Mat pay hooray

Now a few days into my maternity leave (or ‘interruption of study’ as the official university terminology would have it). I couldn’t quite picture reaching this point after planning it all those months ago after first finding out I was certainly pregnant. Starting leave at 37 weeks (full term) makes sense to me as I went into labour at 38 and a half weeks first time round. So now a waiting game has kicked off!

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I’ve had some fantastic support at university when planning my maternity leave from my supervision team and others. Inevitably I came across some typically opaque university bureaucracy and the attitude that this had literally never happened before, ever, but my primary supervisor in particular faced it head on and chased through email chains with 6 or so people cc’d (really!) to get to the bottom of whether I could access any maternity pay.

PhD students are currently in a grey area – generally in the UK, we are not employees. We are full-time students. (So we are not technically unemployed either.) Of course, there are general positives to being a student – NUS discounts, reduced council tax bill depending on your living arrangements, reduced train/tube fares, and so on – but naturally we cannot and do not claim any low income or unemployment benefits. So, because I am not entitled to claim these ‘gateway’ welfare benefits, I cannot claim Maternity Allowance. Likewise, as I am not employed, I’m not entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay. These are the two types of government-provided maternity payments which currently both stand at the same rate of around £138 per week. But full-time students (at least, those who have not been employed separately on teaching contracts over a certain number of hours per week) generally fall into a grey area where they are entitled to neither (Guardian article about this recently here: Should PhD students be classed as employees?)

My studentship is a new type provided by the university (rather than a research body with its own established policies such as AHRC, for example), and eventually after the aforementioned to-ing and fro-ing it was established that the university would and should follow Research Council guidelines for its own PhD studentships such as mine. I would be given 6 months maternity pay at the same rate as my studentship, and go on to receive the remainder of my studentship funds as planned when I return to my studies late next year. A fantastic result! Especially after my initial fear that I would be receiving no funds at all for 9-10 months! I am grateful to my supervisor who went out of her way to chase this up. Then, once my entitlement to maternity pay had been established, an administrator in my school did his job brilliantly to ensure various elements lined up on the finance computer systems so my studentship was allocated corrected and maternity pay programmed to be paid at particular times.

I feel incredibly lucky and grateful for the time and money I’ll be getting during the turbulent period of new babyhood. I can’t imagine living and studying in a country like the USA where this wouldn’t be an option. It’s stressful enough anticipating the lack of sleep, getting to grips with feeding, and all the other tough stuff of the first time round, but with the added element of a growing pre-school age child in the family too!

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Pregnant PhD-ing

Following on from my positive mindset post of a few weeks ago…

I’m now 32 weeks pregnant (i.e. 8 months). Now more convinced based on experience that attempting a PhD while pregnant is harder than “just” being a PhD parent. I started my PhD studies when my baby was around 11 months old, and that presented its challenges as I – or rather, we, as a family – worked out how to fit in studying, parenting, everything. Now she is a strapping toddler who demands a lot of brain-exertion (answering “whyyy?” countless times a day). As previously mentioned, the start of this pregnancy was the usual sickness/nausea/tiredness which floored me. That lasted until around week 20 of pregnancy. Our paid-for childcare arrangement is a 45 minute average commute away, which I now reluctantly admit is more-and-more physically exhausting for me. I am bad at studying in the evenings at the best of times – I’ve always known that about myself – but now after a day combining commute, reading, writing, toddler wrangling, I’m just too shattered to do much at all after 6pm. I’m proud of myself I manage to prepare our evening meal! On top of it all I’m sleeping poorly as it’s physically uncomfy what with the mega bump and achy hips and waking in the night to wee (yeah yeah, tmi), and then unlike the first time round we have a small child waking us up before 7am so recovering sleep in the mornings is not an option!

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It’s hard to remember the first time round (when I was pregnant with the now-toddler), but I was working in an office job so had better control over my workload and therefore my mental and physical exertion. People keep telling me to take it easy, but it’s impossible when the majority of my time is actually spent looking after a very active small child. A friend of mine in a comparable situation (pregnant with a toddler) points out that her child is in nursery 8 hours a day, so she is able to take it easy, and I should cut myself more slack. But I go stir-crazy if I stay in the house with the kid all day, and we don’t have a car, so I inevitably end up walking or taking a bus to a playgroup, friend’s house, or playground to keep her entertained. It would be more mentally tiring not too. So combined with the occasional commute to childcare, physically I am certainly not “taking it easy”.

It’s been 5 weeks since my last supervision meeting. I am working on a specific chapter and wish I had more to show for it. I don’t know where the time has gone. I know I spent one nursery/workhub session shattered from lack of sleep and trying to recharge by mooching online and then round the shops. Not proud of that. I’ve even been into uni and to the library a few times. I’ve certainly done some reading. I finished a separate chapter/article to submit for publication – a conference paper of sorts – which took longer than expected. Unfortunately for my PhD, I have also completed other “nesting” tasks including writing a to do list of what we need to get before Baby #2 (not much, mostly a mattress and a cot) and buying Christmas presents for family (due date is Christmas so I wanted to be ahead of the game!). It’s not a lack of motivation – I’m very keen to get this chapter done before I take maternity leave – it’s just everything’s taken even longer than before (with “just” a child to took after) as my body does its thing and grows another baby.

24 Weeks and a Positive Mindset

Throughout the PhD process there are various significant time markers: the end of first month, a few months in talking about your first proper written work in a supervision meeting, the Upgrade, attending and presenting at your first conference, and the end of the 3 full years’ of funding will be one too – gulp! When I started, my daughter (‘the baby’ of this blog’s title) was just under a year old. She is now approaching 3 (latterly renamed ‘the toddler’!).

The big reveal...

The big reveal…

I am pregnant. 24 weeks – over halfway to baby 2! My life has been temporarily overwhelmed by nausea accompanied by occasional puking from week 6 to week 19. Three months. This has been less than fun. And, of course, exhausting. It has really hampered my own (perceived?) progress with my work, too. But some positives about what I have achieved while feeling so physically crap…

While I’ve been pregnant, I have been to Denmark twice (once for a research trip as described in my last post, and once to observe part of the inaugural literary translators’ summer school). In August I presented at a conference in Sweden on Nordic Literature – my first international conference.

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I have also presented at a university departmental research day, attended literary translation workshops and related events on a single day at the British Library, taught a university ‘widening participation’ session for year 8 school pupils on translation and Danish culture, attended supervision meetings with both supervisors having also prepared written work in advance, met with other students to chat studies and plans, done even more corpus research (I keep dipping in and finding more books!), and written a full draft chapter to be submitted for a conference publication this Autumn. This week I’m participating in a conference on small nation literatures in Bristol.

While I’ve been pregnant, we have successfully toilet trained the toddler (actually, she needed very little ‘training’, thankfully!), discussed plans for Tooting Baby with its founder/owner (I’m the web admin keeping content up-to-date), stayed with my parents in my hometown for a couple of weeks, planned birthday parties for me and my daughter in the Autumn, planned maternity leave dates and related antenatal and postnatal minutiae, and met with friends and kept up with general life stuff while trying to fit in sleep, puking, and PhD-ing!

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I’m out of the worst of the fug of early pregnancy now, resulting in renewed energy and motivation – whoop! – but unfortunately the scary realisation that I only have three months left before maternity leave and a To Do list expanding with my bump!