For a significant part of her toddlerhood, my firstborn literally grew up like a wild child as we spent a year and 5 months in field. In the beginning I had my sister coming to help me for 5 months. In the beginning of my second field season we used to boil the water and filter it since we were afraid of waterborne deseases but by the end of the year she was directly drinking from the river, and even spending days away from me in the villages with my field assistants' families. She was fluent in three languages at age 3 and would translate back and forth between English, Bengali and Tamil, She went with us at night for catching lorises. or with tiger reserve field stuff at night for patrolling or looking for wilddogs hunting or elephants or following monkeys during the day. She developed a deep connection with forests that is so deep rooted, that even now she sparks up whenever she sees any kind of forest land, national parks or thick bushes even in corners of urban habitats!
So here is what I wrote to my friend who asked me the question.
I guess the big difference between here and there is that people are doing Ph.D. with children (especially young ones) more and more. But it is not easy! It comes with a price. Professors do not like it and of course there is not a whole lot of support system. In our department at ASU I only know two female grad students (including me) who had children during grad school. And both of us did field work. I think it is doable and it is good for the grad students to be a good role model but it is not easy. It also depends on the health of the mother and child in the initial phase. My grand plan was to have the baby and take her to field when she is 6 months old. But due to complication of child birth as well as fulfilling the university requirement in terms of proposal defense etc., I had to postpone the field work by a year and half. That made things tougher to finish especially because I did not have day care options. But once I was in field it was not too difficult! I certainly had a lot of family and friends' support. My entire immediate family (my sisters, parents) came and stayed in field. We also had enormous support from the field assistants, local villagers and forest range office staff. You need to have a strong support network to do the work. I knew the field staff for many years and in fact, KMTR was my second home so it was not a strange place, and above all I trusted the villagers with my offspring. In the US you can be enrolled in the Ph.D. program even if you are not doing your research. Or you can take a year of leave of absence from the program. I do not know what the rules are in India. Do you get maternity or paternity leave from UGC (University Grants Commission which sets rules for graduate students) or individual institutions, like in any other jobs. Who is your Ph.D. advisor? A lot depends on him or her. The advisor has to be supportive. I know there was lot of resistance in India when I had the first child. People thought I am giving up my research etc. The pressure was a lot from both sides - India and the US. It did slow down my productivity and changed the focus. But I do not give up. Most women decide to have children after finishing their Ph.D. because of the pressure. I know they are more successful than me in some ways. I was thinking of people in India who have children in wildlife field. I can't think of anyone who had a child during Ph.D.. It would be good to do a survey of how many Indian wildlife ecology students/ postdocs have children while they were doing their Ph.D or would like to have one. I have done it with bothmy kids. With the second one, I was also teaching apart from finishing up my thesis, and without a baby sitter. had to carry Nilavi in a sling while teaching for a semester. I do not think any of these were possible without Madhu! Sharing parental responsibility and co-parenting play a big role here.
So the bottom line is, it is possible to do the work. It may slow you down little bit but do not get discouraged! Find out frist whether you can get maternity and paternity leave from the program. Then decide: when would you like to go back to field? Ask for help from your parents and as well as from the locals. Do not worry too much about being in the forest with a child. Breast feeding is the best option when you do field work because you do not have to worry about outside infections with waterborne bacterias and viruses. Carry your baby in a sling or a pouch so that baby will have body contact. Try to get a breast pump and a refrigerator if possible so that you can store milk. But otherwise schedule your field work in a way that you can work around the feeding. If you wait till 6 months then baby will be on solids in between breast feeding. Try for a natural delivery if you can because the healing and recovery is faster unless you need a C-section. In case you need to have a C-section, keep your options open for that and go for it. Recovery is slower but you can do it. I started working about 5 weeks after a C-section with my second child. After baby's birth do not listen to others who may warn you about not producing enough milk, or say that the baby is starving. Milk production depends on the mother's emotional health, persuasion and frequent sucking by the new born. You also need sleep and rest, lots of water to drink. Mothers of a new born generally get little sleep and it takes a while to get used to the baby's sleep cycle. Think of the mothers in rural areas and the support network they have. Allomothering is really important especially if you are in field. I also think it helps if you can read up on developmental psychology of newborn and attachment theory of parenting, mother-infant co-sleeping, and cultures of child rearing in different regions of the world., Given that we are so much more into the popular contemporary western culture which suggest a lot of things that is contrary to child rearing by a natural mother in a more rural set up I think reading what the other mothers have done or do is very helpful. I have referred to some of the materials that I read and used in this blogpost and the other one about allomothering. And do not worry about taking them to conferences and meetings. Our kids are with us since few months old. Now they are older they help us in organizing meetings.
Hope these are some of the helpful tips for mothers or mothers to be in field. I would like to get all of you mothers who have done or doing currently and balancing family.