Sciencing during the first trimester

I don’t normally write posts on request, but this is an exception. This post is on working as a scientist* during the first trimester of pregnancy. I will have a follow up post, also on request, that will focus on working as a scientist during the first 6 months or so after the baby is born. In both posts, I will share my experiences, but a large reason why I haven’t written these posts sooner is that I know my experiences are limited. So, I would love to hear what worked (or didn’t) from others. Please share in the comments!

The key issues during the first trimester are that the woman is often not feeling great (to varying degrees from mostly normal to barely functional), yet often doesn’t want to share that she’s pregnant yet. Most women I know spend the first trimester trying to balance caring for themselves, managing work responsibilities, and maintaining their privacy. It’s a juggling act.

I had both of my children as a faculty member. In both cases, my first trimester was (mostly) during the summer, which gave me a lot more flexibility in terms of having fewer meetings and day-to-day responsibilities to worry about. Fortunately, I didn’t have severe first trimester issues; I was tired and nauseated, but nothing too severe.** In both cases, I didn’t tell anyone at work until the end of the first trimester. A few thoughts related to that:
1. At the time(s), I really didn’t want to tell anyone at work while in the first trimester. Now, I’m no longer so sure why I felt that strongly. I think it had to do with the strong cultural norm to wait until after the first trimester. But I don’t really understand why that is the norm, and I suspect that now I’d be more okay telling some people sooner. Then again, maybe not. (ADDED 1 FEBRUARY 2015: It seems, based on the comments, like my meaning here wasn’t clear. I personally don’t think I’d tell many people during the first trimester, but I think now I might tell more than I did. With my first, the only people who knew were my husband and one very close friend. Thinking back, I think I’d have needed more of a support network than that if I’d miscarried. Also, I was really, really nervous about how I would handle it if, for example, teaching schedules were being set and I was in my first trimester. Now, I think I would worry less about that. And that goes in both directions. If I didn’t want to tell and then was unable to teach because of pregnancy, they would have been able to deal with that without it being a problem. And, if I had told my chair and then lost the pregnancy, I think that would have been okay (but am very fortunate that I didn’t find myself in that position). Basically: I worried a LOT about how to navigate not telling people in the first trimester, and think I could have reduced that anxiety if I’d felt more okay with telling a couple more people if the need arose.)
2. There was one point in my first trimester where I was trying to schedule a visit for a seminar speaker. I had been hoping she’d visit in the fall, but she wasn’t available then, so the natural thing was to start looking at dates early in the spring semester. That was getting too close to my due date, but I didn’t want to say that when emailing with the potential speaker and seminar coordinator, since I was in my first trimester. So, instead I said that I’d been invited to give a seminar in Europe around then (which was true), was trying to arrange my plans (not exactly true), and would get back to her in a month or two once that was all finalized.
3. I’ve had several people ask me how I told various people that I was pregnant. I found it incredibly awkward to just blurt out that I was pregnant, especially to people at work. So, I mostly told folks via email. That also allowed me to get it on the table along with the things I wanted to discuss. For example, when writing my chair, I asked to set up a meeting, said that the reason I wanted to meet was because I was pregnant and due in {insert month}, and wanted to find out more about modified duties for that semester. That approach worked well for me.

From the perspective of the supervisor, I’ve only had one lab member have a baby while she was in my lab. She told me while she was still in her first trimester, which I appreciated as her advisor, since that meant we could make sure that she was comfortable with the field work she was doing and chemicals she was working with.

In my opinion, it makes to tell someone in the first trimester if:
1. You want to. (Hopefully this is obvious, but I figured I’d include it for completeness, and because, especially with my first pregnancy, I felt like I “ought” to wait until after the first trimester.)
2. You are unable to get important things done due to illness. For example, if a faculty member is so ill that she can’t teach (or it seems like things are heading that way), then it would make sense to talk to the chair. Or, for a technician, illness might impact her ability to get all the time points in an experiment at the right time, in which case it would make sense to talk to the PI.***
3. There are safety issues that need to be considered (e.g., work with hazardous chemicals or remote fieldwork).

