Mama, PhD

May 30, 2009

mamaphdNext week I am off to Honduras to do my research fieldwork.  Although I am crazy busy at the moment  juggling home and research preparations, I thought it would be a good time to review Mama, PhD, an anthology of essays by academic Mums (actually Moms, they’re all US Americans).  

I bought the book last year, having followed the Mama, PhD blog for a while, looking for some insights into how others have managed the precarious balancing act that is being a mother and being an academic.  And a precarious act it certainly seems to be. The overwhelming impression I came away with was that maintaining both a family and an academic position is hugely challenging, and at in some cases the two are simply incompatable.  This was neatly summed up by my sister, who is neither an academic nor a mother, after I caught her reading the book and teased her about it.  She laughed and commented that it was kind of like watching a road crash.  It’s often horrific, but you just can’t look away. 

I couldn’t look away either, the writing is compelling with a mix of humor, emotion and insight.  It lays bare the patriarchy of academia, and the reality of work in an environment that seems to still be adjusting to the presence of women.  Over and over the contributors write of the difficulty getting sufficient maternity leave and the lack of childcare facilities.  They also write of the need to disconnect themselves from mothering when at work, of being ignored or worse by collegues, and of missed opportunities and compromises made.  In Scholar, Negated Jessica Smart Gullion writes of how her Sociology department, her “feminist enclave”, attempted to kick her out because she was pregnant.  The reality of the institution seems to override the rhetoric of feminism and equal opportunity. 

Fortunately for me, this has not been my experience so far.  Maybe I have drawn the lucky straw when it came to choosing a university.  Or maybe New Zealand universities are ahead of the US in thier approach to motherhood. I think mostly I have had the great fortune of having supervisors (advisors) who are both mothers, and of being surrounded by an awesome community of female staff and students.  When my husband wasn’t well last week, I had no hesitation in taking my daughter with me to campus.  She sat though an hour long presentation quietly with her crayons and books, but even if she had been disruptive I know the rest of the room (all bar one also Mums) would have been fully understanding.  My daughter knows her way to my office at the “versity”, knows several of the staff and students, and is always made a fuss of when she drops in for a visit.  Conversations over lunch range comfortably from post-structural analyses of development theory to toilet training techniques. And if I am late turning in work or unable to attend a meeting the excuse my daughter is sick is perfectly acceptable.

I do share with the contributors to Mama, PhD a frustration in finding enough time to give to my PhD and to my daughter.  I know the guilt associated with leaving my child in the care of others 4-5 days per week.  I am enormously grateful for on-campus childcare, government subsidies to pay for that childcare, and that my daughter loves her childcare centre, but I still wallow in guilt at times, especially after a visit to stay-at-home Mum friends with perfect (and clean!) homes and home-cooked meals every night. While this frustration and guilt is not unique to academia, Mama, PhD has made me more aware of the peculiarities of academic work, and how motherhood impinges on that – such as the need to be intellectual, and to have space to think.

While many of the contibutors have negotiated, or are successfully negotiating an academic career while rasing a family, many have also left academia or gone to ‘non-traditional’ jobs.  It is abundantly clear from reading Mama, PhD that if the academic community wants to attract and retain great teachers and researchers, they need to address the issue of patriarchal and outdated systems that make motherhood and academic life so difficult for many.  This is I believe the strength of the book.  While it is an interesting read (with plenty of laughs thrown in – anyone game to let undergraduate males choose thier child’s name?), it is the underlying commentary on the institution of academia that is most powerful – and necessary.  

After reading some of the essays my sister has no desire to become an academic or a mum.  I on the other hand continue to have no regrets about either.  Reading Mama, PhD has opened my eyes to both the wider community of Mums in academia and the challenges they face, and to the potential pitfalls and challenges I may have to face in the future.  Here’s hoping that whereever  find myself working I will continue to feel the same support I do now.  If not, at least I know I will not be alone.


Ummm… we’re home

December 8, 2008

And have been for nearly a month.  As you can probably guess from the quiet on this blog it’s been a busy month.

It has been a month of celebration- my Honduran got his NZ citizenship and became a Kiwi, we celebrated 7 years of marriage and I had a birthday.

