Category Mama, PhD


Susan Bassow earned a PhD from Harvard University in 1995; her disser­tation on climate change and its impacts on forests led to an American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellowship in Washington, D. C., where she worked (before and throughout her first pregnancy) for the Environmental Protection Agency and President Clinton’s White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Currently, she serves on the Board of Trustees for the Thorne Ecological Institute, organizes science and math programs for the local elementary school, and cares full time for her daughters, ages six and nine. In a typical week, she and her family ex­plore nearby fields and ponds, hike in the mountains, feed butterflies, and promote science and math education.

Leah Bradshaw is a political theorist at Brock University in Canada. She wrote a doctoral thesis, then a book, on Hannah Arendt, to whom she re­mains indebted for Arendt’s example of how to live, love, and think. Recent work has been on the relationship between emotions and judgment, nar­rative and philosophy, classical notions of love, and empire and polis. She has three children, all of whom call her “Mom,” and one mother who insists on calling her “Doctor.”

After enjoying years of great travel while studying the evolution of a large group of South American butterflies, Dana Campbell finished her PhD from Harvard University just as her first daughter was born. Despite an attractive postdoc offer to work in the exciting new field of “evo-devo,” she chose instead to stay at home with her baby. She is still “at home” full time, now with two daughters and a bunch of interesting projects, which in­clude building an interactive animal database for kids, writing a science/ psychology activity book for parents of young children, and developing a

Web site for nontraditional academics. Dana and her family live just out­side of Washington, D. C., and spend summers in the beautiful San Juan Islands of Washington State.

Jennifer Cognard-Black’s teaching at St. Mary’s College of Maryland is akin to the multitasking she engages to be both a professor and a mother. Her courses range from fiction writing to Victorian literature to a class on the literatures of food, “Books That Cook.” Her publications include a book on female literary friendships across the Atlantic, Narrative in the Professional Age (Routledge) and a coedited collection of letters by Victorian women writers, Kindred Hands (University of Iowa Press). Under the pseu­donym J. Annie MacLeod, she also publishes short stories, and, most re­cently, she’s written an article for Ms. Magazine on plastic surgery. Jennifer is most proud of her daughter, Katharine—her truth and her light.

Nicole Cooley has published two books of poetry with Louisiana State Uni­versity Press, Resurrection (winner of the 1995 Walt Whitman Award) and The Afflicted Girls, and a novel, Judy Garland, Ginger Love (HarperCollins). Her writing on mothering has appeared in the anthologies Toddler, Liter­ary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined, and Fence Books’ recent collection, Not For Mothers Only. She is an associate professor of English and creative writing at Queens College-The City University of New York, where she directs the new MFA program. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and two daughters, Meridian and Arcadia.

Martha Ellis Crone lives in Upper Arlington, Ohio, with her husband and three daughters. She was one of the first two students to earn a BPhil from the University of Pittsburgh’s Honors College and she also holds a PhD in Political Science from The Ohio State University. Currently a freelance writer and editor, she is working on her first novel, Entanglements, about a university student dealing with an unexpected pregnancy. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found driving a Nissan minivan in circles around her suburban town, picking up and dropping off progeny and lis­tening to audiobooks.

Angelica Duran is an associate professor of English and comparative liter­ature at Purdue University. Born and educated in California (University of California, Berkeley, BA and MA in English; Stanford University PhD in English), she nevertheless and thoroughly enjoys living in the U. S.

Midwest during the school year with her husband, Sean, daughter, Jacque­line, and son, Paul. In the summer, the family travels nationally and inter­nationally, most recently to Argentina, Costa Rica, Spain, Thailand, and, of course, the extended family’s center in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Rosemarie Emanuele has a PhD in economics from Boston College. There, with the assistance of a grant from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, she began research into volunteer labor and the economics of nonprofit organizations. She currently teaches in the mathematics depart­ment at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio, where she can often be heard talking about economics or her daughter with equal enthusiasm. Her research has appeared in several economics journals, as well as in interdisciplinary journals studying the nonprofit sector.

Elrena Evans holds an MFA from The Pennsylvania State University and writes for numerous mama-centric publications, including a monthly col­umn for Literary Mama (http://literarymama. com). Her work also appears in the anthologies Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers (Ran­dom House) and How to Fit a Car Seat on a Camel (Seal Press). Although Pat the Bunny fits perfectly on her bookshelf next to Power/Knowledge, she still hasn’t decided about finishing the PhD. She had no complications with her second pregnancy, and lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, daughter, and son. Her Web site is http://www. elrenaevans. com.

Della Fenster submitted her dissertation in mathematics to the University of Virginia balancing her eighteen-month-old daughter, Hannah, on her hip. Hannah is now fourteen and has two younger brothers, Colin and Casey. Della is currently an associate professor of mathematics at the Uni­versity of Richmond. She enjoys teaching across the mathematics curricu­lum as well as the university core course that focuses on great literature. She also recently worked with an undergraduate student to create a travel course to Vienna. Her research has appeared in notable journals with long names, while her personal essays have found an occasional home in Skirt! Magazine. She makes an effort to strike a careful balance between dark chocolate and exercise.

Leslie Leyland Fields is the author of five books, among them Surviving the Island of Grace (Thomas Dunne) and Surprise Child: Finding Hope in Un­expected Pregnancy (Waterbrook). She lives on Kodiak Island, Alaska, with her husband and six children, and teaches creative nonfiction in Seattle Pacific University’s MFA program. Her next book, forthcoming from Water – brook, will expose ten parenting myths (out of a field of, say, fifty-seven), among them “Loving Your Child Is Natural and Instinctive” and “Parent­ing Is Intense for Only a Season.” Her two Web sites are Leslie Leyland Fields (http://www. leslie-leyland-fields. com) and Surprise Child (http:// www. surprisechild. com).

Caroline Grant spent nearly three years writing a dissertation that about seven people read (including her mom). Now she is senior editor of Liter­ary Mama (http://literarymama. com), where she also writes a monthly movie column for a broad audience (still including her mom). She holds a PhD in comparative literature from the University of California, Berkeley, and has taught at Berkeley, Stanford University, and the San Francisco Art Institute. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and two sons, a life she writes about on her blog, Food for Thought (http://foodthought. org).

Elisabeth Rose Gruner is an associate professor of English and women, gender, and sexuality studies at the University of Richmond. Her research on children’s literature has appeared in The Lion and the Unicorn and Chil­dren’s Literature, while her work on Victorian literature has appeared in Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, SIGNS: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, and the Journal of English and Germanic Philology. Although her tenure case made the Chronicle of Higher Education, she has managed to combine professing and parenting reasonably successfully, most recently by becoming a columnist for Literary Mama (http://literarymama. com). Her essay “Mama Mentor” appeared in A Cup of Comfort for Teachers, and her nonacademic writing has also been published in Brain, Child: The Mag­azine for Thinking Mothers, Toddler (Seal Press), and Literary Mama.

Jessica Smartt Gullion is a medical sociologist who conducts research on lay perception of medical knowledge. She is currently working in an applied setting outside of the academy, and teaches a class as an adjunct professor. Her writings on motherhood have appeared in the Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering and on Mothers Movement Online (http://www. mothersmovement. org). She would like to note that none of the individuals mentioned in her essay currently work at that university.

Lisa Harper is an adjunct professor of writing in the MFAW program at the University of San Francisco. She received her BA in English/creative writing from Princeton University, her MA in English/creative writing and her PhD in English from the University of California, Davis. Her non­fiction writing has appeared in Gastronomica, Literary Mama, Lost Maga­zine, Princeton Alumni Weekly, Fortnight Magazine, and The Irish News. Her academic writing has appeared in The Emily Dickinson Journal, Literary Couplings: Writing Couples, Collaborators, and the Construction of Authorship, and Switchback. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, daughter, and son.

After receiving a PhD from the University of Florida and then spending five years at the University of Montana-Western, Aeron Haynie is now happily ensconced (and tenured) at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay where she actually gets paid to teach Dickens and develop cool interdisciplinary courses like “The Culture of Food.” She’s been published in such places as the Victorian Institute Journal, Literary Mama, Radical Teacher, and Free Verse.

Sonya Huber is an assistant professor at Georgia Southern University in the Department of Writing and Linguistics, where she teaches creative writ­ing and composition. Her first book, Opa Nobody (University of Nebraska Press), presents a portrait of her anti-Nazi activist grandfather in fiction and memoir. Her work has appeared in Fourth Genre, Literary Mama, Pas­sages North, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and anthologies from Seal Press, University of Arizona Press, and Prometheus Books. She lives in Statesboro, Georgia, with her son, Ivan, and husband, Donny Humes. She should never have worried about having a quiet and judgmental Gerber baby, because instead she got a skateboarding, air-guitar-playing, story­telling ball of pure independence.

Amy Hudock is a single mom who lives outside of Charleston, South Car­olina, where she and her daughter ride horses, swim at the neighborhood pool, and fish at the waterfront park. She holds a PhD in American litera­ture and women’s studies, and is the chair of the Humanities Department at a private college preparatory school. She is the editor-in-chief of Literary Mama (http://literarymama. com), coeditor of Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined (Seal Press), and author of essays that have ap­peared in Skirt! Magazine, ePregnancy, Philosophical Mother, Pregnancy and Baby, Single State of the Union, and A Cup of Comfort for Single Mothers. She blogs at Single Mothering: Southern Style (http://singlemotheringsouthern style. blogspot. com).

Megan Pincus Kajitani made it almost to the end of her four-year Javits Fellowship before leaving the PhD path. She came away with an MA in media and cultural studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a job as a career counselor for graduate students at the University of California, San Diego. Now Megan is a freelance writer and editor; her Web site is at http://www. mpk-ink. com. Recent publications include columns in the Chronicle of Higher Education, a chapter in Children and Media in Times of War and Conflict (Hampton Press), and an essay in Sun – shine/Noir (CityWorks Press). Motivated by the events described in her Mama, PhD essay, she also writes a blog called Having Enough (http:// www. having-enough. com). She lives with her husband and daughter in Carlsbad, California.

Julia Spicher Kasdorf is the author of two collections of poetry, Eve’s Strip­tease and Sleeping Preacher, both from the Pitt Poetry Series (University of Pittsburgh Press), a book of essays, The Body and the Book (Johns Hopkins University Press), and a biography, Fixing Tradition (Pandora/US). Most recently, with Michael Tyrell she edited Broken Land: Poems of Brooklyn (NYU Press). She directs the MFA program at The Pennsylvania State Uni­versity and lives in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, where she is raising a child with an artist to whom she is no longer married.

Jean Kazez lives in Dallas, Texas, where she divides her time between writ­ing, teaching, and enjoying life with her husband and two children. She received a PhD in philosophy from the University of Arizona in 1990. She has written about ethics and everyday life in her book, The Weight of Things: Philosophy and the Good Life (Blackwell), as well as in essays about altruism, happiness, and the Mommy Wars in Philosophy Now and The Philosopher’s Magazine. She is currently working on a book about animals as well as on essays about the ethical dilemmas confronted by parents. You can find out more at her blog, Jean Kazez (http://www. kazez. blogspot. com).

Natalie Kertes Weaver is a theologian, poet, painter, daughter, wife, and mother. She chairs the Religious Studies Department at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio, and teaches a wide range of courses in theology and religion. She has published academic articles and is currently writing a book on the theology of family and marriage (Saint Mary’s Press). Natalie holds degrees in classical languages, philosophy, and ethics, and completed her PhD with a dissertation in feminist theology from Loyola University

Chicago. Natalie is married to her college sweetheart, with whom she has one son, and hopes to grow her family after she is tenured.

Cynthia Kuhn lives with her husband and two sons in Colorado, where she is an associate professor of English at Metropolitan State College of Denver. Her writing has appeared in publications such as McSweeney’s Quarterly, Literary Mama, and Copper Nickel; she is also the author of Self – Fashioning in Margaret Atwood’s Fiction: Dress, Culture and Identity (Peter Lang Publishing) and coeditor, with Cindy Carlson, of a forthcoming collection of critical essays, Styling Texts: Dress and Fashion in Literature (Cambria Press).

Laura Levitt directs the Jewish Studies Program at Temple University where she teaches courses in religion and women’s studies. She lives in Philadel­phia with her partner, David, and their two dogs, Moses and Walden. She is the author of Jews and Feminism: The Ambivalent Search for Home (Rout- ledge) and, most recently, American Jewish Loss after the Holocaust (New York University Press). Her academic writing is eclectic. She often writes in the first person. Laura’s students are in many ways her children. This academic family includes a number of PhDs: Tania Oldenhage, Michelle Friedman, Marian Ronan, Deborah Glanzberg-Krainin, Liora Gubkin, and Amy Weigand.

Julia Lisella is an assistant professor of English at Regis College, teaching courses in American literature and poetry writing. She continues to be fas­cinated by the connections between the working lives of the women writ­ers she studies and teaches and our own lives. She is at work on a book about maternity, modernism, and radical women poets of the 1930s. She is the author of two books of poetry, Love Song Hiroshima (Finishing Line Press) and Terrain (WordTech Editions).

Jennifer Margulis is a recovering academic who lives in Ashland, Oregon, with her husband and three children: Hesperus (eight), Athena (seven), and Etani (four). Recently a Fulbright Fellow in West Africa, she has eaten fried crickets in Niger, lectured on slavery in Mauritania, appeared live on prime-time TV in France, and performed the cancan in America. An award­winning professional writer, consultant, and photojournalist, she has pub­lished in the New York Times, Ms. Magazine, Wondertime, Parenting, the Christian Science Monitor, and dozens of other magazines and newspapers.

She has also edited or authored four books, including Toddler: Real-Life Stories of Those Fickle, Irrational, Urgent, Tiny People We Love (Seal Press).

Alissa McElreath lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband, two children, a dog, a cat, and a crazy rabbit. She holds an MA in creative writ­ing from the University of Binghamton and an MA in English language and literature from the University of Rochester. Her doctoral work is cur­rently on hold as she juggles full-time teaching, writing, and parenting. She hopes to complete her second novel by the end of next spring and hopefully, will do more with it than leave it to slowly gather dust at the bottom of a drawer.

Josie Mills holds a PhD in English with a specialty in creative writing (poetry) from the University of Denver. Her poetry has appeared in national and international journals including Talking River Review, Bitterroot, Colo­rado Lawyer, and Mantis, a Journal of Poetry, Criticism, and Translation. She lives in Denver with her husband and two sons and is a member of the English faculty at Arapahoe Community College in Littleton, Colorado.

Anjalee Deshpande Nadkarni is a playwright-actor-director living in Syra­cuse, New York. A graduate of the MFA directing program at Northwest­ern University, she studied under Robert Falls of the Goodman Theatre. Before and after graduate school, she freelanced as an actor-director. Her acting credits include projects filmed in New York, Chicago, London, and Mumbai; her favorites remain the 1996 film Once We Were Strangers, which competed at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, and the 1998 program The Prodigal Daughter, which aired in India on D-TV. Anjalee currently teaches at Le Moyne College and continues to write whenever her two-year-old son allows.

Susan O’Doherty is the author of Getting Unstuck without Coming Unglued: A Woman’s Guide to Unblocking Creativity (Seal Press). Her work has ap­peared in numerous publications, including Eureka Literary Magazine, Northwest Review, Apalachee Review, Eclectica, and Literary Mama, and the anthologies About What Was Lost: Twenty Writers on Miscarriage, Healing, and Hope (Penguin) and It’s a Boy! (Seal Press). New stories will appear in Hospital Drive and in Sex for America, edited by Stephen Elliott. Her story “Passing” was chosen as the New York story for Ballyhoo Stories’ ongoing 50 States Project, and will be distributed in chapbook form at bookstores throughout New York State. Her popular advice column for writers, “The Doctor Is In,” appears each Friday on M. J. Rose’s publishing blog, Buzz, Balls, & Hype (http://mjroseblog. typepad. com/buzz_balls_hype). She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and her thirteen-year-old son, with whom she is unambivalently delighted.

Tedra Osell earned her PhD in English from the University of Washington in 2002, and wrote her dissertation about eighteenth-century pseudony­mous periodical publication in England. She was an assistant professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario for three years before making the difficult decision to give up her position and move home to the West Coast. She has published essays about eighteenth-century pseudonymity in Eighteenth-Century Studies and about contemporary pseudonymity in the Scholar and Feminist Online and the Minnesota Review. She plans to return to teaching at some point, but for now she is a writing mom. Tedra blogs at the Suicide Girls newswire (http://suicidegirls. com/members/Bitch_ PhD/news), where she comments on feminist and reproductive rights issues, and at her own blog, Bitch, Ph. D. (http://bitchphd. blogspot. com), where she comments on anything that crosses her mind.

Miriam Peskowitz is the author, with Andrea Buchanan, of The Daring Book for Girls (HarperCollins), The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars (Seal Press), and two academic works, Judaism Since Gender, edited with Laura Levitt (Routledge), and Spinning Fantasies (University of California Press). She is the cofounder of MotherTalk (http://www. mother-talk. com), an on­line book review site that connects mothers, bloggers, and authors. Miriam was an award-winning and tenured professor at the University of Florida, a post she left in 1998 when her first child was born and her workplace had no formal family leave policy for professors. She has also taught at Emory University, Temple University, and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Col­lege. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and two daughters. Her current Web site is http://www. daringbookforgirls. com.

Christy Rowe is a lecturer in literature/humanities at the University of Denver, where her academic interests range from twentieth-century poet­ics, to travel writing, to sci-fi and fantasy studies (with an emphasis on the cyberpunk movement). A travel addict, she’s been to four continents and twenty-plus countries. She has published both critical and creative work (mostly poetry) in journals such as McSweeney’s Quarterly, the Denver

Quarterly, Salt Hill, and the Journal of Imagism. Currently she lives in Den­ver with her husband and two daughters and dreams of her next trip to Thailand.

