What can you talk about in a DH-WOGEM conversation?

 ·   3 min read

The first DH-WOGEM conversation, on becoming a parent in DH, was held on February 1st, setting a precedent for honest, supportive discussions about the things we usually don’t talk about.

On Friday, February 1, six people joined the inaugural DH-WOGEM “conversation” on the topic of becoming a parent in DH.

The conversation focused on the challenges of becoming a parent at different stages of one’s career (from the perspective of multiple kinds of careers in DH), and how declining fertility often becomes real challenge at the point in one’s career when (relative) financial stability is greatest. We talked about how rage– particularly rage instigated by biological factors outside your control– has no place in the academy, but it’s a very real thing.

We talked about negotiating with male partners, about the number of children to have, and ensuring they’re not traveling during the necessary window of the month to make that happen.

We talked about the cost of having children, particularly how the cost of childcare can suddenly dwarf a salary that’s otherwise fine. We talked about how much harder finances and logistics are for single parents, especially without family nearby.

We talked about when to disclose a pregnancy professionally, and how people have made decisions when trying to get pregnant. Do you stop accepting invitations in case you get pregnant? Do you stop putting in conference proposals? That could be okay if you’re able to get pregnant quickly, but if it takes longer, or doesn’t work out, that approach risks leaving a gap in your CV. Relatedly, we commiserated about how common miscarriages are — and how you don’t learn this until you have one and decide to disclose it.

We talked about how “having it all” would be too much to be a good thing if done all at the same time, but through different seasons and passages in your life, you might be able to have it all in the aggregate.

There were a few discussion points that led to specific follow-up actions:

For both prospective and current parents, the travel associated with conferences can be a significant strain. Can we imagine other ways of conducting meaningful scholarly exchange without travel? This also affects scholars with limited travel budgets, other complicated life situations, and ties into global issues like carbon emissions. When done poorly, “virtual participation” can feel like more of an exclusion than an inclusion, when remote participants can’t hear questions, when bandwidth doesn’t support a meaningful presentation, etc. DH-WOGEM will solicit input for a set of tiered recommendations (e.g. gold, silver, bronze levels) for conferences, workshops, etc. to be parent-friendly, ranging from properly equipped lactation rooms to remote participation options.

We noted the conspicuous absence of places within our existing professional organizations and professionalization pathways to talk about these issues, and the importance of checking in with yourself every few years throughout your 20’s and 30’s about whether you want to have children, so you don’t suppress it for decades in the face of career concerns and one day acknowledge a desire for children at a point when it’s more difficult. While ideally there would be some place for this within existing organizations, getting to that point will take work. In the meantime, DH-WOGEM will be holding a conversation about becoming a parent in DH quarterly, to provide a reliable, repeated space for people to come discuss these questions.

Our topic for the next conversation comes from our discussion about the trade-offs we make: choosing to move away from a partner (or end a relationship) to pursue a career, choosing where to live so that we can afford childcare or have access to help from relatives, etc. Everyone has to make choices to balance the need for security (financial, emotional, legal — e.g. LGBTQ-friendly laws) versus the things that we need to be happy. Join us for “Security vs. happiness” on Friday, March 1 from 12-1:30 Eastern (9-10:30 AM Pacific).