professors write you off: “Oh, she’s going the family way. So much for her career.” If push comes to shove, family comes first. But I don’t see any reason why someone outside our family should be deciding that. Another thought: going on the job market while visibly pregnant? Yup, those interviews could be quite interesting . . . or quite short.
Guess I’d better do a bit more inquiring, as this particular aspect of the “miracle of children” is something I will eventually need to know more about. Kids do interesting things to lives in any context, but I find it particularly interesting to consider them in light of an academic lifestyle, where every year in graduate school is planned out and every year in your first job is one that is used to ensure your tenure a few years down the road. Where is there room for kids? It also seems to be something most of my female colleagues have been thinking about, although they have kept it to themselves. Apparently it’s not one of those issues you drop in on your Graduate Director to discuss!
P. S. If you find the above situation a breeze, put your brain to work in figuring out how you not only produce and care for a child, but perhaps also provide him with sibling(s)!