Musings of a #PhDMama

From time to time, I expect to reflect via this blog on the experience of being a mother and PhD student (which comes first..?). I found out I was going to be a (first-time) mother on a long 17 hour layover in the Singapore airport from Japan en route back to my home in Nairobi. I sent a whatsapp image of the pregnancy test results to my husband who was just waking up in Nairobi. “Have you seen the picture I sent you?!” I asked him on Skype via the airport WiFi. He hadn’t and as soon as he did, as he recalls, he started running / pacing around the house (he’s an Enneagram type 5 / INTJ ; those of you who are into that might get a better sense of him :). Meanwhile, I was frantically googling… “starting PhD while pregnant?” “PhD while pregnant?” Surprisingly (and of not much consolation while I was in SIN), there is little information out there other than one or two forum posts and a couple of books. And many were from students in the “hard” sciences which I found hard to relate to… Why don’t social science mamas talk about their experiences more?

Long story short (I’m sure I’ll reflect more down memory lane in future posts), husband and I (and 6 suitcases filled to the brim) moved across the Atlantic ocean from Nairobi, Kenya to Irvine, California (USA) while I was 17 weeks pregnant.

I started the PhD program around 21 weeks pregnant and finished my first quarter nearing to pop. My son was born on December 30, 2015 and I continued the next quarter on January 4, 2016 with the rest of my cohort. Interestingly (and unpremeditated), I took my first feminist theory class that quarter, my first quarter as a PhDMama…

Not only is the experience of growing into motherhood one that is in and of itself interesting to reflect on, witnessing and guiding my very special little child on his own journey of life has and continues to be full of learning/teaching moments for us both.

My son, I’ll refer to him as DD, is an embodiment of the complex questions I have about identity and culture. As a mixed race child of parents from widely different backgrounds, figuring out what to explicitly teach him about himself, his cultures, and the world(s) is quite a trip. As a student of anthropology I think I am especially aware of how he is being socialized by me and everything/one around him. Being with him teaches me even more about what it means to do research because he is researching every day/every moment! Ethnographers are constantly trying to relearn the world and “make the familiar strange and the strange familiar” but in some ways, these methods expect one to have already a particular pre-formed worldview (that is shaped by our sociocultural and material environment, among other things). But being with my son (almost 21 months), lets me see what it is like when one *doesn’t* have a pre-formed worldview. In other words, having a first-hand look at the first-time formation of one’s perspective from a “blank slate” if you will…

Observing my son observing the world around him makes me reflect on how humans develop awareness of ourselves and the world. With Dedan traveling and developing strong social and linguistic ties around the world [we are (trying!) to teach him Japanese, Kiswahili and English], I am so curious about the shaping of his future perspective (and what that will mean for him if he, say becomes an anthropologist).

It’s 1 AM and this #PhDMama needs to sleep because my ever reliable alarm clock, aka DD, will be awake in 4 hours!

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