In my inbox there is a message from a top research university, 4,000 miles away - “we would love to bring you out for an interview…” read the email.
I burst into tears.
My daughter is barely one week old. I am nursing and I make the mistake of trying to multitask and check my email when I read that message.
Yes, I had applied for faculty positions this fall expecting (and hoping) that this might happen but I hadn’t fully wrapped my head around what that might mean with a newborn.
“Ok”, I think to myself “Maybe they will have interviews in February, that will give me two full months to prepare.”
The search chair wants to set up a time to chat on the phone about the interview so I decide to be honest about my situation—“My schedule currently revolves around a one week old baby so if I do not pick up, I will call you back within 20 min”.
There it is, out in the open. I am a breeding female.
The phone conversation goes great. Right up until the point when he tells me I will need to come out in early January. I feel the tears coming up again. And, as if she could sense my anxiety about that prospect from the other room, the baby starts wailing. We pick dates, the second week of January, and I apologize for having to hang up so that I could tend to my screaming child. I cry again.
Start the countdown
T minus 5 weeks until the interview.
I start by plugging away at my talk. Luckily my husband is on paternity leave and can take the baby for large chunks of time so that I can work. But seeing him walk out the door with our baby strapped to his chest makes me sad - shouldn’t I be enjoying this phase of life and our time together as a family? I make a point of only having one session of work each day. But since the kid eats every 2-3 hours I can only work in short bursts anyway. One “work burst” a day does not help the progression of a job talk.
I decide that I needed to jack up my multitasking. Nursing is going well and I think back to something —
“You can work on graphs with a baby at the teat,” an older female professor had once told me when discussing the dream of a work/life balance
I decide to give it a shot, using my free hand to cruise on my phone and read the department website, faculty research, and possibly even some papers. I think this idea was brilliant. Until it isn’t. As if she senses my multitasking dream, the babe turns nursing into a two-handed ordeal. It is like wrestling a bear. Wrestling a bear attached to your nipple. There will be no multitasking during this. No working on graphs with a baby at the teat for me.
T minus 4 weeks
My husband has to go back to work for a couple of days before Christmas.
Thankfully, newborns sleep quite a bit. But right around this time, she decides she only wants to nap with me holding her. So, I trick her. I hold her in a sling and then when she falls asleep, I quietly settle into the couch, bust out my laptop and carefully balance it on my knees. I also start looking up articles that I hope to read while nursing if the bear ever brings back my non-squirmy baby (it didn’t).
For the interview, I want to make sure my husband has enough breast milk for bottles so that we won’t have to figure out a way to nurse her at every feeding during the day. I start pumping at night after her pre-bedtime nursing session to stockpile milk for the interview days. It is exhausting and I hate it.
T minus 3 weeks.
We try the bottle for the first time. She is a champ. At least now I will just have to work pumping into my schedule rather than worry about dashing out every few hours to feed a hungry baby.
It’s Christmastime and family descends upon us. I am lucky to get a total of 3 work bursts in for the entire week. And the baby starts cluster feeding in the mornings (when I typically got the most work done).
Kid is at the boob every hour and a half. Not helpful.
T minus 2 weeks
Family heads home. Baby starts to give me longer stretches between feedings. I will finally have time to crank on the interview prep.
And with that thought, a morning of doctors’ appointments turns into a marathon. Delays, missed messages, waiting for a doctor for three hours for a 20-minute appointment. We start at 10 am and got home by 3pm. Zero work gets done.
The next day we head to the passport office to get the babe a passport because my sister is getting married out of the country the week after my interview. This takes over four hours. I nurse in a dirty corner. The baby falls asleep on me. We realized early on that the baby is not to be moved when she falls asleep and there was no way in hell I am risking opening the flood gates in this room and adding to my frustration. I take notes on my phone and surprisingly, I get quite a bit done—a notes page full of every question I could think up to ask when I am interviewing. Thank the stars that I am interviewing in the age of iPhones.
T minus 10 days
Practice talk - Hubs and I take the babe up to the lab to practice in front of the boss and 2 of my fellow brainy birds. I am delayed because she is hungry. And about 10 minutes in, she starts screaming her face off. Great practice with distraction.
“Ok”, I think, “I still have one more week to get ready”. Ha!
T minus 7 days
Hubs goes back to work. The babe decides that this is the morning to be extremely difficult. No putting her down. No work getting done. No showering. No brushing of teeth. By 2pm I am so drained, physically and emotionally, I am ready to give this baby back. And then she smiles at me for the first time.
Totally worth it.