It has also been a month of hard work.  Starting to transcribe the interviews from Honduras, writing and presenting a paper at a national conference and trying to re-write the literature reviews and proposal for my confirmation in February (at my university all PhDs are only provisionally registered for the first year and must complete a set amount of work and presnt a confirmation seminar before being given full candidate status).   Luckily my daughter has settled well back at her childcare centre and my lovely Kiwi-Honduran husband is able to take on much of the rest of the weekday care.  This of course I am often feel hugely guilty but also immensly grateful for.

So onwards to Christmas.  The tree is up, we have been to one Christmas party, and missed one party already, have another two parties this week and I have to work out how to stretch an insanely small amount of money out for the Christmas shopping.  I’m not quite sure how I’m going to fit Christmas into the budget or my workload but we have a very excited 3-year old and I don’t think we’ll get away with having a quiet one!

Here in Honduras

September 18, 2008

We are here!  After 4 flights and 5 airports we crashed in a hotel in San Pedro Sula for a few days to recover.  We are now in Copan Ruinas, a beautiful little town near the Guatemala border whose claim to fame is some amazing Maya ruins.  We are not here for the ruins through, but so I can do some spanish study and attend a conference here.   I started the classes on Monday, and am already feeling far more confident.

Our little girl has settled in reasonably well.  She proved to be an incredible little traveller, pulling her wheelie bag through airports like a pro and sleeping on planes far more easily (and confortably) than any adult! She took a little while to settle in Honduras, the travel and new experiences were obviously exhausting for her, but she relaxed a lot once we arrived in Copan.

I thought I knew a lot about traveling but in the process of flying half-way around the world with a small child I have learned a few more, very important lessons:

-Always sort and organise clothing, toys and travel essentials BEFORE going shopping for a trip!

-Always check the seat numbers allocated before leaving the check-in desk at the airport.

-There’s nothing wrong with using disposable nappies for a few days- and they really are soooo convenient!

-A tip for ensuring good service- take along a super-cute toddler!  You get priority in (some) queues, offers of help with bags, extra snacks, and even US immigration officers may crack a smile.

-You can never pack too many snacks, but with some imagination anything can become a toy.

-It is worthwhile organising accommodation ahead of time, especially for the first few days.

-Traveling with a child can get expensive.  Staying in child-friendly accommodation and eating in “safe” places costs much more than the places we used to stay and eat!

-It’s worth it.  Exhausting, often stressful but definitely worthwhile to see her experience new things, and learn more about her fathers culture and homeland.

HT Feministing

Please don’t ANYONE show this to my hard-working, dedicated and ultra amazing husband and stay-at-home dad. Challenging deadbeat Dads is one thing but this is just hideously misogynistic and completely not Christian bullshit.

What I’m not.

January 21, 2008

Over the past year or so I’ve been giving a lot of thought to who I am, and have been feeling somewhat lost because instead of becoming clearer, I seem to be loosing more and more of who I thought I was.

But I’ve just had a moment of revelation. The loss is part of the journey. I don’t know what will happen, or who I’ll become, but I’m becoming quite clear about what I am not.

I am not religious. This may suprise any readers who actually personally know me, but despite a very conservative religious upbringing and years of church and missions, I no longer feel “Christian”. I still sometimes go to church, but I longer feel I fit there. I’m not sure what my beliefs actually are, or whether they are even Christian, but I know they are not the conservative, evangelical Christianity I have spent most of my life following. Although it is a strange place to not know quite what I believe, it is enormously freeing. For the first time in my life I feel like I can explore the myriad of beliefs, philosphies and ideas that make up this world without guilt or preconcieved judgement and that is incredibly liberating.

I am not a mummy-type. I nearly wrote “I am not a Mummy” but that would be both emotionally and physically untrue. I am a Mummy and I love my daughter absolutely and completely. But I do not fit in the Mummy culture. I was a stay-at-home Mum for over a year and still only work part time. I firmly believe that parents are the best carers for under-3s, however I quickly got bored silly with coffee groups, play groups and the routine of being a stay-at-home Mum. I would drop eveything in a minute if my daughter needed me to be home but I am lucky that she gets good care from her father and grandmother and I am able to work and study. This makes me happier- and I’m think I am a better mother for it (although I have to confess some worry as she will need to go to daycare 3 days per week once we move).

