Friday, April 4, 2014

Friday Thirsty: ABD, with a baby on the way

My advice: Leave this part to your husband.
Would anyone be willing to share her/his experience with having a baby while ABD?

My husband and I are joyfully expecting a son next month! In terms of family, savings, fellowships, publications, networking, and a supportive advisor, I'm also about as well situated as possible for a pregnant Art History Ph.D. candidate. Even so, none of my peers has had a baby since I've been in the department, and I'm curious about what's to come once ours is here. Insights about balancing work and family as well as the etiquette of being a parent would be extremely helpful.

Thanks so much!

-- Fear & Trembling

OK, Mommies and Daddies, let her know how to handle this, keeping in mind the Surgeon General's recommendations about not drinking during pregnancy.


  1. Well, I had my little person about 6 months pre-defense. The first few weeks after birth I was worthless (naps are glorious and I had an excuse). Once I got out of that stupor I did a good job getting stuff done and it helped that baby was a an excellent sleeper. I would write/analyze all day at work and then write until 2 AM at night. I am not sure how I survived the sleep deprivation? It helped to leave the house for a few hours on the weekend to work on my dissertation at a coffee shop (this is where significant other support is key). In my case everyone worked with me schedule-wise, granted my little person was the fourth lab baby since I had been there. Somehow I got through it. Really it is a great time to have a baby in my opinion since your hours tend to be more flexible than if you had a "normal" 9-5 gig.

    Good Luck and Congrats!

  2. Congratulations!
    Caveat: I am a single male, so I write from an absolute lack of personal experience. I can tell you that, when I was in grad school, there was a professor that would take all the female graduate students aside when they became ABDs and tried to persuade them to have children precisely at that point.
    It was invasive to the point of creepiness, but the rationale was solid. The dissertation writing time is the moment in your academic career in which you are less bound by school schedules and more able to organize how you use your time: you don't have classes (unless you are TA-ing), you do not need to show your face in the department at any particular time, and you are supposed to be, mentally if not physically, away. Once you get into the tenure-track the pressure will be harder, and you'll have less control on your schedule.
    I am sure that you'll need an iron discipline to work while being often interrupted by your child needs once she is born. My dissertation advisor had two babies while writing her dissertation and at the beginning of her tenure track at an R1. TShe managed to get her dissertation and her book out by writing every day from 2 to 7 AM. I'd have never pulled that one out.
    On the more positive side, you are going to have a lot of "get out of jail" cards. As you describe it, it sounds like the people at your department are not total morons. They will understand they need to adjust their expectations to your personal situation, that sometimes you will legitimately unable to attend departmental functions, committees...

    1. I'll second this (also from the point of view of someone who doesn't have children herself). My director of graduate studies was one of the founding mothers of women's studies, and she dispensed the same advice (though a bit less persistently/creepily): it isn't going to get any easier, and your schedule isn't going to get any more flexible, so go ahead and do it. She was assuming grad students in our department were headed for the tenure track (what can I say? It was an optimistic -- definitely over-optimistic -- moment), but, these days, one might add: you may have a more stable income and better health insurance (though the Affordable Care Act helps with the latter) than you will again for some time. So you don't need to be advised to go for it -- obviously, you already are -- but here's some additional encouragement that this is, if not great timing, at least as good or better than the other available options.

  3. BTDT but no t-shirt. :-) I managed, crazily, to time the due date of my first pregnancy to be the same month as my defense. WHOOPS. Let me just say: the defense did not happen that first go-round. Complications happen in pregnancies and in dissertations. What Frenna says about being useless the first 2-4 weeks after delivery was true for me, too. It took an extra six months for me to finish, despite the fact that I was wrapping up the first and last chapters when Bundle of Joy arrived. But I got to finish at a pace that suited my new life, rather than the previous wretched race of trying to get the diss committee-ready before going into labor. I didn't make use of childcare or babysitters, really, though in hindsight I would have been happier if I had. But I had a classmate who would come over a couple of mornings a month for a while to cuddle the baby to let me write, and I was grateful for the help and the adult interaction. I found that I wrote in more productive bursts post-baby because I had to use the time that I could find. I also learned to "sleep-train" my 5-month-old so that I wasn't driving myself crazy with baby's 15-minute naps throughout the day. Fewer, longer naps are key.

    All in all, the open schedule of the ABD life was good for settling into parenthood, but nothing about it is "easy." Get rest when you can, remember to eat well, and enjoy the baby to the fullest. Congrats, and good luck!

  4. I should also add my major prof also told me this ABD time was the best time for babies!!

  5. My wife had our first child while we were both still in grad school and ABD. As other comments above suggest, it actually works out quite well due to schedule flexibility, so long as you have solid arrangements for each getting enough work done.


  6. Ah, so many memories. My spouse defended her thesis proposal whilst seven months pregnant, and her dissertation two years later. It would be four more years before I'd do the latter (long story short: I was kind of a fuckup). These circumstances came about because we discovered ourselves having love in excess of what each other and our pets could take in, thus despite our mutual misgivings about relating to anything less than an adult, it made sense at the time to bring another human into the fold. I add that if we were to have waited till we were more emotionally and/or financially stable, we would have never brought into being what has become -- and I can say this with all objectivity -- an agent of positive change for the planet.

