I’m on leave


photo credit: Candice Price

The automatic response on my work email says, “I am on leave until September 1, 2019. You may contact the Executive Assistant of the Math Department if you have an urgent math department related need.” I don’t have access to my work email on my phone. I scan it every 2-3 days, but it can take me over a week to respond to emails that require a response. I rarely open my computer, and when I do I only get a few minutes before I’m interrupted by something more important. I’m writing this on my phone, with one thumb, and a 8 week old tiny human in my other arm, attached to my breast. I’ll finish it in stolen moments between feedings, diapers, and bedtimes, when my other child doesn’t need me to watch her practice karate, make her lunch, or teach her how to skateboard.

My son, Armando Antonio was born February 19, 2019 via C-section 30 hours after induction weighing in at 9lb 14oz and 21.5 inches long. February was the perfect month to have him, and I did it on purpose. Ever since the birth of my daughter I’ve thought so much about how academic culture encourages mothers to plan motherhood in a way that doesn’t interfere with their university responsibilities. As educators we give birth at the end of May, just after we wrap up our final grades, then we are free to enjoy the summer with our newborn. But as academics our summers are critical opportunities for productivity. It’s time to catch up with our research community and finish and start collaborations. Write. And while we are not given a concrete schedule to do those things, our university expects them. And for an average person like me, it’s not possible to do those things with a newborn attached. Not to mention…timing a pregnancy is usually NOT possible! But I always thought (assuming you have a decent maternity leave) that February was the perfect time. You’d get the spring semester to recover and bond, then the summer, without a schedule, to readjust to academic work before classes start up in the fall.

Shortly after joining the faculty at my university I joined a group working on an NSF Advance grant. One of our goals was to achieve a clear and generous (by US standards) family leave policy. At the time, faculty negotiated leave on a case by case basis. We usually ended up with a semester off teaching but usually had administrative duties and sometimes a reduction in pay. When I scheduled my meeting with my Dean to negotiate, I was ready to fight for full pay and commit to trivial administrative tasks that I didn’t care about, with my mentor there to back me up. To my pleasant surprise I was told I would get the semester off teaching (as expected), full salary, (phew, as the sole income I couldn’t survive any other way) and no administrative duties (what?!?!). My College had just figured out within the year how to do it! Ultimately they realized with the classes already covered, it doesn’t cost anything more to give a new mom the semester free of administrative duties. A beautiful revelation just in time for my dream maternity leave. I figured I would teach the January session 8 months pregnant just to torture myself, then hopefully have a couple weeks off to rest before I go into labor, then have the rest of the semester AND summer months to recover and bond and enjoy my growing family of four.”

On leave with an 8 week old and an 8 year old.

As I approach my 10th week postpartum, I am fully aware of my many privileges allowing me to still be home without the dread of returning to work too soon looming over me. To have a tenure track position at a university with good maternity leave is too rare. Most women in most professions would have been back to work between week 6 and 8. I could not imagine going back to work now. When I do go back, I do so in a department that is very family friendly. So far, I’ve been able to arrange my teaching schedule so that I am available to help my daughter get ready for school in the morning. She joins me at the office often and loves visiting my colleagues, who make her feel like a natural part of the department. I hope that more universities can commit to providing a full semester of paid leave for for faculty. I’d like to think that as women in academia, we are worth the investment!

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