A letter from a reader of Motherhood:
Your book “Motherhood – the elephant in the laboratory” was recommended to me by a another woman who is a Mother and a Scientist. I read it cover-to-cover and ran through a whole range of different emotions. Like the women in the book, we all have our own stories to tell of the difficulties and triumphs of being a Mother and a Scientist. I’ve told my daughters that being a Mother was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and absolutely the best. Despite all the difficulties, having kids has really kept me centered.
I saw bits and pieces of my story in several of the stories of the women in the book. Problems of being a female – and being a scientist, as well as being a Mother. When each of my daughters was born, I was a bit sad as I knew that they, too, would face challenges that would not be there if they had been boys. But I was certain that by the time they grew up and were off to have their careers, that most of the glass ceiling and female issues in employment would be resolved. I think that was the hardest part of reading this book – the last couple of chapters where young women still working towards their PhDs are even now facing discrimination for being (or wanting to be) Mothers. I know that all the fights that I fought HAVE helped to make a difference – but sometimes I despair and wonder why our daughters still have to fight some of those same ones over again.
And I was very sad when I read your note about attending a SETAC meeting and feeling like you were not respected because you were an independent scientist (not affiliated with an institution). I have been on the SETAC governing Council and maybe was even President at that time. Frankly, I thought better of our members. That respect was engendered by what you did, not what label you have. Although maybe I should have known better as my own integrity has been challenged simply on the basis of my affiliation. I worked for EPA for the first 8 years of my career, and then left to take a job in consulting (it’s a complicated story, but suffice it to say that opportunities at the EPA lab where I was working were limited). Many of my colleagues thought that I had gone over to the Dark Side. I was hurt and insulted that people whom I thought were friends thought that little of me. I did, eventually, win back their respect through continuing to practice good and unbiased science (“they will know you by your deeds”). And then did another tour at EPA and now am back in consulting; go figure!
But I really do want to Thank You for helping to bring the elephant out of the laboratory. To point out the difficulties and hurdles and frustrations that woman still face. Many men (well-meaning though they are) don’t believe this to be the case anymore – that we’ve achieved parity and that such stories of difficulties are of our own making. This denial is something that needs to be overcome through broadcasting the stories of women like those in your book.
I’ve already passed on my copy of your book to another Scientist, Wife, Mother…. I hope she passes it on, too – such stories need to be shared.
Our children grow up and move on all too soon – sometimes, it pays to be in the moment and simply reflect on the wonder of it all.
Anne, D.V.M., Ph.D.