Postdoctoral Ambivalence & Pregnancy

This post is going to be a bit different. No research and very little “field” discussion. Instead, this is a reflection on the personal aftermath of another failed job market season and the emotions tied up with it.

This year was my first year on the job market with my PhD in hand, and I had the added benefit of being a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow at my doctoral institution for a year. I had three campus visits, only to come away empty handed. Again. Granted, my first two years on the job market were ABD, and my second year provided me with my first interviews and first campus visit. So, progress is slowly being made. Sort of. Kind of. Maybe. I don’t know. Who really knows in this gods forsaken job market??

The results of this job market season, however, are complicated by the fact that I’m pregnant (almost 5 months but not quite… my fetus is the size of a mango, so says a pregnancy app). Do we remain in the expensive Mid-Hudson Valley house we’re renting where my husband John has to commute every day into NYC? That’s four hours he spends per day in some form of transportation to and from our house and over $400/month in travel expenses with only one income because I’m jobless. Of course, one solution to this is for me to find a job outside of academia or at least to find some kind of alt-ac job. However, the summer conference circuit–taking me first to England and then to Hawaii (just three weeks apart)–and then this pregnancy makes looking for jobs incredibly difficult. I’ll need maternity leave almost as soon as I were to begin a job in September (let’s be honest–no one would hire me until after the summer conferences were over), and unless an employer were to have a plan other than FMLA, then I wouldn’t qualify for maternity leave so soon (I’d need it by early November).

So we’re left with two obvious answers: no, we can’t afford to keep living where we are, and no, Carla really shouldn’t try to find a job right now. What now?

Luckily, John’s employer had already agreed to allow him to work remotely if I were to get an academic job, which, as we all know, can lead you to very unexpected places. Now, I have always been–and I have always recognized this–privileged in academia insofar as I have a spouse who makes a living wage that can support us both when not living in New York because he’s not an academic; he’s an accountant. (I certainly lack privilege in academia in a variety of ways, but that’s not what this post is about.) This means that when my fellowship stipend ends at the end of August and, along with it, my healthcare (terrifying in general, but especially when you’re expecting your first child), we can rely on John’s job to provide me with healthcare. Granted, they’re a small boutique firm who won’t cover any of the costs for my insurance, which will deduct almost a grand from John’s monthly paycheck, but it’s the same insurance I have now and we’ll be on the same plan. That’s something.

The other part of my privileged position is, again, connected to my marital status and thus financial. My family is very much middle class, maybe lower middle class–my paternal grandparents would be considered the working middle class. But my dad is a lawyer (recently elected Public Defender… so he doesn’t make a lot), my mother is a high school Spanish teacher (we all know that teachers aren’t paid what they should be), and my stepdad works for the Florida legislature (do any state jobs pay super well??). My family doesn’t struggle these days, but they certainly don’t own vacation houses. John’s parents, on the other hand, could be considered upper middle class, if not upper class now that they’ve both received inheritances from the passing of their parents. John grew up sailing and skiing, for example, and I grew up going to YMCA camps and the occasional basketball camp. I still maintain that skiing is a rich white person sport.

Yep, I’m classist, but being with John for 15 years has helped me get over some of those issues, and John’s parents have been able to help us in some tough financial spots, for which I will be eternally grateful. This year is no different. Because they built a house on his sister’s land in Tennessee–John’s dad designs houses and was a contractor before retirement–they have a small two-bedroom house that they’re willing to let us live in, rent free, for as long as we need (i.e., until I find a job). It took us maybe a three or four days of thinking about it before we decided to accept their offer. There really wasn’t much to think about: no rent means we can afford the cut to John’s paycheck for my health insurance, no commuting means over $400/month in additional savings (monthly parking permit on top of a monthly train pass), moving to Tennessee brings us closer to family there as well as in Alabama and Florida (important for bringing a baby into the world since we have no family support network up here), and my not having to work means less stress in the final months of pregnancy while working on my book project, a couple essays, and job applications when the job list comes out in September.

Yes, I am the type of person who would go into labor and then tell my husband, “Wait, I just need to submit one more application through Interfolio. Then we can go to the hospital.” Hell, I may even bring my Surface Pro to the hospital with me.

These are all good things. We can pay down our credit card debt while building a savings account and enjoying something we haven’t had come easily for almost eight years–spending time with family, especially my family who couldn’t afford to come visit us in New York much. The problem, however, is personal for me, and anyone who has been on the academic job market for three years or more without success can relate. I know I’m not supposed to take rejections personally. Intellectually, I know this, and after a short period of mourning, I typically move on. This time around, it was a little more difficulty because I felt like such a failure. And it was more than just not getting the job offer for that last campus visit.

It’s the idea that, for the first time in my adult life, I won’t be making an income. I’ve had a job since I was 16 years old. Even the periods of time when I was in limbo, like the months between graduating from my MA program and starting my PhD program, I didn’t feel bad about not teaching or bringing in some kind of money because I had money saved up, and there was an end in sight–another job lined up, an academic program with a teaching fellowship, another academic program with a full academic fellowship, a year without funding but adjunct teaching and contract work for an academic society, a one-year dissertation completion fellowship, and then a one-year postdoctoral fellowship. In 17 years, I’ve never not brought in money and helped support myself–and then our household. I don’t know how to not work, how to allow John to financially support me while I finish incubating our unborn child, how to be okay with being fully, not partially, dependent on another person for the first time since I lived at home with my parents. It’s terrifying. It fills me with a soul-deep anxiety because what if I never find a job??

But it also feels incredibly liberating. I get to read, research, write, and think next year–when the baby allows–without having to teach or provide some other kind of service for pay?! I’ve also agreed to contribute to a new online literary-cultural magazine called Riot Material, which may help me branch out of academia if I don’t get a job in the next two years. And I’ll have an opportunity that not everyone has, especially not in academia. I’ll get to have my baby and not stress about the end of my maternity leave, about having to return to work sooner than maybe I’m ready for. Then again, this goes both ways. What if I really want to return to work, to be away from said child, but have no way out?

Granted, this last scenario is unlikely, not because I’ll want to be attached to my child 24/7–I know myself better than that, and if you try to tell me that I won’t know until I have the baby, you can just keep your opinion to yourself–but because John will be working from home, too. We’ve already agreed to figuring out a schedule that gives us both the time we need away from the baby, whether that is to be able to work in a child-free zone for a day or two or to take some much needed “me time” for a few hours one day. Either way, we’ll make things work because that’s what we’ve always done.

This reminds me of the days that I was budgeting my checking account as a stress reliever. I was so good that I got my account down to 50 cents once, wasn’t paid for another three days, and still never over-drafted. I was just a little hungrier those few days than I would have otherwise been. I’ve never been good about asking for help. Upon learning this, my mother insisted on giving me $100/month, which she automatically transferred into my checking account. And if we could get through that, with our family supporting us however they could, we can get through the unknown that a baby brings and the uncertainty that the academic job market brings. The last decade has been a period of intense study for me interspersed with moments of limbo–waiting, waiting, always waiting. What’s another year of waiting compared to a lifetime of parenthood?

Don’t answer that.

About carlamthomas

I'm an Assistant Professor of English at Florida Atlantic University, and I earned my PhD from New York University and my BA and MA from Florida State University. It's good to be a Floridian again. My concentration is Early Middle English literature, language, and manuscript culture although this stretches from Old English influences to later Middle English iterations of developments in my period. I'm also an intersectional feminist, trying to inject such theory into some of my newer work as well as my activist work with the Medievalist of Color.
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