Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I’m planning a research sabbatical next year and by the way, we’re expecting a kid

by Ann Hornschemeier

Next year is stacking up to be my dream year, which I’ll describe at the end of this blog. Hey, don’t skip or you’ll miss the point! Before the dream, however, came a bit of a nightmare. For a while we had major funding problems in my lab and the project work took so much of my time I was making little progress on my research. I did manage to win a research prize but was wondering if the way things were going if I was going to live up to that prize’s expectations.

A new research sabbatical program was announced just a few years ago at GSFC. What if I could spend an entire year doing research and be let off my project duties for a while? I really love working with engineers and instrument scientists, but project work can be extremely intense with major time periods with no breaks. You get research time during the down times, but sometimes I was completely spent at that point!

(click on "Link to full post" to continue reading)
Yes, I mentioned a kid in the title. So, in the mean time, my husband and I were hoping for a kid. I was working fairly hard on my project work, on lots of service-related duties, and with a student and a postdoc on research. I didn’t worry too much about working and being pregnant and/or raising a kid. My mother had three children and all three of us came at pre-determined times, full term and without a hitch. She managed to do this while being in law school, passing the bar exam and then getting elected judge for the first time.

I expected, like my mother, to plan when to have a kid. Things really did not work out that way. A few years go by, and suddenly the sabbatical proposal was coming due and I’m serving on the executive committee of my professional organization. The committee is planning a big meeting coming up in Hawaii in 2010. I think sarcastically to myself, maybe that is the only time I can have a kid…

Sure enough, I am at 21 weeks now… we are due April 15, 2010 and a long over-water flight in early March is ill advised by my doctor. I will not go to Hawaii. I’m okay with this. Hawaii will still be there and apparently there are >450 people planning to go. They are going to need my hotel room.

I had several reasons for not wanting to tell anyone about this pregnancy. First of all, even now, at 21 weeks, I have relatively little confidence that things are going to be OK. I know, rationally, that everything is actually okay, but reason isn’t penetrating through these feelings I have. We just received our first baby gift and my sister is planning a shower back home in Ohio. My belly is starting to grow out noticeably and I am become guardedly optimistic. Reality is finally setting in and we are apparently only 4.5 months from the main event!

I was also of course highly concerned about how my pregnancy would be perceived professionally. I have tried to build a bit of a reputation as a loyal and reasonably hard worker (reasonably hard : I’ve tried to have some kind of work/life balance, I do occasionally take a vacation, I do try to have time reserved for family and friends). I can’t always be there for my colleagues and coworkers, but I like to think that if they really need me, I’m going to come running to help. I worried that I would be written off.

I waited to hear about the sabbatical proposal before I made my announcement. I think the folks involved in the decision were extremely fair, but my decision was to not let my pregnancy be a possible source of bias. All of my colleagues and coworkers were very good about the news. Now, mind you, a few folks have said some silly things to me, but I was expecting that. It turns out those were folks I don’t work with as closely and they really had no idea what they were saying.

Everyone makes different decisions about when to disclose a pregnancy, and all the reasons behind those decisions are also different and can be quite complicated. I guess one message I’d like to get across is please don’t ever be offended to “not get the news” about a pregnancy. You can still celebrate about the arrival of the kid. Also, I feel very grateful to all the folks who talked to me about project work, astrophysics, and my research sabbatical plans after I delivered the baby news. So, I’d also encourage folks to try hard to get back to the professional discussions as soon as you can after the news (within reason… congrats, etc. are good of course!).

So now I have a dream year. I will be on maternity leave for a couple months and then I am on sabbatical, mostly at my home institution, for one year. By some miracle, there are four postdocs in my group now and I won a big grant. There is a large amount of community observing time approved on the project that I have been wanting to do for years. I accumulated lots of sick leave and annual leave. Several people have commented on how lucky I seem, how the stars have aligned. Despite this lengthy post, the full story was about 2-3 times as long… the truth is, this is a complete coincidence of timing, this was certainly not my original plan.

So, with my rediscovered, yet guarded, optimism I’m feeling a bit ready for 2010. Thanks for reading.


Alyssa said...

Congratulations on the pregnancy!! Thanks for sharing your story - it really does sound like the stars are aligned for you :)

Aki said...

Very, very interesting. Sounds like a win-win arrangement in a couple different ways. Please do let us know how it works out.