Tuesday, April 28, 2009

On Childbearing

Dr. Isis, a science blogger of total hotness, twittered the following the other day:

"I am watching a trainee woman in the cafe I'm in cry as she talks about when to have babies. Have babies when you want."

As someone who is having a wonderful time as an academic physician-scientist, along with enjoying a hot, 25-year marriage with two children (21 and 16 years old), I can understand this trainee's dilemma. The bottom line, though, is that there will be no good time to have children! Some will be less bad than others, but children always demand some sacrifice!

First, this trainee has obviously avoided the teenage years. In my mind, this is the bad time to have babies. Any time after that, when you are ready emotionally and in a stable relationship, will work out! My own dilemma began during my residency in pediatrics. We had been married 3 years and were beginning to think about reproducing. All of our friends had taken at least 6 months to get pregnant, so we stopped the pill in anticipation of having our firstborn at the end of my residency in June, just before I started fellowship. Jennifer, shown above, was born in September because we got pregnant IMMEDIATELY. It is a myth that any pregnancy is really completely planned. Even if we had conceived when we wanted, the outcome may not have been as we planned. As we learned with our next attempts, fetal loss still occurs, even with the amazing level of prenatal care that a physician receives.

Our second offspring was born about 1 year after I started my first faculty position. Tim (at left) delayed my lab start-up a bit. On the other hand, we had access to better daycare and bigger salaries that made dealing with him a bit easier. Of course, he didn't sleep through the night as soon as his sister, but he was just born to be trouble! I did eventually get my lab going, and I have enjoyed my career. Am I going to be one of those uberscientists who has 500+ publications on their CV when they die? Not unless they count my blog posts! Have I enjoyed my career, my kids, and my life? You betcha. I suspect the era of the uberscientist may be winding down since most young men don't seem to want to be absentee parents as their predecessors often were.

Dr. Isis has this one right (so what else is new): Have babies when you want to. You're already past the time when I would say absolutely don't!

Below: Current pictures of my offspring, neither of whom is planning a career in medicine.

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  1. you are an uberscientist. the goalpost just isn't 500 pubs. it's having a great life, happy children, happy marriage, balance.

  2. Thank you; as a (relatively) newlywed scientist undecided on children it's always a comfort to hear other women successful in both work and family. :)

  3. Thank you! I think a lot of us are happy to sacrifice some career momentum in exchange for time with our kids, but it really seems to be an all-or-nothing situation. How did you find time during your residency for your first child after you went back to work? Did you work full-time or negotiate a lighter workload? I'd like to hear your thoughts on negotiating asst faculty contracts to allow for a little family time.

  4. How about the father's carreer? How much was that delayed by your offspring? How much slower did his career progress because he had to leave in time to fetch the kids at the kindergarten?

  5. As a female chemistry grad student with a fiance who has far more enthusiasm about starting a family than I do, I think this post is insightful, but could you elaborate on the struggles?
    For instance, I'm looking forward to my career, but not so much having to possibly put that on hold or lose a job (although it's technically illegal to fire someone over pregnancy, I hear horror stories and about "fine print" loopholes.) How was the maternity leave for you with your children?
    Fortunately for me, my fiance wants to be the stay at home dad that goes to the PTA meetings and soccer practice. Like someone else asked, how did your childrens' arrival alter your husband's career?