Judith Sanders works as a freelance writer, editor, writing coach—and as a mother. She received a BA in literature from Yale, where she was a mem­ber of the pioneering first full class of women; an MA from the Boston University Creative Writing Program; a Fulbright Fellowship for a year of study and teaching in France; and a PhD in English from Tufts Univer­sity. She has taught writing and literature at Boston University, the Mass­achusetts Institute of Technology, Tufts, and Bowdoin College. She has published articles and poems in such journals as the American Scholar and Poetica. She is currently writing a book of short stories and editing an anthology of mothering poems with Mama, PhD contributor Julia Lisella.

After much drama and hand-wringing, Irena Auerbuch Smith completed her dissertation and obtained a PhD in comparative literature after her first child was born, then went and had two more children in quick succession, which pretty much destroyed her chances of ever getting a “real” job. She currently lives in Palo Alto with her incredibly patient husband, teaches part time in the mornings, and spends the bulk of her afternoons and weekends driving various children to various after-school activities. Her long-term goals include finishing a memoir about growing up as a Russian emigre in the Bay Area, running the Nike Women’s Marathon (she’s up to twelve miles), and getting her children to school without sprinting the last fifty yards in an attempt to beat the bell.

Sheila Squillante is a writer of poetry and nonfiction whose work has ap­peared or will be appearing in such journals as Prairie Schooner, Clackamas Literary Review, the Southeast Review, Phoebe, Quarterly West, and Glamour, and at such online spaces as Literary Mama, Brevity, Unpleasant Event Schedule, and TYPO. She is the associate director of the MFA Program at The Pennsylvania State University, where she also teaches in the English Department. She lives with her husband and their two-year-old son (whom they did not, much to the chagrin of her good-natured class, name Beo­wulf); they are expecting a daughter in November of 2007.

Rebecca Steinitz has a PhD in English from the University of California, Berkeley. Formerly an associate professor in the English Department at

Ohio Wesleyan University, she is now a writer, editor, and consultant. She has published scholarly articles on Victorian fiction and life writing in LIT: Literature Interpretation Theory, Studies in the Novel, a/b: Auto/Biography Studies, Victorians Institute Journal, and the Communication Review. Her essays and reviews have appeared in the New Republic, Utne Reader, Salon, Inside Higher Ed, the New York Observer, the Boston Globe, and the Women’s Review of Books, among other places. She lives in Arlington, Massachu­setts, with her husband and two daughters.

Liz Stockwell grew up in Panama where she spent endless hours exploring the jungle and developing a love for tropical biology. After earning a PhD from the University of Washington with a dissertation titled “Wing Mor­phology and Flight Maneuverability in New World Leaf-nosed Bats,” she spent six years in Halifax, Nova Scotia, rediscovering her Canadian roots and teaching at Dalhousie University. She now lives on Burnaby Mountain near Vancouver, British Colombia, where she spends her days with her two young children, teaching them about the joys of playing in the woods, eating wild salmonberries, and searching for banana slugs.

Jean-Anne Sutherland holds a PhD in sociology from the University of Akron, where she completed a dissertation entitled “‘What Can I Do Dif­ferent, What Could Be Better, What Could You Do More?’: Guilt, Shame, and Mothering.” As an assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, she continues her research on mothering, guilt, and shame. She is thrilled to be living close to the shore with her daughter, Savannah, and their dachshund, Reggie.

Jamie Warner earned her PhD in political science in 2001 from The Penn­sylvania State University, and teaches political theory at Marshall Univer­sity in Huntington, West Virginia. Her research centers on nontraditional forms of political participation and communication, especially those in­volving political humor and parody, which makes her research a lot of fun. Her work has appeared in Popular Communication and Women & Politics, and she’s currently working on a book titled Political Culture Jamming: Politics, Parody, and Truth in the American Public Sphere. She lives in the woods with her lovely husband, George, where they are growing their first real garden, trying to make cheese, and still debating whether or not to have children.

Erin Webster Garrett holds a PhD in literary studies from the University of Denver and is currently an associate professor of English and women’s studies at Radford University. She has written extensively on working mother extraordinaire Mary Shelley, and credits her successful application for tenure to the recent publication of her first book on the subject, The Literary Career of Novelist Mary Shelley after 1822. She credits her continued sanity to the births of her children, Walker Bowman, who agreeably arrived on the last day of classes following her first year as an assistant professor, and Katherine Abigail, who arrived three weeks before Erin learned of hav­ing been awarded tenure. She currently lives in Virginia with her husband and two children.

Jennifer Eyre White has an MS in electrical engineering from the Uni­versity of California, Los Angeles. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her (second) husband and three kids. Her daughter Riley (now twelve) swears that she will attend UCLA some day and revisit those hallways and bathrooms that were once her second home. Jennifer still works part-time as an engineering analyst, but somewhere along the line she became a writer, too. She’s published in EE Times, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Spectrum, the International Journal of Vehicle Systems Dynamics, Wondertime, the Cup of Comfort series (Adams Media), and Lit­erary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined (Seal Press), among other places. She writes about the chaos and alarmingly high decibel level of life with three kids on her Web site, Having Three Kids (http://www. Having ThreeKids. com).

[1] am grateful to Miriam Peskowitz for thinking of me in the context of this volume. I also want to thank my mother, who, after reading this essay, reminded me that, like her, I continue to play dress-ups with all of the people I love.

[2] finished my master’s degree and my thesis was published in an engi­neering journal. My advisor suggested that I continue on for a PhD, but

[3] dedicate this essay to fellow alum Stephen Peters, for his trust and aid, which went so far in helping me become a Mama, PhD.

[4] am highly practiced at this magic show. I took my first teaching job at a state university in 1987 while pregnant with my first child: family and career gestating together, like twins wrestling within me. I concealed my insecurity and inexperience with billowing clothes and an inflated vocabu­lary. No one knew I was pregnant until my sixth month. While working toward a third master’s degree, I had two more babies. After giving birth late one afternoon to my third child, I sat up in my hospital bed for most of the evening, pulled out a book and my laptop, and wrote an annotation to turn in the next day. I slept well that night in the hospital bed, happy with my creative output: a son and a paper produced in the same day. And

[5] schedule thirty-minute conferences with students, knowing that they run out of steam after twenty minutes’ close attention to their essays. I spend the time remaining between students making calls to different people in the university’s human resources department, trying to get a clear answer about maternity leave benefits. I finally learn that I can take six weeks’ paid leave after six months’ employment.

Six months. I began work September i. I just need to make it until March i. My baby is due March 14. I cross my fingers for an easy third trimester and make my contingency plans.

And then? Then I have six weeks to decide if I’m coming back.

A six-week leave would bring me back in the middle of the following semester, so my chair offers me a position in the tutoring center. I can

[6] Definitions of utopia are from the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Lan­guage, 3rd ed. (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1992).

[7] Joan Williams, Unbending Gender: Why Work and Family Conflict and What to Do about It (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).

[8] Susan J Douglas and Meredith W. Michaels, The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women (New York: Free Press, 2004).

[9] Reuters, “Yawn! Most Mothers Don’t Get Enough Sleep,” MSNBC, October 20, 2006, http://www. msnbc. msn. com/id/15347691.

[10] See Cass Cliatt, “University Expands Family-Friendly Policies for Graduate Stu­dents,” News@Princeton (April 3, 2007), http://www. princeton. edu/main/news/archive /Si7/52/i2Aoi/index. xml (accessed April 24, 2007); Michael Pena, “New Childbirth Policy for Female Graduate Students,” Stanford Report (January 27, 2006), http://news- service. stanford. edu/news/2006/february1/mom-020106.html (accessed April 24, 2007); “Childbirth Accommodation Policy for Women Graduate Students at Stanford University,” Stanford Graduate Student Handbook, http://www. stanford. edu/dept/DoR /GSH/childbirth. html#pre_post (accessed April 24, 2007); Angela A. Sun, “Harvard Lags in Grad Parent Aid,” Harvard Crimson (April 12, 2007), http://www. thecrimson. com /article. aspx? ref=5i8i93 (accessed April 24, 2007); “Doctoral Student Family-Friendly Policies,” University of Pennsylvania Office of Graduate Studies, http://www. upenn .edu/grad/familyfriendly. htm (accessed April 24, 2007).

[11] Joan C. Williams, “Singing the Grad-School Baby Blues,” Chronicle of Higher Educa­tion (April 20, 2004), http://chronicle. com/jobs/news/2004/04/2004042001c/careers .html (accessed April 24, 2007).

[12] We are not claiming that it is more difficult in our field than in anyone else’s. Also, we focus on our experiences as married, heterosexual, biological mothers here, but fathers—as well as adoptive, single, same-sex, step-, and foster parents—also face the stress of sleep deprivation, the work of balancing a new family dynamic with existing job duties, the inevitable financial tangles, the need for institutional compassion, et cetera.

[13] Anything beyond a so-called normal pregnancy elevates the intensity of what is already an emotionally and physically complex time. Among the four of us, there were several pregnancy losses, symphysis, and preeclampsia necessitating bed rest (and postdelivery: postpartum depression, a broken tailbone, reconstruction of the pelvic floor, and hyperlactation). Online forums specific to the problem, and therapy, proved to be extremely useful resources in these cases.

[14] We all finished the PhD before having children and went through our pregnancies at what was labeled “advanced maternal age.” The resulting treatment and testing, while important, can be stressful—especially given the reams of pregnancy literature that figures the older mother as a creaky, failing machine who, if struck by complications, should just consider herself lucky that she was able to get pregnant in the first place.

[15] You do not have to hide the physical tolls connected to motherhood.

Both before and immediately after the baby’s arrival, concentrating on anything more taxing than watching popsicles melt can be a major endeavor.

[16] For morning sickness, we recommend cinnamon gum, ginger ale, hard candy, and motion sickness wristbands. If all else fails, your doctor can actually prescribe anti­nausea medication (do not underestimate the benefits of the latter even if you don’t like to medicate—it can really take the edge off). And since it is worse when you are tired— naps, naps, naps.

[17] If you experience complications during birth and your doctor requires that you have more healing time, your college may approve an extended leave.

In Dreams Begin Possibilities

Or, Anybody Have Time for a Change?

judith sanders

A friend and I were watching her plump, luscious twin toddlers laugh themselves silly as they learned to roll downhill. She confided that she was pregnant with her third child, so she was leaving her job. “They’ll never be like this again,” she said of her girls, who somehow kept rolling sideways, “but I can always go back to work.”

She is not an academic.

All the recent talk about exit and entrance ramps in women’s careers does not yet apply to women in the academy. We cannot leave and then come back ten years later with out-of-date references and no recent publi­cations. We wouldn’t even get so much as an interview.

Mothers with PhDs know the musical chairs situation all too well: too many qualified candidates for too few jobs; more and more work piled on those chosen few who do land positions, as strained institutions try to squeeze the most out of each employee. Yes, women have made enormous progress in obtaining access to education and the professions over the last thirty years. But in the academy, the career path originally developed for men-with-wives hasn’t changed to accommodate us in more than token ways: an iota of occasional, usually begrudged, maternity leave of a pathet­ically brief duration, often unpaid, and occasionally a year’s slowing of the tenure clock. (In one friend’s recent tenure hearing, her male colleagues held her request for such a slowdown against her—claiming that it showed she “wasn’t serious.”)

The sociologist Arlie Hochschild observes that the feminist revolution stalls as soon as one has a baby. Academia’s no ivory-tower exception. Even this far into the second wave, nothing’s been done to fix the fact that our prime childbearing years coincide with the years in which we are supposed to move all around the country for postdocs and visiting positions, brave the job market, prepare new courses, publish our dissertations, and get tenure. Consequently, we have a low birthrate, and the quality of our lives if we do have children suffers in a way that seems anachronistic—and unnecessary.

We’ve all looked around our departments and observed how few of us have children; statistics in a recent article in Academe confirm our anec­dotal evidence.1 A few of us have one child, but far fewer have two, and these women are usually incredibly energetic, gifted, and determined souls, some of whom have unusual support systems—a competent grandma nearby, a stay-at-home husband, or a trust fund. Or a capacity to live with­out sleep. Most of us mortal souls cannot pull it off. And any of us who falls into unusual circumstances, such as having a sick or special needs child, is, like the Cat in the Hat juggling his rake and fish and cake, doomed to fall off the ball.

So most of us still face a devil’s choice of children or career, or both with the attendant stress and chaos. This situation is not good—not for us personally, much less for our children, nor for our profession, as it’s an open secret that being mothers makes us better teachers. There is no better teacher training, in fact, than learning viscerally that every student is someone’s beloved child—or damn well ought to be. There is no more convincing introduction to the value of distinct learning styles, or intensive seminar in gender and development, or effective boot camp for training in efficiency and multitasking. And of course the profound, transformative experience of perpetuating life, that universal essential activity, enriches our scholarship. But all that hard-won knowledge is excluded as if it were a betrayal of our commitment to the life of the mind, when the real cause for the exclusion is persistent sexism, a dismissive belittlement of every­thing that smacks of the maternal, perhaps because of its threatening pull into regression.

Whether from observation or experience, we know the personal costs of choosing both. We know that those of us who are parents-with – professorships often have households that teeter on the brink of melt­down because no one has time—and because we’ve all been indoctrinated into devaluing domesticity. We don’t like to admit it, but we all know chil­dren of dual-career families who spend too much time in day care or in front of a screen, or whose problems get swept under the family rug. Or we must hire out our domestic work and child care to poorer or third-world

1. Mary Ann Mason and Marc Goulden, “Do Babies Matter? The Effect of Family Formation on the Lifelong Careers of Academic Men and Women,” Academe 88, no. 6 (2002): 21-27. Available at http://www. aaup. org/publications.

women, many of whom have left their own children at home so they can care for ours—that is, we must participate in a system whose ethics are highly dubious. All our sacrifice, the sweatshop work hours at the expense of family life, might make sense if we lived in a poor country, but we live in a fabulously rich one. It’s a question not of necessity, but of choices, pri­orities, values.

We have been so cooperative with the male model that makes us work hardest during our childbearing and child-rearing years because we run scared. The tight job market makes us scared that we’ll lose our livelihoods, a prospect that’s worrisome enough for couples now that it takes two salaries to maintain a family’s toehold in the middle class, and downright terrifying for single parents. Since many of us don’t feel we have a choice about whether to earn wages, few of us dare rock the boat. But we are also scared that the boys will kick us out, so we still play by their rules.

As some of us gain power in the profession, as we rise to become chairs and deans and presidents and policy-makers, perhaps we’ll be able to over­come such fears and use our power to make the conditions of academic em­ployment more accommodating to the realities of women’s—of people’s— lives. Perhaps we’ll be able to stop perpetuating this fearful, immature erasure of the caretaking that is the major work of our middle adulthood.

To improve our lives as mamas with PhDs, we need two things:

1. Dignified part-time positions—not exploitive adjunct ones that pay Wal-Mart wages—that both men and women can choose when they have to take care of small children, aging parents, sick family members, or even themselves—whenever the caretaking work of life interferes with our availability to the marketplace. Men cannot participate equally in child care and housework unless they can work less, too.

2. More flexible career paths—a willingness to allow people to proceed in the profession even if they have taken time away from it.

Both of these changes depend on a change in the health-care system, linking insurance to citizenship rather than employment, as is the case in every other industrialized country. If our employers were paying only for our labor rather than our health care, they might be more willing to dis­tribute that labor among more workers—including those of us who must or choose to work part time and those who are returning from having devoted ourselves to other aspects of life. I don’t even mention here the need for affordable quality day care, part or full time, provided by workers who are trained, treated, and paid as dignified professionals, in day-care centers that are part of the life of the campus—that goes without saying.

But I don’t stress that here for a different reason: I’m talking about options that enable us to work less when we need to, not more.

In addition to these changes in the structure of employment, we need to shift attitudes so that raising children is deemed a dignified, worthwhile use of an educated person’s time, a serious training worthy of including on a CV and earning respect in an interview. (Imagine—it’s hard, but try—a search committee saying, “Terrific, she’s raised children: Excellent qualifi­cation!”) We need to change the culture of our profession to honor the real­ities of intermittent caretaking work. The profession would be the richer for it. Perhaps some of the conditions that often make our jobs unsatisfy­ing would diminish were we able to lead more balanced lives. Possibly there’d be less politicking and petty judgmentalism if our colleagues had more perspective because they had fuller lives outside the office; perhaps academic writing would be less sterile and earn a wider readership; per­haps some of our students would be less frustratingly indifferent if they’d had parents who had been able to spend more time with them.

What with budget cuts, the tight job market, and existential worries about the humanities’ relevance, not to mention general political gloom, it’s a difficult time even to daydream of mundane policy changes, but in dreams, as Delmore Schwartz didn’t quite say, begin possibilities.

Working what Arlie Hochschild calls “the second shift”—coming home to parent and manage a household after a full day at work—barely leaves us time for mental activity beyond rehearsing our list of things to do, but sometimes during enforced moments of leisure (like being stuck in traffic or waiting for the kids to finish up at the playground) I do find I have a dream, as doubtless others do, as well. I have a dream that one day, aca­demics—both men and women—will be able to take time to go up to the mountain top—or just the hill in the local park, or even a slope on cam – pus—and cherish watching their toddlers roll down, confident that their careers aren’t rolling downhill with them. I have a dream that academics will take the wisdom they gain from fostering their children’s development back to their intellectual work, and feel confident that their community admires them for doing so. I have a dream that the stalled revolution will jump-start one day, that all women and men, whatever their cultural and economic backgrounds, will be empowered to give the best of themselves to both love and work. Maybe those folks in my dream will even have the time to look up from their toddlers for a moment, take a breath, and enjoy the view.


