Pregnancy diary: week 22 – work

The past two weeks have been incredibly busy. There haven’t been one or two things in particular eating up my time, rather lots of things (ranging from small to big) that have all come together at once. One thing I mentioned last week was the BritMums Live conference, which was fantastic, and I’ll writeΒ  post about it when I get chance. But I came home even more exhausted than when I left after a busy week, and this week hasn’t given me much chance to rest yet. On top of everything else, Andrew has oral thrush and is most definitely not a happy bunny because he can’t eat without it hurting his mouth, poor thing. The medicine seems to be working already though, as he’s started to eat more again.

Part of my busyness is work-related, both actually doing the work and thinking about the practicalities of leaving. Last week I got my MATB1 form from the midwife. For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of figuring out the paperwork involved with maternity leave and pay, this little (honestly, it’s A5) form is a crucial piece of paper. It is a pregnant mum’s gateway to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), if she is entitled to it. According to the government website Directgov, a pregnant mum can claim SMP through her employer if (1) she has been working for the same employer continuously for at least 26 weeks into the 15th week before the week the baby is due (this basically means if she wasn’t pregnant when she started the job – though I was nearly caught out by this with Andrew because you’re already 3 weeks pregnant when baby is actually conceived in terms of how pregnancy is measured from the day of your last preiod!)…. and (2) if she earns enough to be paying National Insurance contributions.

If she’s not entitled to SMP, she can instead claim Maternity Allowance, which is essentially the same amount of money, but it comes direct from the government (like a benefit) rather than the employer sorting it out. In fact SMP also ultimately comes from the government, but the employer gets the wonderful job of sorting out the paperwork and paying it in the first instance, before the government later pays it back to them – sounds a bit complicated to me, but I’m not a politician who makes the rules.

I think bump looks pretty big in this dress, the design must accentuate it! I don't think it's grown that much in a week πŸ™‚

With this pregnancy I’m in a different situation to last time with regard to work. My contract is due to end on 31st December this year, so if I were to take maternity leave, my contract would end during it. I’d already decided after going back to work part-time after maternity leave with Andrew that I would not want to go back to work for a few years after having another baby, for various reasons. For one it would make no sense financially as my wage wouldn’t cover childcare costs for two. But the main reason is that I have realised that looking after my children in their pre-school years is what I want to do more than any other job. I feel like it’s my calling for this stage of our lives. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the research that I do for my current paid employment, but children don’t stay this young forever, whereas there will always be work to do, whether that be research or something else. This means that I am happy to simply leave my job rather than take maternity leave, which would only last a few months anyway, unless my contract would have been extended.

Interestingly, I thought this would mean I wouldn’t be eligible for SMP, but I am, as long as I don’t leave work until less than 15 weeks before baby is due. As the plan is to work up until early October (with baby due at the end of October), this means I can claim SMP from the government via my employer, even though I won’t be going back to work after baby is born. That’s how generous the maternity provision is in this country – I do feel like it could be a lot worse, and I know some other countries are not as generous with this. I mean SMP/Maternity Allowance isn’t a huge amount of money, but considering I’ll be getting some money for quite a few months after baby is born, even though I won’t have a job and don’t intend to for a while, I think this is pretty nice! As my midwife pointed out though, I’ve been paying National Insurance contributions for a while, and this is what I get in return, at a time when we’ll need it the most.

So in the next week or so at work I need to fill in some forms and get the ball rolling for SMP. But for now there’s plenty of work to be getting on with, making sure I leave everything in a way that others will understand when I’m gone. So far I feel happy that things are going well on this front, but I know I’ll be busy beavering away over the summer to finish things off.

And look at that, I’ve just managed to get this post out on Friday, to keep the routine of my regular pregnancy diary slot on a Friday. With all the things going on, and Andrew not napping as much due to his mouth being so sore, I’ve got a bit behind on my writing this week compared to usual. But that’s what’s nice about blogging, and how it’s not like work – I can do things as and when I want and have time to, with no pressure, because I do it for fun. Hopefully things will calm down a bit over the next week, and I’ll be able to write the next installment about pregnancy before the end of the week…..

