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?

Outfit details:
Anthro top and skirt
Chloé flats


Rose said...

I was teaching in a graduate school when I was pregnant with twins at 42.  I was intent on not fostering the sense among my students (who were already in a graduate program heading towards a demanding career) that they could put off childbearing indefinitely, not wanting them to see me as a model.  As you know better than I did, pretty much everything about a professor (or lecturer in my case) is modelling for students.  There are very few female professors or lecturers in my profession (I calculated that I had two in 3 years of grad school, they were not pregnant during my time there!).  I was trying to walk the line between too much disclosure and being explicit about countering the message that my pregnant self seemed to convey.  As it turned out, when I did briefly talk about not delaying childbearing (I already had one child) and not assuming that pregnancy could occur easily at any age, the class digressed into a conversation about my age because, apparently, no one thought of me as an older mother.... they thought I was well under 35.... so, best laid plans......I think I did convey my message and they learned what 42 looked like that day!

Raquelita said...

I had two college professors who got pregnant during the course of the semester when I was in undergrad. One of them caused some speculation because she stopped drinking her trademark coke and then started showing. I had one professor in grad school who was pregnant when the term started and went on mat leave during the last couple of weeks of the term. From an early career grad student perspective, at the time I found it a frustrating experience because she never gave any of us feedback on the research papers we did in that seminar. 

Raquelita said...

I should also say that the vast majority of my professors in both undergrad and grad school were men. In my major, I only took classes with 3 or 4 female professors and in grad school I only had courses with two women. So my experience indicates that women are still very underrepresented at a number of institutions and in my particular subfield but that those who are there are pretty likely to balance family with career. (Qualitative research at its worst.)

Cabby said...

I don't remember having a pregnant prof in undergrad but I'm now in a PhD program and one of the lecturers in my department is currently pregnant. She told me via email (it affected some travel plans we were coordinating) and I was very excited for her. 

I think it helps that she's quite approachable to begin with but it gave us something else to talk about. For someone who doesn't have a ton of interest in having babies, I love the little munchkins and will happily chatter on about milestones, favorite children's toys and books, etc. 

Susan said...

No pregnant professors. My female professors in grad and undergrad already had kids or were in their 50s and not having them at that point.

My kindergarten teacher was pregnant and I remember how fascinated a lot of the other kids were about her changing appearance. Though she was also very grumpy and the joke was that it was because she was pregnant. 

Jesspgh of Consume or Consumed said...

I definitely remember more pregnant grade school teachers than pregnant professors.

Jesspgh of Consume or Consumed said...

That is exciting! It's fun to have something to talk about that is unrelated to work/office politics. :)

Jesspgh of Consume or Consumed said...

That would be really frustrating! The feedback process is so important. Although I will say that I had a number of "old school" full tenured professors during coursework who the students suspected never bothered to read final papers. It was easy to assume they didn't read them because 1. they never returned them and 2. they never commented on them at all.

Jesspgh of Consume or Consumed said...

That's true in my case too, at least within my major/program of study. Most of my female professors were outside of my area and I sought them out through the women's studies graduate curriculum.

Jesspgh of Consume or Consumed said...

also, lol at your qual research joke!

Jesspgh of Consume or Consumed said...

That is so interesting. I absolutely think you're right. Whether we intend to or not, we model for our students the variety of roles that we straddle in our lives. In male-dominated fields (and I believe even within most of the humanities, if you count tenured heads, men continue to outnumber women) female professors end up with the additional responsibility of serving as identity representatives (just as POC and/or GLBT in the professoriate do). Gender minority professors have to balance (and model the balancing of) work and life while maintaining professional boundaries. But women are often called upon to serve as mentors disproportionately to their male peers. This is usually invisible or informal labor that requires even more clarity and firmness when it comes to professional boundaries. Mentoring like any labor that is feminized skews to women who are often considered more approachable, easier to talk to, less "intimidating," etc. among students. It's complex for sure.

Anyway, I think your taking up the responsibility of cautioning students about delaying family-related decisions for too long is both brave and important. It's kind of funny that the students instead wanted to discuss age. But you did your due diligence in trying to make clear the challenges they face in determining and potentially delaying "life" things they may want in the name of "work." Thank you so much for your input!

thatdamngreendress said...

I guess pregnancies are pretty rare in the focused world of academia, especially as people fear for their positions etc.  I bet your students are thrilled to share it with you somehow- they definitely look up to you as a role model, and I remember always wanting to know personal details about my profs, since it helps you feel like you belong and are respected by them!


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