Affirmations for the Academic Mother

cynthia kuhn, josie mills, christy rowe, and ERIN Webster GARETT

As graduate students in a rigorous PhD program, we often marveled at the professors raising young children amid the intense demands of academia. Such conversations took place in private, however, as anything outside of publishing and landing a job was considered frivolous for serious doctoral candidates. We all had babies within the first few years of joining facul­ties (at a state college, a community college, a private university, and a state university, respectively) and found that sharing our unsettling Dr. Mom ex­periences in phone conversations, e-mails, or the occasional meeting helped us to process the multifaceted challenges faced by the academic mother.[12] The medieval structures and traditionally juvenile attitudes toward women in the higher education system have not been completely dislodged; they just appear in more covert but equally insidious ways. Motherhood is con­structed as All Body—our own and/or our baby’s—while scholarly work is rendered All Mind. This is an impossible theoretical dialectic to negotiate, and establishing realistic expectations is crucial for anyone considering (or reflecting upon) maternity in light of myriad obstacles erected by academic culture. We hope the following list might be useful in that regard.

Ten Things We Wish Someone Had Told Us

1. You are strong enough to handle any disturbing assumption regarding maternity before, during, and after your pregnancy—know that it reveals more about the system than it does about you.

The notions that only an unorganized person would get knocked up and that pregnancy makes women irrational and impossible to deal with are fos­tered by the higher education system, which is often hostile to feminism and is decidedly antiparent (there is no day care on my campus, for exam­ple, and hysterical laughter at the very thought). The default assumption seems to be that faculty members have wives at home who take care of dis­tractions like reproduction. On my campus, suggestions for family-friendly practices such as paid parental leave, designated private nursing areas, day care, and health-care coverage for infertility issues are dismissed out of hand as unnecessary. Which brings me to the whopper: birth or miscar­riage is to be scheduled at the convenience of the school, preferably on hol­idays. You may not want to tell your department chair you are expecting until after the second or third ultrasound, as going back and revealing a miscarriage can be both nerve-wracking and violating. I learned this the hard way.[13]

People may assume all you want to talk about (or are capable of talking about) is your child. In meeting after meeting, the dean would ask other colleagues about their writing projects while she just asked me, “How’s the baby?” I felt like she assumed that I was no longer in the same professional realm; I was (only) a mother.

To some onlookers, I waited too long to have children and now am reap­ing the appropriate punishment for that selfishness (three miscarriages so far). The most vocal detractor has been a sister-in-law who so much as said that maybe this was God’s way of saying I shouldn’t have another child be­cause I can’t handle what I have. When I was pregnant at thirty-three and had gained more than the ideal amount of weight, a doctor told me that my body would have a harder time snapping back and that this is what I got for putting my career before my fertility. Thus, according to the larger culture, I am of “advanced maternal age,” too old to be trying to have more babies.[14]

Meanwhile, in my department, I am considered a young professor—and motherhood is viewed as a code word for “occupational interference.”

When I told my chair that I was pregnant, the response was, "You do know how that happens, don’t you?” While I was reelingfrom that, he said, "Oh, I thought you were going to tell me that you’d gotten a job at Cornell”—so I felt trouble­some in having become pregnant and also less acceptable for only having become pregnant, rather than landing a prestigious job.

2. You are maternally beautiful, even if you feel more like a spectacle than at any other time in your life.

Your expectant body will be inscribed by colleagues, students, friends, and family. Those notations may seem disparaging or embarrassing even when they probably aren’t.

It was difficult not to feel self-conscious standing in front of classes with my belly bursting out of whatever ridiculous ensemble I’d created in an earnest effort to look polished (“Do you think they’d notice I’m enor­mous if I add this scarf?”). Simply acquiring a professional maternity wardrobe can be hard on a junior faculty or adjunct salary; you might try eBay, where postpartum women often sell gently used work clothes in lots, and baby-oriented consignment stores.

You may be shocked at how pregnancy can pull everyone’s attention to your body. My pregnant waddle and growing belly prompted unsolicited commentaries: some good-natured, some funny, but all rather unnerving. (And imagine the awkwardness of interviewing for a new faculty position while eight and a half months pregnant—talk about an elephant in the room!)

colleague i: "You are getting so big!”

colleague 2: "It’s good, though, that you only have one chin. I never understood why pregnant women gain weight in their faces—the baby is in their stomach, for goodness’ sake!” [15]

Trying to facilitate a sophisticated class discussion while battling severe sleep deprivation, as well as the mommy fog evinced by the odd disap­pearance of available words in your brain, is not for the fainthearted. (I was up front about the maternal haze, and my students were completely under­standing and patient when I’d momentarily forget easy words like meta­phor or endnote.) Know that this situation is temporary and will be resolved when pregnancy hormones subside and your child begins to sleep through the night.

Teaching with pregnancy maladies (i. e., stabbing backache, burning, ten­der feet, overpowering nausea or heartburn, etc.) is disconcerting, to say the least.[16] Your body may seem not only fragile but also unreliable: Will I throw up in front of my students? Will I faint? Will the baby ever stop kick­ing my lungs so I can breathe again? If anything does happen, you can’t control it and it is not your fault, so try not to worry about it.

You can request accommodations, but receiving them may take resolve.

I qualified for temporary disability privileges but was given unsuitable class­rooms at the far end of campus and had to organize a room swap on my own; I also had to obtain a Department of Motor Vehicles handicapped tag before I was allowed to park anywhere near my office or where I was teaching.

I gave birth to my first child during the last week of classes, so I had hundreds of essays, exams, and videotaped oral presentations to be graded within two weeks while dealing with a newborn, breastfeeding, and recovering from birth. When my second child was due in the summer, faculty members commented on how well I’d "timed things.”

4. You may have more options for maternity leave than it appears.

No one in your college may seem to know, or to care, how maternity leave actually works. Even though I had applied formally for leave and had made a million calls during the preceding nine months, I was on the phone with a human resources representative the morning after giving birth, begging her to put the arrangements in writing so that my doctor, my chair, and my dean were all on the same page. It would be a good idea to secure such a letter before going to the hospital.

Currently, you are federally entitled to twelve weeks of (unpaid) leave by the Family and Medical Leave Act, during which they cannot fire you. Your college may also offer paid maternity leave (typically six weeks for vaginal delivery and eight weeks for caesarean, though it will vary), but paid and unpaid leave will run concurrently, so twelve weeks of leave is all that you are guaranteed.[17]

Inquire about substitute possibilities: babies—how shocking!—have been known to arrive during a term. I was told that I had to take the whole semester off if I took any leave at all, which was both financially impossi­ble and untrue; I later heard about a dean’s fund for partial-semester – replacement faculty. I did not take leave, which is most strenuously not recommended.

Stay on the good side of your department chair, who can make life as easy or as difficult as she or he likes—and know your human resources contact person, as she or he will be able to reign in an out-of-control chair if it comes to that.

Be prepared: no matter how much leave you are allowed, it will feel entirely insufficient, even though your college may act as though they are doing you a great favor by granting you any leave in the first place. Nota bene: there are some countries where paid maternity leave can be between one and two years in duration. Fight for as much as you can get.

My chair said, "You won’t breastfeed in the classroom, will you?” I was so hor­rified by the idea that I just stammered and backed out of the room.

5. You have the right to breastfeed.

Since motherhood is not supposed to have an impact on your job per­formance, no one takes it into account when scheduling long events. Ergo, committees do not care if you need a break for your lactating body. (Unless, of course, you are shooting milk across the room. In that case, they care very much for you to Go Away and Deal with Yourself, as you’ve just made an exhibition of the exact thing everyone has agreed not to mention.)

You might want to request that your classes aren’t scheduled back to back. Often while I was teaching, my breasts would become progressively more engorged: painfully hard, burning hot, and visibly leaky. And some­one would always knock on my office door when I was pumping, desper­ate to fill the bottle so I could achieve two hours of sleep in a row that night. Of course, it was pointed out to me that my door was closed too much: “We want to let students know that we’re available.”

You will quickly learn the value of a private space. The door to my office would not lock, and occasionally a student or a colleague would barge in as I sat at my desk like a dairy cow. A sign declaring “breast pumping in progress” would have been the obvious solution, but I could never make myself display it.

I was informed that, because of staffing shortages, I should be able to return to work fUll speed ahead within two weeks of my C-section. As it happened, I mis­carried and had a D and C over spring break. I never missed a day of work.

6. You can be dedicated both to your profession and to your family despite those in your department, college, and universe who act as if you can only devote yourself to one or the other.

Some colleagues will be surprisingly supportive while others will be irritated, embarrassed, or both by anything having to do with your being “in the family way.” Individuals without children are likely to be your great­est detractors and to see any accommodations for parenting as preferential treatment.

Scheduling our own hours is an invaluable benefit of our positions (the other day-care moms envy me). However, I must toil through all of the “breaks”—and, often, between midnight and 5:00 a. m.—to complete my work. It’s impossible to do anything on the computer when the kids are awake; I may miss an entire departmental debate that takes place via e-mail, appearing undedicated to some because I don’t immediately contribute outside of standard working hours.

You may confront mommy tracking. On my first day back from leave, a professor beckoned me over and said, conspiratorially, “The reappoint­ment committee agreed that you really need to be working on a book, if you are at all interested in tenure,” the application for which was years in the future (as if I had wandered off into the wilds of motherhood and no one trusted my desire or ability to fulfill any other obligations).

When I requested classes that ended by 5:30 p. m., so I could make it to day care before they closed, my chair, obviously annoyed, said “I’ll try, but don’t expect us to keep doing that for you until your kids go to kindergarten or anything.”

7. Your identities and behaviors may become uber-fragmented, and that is, though complicated, perfectly acceptable.

One role slides into the space carved out for the other, like when I’m playing Buzz Lightyear with my son and thinking about how to introduce postmodernism in my lecture, or when a project goes something like this: start writing, give a bottle, return to writing, find a toy, write a little, change a diaper, write more, give a hug, and—then—finish the sentence I started an hour ago.

Once I took our baby (who had a small fever and couldn’t go to day care) to school until my husband could pick him up. While my students toiled over their midterms, my son babbled, cooed, squealed, and noisily hurled every toy I handed him onto the floor. I finally resorted to pacing in the cor­ridor, watching the class through the window in the door, until the exam was over. I’ve also tried to attend meetings with a baby on my arm, and the rule of nature seems to be that the more hushed and still the rest of the room is, the louder and more wiggly the baby inevitably becomes.

I used to be a morning person, teaching very early courses and accom­plishing more by 10:00 a. m. than many people do all day. Now I barely screech into work by that time; just after the click of the car-seat buckle, I am likely to hear “I pooped,” which takes us back inside to all the temp­tations that made it so hard to get out the door the first time.

Once when I was particularly upset by a rough morning and day care drop­off, a colleague-mother said to me, “At our family reunion, my boys talked and talked about how deserted they felt when I sent them to preschool. You see, it stays with them forever.”

8. Your decision to utilize day care is not shameful.

I often feel at odds with mothers in the department who stayed home to raise their children and then pursued careers later in life. You can’t win with them: you’re a bad worker for leaving campus early to get to your kids, but you’re a bad mom for leaving your kids in (gasp) day care. It also seems strange that those who had to break through the gender hierarchy now punish younger versions of themselves, as if they resent that we have methods—albeit not perfect—for tackling career and family simultaneously. Obviously, they don’t look behind the curtain at the tremendous physical and emotional tolls involved.

The only advice, such as it was, I received from an older female faculty member was that I better get used to leaving my child in day care for grad­ually longer periods of time if I ever wanted to be academically success­ful—definitely not what I wanted to hear during my first guilt-filled week back from maternity leave.

My female colleagues with grown children offered much-appreciated empathy. One even told me how, in the 1970s, she placed her baby in a crib in the corner of her classroom and office—and while I think that’s wonderful, it is not an option at my school. I worry that teaching despite the fact that my paycheck barely covers the cost of day care prioritizes the desire for a career over the well-being of my children. Yet I also worry that staying at home would be self-centric, given the sacrifices my family and I made in order for me to get a PhD in the first place. Someone sug­gested that continuing to work outside the home is actually investing in a better future for my family, but it’s hard to believe that in the daily chaos.

People kept saying: “X was a professor, then had a baby and decided to leave because it was too much work,” and “If you decide not to come back after your maternity leave, we would understand.” I was never sure if that meant they wanted me to leave or to stay.

9. You do not have to pretend that it is easy to be both professor and mother.

It’s hard not to feel guilty that you are not doing the research and writing projects you planned to do; that you are doing the research and writing proj­ects you planned to do; that you can no longer spend the entire weekend prepping and grading; that you do sometimes spend the entire weekend prepping and grading; that you are no longer as available for school events; that you are not available enough for family events; that you are happy in the maternal sphere; that you are happy in the career world; that you are exhausted from all the happiness.

I always smile and shrug when people ask me how I manage both roles. Most of the time I feel like a failure on both fronts.

Expect the inevitable clash of schedules, and know that reasonable people will work with you when these occur (early morning meetings or evening departmental activities can be particularly difficult for parents, adding more chaos to the daily pandemonium). If you are lucky enough to be in a de­partment where a majority of the faculty members has children, you may find that meetings usually end by 5:00 p. m. so that everyone can race to the day-care provider or after-school activity; if not, then you will need to regu­larly remind your colleagues that you have scheduling constraints.

I heard through the grapevine that one of my colleagues said, about me: "How can she apply for tenure if she’s pregnant?”

10. You can promote motherhood professionally—and it is a political statement.

Motherhood is an ongoing subject in my formal projects, ranging from my papers on maternal representations in literature to my poems, all of which I document as part of my professional development requirement.

As cochairs of a recent women’s caucus conference panel, we selected the topic of motherhood in art and popular culture. After receiving so many pro­posals that it was possible to create three panels (a historical first, we were told, demonstrating the interest in the subject), we received a complaint that caucus members felt excluded by the topic (even though the focus was on critical interpretations, not mothering). Interestingly, the Q&A follow­ing the panel on motherhood in film did turn into a passionate dialogue about how mothers have been marginalized, even punished, in various ways in the academic realm.

Before I came back to work after having my first child, I was terrified I’d seem soft—even that I’d accidentally refer to myself as “Mommy” in front of my students—and I wanted to be seen as a professional again. The longer I’ve been balancing both worlds, the less afraid I am of blending the two.

Bonus Item: Kindnesses will find their way to you.

Since my baby was due mid-term and I could not afford to take mater­nity leave, my chair agreed to my proposal that I teach online and weekend classes in lieu of a regular on-campus schedule. Then several of my col­leagues cheerfully agreed to cover one Saturday class each, so that I could have some healing time at home.

An adjunct at my school brought me all her son’s hand-me-downs when my child was born.

I discovered, in my office, an adorable gift for the baby, with a card from the whole department.

A colleague has repeatedly watched my son while I sat in on meetings for which I couldn’t find day care.

Many people seemed supportive of my pregnancies as well as eager to hear news once my children arrived.

We wouldn’t trade parenting for anything; however, we are consistently surprised by our determination to stay in the academic game when we re­ceive numerous messages that motherhood is unwelcome. Although an intricate juggling act is required, teaching and mothering can complement each other on many levels. You may find, for example, that maternity leads to an ability to hyper-multitask, and the skills from your academic training will be useful in mastering new maternal discourse—for example, “swad­dle,” “colic,” “solids.” (You’ve made it when you hear, “There’s a snake in my boot,” or “Swiper, no swiping!” and you get it.)

With the help of projects like this one, we hope to make life a little easier for the academic mothers to come (which requires reconfiguring the entire patriarchal power regime, but that is a topic for another essay). In sum, we recommend knowing your rights, anticipating challenges, drawing appro­priate boundaries, and holding your head up—mothering is crucial to the existence of the species, after all. You are doing incredibly important work that should be celebrated more explicitly in and out of academe.

Motherhood Is Easy; Graduate School Is Hard

tedra osell

My baby helped me write my dissertation. Or rather, my baby plus my hus­band’s job. After his birth (the baby’s, not the husband’s), we were able to afford three hours a day of child care. From nine to noon, Monday to Fri­day, Lena came over to take Linus out in the stroller, put him down for a nap, and do a little straightening up. Because I knew that that was the only time I’d get to write, because I was paying for it, and to be honest because Lena was around the house and I’d have been embarrassed not to be seen working, I wrote.

I was more productive in those three-hour blocks than I had been the entire year before—during which I had told myself I had all day to get some writing done, then gotten distracted by various smaller tasks, and then been frustrated and angry at myself for not working harder. Now, when I wasn’t writing, I was able to do other things, guilt free. I could nap, then take the baby shopping, or pop him in a carrier and go over to campus to return old library books and get new ones. (Let me add here that toting a twenty – pound baby and a bag of library books to campus on a bus is an excellent weight-loss program.) When there were campus meetings to attend, I took him along; if he fussed, I breastfed him (deal with it) or, if that didn’t help, we stepped out of the room until he calmed down.

I was lucky. I had a husband with an income that allowed me to take a leave from teaching, I had friends who were willing to lend me their office keys and library cards (since being on leave meant I lost my library privi­leges), I lived in a city with good public transportation, I’d had an easy birth and Linus was an easy baby. I even had a brother – and sister-in-law in town (both single, both fond of babies) who were willing to help out, plus an extended network of graduate student friends who were always willing to do us a favor or pick up thirty or forty extra bucks by babysitting for an afternoon or evening.

I look back on those days now with a kind of nostalgia: how happy I was, despite being stressed out with dissertating and job-market worries and new motherhood. And how little I realized at the time that, in fact, I had it pretty good. My daily schedule, once I got back to teaching, was demanding but enjoyable. A generous (and underpaid) mama friend of mine, Krista, would show up with her twins at 8:00 a. m. to watch Linus for the day while I took the bus to campus, taught, applied for jobs, prepared for my dissertation defense, held office hours, bolted out of my office to walk a mile to my friend’s house in order to pick Linus up at four, strapped him into the stroller with the snack I always packed in my book bag, rolled him to the bus stop, packed up the stroller, boarded the bus, brought out the children’s book that always accompanied my grading, and read to him before reaching our stop right next to the grocery store—where I’d shop and then tote groceries, baby, stroller, and papers up the hill to cook dinner and spend a few hours being a mama before my husband came home and I started my grading. It wasn’t easy, but in and of himself, my baby wasn’t bad for this graduate student.

