Today, we’re going to talk about the typical day of a PhD parent – mom addition – except I don’t have a “typical” day. Instead, I have a three-and-a-half month old, Percy, who is teething and going through the four month sleep regression1 early, so no sleep for baby and no sleep for me. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to run downstairs in the morning – normally, a little bit before 7 a.m. – to start making my breakfast. Before it’s even ready, my son will wake up from his last nighttime sleep session. Before eating my oatmeal and drinking my tea, I’ll go back upstairs and change him out of his pjs and dirty diaper. When infants don’t feel well (like when teeth are forcing their way through their gums), they tend to get clingy, so he’ll sit on my lap while I eat breakfast. Sometimes, he’ll let me set him down long enough to clean some bottles.
After breakfast, we go back upstairs, where he gets to play on his mat. Currently, this activity includes lots of arm waving and clumsy grabbing, and when he figures out I’m more than two feet away from him, getting dressed and brushing my teeth, it includes screaming. With all the running back and forth to reassure him I didn’t disappear, this process usually lasts until his first nap around 8:30 or 9 a.m.
By the time I get him in his crib (asleep) around 9:30, I get to log on to my computer for the day. I am currently about midway through my PhD programs in Anthropology and Cognitive Science studying the evolution of human cognition, so watching my son develop and learn new cognitive skills is very fun. I normally have just enough time to check emails (not enough time to respond, though) and write up an agenda for my day before he wakes up.
Percy tends to only nap for about 30-40 minutes at a time, which leaves very little time for me to get stuff done while he’s asleep. Then it’s time for a diaper change, some Tylenol if his gums are really hurting, and another bottle. While it might take adults a couple of seconds to down 5 ounces of liquid, it takes babies anywhere from 15-30 minutes. Multiply that by the 5-7 bottles that babies have in a day and that’s up to 3.5 hours of your day spent just feeding a baby. On top of that, I pump for about 20 minutes about 4 times during the day, so that’s another hour and 20 minutes out of my day.
This pattern of attending to my son while he’s awake, and then the rush to work for 30 minutes while he’s asleep, happens about 4 more times during the course of a day. In between, I’m reluctantly playing musical doors with my dogs, who constantly want to go play in the backyard, and getting a snack in when I can. On good days, I can bring the play mat into my office and get a few minutes of work done while my son tries to rip the stuffed giraffe off the mat to which it is attached. But on bad days, we sit in his room playing, listening to music, reading books, and doing contact naps. I don’t even get to turn on my computer those days. If I have meetings on his bad days, I’m calling into Zoom and staying on mute for the majority of the time.
Around 5:30 p.m., my husband will be off of work. He’ll make dinner while Percy and I hang out in the living room with a random cooking reality show on the tv in the background. Or, depending on how he slept during the day, Percy will go down for one last nap to inevitably get up only 20 minutes later. Bedtime starts around 7 p.m., sometimes with a bath beforehand, then a bottle. I’ll then hang out in his room in the dark rocking him to sleep. If I’m lucky, he’s asleep around 8 p.m., and then I can get ready for bed and catch up on TikTok before I fall asleep. Most nights, Percy wakes up 3-5 times. I’ll nurse him back to sleep and pump twice as well. Since he’s been born, the longest consecutive sleep I’ve gotten is about 4 hours. Lately, it’s been about an hour and a half.
Family planning during graduate school, even as an early career researcher, isn’t talked about enough in academia, and in many circles, it’s even frowned upon. Since my committee learned I was having a baby, I’ve gotten an email from one of them saying congrats and nothing but silence from the others. Graduate students are generally perceived as young students, but in fact, most of us are at the age where family planning generally begins. Many graduate students postpone starting a family to focus on school, but also because most universities don’t even have resources for grad parents and many professors discourage it. While IU does offer family insurance plans for their graduate students, they are incredibly expensive (and unaffordable on our stipends). At IU in the College of Arts and Sciences, where most graduate students are located, they offer parental accommodations; but, to be eligible for a parental accommodation, you need to be on a student academic appointment. So, if you’re on a fellowship, you don’t qualify for it and need to make alternative arrangements, which is what I had to do. Oh, and if you are thinking about a second child, consider this: you can only take parental leave ONCE. You can’t take leave for that second child.
I am fortunate enough that I finished my required coursework before Percy was born, but I’ll note that coursework while pregnant was a monumental task of its own. Being a parent isn’t for the faint of heart. I’m sure you’ve heard the cliché “It’s hard work, but it’s worth it.” Pretty much any PhD parent will tell you the same thing; for all the “wasted” work days, sleepless nights, and judgmental professors, Percy is worth every second, and he’s my new motivation to finish my degrees. I love my research, and I want to show him that if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything, including something as difficult as completing two PhDs while taking care of an infant.
1Four month sleep regression can happen between 3-6 months old and is when a newborn transitions from their 2-stage sleep cycle to the 4-stage sleep cycle that adults have. This can be very disruptive to their typical sleep patterns.
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