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A not-so-perfect motherhood journey

“I’m excited to announce that yesterday I was given the ‘Best Mommy’ award by my toddler daughter for Valentine’s Day.”

A red, heart-shaped magnet reads "Best Mommy."

That was the beginning of my LinkedIn post earlier this week. Yes, it was meant to be a little bit tongue-in-cheek. But my goal with the slightly snarky comment was to bring attention to the balancing act that professional moms (and working parents in general) perform on a daily basis.

A rough start

Mom life (and parenting life) is hard. Really hard sometimes. I’ll fully admit that my transition into motherhood was not the pristine path that I thought it was going to be. It was filled with unexpected challenges, more specialist and doctor appointments than I care to count, and a longer-than-expected recovery from a C-section, all while in the lingering effects of a global pandemic. (Never mind the fact that most of my three-month family leave was unpaid, as the medical bills continued to mount.)

It was far from the experience that I expected, and I don’t think anything could have adequately prepared me for it. My mental health suffered greatly. I battled (and continue to battle to an extent) depression and anxiety. Returning to work after such a short break didn’t go well, either. It was by far my worst semester as a faculty member, as I juggled five courses, even more doctor visits, a lack of childcare, and pumping between two and five times per day.

The monumental life shift impacted everything about me. I wasn’t effective as a teacher. I didn’t feel like I was being a great mom. I definitely wasn’t a great spouse. I was exhausted.

Keeping things afloat

Now, as my daughter is fully a toddler, there are aspects that have gotten easier, and I’m enjoying my motherhood journey more and more each day. I am grateful that my husband has an employer that is willing to be flexible with his schedule, allowing him to juggle parenting and working. We’re also incredibly fortunate to be able to afford a great childcare program not that far from our home, where Ellie is thriving, learning lots, and making friends. I’m able to find time to devote fully to work, and the returned focus – even though it’s a shorter period of time each day than pre-mom life – has been an energizing development this semester. Parenting is still not easy, but we’re doing a better job of keeping things afloat.

All of this to say, I don’t know if we talk about this enough, especially in academic life.

Finding support online

That’s why I have been incredibly grateful to find several content creators on Instagram, who aren’t afraid to share the not-so-great aspects of mom life. Here are just a few of the accounts that have gotten me through the past couple of years.

  • @diaryofanhonestmom – Libby Ward’s bio reads “refreshingly honest about motherhood” and I couldn’t agree more. Her content can be hard to take sometimes as she shares her journey as a parenting cycle breaker, but her willingness to be an open book about her journey has given me so much comfort.
  • @bigtimeadulting – Caitlin Murray’s content can be NSFW at times, but it’s real and honest and has been a breath of fresh air for me. I also very much appreciate her persistent reminders to “get yourself a snack.”
  • @scholarculture – Christine Lacroce’s account began as tips for grad school students, which is how I initially found her. She became a mom shortly after I did, and so I’ve particularly enjoyed her content about how she juggles life between research and writing and academia and motherhood.
  • @thepediatricianmom – Krupa Playforth’s feed has been nothing less than a godsend. As a practicing pediatrician, her posts offer guidance and tips around some of the more common medical challenges that infants, toddlers, and kids face. I also, again, appreciate her honesty in juggling her roles as mother and pediatrician.

So, if you’re a working mom – especially in academia – I see you, and I raise my gigantic iced vanilla latte to you. And yes, I absolutely did add my new commemorative magnet to the rest of my career achievements in my office.

After all, it’s the accomplishment I’m the proudest of.


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