What is bad for graduate students, though, is insecurity. And although, in retrospect, my situation was an excellent one, at the time I felt all too keenly how contingent it all was: my work depended on my husband’s job, friends’ willingness to lend me their library cards, babysitters show­ing up. When Krista called to say that her boys had chickenpox and she couldn’t take care of Linus, I had to beg my brother-in-law to come baby­sit for the day and was late for class because I couldn’t leave until he showed up. If my husband was late from work, my grading didn’t get done. And all the while I wondered if I’d get a job when I was finished. And if I did, how in the world I’d reproduce the support system I had in an entirely new city.

Graduate school, with the job market being what it is these days, is a time of enormous stress. Grad institutions can’t wave a magic wand and fix the job market, or prevent graduate student neurosis. But they can, and should, support their students. Given the ages of most graduate students, pregnancy will happen—what, we’re supposed to wait until we’re on the tenure clock?—and while most students probably have friends who’ll share library cards and office keys, few have partners who make enough to sup­port a family. Students without high-earning nonacademic partners and conveniently local in-laws often find themselves having to choose: is it better to keep the stipend by teaching or working in the lab, knowing that between work and the baby you’ll end up choosing between sleep and re­search, or to take leave and be unable to afford child care, maybe even rent, but hope you can write your dissertation during nap time?

Thankfully, graduate institutions have begun to realize the nature of the problem. As I am writing this, major changes are taking place in graduate education: Princeton, Stanford, and the University of Pennsylvania have all instituted broad new policies supporting women graduate students during pregnancy and early motherhood. Importantly, these policies are focused on childbirth, and therefore apply specifically to women: they supplement, rather than replace, existing family-leave policies available to both women and men.[10]

These policies will likely establish a baseline that other graduate pro­grams will follow. They provide six weeks or more of “accommodation” for childbirth, which can be expanded if needed—for instance, if a woman gives birth to twins, or to a child with special needs who requires intensive care. Importantly, this accommodation is not leave: recognizing that graduate students depend on their stipends, the new policies specify that women giv­ing birth will not be expected to teach or to meet research deadlines during accommodation periods, but will continue to draw paychecks, be enrolled full time, and maintain their library privileges. Students on pregnancy/ childbirth accommodation retain their (absolutely vital) health insurance, continue to attend courses they are enrolled in, stay in student housing, and are still full-time students.

These kinds of accommodations can make the difference between a “lucky” ABD like me, with a husband whose full-time job can pay for rent, child care, and living expenses during “leave,” and ABDs who are less rich but no less richly deserving. And even graduate students who can afford to take leave would doubtless find it easier to juggle a new baby with a dissertation if they didn’t also have to fiddle around with figuring out library privileges, trying to finish a semester’s teaching before going into labor, managing shifting health insurance plans, and begging friends and professors to keep them apprised of official department goings-on while they’re off the e-mail list. Policies like these offer not only vital material support—reading them, one thinks, “Of course, it’s so obvious! Why hasn’t anyone done this before?”—while reducing the tremendous stresses grad students inevitably endure.

It’s important, then, to note that one of the greatest features of these new policies is that they kick in automatically. Women in graduate school won’t have to worry that somehow “asking” for accommodation will stigmatize them if a clear, thorough, and well-publicized policy makes it plain that the university is staking part of its reputation on supporting all its graduate students. We all know about the sources of grad student anxiety: complet­ing course work, exams, and dissertations in accordance with departmen­tal schedules; paying the rent and traveling to conferences for important lines on the CV, all on a grad student stipend; finding a job, and worrying whether one’s partner will be willing and able to follow. When you add chil­dren to the mix, time and money become tighter, and stress seems to in­crease exponentially. Knowing that your department and university have your back must surely be as good as—maybe even better than—being able to rely on friends and family to help out once in a while. After all, even the most supportive friends may not really understand your dissertation topic, and sympathetic family members have an unnerving habit of occasionally suggesting that maybe you’re doing too much, aiming too high. But with your corner of the academic world behind you—as they should be; you wouldn’t have gotten this far if they didn’t believe in your work—the mes­sage is yes, you can be both an aspiring professor and a person.

In my case, the stress got worse, not better, when I was lucky enough to land that coveted first job. I moved not only across the country, but to a new one (Canada). I knew no one there except the people who had hired me, and I had to get used to both new courses and a new curriculum. Suddenly there was committee work—lots of it—and the structures of undergraduate and graduate education in Canada were slightly different than back home. We had to pay for my work permit and decide whether to get one for my husband (no); there was a complex and expensive process of applying for permanent residency status; our credit history couldn’t cross the border and there was a lot of paperwork to make sure our furniture and car could.

We all needed new cold-weather clothes and had to take the exchange rate into account when budgeting for trips to American conferences and Amer­ican relatives.

By the third year in my new job, I had published in the top journal in my subfield, given invited talks in both Canada and the United States, appeared on panels with some of the best people in my discipline, created new graduate and undergraduate courses, initiated a pilot writing program for my department, and was serving on the academic vice president’s advi­sory committee for undergraduate curricular innovation. I was also gravely ill. After five years of overcoming the odds, surrounded by caring friends and colleagues but without real institutional backing, the anxiety I’d coped with in grad school had deepened into a heavily medicated depression, complete with suicidal thoughts, a marriage in crisis, and the conviction that for the time being I could no longer do it all. Barely able to force myself to show up and teach, I hid in my office between classes and collapsed into bed as soon as I got home. On some days I shamefacedly called in sick; once I sent my husband in with a video camera to record student presentations.

So in the end, after making it through graduate school, I couldn’t keep going. My husband once again found a job that paid twice what I could earn, I took a year of leave, and we moved again. After seven months, I no longer think about killing myself, my marriage is much better, my son loves our new home, my writing is going well. And I’ve resigned my tenure-track job.

As graduate programs and faculty policies catch up with reality and start accommodating parents, I hope fewer stories will end up like mine. Above all, I hope that they help graduate student-parents stop feeling like they need to remain “in the closet,” as one woman describes it.[11] Material support is vital; without it, good intentions are just lip service. But while talk may be cheap, discourse still matters. As academics, we know this. The subtext of unacknowledged motherhood clearly reads “mommies not allowed.” We can sneak past the warning as long as we keep a low profile, but preg­nancy and babies are hard to hide. As long as we’re supposed to hide them, parents in graduate school will suffer and sometimes buckle under the pres­sure; and even men and women who want children, but don’t yet have them, will spend a certain amount of time thinking “When should I have kids?” rather than thinking about their research.

Even though right now the policies at Princeton, Stanford, and Penn will only help a few grad student moms directly, they’ve helped create aware­ness—and a sense of entitlement—beyond those three institutions. What these policies do is support students. What they show is that motherhood is part of grad school, and that supporting graduate students means sup­porting grad student mamas.

In Theory/In Practice

On Choosing Children and the Academy

lisa harper

In my earliest years of graduate school, it seemed the perfect plan: I could finish my course work, pass my preliminary exams, and get pregnant while writing my dissertation. No matter that a father existed neither in theory nor in practice; my thinking was captive to the kinds of abstractions en­demic to students pursuing advanced literature degrees, and I thought life would hold up very well to the model I had envisioned. It helped that two women in my program had done just this. They were bright and accom­plished, and both had managed to have their second children during the final years of their doctoral degrees. When one remarked to me, with only a little sarcasm, that she was lucky if she had time to wash her hair, I laughed with her, but really, I was too dumb to take her comment at face value. Instead, I admired her ability to balance career and family, and I imagined that birthing a child and birthing a dissertation were compatible—if not complementary—processes. Naively, I imagined that gestating involved a long, silent stretch of time during which I could sit and think and write and be responsible only for myself: I would have no course work, no classes to teach, just a grant and a blank page, an idea and an embryo. A book and a baby made sense.

But truly, I knew nothing of the consuming process of dissertation writ­ing and even less about the potentially consuming distractions of pregnancy. I knew nothing about complications or bed rest, nothing of morning sickness, or restless, insomniac nights, nothing of bone-numbing fatigue. I had never heard of sciatic pain so extreme that it made sitting intolera­ble. I knew nothing about hormonally induced stupidity or stupidly insane mood swings. And I certainly never considered the aftermath: the daunt­ing job search, the career to be faced, the even more daunting child to be raised.

Mine was a bad plan, as abstracted from reality as only the most abstract theorizing can be. My career certainly would not have survived my first preg­nancy, so it was lucky that the opportunity didn’t present itself. Instead, in extreme solitude, I finished my dissertation in record time (probably be­cause of the extreme solitude), served a pleasant year as a postdoctoral fel­low, and took up a visiting professorship at a local university. I considered myself lucky: my job was in a good liberal arts college, in a beautiful and vibrant city, and while my teaching load was a heavy four courses per semes­ter, I taught literature—not composition—at introductory and advanced levels. I designed senior seminars, taught frequently to my interests and specialties, and had a number of welcoming and supportive colleagues. I had a private office, a phone, ample administrative and technical support. My students were bright and interesting. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching my courses. After years of poverty-level wages and mounting debt, I had a good salary; after the infantilizing apprenticeship that is the life of a graduate stu­dent, I began to feel like an adult with a career of consequence and momen­tum. I enjoyed the prestige of my institution and my title, and I took great satisfaction in belonging to the academic community. As my career began to take root, my engagement to my husband established certainty in my personal life. And so, at the same time that I began to dig into an academic career, I began to think—this time seriously—about having a family.

But as it happened, the paradise I thought I had found in academia was soon lost. Among my department colleagues, only one had a young child, and I saw daily just how tired she was. I knew how much of her salary went toward day care (though the financial cost was not her primary challenge as a mother), and I saw clearly her struggle to balance the demands of motherhood, the pressures placed on any marriage by parenthood, and the crushing life of a junior faculty member who, in order to achieve tenure, must attend to course work, research, and, at our institution, a substantial demand for community service. Being a junior faculty member is always rigorous and consuming, but to combine it with mothering a young child is challenging in the extreme. In time, I would learn that this potentially crushing intersection of issues is endemic to anyone who attempts moth­erhood during her time as a junior faculty member, but I think it added to my colleague’s burden that she was the only woman in our department who faced this challenge, and, at that point, we were not an especially sup­portive department.

Family life was discussed furtively, usually behind closed doors or at a secluded lunch table, as if it were a guilty secret apart from one’s life in the academy, as if it had no place there, as if to be an academic one had to pretend to be complete within the bounds of the institution. What hap­pened at home was something to be left behind and disavowed; mother­hood was not to influence in any way one’s teaching and scholarship. In theory, at least, I knew that this was an absurd proposition. One of my closest advisors was a feminist scholar who’d built her academic career on the kinds of theorizing that acknowledged the influence of childbearing and child rearing and domestic labor on women’s writing. But I had not yet practically confronted these challenges, nor were they visible among my colleagues. It’s not that my colleagues didn’t care about family life—in theory and in practice they most certainly did. It was simply that, within the boundaries of the department, we were not allowed to be complete; we could not acknowledge fully the complex relationship between our lives in and out of the academy.

By the time my two-year appointment was finished, I had also learned something about the politics of motherhood in other departments. From some, I learned there were strongly suggested months in which to get pregnant and bear children, so as to ensure that the pregnancy would have minimal impact on career advancement and teaching schedules, and I knew several junior faculty members who were attempting to plan their families around these “suggestions.” In all honesty, I don’t know where these timelines came from, nor what the consequences were for deviating from them. For all I know they were nothing more than rumor and in­nuendo passed from one nervous junior faculty member to another. But what was clear to me was that academic culture demanded that mother­hood be secondary, and that to put it ahead would be unwise. And although I believed I saw clearly the challenges of balancing family with academic career, I also began to see that the problem was not simply in the chal­lenges that motherhood posed to the individual in the academy. It was a problem rooted much more deeply in academic life. What I saw was a divi­sion between motherhood and the academy that seemed germane to the culture. This fault line meant that women who became mothers were in it alone, and it meant that they would face particular hardship on the already difficult path to tenure. It meant mothers would work harder, endure greater emotional and psychological strain, and be expected to deny—or at least to downplay—to great extent, a significant aspect of their lives. They would live in a world clearly divided, moving between private home and public academy, private parenting and public pedagogy. Even more, pur­suing motherhood and tenure simultaneously meant living and working at least half of the time in a community which did not especially value pregnancy, or parenting.

To this day, I am not sure exactly why this is the case. Is it because aca­demics tend to deny the life of the body for the life of the mind? Or because we often seek a rarified community, one unsullied by the practical con­cerns that can muddy daily life? Or because parenting is not considered a rigorous (enough) intellectual activity? Whatever the case, it seemed as if the last thirty years of feminist theory had made no impact; they cer­tainly had not raised much understanding of the challenges faced by real women who balanced life with career, practice with theory. Nor had the academy understood in a practical sense what mothers—as mothers— might add to the culture. If motherhood was seen not to nurture the acad­emy, neither was the academy nurturing the mother. I didn’t understand why the two things I wanted most in life, mothering and writing, had to be so conflicted.

As it happened, the funding for my position was renewed once, but not twice, and I faced the dismal prospect of entering the academic job mar­ket. By then the veil had been lifted and I had no more illusions about aca­demic life. As I considered what I would do next, my overriding thought was that I would leave the academy. The thought disturbed me, for I had worked so long to get where I was, and to forfeit it all—the stable teaching post, along with the respect and security it offered—seemed like such great failure. But I was deeply unhappy with the politics of the community, and I suspected that motherhood would be largely incompatible with this career. In the end, there was a third, deciding factor: I had lost interest in pursu­ing the writing necessary to achieve a successful tenured career. There was much I wanted to write, but none of it involved criticism and theory. I had begun my writing life as a fiction writer, and I wanted to pursue that, along with the kind of creative nonfiction that would be supported by my re­search skills, but accessible to more general readers. In short, I wanted to leave the world of theory, and attach myself to a life lived more practically. Call it a sensibility, if you will, but I knew, ultimately, that my path lay out­side the academy. And so, with the emotional and financial support of my husband, I left the community that I had always assumed would be my professional home.

Then, two things came to pass: I rather quickly became pregnant and I rather quickly was offered an adjunct position in the MFA in Writing Pro­gram at the university I had just left. As it was part time, and a creative writing position, I leapt at the opportunity. Ironically, in just a few short months, I found myself pregnant and back in the academy.

But the department I joined could not have been more different from the one that I had left. It was not simply the fact that the program was self­sustaining and independent of the undergraduate English program. Beyond sharing a very few faculty members, we existed solely for the benefit of our graduate students, many of whom were older, with professional careers and families. We had our own staff, our own relationship with the univer­sity administration, our own control over course development and con­tent, and we were housed in an altogether different part of campus. Our classes met two evenings a week, during which time faculty and students would convene in their separate seminars, but we often came together in the hours before and after class meetings. For all intents and purposes, I found myself working in a new institution.

Conventional wisdom has it—and my earlier experience had certainly confirmed—that adjunct faculty serve as second-class citizens on most uni­versity campuses. Lower pay, the absence of benefits, the lack of job secu­rity, poor course assignments, and overwork are only the most pragmatic problems. Compounding these difficulties, in many institutions, part-timers are largely excluded from the life of the department, from administrative responsibilities (and, therefore, from administrative power), from the in­tellectual and collegial respect afforded their full-time colleagues, and from the possibilities for career advancement in their own and other institutions.

But in my new program, I worked with a group of writers, almost all of whom served as adjunct faculty, who seemed genuinely to like one another, and who were happy to be teaching together. Although the prac­tical, financial challenges of adjunct work remained, we also were largely freed from the administrative burdens that took time from the primary pleasures of writing and teaching. As part-timers, we were all equals. As part-timers, it was a given that we had families, occupations—in short, full lives—outside the academy. This fact was respected by all, including the students who had their own demanding lives outside of our program. Con­trary to prevailing academic wisdom, here was a program that thrived because of-—not in spite of—part-time labor. My colleagues and I talked about pedagogy, supported each others’ book releases, and traded manu­scripts. We attended programwide readings and read each semester from our own works in progress. There was a clear, communal sense of pur­pose and a devotion to the art of teaching that equaled our primary call­ing to write. It was a rare find and a great freedom to be part of such a community.

The success of this community was due in large part to the leadership of its two directors, who had made a commitment to creating a rigorous MFA program that also fostered a rich sense of community, a sense of being a writer in conversation with others, across disciplines and genres. This ethos affected how faculty treated students, how students treated other students, and how faculty treated each other. It was a program that valued diversity, too, especially of age, and this brought many unconventional, deeply expe­rienced, and interesting students into the classroom. And because it was a program designed for working adults, all classes met on Tuesday and Wed­nesday evenings, which meant that everyone in the program—students, faculty, and directors alike—met on campus at these times. Such critical mass led to impromptu meetings in the cafeteria, in the hallways during breaks, and at the entryway after class, when many students, sometimes joined by faculty, would head off to a local pub. Ironically, because the pro­gram was understaffed and underfunded, some faculty assumed admin­istrative responsibilities (and earned additional compensation), including course advising, final thesis reading, and participating in the admissions process. We attended faculty meetings, where our voices were sought and respected. Perhaps most important, after teaching a certain number of units, we were eligible to apply for entry into the university’s Preferred Hiring Pool, which offered job security and priority in hiring, health-care and re­tirement benefits, and a one-time pay raise of around 20 percent. In short, although I was a part-time faculty member, I gained a certain security, and I participated in many aspects of my program—from admissions to course development to thesis approval. In fact, I felt more involved in shaping the direction of the program than when I had voting rights in my undergrad­uate department.

