Two Kids, Time Off, and the Prison of Condolences
I’m an academic mom. I’m on my menace hours. What do I mean by menace hours?
It’s a term I used to use with my son for the time in the middle of the night when it’s quiet and you get your real things done. This weekend made me completely re-evaluate what this time means.
Last weekend I went back to the town I did my postdoc in to reconnect with friends who are still there. On one hand, it was so incredibly freeing. The intellectual power of the people I met with was overwhelming. I begged them, now that I have tenure, to work with me again. They are so brilliant and were my friends. Why would we not want to work together?
On the other hand, I realized that all of my friends and mentors have been in critical care and, many of them, studying the critical care of children. Seeing them is what made me so attached to my research interests. I would walk around the ICU wondering “What happens next?” I loved being a mom and my heart broke at the uncertainty of what a mom, faced with the critical illness of a child, might face.
At the same time, engaging in the critical care space requires sacrifice. How hard are you willing to work to save someone else? I met with two critical care mentors and they were still working as hard as ever. Taking more weeks of inpatient service than they should and many more weeks of night call. They are truly passionate about their craft. And yet, what happens when life happens?
I remember when my youngest, TD, was born. I was a postdoc and felt so blessed to be working in a department of pediatrics. But, also, I had no maternity protections. So, I was very fortunate that I could bring my daughter to work and all of the doctors would lovingly bounce her and snuggle her, but also I peed myself in the lab two weeks after she was born because I wasn’t ready physically to come back. My physical parts weren’t healed. But we power through, right?
What does that have to do with right now?
The more traumatic thing than having a baby is losing a baby. I found, tonight, another woman in my community who lost a kid who was the same age as mine around the same time that mine died. I sent her an email. It read:
I know we don’t know each other, but I also lost my 15 yo son recently…I know the “prison of condolences” you are likely suffering through but if you ever want to have a coffee…I’m here”
I got an autoreply that she was out of the office and not checking emails. That is so reasonable. There is nothing as painful as the heartache of losing your almost grown son. Of course, she is out of the office. Why am I not? Why am I worried that my university will fire me? Why am I worried about my FTEs? Why am I worried about the people who work for me and my summer salary?
Why was I worried about my future after I had children and after I buried children?
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