As I mentioned in a previous post, my husband and I are thinking of having a second child. It’s been coming up in conversation between us more and more lately, and we’ve both caught ourselves aww-ing over stranger’s babies a lot. We even have an extra bedroom in our home that we refer to as the nursery or the “baby’s room” in anticipation of baby #2. For various personal and professional reasons we aren’t planning to get pregnant until early 2017, but clearly we are thinking about it a lot.
On Friday I was discussing this a bit with a colleague and friend, who is also currently the only other female professor in my department. I realized that since she doesn’t have kids, there was a good chance this department has never had a faculty member be pregnant and take maternity leave. There have been other female faculty members in the past, but none was here more than a few years. So I asked and yup, if I become pregnant it will be a department first. There have been female grad students who had babies, but not faculty.
I don’t expect any issues surrounding this however. The university has a good maternity leave policy for faculty, and our current department head is very supportive of work-family balance issues. I am entitled to 12 weeks paid leave, and knowing my colleagues I don’t think anyone would really complain about it. But it’s strange to think I would be something of a trailblazer just for having a baby. Newsflash to science departments: young women can be science professors AND have babies too.
I already went through this with my first baby. I was a postdoc, one of very few women in that department. They had never had a pregnant postdoc before. I had a prestigious postdoctoral fellowship paid from an endowed fund. I caused some headaches for the department and many meetings of committee that was in charge of the fund, which included the department head, just to discuss how to handle my case. It apparently had never occurred to anyone that a postdoc brought in under this fund might become, gasp, pregnant! In the end they decided to give me up to 4 months unpaid leave, since by university policy they had to. Then they suggested I use my short-term disability insurance in order to get 55% pay for 6 weeks, and suggested I could take my 4 weeks of combined vacation and sick leave (paid at 100%) as well. So no real maternity leave, but it was something anyway. Luckily my postdoc advisor was also very understanding and supportive, and really didn’t mind if I needed to take a little bit of extra time off here and there.
All-in-all, my experiences haven’t been that bad. Certainly it could have been much worse and likely is for many academic women. But it’s just a bit mind-boggling that just having children causes me to set a bunch of new precedents within my departments. Being a trailblazer in this area was never my intention, but if I’m the first, so be it. Hopefully my forcing these departments to deal with this issue will help others who come along after me.