Pregnancy diary: week 14 – hummus and med school

I promised more ramblings about pregnancy, and ramblings there shall be! Here are my baby-brained thoughts about what’s gone on in my life as a pregnant mum this week. Well the bad news is I’m still feeling very sick and tired (and also feeling very sick and tired of feeling very sick and tired). But the good news (for me) is that actually being sick seems to have stayed at low frequency for a whole week now, so I’m hoping it won’t get worse again; and the good news (for you) is that I’m not going to go on about sickness any more this week – I’m trying to be positive and boost my mood about it by writing funny tales on here.

Homemade hummus - my staple diet for week 14 of pregnancy - usually eaten in a wrap or sandwich, but shown here just with salad garnish so you can see it in all it's hummusy glory!

So my words to summarise pregnancy this week are: hummus and med school. Odd combination, I know. In fact they aren’t related at all, but both have featured prominently since I last wrote a pregnancy post. Let’s start with hummus. Or shall I be more precise and say ‘homemade’ hummus. I haven’t eaten any hot cooked food since the middle of March. I’ve been surviving on (as much as I can keep down of) things like cereals, sandwiches, crackers, salad, and selected fruits (totally gone off bananas again, as with Andrew). A few weeks ago I walked past hummus in the supermarket, and thought to myself that I quite fancied it, and it would make a nice sandwich with some salad, so I popped it in my basket. However, when I actually ate some later that day, I really did NOT like the taste of it and was almost sick (ooh sorry, I mentioned the ‘s’ word again; last time!) So I carried on with my staple sandwich filling of cheese.

Until one day last week when I decided that I hadn’t made homemade hummus for Andrew in a while, and that it would be a good thing for him to have for tea (lots of protein in the chickpeas and no salt, unlike lots of processed food that I was tempted to buy having no will or energy to prepare things myself). Tom, who is always willing to do what I ask of him at the moment (amazing man!), happily set to and followed my rather garbled instructions on how to make it. I never measure things, so my ingredients list was something like ‘chick peas, a bit of yoghurt, and a glug or 2 of olive oil’ – Tom prefers to have internationally recognised units of measurement when cooking! You just whizz them all up together in a food processor and voilΓ , hummus. The difference between this and the shop-bought stuff is basically no garlic or tahini paste (sesame seeds), but great for Andrew as I know exactly what’s in it. Anyway….. as I was serving some up for him, I got a blob on my hand, and without thinking I licked it off. It flashed through my mind that I wouldn’t like it right now, as I suddenly thought about my previous encounter with hummus, but that was soon followed by a feeling of ‘oooh I actually quite like that!’ So I tasted a spoonful myself and confirmed that it was definitely in the ‘foods I can currently tolerate the taste of’ category.

I liked it so much that I had a hummus wrap for tea myself that day, and the next, and the next…. in fact I’ve eaten homemade hummus for at least one meal if not two every day since the discovery. I don’t know what it is exactly about it, but somehow the combination of ingredients is perfect for my taste-buds at the moment. Maybe it was the tahini or garlic in the shop-bought stuff that was a no-no. So is this a craving? I wouldn’t go that far (yet) – I can’t say that I actively long to eat it, as I don’t really want to eat anything, I just eat out of the fact I know I need to and to some extent eating little and often helps to keep the ‘s’ word at bay during the earlier part of the day. Oh, feeling of hunger, please come back and send the feeling of nausea packing! That’s how hummus has dominated my week, and I have no inclination that this will stop any time soon.

Moving on to med school….. Don’t worry, I haven’t signed up for any more studying! I told Tom during my PhD that if I even looked like I was going to apply for any kind of course to get another degree/qualification then he had my permission to do whatever it took to stop me. But since I am a researcher, I’m always willing to help out others in their quest to find participants for research or training studies; and as we live in Cambridge, where there’s a big medical school and the teaching hospital includes a maternity unit, there’s always stuff that needs signing up to. When I went for my scan, I picked up 2 leaflets about volunteering to help medics (of the student or qualified variety).

