If you’re a woman in academia and at all maternally inclined, then you’re probably familiar with the book Mama, PhD: Women Write About Motherhood and Academic Life. You have either come across it — it’s been recommended to you, you’ve read about it, or you’ve been given it as a gift. Like those little green Bibles that seem to flood campus about once a year, finding their way into every dorm, surfacing in corners of classrooms and generally sneaking their way into the hands of welcoming and reluctant recipients alike, Mama, PhD has a similar way of circulating among the female and the scholarly. And like a Bible of sorts, it fills readers with both hope and trepidation as they turn to it with hopeful eyes ready to be instructed on how to best navigate academia and motherhood.
I read Mama, PhD in my early years of grad school and put the book away feeling thankful to have read so many perspectives and so many takes on making this parenthood thing work. At the time, I was nowhere near pregnant, but certain of my desires to start a family and worried about how to best negotiate that while also working 40, 50, 60, (more?) hours a week on courses, teaching, research, grading, reading, and writing.
Fast forward a few years and here I am: mama and almost a PhD. I hate to count my chickens, err, diplomas, before they hatch, but seeing as how my defense date is set for less than a month away and how I’m at the revisions and editing stage of my work now, I’m hoping that it’s safe to say: this thing will happen.
I should say that my entire grad school experience can be summed up as an exercise in mind/body duality. Like a tug of war — with my brain on one side and my body on the other and me weirdly caught in the middle — I scampered through semester after semester always in search of that elusive thing called “balance.” Refusing to take sides, I’d try to nurture one a little bit, then pay attention to the other a little more.
As the years went on the stakes got increasingly higher. Let’s just say that the past five and a half years have been years of great intellectual growth and inspiration while also being the most physically intense years I have ever experienced. Never much of an athlete before, I now count two marathons, several half marathons, a year of all-weather bike commuting, and a rekindled passion for yoga to my accomplishments.
I never even fully realized how ridiculous this all sounds until I started contemplating this post and noticed a pattern I had somehow missed before. The more academia demanded I become a disembodied brain on a stick, the more I felt the need to use my body, test its limits, escape the world of sitting and thinking and writing and talking, and dive into a world of running, cycling, stretching, and sweating.
Motherhood is, in a way, the most visceral and physical act of rebellion against academia that I have committed.
Motherhood, with the undeniable focus on the body, the pregnancy, the sleep deprivation, the lifting, carrying, nursing, rocking, playing, holding, and kissing, is by far the most body-centric activity I do all day. This is not to suggest that I became a mother out of a need to rebel — the desire for a family was always there. But it is interesting that we chose the epitome of a stressful time (the final year, the year our dissertations had to be completed and defended) to also become parents.
On the other hand, when else would we become parents? As anyone in this situation knows, grad school robs you of your twenties and early thirties (depending on when you start and how long your program takes to complete), and in essence, of your prime family-starting years. Then you go on the job market and face even more demands on your time, only now with a tenure clock hanging over your head, fighting to drown out the sound of your reproductive one.
So we took the plunge and decided to live our lives: now, in the present, no longer waiting for that mythical “perfect moment.”