The fact of job security and ownership, in tandem with fulfilling, part­time teaching, and the visionary leadership of my cochairs, created an aca­demic position that was fully compatible with motherhood. For beyond its intellectual, writerly, and professional pleasures, this community allowed me to be mother and writer and teacher. Practically speaking, the schedule was ideal for a mother of young children. I could teach my course one night a week, hold office hours earlier that evening, and do my prep at home: during my daughter’s naps, in the evenings, during my scheduled babysitting time. I could spend the lion’s share of my time with my daugh­ter, and still have time to write.

But even more important were the not-so-subtle psychological benefits of this new position. In my program, which rigorously pursues an ethic of compassionate critique and actively seeks to create a community between and among students and faculty, I found that being a mother and being a writer-teacher were finally coterminous. My colleagues and students were single and married, gay and straight, parents of young and grown children, and childless by choice. Yet in my pregnancy, I felt supported by them all. In fact, I felt supported by the program itself, as if the institutional life of the program gave its blessing to my choice to be a parent. My cochairs didn’t blink when I rather bashfully announced (as a very new hire) that I was pregnant; I continued to teach and advise students—even, rather famously that first summer, during the early hours of my labor: “Was that a contraction?” a student asked, after an especially long silence that I hoped sounded thoughtful. “Yes,” I answered. “But it wasn’t too bad.” (Which was certainly true given what they would become.) We laughed and moved on. This same student, a terrific writer and also a highly skilled techni­cian in the research hospital where my daughter was delivered two long days later, brought flowers to my recovery room, which neither of us found strange or embarrassing. Other students sent notes of congratulation and small tokens for the baby. But what astonished me most was the matter – of-factness with which the community at large accepted my maternity: it was neither sentimental nor sequestered. It simply was. Being in the midst of such a community even helped me to adjust to my strange new status. A few of my colleagues are parents of older children, and their advice and support has often been invaluable. Not only do they understand my life in these early years of motherhood, they have real advice about how they have managed teaching and writing and parenting. We talk about our writing, but also simply about parenting, and, of course, about the many ways that parenting has influenced our writing.

Now, even after the birth of my son, my colleagues continue to ask about my children, a fact for which I am eternally grateful simply because the question (never mind the genuine interest in my response) allows me to be a whole person. And if—so late in my career—I am still abashed that I am allowed to be all of these things in one place, it just goes to show how hard that path can be for women. Finally, my work has become a place rec­onciled with parenting.

Of course, my return to and reinvention in the academy has not been with­out strain. When I moved to part-time/adjunct employment, I gave up quite a lot of money, a nice retirement plan, and a certain amount of stability in my professional career. I’ve partially recovered some of these things, but I don’t pretend, as the program expands and more full-time faculty are hired, that the ideal relationships and politics I’ve enjoyed to date might not change or even jeopardize my employment. And I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that a part-time model, even one as appealing as I have outlined here, is still insufficient for some. I have part-time colleagues who would absolutely prefer full-time, even tenured academic employment. But the structure I have benefited from these past years has given me a clear vision of what is possible in academia, and so it has helped to shape clearly my priorities and commitments both within and outside of this privileged world.

What I gave up by committing myself to mothering my children full time and not pursuing a more rigorous academic job was precious time to write. It is hard (some days or weeks or months, it is very hard) to carve out what should be that sacred space of writing. But if motherhood has dimin­ished the time that I can devote to writing, it has also made that time more valuable, and thus more productive. I have found it to be true, as more than one of my colleagues has said, that I will never again have the luxury of writer’s block, that I will always have something to write about, not because I will write about my children (though I have) but because my writing time is so much more precious. Sometimes, my diminished productivity makes me anxious. I would like to have my first book sold; I would like to be fur­ther along in my second book; I would like to finish the pieces that exist only in notes by my bed and in fragments on my computer or simply as recurring chants in my head. But my life is full and rewarding, and I know that as my children grow, they will need me less and I will write more. I know, too, that my first pregnancy helped me to forge a voice and a rela­tionship to writing that would not have been possible before my maternity, when some mysterious alchemy taught me to integrate my critical training with my literary sensibility. And as for the teaching, which places great demands on my time, it has kept me in a community of writers, given me an intellectual home, and helped to maintain my sanity and my stability. In fact, I believe that this part of my career has helped to make writing pos­sible during these difficult early years of motherhood, and I think it has made me a better mother, too.

As my teaching and department responsibilities have grown over the past five years, the birth of my second child has made the struggle to bal­ance teaching and writing and mothering even more difficult. I need more day care. I need a cleaning service. I’d like a quieter office, with sentries at the door equipped to hand out snacks or braid doll hair. I constantly need more sleep. I would prefer more often to read for pleasure instead of for workshop, or to spend a weekend in the mountains instead of grad­ing papers.

But what mother doesn’t have these needs?

I have no illusions but that this struggle will continue at least until my children are school age, simply because I am unwilling to work full time, for that would mean giving up these years when my children are allowed to be so close to me. It would mean not bearing witness to them, and missing all of the small pleasures, even the trials, which have, quite liter­ally, changed my life. They have, quite literally, made my life.

For me, the benefits of part-time work in the academy have been so satis­fying that I don’t know that I will ever again seek out a full-time tenure – track position. I don’t know if I will ever be willing to commit such a large portion of my life to the academy. I know, now, that there are other options for me, and I know with certainty that the professional sacrifices that I have made in recent years pale in comparison to the personal ones that I would have made in order to continue on the tenure track. Now I know that there is part-time work that challenges and bestows ownership, where a full pro­fessional life can be balanced with a vibrant personal one. Now, I hope that I can raise my children to value the practice of life as much as their ambi­tion, and that I will be able to teach them how to balance career and family in a way that will fulfill both callings, the theory and practice alike.

Ideal Mama, Ideal Worker

Negotiating Guilt and Shame in Academe

jean-anne Sutherland

A few years back I presented at a sociology conference, discussing my dis­sertation on mothering, guilt, and shame. I spoke of the social construc­tion of the good mother ideology, the impact this ideal has on the lives of women, and specifically the manifestation of guilt and shame. Afterward, I was meandering through a reception, making my way down the hors d’oeuvres table, when I struck up a conversation with a female colleague who had attended my session. The tone was, “Ah yes, what we women go through,” as we considered the egg rolls and the little quiches. She then said to me timidly, laughing a bit, “Yes, but, aren’t good mothers supposed to feel guilty?” I had spoken for twenty minutes on the social construction of good mothering, how it sets mothers up to feel badly about ourselves, and to feel guilty, which makes us doubt ourselves and we then pay the psychological costs. And yet, what she revealed to me was the prevailing orientation to mothering: if you are a mom, you feel guilty, and if you don’t, well, you must not care very much, ergo you’re a bad mom. And all I could say to her in that moment was, “Um. . .”

Working my way through graduate school, soon after the birth of my daughter, I was all too familiar with the phenomenon known as “mother guilt.” It can start as early as pregnancy and creep up behind us, even when we are anticipating it. But, in the midst of graduate school, I found that I experienced another variety of guilt simultaneously—worker guilt. A good worker produces quality work. A good graduate student is competitive and devoted to her studies above all else. If she fails, even for an instant, she feels guilty. And if she doesn’t, well, she must not be very serious about her work.

Guilt is one of those words tossed about so frequently that it has no shock value. We even jokingly compete over inflicting the worst kind of guilt. (Catholic and Jewish friends of mine claim to know it best, though coming from a southern, Protestant background, I can attest to its pres­ence there as well.) We are not entirely sure of the meaning of shame; we tend to call it all guilt. Yet scholars of social psychology and emotion draw a distinction between guilt and shame. Guilt is typically thought of as a negative self-evaluation focusing on specific acts or behaviors. Shame tends to strike at one’s guts, igniting negative self-evaluations about the entirety of one’s self. I think mothers feel both. There were times when I felt I should be doing more. That’s guilt. There were times when I ques­tioned how I could call myself good, or scholarly when my very method of being in graduate school felt less valued. That’s shame.

Work, Family, and Guilt

Academic studies and the popular press make clear it’s difficult for mothers to combine work and family. In her book Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do about It, Joan Williams describes our culture’s glorification of the “ideal worker.” The ideal worker, designed, of course, around norms of masculinity, puts in more than the requisite forty work hours per week, experiences advantageous mentoring and social con­tacts, and earns promotions at rates exceeding those working in part – or flex-time positions. As Williams points out, the ideal worker has a family life only if a “marginalized worker” performs the family work. More often than not, that marginalized worker is the mother. This is to say, being an ideal worker and mothering necessarily conflict. As Williams notes, “[W]hen women find that they perform as ideal workers, they are condemned as bad mothers; if they observe the norm of parental care, they are condemned as bad workers.”1 Williams’s analysis is applicable to all manner of work, whether blue – or white-collared.

Working mothers have a difficult time negotiating the labor force within the boundaries of what our culture deems the good mother. Good mother­ing, or “new momism” as Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels describe it in The Mommy Myth, has three key features: motherhood completes a woman; mothers are a child’s best caretakers; and mothers must devote themselves fully to their children: physically, intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically.[7] [8] When we fall short, we often blame ourselves, second-guess ourselves, and feel guilty. I am not suggesting that all mothers, across racial, ethnic, sexual-orientation, and social-class lines, perform work and moth­ering in the same manner and experience them the same way. However, within the context of these differences, mothers in our culture still share common experiences. The macro-level good mother ideology is simply too dominant and pervasive for most to escape. While different groups of women work in varied contexts, mother in different ways, and have differ­ent fears and concerns for their children, the ideology of the good mother still affects us all.

But isn’t the academy so much more sensitive than corporate Amer­ica, finding ways to value the mother and the worker? Well, yes and no. Some academic programs do accommodate motherhood. But, like corpo­rate America, the halls of the academy also revere the ideal worker, reward­ing those who work the longest, produce the most and, in terms of graduate school, finish first. Subsequently, mama-guilt can go both ways. As mothers we often feel guilty when we do not perform according to the ideal for good mothers, such as when we are away from our children, allowing others to provide care. The guilt also kicks in when we feel we are not living up to some ideal of scholar-in-training.

My daughter, Savannah, was born the year I transitioned from the MA to the PhD program. I was a nontraditional graduate student (a delicate descriptor for the older ones), and an “off-time” mother (the medical field was less delicate, slapping “advanced maternal age” on my medical chart the day I turned thirty-six). I wanted to finish my PhD in a reasonable amount of time. I also wanted, as the expression goes, to be present for my daughter. Thus, I found that I felt guilty a lot of the time, both as a worker and as a mom. And so, I went out and talked to some mothers; not sur­prisingly, they felt much the same way.

My experiences juggling motherhood, graduate school, guilt and shame prompted me to write a dissertation titled, “‘What Can I Do Different, What Could Be Better, What Could You Do More?’: Guilt, Shame and Mothering.” I was amazed at how little systematic research existed on this topic, not only in my field of sociology but across disciplines. When I told others, male or female, about my dissertation, responses included com­ments like “Well, you should talk to my friend/sister/wife. SHE could tell you about guilt!” Another response was often nervous laughter, which sug­gested, “Well, of course mothers feel guilty. Do you really have to study that?”

My discussion below focuses on mothering in the context of gradu­ate school, though I suspect it is applicable to those in faculty positions.

Mothers in the academic world, as in the broader work force, feel pulled between the ideals of the good mother and the good worker. We want and need to be both, but the struggle is tiresome and frustrating. We forego sleep to the detriment of our health. We bounce between worlds, merging the two when and if we can. While we experience the pull in myriad ways, there are three specific areas in which it is acute: pace, focus, and frenzy.


As most of us know, there is an acceptable window of time, varying from program to program, in which one is expected to complete her PhD pro­gram. There is also a less formal window of time to which many of us hold ourselves accountable. In this case, there are two important Don’ts: 1) Don’t finish an awkward number of years behind those who began with you, and 2) Don’t wait around your department until colleagues begin to joke, “Are you still here?” In the race to avoid these don’ts, one must establish a steady pace of course work, comprehensive exams, dissertation research, and writ­ing. Clearly it is much neater, faster, and more efficient to fit through this window when one is performing as the ideal worker.

Unfortunately, graduate school is all but neat, fast, and efficient. Most graduate students are not only taking a full course load, but are also work­ing as teaching or research assistants and trying to publish their work. All of these activities add up to fifty or sixty work hours per week. While we would like to think that enlightened scholars grasp the complexities of work/family balance and the ideal worker, we know that, in most cases, the graduate student who plows through at breakneck speed, puts in those long hours, and produces the most is the most valued and revered. The grad student-mother then has a series of choices to make. First, we will assume that she does not have a marginalized worker at home, performing the family work. (I am not gendering parenthood here, just acknowledging the ample research which indicates that while fathers are performing more child care and housework, the majority still falls to the mother.) She can slow her pace, take fewer classes, or postpone comprehensive exams. Or, she can work at the ideal pace, spend less time with the children, and also work what Arlie Hochschild terms the “second shift.” If she chooses the for­mer she runs the risk of feeling less than her colleagues. If she chooses the latter, she runs the risk of feeling very, very tired and possibly quite guilty. Her choices strike her at the level of her identity: bad worker or bad mama?

During my pursuit of the PhD, I knew I was not keeping pace with tra­ditional students, though in the end, I finished roughly one year after other

members of my cohort. I thereby avoided Don’t number 1—I finished before hitting the awkward mark. But I did not escape the second, encoun­tering “Are you still here?” countless times until one day it morphed into, “So you finally finished?” When Savannah was a baby, I took her to class with me, to department gatherings, even to brown bag lectures. In those days she fit snuggly on my body and I could slip into my office to nurse her, or she slept. But as she grew, it became increasingly difficult to bring her along and increasingly difficult for me to not spend time with her. Instead of three classes, I often took one. Like so many other mothers, when I was at work, I often felt guilty, as if I was missing out on such a sweet and fleeting time in her life. But, when I was with her, I often felt guilty that I was letting my work slip by.

I’ve heard others talk about pace, about finishing on time. My depart­ment once held a graduate student brown bag discussion on this topic, but I was not invited. I suspect I wasn’t asked because I wasn’t yet finished, though I initially feared it was because I embodied the model my depart­ment wanted to shield from new graduate students. From what I heard, they discussed how to finish quickly, with praises given to a graduate stu­dent who had just finished the program in a jaw-dropping three years. I realized that my department, which provided such a safe and comfortable zone for me as a mother, still at its core valued the ideal worker and I sim­ply could not play that role as long as I also played the role of mother. Enter the feelings of guilt and shame.


How many times has a new mother complained that she is having a diffi­cult time focusing? As every new mom knows all too well, we are tired a lot of the time. Of course, we don’t have to be new moms to be tired. Braun Research’s survey of some five hundred mothers found that 54 percent say they don’t get enough sleep.[9] And when many of them finally get into bed, they lie awake worrying. (Mothers reading this may now collectively emit a resounding and sarcastic “Really?”) Sociological research has also shown that mothers experience parenting differently than fathers do. Mothers, for the most part, feel responsible for the minutia of parenting; the hair, the teeth, the clean sheets, the doctor’s appointments, and the scout meet­ings. I am not suggesting that fathers are not involved, are not tired, and

do not feel pulled between worker and parent identities. However, gender differences arise in terms of how the work/family pulls are experienced. Of course, when a mother feels hyperresponsible and pulled in numer­ous directions, her ability to focus on the academic work before her can be affected. Is her focus forever impaired? Of course not. But, for us to not acknowledge it allows the guilt to fester.

While pregnant with Savannah I was enrolled in one class. I thought this approach ideal. By taking one class, I could maintain a good pace, show everyone that motherhood needn’t interfere with my progress and have something to focus on besides the impending duties of a new mom. Sure, I thought, I will birth this baby one day, and return to class a few days later. My body was in good shape, and my energy for academic work was thriving. And then labor came. All of my plans went awry. Instead of the healthy, natural birth I envisioned, I experienced every medical procedure the hospital’s menu had to offer: epidural, forceps, suction, episiotomy, and a cesarean. Toss in a fractured tailbone to make the story more dramatic. Instead of bounding from the hospital with my newborn cub and rushing back to my social inequalities class, I was wheeled to the car, crouched over and groaning from aches and cuts in every conceivable body part.

My first few weeks at home with Savannah involved not only physical recovery, but emotional and psychological recovery as well. I could not walk very well. I looked something like Tim Conway’s old man character on The Carol Burnett Show, who shuffled along, face to the ground. I was instructed to avoid stairs and since we lived on the second floor, I spent the first two weeks largely indoors. I had to find interesting ways to nurse considering the two locations of stitches and the sore tailbone. As if any of this needed an additional cloud, one existed in the form of postpartum depression. I sat there in my rocker, on my pillow, wearing my big skirt (the only one that fit), in that strange land where the ecstatic meets the melancholy, holding my guts in, and trying to read something about social­ist societies and stratification theory. Two weeks earlier I had found this material engaging. In that moment, however, it felt like something I could grow very old without. The harder I tried to read it, the guiltier I felt that I was somehow failing as a serious graduate student and potential scholar. I didn’t plan for the blues that made me want to hide away with my daugh­ter. I certainly didn’t plan for the multiple injuries that made sitting in one spot without an odd pillow excruciating. I didn’t plan on feeling so tired, physically, emotionally, and psychologically, that focusing on work would become an issue.

As time passed, so did the postpartum depression. The ability to focus on more than a favorite sitting position returned. Of course, other aspects of mothering affected my focus and always will. When Savannah didn’t feel well, I felt more present to her fever than to advanced data analysis. When she started preschool, I cried when I left her, and didn’t get a lot done that day (okay, so I thought the postpartum depression was handled). The truth is, we learn to work within the context of mothering. Our chil­dren always distract us, breaking our flow and focus at times. This does not make us bad workers or less-valued scholars. It is important to acknowl­edge it so that the conflict itself does not breed the guilt and shame.