The first was something I already took part in when I was pregnant with Andrew. It’s called ‘Preparing for Patients’, and it’s a course that all 3rd year undergrad medical students complete, in the hope that it will help them relate their theoretical work to real patients’ experiences. For this they visit a pregnant mum (and her family) in her home, twice before the birth and twice afterwards, and ask her questions about pregnancy, birth and early days with a baby. I love to talk (as if I need to point that out), and with Andrew I was happy to share my experiences in the aid of a good cause (or course! ;)) So I was keen to help out again. The only potential problem was that the leaflet was advertising for mums due between ‘November and early March’, and my due date (if you believe in such things – I don’t) is 30th October. I thought it was worth a quick email anyway, making it clear that I understood if I couldn’t be useful being due 2 days before November. Within half an hour, the course admin had emailed back saying congratulations on being the very first volunteer for this year! (That is if I didn’t mind having my antenatal visits close together right at the start of term – which I don’t.) I know I’m a keen bean for these things, but I don’t think I’ve ever been anyone’s first participant – someone’s gotta be it! They need 150 volunteers altogether, so if you’re pregnant, due November to March (well, Feb-March babies won’t have been conceived yet), and live in Cambridge or the area, why not offer your time if you can? (Disclaimer: I have not been paid/persuaded by other means to write this, it is merely a suggestion from my inner keen volunteer!)

The second thing to sign up for was an hour being ultrasound scanned by a junior doctor or two, who are training in foetal medicine. Of course they need to practice using the fancy equipment and figuring out what all the bits of a baby look like in black and white ‘magic-eye’ style! The criteria for taking part were: 1) between 11 and 32 weeks pregnant in the week beginning 9th July; 2) a singleton pregnancy; 3) a desire to help junior doctors in their training. I fit that bill nicely, and anyway it sounded like fun – mainly because it means I get to have a free scan, complete with take-home pictures, extra to the routine one at 20 weeks that I get from the NHS. I even get my parking paid, so I can travel in four-wheeled luxury (or our Corsa) rather than struggling there by bike (I won’t be brave enough to cycle with a bump, unlike many pregnant ladies in Cambridge). They’re doing this for one week only in mid July, when I’ll be 24 weeks. All I had to do was sort out childcare for Andrew (thanks, Granny), otherwise the doctors would get more than they bargained for – I can just imagine Andrew’s fascination with pressing buttons and pulling things out of holes getting the better of him, and the scan ending in technological disaster.

That brings me, finally, to the end of my ramblings about week 14 of this pregnancy. I hope you had fun reading it and will come back for more next week. Right, I’m off to get some sleep now, at the fine hour of 19.30. Night, night!

Trilingual adventures with three mice (not blind) – one mouse, une souris, eine Maus

Last week was an exciting time for me (and Andrew, though perhaps he didn’t feel it as much as me!) because my (no longer) baby suddenly started to show me that he recognised some words. That’s not to say he didn’t recognise them before; it’s hard to know exactly how much babies perceive from speech before they can physically respond to show they know what you’re talking about. It can be done though, in ‘lab’ conditions – experiments with babies have been designed, by getting them to turn their head to stimuli like speech sounds, or to suck on a dummy which is hooked up to computers that work out how fast they’re sucking and how their speed changes with the introduction and exit of stimuli. From these kinds of experiments, researchers have been able to figure out some of the earliest abilities to hear speech, even at just one or two days old. For example, we know that newborns recognise and prefer their mum’s voice to another similar female voice (de Casper 1980), and recognise and prefer listening to their ambient (to-be-native) language from others that are rhythmically different (Mehler et al. 1988, Nazzi et al. 1998). They’re not understanding specific words and their meanings at this age, of course, but rather the overall rhythm and intonation of the speech. They were hearing this for quite a while in the womb you see. This kind of research sounds fascinating to me, but hard work – it must take them ages to collect enough data whilst working with babies! Just think about all the times they’d need to stop for feeds/naps/nappy changes/just wanting to be with mum etc. Respect to those researchers, I say!

