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On identity

Updated: Oct 22, 2022

Mother, wife, scientist, daughter, woman (not necessarily in that order)

The other day, while checking my payslip (which neatly doubles as a complete invoice for my nursery), I realised my oldest daughter's age serves as a measure of how long I’ve been in my current job. I interviewed for this position whilst on mat leave. I started, whilst navigating the emotional upheaval of leaving my new baby at home, and the practical upheaval of leaky bosoms that needed regular pumping. My first lab meeting, an introduction to my colleagues, was with pram in-tow, slipping out mid-meeting to breastfeed on the floor of the shower room opposite.

Five years later, and squinting at that payslip, it is the first time it occurred to me that my PI and lab mates had never known me before I became a mother. They have never met the version of me on which my academic identity was rooted. The hard-working, hyper-motivated, always available, tirelessly helpful, within-the-hour-email-responding version that was managing twenty projects whilst making every work social (and usually being the last to leave). All they know is this new version of me, frequently tired, rarely available, trying to take on as much as I used to, but failing hopelessly to manage it all, cancelling social events, calling in sick with nursery bugs, and doing what I can to keep my head above water. When I meet new colleagues, they more frequently know me for giving talks whilst heavily pregnant, chairing a symposium with a baby in a sling, or moaning about my sleep deprivation on Twitter - not for my academic reputation. And that’s ok, I purposefully and unapologetically brought my babies along to conferences and events. I wanted to normalise a more flexible and inclusive workplace that might push at the systemic barriers faced by parents, especially mothers. The consequence, I suppose, is that I further lost my identity, so fragile in motherhood as it is. Maybe it wasn’t an identity that served me (or academic culture) well anyway. Maybe it’s time for a new identity, as I face the end of yet another short-term contract. Who knows, but it is still deeply unnerving.

I could write about this for days, but since this is a mini-blog, I’ll refer you to this brilliant piece, which, for me, really captures the complexity and contradictions of motherhood.

a side note

These posts serve partly as therapy for me, and partly in hopes that the words will resonate with you and help build a community of parents and friends that can support each other. Take a look around the website, and join if you want to see more.

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