Actually, Becoming A Stay-At-Home Mom Saved Me From Burning Out At Work
I was in graduate school when I got pregnant at the tail end of the spring semester of 2009. I had spent the year as an Assistant Director of First Year English, which meant that I basically helped run all of the freshman writing classes at the university. I mentored graduate student teachers, helped teach their practicum classes, and develop readings and assignments for new students.
I thought this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was terribly, terribly wrong: I didn't know anything about what the job entailed, or what type of people I'd be dealing with. Ditching graduate school and becoming a stay-at-home mom was a relief. In fact, it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
I had warned my husband at the beginning of the year that this might be the end of school for me. I had an master’s of fine arts in fiction, and there was no need for me to seek a Ph.D. But I thought I wanted a Ph.D. so I could run a writing program, because there was so much social justice work to be done: I wanted to raise students' consciousness by teaching them about feminism and colonialism and racism.
At the same time, however, my husband and I knew we either wanted to adopt or have a baby — soon. I figured we could juggle both, because I’d seen people do it. So I talked to the professor in the office next to me, who had just had a son. I asked her about cloth diapers and co-sleeping, because we had already decided that we were going to attachment parent. She answered all of my questions and seemed happy for us — that is, until I got an email from her shortly afterward.
In her email, the professor told me that in no way should I try to have kids in graduate school. That it was too hard, that it would ruin my life. I was gobsmacked. Here was someone I trusted, telling me I was making an enormous mistake by wanting children while I was in school. I never answered her email.
She told me that in no way should I try to have kids in graduate school. That it was too hard, that it would ruin my life.
I kept wanting a baby. And I kept learning, time and again, that, frankly, I hated graduate students. I believed that teaching at a public university was an important calling, one that came with a serious obligation to give the best of yourself to your students. But the vast majority of grad students didn’t see it that way. I realized that I wasn’t doing social justice work. I was corralling people to do the work we’d assigned to them and to actually hold classes.
As soon as I saw the positive pregnancy test, I knew I wasn’t going back to grad school. I’d have the baby in December, and no way was I going to try to do graduate school and take comprehensive exams during my third trimester. It felt like I finally had an out, and I couldn't have been more excited about it.
My exit interview for my job was one of the most satisfying one-on-one talks of my life. I was going to have a baby, I announced grandly. Everyone congratulated me, but they probably assumed I'd be back the following year, because leaving academia to have a baby is considered anti-feminist and a huge step backwards. Most of my peers never spoke to me again.
When my husband, who was still in grad school, started classes without me the following semester, it felt strange. But it was also liberating. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t going back to school in the fall; instead, I was going to stay home with my baby. And once he was born, I looked into his eyes and knew there was no way I’d ever leave him to go back again.
I spent my days taking care of a small person, not yelling at graduate students. I Moby-wrapped my son and went to babywearing meetings instead of sitting in endless seminars about continental French philosophy. Even when my baby cried, and even when I had to change diapers, it was a different kind of stress than being in grad school: a kinder, gentler stress. I
I’m proud that professor’s email urging me not to have kids had the opposite effect. I didn’t quit my dream of having children; I quit school instead. I stayed home to take care of babies. And while some might find that decision controversial, I’ve never been happier.