Saturday, September 13, 2008


So I'm sure you've been on the edge of your seat waiting to see what I might do about school and/or full-time motherhood. At least I have been. And it was a ping-pong decision 'til the last moment.

I talked with my dean and it turns out that the institution has this wonderful "parents policy" that states their belief that parenthood (both new and taking care of elderly parents) is so important that the school will grant extensions in academic progress to those who are in one of those situations and need extra time to get everything done. Wow - how very enlightened of them! So with that policy I could take off a semester or even a year from classes and not be considered deliquent or whatever you want to call it.

Furthermore, they arranged a way for me to keep my scholarship and health insurance - the money would go to paying for "prep for comps" credits (which are phantom credits that you pay for but don't have any requirements to meet), so I wouldn't get it back for another semester, but I also would keep my full time status, stipend, and insurance. The drawback would be that whatever I missed this semester I'd have to make up later, out of my own pocket.

Still, I left that meeting feeling really surprised and relieved, because as far as the institution goes, there were no roadblocks to my full-time mommyhood. I have to give major props to the GTU for this. I don't know of very many doctoral programs that would be so understanding. It really is such a family here. And to think - I was afraid that the "liberals" might be all cold and academic - but they're just as warm as the Evangelicals! Maybe even moreso, since there's not all that moral expectation that goes along with friendship (just kidding...sort of).

Then I met with one of my profs who also had babies while doing her PhD, and she assured me that everything I felt was completely normal and right. See, a few people had suggested maybe I had post-partum depression, so I was wondering if I was a bit off the deep end. But in fact, PPD manifests as a rejection of the baby and as not wanting to spend time with her, and I'm having the opposite "problem." So maybe I'm depressed generally, but no, I don't remotely feel so - I don't cry, I feel really happy all the time I'm with her and much of the time I'm not, and overall I think my mental health is way better than it's been in years - but I did have the stress of this decision, and I was sad when I was away from her sometimes. And being sad away from your child is normal healthy attachment!! Imagine! I've just bonded with my baby, but it's so strong that our society sees it as a syndrome! Well not our society, but it was the first thing that came to mind for a few folks, innocently enough (they probably didn't realize that it was the opposite symptoms), but still, that's a sign of the misinformation out there as well as the general response to motherhood which tends to see women who have such a strong attachment to their children as somehow "less" human, or lacking some vital part of being an adult, or what have you. I've certainly bought into that mentality, until now.

So anyway, my prof still expressed disappointment that I wouldn't be taking any classes, and that I wouldn't be "tracking" with the incoming class (although as J pointed out, who cares in a doctoral program? It's not like we're all going to graduate together). So I left THAT meeting feeling like maybe I should try to take my classes after all. But was that because I wanted to, or because I wanted to make my prof like and respect me? Hmmm....that was the question I had to ponder.

That was all on Tuesday. By Wednesday, I was trying to come up with ways to stay in class but also stay with Maggie as much as I could. I cooked up a plan to go all pass/fail, but even then I knew I'd still do the same level of work (that's just me) and I didn't know if I was allowed to do that anyway. On Weds morning I took Maggie with me to a workshop at school for half the day, and she did great, and I was so happy to just have her there but still be doing my school stuff. So I was thinking, this could work.

Thursday I talked to my advisor. After the institution, I was most afraid of the reaction I'd get from her. I mean, she's German. She's brilliant, too. And doesn't have kids, so could she possibly understand?

Well I was shocked when she started off on a rant about how women in her country take a year off and what is WRONG with America that we expect women to go back to work so early, and why doesn't the government support maternity leave, and yada yada yada...and I realized, hey, this lady is SO on my side. She was like, "I don't know why you don't just take this whole year off!!" I was really thrown, but pleasantly so. And she agreed to go to our area and explain the whole thing and be my advocate. Wow. I love my advisor.

