Becoming Dr Mum – Combining PhD and motherhood

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When I found out I was pregnant (in February 2012), during the 3rd year of my PhD I thought it would definitely be hard to combine being a mum and finishing my thesis. As a researcher, it seemed logical to look for articles and resources produced by others who lived the same kind of situation to make me feel less isolated.

I found a really interesting website, which presented the report of a study called: “Becoming Dr Mum: Combining Higher Degree Research with Early Motherhood”.

By reading about the study, which was carried out in 2009 at The Australian National University, I felt there were other women who had been through the same and that I would certainly make it too, and come out of the whole experience as a stronger person!

Having been through it, now already with my PhD diploma and my adorable (most of the time) almost 3 year old daughters, I know it’s hard, and I know it’s possible too. And actually, if I’m, honest I think having my daughters helped me have guiltless breaks from my PhD which is very healthy, and I wouldn’t necessarily have otherwise. And, at the same time, having the thesis always on the back of my mind made me sometimes put things in perspective, which is also really important because being a mother for the first time is a overwhelming experience, and it changes your brain, well at least the way my brain worked. And sometimes I’d find myself stressing about the weight of my tiny babies or worrying and ‘doing research’ about the colour of their ‘poo’.

Most of these ‘motherhood concerns’ are at the same very valid and very silly, especially if you’re lucky enough to have strong and healthy babies like I was; but it’s hard to get your brain to stop and in absence of other issues, those are the ones that seem to take the front row!

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Canadian Adventure

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I had my PhD Viva on the 1st of December 2014, and a week later, exactly a week later we flew from London to Montreal. After much consideration we decided to send most of our things to Portugal, since our Canadian adventure was to last only 9 months and we had no idea where we would go after, so it really didn’t make sense paying for storage in the UK. We only brought what we could fit in our 1 small and 3 large suitcases.

The plan for the 9 months was for me to make the minor changes to my thesis as required by my examiners and then look for a job. Somewhere. Anywhere in the whole wide world. This, while staying home with the girls. Easy, right?

Well… not quite so!

Why? Probably because I took my role as a stay at home mum seriously, my daughters are at a key stage of development and I’m now in charge of playing all the roles of all the nursery staff they had previously, plus I’m their mum! I bought some books to inspire me and looked on the internet and Pinterest regularly for interesting and fun activities.

List of Books:

(We also had to buy a new pushchair, but that’s a whole other issue that I’ll make sure to write about!)

We tried to go out most days, yes, tried. It’s not that easy and obvious how to move around with 2 two-year olds with -15oC and snow. But it was part of our learning and it was our big adventure. And like Dora we sang lots of ‘We did it! We did it!’. I think I needed to tell myself often that I could do it!2015-01-26 10.29.20

We went to activities at Le Carrefour des Petits Soleils with Pauline, and at Les Ateliers d’éducation Populaire du Plateau with Michelle, we went to story time at La Tasse Gamine, and we also went to the supermarket across the street (Provigo Mtl, Avenue du Parc). In all of these it was as much of an activity to get there than the actual activity itself! Actually, just getting dressed was… a test to our patience and perseverance: snow trousers, snow boots, snow coat, mittens, ‘ninja’ scarf, hat, seating in the pushchair – the 3 of us needed a rest by the time we were ready to head out!

And where does the PhD thesis and the job hunt fit here? Well, during naptime! That’s it! A maximum 2h of uninterrupted work but usually a lot less than that! Not easy but I did it, I submitted my revised thesis and received a couple of congratulations emails for being a Dr.

I don’t feel any different. At all. If anything, I feel relieved for having managed to pull it off: ‘I did it! We did it!’

Mancs GradSchool & to tell or not to tell?

A while ago I was away 4 days at the Manchester Grad School 2012 (1-4 May 2012), it was a great experience, an extremely well organised event, an opportunity to meet lots of other PhD students doing interesting research in so many different fields, and to hear from already well-established academics such as Gillian Mawson (@Guernseyevacuee) and Inger Mewburn (@thesiswhisperer) and their view on public engagement and social media (respectively) and impact in general.

I felt generally well, tired, yes definitely but well. I also found it difficult to stop at the end of each day as after hearing and doing so many interesting things, and meeting and speaking to so many people my brain struggled to let go and allow me to fall asleep.

Outcome of the GradSchool week: blog, tweet and don’t be afraid of saying yes to less planned (and sometimes less “academic”) invitations as these can open new and exciting doors!

On the pregnancy side of things… as my tummy was still quite small at the time nobody could tell I was pregnant, which left me in various situations of should I tell? Why would I tell? I only told very few people and sometimes I felt a relief for being able to say it. Actually I think I started writing this blog because we decided not to tell anyone (family & friends) until the week 13 scan and I needed to tell somebody about it, I needed to get it out: the (double) happiness, the frustrations, the aches, etc….

Sickness gone, welcome back brain!

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After weeks of feeling miserable and not really capable of doing anything I was really happy when finally I felt I could get some work done, I was feeling a lot better and magically I could cope with the idea of having to write and finish chapters of my PhD thesis.

Unfortunately the sickness was substituted by migraines and all different sorts of pain in my head – medication? Well… not really. I was still happy because it was better than the previous weeks of “morning” sickness (still feels wrong to call it morning!)

Ph…pregancy…D

Ok, I’m in my 3rd year of a PhD in education, expected to finish in or around September 2012. I’ve collected data, transcribed interviews, started writing a findings draft chapter….

End of February 2012 I found out I am pregnant, the tests were “extremely” positive, the three tests to be more precise!

Beginning of March we went in for my first scan and… ta dahhh! Not only I am pregnant but I am expecting twins, fraternal twins (the “good kind of twins”, or so I’ve been told).

The following weeks were overwhelming, sickness, calling it morning sickness is a joke: whole day sickness would definitely be more accurate! Lying down for most of the day and still feeling like I’m crossing from the UK to Spain on a ferry

PhD vs. sickness = sickness  won, every single time!!!

One piece of advice (or maybe Note to self): When it all seems too much, when you feel overwhelmed and even just looking at a “What skills do PhD/ researchers need to develop” makes you feel you don’t have any strengths and only weaknesses – give it a rest. Stop, don’t force yourself to sit in front of the computer or think about the PhD!