I am not a nurse. Again, another stretching of the truth. I am a nurse, I just had my practising certificate renewed to prove it. What I mean here is that I am not particularly happy as a nurse in the conventional sense. While I really do care about my patients (and have had enough good feedback to presume I do a reasonably good job) it is increasingly difficult to motivate myself on clinic days, and I have found myself wishing patients would not show up for appointments. I naturally prefer to work with my head rather than my hands and accordingly have made a decision to change career tracks and persue an academic career in a different field. I want to help people and believe I can do it best using my natural skills and preferences.  I think the world still needs thinkers!

So that is where I’m at. Less sure than I ever have been about who I am but knowing what I’m not.  Perhaps my resolution for the year should be to make some progress on finding who I am. But it is a journey, it’s been an interesting one so far, and for once I think I will be content to just enjoy the ride- I’m very curious as to where it will take me.

Every minute of every day, a woman still dies needlessly during pregnancy or childbirth, most in the developing world. Ten million women are still lost in every generation – our mothers and sisters, daughters and grandmothers, wives and partners, friends and neighbors. At the same time, 4 million newborn babies die every year, also from causes that are mainly preventable.

In this silent tragedy, huge disparities exist between rich and poor countries and between the rich and the poor in all countries. One in six Afghan women will die during pregnancy, compared to one in 2,500 in the United States and one in 29,800 in Sweden, according to 2000 figures from the World Health Organization – the greatest disparity in all the indicators WHO monitors.

Fully 42 percent of all pregnancies everywhere experience a complication during pregnancy and childbirth, and in 8 percent of all pregnancies, the complications are life-threatening. Survival rates depend upon the distance and time women must travel to get skilled medical care. Maternal mortality, defined as the death of a pregnant woman during her pregnancy or within 42 days of pregnancy termination, has dire consequences for the woman’s family, community and country.

Click here for more.

By Joanne Omang
From The Global Health Council

What should I do?

July 15, 2007

I have a big decision to make. And I’m really not sure what to do.

For a while now I have been feeling quite unsettled. When we moved back to Wellington at the end of 2005 it was supposed to be a temporary move while my husband completed his studies and we made some plans for the future. We are still here. To most people this might not seem a major issue. After all, I have a good job with a great organisation, we have a comfortable home and lifestyle, and I know my parents are very happy that we (ie the grand-daughter!) are still here. New Zealand is a great place to live and I do love my country.

But those that know me might understand the problem. I have very itchy feet and a very curious mind. I have always found it difficult to settle, and love to experience new places and to learn new things. Once again I feel ready to move on. And I think I know what I want to do next.

I have this crazy dream of ditching my job, packing up the house and re-enrolling at university to do a PhD. I finished my Masters Degree in Development Studies nearly 18 months ago. This involved a thesis year, and I did the research for the thesis in Honduras. I think I might be completely mad but I would like to do more of this. I have more questions I’d like to try and answer. I actually enjoy the process of planning, researching and writing. I am pretty sure I have the academic ability and determination to do it.

But it is a huge amount of work (3 years minimum) and would be big sacrifice both for myself and for my family. It would involve spending a year at university either here or Australia, a year of fieldwork (most likely in Honduras) and then another year or so to do the writing (80-100 000 words). At the moment I am inclined towards an Australian University for various reasons, which would mean my husband and daughter would have to pack up and come too.

My wonderful, supportive husband says go for it. He has tried to explain to me more than once that as a Latino his idea of a “career” and of life is different. While he has some ideas about what he might like to do in the future, he doesn’t have any plans or goals that he holds tightly to and says he is happy has long as he has his two girls, a house to live in and food in his stomach! But I still feel guilty, dragging him around after my plans, when he has had little enough opportunity in life to pursue his own dreams (this is partly why we are still here, in our 30s, while he finishes his undergraduate degree, something able to do in Honduras).

The benefits of doing this study could be enormous. I would be able to specialise further in an area I am very interested in. It could open doors to teaching, writing and research opportunities in Latin America and here (and elsewhere), a career path I am actually quite excited by. But it could also be unnecessary and even problematic, I could well end up an overqualified, underemployed academic bore. I may just be better off going to Latin America, getting some experience volunteering or working with NGOs and building up a life from there. Do I need another academic qualification to write? To be able to make a contribution to Honduras?

