In this guest post, Lucia Taylor (see her full biography at the end) reflects on her experiences of becoming a mother as she finished her PhD and started a tenure-track position at Dixie State University. She struggled to balance work life with the needs of her family. The societal expectation to be a “super mother” exacerbated the problem. Fortunately, unlike the horror stories she had heard, she found support from her colleagues and department to help her balance those demands.
I am Spanish citizen who came to the United States six years ago with a scholarship to enroll in a Master of Language Pedagogy and teach at the University of Utah. My plan was to stay for a year and then move back to Spain where I could apply everything that I had learned. During that first year, I missed my family, my friends, my culture and, definitely, the Spanish food. However, during that year I also met new friends, and I met my husband. I also discovered a new way of working in academia that was entirely different from what I had known in Spain. In my home country, I was a PhD. student and I had been teaching Spanish as a foreign language for 4 years.
Once I graduated, I was hired as an instructor at the same university, and during that third year in the USA, I got married. I was ABD (all but dissertation) in my PhD, and I started attending conferences, presenting at them and building relationships in the academia setting. After multiple interviews, campus visits, and also rejections, I got a teaching position in Dallas, Texas. My husband, our dog, and I moved without thinking twice. After a couple of months in Dallas, a position opened at Dixie State University (college at that time). Although the idea of going through the process of applying for a job was not exciting, the idea of getting a tenure-track position was appealing enough for me to try. I was beyond excited when I was offered that position, and after a semester in Dallas, my family started the move all over again. In January, I was ready to start my new job and I was lucky enough to be a part of the transition from college to university status.
My First Pregnancy, And Some Unexpected Support
I was hired as an instructor until I complete my PhD, with the understanding that the time would count towards the tenure. That very first semester I got pregnant. Obviously, at the beginning, I freaked out… I had thought about having kids, but not until I had set my professional path. I had imagined it would happen after I was tenured. Far from that, I hadn’t been at Dixie State for a whole semester, I still had to attend “New Faculty” training, and I felt like I was already “causing problems.” On one hand, you know that in any job market, it is not a good start to tell your boss “thanks for the opportunity. By the way, I’m pregnant!” On the other hand, I was hired to start a new section in the Spanish program, I was going to take linguistics and pedagogy and teach new courses every semester. I knew nobody would be able to substitute for me, so I was definitely in trouble.
I went to talk to my department chair about my situation, concerned about what repercussions the pregnancy would have. My chair at that time had a little girl of her own, and she got almost more excited than me when I told her the news. After the initial shock of her reaction, I asked her how my situation would affect my position. Since my PhD would be from Spain, I had to physically return to Spain to defend it, which is hard to do when you are pregnant or have a newborn baby.
She told me that she would talk to the Dean and the Human Resources (HR) office to find out, but she was sure there was not going to be a problem since Utah is a state where family is the base of the community. She assured me that no one would blame me for starting my own family. While I was waiting to hear from them, I searched the Internet for different scenarios, yielding the same the same conclusion. Most of the cases ended up with the expectant mothers being fired during the training period. Although I did not find anything specific to academia, it wouldn’t be so different, right? I was expecting to be without a job at the end of the spring semester and fully pregnant. Everybody from HR, the Dean’s office, and my department were supportive of my pregnancy and contributed to granting me peace of mind. I was beyond surprised.
My pregnancy was not easy, although it could have been worse. I suffered 8 months of morning sickness, migraines, low-blood pressure, and falling (including a dislocated toe) – all without being able to take any medication other than Tylenol. I had to compartmentalize my responsibilities and choose the ones that were more crucial for my current situation at the time. I focused on being a teacher and I put the dissertation on hold (although I kept working on it on a regular basis, I couldn’t spend as much time on it as I would have liked).
Rejecting The Myth Of “Super Mom”
My first son was born at the end of October on his due date, which was perfect because it fit into the busy schedule I was managing at the time. I taught on Friday, I woke up on Saturday and had my baby by the end of the day. Since, I hadn’t been working at Dixie State for a year, I couldn’t request time off or make official arrangements to help with this. However, once again, my department was so supportive, they allowed me to take 2 weeks off. My colleagues taught my advanced grammar and composition classes, and since I am the only one in Linguistics, I created online formats for those weeks so that my students would still complete the course without me having a baby “interfering.”
I went back to work after two weeks, a week before Thanksgiving; I was excited to be back. I thought surviving the pregnancy and the delivery was the hard part and I was motivated to go back to being a full time teacher and scholar. However, after a month and half of being a mom, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. I was crying all the way back home from work, I was crying while I was taking care of my adorable, perfect son, and I cried even more when I was on my own. I was not like that before; had always managed well through hard times. Everyone was supporting me, but it didn’t matter and I would still cry and feel like a failure as a teacher, as a scholar, and as a mother. Twenty-four hours a day, I felt as though I was missing something; I could not focus 100% on anything, and I knew, in the back of my mind, that I was not performing at my best on every aspect of my life. I didn’t know that I was such a perfectionist until this point in my life.
