Turn Back Time - PhD Submission
"Why even have a child if you are not going to look after them?"
I will never forget these words a mum said to my face. I was 37 weeks pregnant with Sahan and talking to a friend at a kids birthday party about how I was not going to take any time off (maybe a week) to keep working and doing my PhD at the same time.
Yesterday marked 5 years since I handed in my doctoral thesis (less than a year from this conversation). Arjun was 3 and had broken his arm during my final weeks. Sahan just 11 months.
If it were not for Facebook memories reminding me of the day it probably would have just passed under the radar in the busyness of life. Seems unbelievable that a day which was the impossible target that I moved and pushed, cried and sweated my way to for years....was just that - another day.
The time passes.
I have not forgotten those words though.
You would think that things have changed. There have been small shifts of improvement. We have had the current leader of our country return to office six weeks after her daughter was born. But the outdated view that women "should have time off" and "should be the only one" looking after a baby remain and people are not shy to tell you.
The day before last, I read the most disgusting comments inside a Facebook group for mums in business (yes the irony) towards another mum who was continuing to run her business after her second baby was born.
"Please just stop and look after your baby"
"You are neglecting your baby".
"You will miss out".
Come on people it is 2020 (nearly 2021) for crying out loud. We have cell phones and laptops and the ability to work from home (if you want to) that would turn our ancestors over in their grave with envy.
Do Dad's get told this?
Ask Sahan if he feels neglected as a child. I dare you to.
Or if it was worth me having him.
Define "look after" anyway.
My choice was not an easy one but one I made given the roll of dice I had.
To be awarded a PhD you are assessed on one crucial element - have you made an original contribution to the research body? In other words have you found something no one else has? I couldn't take time off my PhD. That would risk the entire research no longer being original. I also had to work in order to pay for daycare to have the time to do my PhD. I also couldn't risk waiting until the end of my PhD to try for a second baby. No we didn't "plan" on having a baby in my PhD but after three years without a period Arjun (baby number one) came to us in the mysterious way the universe works, to give him a sibling I had to find a way to do both.
Not that I need to "justify" my choices anyway.
Doing the final year of my PhD giving birth to Sahan at the start of it was hands down the hardest, scariest, most exhausting undertaking.
The fear I experienced in that year words cannot do it justice. It was fear of so many unknowns but ultimately fear of failure and the weight of sacrifice our whole family was making....but it was that which turned out to be my biggest asset - failure was simply not an option.
Many think of doing a PhD, some start one. A few finish it.
I have returned time and time again to this year when presented with challenges I thought I could not overcome.
My PhD supervisor would say to me repeatedly - just finish. Don't worry how long it takes - they can never take your PhD from you.
What also can't be taken away is your own growth. I learnt more about myself and what I am capable of and how to overcome problems than I could have ever imagined. It was just an equal part of the learning as the actual research and writing.
It was worth EVERYTHING.
This year, five years on from this day, I was the sole income for our family of now five during a national lockdown where I served and helped families in need where many public health services were limited or unavailable.
I am so grateful and proud to have been able to do this.
It would not have been possible without the doors my PhD opened.
Some of you will be reading this and thinking of studying, or possibly are already studying...or even needing to 'pivot' post huge changes that COVID has bought.
If you are feeling scared....that is your signal you are doing the right thing.
I know what it is like to breathe that fear night after night and wonder what the hell was I thinking.
I wrote many blogs during my PhD and afterwards. It is not like life has been smooth sailing after either - but I was different. I was stronger. I also had (still have) something massive to fight for - when you scrap so hard to get something you fight equally as hard when someone or something tries to stop you.
Tomorrow is never promised, nor will it possibly be easier than it is now.
Do it for you.
And if there are those with 1950s views who feel the need to express it just ask them where to send your household bills to for the next 50 plus years.
"I never meet a strong person who had an easy past" - Atticus
xx Dr Julie Bhosale