The idea of doing a PhD is actually something I have had in the back of my mind since mid-way through the Masters, but I had always put it off as something I could do in the future, after I had gotten some more experience working in Latin America or elsewhere.  But it occurred to me recently that  because the nature of the study I want to do involves moving around, that it might be better to do it now while my daughter is still small.  Once she starts school, and if my husband gets a good job, then we will need to be more settled.  I have a window of opportunity now and I am very very tempted to take it.  But it would be such a huge undertaking, one that involves sacrifice from my family, and without knowing if it is actually something that will be worthwhile in the end.

So there’s my dilemma.  If you have managed to read through this whole post- thank you.  I really don’t expect answers or advice, just writing this all out has helped to clarify my thoughts a little.  Maybe someday soon I’ll come to some sort of conclusion and be able to post my decision.


July 10, 2007

My apologies for the lack of posts lately, between a 2-year olds birthday and a particularly nasty cold I haven’t had much time or energy for blogging. A crashed hard drive didn’t much help either. However we are back online, and slowly feeling better so maybe things will be back to normal soon.

In the meantime here’s the happy birthday girl-


I Love Nappies 2!

June 11, 2007

A while back I noted that my “I Love Nappies” post was one of the most popular on this blog, and that I would follow it up with a post on alternatives. It still is, and so here is the next post (feel free to tune out if you don’t have young children, or have no interest in nappies/ diapers, I will understand!).

The first thing I need to mention is that by “alternatives to disposables” I do not mean flat fabric squares requiring advanced origami skills and scary sharp pins. Cloth nappies have evolved over the last few years and “modern cloth” is just as easy to use as disposables, is easy to clean, and is just so cute.

There are several things to consider when choosing cloth nappies, including the style or system of nappy to use, the fabric choices, and the implications for washing day.   It can be very confusing, it certainly was for me when I started. So here is my attempt to explain, based on my experience (just one child, in cloth from birth to nearly 2) and with some help from The Nappy Network and– thanks!.

  • Folded flat or “prefold” in a cover– just fold a square nappy into a rectangular pad and place in a wrap-style waterproof cover. Prefolds are simply smaller squares of either very absorbent fabric or literally prefolded and stitched squares.
    Pros: Economical, One size fits all, Quick drying
    Cons: Less absorbant, Some need folding
  • Fitted nappy with a cover– These have the absorbency sewn into the nappy and are fitted around the legs and waist with closures are made of ‘velcro’ or domes.
    Pros: No folding or pins, Snug fit with elastic, Available with stay-dry liner
    Cons: Slower drying, Multiple sizes needed, a separate waterproof cover is needed
  • All-in-One- All-in-one’s have the absorbency and the overnap (cover) combined. They are shaped to fit the baby. They have several layers of absorbency and sometimes adjustable layers. They usually close with velcro tabs.
    Pros: Easy to put on, Caregivers like them, No pins or folding
    Slower drying, Multiple sizes needed
  • Pockets- My favourites! Pocket nappies are shaped to fit the baby but instead of having the absorbency sewn in they have a pocket made from the outer layer of leak proof backing and the inner layer of stay dry fabric. The absorbency is inserted into the pocket. Inserts may be bought or flats or prefolds can be folded into rectangles to “stuff” the pocket. They close with either velcro or domes.
    Pros: Stay dry lining, Adjustable absorbency, Quick drying
    Multiple sizes needed, More expensive