Something that seems less clear to me is what to do if you have an advisor who requires you to be in the lab at particular times. On the one hand, this is obviously problematic if you are really ill. On the other hand, I imagine that many people who require their folks to be in the lab at specific hours probably also aren’t the sort who would be particularly sensitive to someone being ill in her first trimester. But hopefully I’m wrong.

Beyond that, the person who wrote me most recently to ask about this said she’s simply hoping for tips to deal with the fatigue and nausea. I don’t know of any specific tips. Fortunately, mine wasn’t too bad, but it also didn’t let up after the first trimester; I certainly didn’t get the magical second trimester energy boost that many women talk about. So, for me, I just worked as much as I could, and rested when I needed to. But I know that I was very lucky to be in a position with a lot of flexibility while I was pregnant.

How did you deal with sciencing while in your first trimester? Who did you tell and when? What influenced your decision? Do you think you’d do the same if you had to do it all over again? And how did you balance caring for yourself with getting work done?


* Sciencing isn’t a real word, as far as I know, but it gets the point across. At least, I hope it does. My goal is to try to write a post that is useful to – and that gets comments from – students, postdocs, faculty, technicians, and research scientists.

** I wrote my CAREER proposal while in my first trimester with my daughter, and went to the White House to receive the PECASE while in my first trimester with my son, which felt like a neat parallel. I decided that a key accomplishment of that trip was not vomiting on the President while receiving the award.

*** When I was a grad student, I was doing an experiment with a postdoc who was in her first trimester and dealing with hyperemesis gravidarum. She didn’t tell me or the technician that she was pregnant, but it was clear because she suddenly started running out of the lab mid-sentence and this continued for many weeks. It wasn’t a big deal, because we could just keep working and she’d eventually return. When she told us that she was pregnant at the end of the first trimester, she just said “Yeah, so you guys already know, right?”


Related Posts:

  1. The strange duality of being a pregnant professor, by sciwo at Tenure, She Wrote.
  2. Margaret Kosmala has had a series of guest posts on postdoc leave policies. Here’s the first, the second, and the third.

30 thoughts on “Sciencing during the first trimester

  1. My experiences are similar to Meghan’s experiences. I’ve also been/am pregnant as a faculty member so I have a good bit of flexibility in dealing with not feeling so great. I was teaching both times in my first semester, and just powered through it. Luckily, my nausea/illness wasn’t too bad. But this last fall, I did upright leave the middle of lab training session because I needed to rest/bathroom break right then. I just generally took things slower.

    I also told no-one during my first trimester, and informed most folks via email afterwards (some face-to-face). Why-things don’t always take in that first trimester, something I am very aware of. I wanted to feel more confident in my pregnancy before telling anyone. When I did inform folks, I did not broadcast to the entire department. I just depended on word of mouth for others to find out. My first pregnancy, I did meet face to face with the Department Head, mostly to figure out teaching issues. This pregnancy (baby due in late April), I didn’t bother with a face to face, just sent an email. Mostly because this baby will be born at the end of the semester and I’m not teaching right now.

    This being the second baby, baby will be coming to work a lot because I can! I’m not in the lab that much anymore and baby can be worn, in the carseat, in a rocker, etc., in the office. That’s the plan anyway…

    Balancing to get it all done – yeah, I don’t get it all done. But I’m Ok and balanced that I’ll get most things done. Sometimes at odd hours, but the stuff that needs to get done will get done.

  2. Pingback: Sciencing with nausea and fatigue | Tea 'N' Mango Juice

  3. I’ve never been pregnant, but I have much experience on attempting to science with serious fatigue and nausea (thanks, brain tumor), so perhaps I can relate? Or at least commiserate!

    Also, people tend to be nicer about these sorts of things than you think they’re going to be. I’m not saying there aren’t jerks out there, because there certainly are, but I’ve found that if you say “X is going to be a problem for me, but I can do thing Y about it, if you do thing Z,” people are generally very on-board with helping you maximize both productivity and safety. Be firm, be concrete, be solution-oriented, and people will usually respond very well.

    • I’m so sorry you’ve dealt with this due to a brain tumor! But this is an excellent reminder that these general sorts of issues can come up outside of pregnancy. I agree that being direct about what you need is a great strategy.