This little diversion into infant language recognition research (apart from showing you how cool it is) was to make the point that just because Andrew can’t speak recognisable words at the moment, it doesn’t mean he can’t understand anything. Last week was when this understanding was finally clear for me to see. We were sitting reading some Usborne Touchy-Feely ‘That’s not my…’ books. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of reading these, firstly let me highly recommend them. They’re brilliant for reading with babies and toddlers, as there are ‘touchy-feely’ patches of fabric or other materials for them to explore with their fingers. Secondly, let me tell you that they all have a little mouse on each page, blending in with the pictures (for example, he has a snorkel in one of the Penguin scenes…!) This means you can ask your toddler ‘Where is the mouse?’ each time they turn a page, and it gives a consistent point of reference for them to learn. This is exactly what I’d been doing with Andrew for a while, and pointing to the mouse myself. Last week was the first time that he consistently pointed to the mouse on each page himself! It was a proud moment πŸ™‚

Us reading 'That's not my penguin...' - an Usborne touchy-feely book

Even more so because I’d been doing this with him in three languages, and he not only pointed at the mouse, but also la souris and die Maus on each page. As I studied French and German for my BA, Masters and PhD, I’d always said that I would introduce these languages alongside English to my kids. During the research I did for my Masters dissertation, which was about adult bilinguals living in Switzerland, I learnt that it is easier for young kids to learn multiple languages than it is for adults once a native language is well and truly acquired. Some people do learn other languages to a near-native standard in adulthood, but this is less common than kids who pick up more than one language in childhood and speak them to native standard (for their age at every point).

Andrew pointing to the mouse (in a snorkel) on the bottom left of the left-hand page

As we live in the UK, and Tom only speaks English, of course Andrew is going to get much more exposure to English than he will to French and German. Whenever the two of us are home alone, I speak some French, some German and some English to him. When we’re playing with something, for example the ball, I will say to him things like ‘That’s a ball’, ‘The ball is blue’, ‘Where’s the ball?’, ‘Can you throw me the ball?’ in one of the three languages. I usually concentrate on one language for each period of time that we’re playing, but I do mix them up a bit too. For example, if we’re sitting looking at an animal book, I’ll say the word for the animal in the three languages whilst we’re on that page, and then the same for the animal on the next page.

Andrew's right hand was pointing to the mouse on the penguin's back, but he moved too fast and our camera shutter speed couldn't cope!

Does this confuse him, you might wonder? Well our adult brains might think it’s confusing, as they have been shaped and molded into what they are today over several years; they’ve become set in their ways. The baby and toddler brain, however, is still being shaped and molded into what it will be one day. It has no concept that there is ‘ONE’ language or ‘TWO’ languages or any other specific number of these things we call ‘languages’, but rather it’s hearing all these sounds coming out of people’s mouths, and trying to figure out what it all means; for all it knows there could be a gazillion languages that it has to figure out. Why should a toy have one particular name and not three? That’s a monolingual adult way of thinking, which has been cemented into the brain over years of only knowing one word for that toy.

Listening to some French nursery rhymes on the stereo

Will Andrew be trilingual? Maybe, maybe not – it partly depends what you mean by trilingual (perfect native speech in three languages is one extreme of a continuum of multilingualism). I do not personally claim to be native in 3 languages, so he’ll only be getting native-like input in one, and fluent input in the other two. My main aim is to give him an awareness that there is more than one of these things called languages out there in the world. By the time he gets to school, I hope he will have a more open outlook on languages than the view I was often confronted with at school – ‘Why do you want to study languages when everyone else speaks English?’ (actual comment by my GCSE Maths teacher who wanted me to take his A-level). Yes lots of people in the world speak English, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make an effort to learn other languages too, and shape my brain differently from many native English speakers. In fact from a global perspective, bilingualism is more normal than you might think. There are more bi- and multi-linguals in the world than monolinguals, and many of these will have learnt two or more languages in childhood (another thing I learnt during my Masters research from a book called The Bilingualism Reader).

Most importantly in this language development adventure of Andrew is that I’m making it as fun as possible, as with all areas of development that I can play a part in. He loves singing, clapping and dancing to songs and rhymes, so I bought a CD of French nursery rhymes and kids songs, and we’re about to be given a German one by some friends, though I’ve been using YouTube in the meantime. Just like he can listen to English rhymes and songs at the various music and play groups we go to, he can hear other languages blasting out of the stereo at home. We were also given a bilingual French-English toy piano that plays tunes and talks about colours and shapes when you press the keys. He loves playing with that, especially now he’s really into pressing any button he can lay his fingers on! Another option I have is reading books in French and German to him, which we bought on Amazon, were given, or borrow from the library, for example Monsieur Bavard (Mr Chatterbox from The Mr Men and Little Miss range) and Die Kleine Raupe Nimmersatt (The Very Hungry Caterpillar). His attention span is still quite limited, so at the moment it’s more effective to just read his simple English board books with things like numbers, animals, shapes, toys etc. to him in French and German. My translation skills are good enough for that!

