Greetings from Academic Maternity Leave

Hey, all! It’s been a while since I posted because I’ve been working on this little project that finally came into the world in October (3 weeks early via emergency c-section):

Photo of my newborn daughter in a yoda cap

Isn’t she just great? I know, I can’t stop staring at her little face. Thankfully, my institution offers a full semester leave or two half semesters depending on your preference, so I have been off since August (or technically since June, but I am a 9-month contract). And let me just say that while I knew, logically, that maternity leave was a good and useful thing, now I KNOW with my whole body and soul what a good and useful thing it is. I can’t believe how matter-of-fact people are about pregnancy, birth, and parenting. I mean, my world has forever changed. I could have died or suffered the loss of a child I hadn’t even met. I had major surgery. I haven’t slept longer than 3 hours at a time since mid-October! And I’m not talking about wake up, scroll your phone, make yourself a tea, go back to sleep not sleeping. I’m talking – get up, pee as quickly as possible, feed/burb/soothe a baby back to sleep all while not trying to pass out while holding them in the rocker – kind of not sleeping. How the fuck does the U.S. not see that paid maternity leave is ESSENTIAL?

Even though I am out of the frying pan and into the fire, so to speak, with little nugget, I still can’t imagine returning to work in my present state. I find it hard enough to reply to a simple email. It took me all day to write this blog post. ALL DAY. My partner received no parental leave, so once his PTO ran out (2 weeks), I was on my own. I’m lucky to have a robust network of friends and family to support me, but it is still a lot of time on my own, trying to decide between eating and cleaning the milk-stained laundry during the precious few hours my little one is napping. Were it not for the leave I have, I would have already had to be back to work two weeks ago – a fact that blows my mind considering how ill-prepared I feel to operate out in the world.

Although I am very officially on leave, it’s not like academia just stops, right? So this time has hardly been free of work. In spite of my resolution to suspend all teaching-related activities, at least, I wrote a letter of recommendation for a student with whom I have a great rapport. The proposal for my edited collection was accepted, so I have been collecting author contracts. And most unexpectedly, a job ad for a leadership role in my department opened just before I gave birth. Luckily, they allowed me to switch the interview time to the third week postpartum. If it had been even a few days earlier, I might have cried on the zoom call – the hormone let down after birth was intense, and I wasn’t prepared for how out of control I felt most days. I got the job! But that also meant emails about scheduling and coordinating that I hadn’t planned for while juggling a newborn. And then there’s the relentless reminders to complete virtual trainings even though I’m tagged in the system as “inactive” this term 🙄

If you follow this blog, perhaps you remember that I set some goals for my maternity leave – namely, for the period before the baby arrived since I was at least realistic enough to know (but not really…) that I’d be unlikely to work on anything after her arrival.

Here’s the breakdown:

Fall / Maternity Leave Goals

  • Work on Edited Collection (✔️)
  • Spring 2023 Classes Prep (🚫)
  • (hopefully) tackle proofs of Wikipedia article (✔️)
  • Lit Rev for Tweetsets Article (%)
  • Finish baby prep (✔️)
  • Writing Retreat w/ Writing Coven (✔️)
  • Experiment w/ Substack Newsletter (%)

“Work” on the edited collection did indeed take place, although I might have meant I would do more than coordinate author contracts (like work on my chapter). Predictably, I did not work on spring class prep since I almost never work on prep until a week or two before the term starts. Luckily, procrastination paid off because my class schedule changed after getting the admin leadership role, so I avoided prep for a class I’m no longer teaching. My Wikipedia article is submitted and proofs are on the way! I am excited for this article (now provocatively titled “One of the Last, Best Internet Spaces for Teaching Digital Literacy, Public Writing, and Research Skills in First Year Composition”) and will share a link once it’s live. The Tweetsets article goal was half accomplished – meaning I started a lit review but did not finish it before baby popped into the world. If she had waited another three weeks….maybe? I also pretty much finished baby preparations before she made her arrival. I had felt a little “extra” preparing so far ahead of time, but then she came early 🤷‍♀️. I did squeeze in a mini writing retreat with one of my writing coven members before baby came – it is why I made any progress on my Tweetsets article. Finally, I did create a substack newsletter and used it maybe once before baby came. I think I have one subscriber. Not sure if I will continue with it, but for now, I am treating it as an extra option for those of you kind readers who would prefer to get my posts via email.