  4. An anonymous comment that I received:
    If you have to head to sea during pregnancy – talk to the captain, I’ve now learned they are very accommodating and will let you know when they deem it unsafe for you to go. I waited til 12 weeks to tell everyone else. Which means on my first week as tenure track faculty – I told my new boss. Since I was so new I started with the dean and worked down.

    As far as fatigue and nausea – eat often, eat protein (in my case this was key) and nap. But counterintuitive is try to exercise. When I biked or walked, I’d feel so much better. But everyone is different.

    I’ve had friends deal with this since then and it’s all situation dependent.

  5. I will say it’s far better as a grown up scientist compared to what I experienced as a trainee. Based on my trainee experience, I kept it a close secret the second time. I would have done better in terms of not running myself to death this time if I had just told my Dept Chief. I did so around 12 weeks, at which point I was desperately drained from keeping up with my previous pace. While this behavior would have served me well as a postdoc, all it did this time was prevent my leadership from directly reliving me of a few of my above-and-beyond duties during this time.

    It’s a tough call because you don’t know how you’ll be received. And the second time my belly is growing sooner, so that was also a consideration I had to handle. I was basically sleeping or working during the first trimester this time, which often meant working late hours after my first one was in bed and letting go of having more than just enough dishes or just enough clean clothes.

    I’m out of the first trimester now but it lingers like a bad hangover, that bad relationship with food and the sheer exhaustion. I am hitting my necessary deadlines and trying to muddle through the rest until I someday feel human again.

    • I also found much more of the second trimester “hangover” with my second pregnancy than my first. No fun. Hang in there!

  6. How do you deal with fatigue and nausea? Lower your standards. You will not be getting as much work done. Full stop. Get used to that because it will be your life for the next couple years, with maybe a few-month reprieve in your second trimester (though, as Meg pointed out, not all women get that).

    So, you will not be getting as much work done at work. Nor at home. But you can learn to be more efficient. I thought I was efficient until I had kids. You can be much more efficient in all areas of your life, but it requires ruthless prioritization. Is work super important? Ok, then stop watching TV and movies, no need to follow the news, do NOT surf the web or read blogs (except this one, of course), skip out on reading for pleasure for a while. There, I just got you a ton more work time without sacrificing your personal relationships.

    Also lower your standards around the house and/or ask for help. Hire cleaners, for example. Tell your partner in no uncertain terms that s/he needs to do what feels like MORE than his/her fair share of housework, errands, and chores, because you are working your butt off transforming your body (seriously, it’s like five years of adolescence packed into 9 months).

    I disagree with Meg a bit about telling folks before three months. The reason for the three month mark is that miscarriages are most common before then. You really don’t want to have to tell everyone you’re pregnant and then go back when you’re heartbroken and tell everyone, never mind you’re not. Obviously you have to tell if safety is involved, though.

    I was a grad student during both my first trimesters, and so had quite a bit of freedom. I did have a field season the first time, though, and it was hard. To deal with the nausea, I had to eat four meals per day instead of the normal three — and this meant that I took two large breaks per field day instead of one. Since I had field assistants, they took two breaks, too. Definitely less efficient. I just told everyone that I had to eat this way due to a medical condition, and everyone accepted it. Several folks did figure out the full reason, but everyone was nice about it, and no one pried.

    During my second first trimester, I was finishing up and defending my dissertation and it was awful. I had a postdoc offer already, and so was under time pressure to finish by a certain date. But I was so tired, that I just couldn’t do as much as I could otherwise. My dissertation suffered for it, and isn’t as good as it would have been if I’d been able to work more hours. But that’s life.