Dancing to some French nursery rhymes, but suddenly spotted the camera and got interested in that

Is anyone out there raising their kids bilingually? Do you find other parents generally view it positively or negatively? I haven’t had much discussion either way with others yet. Apart from with our friends who are Swiss and German living in the UK, so their child (a bit older than Andrew) is in full swing with acquiring three languages: Swiss German and German at home (believe me, they are different languages) and English at nursery and playgroups. We meet each week to speak English and German with our kids. It’s great fun all round, and needless to say we’re all very positive about mixing and matching our languages πŸ™‚

So you’re a linguist…. how many languages do you speak then?

This post has been on my (never ending) to-do list for aaaages! It occurred to me that the linguist part of who I am might not be as immediately obvious as other parts. I mean you’re no doubt aware exactly what a home-baker, a craft lover and a swimmer are, but do you know what I mean by a linguist? Usually I find that people’s responses to ‘I’m a linguist’ are something like, ‘oh that’s nice’ or ‘OK I see’, but I can almost see their brain thinking it through, saying ‘I know it’s something to do with language, but I actually don’t have a clue beyond that, and it would be awkward if I let on!’ So if you can imagine yourself in this scenario, let me help you out.

The other response I get, if not the one above, is ‘ah, so how many languages do you speak then?’ In my case I can actually say that I speak a few languages (though how you define being able ‘to speak’ a language is not a clear-cut thing – I’ll come back to this later). But speaking several languages is not necessarily a prerequisite of being a linguist. Let me begin to explain why.

The word linguist is often used amongst (undergraduate) students to mean someone who is studying a foreign language (or languages), and this usually means they are learning to speak and write the language(s) to an even higher standard than they did at school, and they’re probably taking various courses as part of their degree, like, for example, translation, literature, and history/politics/geography etc. of the country (-tries) where the languages are spoken. I know this because I was once one of these ‘linguist’ students: I did a BA in French and German at Nottingham University, and graduated with a fluent level of spoken and written language in both, having also learned along the way some random facts about the history of France, the ins and outs of Satre’s Existentialism, what politics in Austria is like, and how the Berlin Wall came to be built and knocked down. All very interesting (well actually not allthat interesting I found) but my favourite extra courses beyond getting on with learning the languages in more detail were those which came into the category of ‘Linguistics’.

Linguistics written in the International Phonetic Alphabet

This Linguistics thing can be simply defined as ‘the science of language’, but does that really explain what it is? Not sure…. It’s about studying the ‘make-up’ of a language, without necessarily learning to speak/write it for the purpose of communication with a particular community of speakers. What do I mean by ‘make-up’? Nothing to do with Max Factor or Maybelline, what I mean is its structure, what it’s made up from, how it’s made up. This has several levels, from sounds as small as individual vowels and consonants (in technical jargon – phonetics and phonology), to parts of words like the -ing ending (<– like here ‘end’+’ing’) (more technical jargon – morphology), to parts of sentences and whole sentences (the wonderful world of syntax – note the irony in my ‘voice’ there), to the meaning of words both on their own and in wider contexts and specific situations (semantics and pragmatics). And someone who studies any of this lot is a LINGUIST – there we go, I’ve finally got to the word. Although it usually helps to know how to speak the language you’re studying in this way, if nothing else for getting by on field trips in another country, it’s not absolutely essential, because what you’re more interested in is figuring out some detail of its sound/word/sentence structure etc. than being able to converse with other speakers of it.

