Inspiring Lives 08
Madina from @thesematters discusses the challenging possibility of studying for a PhD during pregnancy & little one’s early months.
Mother, blogger, student & scientist, Madina from These Matters talks to MORI about how she became efficiently organised to juggle studying for a PhD in molecular biology during pregnancy, writing her dissertation through the early months and how she continues to work from home without worrying where & what little Aveline is doing.
Congratulations on your PhD! Are you pleased that you’ve completed one very important & difficult journey in your life?
Thank you very much! I guess “pleased” is not the word I would use. I am still in disbelief that I managed it, I think. It’s been indeed an important and not the easiest period of my life, and at the moment it feels like a great relief. With time, I will probably realize how much it actually means to me.
Molecular biology sounds like a very complex topic to study; what fascinated you to study such an intellectual subject?
That’s a tricky question. I believe there’s enough complexity in every field you pick in science. It just happened that I landed in molecular biology. I indeed admire it incredibly as it demonstrates how well designed nature is and had always been, before we even had a peat at what is beneath all of its endless miracles. In molecular biology, on one hand, those neatly regulated processes on the molecular level in just one organism represent the whole world in miniature and, on the other hand, they prove that everything and everyone is connected in one way or another. In this sense, it actually doesn’t matter which field of science you choose to study; they all give their own perspective on the same thing.
When you first found out you were pregnant, what were your initial thoughts & feelings?
Oh, that’s a beautiful memory as my husband and I couldn’t be more delighted with that news. Aveline was a desired baby and, to be honest, prior to the pregnancy I didn’t plan how exactly it all would work out with my PhD.
Feeling nervous & thinking that you might not get your degree must have beenProcessed with VSCO with a6 preset overwhelming, how did you feel knowing that could be a possibility?
Oh yes, that was the second thought. I wouldn’t put it on the same scale as having a baby but that PhD was something I worked for for almost 11 years at the time. So I did picture the worst possible scenarios of not being able to get a degree but I had some examples of successful women in science that could combine it with the motherhood.
What was your reaction when you found out your boss supported your exciting venture?
My boss’ reaction was what I feared most. Looking back, I don’t know why: she’s an amazing woman and a mother of two, always supportive and understanding. However I thought of myself in the similar situation, and it’s probably not the easiest thing to supervise a pregnant woman or a mother of a newborn. Nevertheless I couldn’t wish for a better reaction, she just exclaimed: “That’s such a great news, I hope everything is going well!” And we started working on our plan to finish my PhD on time.
It must have been quite a stressful time; did you have any kind of relaxation techniques?
It was indeed stressful. Besides my PhD issues, we had to sort out moving to a different city, finding a temporary home and renovating our new house. All before my due date. I have no idea how I’d have gone through this without my husband, who is my main support in everything, and our midwife. She runs a caseload antroposophic practice, and I spent 2 hours weekly talking, getting acupuncture and massage, breathing and doing tai chi. Those were the most relaxing hours of every week.
How important is a strong support network around you when studying and being a mum?
To me, family support is everything, they are my power. My husband is my best friend and my greatest inspiration, he was by my side all the way. Although my family lives in Russia, we are very close and mentally they helped me a great deal back then. Besides that, I could always reach out to my boss and colleagues because of our good relationship. I guess I was lucky to have all these people around me.
What approach did you take when you were organising a general schedule for your work and writing?
During pregnancy, I made a strict schedule with the deadlines for every chapter of my book, which I revised weekly with my supervisors. When Aveline was born, I used some of her sleeping hours to write the dissertation and others for house chores and rest. At some point, we built up our daily routine for the little one, and it did the trick: now I can approximately estimate how much time and when during the day I can devote to my work.
The first few weeks are often expected to be the hardest, how easy did you find them?
I believe we were lucky in this sense. Of course, we had to get used to all the changes in our life, and at that moment my body felt not same as before. However Aveline did sleep relatively well at night, and considering the fact that two months prior to that we could barely afford sleeping due to the renovation, those weeks actually felt like a weekend after a working week. Also, based on what I had read and on others’ stories I had expected them to be very, very hard, and they turned out to be easier than pictured in my head.
What activities do you use to keep Aveline busy whilst you’re writing/working?
The space I work in (usually our living room) is pretty much child proof, which makes it easy for me to work without watching Aveline every second of the day. Also, we have a set of activities like a kitchen drawer full of plastic & safe metal tools that she can play with, some wooden toys sets and books. She particularly loves books. I give them to her not at once but one by one, and that can keep her busy for quite a while.
How difficult is it to implement a sleeping routine that works well for your working life schedule?
Well, it can be tricky indeed. I guess the key factor is consistency, and my husband is good in that. Once you choose for one particular method, you should follow that. Personally, I find it a bit difficult, as I tend to give in when Aveline is begging to be picked up, for example. My husband is much more consistent in his attitude, and that works way better. Sometimes after a vacation or my family visiting us for a couple of weeks, it can harder to get back to the usual routine. However it’s part of our life so we accepted the fact that such periods will come from time to time.
What one piece of advice would you give to others thinking of balancing studying with looking after a little one?
I had been thinking on the answer to this question the longest as there are so many tricks that work well for us. The most important point though, in my vision, is to believe everything is possible. In this case, you will find your ways, no matter what.
At my lowest moments, I think of all the single moms, moms of five, six, seven children running a business along, working parents with physical limitations and all those mothers that had written and defended a dissertation while having a newborn before me. And I think to myself: “If someone could, I can too. Actually I am pretty lucky to be given that chance.” This helps a great deal, and not only in my PhD.
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