October 11, 2012
Professorial Pregnancy Part 3: In the trenches
Thank goodness for self-effacing jokes in the classroom to lighten the awkwardness of my exacerbated clumsiness! I've never described myself as a graceful person but this decreased depth perception has made moments of my physical classroom presence into a classic slapstick comedy. For example, when I literally ran belly-first (ouch!) into the empty desk I was trying to maneuver around, I felt compelled to remark aloud that "I used to fit through there." It was a big hit. Thank goodness also for kind and sympathetic students!
In addition to obvious physical differences like the fact that I feel tired on my feet sooner than ever before, I've faced some moments that push toward the edges of my professional boundaries. For instance, I've had to navigate through far more personal questions from understandably curious and well-intentioned people than I'm used to at work. In most circumstances, these are folks who would be removed from the details of my private health circumstances.
Pregnancy feels so personal (even alienating, at times) and yet in many ways beyond one's control, it morphs further and further into public view. It becomes fodder for public commentary. I have the good fortune of being surrounded by many enthusiastic loved ones with who I feel my pregnancy is shared. Physically, I may be the only one who experiences it as a constant, evolving visceral state but those feelings of excitement and anticipation bond me to my family, immeasurably.
As I remarked in part 2, these later stages of pregnancy announce themselves on my behalf. Pregnancy becomes public knowledge because that transitioning/transitioned body makes it so. And its public-yet-unspoken announcement might even yield gossip.
It is perhaps no surprise that my female students seem especially interested in the details of my pregnancy. I find it endearing but also complex. Rarely do I have time to suspend my sense of humility and dwell on the fact that professors often serve as role models for their students. For younger professors who perhaps seem more approachable to their students, the boundaries of professionalism might be tested if they're not held firm. But pregnancy blurs the boundaries of public with private, creating a space for personal and forthcoming conversations.
Since learning of my pregnancy, students have asked me things about my personal life that in other contexts would probably make me bristle. Their excitement is at times palpable and I can't help but feel gratitude and empathy. I realize from my own experience of being a student that this is a curious, question-provoking event. I also know that I looked up to many of my professors. I don't mean to inflate or exaggerate my influence but on some level, it kind of comes with the job.
Through all my years of post-secondary schooling I only encountered one pregnant professor. I remember vividly the day that she shared her news with us. We actually cheered! It was in the middle of the term and I hadn't noticed that her belly had grown with each passing week until she mentioned it. It felt supremely fun and exciting to be in on something so personal with her. It reminded me of how my own mom always remembered with fondness the students she taught the year she was pregnant with me (her firstborn). I imagine that some day I will look back on this semester with similar nostalgia. I also know that there is something anticipatory and unique about being taught by a pregnant professor.
In informal polls of friends and relatives, only a handful of them recalled having pregnant professors in their post-secondary education. On some level I realize that my very on-campus existence is a bit of a novelty. But thankfully, college students are wrapped up in their own lives, schedules, and responsibilities. So I don't mean to project some enhanced opportunity for impact through representation. The reality is there are far more blasé attitudes about this than anything else. And that is a good thing. I want the quality of my instruction to make a bigger impression than the size of my belly. But I still can't help but wonder about how I'm perceived by students and colleagues. Especially now that my body speaks for me...
If you went to/are in college, did you ever have a pregnant professor? If you are an educator, have you ever taught while pregnant?
Anthro top and skirt