In my case, I’m a sounds girl. Ever since I took some French and German linguistics courses for my BA, I realised that I loved finding out all about the sounds of languages, including how they are produced in the mouth, how they differ within one country (e.g. different accents of a language), and how they change over time. After I graduated, I knew that I wanted to carry on and study for a Masters in Linguistics, so I took a year out to figure out exactly which course would be best for my interests. In the end Cambridge University was my preferred option, and after a brief interview that I didn’t even know was coming on the day I was informally looking around the department, I was in. The Masters (MPhil) course started with doing a bit of all sorts of areas of linguistics, and then allowed me to specialise in phonetics (which is about the sounds of speech) for my dissertation. I chose to compare the consonants spoken by monolingual and bilingual speakers of French and German in Switzerland. If you’re interested, you can read all about my MPhil research here. After that I thought it would be a good idea to carry on with the research as I enjoyed it, so I applied to do a PhD, got funding, and so spent the next 2 and a half years researching how speakers of French and German in Switzerland hear rhythm in speech. Again, if you’re interested, here are some articles and my thesis (warning: not for the faint-hearted reader!)

That was a bit of a digression off the main point about what linguistics is, but I thought it best to explain my background and where I’m coming from. When you get into the nitty gritty of phonetics, the sounds of speech, it’s actually a rather obviously scientific area of studying. As I started to study speech production and perception (how we speak and hear speech) for my MPhil, I found myself revising basics concepts of Physics and Biology that I hadn’t looked at since school. For my MPhil and PhD research I worked with ‘real data’ – looking at acoustic waveforms and spectrograms (aka pretty pictures of recorded speech) on computers, measuring various statistics, and devising ‘experiments’ to try and figure out how listeners hear certain aspects of speech by playing them particular recorded sounds/sentences and analysing their responses.

In doing all this it became clear to me what I thought all along at school but didn’t quite know what to do about it then: I’m actually a scientist, but one who also has an aptitude for languages, precisely because I approach them in a very ‘scientific’ way. At school I never enjoyed English literature, history or human geography, but my favourite subjects were languages (we did French and German at my school) and sciences (including biology, chemistry and physical geography). I was unusual for my time in my school for taking mixed A-Levels: French, German and Biology (this was just before the new-fangled AS system thing came in to encourage this mixing of subjects). Later as an undergraduate, once I’d seen that I could in fact marry these two loves of languages and science, I knew that linguistics (and more specifically phonetics) was my thing. A good friend of mine, who did her PhD at the same time as me in the Phonetics Lab (look, we even call it a ‘lab’!) put it very nicely when she said that we’re not linguists, but ‘Speech Scientists’. I see her point too.

Just after finishing my PhD I was offered a job as a Research Associate (similar work to my PhD, but I get paid :)) in a Psychology lab. One of the main reasons I was employed was because my boss felt that some phonetics input into the lab’s research on language impairments would be valuable, because the backgrounds of people already there were in psychology and neuroscience. So now I find myself well and truly integrated into the world of scientific research in the Department of Experimental Psychology at Cambridge University. If you’re up for it, here’s some info on what we do.

I hope this journey through what linguistics is has been enjoyable and enlightening. What did you think linguistics was before you read this? Were you far off? To finish I thought I’d leave you with a funny (to me!) picture that I saw recently on Facebook: it hits the nail right on the head! (Except I don’t agree with the ‘What I think I do’ one – it’s Noam Chomsky, a famous Linguist, but I don’t do anything along the lines of his work, nor do I aspire to do so. You have to be a linguist to understand why, and I’m not going into it here.)

Balancing act

My day starts when our alarm clock (aka Andrew) goes off at about 6am. I get up, play with Andrew for a while before giving him a milk feed around 6.30am, and then it’s family breakfast time at 7am. After that, it’s time to get washed and dressed. When we’re ready, it’s at that point that things have to be done differently depending on the day of the week. My brain is (usually) conscious of the next step:

  • it’s Monday/Friday = no rush, play with Andrew some more before putting him down for a morning nap, then do some things around the flat and get ready to go out for the rest of the morning;
  • it’s Wednesday/Thursday = pack up some lunch for Andrew and myself, put nappies in the change bag, wrap us both up warm in coats/gloves/hats etc., and walk round the corner to Tracy’s (our childminder) to arrive as she’s leaving for the school run at 8.25am, then cycle to the office;
  • it’s Tuesday = leave Andrew in Daddy’s capable hands and head straight off to the office for the morning;
  • it’s Saturday/Sunday = have some family time, then do some housework or go to church.

