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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Motherhood After Tenure: Anxiety
September 17, 2008 - 10:13pm

When I was a girl, I took a trip to visit my grandparents in Florida. Leaving Buffalo, NY in November and flying up past the gray clouds into an immediately bright sunny sky was a revelation. I had no idea the sky was still bright and sunny in November; I actually thought it turned gray all the way up to the heavens until April.

That’s how I felt when I finally went on anti-anxiety medication after my daughter was born. It was like taking off a dirty, scratched pair of glasses. I never thought of myself as anxious, I just thought I was a very capable, realistic person who recognized that life was a battle requiring constant vigilance.

Once, when I was having a particularly horrible time in graduate school, my father gently suggested I consider medication. I was stung, insulted, and … instantly more depressed. But I was sure that once I finished my thesis, got a job, and got my romantic life settled, I would be happier. And I was.

But when my daughter was born and I returned to teaching, I found myself getting terrified at the dust on my ceiling. It seemed a sign of all the things that were falling apart around me, all the things I wasn’t getting to, all of the things I alone noticed. And no matter how much my husband tried to help or reason with me, I couldn’t just relax and enjoy my daughter.

On the outside, I had it together: I had just received tenure, had high student evaluations, and had lost all of my baby weight. I thought I was doing a pretty good job of masking my distress from the outside world until I received an email from my chair (also a good friend) who asked me if I was sad, and said that he was worried about me. It was a beautiful, humane gesture, but it was devastating. I was humiliated that my distress was so visible. And I wondered, if I was so obviously miserable, what kind of mother was I being? Would my daughter see herself as another task, was I teaching her that life was fraught and overwhelming?

Politically, I have a lot of reservations about pharmaceutical companies mass medicating our country. I wonder why so many mothers need drugs, and I think that the academe fosters a particular type of anxiety, and rewards it. I know many academics who operate from places of anxiety, fear, and panic. And I wonder how this affects our students.

Taking medication isn’t something I usually divulge. It seems sloppy to admit to such a weakness. I even worried that it would affect my teaching performance. And it has. It’s less of a performance and more me. Students seem to like it; I hope my daughter does.

 

 

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