The inspiration for this post came at lunch one day during the last conference I attended. I was sitting with a group of people I hadn't met previously (as I like to do at conferences), making the sort of small talk you do at conferences with people you don't yet know. One man at the table mentioned that he and his wife had just had a baby. And I did what I suspect many career women with kids sometimes do:
I ended up sharing that I, too, had just had a baby, but I struggled with whether or not to speak up. Would I blow all my carefully cultivated professional capital if those (mostly men) seated at the table knew that I was a mom? And why, in 2007, is it that I'm sitting here worrying about this question when I am fairly sure that the man with the new baby didn't even think twice about sharing that factoid about himself?
After this incident, I thought about my conference experience this time around (and the one last month), and how it was different from the conferences I've attended in the past, pre-motherhood. There are the obvious things, like skipping out on some (most) of the sessions and some (most) of the social events, mainly because of the logistics of baby care and breastfeeding. But there are the less obvious things too, like where my mind is during sessions. The former has more obvious repercussions: one of the reasons I go to conferences is to network, and networking is difficult when your opportunities to do so are limited by the fact that you have to run up to the room to breastfeed during the break instead of grabbing coffee, or that you skipped the big dinner where all the real conversation happens. But the latter also affects the conference experience. There were a few sessions between the last two conferences where I was able to "forget" about the other half of my life, motherhood, and just concentrate on the papers and speakers. But most of the time, I found myself worrying about how Baby Jane was doing, when I'd be able to sneak away and pump, whether or not I should run up and check on her during the next break or sneak out during the session itself. Having to deal with both roles was exhausting---and I'm sure this is nothing compared to what I'll be dealing with when Baby Jane is older and I'm working full-time.
I wondered, and still do, how the experience is different for men who have children. How often do they think about them during the conference? If they bring them along to the conference, do they skip sessions and events to take care of them? Are they as exhausted as I was, switching back and forth between roles, or do they do a much better job of concentrating on one role at a time? I wish I could have had the opportunity to ask that man sitting at my table some of those questions, but of course I'd feel funny doing so, since we'd just met, after all.
And this got me thinking, closer to home, about how differently Mr. Jane and I deal with all of the stresses related to parenting a new baby. We both try to give each other "me time", but I think Mr. Jane does a much better job of taking advantage of that "me time". He'll leave the house, get away, and thoroughly enjoy himself. I struggle mightily. Mainly because I don't get much "me time", so when I do get an hour or a couple of hours, I'm at a loss as to how I "should" spend it. Do I try and get some work done? Exercise? Sleep? Do something fun? Clean? Often I won't end up doing anything, and then kicking myself about it later. Or if I do leave the house, I find it's very hard to completely shut the "mom" side of my brain off, and I spend a lot of that time thinking about Baby Jane or about what I need to do when I return home. Again, this is exhausting and, of course, not healthy.
So this, apparently, is my introduction into what I know will be a life-long struggle in figuring out how to balance career, parenthood, and life. In a sense, I'm glad I had the experience early on of going to conferences with the baby, because it's gotten me thinking about things I should be thinking about, especially before I return to work.