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.