    Okay, so lower your standards, get more efficient, ask for extra help, and finally… Take care of yourself. You will need sleep. A lot of it. Do not fight your need for sleep 9, 10, or 11 hours per day. Whatever your body needs, give in to it. If you can possibly arrange your life so you can get a midday nap, all the better. Otherwise it’s totally normal to fall asleep exhausted the minute you get home. Your partner should be doing the housework, anyway. I agree with get some exercise, suggested above. Whatever you normally do for exercise, try to continue doing it, even if you can’t do it as intensely. Eat, if you can. Smaller portions more frequently may help with nausea. Stay hydrated. And make sure you stay connected to family and friends. You will need their help more and more. Academia is known for causing mental health problems. The struggles associated with the stresses of pregnancy and early parenthood are, too. Put the two together and you may experience mental distress either as a new condition or as a deepening of an existing condition. Get professional help early. Ask family or friends for help in getting the professional help if you don’t know how or are too exhausted to pursue it yourself.

    And then just remember your mantra for the next year or more: “All this is temporary. It will pass. I will feel better again.”

  7. A few thoughts. I echo the other comments regarding why waiting to tell people can be easier – I had two failed pregnancies. The first happened before I told anyone. The second one happened later, and awkwardly having to tell a bunch of people you are no longer pregnant is worse than telling them about the pregnancy in the first place. Then again, miscarriages are so common, and all of the “not talking about it” in the first place is probably not helpful in the long run when women are going through it….eh, I don’t know. Who you tell, when, is definitely a personal choice.

    I’ve had two children while in academia – one as a post-doc and the other as first-year assistant professor. My main advice is to rest when you need it. Take advantage of flexible hours of academia. If you have your own office, don’t feel bad if you need an afternoon catnap. Prioritize activities – I managed to keep up with work just fine, but was falling asleep at 6:30pm some nights. Small, frequent meals were key for me – during field season, my crew would joke about “second breakfasts” because I would always request a stop for breakfast sandwiches on the way to our field site. Depending on your work environment, social outings could be tricky. Some lab members figured out I was pregnant simply because I suddenly switched from drinking IPA to lemonade at the lab’s weekly “beer friday” outing. But it was fine. Honestly, first trimester is a tough, weird, personal time. Take it one day at a time, and take care of yourself.

    • “Who you tell, when, is definitely a personal choice.” I completely agree! I edited my post a bit to explain my reasoning a bit more.

      And, yes, being in the first trimester of pregnancy is a great way to realize how many events involve alcohol. It makes me wonder how isolating the culture can be for recovering alcoholics or others who cannot or choose not to consume alcohol.

    • Really good point about the lack of talk around miscarriage. My personal reasoning the second time around was to tell close family and friends early, because I knew they would be supportive and understanding if the pregnancy ended early. But I put off telling those less emotionally close to me.

      And, ah yes, the alcohol issue. In my second pregnancy, people figured it out because I wasn’t drinking alcohol. Who wouldn’t want to drink free beer?! …

      I might have also mentioned that I didn’t actually go out of my way to TELL people either pregnancy. I just told my advisors and workmates I considered friends. I figured everyone else would be able to tell with time. Mostly they did. But there was the amusing time a labmate came up to me in my 8th month of pregnancy after someone had referenced my pregnancy (in a good way) during lab meeting. “I didn’t know you were pregnant! Congratulations!”

  8. Thanks so much for this post and all the accompanying comments, I’m currently in my first trimester so this has really helped.

    I’d be interested to hear others thoughts on how they battled the changed attitudes of colleagues towards them on becoming pregnant, if applicable.

    I’m quite dreading telling my supervisor about my pregnancy. Not because it will affect my progress much- all data is collected and thesis well progressed, but because I know that my supervisor will jump to writing me off as unambitious and no longer taking me seriously (and therefore, becoming less helpful in assisting my career- he is already much less encouraging towards female staff and students than male). If you’ve also faced these prejudices, do you battle them head on, or do you find it best to just let you actions and your work speak for your commitment/ambition?

    • We might be living in parallel worlds — I’m pretty sure that my advisor will be thrilled to hear about my pregnancy, but I am weeks away from telling him. I’m so early in this pregnancy that I haven’t even seen my OB yet. Despite this, the past few weeks have been rough: I am so tired all the time, and the waves of nausea aren’t bad (no running out of lab to puke — yet), but they are unpredictable. My advisor is a great advocate for women in STEM and he was so excited in the past for two recent grad students (male and female) in our lab who had children right before/after defending. However, I am not stoked for the next month of hustling to get manuscripts off my desk and prepping for the upcoming field season; I can already feel my productivity dragging. I’m looking forward to telling my advisor and the rest of my committee, in part to feel freer to ask for their help with this.