Not bad, if I do say so myself. Do I have goals for the remainder of my maternity leave? Yes and no. Yes, I absolutely need to prep for my spring classes. No, I do not need to do anything beyond that and keeping my baby happy and healthy. So the rest of my “goals” are more like “if I feel up to it aspirations.” Namely, I’d like to do more reading related to my next article topic. I find I can do this (without notetaking) on my phone while I feed the baby if I have one free hand. I wanted to restart this blog (woot!). And I want to brainstorm a potential grad class reading list before it gets away from me entirely. The rest of my activities are meant to get me through winter and through this period of absolute joy and hardship: walk every day, take my vitamins, mommy and me yoga, postpartum therapy, etc.

Before I wrap up this update, I wanted to share a few of my favorite things that other academic mamas (or parents more broadly) might find helpful:

  • Academic Mamas Facebook group – I know, I know, but groups are literally the only thing I use FB for anymore. I’ve heard the umbrella AcMama group is unruly, but if you find the one that is focused on which year you gave birth (Academic Mamas w/ babies due in 2022), then it’s more intimate and supportive. My group has felt particularly helpful and honest.
  • Buy Nothing Facebook group – this local gift/wish barter group has been incredibly helpful to prepare for baby in both making space by donating items I no longer needed and by receiving baby items posted by other members. This group also asks and receives other things like rides to and from doctor’s offices or baked goods. It really is the best of the internet.
  • Virtual Prenatal Yoga! This yoga instructor was amazing in helping me with the pelvic pain I had while pregnant.
  • A Postpartum Wellness therapist helped me with my miscarriage, the fear I felt during this pregnancy, and has been helping me grapple with all that comes with becoming a new mom.
  • Evidence-based Birth Website – this has incredible information about inductions and csections. So much of the information that exists for pregnant people is bullshit driven by ideology. I like to know what we actually know about pregnancy and birth and not what some so-called expert thinks based on essentially hearsay.
  • Chieu Lee Photography – this is obviously only helpful if you live in NOVA, but I wanted to shout out my pregnancy photographer because she made all my maternity photoshoot dreams come true. If you click on the link and look at google reviews, you can see two of my photos. Academics often downplay their accomplishments, so take this as a prompt to book yourself a photoshoot – making a whole human is a FEAT worthy of celebration!
  • Passion Planner – no, seriously, this planner has been integral to my success over the past decade. It helped me get through the dissertation, the job search, and now baby. I used the back pages to keep track of information like baby items suggested to me by parent friends, a trimester checklist, and a hosptial bag checklist. Note: the link is an affiliate link!
  • Finally, here are the books about pregnancy and babies that I liked best: Expecting Better and Cribsheet by Emily Oster, Like a Mother by Emily Garbes, Lactivism by Courtney Jung, Baby Brain Rules by John Medina, Arrival Stories eds. Amy Schumer and Christy Turlington Burns. The Baby Brain book was recommended to me by a former student who recognized it as literature review after taking my class!

I will return to work in January while keeping her with me until she can be fully vaccinated. I’m nervous, to be honest, about managing work and caring for her. I know a lot of folks did this in the height of the pandemic, and I have a newfound respect for you all.

I will close by saying that becoming a mom has made me entirely reevaluate what I consider to be a productive day. If being pregnant taught me to slow down, being a mom is teaching me how to prioritize and let go of my perfectionist tendencies. This blog might be riddled with grammar errors because I’m largely typing with one hand while holding a sleeping baby, but that’s okay.

Stay tuned because I’m going to write about the ChatGPT controversy sweeping the educational landscape 👀

Please comment below – if you’ve been on parental leave, what was it like? Any advice for a new mom? Or for navigating working from home with a 3 month old?

BTW, I’ve left Twitter for obvious reasons, but you can find me over on Mastadon (which I highly recommend btw) and LinkedIn


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