Sometimes we think of the PhD like a child and the process of getting it would be a pregnancy I presume. Having been recently pregnant I’m glad the PhD pregnancy isn’t a physical one. However, allow me to tell you about my third child, the PhD, that is yet to be born. She has two elder brothers, one is four years old and the other less than a year old. The PhD should be my middle child but she has been a stubborn one choosing to keep me pregnant for much longer than I would like. I sometimes wish she were like her siblings, a simple nine-month pregnancy that ends with the exuberant appearance of a tiny being.
Initially I thought it would be possible to carry both my PhD and the youngest son as twins. Since this could not be so, I chose to put a pause to the PhD pregnancy for a short while, so I could carry on and give birth to her sibling my youngest child. After the break I am raring to push through this final leg of the PhD pregnancy to give birth to this daughter and my new identity as Dr Mother!
Life is complex. It’s always easier to depict life in these neat categories of mother, student, daughter, partner or wife. I remember one workshop where we had to describe who we are and I simply was a woman, daughter, aunt and friend. Writing it out made it seem so simple and straightforward unlike living it, when sometimes being a friend clashes with the kind of daughter I should be. If I were to be asked to write down who I am now I would say woman, mother, PhD student etc. The opening paragraph is the best way I could come up with, to depict how intertwined my experience of being a mother and working towards a doctorate is. I wish those identities stayed neatly packaged in separate places and I would draw out one each day. Maybe I could make it a raffle draw, put all these titles in a hat and draw out one at random. Especially now as I am returning to work and leaving home my baby that I have been spending all my days with since he was born. I want to get back to my third child, she deserves my attention but my emotions haven’t received the memo yet. So a dilemma I face each day is that of convincing my emotions to spend the day with daughter PhD and not her little brother.
This post from The Thesis Whisperer on the pros and cons of doing a PhD inspired me to think about my PhDing and mothering dilemma a little differently. I wondered if there were any pros to my multiple identities as a mother, wife, daughter and PhD candidate.
I had a difficult time identifying the PROS but here goes:
1. It’s easier to switch off from PhD mode when you pick up a little person and blow raspberries on their tummy
2. I am keenly aware of the value of time. Not that I do not procrastinate but I have less time to waste procrastinating
3. I can leave meetings that are dragging for too long because I have a baby at home
4. I don’t have to pretend to be working when I am tired I can switch off and go home
5. When it feels like I am not making headway with my writing or receiving that rejection letter from a journal, I console myself that I have one perfect product I am able to keep alive a healthy the baby
6. My busy mothering life reminds me there is more to life than the PhD
7. The baby was the perfect excuse to take abeyance from studying for maternity leave and now I feel I am better focused on the task at hand.
8. You only have a limited time while your children are still young and so this forces you to make time for them, the PhD does not take over your life.
I am sure the list of CONS might be longer than this but I will only list three
1. Life is much more unpredictable, while we all may at one stage or another become ill, add onto this the health of the baby
2. Disturbed sleep becomes the norm and that leaves for me a few hours of the day when I am fully awake and able to focus on work. I have a small baby not yet one and hopefully he should be sleeping better soon.
3. Feelings of guilt over leaving baby to work
So once all is said and done I would still choose to have a baby midway through my PhD. If it had not been for being pregnant I wouldn’t have afforded myself the time off. The time off the PhD has allowed me to rest and given me a better frame of mind to tackle this last part of the journey hopefully finish this PhD once and for all.
Other post by Dudu Ndlovu – A PhD + Mummy, Yes I Can
Guest Contributor: Duduzile Ndlovu (@mandlods) is a third-year PhD student based at the African Centre for Migration and Society at the University ofduduzile Witwatersand, Johannesburg, South Africa. Her research aims to explore gender and generational differences in migrants’ memory making practices through the use of art to remember socio-political violence. Outside of the PhD, Dudu spends most of her time running after an energetic toddler son and balancing her love for music (learning to play the Piano). She blogs at CandidPhDTalk – visit, for more on her research.