Thursday, April 07, 2011

Motherhood, Science, And All That

I wasn't planning to write a post tonight. I was going to catch up on some of the excellent posts waiting for me in my blog reader, instead. But, today I came across the #scimom posts (thanks, Dr. O!) and I want to participate. The basic idea is to try to get the science-blogging and the mom-blogging communities to come together and learn from each other. I like that idea. I think science has something useful to contribute to parents- see my rant about the mercury in HFCS furor, or, more interestingly, take a look at the Parenting Science blog. But I also think science bloggers could learn something from mom bloggers- there is, for instance, a distressing tendency amongst some of the science bloggers to believe that their struggles with balance a career and a home life are somehow unique. They aren't. As an example, I read an excellent blog written by an ob/gyn that gives, among other things, a glimpse into the juggle for a doctor who is a mother.

So I want to participate, but I wasn't sure what to write about. After all, I've already written about how I'm a happy working outside the home mother, and why I don't think quitting my job would actually make my life- or motherhood- any easier. I have a post about combing motherhood with a career in science, which includes a list of other scientists who are mothers (and a standing invitation for people to contact me to be added to that list). What's left to write about?

I thought I'd talk a little bit about how science and motherhood interact in my life. It is not always how I would expect. For instance, I am predictably fascinated by watching my children grow and develop, both as a mother and as a scientist. But I cannot for the life of me remember the early stages of development- that's why I ended up creating a baby development cheat sheet. I wanted to follow along, but couldn't keep up.

Still, I definitely find myself turning my knowledge and training onto myself. I spent the better part of both pregnancies trying to come up with a plausible evolutionary advantage to the nausea I felt. (I did not succeed in that, so if anyone wants to offer up a theory, I'd be glad to hear it!)

As a mother it drives me nuts that I there is not more research on, for instance, how antigens pass into the breastmilk and whether that is a concern. But as a scientist, I know that those studies are both hard to design and hard to recruit for.

For me, the struggles I had in the early days of breastfeeding were easier to handle because I understood the biology and that made me trust that my body and my baby would sort it out- but I know that for many scientist moms, that is not the case. And I also am well aware that there are biologists out there posting on science blogs about how they are icked out by breastfeeding. That just blows my mind, but I try to stay non-judgmental about that- as long as no one judges me for breastfeeding my kids until they are 2. If that happens my hackles go up and I start quoting the WHO guidelines. I am a bit surprised to find myself such a strong proponent of breastfeeding for more than a year- I went in thinking I'd make it to a year then stop. As I realize that my second- and last- baby will be two in six short months, I find that I am actually quite sad to think about the end of breastfeeding. Who knows? I may go longer. (Although she's already starting to drop feedings, so I suspect she won't let me even if I want to.)

I guess we all bring our backgrounds with us to parenting, but then find that much of what we thought we knew is turned on its head by the new little person in our lives. So hurray for the project to get the moms and the scientists (and those of us who are both) talking to each other. I hope it works!


  1. This is great!

    I find being a scientist can help my role as a mother (trusting biology, understanding more of what's going on at the hospital), but also a hindrance (over-analyzing everything).

    I'd love to be added to your list/blogroll!

  2. paola5:36 AM

    Nausea may 'warn' pregnant women of the danger of certain behaviour. Example: when I was pregnant with no.2 and still breastfeeding no 1, I had particularly severe nausea when I nursed my son. I mean to the point that I just could not stomach the thought of breastfeeding Noah any longer. In fact at 10 weeks pregnant I did give up for this very reason. Ok, I know there is no 'real' danger involved in nursing while pregnant, and I know lots of women who have done it with no danger to themselves or their child, but in my case, my OB had told me I absolutely HAD TO stop nursing by 12 weeks, due to spotting. I her opinion the spotting was my body telling me that I could not nourish 3 people at the same time and maybe the nausea was confimring this.

    Also, every time I drank a cup of coffee, boom a rush of nausea. OK, again not exactly walking out onto the freeway in peak traffic, but there is the correlation between coffee consumption during pregnancy and low-birth weight, pre-term birth and miscarriage. Still, I continued 'enjoying' my daily coffee up until the end!

    Doesn't actually explain nausea during pregnancy in general, I know, but still there could be something in it.

  3. Thank you so much for this! It's a big help!

  4. Love that you want to combine the science and the parenting aspects in your blogging (though I confess your last post was way over this non-science person's head, but that's a good thing!)

    Just a guess, but perhaps, evolutionarily, the 1st Tri nausea served as a clear indicator of pregnancy, to let the mother know she was expecting a baby so she could begin to plan her resource allocations accordingly.

  5. When I was pregnant my midwife asked me if I wanted to get the triple screen test done, and then the glucose tolerance test for gestational diabetes. Because I had access to the research, I managed to work through the numbers and decide that the triple screen test was not worth doing - given my age at the time the odds that a positive result on the test actually meant a birth defect were smaller than the odds that having amniocentesis would cause a problem. So given that the results of the test would not affect my behaviour, I decided against the test. In the case of gestational diabetes I actually went through the research and found some discrepancies in the way the various groups of women had been selected which worried me.

    If I were to get pregnant again, I would take the triple screen test because I'd be old enough that the results would be significant. On the other hand, given my diet (and how closely it matches the "treatment" for gestational diabetes) I would pass on the glucose tolerance test.

    Now that she's growing up I'm really finding the small amount of psychology I've got to be the most useful information. Trying to figure out her personality type and how that is affecting her behaviour relative to the other kids in the class. But mostly it is difficult because I just don't have enough time in the day to do everything. My husband laughs when I say this and just tells me that no matter how long the day was I'd find more stuff to fill it with...

  6. I agree in every sense of the word in this post. True, we all bring our backgrounds with us to parenting, but then find that much of what we thought we knew is turned on its head by the new little person in our lives. Great lesson.

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