@work mom

In the midst of what will probably always be the most “successful” year of my life, I faced  completely debilitating “defeats.” After recently having been offered two challenging responsibilities at my job, English Department Chair and Founding Director of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts Film Program, I fell ill in the first and second trimester of my pregnancy. I was out for a total of five weeks only; however, it was the hardest five weeks of my life. I could not eat, was confined to my couch, I vomited nearly non-stop and lost thirty pounds. My home-I.V. would repeatedly fall out my arm, followed by a visit from a nurse, who would fight to find another vein, and the cycle would repeat ad nauseam.

After having been promised by our school administration that the newly appointed Academic Dean would provide coverage for teachers, the lazy, pompous Dean refused to “roll up his sleeves and get dirty with the rest of the staff.” After a few weeks of my students arriving to my class and sitting there, when they came at all, I was replaced, as an English teacher, by a Georgetown undergraduate, and my chair position was granted to a new hire with no experience. They also hired a male teacher to “co-teach” my Film classes with me for the rest of the year. I was told, on my sick-bed, that due to the “indefinite” nature of my leave, and the fact that I had been relieved of 50% of my teaching duties, I would be reduced to “part-time” staff, with 50% pay. Fortunately for me I was aware of my rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Once I threatened them with that knowledge they sung a different tune about my pay, and informed me that they were giving me a “break” for the rest of the year by allowing me to feel worthless and unappreciated at work, while paying me my regular salary.

When I decided to have my youngest child, my husband and I had a brief and one-sided (self-serving on my part) “conversation.” He was certain that he wanted to have another child, I was willing to compromise on this part, but we had to have the baby immediately because I spent my entire twenties “having babies” and though many would argue that “I didn’t miss a beat,” I silently dealt with some form of professional/academic sacrifice/discrimination with each pregnancy. Most often it manifested in some adult superior refusing to allow me to progress to my full potential because they felt I would be incapable of performing because I was a mom.

I am secretly afraid for all of my many single, childless, professional girlfriends who I am quite certain will one day be the target of discrimination at their jobs when they decide to have children. I am also grateful, particularly after what happened with my youngest child, that I had my children when I did, while I was still in school, first in undergrad and then while pursuing my Ph.D., because if I was knee deep in a tenure track job I am almost certain I would have cause for concern.

By the end of that school year, I had a beautiful baby girl, my Ph.D., a new job as a postdoc at an Ivy League institution (I started filling out job applications after the first threatening conversation) and my sanity. I still miss my students at Duke Ellington dearly and regret that I allowed anyone to throw me “off track.” My pride is also still hurt. Women face unfair discrimination as a result of choosing motherhood all the time. Male teachers (and Ph.D. students) advance, despite having children, completely unscathed.

6 thoughts on “@work mom

  1. Tanji,
    My heart goes out to you and every other woman trying to be both mother and professional.

    Why don’t men experience this type of discrimination? It sickens me to the core. If men were able to bear children, the laws and unwritten rules would change quicker than a blink! It is amazing how we’re expected to bear the fruit of the future but receive not so much as a thank you.

    This country has some of the craziest laws related to maternity leave. Other countries, women can take a year off and still go back to their jobs! Too many American women have to choose between being mother and career professional and that isnt fair. We should be able to do both simultaneously and receive the support we need.

    I was able to build my career up at the same time I was becoming a mother, but the field I’m in is far more forgiving and accepting of motherhood. I consider myself lucky, but I still feel for all the women, sisters especially, who grapple with this. By the time we’ve fought hard enough to establish our careers, we begin to hear that loud ticking of our biological clocks.



  2. I had to take a day before I could respond to this because it hit me hard. After I had my youngest, she was about a year, I was I year into my PhD program, living the supermommy myth, trying so hard to prove everyone wrong, that I could do it, that I could perform to the fullest of my potential despite/because of having two very young children, I completely fell apart. I found myself in the hospital, after weeks of self destructive behaviors, after working obsessively for weeks and then slipping into the worst depression I’ve ever had that left me suicidal, completely depleted.

    That was the best thing that ever happened to me. Up until then, I’d created this image of myself, with or without kids, that I could do it all. And I can – weeks of overproduction mask the crash the inevitably follows. The hospital situation made me temper my expectations for myself and have forced me to manage expectations of others. I am a firm believer that workplaces must change to reward productivity instead of face time, and yes, change the rules for maternity time. It’s shameful how this country treats women and children.

    I am also blessed that my department is very supportive of graduate students with children. When I came in, only one other woman had children. Now several of the other grad students have had children, even multiple babies. I’m also very glad that I will have “mastered” this mommyhood thing before going into a tenure track job.


    1. It’s crazy how as black women we have to literally be hospitalized before we allow ourselves to reassess. I keep saying that I’m going to schedule time to decide what to cut out 😦 My grad program, and really my entire grad division, was completely unsupportive of moms


  3. Wow. I’ve been fighting serious sadness and pity for myself as I’ve watched people I know from both undergrad and grad school shine in ways that are light years from my career track. I’ve been mourning my sad state, but you’re right (and LaToya, too) that trying to hit both the mommy job and the career job hard simultaneously is, perhaps, just too hard. But you are also right that our societal arrangements could serve us much better. We deserve it. So do our children. And our partners. And our work.

    I’m so glad that life yielded to what you needed. Yay you!

    Thank you so much for confirming the feelings I’ve had. Bless you!


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