So after that I went to J and suggested I take off this semester from classes, and then we'll see about next. And he got really excited because as it turns out (and as many of you warned me), he hasn't actually had time to work on his dissertation, and if I took baby full time then he'd actually get something done! Imagine!

Then I went to class and I had a great time. I wasn't miserable at all - I was rather outstanding, actually. I really enjoyed our discussion and I remembered how good I could be at the whole school thing. I don't know if it was just from the pressure being off or what. But I still felt like I was going to drop everything, even after that.

Then that evening I told the prof (same prof as before, who also teaches that class) that I was dropping. And she expressed the same sentiments: sorry not to have me, I was an asset, and sorry I wouldn't keep up with my class. For some reason, it really stuck this time. I began to doubt again. So much so that I was up half the night deliberating and rethinking everything. And let me tell you, it ain't fun to look over and see that it's past midnight when you know you're getting up in three or four hours for a feeding. I was mostly upset because I couldn't figure out if I was doubting because I wanted to please the prof or because I genuinely doubted whether I should quit classes.

Friday morning, got up, still feeling disconcerted. One of the things (of many wise things) my mom had said to me about this was that I should make the decision I wouldn't obsess over. Well clearly I was still obsessing, so the decision wasn't right yet. I also kept remembering something my best friend, a SAHM, said to me: that she regretted not working. I'd never heard a SAHM admit that! And then finally I had gotten an email from another woman who had had babies during her GTU doctorate, and she strongly encouraged me not to drop everything, telling me I'd feel great about myself if I could pull off school and motherhood together. And I knew somehow that she was right about that (but could I pull it off?).

I guess at this point I might as well cut off the rest of the story (I mean, gawd, how could this possibly interest anyone but me at this point??) and get to the decision, which wound up being to drop one class, keep the other (the foundational class taught by, yes, the prof who's been instrumental in all this), but make it pass/fail (turns out there is no policy on that, so I'm testing uncharted waters), and not put any pressure on myself to do anything except the one class this semester (and when I go to things like meetings and workshops, Maggie goes too). I worked out a schedule with John in which Mon-Thurs I take Maggie in the morning with no other agenda, and then for three hours in the afternoon I do school (homework or class or meetings - but no more than three hours, maybe less some days) and he takes her, and then in the evenings and Fri-Sun I completely take off and don't think about school one bit. Except of course for the conversations I have with him about what I'm learning, because he loves to get all up on his high horse about liturgical stuff. :)

Anyway I think that's what will work. At least, I'm giving it a try. With the class at p/f I don't have to stress about a grade, and I can allow myself to lower my standards a bit, just for this one semester, just because I am responsible for the growth and development of a human being (which hey, is a pretty awesome responsibility). I mean, of course she'll still be here next semester and after that too, but I have to deal with that when it comes (and these first months are so crucial - plus I'm still feeding her exclusively from my body, which won't be the case later).

So in the end it was a compromise, but I actually think it might make everyone involved pretty happy. I feel good about it. I couldn't let myself quit school completely - not after I'd done so much to get here and we'd invested so much in my going. No, I am still a student (as I learned in class Thursday), and I need to keep that side of myself alive. But I think I found a way to do it and keep my highest priority here at home, my real full-time job being Maggie. I'll do about 12 hours a week on school, which really isn't that much time when you think about it.

Plus if she does something amazing, I will just be in the next room.

Wow. Good old Feminarian. She found a way to keep juggling all her balls after all. OK, I'm getting back to my baby now.

1 comment:

the holly said...

hey there, i'm a lurker on your blog, a fellow theo-mom-blogger asking very similar questions as i am gestating a third and working full-time at a church. i know you have been really wrestling with so much - i just wanted to say "thanks" for putting it out there. as a woman who is committed to academics and who also loves her family, it just feels like there are so few of us around, at least in my world. all to say, woohoo, way to wrestle, come to some peaceful space. may our god continue to give you creativity beyond your imagination to live the life ahead of you. peace.