Talking about babyhopes in academia

Few weeks ago, I was reading a book called Äitikortti (in English Mother Card) written by Anu Silfverberg. One topic in this book attracted my interest. Silfverberg had interviewed a woman who works for Finnish university and who is unwillingly childless. This woman had told to Silfverberg that her colleagues have often asked her when she will have children. She has also got comments which underplay her academic achievements because she does not have children. Because of these experiences, she has come to conclusion that competition in academic workplaces increases the interest toward other women and their possibility to have children. To continue this line of thinking, Silfverberg argues women are more often asked about their wishes to have children than men.

In this blog, I wish to raise a question whether women or men in academia have noticed that their colleagues are interested to know whether they will have children in near future. And if this interest exists, why does it exist? Does one think, it relates to the competition between researchers or to something else? Another issue to discuss is, how does one feel and response, if she or he is asked about their wishes to have a child.

To start the discussion, I can tell about my own experiences. I have been working in the University of Turku since 2008 and I have been rarely asked about my wishes to have children by my colleagues. Most often the person making the question is my close work mate who I regard as a friend. In addition, this person usually has not been Finnish. Thus, I have thought that asking such a question probably relates to his or hers culture in which discussing about personal issues in the work place is more common than in Finland.

However, I think my experience might not reflect the experiences of multiple other women in the academia, because of two reasons. First, I have mostly worked in the units where most of my colleagues are men. Perhaps the division of genders has led to situation that discussions among work mates rarely relate to personal issues. Second, I got my first child in the beginning of my career just after graduating as a Master. Thus, it is possible that my colleagues did not expect me to have children before my daughter was born. In fact, I have more often been asked if I wish to have a second child.

When I have been asked about my wishes to have my first or my second child, I have always thought that the colleague making the question is truly interested about me and my life. In other words, I have thought that this person has good intentions. However, answering to these questions has always been quite hard to me. Although, I have wanted to have children in near future, I did not dare to say this to my colleagues especially in my work place, because I have been afraid that saying this wish aloud could heart my career opportunities. On the other hand, I do not wish to give wrong impression of myself. Thus, my standard answer has usually been “one day” or “maybe”.

Finally, I wish to declare my apologies to those colleagues from whom I have asked about their wishes to have children. I have made this question because I’m generally interested about my colleagues and their lives. However, I now understand that this question is very difficult to those who wish to have children but cannot have them. In addition, I have learned that also men can be careful to reveal whether they wish to have children or not, because they do not want their career to be effected by the personal decisions.