    Two words: quality daycare.

    My partner's and my situation were not identical to yours, but we lacked the family support that you indicated you have. Well I remember those days that we were writing (my own better than my hers, probably because I was more sleep-deprived during hers). Quality daycare was crucial. We were able to do our research for the most part unfettered physically (let's never mind the more-than-occasional guilt) and get done. During my heavy data collection and writing phase, I would drop our daughter at daycare or pre-school and head to the lab or return home to nap and/or to write; my final routine was 24 hours writing, 3 asleep, 3 more writing, 3 more asleep, rinse, repeat, etc. At any rate, we got done, and here we are now.

    What we were able to give to our offspring was a home environment in which neither parent's career had deferred excessively to the other's, and therefore BOTH parents were for the most part intellectually fulfilled, with compleat lack of resentment for the other. We related to our daughter as if she were a presumptive adult, and she is now a better adult than are her parents (well, better than I am, anyway).

    It is my unscientific opinion that you are as much a model of what your child could be as you are an engineer of your child's future. Thus you should be as effective a person as you can be. You sacrifice some of yourself for your family, and as much as that could be done to excess, so too could you sacrifice too much of your family for yourself. Neither extreme is optimal, but there is a balance that can work for you and your family. You can find that balance, and we can help.

    TL;DR version: Your kid's gonna be OK. Let us cry with you, let us celebrate with you. Lean on us, stay with us.

    PS: I m drnk. Pls to frgve teh typos.

    1. That's lovely. And may I second, from the point of view of a child (now adult) raised mostly by a very career-oriented single parent (and, in my earlier days, by two parents who tended to take the "relate to child as presumptive adult" approach): while one can take this approach too far (my father did at times), it really isn't such a bad thing to pursue your own dreams, and think of the child as at least in part along for the ride, rather than re-centering everything around the kid. I'm sure it varies by the child's temperament (my sibling is less satisfied with our upbringing than I), but it's possible to genuinely support a child's interests without being present for every game (let alone practice), performance, etc., etc. If you go your way and the kid goes his/hers, you'll have something to talk about at the dinner table (and the dinner table was crucial to my upbringing; even if, in retrospect, there was good evidence that my father was sometimes falling asleep in his chair, he managed to be there and to at least appear to be listening to me and my sibling, and he talked about his own life, too). I know quite a few people who were raised this way, and it seems to produce quite self-sufficient, if perhaps slightly neurotic, people. At least it doesn't generally produce snowflakes. And there's a lot to be said for making adulthood something to look forward to (and not making a kid carry the weight of the hopes and dreams the parent decides (s)he can no longer pursue because of the kid). Besides, given the current cultural emphasis on kid-centeredness, if you try to build an even partially adult-centered family, you're likely to make it back to the middle of the scale at best.

  7. I am an ABD lady who always thought I'd wait till first job to have kids, and y'all are messing with my head. Is your partner something better paid than a grad student, Fear and Trembling? I have time now but no money. I mean like NO money.

  8. I can speak for myself Kate, but my partner has a job not in academia. We do okay, but it was a struggle especially with added childcare costs. I wish I had tried for a second baby sooner, as now I am looking for jobs. We wanted to wait for more financial stability with me having a "real" job. Don't really want to look for jobs with a baby bump for fear of NOT getting hired! I figure we will try for next summer no matter what, because we are getting old!

  9. Congratulations! Be vigilant. It's the best thing I ever did - but I didn't finish as a result. I underestimated the fatigue. I overestimated my capabilities. I never finished writing. I have an MS and can't get permanent work to save my life (ok, except those 15 months I worked as an engineer, but I'd rather suffer now than spend eternity in Hell and I don't even believe in Hell or eternal damnation - but I'm pretty sure laser salesmen go there anyway).

  10. I'll first echo everyone's congratulations, then say a little prayer that you get a good sleeper. My X-month-old is most emphatically NOT a good sleeper, and never has been, so I got almost no actual work done until the nanny took over full-time at the end of my leave (I'm post-PhD, promoted just this term to a more proper TT-equivalent position in my institution). I'd also throw in the fact that physical recovery from even a complication-free pregnancy can also take a fairly significant chunk of time--think 6-8 weeks--although to you, it will probably pass by in the blink of an eye. Time feels different on this side of parenthood.

    If my now-husband and I had gone ahead with a kid while we were both in grad school, we would have had decent health care but very little money, though back home at least there is a thriving secondhand market for kid stuff that is lacking where I am now (get whatever you can find secondhand to save money, especially clothes. You can barely snap something onto the little squirmer before it's completely outgrown...). I'm pretty sure that in terms of diss progress my work would have suffered more than his, even though in theory our schedules would have allowed us something close to a 50/50 split for child care. I think the most important thing is to have a partner who is willing to give 100% and understands what parenthood will actually demand in terms of time and effort, with a very close second (as many have already noted!) access to good childcare for those times when neither of you can reasonably be there. If your family is close by, that will be a MAJOR help--be as nice as possible to any potential babysitters among your friends and relations!!

    Take lots of photos. And best of luck!