T minus 6 days
I have a few articles I want to read before the interview so the babe and I have story time - “Although activation in the basolateral amygdala reduces glutamatergic and GABAergic transmission, there is often a net reduction in neuronal excitability…” Imagine that in a sing songy voice with lots of facial expressions. Baby loves it. And then falls asleep. And then wakes up and wants nothing to do with it. We get through three articles in four days.
T minus 4 days
Hubs has to travel for work. It is a Sunday so I decide that after we drop him off at the airport, we are going to take the afternoon off. We go for a long walk and enjoy the sunshine and our time together. Perspective. She repays me by giving me a fantastic night of sleep (thank you, baby!)
T minus 3 days
Vaccination day. I wanted to vaccinate the babe at 6 weeks because I was petrified of taking her on a cross-country flight without some degree of immunity. As expected, she is unhappy about giant needles and fluid being injected into her tiny muscles but she is surprisingly awesome (and sleepy) afterwards. Just as I thought I might actually get a good chunk of work done while she is sleeping, I have a panicked thought - “I have ZERO clothes to wear to this interview!” I don’t even have a proper bra to fit my nursing boobs. I was living in sleep bras and hadn’t considered that I would have gone up 3 cup sizes!
I call a friend’s mom who had offered help in passing one day and take her up on her offer. When she arrives, I pass off the baby, jump in my car, and head to the mall.
I don’t even realize the significance of leaving my child with a stranger for the first time until later.
Hubs calls from work trip - his flight is cancelled. His arrival home before our Wednesday flight for my interview might not happen. I burst into tears and wish horrible things upon his colleague who requested he make this “quick” trip.
T minus 2 days
Baby is unhappy about the shots from yesterday. She wants to be held all the time. She wants to be bounced. I work on my talk, one handed, while bouncing on an exercise ball.
Luckily, hubs manages to negotiate a flight home and arrives in the afternoon. I give another practice talk to him and the babe. And then he takes her on a walk while I frantically try to sketch out my chalk talk. I am banking on finishing my seminar talk after the babe goes to sleep. I did not realize how long it would take to pack for a baby. Four hours later, I take out my computer… and fall asleep on it.
T minus 24 hours
A day-time cross-country flight used to mean that I could get a bit of work done. I only have a few things I want to change in my talk and one more article I want to read, and everything else I am at peace with not getting done. The babe is a dream travel baby. After I nurse, she starts to fall asleep on me. Following the don’t move the baby rule, I slump into the seat and take out my iPad to read the article. I make it through the first page and then I have a squirmer on my hands. And then an upset baby. Diaper change. The hubs offers to deal with this one. He changes her on my seat when I make a mad dash to the bathroom (amazing how one can forget to pee with so much going on)
She falls asleep on the hubs. I quietly take out my computer and start fixing up one of my graphs. 20 minutes of work and she is awake again, and hungry.
Nursing, burping, baby falling asleep. Twenty more minutes of work. Another diaper change. Please put away all electronic devices as we prepare for landing.
A six hour flight never felt so short.
T minus 12 hours
We rent a car from the airport because we had requested to fly into a major city rather than the small airport nearby the University that would require a connection. We are a two-hour drive away. I will finish my talk in the car. I forget that working in a car makes me carsick. I do the bare minimum to satisfy my stupid perfectionist brain and put my computer away.
T minus 10 hours
We arrive at the hotel. I nurse and then hubs gets her ready for bed while I cruise through my talk one last time to make sure it isn’t full of surprises.
T minus 8 hours
I want to try to get a bit of sleep but the babe is not going down. She decides she needs to eat again (cluster feeding is back!) and since we have bottles at the ready for tomorrow, hubs heads out of the room to give her a bottle so that I can try to sleep. I have barely closed my eyes when I hear the “all hands on deck” request.
We have a class 5 assplosion (our affectionate term for a poop so grand it escapes the bounds of the diaper). Baby is covered in crap. And then she starts pooping more while we have her on her tiny changing mat on the hotel bed. Mad dash to grab a towel, contain the mess, get a new diaper.
It’s 11:30 pm and I am holding the baby by her feet, all three of us covered in poop and pee…. and now spit up.
We settle in by midnight. The adrenaline burst does not help the get sleep before the interview thing. Plus, I am up again at 3:30 to nurse.
T minus 2 hours
6:00 am. Time to nurse. Might as well start getting ready too. I need extra time to pack up all of my pumping supplies, cruise my talk one more time, put on makeup and straighten my hair for the first time in six weeks, and make sure the hubs has everything he’ll need for the day (I won’t see him again until 5:30pm).
T minus ZERO
8:00 am. Breakfast with the search chair. Here we go….