Oh the guilt

originally posted on LabSpaces

There’s good news in my little world – I’ve been given the go-ahead by my docs to do some lab work!! I still have to take it easy and “listen to my body”, but the BP, while still high, is back to acceptable levels, and every other test the docs have done is coming up normal. So, for now, I’m able to continue being a scientist, so long as I don’t overdo it and the BP stays where it was this morning. Even better, all plans for a natural childbirth with no induction (ie, waiting for when the Monkey decides it’s time to show up) are back on…which I really want more than anything.

This past week, however, got me thinking about the guilt many of us bloggers have written about from time to time, especially the women bloggers. Not that men don’t experience guilt, but it seems that work/family-related guilt hits female scientists especially hard. Sitting at home last week was torturous. Not just because I wanted to be doing experiments (and there’s always one more experiment that you really want to do), and certainly not because I wanted to ignore my body or baby. No, more than anything, the guilt came from feeling like I was somehow cheating on work. I’ve been killing myself for the past several months to try and “make up” for the inevitable decline in my productivity once this pregnancy ends and my maternity leave begins. I only have so much paid leave I can take (just under 9 weeks, and that’s only because I’ve taken none this past year). Since I need some of that leave after having the Monkey, I need to make sure I’m still “fulfilling my duties” up until then, even if I’m not at the bench. And I just can’t help but think others will think poorly of me if I’m not maintaining my normal work load in the lab. Even worse, a part of me worries that others might look down on the choice I made to have a family at this time of my career (and, let’s face it, it was a choice).

It’s odd – the phrase “maternity leave” still sounds so weak to me. Maybe it’s because men don’t need maternity leave, at least not the same way women need the time to physically heal after childbirth. I am grateful to see more and more fathers taking paternity leave to be with their families, but so many more fathers I know of go back to work after a week or even a few days of their children being born. On top of which, some women have to start taking leave before the birth has even occurred…leading to more time away from work, more sick/annual leave used up, and less ability to “keep up” with their male colleagues. We spend so much time talking about equality in the workforce, but how does that actually happen when biology and society have the cards dealt against us?

I certainly don’t want this to turn into a discussion about how women have it sooooo bad and men have it sooooo easy. Unlike Hubby, I get to feel the Monkey moving around all day, keeping me entertained, reassuring me that he’s alright even when I’m not feeling my best…would I really want to trade that away for an easier time at work? Hubby feels helpless watching me go through this pregnancy, and he himself had a very difficult time this past week making any measurable progress at work. I’m sure the time that my male colleagues take to spend with their wives and newborns creates quite the tug of war for them, too; in fact, I bet the guilt they feel can be just as overpowering as what I was going through last week. I’ve also heard the guilt sentiment from male bloggers like PLS and PalMD. I’m so grateful for all these fathers, the time they spend with their families, and their stories.

I know this whole male/female discussion has been beaten to death, especially with regards to balancing work and family, but that doesn’t mean it’s done with. I don’t know the answers, and I have too much on my mind right now to come up with new ideas. Besides, I’m becoming more and more convinced there’s not a solution, at least not a single solution. Maybe just being aware of and sensitive to the issues is enough, or maybe we need more policies in the US to protect women in the workplace, or maybe the current cultural swing with men spending more time at home when their wives have kids will even the score some, or maybe life’s just hard and we should all suck it up. I don’t know.

I do know us women (and men) who are prone to guilt have to find ways to deal with it in a healthy manner. For me, right now, this means spending a few days in the lab, so long as I feel alright, to get some experiments done, then spending a few days at home to analyze data, organize my manuscript, and figure out what needs to be done next. This seems to be a good plan for me, and I think hope pray that it will make the current guilt I feel a bit more manageable. How I’ll handle my work/family guilt once the Monkey shows up is another story, for another post, sometime in the future.

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