Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Hard Work of Combining Lab Science and Young Motherhood

A friend, Jessica Lang Kosa, has an excellent piece on how motherhood changed the direction of her work from lab science to lactation consultant. Her larger point is that this change was not a rejection of her mother's feminism, but a new direction of her own feminism from working away from her children to work with other mothers about children.

The crucial moment of unexpected redirection she describes thus:

When I first got pregnant at 28, I was a postdoctoral scientist working in genetic toxicology at MIT. I researched daycare centers and breast pumps, and assured my mentor I’d be back in 12 weeks.

Then I had a baby.

This is a familiar story that the Gruntleds and many other feminists have discovered. The path that we and the Kosas and others have followed balances family and work more than our pre-baby understanding had prepared us for.

I do wonder, though, if there is any good way to combine young motherhood and lab science - genetic toxicology, for example. It seems to me that a biology lab is about the least friendly environment for babies and small children possible. Moms doing this kind of work really have to separate work and family very thoroughly and physically. I know women who are lab scientists, and I know many science-trained mothers, but I know few women who have been able to combine intensive lab science with young motherhood.

I would welcome some good stories of "how I did it."


Anonymous said...

Can't tell you how I did it because I haven't. But I can tell you how my sibling has done it.

Her research often involves long days in the lab including weekends, writing time, travel, some teaching in med school and seeing patients.

She was older than the mother in your post when she had her baby. 34. She was about halfway through her second research fellowship of 3 years(She had already finished Med school, a 4 yr residency and a 1st 2 year fellowship).

It was the boom so her husband had a very good job that involved a good bit of travel. She finished up her fellowship with a combo of on-site day care and a part time nanny.

Once she moved on from the fellowship to faculty appointments the boom had gone bust so her husband has stayed at home. Their child is now 13 and he has functioned in this role since she was 2 or 3. He's gone on school trips. Done the dr's appt's etc.

(by the way my sister's area of research has been fertility... she helps folks have babies)

(going anonymous becuase i don't have her permission)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous again.

Becuase of my spouses work I know several moms who are on med school faculties. While they do research, they are not pure lab scientists but they have similar schedules with teaching, clinics, superving residents etc.

All of them are married to either dr's or successful businessmen.

And from what I can tell most of these folks use nannies. Some of them live in.

Now this is a town where most of the upper class and upper middle class households seem to have nannies even if the mom does not have an income producing job.

It's been a decade but I had a friend who was on staff of a presby church that had an elementary school. She told me that almost all of the children were picked up by nannies but none of the mom's "worked"