      But I wanted to say that there are many established scientists out there who will not respond the way you fear your supervisor will, and you will find supportive mentors outside of your supervisor who can be just as effective/helpful/encouraging in launching your career. Being pregnant might be a really nice BS detector in this way — you’ll immediately be able to tell who takes you seriously as a scientist while you are pregnant, and then you can invest your energy into building professional relationships with those people. I am going to be super pregnant at ESA this year, and I have to say that I am perversely looking forward to this. I know that I am going to give a kick ass talk, and I’m sure the bump will elicit some reactions, and I’ll know right away who I should follow up with for future collaborations, post-docs, mentorship, etc.

      • Very glad to hear that your supervisor is supportive (as they should be!). This helps strengthen my suspicion/hope that these archaic attitudes are dying out in science, although I must say I’ve encountered them in science much more frequently than when I was in the public sector.

        I love that you are going to be super pregnant at ESA and delivering a kick ass talk. The most inspiring people to me so far have been women like you at conferences/uni carting around their babies (or bellies) without a care in the world. It is outside the norm for PhD students to get pregnant in my institution (despite the cohort being dominated by females at commonly child bearing age!), which is partly why I wanted to do it now- someone’s gotta pave the way! I reckon you’re spot on with the BS detector🙂

    • I had two advisors. One was amazingly supportive — way beyond what I expected. The other I knew had had a bad experience when a previous student got pregnant (the baby had a congenital heart defect and the student basically dropped out of the PhD program). So I approached him by email, and explained my plan for continuing my research when I also told him I was pregnant. He was neither particularly supportive nor particularly discouraging. Once he saw that I was still actively doing research and making progress, he seemed to be fine with me being pregnant/a new mom.

      So I would encourage you to present yourself to your supervisor as “yes, I’m pregnant, but I am still going to be doing great research,” and then follow up by continuing to make good progress. ALSO, find an ally with some power. A committee member, perhaps, or the formal grad student advocate, or maybe a woman faculty member who has recently also been pregnant. It’s important that you not feel alone or isolated during your pregnancy. It’s also important that if your supervisor *does* write you off, it’s only in his head, and that that doesn’t have real implications when your progress is discussed at faculty meetings, for example.

  9. My second pregnancy was much more difficult than my first. I had JUST started my new position and found myself with at an orientation with a hallmark-esque ‘we are all family’ video which I normally would have thought was sweet and carried on. I broke down crying because it was just SO AWESOME to be a part of this University family. . I had just gone for a new patient orientation type thing to meet my primary care person the week before only to go after the video and declare I had cancer/ there was something horribly wrong with me.
    Long story short, I was utterly convinced this was the end of my science career. Bear in mind, this was 12 years ago (!!) and you didn’t see a lot of female profs in my field and zero pregnant ones. I hired my lab folks, got rotations going and didn’t say a thing to any peers until I was almost into my third trimester. I did, however, tell my new Center director from the outset, but he was/is a good friend.
    Starting a new lab actually allowed me to have a good amount of flexibility with time and meetings. I found the biggest disconnect was between me and and the rest of the world. We were writing on stone tablets back in the day and blogging wasn’t a thing so I felt very alone in the world needing to put a ‘no big deal, I’ll squat in the field and be right back’ face on for my colleagues. Turns out they didn’t care. No one really cared. For me, Elenor Roosevelts advice on this one was true….’You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do’
    I’ve heard horror stories of bosses who are dreadful and labbies who just disappear without communicating much to the fustration of their PIs. My moms in the lab have always been some of my most productive stuff. They come in for their meetings/their lab work and are there to get things done. They all communicate very clearly about when they won’t be here and what their plans are. Sometimes it sucks. Like, straight up sucks. And there is no one who can do ‘that thing you need to do’ in lab and you have to come and do it at 4-11pm leaving a sick kiddo w your spouse.
    There is no wrong answer here. I’d have some phrases you can use to push back when you are feeling like your privacy is being violated like ‘I don’t want to trouble you with the details of my private life’ is a good one. As is, “Oh, you know how it is….”. You’ll be great.