I cannot recall how many different ways and times I was told that gradu­ate school would be a frenzy of work and overload. That is what training often is—a frenzy. We can live with that. But what if we have children too? Now, there is a frenzy of sit-com proportions. In the pursuit of our degrees, we are trying to keep pace and trying to remain focused. We are teach­ing, grading, attending classes, reading, writing papers, and researching. It can feel frenetic. But in the midst of it all are these creatures, or in my case, just the one creature, who create and sustain a unique frenzy of their own. On any given day a mother has to decide which frenzy gets her full attention. And, rather like the popular children’s book If You Give a Pig a Pancake, if you give a mother this kind of choice, well, she’s just going to feel guilty.

One way I sought to resolve the dilemma of mama-and-worker guilt was to study it. While researching mothering, guilt, and shame I came face to face with some of my own issues of guilt, and with good mother ideologies. I also found that many mothers struggle with similar issues and place sim­ilarly high expectations on themselves. Yet, even with a topic as engaging and personal as mine, life was often frenetic, and writing was often diffi­cult. I taught two to three classes a semester, which meant writing lectures and grading, grading, grading. I picked up Savannah from school two to three days a week and spent those afternoons and evenings with her. I had a number of life events colliding, and some days it felt like I lost my scripts, and played all of my roles badly.

A wise friend suggested that, for the sake of sanity amid the frenzy, I get myself a mantra. Something I could repeat and live by. Something that would help me to focus and—look at that coincidence—keep the pace! My mantra became: “Savannah, Self-Care, Dissertation.” Nothing more, nothing less. My job was to take care of myself, which provided the energy to take care of my daughter, which gave me the space to write the disserta­tion. Another wise friend made an addendum to my mantra, which she wanted posted on my office door: “Not Even a Casserole.” She knew all too well my tendency to say yes—to this committee, or that organization. Draw the line, she reminded me. Just say no. If the task at hand did not involve Savannah, self-care, or my dissertation, I was to rethink it entirely.

The frenzy of graduate school only adds to the mama-and-worker-guilt dance we so perfect. I was told by many that the dissertation would “con­sume my thoughts.” Some told stories of waking in the night with fresh ideas that had to be written down. Others told of working to the detriment of their health in order to meet deadlines. What of the mothers in this scenario? In the frenzy we are again confronted with questions of compe­tency. Are we performing as good enough mothers? And, are we produc­ing good enough work?

Savannah, by now in first grade, took a picture of me during the final weeks of my dissertation writing. My office was a complete horror. My mantra did not include words synonymous with organized or clean. Articles and books lay spread across the floor. My wall of Post-it notes was almost artistic in its seemingly random display. Dirty coffee cups sat perched on the edge of the desk. Mounds of drafts spilled off a table. Savannah and I reveled in it. She had been counting down the weeks with me. I had kept her informed of the process and she was living amid the frenzy. As I wrote to Savannah in my acknowledgments page, “I won’t soon forget the day I felt the weight of deadlines and asked, once again, for your patience. Temporarily forgetting all of my understanding of the trappings of mater­nal guilt, I said to you, ‘Give me two more weeks and I’ll go back to being a good mama.’ You smiled at me and so lovingly said, ‘Okay, but, you’re already being a good mama.’”


As it turned out, I did finish my PhD. While it was at times a struggle, I found that I could be both a good mother (however I defined that) and a good worker. Sometimes one upstages the other, but both are key compo­nents of who I am. When Savannah was born, I wasn’t prepared to nego­tiate guilt and shame as I bounced between worker and mother identi – ties—trying to be good at both. As mothers and workers, we need to give ourselves permission to slow down when our bodies tell us to. We need to remember that it is okay to be with our children when we feel pulled to them. We need to remember that doing so does not make us bad workers. We need to also give ourselves permission to truly love the time we spend in our work. Working well does not make us bad mothers. Recognizing the ways in which we are set up to experience guilt and shame is progress. It’s not easy to negotiate this paradox, but naming it is the first step.

The Orange Kangaroo


Utopia la. An ideally perfect place, especially in its social,
political, and moral aspects.[6]


I had driven by the building several times, intrigued. At home, I looked it up online: “The Orange Kangaroo, Children’s Art Studio and Cafe, Open­ing Soon!” And I was one of the first customers, with my young daughters, the week it opened. The place was beautiful, spacious, and bright, run by artists who were also parents. There were two rooms painted orange and blue, separated by open French doors: one where children painted, glued, crayoned, built with pipe cleaners and molded clay, and one where parents sat at wooden tables, talking, drinking coffee, reading, and writing. From the moment I entered this light-filled, happy place, I felt something deep within myself lifting. I felt at home.

My daughters were two and five, and I believed I’d already flunked motherhood. The academic metaphor is telling, an exam my only frame of reference for talking about early motherhood. My daughters and I were kiddie-class dropouts; we’d quit music, swimming, several kinds of dance. When we moved to northern New Jersey from Queens, I found myself astonished by the world of mothering held up as the ideal in our town. Toddlers taking French lessons, elaborate birthday parties that rivaled my own college graduation, a constant pressure on mothers to be perfect in every respect, induced by a fast-paced, money – and achievement-obsessed dominant culture. Yet my husband, also an academic who was sharing the care of our daughters with me, felt none of this pressure. It was very specific to mothering. Over and over, as I tried to fit in to the world of our new town, I recalled my graduate school qualifying exam that required me to survey all centuries of British and American literature plus literary the­ory. I felt like a grad student who could not keep up.

Yet, ironically, my own position in the academy’s family romance has always been “the good daughter.” For years I’d been the exemplary student, moving without a break from BA, MFA, and PhD to my first tenure-track teaching job, following the perfect academic narrative. I had always obeyed the academic code of conduct that demands that you focus on nothing but your work. I’d gotten married in graduate school, but I made up for that, I reasoned, by publishing my first book the year I turned thirty, and another two years later. All through my twenties and early thirties, I was striving to be the perfect academic.

Perfection is seductive, but as Sylvia Plath astutely pointed out, “it can­not have children.” As a grad student, I kept a list of when certain women poets, Plath and Adrienne Rich among them, had published their first books, won their first poetry prizes; I set my own deadlines to match. Oddly, I never considered Plath and Rich as mothers, never thought about how motherhood affected their lives and work.

Essentially, although I knew I wanted to have children, I didn’t consi­der motherhood at all while I was in graduate school. There was, literally, no space for such a thought. Never in all of my undergraduate or graduate work, from the time I was seventeen until I was thirty, did I have a preg­nant professor. Rarely did I encounter a female professor who had chil­dren, though I knew many male professors with children. Several women I knew had children as graduate students, but I am ashamed to admit I never imagined what this must have been like. I had no idea how difficult it must have been to balance academic work and childbearing and rearing, or how challenging it would be to do this on a grad student stipend with no mentors or models.

And, then, at thirty-four, when my first daughter was born, I experienced motherhood as a seismic shock, far and away the greatest upheaval of my life. As hard as it is to admit now, I was one of those people who believed that having a baby would have no impact on my life. I thought I could bal­ance everything—I had written a novel while getting my PhD; I had always written poetry and fiction at the same time. Having a child would just be like writing in a third genre. Never mind the fact that I would be the only full-time member of my department with a young child. Never mind that my public, urban university—where many of my students had children, in fact—offered no child care for faculty or staff. Continually sick throughout my pregnancy, I taught until three days before my due date, and never even inquired about maternity leave. Through incredible good luck and hard work, I won a research leave from the college president’s office, a semester of release from teaching that would begin shortly after the birth.

I was still caught in the trap of wanting to be the perfect academic, but as my daughter’s birth approached, this was becoming harder and harder. When I crossed the stage to accept my research award and make the re­quired brief speech, I was seven and a half months pregnant, and, instead of pleasure in my accomplishment, I was gripped with an intense anxiety, as I imagined the audience of fellow professors disparaging me, thinking I must only be using my fellowship to have a baby. Two weeks after my emergency C-section, I graded all the projects and papers for my classes and turned them in on time, then started to write an academic essay. The model of mind/body separation was so internalized that I could not rest or relax or enjoy my daughter’s early weeks of life.

Then, in the fall of 2001, when my daughter was ten months old, that strict binary of mind and body underwent a shift. After months trying to take care of an infant and finish writing a book, I was happy to be teach­ing again. On September 11, one week into the semester, I was at home in Queens with my daughter on my lap, preparing my classes, when the first plane struck the World Trade Center. For the next few weeks, like most New Yorkers, my husband and I walked around in shock, trying not to breathe the terrible burning smell that floated through the streets, hung in the air, and seeped into our apartment. In front of the TV coverage of “America’s New War,” I held my daughter as tightly as I could. Suddenly, being the perfect academic seemed irrelevant.

And my students were devastated. They had lost relatives and friends. Many had family members who worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as firefighters. All at once, it was impossible not to talk about what had happened to our city and our country in class, to invoke the personal, the bodily, the part of life that was supposed to be extraneous to academic life. It was impossible, too, not to write about it.

Nevertheless, the poems I wrote after the birth of my daughter, after 9/11, made me uncomfortable because they violated the borders I’d set for myself in writing. I was anxious that mothering was becoming significant material for my work. I still fought the impulse to unify my two selves. Uncharacteristically, I never sent out my poems about mothering, didn’t show them to colleagues, nor read them at poetry readings.

I didn’t show anyone my work about mothering because I was afraid of being judged. I realize now, reflecting on how difficult I have found it to be an academic and a mother, that both roles are performed under the gaze of others. For years, I had enjoyed the approval of my professors and col­leagues for my singular focus on my work, and I had thrived in the com­petitive sphere of the academy. Once I had a child, and still more after my second was born, I no longer felt such approval. And then, as a mother, I became conscious of the watchful eyes of other mothers, all of whom seemed to be doing a much better job at mothering than I was. Again, I felt as if I were taking my exams over and over again, stumbling through ques­tions about aesthetics and poetry that I felt ill-equipped to answer.

And yet I knew I was lucky, even privileged: I had a good full-time teach­ing job and two healthy children. I had a husband who shared the work of parenting. Why did I feel so on edge and troubled as a mother-academic? Why did I feel both roles demanded a kind of perfection from me that I could not offer? Why did I care so much about the approval of others?

When my friend and fellow poet Julia and I sat down together to think through these issues, we asked ourselves: what is it about academia, the life of teaching and writing, that feels so totalizing? For one thing, univer­sity life is still predicated on a medieval model of the transcendent, priestly professor, draped in academic regalia in accordance with the clerical tradi­tion; he has no body—let alone children. A recent study in Academe found that of tenured female faculty members, 62 percent in the humanities and 50 percent in the sciences have no children at home. The priestly profes­sor, male or female, is devoted to the higher calling of the life of the mind, while someone else is cooking or upholstering or tending to the garden back at the convent or monastery. For much of our academic careers, we lived simply in cramped quarters and held ourselves to this model.

Until our children were born. Then the question became: what is it about twenty-first century middle-class motherhood that feels so totaliz­ing? Motherhood today suffers because it is grounded in two competing yet simultaneous models, which conspire to produce exhausting and im­possible expectations. First is the post-World War II model of the fifties housewife that retains cultural power today. The good woman took care of everything at home, everything “domestic” (read: trivial), everything, too, related to the body. As Betty Friedan wrote in 1963, the nurturing housewife-mother provided a secure base for the entire family in a coun­try plagued by cold-war anxieties: Korea, Senator Joseph McCarthy, and the atomic bomb.

Now at the start of the twenty-first century, women following such paths are sometimes called the New Traditionalists; they are described in Lisa Belkin’s infamous article as “opting out” of careers to be full-time moms. In her terms, middle – and upper-middle-class, educated women who “delayed” childbearing until after age thirty, have become a new kind of stay-at-home mom, one who channels all her considerable energy— formerly focused on her career—into her child and the construction of a home. And, yet, at our current historical moment, in which war, terror, and a radically destabilized world feature prominently, these women perhaps also echo those post-World War II housewives who sought to provide comfort and stability for their veteran husbands and young children, by creating a beautiful and secure domestic space.

As mothers in academia, as women teaching, writing, mothering young children, we find ourselves caught between these two models. To be a pro­fessor, you need to give up the other aspects of your life, to devote yourself completely to the life of the mind. And, unfortunately, you simply can’t put an academic career on hold for several years, returning to it when your children are older. To be a mother, you need to forget or at least subdue your previous intellectual life and devote yourself completely to your chil­dren and to building a stable environment for the family. You need to become “the angel in the house”—that paragon of maternal nurture and self-sacrifice who was first named in the Victorian verse of Coventry Pat­more. To perform either role incompletely is to be inadequate.

What still amazes us, again, is how we have internalized these models. Despite the fact that our daughters have fathers who parent equally with us and despite having tenure at our teaching jobs—in other words, de­spite the privileged positions we occupy in both mothering and work— we remain caught in this opposition. We have felt, over and over—since we can’t stop using the academy’s language—as if we were failing at both roles.

So when I sat for the first time at the little cafe table in the Orange Kangaroo with my coffee and the book of poetry I was teaching, when I was able to watch my daughters making collages, pictures, and paintings as I did my own work, when all three of us were happy and relaxed and having fun, I experienced a revelation: for the first time out in public with my chil­dren I could be my mother-self and my academic writing/teaching-self at the same time. The boundaries between selves began to dissolve, and rather than the painful struggle I’d experienced several years before when I tried to navigate both selves, what I felt now was joy.

Utopia 1 b. A work of fiction describing a utopia.


When it first appeared in an e-mail message from Nicole, the Orange Kan­garoo intrigued me with its impossibility: a creature that cannot be found in nature. Indeed, that place seemed to be the only space outside her home where she felt she could be fully herself in her community of SUVs, Ray – Bans, and slender, stay-at-home moms. She promised a visit as we planned to get our children together over spring break. Recently separated from the father of my four-year-old, I was determined to pursue whatever pleasures I could afford, determined to prove my autonomy, and a four-hour drive into the congested suburbs posed an inviting challenge. We’d planned obsessively in the early morning and nap-time e-mail exchanges that sus­tain our friendship and provide essential ranting vents and reality checks. I would arrive late at night so my child would sleep for most of the trip; Nicole would leave the door unlocked so I could carry the sleeping bundle to bed. She had already stocked up on kiddie and grown-up snacks and bev­erages. Perhaps most significant of all, we arranged for this visit to occur during the annual conference of our national professional organization, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP). To stay home from the conference with our children felt transgressive the way that playing hooky thrills dutiful students, or that getting a good massage moves moth­ers of small children to tears.

By the spring of 2006, we had attended so many academic conferences with our kids that the memory of each event seemed more marked by mile­stones in their early development than by our own intellectual or artistic exhibits—they were strapped to our chests in Baby Bjorns, wheeled in strollers, sitting on our laps with sticker books while we listened, and par­ticipated in, readings and panel presentations. In one particularly vivid moment, Nicole stood outside a panel on the confessional poets with her fifteen-month-old fussing and crying. Another woman, a writer with chil­dren of her own, walked by and said, “Are you trying to remind people of why Sylvia Plath killed herself?” At another conference, someone discussed my book, Eve’s Striptease, in terms of Simone de Beauvoir’s idea that “immi­nence,” determined by the female’s reproductive potential, traps and pre­vents women from reaching the “transcendence” men attain—hence, The Second Sex. No joke, I thought as I listened to the paper, crouched on the floor in a back corner of that crowded room, my ten-month-old sprawled across my knees, nursing like mad.

At the AWP national conference in 2003, where that child learned to walk by pushing her stroller down a Baltimore hotel’s long, empty hallways before dawn, Nicole and I co-moderated a panel hopefully titled “Women Poets and Motherhood in the New Century.” Having arranged child care for the session, we joined Diana Hume George, Gale Walden, and an over­flowing crowd. The audience, mainly women, was eager to share heroic stories, confessions, complaints, and laughter; we exceeded the time slot set for the session. On a conference program alongside literary readings and pedagogy forums, that panel felt brave and important to us, even transgressive (that word again!). But not new. Thinking of it now, I get a sick feeling of deja vu when I consider that passionate conversations such as ours must have occurred for least thirty years—although perhaps not on the official schedule.

Our panel asked how the questions raised by Adrienne Rich (Of Woman Born) and Tillie Olsen (Silences) are reflected and refracted today. Ulti­mately, thirty years later, not only have some university human resources offices not caught up to the reality of the times by granting maternity and paternity leaves but, more fundamentally, the mind/body split remains a governing principle of the academy, and academic culture—with its expec­tations of late afternoon and night meetings, out-of-town conferences and research abroad—is still predicated on a family structure in which profes­sors with stay-at-home spouses are scholars and writers, free to focus on their work because family, if it exists at all, remains sequestered in a safely distant realm.

I think of my friend Danny, who teaches visual art at one of the State University of New York colleges, telling his chair that he would have to arrive a bit late for an early morning meeting because he needed to drop his daughter at day care.

The chair, a tenured woman, replied, “We hired you, not your wife and child.”

She expected Danny, who had not yet achieved tenure, to act like a man, perhaps as she had. I mean a man like my father, who left our suburban home at seven or eight o’clock in the morning and returned for dinner at six, his life neatly divided between apparently separate spheres. Because he worked in the research laboratories of a large corporation sustained by defense contracts, the division was especially stark: wives and children weren’t allowed on the grounds without a pass from the guard at the secu­rity booth; we never met his colleagues or saw where Dad spent his days. Before e-mail or home computers, work stayed at the office. His black

briefcase, which mostly served as a lunch box, fell by the front door with his shoes each evening, and usually remained unopened. Rarely during my childhood did his professional and domestic lives overlap.

“Accidental overlap” is the term I learned from a doctoral student who shadowed me several years ago for a research project designed to see how faculty with families use their time, and whether we take advantage of the so-called family-friendly policies available at large research universi­ties. For three full days—at home, in my office, in the classroom—she trailed me while scribbling notes and filling bubbles on Scantron sheets. “Accidental overlap” means unintentionally attending to family or personal matters while you think you’re doing research or teaching or adminis­trative work. When I asked what she’d learned from watching assistant and associate professors at two Big Ten universities, the researcher cau­tiously said it looks like women are more subject to accidental overlap than men.