My pediatrician was the one who helped me the most. He told me “you are crying all of the time, because you care about this baby. You are being a mother, a good one, so scratch that from your guilt list.” He also shared his knowledge about the increased chances of having postpartum depression among young mothers with Masters and PhDs; academia trains you to work under stressful situations where you can actively work towards fixing a problem. Motherhood doesn’t work this way; I was approaching being a mother the same way I would approach the task of passing a major exam or facing a new course development. I thought that if I was doing my research, applying the methods that I learned, and work hard towards an objective (for example, getting the baby on a schedule), everything should work as planned. After all, that was my experience in life until that point. I had studied, researched, taught, and I had always reached my goals, so this couldn’t be much more different, could it? However, it was not working out that way.
I, once again, went to my department chair and my dean to talk about my situation. At this point, my teaching performance was as good as before. However, I couldn’t focus on the dissertation. I needed another extension. This time, the Vice President of Academic Affairs at Dixie State University got involved. I was granted an extension with the added assignment of coordinating the program assessment as a counteroffer. I took this new responsibility and added a new title to my list. Now I was a teacher, a scholar, an assessment coordinator, a wife and also a mother.
After pinpointing the problem, I was able to accept that I was, in fact, a good mother and with the assistance of medication, the great support from my department, and from my family, I made it through the dark times. I finally got to bond with my new son, I enjoyed going to work AND coming back home. By my son’s second birthday, I managed to finish the dissertation, as well as to complete the program assessment cycle successfully, get appointed as one of the School of Humanities Assessment Coordinators Leads, serve as Dixie State’s representative in the Utah bridge project (which develops “bridge” courses for high-school students in Dual Language Immersion programs), get positive students’ reviews, present at two academic conferences, support my family, and stay mentally and physically healthy.
I was back to being myself, performing at the level that I was expecting from myself. However, this whole experience changed me in understanding how important compartmentalizing is nowadays when you are trying to survive. Women are constantly put under pressure for how they behave as mothers, professionals, women, etc., and much of this pressure comes from the Internet. My darkest thoughts were validated by comments that I found on the web. These days, everyone can Google, search, and find what other people are doing, and everyone is expressing judgmental opinions. Society puts pressure on women based on the traditional roles that men and women are assigned. I had to defend myself because I chose to be a good teacher and I had accepted that I was not going to be a perfect mother; I heard multiple times that I would regret missing my son’s experiences in the future. I had to deal with funny faces when I told people that my husband was a stay-home dad while I was working full time; we were not fitting into the roles society had assigned us.
However, on the other hand, there are also women who are coming together to get rid of the idea of superwomen and supermothers. I found a Spanish online club, Club de Malasmadres (The Bad Mothers Club), where young entrepreneur professional women fight against this alpha/super mother figure that society is expecting from us. Through memes and funny images, these women express out loud what we are thinking but are afraid to say because of the judgments we would receive.
My Second Pregnancy, And A New Outlook
My perception of motherhood has changed since I had my son. I was trying to be an alpha mother who could do everything that everyone expected her to do and to be able to do it with perfection. I am not one of those; I am a proud “bad-mother” whose only thought is always doing what is best for my family, my students, and me. This usually means compartmentalizing and choosing one face of myself over the rest of them. I worked hard to finish the dissertation and when I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, I moved into a new one. I am currently 3 months pregnant with my second child, a girl. Once again, I can say that I have nothing but support from everyone in my work environment.
When I tell people about this pregnancy, I also add that everything will be happening according to the plan at work. I still need to go to Spain to defend the dissertation, and I am planning on going during the winter break, when I will be about 6 months pregnant. Hopefully, nothing else will get in the way. My expectations about being a mother again are different from what I was expecting with my first child; I could say that I am less naive. I am not expecting for everything to be perfect, I am not expecting myself to be perfect. Hopefully, this time around I won’t get depressed again; but even if I do, I won’t see it as a failure. My depression made me stronger in the sense of knowing I overcame it. I let my depression define me for a while. I think now know that it will be just another part of myself.
Usually, when I read about academia and creating a family, I run into all sort of difficulties and regrets. I am so thankful for having been in a situation where everybody around me understood that besides being a teacher and a scholar, I am also a woman, a wife, and a mother. I have colleagues who have waited until they are tenured to start their own families. They didn’t want to deal with multiple faces of their own personality. Some have just delayed the experience; some have missed it or found it really difficult to happen for whatever reason. I’m glad that I didn’t have to choose between being in a tenure-track position and creating my own family, although it hasn’t been an easy path.
Lucia Taylor is a tenure-track faculty member at Dixie State University. She was born in Spain, and came to US in 2009, only returning to her home country for occasional vacations. Her research interests are oral proficiency, assessment, and pedagogy. She works at a teaching-centered institution because she defines herself as a teacher who does research to improve her teaching skills. She always thought she was not a kids-person, until she had her own son. But, truthfully, she still likes dogs better than some kids.