  10. I echo everyone else’s comments about waiting – I was a postdoc when I was pregnant and only told my immediate ‘mentor’ until way late. Actually, I really only told her and my other co-postdocs (and eventually HR people), because one of the other postdocs told the rest of our group while I was away on a job interview. He felt super bad, but it was a huge relief not to have to break the news myself (though by then it was pretty obvious). I was shocked that no one really noticed that I’d switched from beer to root beer and from a normal lunch variety to only beige foods, but really no one put it together. If you’re really sick, your productivity suffers a lot, or you work around nasty chemicals, hopefully you can have a private conversation with your supervisor as early as you need to, ask them for discretion, and figure things out. Most of the time they’ll be happy for you and as helpful as possible.

    Regarding a supervisor not taking you seriously for starting a family, I think whether or not a supervisor ‘assists in your career’ is totally variable whether you’re pregnant or not. Unless they’re REALLY TERRIBLE (which some supervisors are) they shouldn’t get in the way of your publishing, applying for fellowships/jobs, etc. The one issue is letters of recommendation – you pretty much have to have one from your most recent supervisor, and there I think you either need to have a frank conversation with the person about whether or not they can write you a glowing recommendation and/or find a way to find out whether or not their letter is good (often times someone will say something like, ‘Hey, you might not want to use so-and-so as a letter writer’ – this is a red flag). If you suspect you might have a bad letter (and in academia a ‘bad’ letter is just one that’s not over-the-top glowing) then my advice would be to ask one of you other letter writers to address it. Hopefully you’re close to another one of your letter writers (if not, start cultivating those relationships) and if your supervisor is a well known jerk/misogynist then I think it’s totally reasonable to ask the other person to mention something about how well you performed despite having a challenging relationship with your supervisor, or something. And if you go the academia route, once you’ve done a postdoc I don’t think anyone will notice if you quit asking your previous supervisor for letters. But there’s also the chance that your supervisor will write you an amazing letter despite your misgivings – your success is their success, so their own ego may override whatever bizarre issues they have with procreation.

  11. I have had both of my children as a junior faculty member, in a department that had good parental leave policies in theory, but where the attitude towards pregnancy and children wasn’t very positive. For that reason, I chose to keep a really low profile during my pregnancies, not telling anyone until I needed to (e.g. due to course scheduling). Personally, I found that although I was more tired than usual during the first trimester, it was fully possible to work productively as long as I scheduled regular breaks for snacks – I also had access to a room where I could lie down and rest for 20 minutes if I needed to, and this was a great help during the first trimester. I never experienced any so-called “baby brain” effects (although one of my male colleagues – also junior faculty – assumed I would and told me so as soon as he found out I was pregnant “soon your brain will be gone and you will not be able to think at all”. Really?!!) . I have also felt that there would be a chance that if people knew about my pregnancies it might factor in (in a negative way) in hiring decisions and grant applications. This, together with the general negative attitude towards parenthood meant that I did not feel safe bringing up pregnancy and really delayed telling anyone at work (except a few trusted colleagues whom I considered friends) as long as I possibly could. If the general attitude had been more positive, I think I would not have kept quiet about it for as long, but probably still for the first trimester.

  12. Pregnant (second trimester) graduate student here. Just thought I’d share my evolving “first trimester secret” opinion. I had three first trimester experiences in 2014, two of which ended in miscarriage. In the first pregnancy, I told no one except my spouse, and I felt incredibly isolated after the miscarriage, particularly at work. During the second pregnancy, I told a few people (close family/friends, but no coworkers), partially because I had an ‘I’m young, healthy, lightning can’t strike twice’ attitude. Telling people I miscarried was unbearable, and experiencing their sadness was perhaps worse than my own pain. My point: miscarriage sucks whether people know you are pregnant or not. In hindsight, from an academic perspective, I wish I had had a single close confidant at work, which I did not have in my mostly male department. I was traveling a lot for work in 2014 while generally feeling either crappy or sad, which together were not great for my productivity. I would have benefited from someone telling me to cut myself some slack. For my third pregnancy, I decided to keep the secret, but made a deal with myself that when I started to tell people I was pregnant, it was my duty to talk openly about my miscarriages if the chance arose. As rj noted, it’s just not something that people talk about, and so when you’re going through a miscarriage, it’s easy to feel like you’re the only one experiencing it. In reality, it’s more likely than not that women around you have experienced the same.