  • Absorbent Fabric- This is arguably the most important part of the nappy, and is laid on, stitched on or inserted into the nappy cover. As noted above basic cotton, toweling or and terry knit flats and prefolds do the job quite adequately. If you want to spend a bit more, or have a particularly heavy wetting child there are plenty of newer options. Microfibre is light and soft and absorbs very quickly, however it can be a bit like a sponge, squeezing liquid out when compressed so is often paired with a layer or two of another fabric such as hemp. Hemp absorbs more slowly but will absorb a large amount and hold it. It is also naturally antibacterial and anti-fungal. The newest fabric is bamboo- very slim, soft and absorbent but slower drying.
  • Outer/ Cover Fabrics- All nappies need a waterproof outer cover, sewn in or slipped over the top. Just not crunchy, non-breathable plastic, nylon or PVC pants! Most of my nappies & covers are Poly-urethane laminated (PUL)- polyester or cotton knits that have a coating of poly-urethane. The most natural fabric for nappy cover is wool which is highly breathable, and does not need to be washed as often as other covers (although some may require re-lanolinzing). Believe it or not wool is warm in winter and cool in summer, however unless you are good with the knitting needles (or have a Grandma who is) wool covers are expensive and some babies are allergic to them. The synthetic version of wool, Polyester Polar fleece, is very breathable and is excellent for most babies but must be high quality with a tight weave for it to be effective as a nappy cover. It is also prone to pilling, which does not affect the function but does make them look tatty after a while.
  • Stay Dry Fabric– One advantage of modern cloth is the use of new stay dry fabrics which keep your baby (almost) as dry as a disposable. Stay dry fabric, usually Microfleece or Suedecloth are used for the layer next to the skin. They draw moisture away and into the nappy, keeping the skin dry and helping to prevent nappy rashes.


The question everyone asks when they find out we use cloth nappie- what about the washing? Lots of people are put off cloth by the thought of cleaning nasty messes. I have to admit I wondered about it too, but in all honesty it’s easy, and only takes minutes each day. Heres our system

  1. Dirty nappies go in a big bucket- wet ones as is, dirty ones with poos cleaned off. With modern nappies solid poos just roll into the toilet. Newborn/ breastfed poos are more difficult, and may need a quick scrub unless you use disposable liners. Flushable liners are the best!
  2. Every two-three days the nappies are tipped into the washing machine (on a rinse cycle first if very dirty), and washed in a non-enzyme washing powder. Nappy sellers will advise you on the best washing powder for your nappies. Don’t use fabric softeners (they coat the fabric decreasing the absorbency) but some hygiene rinses are ok. I use 1/2 cup white vinegar in the rinse cycle, this helps deodorise and soften the nappies quite effectively.
  3. Hang on the washing line in the sun (or on a rack inside in a Wellington winter). Dryers make the job even easier, and the nappies fluffier but does negate some of the environmental benefit (I don’t even own a drier!).

For more detail information about nappy care there are plenty of websites- try here and here.

Of course, having said all that I am on my way to waving goodbye to the nappy obsession- my little girl has decided (of her own accord!) to start toilet training! And that perhaps, is the final benefit of cloth. I can’t remember where I heard the statistic but apparently, on average, children in cloth toilet train 6 months sooner than those in disposables.

www for 2 year olds

June 2, 2007

She’s not yet 2 but my little girl is already developing an attachment to the computer, and she definitely has her favourite sites and activities. I thought I’d post them here, if for no other reason than so that I can find them in a hurry!

I was a bit slow finding out about Youtube, my introduction was el Catracho showing his baby animal videos when she was about a year old. The average user is probably still about 10 times her age but there is plenty to amuse her. She really really likes In the jungle (the lion sleeps tonight), and she still enjoys Funny animal videos.

Another favourite is Habia un Sapo” by Atencion Atencion, a Puerto Rican group we discovered through Chichi’s Spanish playgroup.

Animals are a recurring them, she loves looking at Cuteoverload, and as it is a blog we can be sure of finding new animal pictures every time we check in.She also loves colouring pictures of animals and there are plenty on these Colouring pages, which we print off one a time for her to scribble on. I’m not sure if this is an environmentally friendly activity but it means we can print multiple copies of her favourite pictures, we don’t have to go out and buy any colouring books.


Chichi has also recently discovered computer games (thanks again to her Papi!), she can spend ages playing CrashBangWallop from Amy’s Games. Somewhat frighteningly, this is a game aimed at babies and toddlers, and provides a rewarding experience for simple banging at the keyboard. It is designed to encourage cause/effect exploration. It works.

As she loves Dora the Explorer we have recently downloaded La Casa de Dora as an alternative to sitting her in front of the tv. She is a bit young to play it properly but enjoys pointing out the various objects.

Now I’m not sure what child development experts have to say about children this young and computers, and I take no responsibility for the results should your child follow any of these links, but I have to say having websites like this certainly helps my sanity especially as we head into a cold grey Wellington winter.