posted by Amy
Mama, PhD: Women Write About Motherhood and Academic Life is an essay collection edited by Elrena Evans and Caroline Grant. It's a book I couldn't wait to read, and it's a book I halfway dreaded reading.
I wasn't ready to go "back there," I kept thinking. Back to the day when I confided my pregnancy to an older colleague, who told me to keep it a secret as long as I could and to pay for my own substitute for my classes should I do something as dumb as give birth mid-semester. Back to the frustrating experience of trying to get the HR people to give me a straight answer about maternity leave, which culminated in a phone call two months after I'd given birth and long after I'd been assured I had adequate leave to cover the weeks I'd missed teaching due to bed rest and then a c-section, a phone call from HR informing me that my next paycheck would be a little smaller than usual because they'd miscalculated my leave. "A little smaller" turned out to be 50% smaller, not a laughing matter in our cash-strapped little household.
Fortunately, while Mama, PhD has many stories like mine, reading about others' experiences made me feel (well, duh!) less alone. It also made me remember a few things. For one, I've been lucky enough to have department chairs who wholeheartedly support working parents with their words ("Bring that baby in!") and their actions ("Sure, we can pay for a sub to cover your classes those weeks you'll be recovering from a c-section.") Many of the women whose essays are in this book don't have that kind of support, and the consequences are often dramatic.
I especially enjoyed the range of essays in the book; while many were of course by people with humanities backgrounds, it was refreshing for this English teacher to hear about combining mothering with work in engineering, biology, sociology and political science. Some of the writers had found ways to make being a Mama, PhD work, while others had taken alternate paths, both in and out of the academy. What many writers shared was that initial shock of realizing that caring for a baby while, say, writing a dissertation was going to be hell. New mothers are always unprepared for the reality of life with baby--there's just no way to really understand it until you're living it--but it does seem like life in the academic world, where the mind is what matters and the body seems inconsequential, intensifies this transition for many.
So I'm glad I "went back there." I'm glad this book exists, and I hope that someday my daughter will read it and think, "Wow! Things were so different back then."