    I’ll echo a few bits of advice about sciencing during the first trimester: 1) lowering your standards is a must, because you don’t need to add guilt to the list of negative things you are experiencing. 2) eat, and eat often, to keep nausea at bay. 3) I came across many, many situations at work functions where I would have normally consumed alcohol. The least stressful way to deal with this, in my experience, was to order a drink and just hang on to it for the whole event. 4) If you have the flexibility, manage a schedule that aligns with the brief moments of feeling well. For me, this meant staying home when I could so I could easily resort to napping/puking/eating between tasks.

  13. Fantastic comments, I echo a lot of them. I had both of my two children while I was a faculty member (already tenured) and struggled through both pregnancies (and beyond) to cope with the physical demands and emotional strain of having another creature be so dependent on me. My strongest feelings during pregnancy were of anger and frustration that my body was not keeping up with my brain! The first and third trimesters kicked my butt and I had to sleep soooo much that I was constantly feeling like a failure at my job. My graduate students were frustrated because I wasn’t giving them prompt feedback on writing products, my administrators were frustrated because I couldnt’ keep up with my assigned committee work, my undergraduate students in class were frustrated because I was behind in the course schedule. Yes I became more efficient but nothing could make up for the hours that I was spending sleeping that I used to spend working. And I was overwhelmed with thoughts about my male colleagues who did not have to give up that time (even if they took a little bit of leave from work after their baby was born). I still have a lot of resentment about it, though it’s not really directed at anyone in particular… just at the biology.

    So, it’s easy to say that it’s best to give in and listen to your body… eat, sleep, get support. But the emotional strain of not being the power-house that you once were can define your pregnancy and early child-rearing years. That’s what it’s been like for me, so I’d love any words of wisdom on how to cope better because it sure is miserable.

    • I think you identify a really good point: many of us are used to feeling like (and being perceived as) “stars” — or power-houses, as you put it. Once you get saddled with something to hold you back — pregnancy, breastfeeding, extreme lack of sleep, chronic disease, major life loss, etc. — you cease to be so amazing, and everyone knows it. It’s hard to cope with that change of identity. And I believe it’s a good part of why academia pushes women out.

      But just remember: it’s not you, it’s them. You are still amazing. But you have a lot going on. It’s unfair of your job to require for than its fair share. It’s unfair of academia to require absolute and unbounded workaholicism.

  14. I got pregnant during my last year of grad school – I defended during my second trimester. I did not have incapacitating nausea, though I was tired during my first trimester. I actually found that the pregnancy hormones blunted my stress and felt much more at ease about the whole process than I expected to feel. Anyways, I wanted to chime in here about lab safety during pregnancy. I was still doing a little lab work, unrelated to my dissertation, during my first trimester. I didn’t want to tell people at work until we had the first real ultrasound at 12 weeks, but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to encounter any safety hazards that would be harmful for my developing fetus. I ended up having a confidential meeting with our safety office to go over potential problems, luckily, there were none so I was able to proceed without anyone knowing. Yes, it felt odd to have my safety office know but not my lab and advisor. If I had needed to change my plans for lab work to avoid certain chemicals or protocols, I would’ve had to tell my supervisor and lab mates. So that’s an added complication to sciencing during the first trimester – even if you want to keep it quiet, you might not be able to do that if you need to make changes to your lab work due to safety concerns.

    • Oh, hey, cool to hear someone else had the stress-blunting effect of pregnancy. I had that, too, for my qualifying exam with baby #1 in my third trimester.

      But I didn’t notice the effect for my defense in trimester 1 with baby #2. Maybe the different stage of pregnancy. Maybe the cumulative stress: defense+cross-country-move+new-job+holidays.

