Repost: On Childbearing

Aug 06 2010 Published by under [LifeTrajectories]

This post from  my original blog in  April 2009 seemed to fit well with the work-life memes running around Scientopia now, as well as the recent survey. My children are now 23 and 18; my daughter will graduate from college in December, and my son starts his senior year of high school next week.

It all started with a tweet from Dr. Isis:

"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.

2 responses so far

  • KBHC says:

    "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. "

    I think this a really important statement. I do still know some dudes who seem to have no problem helping to conceive multiple babies and then have their wives watch the kids while they spend 14-hour days in the lab. But for the most part, I think we're starting to see more collaboration, more humanness, more interest in leading a good life rather than be the most-published scientist.

    My husband, a chemical engineer, recently told me how he wants to model himself off some of his mentors, who did not frantically publish insane amounts, but were thoughtful about how they wanted to shape their discipline. Their fewer works are more frequently cited, they are deeply respected, and they took leadership of their fields when other people were just looking out for number one.

    The nice thing about this model is that it is far more conducive to having a big life, one full of sacrifice for children and sometimes mentees, one where we're not frantically checking email every minute of vacation, and one where we don't miss all the soccer games and dance recitals.

  • Pascale says:

    My husband's fellowship mentor admitted one day that he really didn't remember much about his kids between birth and graduation from college. That, in part, explains why my spouse ran as fast as he could from a laboratory career- even though my lab mentors were not like that at all!

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