Inspiring Lives 08: A PhD in Being a Mother
Madina from @thesematters discusses the how she overcame the challenges of studying for a PhD during pregnancy & her little one's early months.
Being a new mother is a joyous occasion, and a time when making moments together is so precious and important. However, it can sometimes seem difficult to find a way to balance parenting, working and studying, but Madina from TheseMatters spoke to us about how she organises her life in order to do all three. Whilst pregnant, she started studying for a PhD in molecular biology, and continued writing her dissertation through the early months of her little one’s life. With such a busy lifestyle, she kindly let us in on some of her secrets to keeping a happy life.
Born in Russia and living in the Netherlands, Madina is one of our MORI ambassadors. She lives with her husband and daughter Aveline, who is now over a year old. With another little one on the way, Madina loves to spend time at home, dancing and designing with her husband @mymatters. You can follow their beautiful life over at @thesematters.
Studying and becoming pregnant is a fear for some, how did you feel when you received the news?
That is a beautiful memory as my husband and I couldn’t have been more delighted with the news. Adeline was a desired baby and to be honest, prior to the pregnancy I didn't plan exactly how it would all work out with my PhD.
Was there a time when you thought you might not obtain your degree?
M: Oh yes, that was my 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 at times I did picture the worst possible scenario, that being not getting my degree, but I took inspiration from some successful women in science that managed to combine working with motherhood.
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 that 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 great news, I hope everything is going well!” And we started working on our plan to finish my PhD on time.
Doing everything at once must have been quite stressful, how did you cope?
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 an anthroposophic practice, and I spent 2 hours weekly, talking, getting acupuncture and massages, breathing and doing tai chi. Those were the most relaxing hours of every week.
How important is a strong support network when you’re becoming a mother for the first time?
M: 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 during pregnancy and motherhood. 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.
Keeping organised is difficult even for those of us without children and not currently studying. How did you organise yourself?
M: During pregnancy I made a strict schedule with the deadlines for every chapter of my dissertation, which I revised weekly with my supervisors. When Aveline was born, I used
some of her sleeping hours to write the dissertation, and other hours for house chores. At some point, we built up our daily routine for her, and it did the trick: now I can approximately estimate how much time I have that I can devote to my work.
The first few weeks of having a new baby are usually the toughest. What were they like for you?
M: We had to get used to all the changes in our life, and at that moment my body did not feel the same as before. However, Aveline did sleep relatively well at night, and considering the fact that two months prior we could barely afford to sleep due to the renovation, those weeks ended up feeling like a weekend. 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 I had pictured in my head.
How do you keep Aveline busy while you’re studying or working on projects?
M: The space I work in is pretty much child proof, which makes it easy for me to work without watching Aveline every second of the day. We also have a set of activities like a kitchen drawer full of plastic & safe metal tools that she can play with, some wooden toy sets and books. She particularly loves books, so I give them to her one by one, and that keeps her busy for quite a while.
How difficult is it to implement a sleeping routine that works well for your working life schedule?
M: Well, it can be tricky indeed. I guess the key factor is consistency, and my husband is good at 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 when my family visits us for a couple of weeks, it can be 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 studying whilst bringing up a little one?
M: I have been thinking about the answer to this question for 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. With this in mind, you will find your ways, no matter what.
At my lowest points, I think of all the single mums, mums with five, six or seven children running a business, working parents with physical limitations and all those mothers that had written a dissertation whilst having a newborn before me. And I think to myself “If someone else can, I can too. I am pretty lucky to be given that chance.” This helps a great deal, and not only in my PhD.