  15. Pingback: What it’s really like to be a pregnant grad student | DoctorAl

  16. Pingback: Sciencing with a newborn | Dynamic Ecology

  17. I’m so glad I found this post whilst taking a nausea break from “studying” for my defense that is happening at the end of the month. I’ve been looking for advice/a place to vent! (I say “studying” because really, my brain just feels like Jello and information is just bouncing right off of it. I can’t differentiate whether this is the so-called baby brain effect or if I’m just distracted).

    I’ve had two pregnancies in the last half a year – the first ended in a miscarriage. I’m currently in my first trimester so things can still go wrong, but I’m trying not to think about that. The first pregnancy was really emotionally tough. Although it was unplanned and I wasn’t (still not) ready to be a parent, I really wanted things to work out. Unfortunately though, from the day I found out I was pregnant, things were not right. Countless doctor’s visits and tests later, I had a D&C and it was over. I thought, “I’m sad but I’ll get over it. I didn’t really want a baby now anyway”.

    I was really surprised to find out that I was pregnant again within such a short period of time (okay, I really shouldn’t have been since I am a biologist and I understand how babies are made, and if you don’t use contraception, there’s a good chance you’ll make one!).

    Now, here is what’s keeping me awake at night:

    Thoughts of another miscarriage
    Impending defense
    Career goals slipping away

    I’m trying to be a good mother and not stress out, but I can’t help it. I thought I was over the miscarriage, but it turns out, I’m not. It’s not so much the loss of a child, but the fear of losing another one. I’m terrified of it happening to me again that I try to push the current pregnancy out of my mind. Somewhere deep down inside, I am thrilled. In fact, I surprised myself when I laughed and cried at the sight of my growing fetus in my first ultrasound. But most of the time, it’s like I don’t want to believe it. I feel bad because I am not allowing myself to enjoy this pregnancy and celebrate it.

    The defense is a big deal to me. I tend to be pretty critical of myself, so I really want to go out with a bang. I had a practice talk last week, and I bombed it. The Jello brain effect took over, along with a hyper-awareness that I wasn’t getting enough oxygen in my system as I was nervously speaking (I looked it up and it’s a pregnancy symptom that I had no idea about). I sort of panicked and blanked out. This doesn’t usually happen to me because I’m paranoid and prepare every talk weeks in advance, but this time around, I simply couldn’t. I had been either nauseated and/or drowsy from anti-nausea medication and didn’t have time, energy, or the mental capacity to prepare. I’m worried about repeating that scenario at the actual defense.

    I know there are many fine examples of women out there who have it all – a fulfilling career, a loving family, an exercise routine, etc. It’s inspiring to hear these stories, such as the ones on this thread. However, I’m just not so sure I’m cut out to be one of these women. I am pretty sure I have chronic fatigue syndrome, which renders me too tired to do anything most of the time. So, how can I care for a child plus kick start a career 1-2 years after being out of grad school with zero work experience?

    I’m sorry if this sounds more like a venting session than a request for advice. I guess I just wanted to put my thoughts out there and see if anyone else feels/felt so anxious during their pregnancy, especially if you were preparing for a defense.

    Also, I wanted to share that the first pregnancy was largely kept a secret. I was told not to announce it until the second trimester, and when the miscarriage happened, I kept quiet. I did, however, end up telling my supervisor because I needed some time off. I found that telling him actually made me feel better. It felt like when I said it out loud to someone, it made it more real and it helped me get closure. This time, I told him I was pregnant right away. Partially because he’s a micro-manager and I needed to have a bit more flexibility in my office hours, and partially because I simply don’t want to hide it. I’ve been telling my friends and family too, and I plan to tell everyone else pretty soon. Despite being terrified of another miscarriage, if it does happen again, I want to talk about it. I personally felt less alone and guilty when others told me they had miscarried as well.

    • Sorry for my slow reply — I was away for almost all of August, which has left me behind on various things. I’m so sorry that you have the stress of worrying about another miscarriage while preparing for your defense. I hope that the pregnancy is going well, and that your defense goes (or went) well, too!

  18. Pingback: The logistics of pumping at work and sending bottles to daycare | Dynamic Ecology

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