Despite frequently hearing otherwise, being an academic does have a few perks. Travelling for conferences (a.k.a. scientific tourism) is one I used to enjoy a lot. It gave me the opportunity to see faraway lands like Mexico, Hong Kong and USA but also to discover some closer, less-likely-to-visit-on-my-own gems like Heidelberg, Taormina and Toulouse. Before Mark left academia we often traveled together, which was obviously even better. And even when he stayed behind the thrill of seeing a new place and keeping it alive in my memory until I could tell him all about it made these trips very enjoyable.
And then I became a mother.
I am very grateful that people I worked with were very understanding. Not only did my bosses not have a problem with me not travelling at all in those early months and travelling much less than pre-baby but when Una was 9 months old and I had to go to a conference since we were co-organising it my German boss generously invited all three of us to stay at his house during the conference so that I did not have to leave my baby behind. And so we went, I got to join the conference and my boss’s three young daughters made Mark’s babysitting gig easy as pie. Our international project partners were very considerate around scheduling project meetings so that I wouldn’t have to travel on holy mama-Wednesdays. My husband was nothing but supportive and while obviously being slightly nervous about having to comfort our sleep despising baby at night without having the anatomical advantage I had, never gave the slightest impression that he could not handle it. A couple of times, we even all got on the plane and made a holiday out of it. Compared to many people who regularly travel for work, I was doing measly 3-4 trips per year, no more than 2 nights away. And those two nights had the potential of unbroken sleep. All in all, other than the messy logistics of travelling and breastfeeding including a few disheartening airport situations (1. Lyon – the only time in my life I yelled at an airport official and the only regrets I have is that I did not yell louder 2. London Heathrow – I hope the young woman who felt that my laser pointer was so dangerous that it deserved keeping me 15min aside never experiences missing her connecting flight home to her children, because it is that awful) I really had a perfect set-up to continue enjoying my professional travels.
Except that I didn’t.
I was told that I should not feel guilty. And I didn’t. I never thought that caring for one’s children should be something to feel guilty about. It was not the guilt that made me break down upon seeing “gate closed”. It is much simpler than that. As beautifully described here, it is an ache in your chest so sharp you think you will pass out. That’s all.
Tomorrow evening I will get on the plane to spend the next two days talking about the great new results we have achieved to a room full of young engineers. It will be an honour and a privilege. And I know I will miss such occasions. But the ache, oh how I will be happy not to feel it.