The study was headed by Carol Colbeck, a Pennsylvania State Univer­sity professor who investigates the ways social and organizational contexts shape academic work. Her team of researchers found that faculty mem­bers try hard to keep work and family as separate as possible, but work appears to intrude into home life more than home intrudes upon work. We prepare for classes, read and write at home, but rarely do our children’s concerns come to school. The researchers identified two coping strategies of faculty parents that will come as no surprise: multitasking and integra­tion, such as making a family vacation out of a research trip. Another find­ing was that universities’ work-family policies have had little influence on the daily lives of young faculty members—and we may even be unaware of them—because departmental culture, including norms and interpersonal interactions, set the agenda for most of our choices. So, while there may be a paternity leave in place, an untenured father doesn’t take it because to do so would run counter to departmental customs.

I also discovered that the so-called family-friendly policies may be more symbolic than substantial. At my university, for instance, a thousand chil­dren were waiting for on-campus day care when I put my child’s name on the list (then luckily found a less costly and immediately available spot elsewhere).

Participating in the study was surprisingly wearisome because it made me mindful of my everyday life, one more layer of consciousness added to days already full of simultaneous thoughts: I was suddenly aware of the fact that I nursed the baby while reading a student’s MFA thesis while

wondering what I’d find to cook for dinner, or whether I had time to run out for a few groceries.

But, the project got me thinking. Children are a lot of work, but haven’t I always been a worker and done many things at once? Don’t I fundamen­tally believe that all things are connected—including the work we do for money and the work we do for love? How can I—a poet who has always worked quite literally from life experience—divide the public from the pri­vate now? Why, after earning a PhD while working forty hours a week as a writer of grant proposals, should I now separate mind work from body work? Come to think of it, even my father’s lives overlapped: Marie, the secretary I never met, sent my mother recipes for my father’s favorite cook­ies and typed my high school research papers, the separation of those spheres merely an illusion enabled by two women’s unbounded labor and cold-war prosperity. Maybe the term “overlap” is improper, assuming as it does a neat division of the professional and domestic spheres in the first place. Perhaps the split between domestic and professional is a utopian fiction, a dream of purity as false and ultimately impossible to sustain as the split between body and mind, and becoming a mother has driven that fact home.

When I became pregnant, I learned that maternity policies for faculty in my college, beyond the standard six-week paid leave, were negotiated case by case with wildly different results (a policy which has since changed for the better.) In my department, among tenured professors, there were more than twice as many fathers with babies under three years old as mothers, mirroring the national gap in tenure achievement between men and women who are parents. My department has few tenured or tenure – track women, and of the faculty women who had children when I became pregnant, all but one were at least ten years my senior, according to my informal observation.

This is why turning up for class visibly pregnant felt good, once I got used to the sense that I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to. Due to deliver at thirty-nine, a decade after my first book won an award, I was what the nurses sadly termed “of advanced maternal age.” Nonetheless, I felt like the willful teenager I never was, the knocked-up chick who insists on attending high school anyway. Like Nicole, I’d never had—never even re­called seeing—a pregnant professor in my fifteen years of post-secondary education. At New York University, there were rumors of a slim compara­tive literature professor who had two children, a live-in nanny, husband, and a tailor so skilled no one ever noticed when she was pregnant. As graduate students, we thought we knew better than to show up pregnant for a job interview. In our early thirties, Nicole and I spent a lot of time in anxious conversation wondering whether it was even possible for poets negotiating the academic job market to land a decent teaching position before becom­ing infertile.

Recalling those moments, I think there may be anecdotal evidence for some kind of change. Lately I’ve noticed some pregnant graduate students in my department. Apart from financial worries, they seem to be doing fine, in contrast to the stories I heard a few years ago when I started “to show.” At a holiday party in my small town, the local dermatologist cornered me and described what it was like to get pregnant, drop out of medical school in the 1970s, then be denied readmission because her professors didn’t believe she would ever practice. A fifty-something art professor told me that when her pregnancy became evident during her last semester of art school, she was forced out of her studio space and had to finish and mount her thesis exhibit without institutional support. The acting head of my department—hugely sympathetic to my circumstances—related her own: she had had to quit, then reapply for, her job, because in the 1960s no one knew what to do with a pregnant professor. I respect the tales these women carry around, like smoldering coals waiting to flare, and it’s hard to ques­tion the implication that their experiences have made way for younger women like me. But I find that their stories typically invite gratitude and praise rather than real conversation about current conditions.

In fact, I hear very little about these matters in academic circles. Maybe the same old problems—human rights—have just become tedious relics of the 1970s? Maybe the gaps in creative production that Tillie Olsen traced in mothers’ lives are just too hard for us to accept in a culture of competi­tion and inflated professional stakes. Perhaps fear of failing to get a job, to achieve tenure, or to maintain post-tenure security silences us now. Follow­ing the ethos of these assessment-obsessed times, corporate universities such as mine have adopted absurd measures to quantify faculty perfor­mance in the humanities. In addition to asking our students, now figured as consumers, to evaluate every course we teach, the university measures our writing and publications against a system of weights and balances. We must report the number of pages of our publications in annual “activity reports” and rank journals or presses in order of their status—an essen­tially impossible task in my field—to set up a hierarchy whereby our out­put can be judged. Those professors deemed insufficiently productive are called up for post-tenure review. Of course, many professionals face job performance evaluation, and work has grown increasingly stressful and demanding for nearly all Americans. Yet I worry that the nation’s academic culture of creativity and critical thought—once a global model—may devolve into a culture of superficial productivity. Even tenured faculty can internal­ize an attitude of surveillance toward their intellectual and creative activity, an attitude that is hardly supportive of the most daring and original work. Tenure—once designed to protect intellectual freedom in the belief that our democratic system depends upon serious and engaged thought—isn’t what it used to be.

Those few days standing around in thin March sunshine while our daughters rode tricycles on the sidewalk were a great affirmation of life beyond academia. In New Jersey daffodils bloomed, though snow banks still clogged the curbs in my tiny post-agricultural, post-industrial town in the mountains of Pennsylvania. In New Jersey we shopped at an upscale children’s clothing consignment shop, one of the many advantages of that advantaged community. And we visited the Orange Kangaroo, where the children painted paper kites shaped like fish while Nicole and I sat in that light-filled room, talking about our writing and lives. Granted, the price of admission was eighteen dollars per child, plus a few more bucks for hot beverages; utopia comes with a price in the suburbs, but afterward we all ran down the street, laughter and Japanese fish trailing in the wind.

Utopia 2. An impractical, idealistic scheme for
social and political reform.

And then it closed. One day Nicole went to the building with her daughters and the Orange Kangaroo was dark, shut down forever. The children were distressed, but she became obsessed. She asked everyone she knew, searched the Web, inquired of nearby shopkeepers what could have happened.

Eventually, a notice arrived in the mail: the business had gone bankrupt. Maybe the artist-parent-entrepreneur couple found the Orange Kangaroo to be financially unsustainable in that town of good schools and nice homes and traditional, nuclear families. Perhaps a space like the Orange Kangaroo cannot survive in a culture that pays lip service to family values but, at bot­tom, does not support the lives of parents and children. Such a precarious utopia must be funded privately—and therefore be accessible to only the middle class. Could we even imagine the existence of a public, not-for-profit space like the Orange Kangaroo? That miracle—that place where mothers and children could both experience creativity and joy—was, sadly, unwork­able, the financial reality of utopia suddenly clear.

Forgetting money for a moment, let us take the Orange Kangaroo as a metaphor for the space where a woman can be both a mother and scholar or writer, all identities integrated and satisfied. That space where we could find solitude for reading or writing, or time for an intellectual conversa­tion, and also be with our children—is it an impossibility? Or is that at the heart of the very definition of utopia: unworkable perfection?

We’ve experienced the rare conjunctions of our mothering and aca­demic lives as transgressions, thrilling departures from the all-or-nothing commitment both jobs demand. Maybe those moments of integration are utopian spaces, too, rare and fleeting delights not usually found in nature, given the fact that most of the time, we find ourselves “just switching chan­nels,” as one professor friend describes her life of work and children.

Perhaps the challenge lies less in seeking those spaces where our sepa­rate spheres of operation overlap, but in valuing all the kinds of work we do when others may not. We can see ourselves not as failures unable to suc­ceed at the totalizing roles we were born to play, but as accomplished actors refusing to give up any of our big parts. That’s one way to revise the meta­phor of performance. As mothers and as academics, we need to consciously shrug off the feelings of failure, the sense of ourselves being under intense scrutiny and always found lacking. Life’s energy is finally found in the im­provisation, in negotiating the demands of mothering and teaching and writ­ing when they conflict, and in keeping our own bodies and spirits healthy enough that we have the strength to refuse to comply with impossible re – quirements—internal or external.

At some point the good girl grows up and refuses the scripts that will ultimately be her undoing. So what if we are all supposed to be as autono­mous, efficient, and productive as that man from the suburbs whose labor was invisibly buttressed by a wife and secretary? Lessons in resistance and change don’t come from good students or the lovely, good mothers hover­ing on the edge of the playground. It’s as important to identify and critique those totalizing paradigms, and to work for institutional and social change, as it is to personally refuse to comply with their demands—that is, we can deliberately find ways to live otherwise. To start, we can refuse to hide the facts of our lives in defiance of the culture of an academy that would rather we all just publish excellent texts (about “the body” even) and give excellent lectures, but keep our children to ourselves. Refusing to hide the facts of our work lives also defies the image of “the angel in the house,” who from the last two centuries and into our own time still haunts the dream of domes­tic perfection.

Recovering Academic

Jennifer margulis

Jenny flounced into my office and threw herself in a chair. She was crying before I had even managed to say hello. She gripped a cloth handkerchief in her hand as tightly as my daughter held Blue-Blue Blankie at home, draw­ing it rather brutally across her eyes to wipe away the tears. She seemed to be willing herself to stop sobbing.

“What can I do for you?” I asked, unsure how to respond to this display of emotion from a student. When my two-year-old cried I usually knew how to comfort her. I’d take her in my arms, or nurse her, maybe distract her with a silly joke, or tell her a story about Chica Persona, a made-up misbehaver whose antics often mirrored my daughter’s. But what was I supposed to do with Jenny, a grown woman and my student? Should I hug her? Offer her Kleenex though she already had a handkerchief? Crack stupid jokes?

I sat listening to the faulty radiator backfiring in my dingy gray basement office and waited for Jenny to pull herself together. After a few minutes she stopped crying and started hiccupping.

“I. Just. Don’t,” she began. “Understand. Why. I. Got. An A-. And not an A. (Hiccup.) On. This. Paper.” She thrust the essay under my nose.

Her paper, about diabolic images in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, had a grammatical error in the first sentence. And the second. And the third. After three years in one of the top colleges in the United States, Jenny, an English major, could barely write a sentence without making a mistake.

I’ve. Never,” she continued, still sniffling, “gotten anything but a. . . a. . . an A on a paper before.”

I rubbed my belly. I was almost seven months pregnant with my second child. What was I doing in this dim office with this spoiled student? Why wasn’t I home playing with my toddler? I had originally wanted to become a professor because I loved to teach; more specifically I wanted to teach people who wanted to learn. Teaching at anything but the college level didn’t appeal to me because I did not want to be a disciplinarian. I wanted to help open young minds, learn as much from my students as I taught them, engage in debates that would move the world forward. But Jenny wasn’t interested in talking about the cogency of her argument, the mis­placement of her apostrophes, or even the larger issues of good and evil, conformity and socialization that were raised in Hawthorne’s text. She couldn’t care less about either logic or grammar. She was only interested in her grade. And the grade, an A-, was not something she earned or merited; it was something I had done to her. If I learned anything from the students at the all-female, elite college where I was a visiting assistant professor, it was that I didn’t want my daughter to grow up to be anything like them.

I received three job offers my first year out of graduate school: a tenure-track offer from an upstate school in the State University of New York system, a lectureship at Michigan State University, and a visiting professorship at a top women’s college. I felt an instant intellectual affinity with the chair at the SUNY school who was courting me, and the idea of working at a university that catered to regular kids, most of whom were first generation college – goers, appealed to me. But when I went to visit the school the faculty seemed so unhappy. They didn’t understand the dean’s system for merit raises, they felt overwhelmed by the number of students enrolled in the courses they taught. The people who would become my colleagues seemed stuck. The dean talked enthusiastically about moving my tenure clock forward since I had already published a book in graduate school, but when I asked him for a higher starting salary and money for moving expenses, he turned cold.

“One doesn’t refuse a tenure-track offer,” the chair of Graduate Studies at Emory University, where I had earned my PhD, said when I went to talk to him about the campus visit. He was restless, rearranging books on his desk. He placed a hardcover edition of The Scarlet Letter on top of a paper­back Gulliver’s Travels.

“But I’ve got another one, at a school that’s on the map. It’s not tenure track but they’re offering me over five thousand dollars a year more.”

“One doesn’t refuse a tenure-track offer,” the chair intoned.

I thought of a brilliant colleague who had moved to Nevada for a tenure – track position, and was miserable. And another who worked at a big research university in the middle of Ohio who was also struggling to find her way. I thought of a professor at Emory who never wanted to be in Atlanta, who hadn’t bought a house or an apartment because she felt like her time there was just temporary. Ten years later, tenured, she was still in Atlanta. Instead of living her life, she was waiting to leave. She hadn’t married or had chil­dren. My husband, James, and I talked about our options for hours: we decided that we weren’t willing to move somewhere we didn’t want to live just for a job. We made the decision that we would make over and over again: our family, our children, and our quality of life all came ahead of academic success. It was a decision that would soon catapult me out of aca­demia and into a more flexible, child-friendly, and risky career.

“What university are you affiliated with in America?” a professor from the English Department at L’Universite Abdou Moumouni, Niger’s only uni­versity, asked me, years later, as I handed him a business card.

“I’m not,” I said.

“You don’t work for a university in the States?”

“No,” I explained. “I’m a recovering academic.”

I had turned down the tenure-track offer and taken the job at the women’s college, happy to be back in the Northeast and thrilled with the prospect of teaching motivated students. It was there, in faculty housing, that our second daughter, Athena, was born at home. She emerged from my womb whooping her war cry, gray eyes flashing. James and I wanted to have our children close in age, so we planned for Athena and her older sister, Hesperus, to be only nineteen months apart. For us, going from no children to one (an easily comforted, smiley baby) was much easier than going from one to two (Athena was a lusty baby who was very vocal about her needs just as Hesperus morphed into a terribly trying toddler). I found myself completely overwhelmed by the needs of my children and the needs of my students. To my surprise, the school where I chose to work was far from idyllic. Instead of having lively discussions about literature over tea (isn’t that how professors at elite New England colleges nestled in the mountains spend at least some of their time?), I found myself in a competitive, unsupportive department where the professors were more in­terested in their evaluations than in academic standards and where the students, like Jenny, seemed to care stridently about their grades but feel nonchalant about the quality of their education. Worse, when I told the chair I was pregnant and due in the spring, he cringed visibly. “You can take a week off,” he said, sounding like he thought he was being generous. “We’ll get someone to cover your classes.” Something had to give.

“What would your ideal job be?” I asked James one day while we were visiting my mom. Hesperus had found a pair of scissors and was cutting the fibers of my mother’s dining room carpeting. Newborn Athena was nursing.

“To be paid to write,” he said without hesitating.

“Paid to write?” The idea was so novel I had to ponder it. Most young academics are so desperate to get published in scholarly journals that they rarely even consider remuneration. The first royalty check I received for the academic book I published in grad school—a classroom edition of a lit­tle-known eighteenth-century play that I coedited with a colleague because I didn’t have the confidence to do it myself—was for $31.22. I was so de­lighted I skipped all the way to the bank to deposit the check. But it’s not like those royalties would pay the rent.

“Paid to write, like how?”

“Like, you know, long articles for the Atlantic Monthly.”

“They pay you for that?”

It was such a good idea! Why hadn’t I thought of it before? Writing for a living. What could be more perfect?!

The idea seemed even better when I found out just how much some magazines and newspapers would pay. I wrote to FamilyFun Magazine for their writer’s guidelines. They came back on a page that had been Xeroxed so many times they were barely legible. But the information contained in that fading type was hard to believe.

“A dollar a word!” I told James. “A dollar a word?! They pay you a dollar for one word. ‘The,’” I said, holding out my hand. “Give me a dollar!” I ran around the house, changing Athena’s diaper and picking up Hesperus’s toys, humming to myself. I need only write the word the and I would make a dollar.

“So you’re not teaching in America?” my Nigerian colleague asked again.

“Not anymore,” I explained. “In the States I make a living as a writer.”

The problem with becoming a writer when you have an academic back­ground is that you have to undo a lot of what you’re taught in academia. Academics write obscurely, intentionally limiting their readership by mask­ing their ideas behind abstruse prose. In fact, unless you’re Henry Louis Gates, Jr., if your work is too popular your colleagues become suspicious.

At tenure reviews they don’t necessarily want to see that you’ve published in Ms. Magazine and the New York Times but in journals with names like the Journal of Andrology and the Ontology of Semiology.

Though establishing a career as a writer wasn’t as easy as I’d thought it’d be when I went dancing around the house, it was a relief to make my own schedule and escape the classroom. I missed the summers off and the overseas conferences, but I didn’t miss teaching or the cold shoulders I got from my colleagues. After all, being a parent was as much of a perform­ance as teaching, it involved as much energy, as much social interaction, and as much hand-holding. By the time our third child was born, on a clear October night in our little red farmhouse in Greenfield, Massachusetts, I had found my voice as a parenting writer and journalist and had estab­lished a consulting business to help other writers (many also trying to undo their academic training) polish their prose and publish.