We’ve been in this routine for over a month now, since I started back at work half-time after 9 months of maternity leave, and it seems to be working. Two and a half days a week I work as a post-doctoral research associate (fancy name for the fact that I do research and have a PhD). I’m based in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Cambridge, as the resident phonetician in a lab of psychologists and neuroscientists. The project that I’m working on is looking at how children with a language impairment perceive rhythm and pitch in language and music. I should go into that in detail in another post, but for now I’ll stick to the balancing act of being mum and going out to work.

Before I went on maternity leave, I loved my job and felt very privileged to have been offered it, given the competition for academic jobs when funding is relatively limited. I planned to go back part-time after 9 months, though I found it hard to return once those months were up, because I enjoyed spending so much time with Andrew when on leave. There was a feeling of being torn between two jobs I loved doing, and there still is most days. Being with Andrew all day really makes me happy, but I do see advantages to going out to work too. I thought I’d share some of the things I like and don’t like about splitting my week in half.

At the office I get to drink hot cups of tea, eat my lunch when I like, and there’s not a nappy in sight. As I work in town, it’s very handy to pop out at lunchtime and go shopping for a few bits without the buggy. I have such lovely work colleagues who are great friends and make the office environment a happy, sociable and productive one. It feels good to know that I’m taking part in research that ultimately aims to get to the bottom of something that affects many kids, and one day may make a positive difference in individual lives.

My computer is easy to spot if you know what Praat looks like on screen πŸ˜‰

People talk about being able to ‘use your brain’ again and get ‘mental stimulation’ at work after having a baby, and that is true to the extent that I get to put to use my ‘training’, i.e. the skills for research that I gained by doing a PhD and continuing in an academic job. But I would say my brain gets put to good use looking after Andrew too. I mean there’s no training for being a mum, so you figure things out as you go along, and that uses a fair amount of brain power I find. All the things that I’ve started to think about and get interested in since having him certainly keep me mentally stimulated. An example is doing my own ‘research’ on baby-related matters, by reading up and talking to other parents about issues like breastfeeding. I can do this either at groups when Andrew is with me and happy to play with the toys and other kids there, or at home when he’s asleep and I need to put my feet up. So I feel like I get enough brain usage on both Andrew days and office days.

Big boy on a trike - at a group where there is a great outdoor play area so Andrew can unleash all his energy

My Andrew days are fantastic because I get to see him develop and start doing things he couldn’t do the week before. He is such a good-natured baby, so I get lots of smiles and cuddles. There’s never a dull moment as he’s so active too, making me and himself laugh at the latest thing he’s managed to find/do/get stuck in or under. We go to fun groups where he can toddle around, play with different toys, sing, hear stories, make things and get messy, whilst I get a cup of tea made for me (which might go cold admittedly) and can chat with other mums (and dads) about the joys and woes of parenthood. I get lots of fresh air and exercise, which comes naturally in our routine because we walk everywhere.

Wrapped up warm for a ride out in the buggy to get to a group

So that’s a lot of good stuff so far. The hard part is having to split my time between the two jobs. I worry that I’ll miss out on one of Andrew’s ‘firsts’, that I’ll be impatient with him because I’m too tired after a day or two in the office, that he’ll miss me either lots or not at all when I’m gone (the former being detrimental to him and the latter to me and my identity as his mum). I also worry that my heart might not stay in my research like it was, that I’ll be too tired to function properly, that I’ll not do my research to the highest standard I set myself. These worries on both sides basically come down to the fact that I’m a perfectionist, and by splitting my resources it might not be possible to do either job at 100%. So far I’m pleased to say that none of these worries have actually been an issue, but they are always in my mind.

Look at me, I'm so good at standing. Mummy loves watching me grow up and do things like this for the first time.

When I think about it, I’m not splitting my week exactly in half. In fact I’m a full-time mum, and always will be, as I do my mum thing before and after going out to the office (including in the middle of the night if he wakes up – what am I supposed to say? ‘sorry Andrew, work tomorrow, no soothing back to sleep for you tonight’); walking out the door to go to work doesn’t stop me being mum. I just do interesting research for about 19 hours a week on top of that. I’m happy with the way things are for now, but it’ll be interesting to see what’s in store for the future, especially as my contract ends in December 2012 (the research one that is – I don’t think Andrew will terminate my contract as mum anytime soon πŸ™‚ )

Andrew loves 'helping' me hang the washing up to dry