A year later a writer friend (a mother of four boys who had become a successful writer even though she never finished college) forwarded a call from the Fulbright Program folks saying they were looking for applicants. I’d lived in West Africa in the 1990s and always planned to go back. But life and work and baby making had gotten in the way.

I didn’t know that as a professional writer I was eligible for a Fulbright, but I was. A year after I learned I could apply (it’s a long process), I found myself in front of a classroom again for the first time in six years. I was awarded the Fulbright to return to Niger, the landlocked Sahelian country where I had worked thirteen years before. I would teach my specialty— nineteenth-century American literature—in a country where only 15 per­cent of the population is literate. I knew a little about the university, as I had taught English as a Second Language there before. The University of Abdou Moumouni, named after a famous Nigerien physicist, was once the jewel of West Africa. Students from Mali to the West and Chad to the East, as well as those from neighboring Benin, Togo, and other Franco­phone countries, would come to study there. But I also knew that the cur­rent government was openly opposed to education, and that over the past ten years the university had steadily declined. The president of Niger, Mamadou Tandja, had actually said in a televised address that people in Niger don’t need education, they need to grow millet and sorghum. Army men, in full riot gear, are dropped off by the truckload on campus every morning to “keep the peace.” But even though I was prepared, theoreti­cally, for difficult teaching conditions, I really had no idea what I was get­ting myself into.

I had eighty-four second-year English students packed into one small room, with three squeaky ceiling fans and a very dusty chalkboard. The stu­dents in the back were so far from the blackboard they had to stand up to see what was written at the bottom.

This was a far cry from Emory’s tree-lined campus, where marigolds, tulips, and daffodils bloomed on every walkway, where most of the class­rooms were equipped with PowerPoint projectors, podiums, pull-down screens, and world maps, not to mention clean chalkboards, working out­lets, doors that close, and brand-new desks. For the past three years Niger has been classified as the poorest country in the world by the United Nations. Instead of teaching some of the most privileged people in the world, I would now be teaching some of the most disenfranchised.

But after my family and I arrived in Niamey and settled in (a process which took months longer than I expected) it became unclear whether I would actually get to teach. During the first months of the semester we endured what the American Embassy called “seasonal striking,” students protesting government policies and commemorating the deaths of their comrades in past protests. The two months of sometimes violent striking included large protests blocking traffic for hours, angry students burning tires and torching cars with foreign plates, and gendarmes dispersing crowds with tear gas, which (I found out one day while I was trying to hold a class, despite the political difficulties, about slave narratives) sounds like a bomb explosion when it’s fired outside one’s classroom. Just when I was despairing of ever getting to teach, the political situation finally settled down, and my students and I dove gratefully into the nineteenth-century American literary tradition.

The peace lasted for exactly three weeks. Then, at eight o’clock one morn­ing, I heard someone call “Madame!” A large man filled the doorframe of my classroom. “You are in my room!”

“I beg your pardon?” I had been writing the day’s lesson plan and home­work on the board. I walked to the door where the man was waiting, bring­ing my chalk with me. It was the only piece I had, the only piece I had access to. If I left it in the chalkboard well, it would disappear.

“This,” he said grandiosely, “is my room. Tell your students to leave at once!”

I looked at him in disbelief, sure there was some mistake. Nigeriens are known for their graciousness and hospitality and I was flabbergasted that the professor was talking to me this way. “I’ve been using this room since the beginning of the semester,” I protested, moving away from the door so

my students wouldn’t hear me arguing in French. “I was assigned this room by the English Dep—”

“The English Department has no jurisdiction over rooms!” he inter­rupted. “Assigning rooms is the responsibility of the Registrar’s Office. And if you follow me, you will see that YOU ARE IN MY ROOM.”

The professor swept away, his white robes hovering about him like a ghost in one of the Edgar Allan Poe stories we were reading. I followed him past a bathroom where one sink was ripped out and the other was leak­ing, making a drip drip sound as the water spilled to the floor. The air in the hallway was thick with the stench of backed-up sewage.

The clerk in the office simpered as we came in. He swayed when he greeted us, slurring his words. I had been in this office verifying classroom assignments with the English Department chair just two days before. But now the professor pointed triumphantly to the room assignments, hand­written on a huge piece of white paper tacked onto the wall. My name had been crudely blotted out and his name written over mine in ink.

“Get your students out of my classroom,” the professor said.

“Where should we go?” I asked.

“Je m’en fous [I don’t give a f—],” he answered. “You’re wasting my time, Madame. I just came back from Mecca and I have no time to waste.”

The clerk suggested the conference room, so my eighty-four students and I piled into a classroom with enough space to accommodate thirty. Squeezed elbow to elbow, knee to knee, we started class. There was no blackboard, so I wrote on the door. Half the class couldn’t see the door so I broke my coveted piece of chalk in half and asked a student to copy what I wrote on a metal window shutter in the other corner.

“Oh, Mommy,” my three-year-old son said the next morning when he saw me putting on work clothes. “You going to work again?” My daughters were attending an international school and left the house a few minutes before I did but my son was at home most mornings, either with my husband or our housekeeper. He sounded disappointed. “I miss you when you is gone,” he said, encircling my legs in his arms and hugging me for a long time.

“I have to teach my class, honey,” I told him.

“Why?” he asked, looking sad. “You is not a teacher. You is a mommy.”

I pulled my son into my arms and kissed his cheek. “You’re right,” I told him. “I miss you when I’m gone, too. I’m a mommy first. And I love being your mommy. But I’m a teacher sometimes, so I can help people learn.”

I hugged my son for a long time, feeling his heart beat against my breast. James, finishing a book we were cowriting, would be home with him this morning, but I still felt bad about leaving. Unlike at the elite New England college where I had last taught, my Nigerien students were anything but spoiled. They were engaged with their studies, fascinated by the window I was opening for them onto American culture and history, and grateful for the presence of a native English speaker with an interactive teaching style among their Nigerien professors. I was eager to teach but my heart was still heavy. I gave my son one last kiss and went to class.

That day I brought a slide projector and slides to class to show my African students scenes from a 1799 book, sold by subscription, of early Philadelphia. The book, which Thomas Jefferson owned, showcased the triumphs of the new nation’s capital, with its tree-lined streets and mansions under construction. Alongside those images I projected slides of an artist’s rendition of Poe’s stories: gruesome black-and-white images of the ancient house of Usher falling into the tarn and of a man’s back being eaten by a seagull, his head nodding in death. I was using the slides to illustrate Toni Morrison’s argument in her book about nineteenth-century American lit­erature, Playing in the Dark, that much of our nation’s early literature is antithetical to the American Dream. This was a theme that we explored all semester as my students and I saw how the rhetoric of America often contrasted with the imagination of early America in the literature of some of our most talented writers: Poe’s grotesque rendition of the human psy­che, Hawthorne’s exposure of hidden sin and human depravity, Frederick Douglass’s exploration of how slavery dehumanizes the slaveholder.

But the woodwork around the only outlet in the classroom had been so eaten by termites that it no longer conducted electricity. Several students assisted me, and the janitor helped us run a long extension cord down the hall and into another room, so we managed, finally, to turn the projector on. Sun streamed in through the curtainless, west-facing windows. The images were projected onto a yellow wall and my students, sweating as profusely as I while we all baked in the packed room, could barely see the slides.

I thought of Jenny. I thought of another of my American students, who complained all the way up to the dean because, after missing 80 percent of the semester, he got an F for class participation (he overslept, he told me unself-consciously, even though class started at 10:00 a. m.). And I thought of the parents who called the chair to defend their daughter’s actions after she was found guilty of plagiarism (she purchased a term paper off the Internet).

“Good morning, sir,” one of my students greeted me a week later as I walked through thick sand, blown all the way from the Sahara by a fierce wind called the Harmattan, to our newly assigned room. On the day’s schedule was a discussion of how Frederick Douglass surreptitiously taught himself to read when teaching literacy to slaves was illegal in many South­ern states.

“Sir?!” I cried, turning around in an elaborate pantomime to see whom she was greeting. She apologized profusely and we laughed, walking the rest of the way to class together. I realized then that I was always doing what I had longed to do: teaching people who wanted to learn, exchanging ideas with students who had as much to give to me as I to them, exposing expanding minds to new ideas and new ways of thinking.

Despite the unbearable heat, the gendarmes on campus, the tear gas that interrupted our class time, the inedible food served in the cafeteria, and the fact that four to six students were sharing dorm rooms that accommodate two, my students were doing everything they could to learn. I was still glad that this wasn’t my full-time job, but at the same time I realized that what I was doing in Niger complemented my parenting instead of replicating it. Maybe, I decided as I took some chalk out of my backpack and wrote the day’s agenda on the dusty blackboard, I wasn’t really a recovering aca­demic. Maybe I had recovered so fully that I could fall off the wagon and come back into the classroom from time to time.

A Great Place to Have a Baby

rebecca steinitz

I had my first child in 1996. I received my PhD in 1997. I had my second child in 2000. Now it is 2007, but I am not the tenured professor my timetable suggests I should be.

Ah, you think, you’ve heard this story, in all its variations. She and her husband met in graduate school; she followed him to his first job and started adjuncting; the first baby came and she didn’t publish; the second baby came and her husband was busy in the lab; before she knew it, she was a stay-at – home mom. Or maybe they both got jobs, four hundred miles apart, and when push came to shove, she gave hers up so the family could be together. Perhaps before she even finished the dissertation she decided that professor and mom were mutually incompatible, so she got the degree, got a real job, and got on with the business of a family. Or it could be—though you hope not—that she’s one of those sad cases who went on the job market half a dozen times without success and decided to compensate with another child.

Nope. We’ve all heard these stories, even watched them unfold, but none of them are mine. For me, academia and motherhood went together like Gilbert and Gubar, Deleuze and Guattari, Big Bird and Snuffleupagus, dia­pers and wipes.

Graduate school seemed like a great place to have a baby. Having worked for several years before returning to school, I turned thirty as I started my dissertation. I had no intention of following in the footsteps of the junior faculty I knew who, postponing children for tenure, found themselves child­less at forty and, if they were lucky, parenting toddlers at forty-five. I had excellent health insurance and a dissertation fellowship. There seemed no reason to wait.

Indeed, graduate school turned out to be a great place to have a baby. I was five months pregnant when I went on the job market for the first time, with one chapter of my dissertation completed. It was a relief when my interviews went nowhere, leaving me free to devote myself to preparenting and dissertating. The baby was born in May, I took the summer off, and by August, I was back at my computer, with the help of a part-time babysitter and my husband’s days off.

There were certainly some hairy moments, like scrambling to finish my writing sample with the baby lying on the floor next to my desk, which sounds charming, but wasn’t. Overall, though, it worked. I nursed in the Hilton hotel ladies’ room between Modern Language Association inter­views and managed to find time to pump on campus visits, which depart­ment chairs were kind enough to schedule so that I was away from home as briefly as possible. (I had enough frozen breast milk to get the baby through the first, but by the second, a week later, we succumbed to the ease of formula.)

I got a tenure-track position, we moved two-thirds of the way across the country, and before I knew it, I had transformed from grad-student-mom into professor-mom, which I did not find much harder. (Okay, I am slightly exaggerating the ease, though not the outcome: we arrived in Ohio on the first of August and, having finished my dissertation just three days before we left California, I spent the next two weeks in a panicky search for child care while I was supposed to be preparing classes. I had finally talked myself into a home day care that I could tolerate, when—I am not joking—a trained British nanny called me up, said she’d heard I was looking for child care, and announced that she was coming to work for me. Because we lived in a small town in Ohio, and her salary was her family’s second income, I could even afford her. It seemed like a sign that everything was meant to be.)

Though it was disconcerting to be the only person in town who occu­pied the overlapping sets of mother and assistant professor—at parties, I never knew whether to talk shop with my colleagues or talk kids with their wives—I found my job ideal for motherhood. My schedule was flexible, I had summers off, and there was an endless supply of student babysitters. I could bring my daughter to work if she had a day off from school, and if I had to cancel class because she was sick, nobody raised an eyebrow. I stayed up way too late preparing for class, spent every Sunday in my office grading essays, and nearly lost my mind every time I had to give a confer­ence paper, but I could go to Halloween parties, take Friday afternoons off, and be at the sitter’s or school in five minutes if someone threw up.

My good fortune was due partly to my institution, a liberal arts college that genuinely placed teaching first and hired with the expectation of tenure, unless someone really screwed up. Writing mainly in the summer, I was able to publish at a reasonable clip, and good teaching evaluations and prodigious amounts of service helped me feel reasonably secure, even as a junior faculty member.

I was also lucky to have a supportive chair and provost, both active fathers who appreciated the logistical challenges of combining professing and par­enting. One thing the college did not have was a viable maternity leave pol­icy: on paper, faculty got six weeks off, which made no sense at all, especially for a baby due at the end of December, as my second was. But when I pro­posed to my chair that I substitute the six weeks for one of my courses, and committee work for another, he suggested that I teach a once-a-week hon­ors tutorial in place of the third, and, voila, I essentially had a semester off, coming in just one afternoon a week for office hours and my tutorial, and showing up at department meetings with the baby asleep in her car seat.

The following year, when I heard that a woman in another department had received no maternity leave after the birth of her daughter, I proposed to the Faculty Personnel Committee that every new mother (I couldn’t get as far as fathers, though we did include adoptive mothers) receive the equiv­alent of a semester off, to be taken as she and her department determined, either in one full semester, as I had, or in several semesters of reduced load. The new policy was rapidly approved by the faculty, demonstrating both an institutional will to support mothers and the power of individual mothers within the institution.

The spring I spent on maternity leave, I received early promotion. The next year I got tenure. The year after that, I was awarded a special scholarly leave which I was able to combine with a semester-long sabbatical for a full year off, during which my family spent ten weeks in London, funded by a generous faculty development grant. My children were thriving at the on – campus preschool and the local public school.

What a triumphal narrative, you’re probably thinking. Let’s get to the happily ever after already.

Except wait. Something is not right.

It’s okay. You can flip back to the first paragraph.

Yes, you’re remembering correctly.

After all that, I left. Walked away from tenure, at a good school, where they liked me (most of them) and I liked them (most of them). What was I thinking?

I was thinking that academia really wasn’t for me. Though I liked the classroom and my students, the idea of teaching first-year writing and Jane

Eyre over and over for the rest of my career made me want to cry. Research was fine when I was doing it, but I didn’t miss it when I wasn’t. And after publishing several articles and finishing my first book, I realized I had nothing else to say—at least nothing else scholarly to say. When I went to conferences, I had little interest in what anyone else had to say either. Aca­demic politics? Don’t get me started.

I suppose I could have become one of those alienated academics who shows up only to teach, but alienation has never been one of my career goals. And beyond academia, my husband’s career had stalled and we were hundreds of miles away from our families, living in a place we had no desire to live.

We kept at it for several years, though. I mean, I had tenure! We could afford our mortgage, we had lovely friends, and life wasn’t terrible, most of the time. As significantly, I couldn’t imagine how I would manage moth­erhood if I wasn’t a professor. Would I send my kids to camp for the entire summer, while I shivered in an air-conditioned office, counting the days till the single week of vacation I could spend with them? Would they have to go to afterschool five days a week? What if I had a finite number of sick days, and it wasn’t enough? What if I wasn’t allowed to bring my kids to work? How would I find babysitters if I didn’t have students? And who would I be if I wasn’t a professor and a mother?

I’d be a mother and something else, I realized, when we finally acknowl­edged that the reasons to leave were stronger than the reasons to stay. I quickly discovered that the rigidity of a nine-to-five office life was not for me, but I was able to craft an alternative career path that grafted the flexibil­ity I had as a professor on to work that I love: I now divide my time between freelance editing, writing, and a half-time job running a program for high school teachers. I still stay up late at night to finish editing projects and write essays like this one, but I also can still stay home with a sick kid and make it to the Halloween party. My children are minutes away from their grandparents, my husband’s career has taken off, and we can get to the beach in less than an hour.

But my point here is not simply the eventual happily ever after (so far) of my own narrative. Rather, I want to argue that the academy has the potential to be a radically family-friendly work environment. Professors have the flexibility and autonomy only dreamt of by most working moth­ers—whether they work at Wal-Mart or on Wall Street. The university is, at least theoretically, an environment which places a prime value upon the individual mind, whether that mind is teaching or learning. It would be wholly logical to extend that value to the individual’s body, life, and family, which enable that mind to function. And I’d argue, too, that it wouldn’t be that difficult. Indeed, my experience could serve as a model.

It is not insignificant, though, that I taught at a mid-level liberal arts col­lege rather than a top-tier research university where the demands to pub­lish or perish could give pause to any but the most avid procreators. Still, even those institutions have started to realize the possibilities: Harvard University recently set aside additional funds for faculty and staff child care, while Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Tech­nology now automatically extend the tenure clock for junior faculty who have babies.

Academia is not just a place where students learn and faculty teach and research. It is also, again theoretically, but often practically as well, one of the primary incubators for the ideas and practices that shape our society. Why not use today’s universities, then, to birth a new vision of academia and mothering, indeed, of work and parenting? A vision in which these dyads are neither mutually exclusive nor oxymoronic, but rather symbiotic and productive?

What it would take? Oh, the usual (or maybe I should say the obvious): a commitment to partner hires, reasonable maternity leaves and no pun­ishment for taking them, affordable and available on-campus child care, flexible scheduling for courses and meetings, an equitable distribution of teaching and service across departments (not to mention across genders), transparent tenure expectations that emphasize quality over quantity, sup­portive senior faculty. That is to say: a bunch of things that would be emi­nently feasible if academia, which supposedly consists of the smartest people around, would just decide that they mattered.

I know, I’m talking like a cockeyed optimist, but, hey, isn’t cockeyed optimism fundamental to the very act of having a child? So why not take it bigger?

Today motherhood, tomorrow the university, next week the world!