Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Motherhood, birth and hormones in the Field: a reflection

A few weeks have passed by, a new life has left my womb and come to bless our family and the remainder of my small family unit has arrived (post-birth) to join me I the field. Theoretically it is my planned break in work activities and time to spend recovering from pregnancy and birth and bonding with my loved ones. I have longed for two months to see my husband and son again yet at the same time was apprehensive about how it would make me feel.

We are now a family group of 5 in the field site, I am two weeks postpartum and myself and new baby have not left the house since the birth. She is 100% healthy, feeds and sleeps well and therefore leaves me with time to reflect (and worry) about my work and period in the field, especially when the school run is taking place and everyone else is out of the house for a few hours. One could almost say I have too much time think, or in fact that I just think too much..fin!

I became so engrossed in my data collection during those first couple of months partly because it was going so well since our move to this house and partly because I was worried about not functioning well postpartum and everything generally going a bit wobbly. I also looked forward to taking a month off and being absorbed by family. Needless to say this has not happened. I had a very quick and simple (and exhilarating) birth leaving me physically in excellent condition and really I should know myself better by now! The truth is I can’t switch off completely no matter how hard I try, so I figure it is better not to try. Instead I’m worrying about the data I’m missing out on whilst in the house and the practicalities of what need to be achieved whilst I have some help around and also afterwards.

Whilst I’m doing my usual and unavoidable ‘getting on with it’ I’m managing an interesting emotional state – a combination of postpartum hormone cocktail and the closeness of having the family back together again. I had no idea actually how much I had missed the boys until they arrived and now it feels very clear just how much I have, do and will miss them. I also had no idea how much I missed my home and daily life. The old saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’ appears to ring true here and now these emotions are coming back to bite me on the bottom! I am also fighting at the same time with a will to carry on working and not neglecting my data collection.  It feels very much like the struggle between family/work/study/life balance that I face at home, only here there’s the added bonus of sunshine and exaggerated hormones.

I was helped very much yesterday by reading THIS article published a couple of years ago in Anthropology Matters. The paper consists of a discussion of the problems faced by Phd students who were carrying out anthropological fieldwork for extended periods (generally around 1yr). It definitely made me feel better about my own situation (taking comfort in other people’s misery!) and made me realise that I’m not doing too bad. I have been struggling with a decision about cutting my fieldwork period short and trying to figure out just how much data is enough for my thesis. This kind of thinking is based purely on my emotional reaction to the family being together again, though I don’t think there’s anything wrong in that. My Phd at the end of the day is a purely individual goal that admittedly is all about me and what I can achieve in my student and academic career. My family is about our collective unit and love, not too difficult to figure out what should take precedent! Or is it? Like many a ‘modern lady’ (sarcasm italics) I would actually like to have it all, though this appears to come with a price that leaves me in a constant state of emotional, psychological and physical compromise – very close to what I’m actually here to study in other women.

I have a deep concern about how much data is enough and what kind of quality it needs to be in order to achieve a fabulous doctorate thesis, but I am just as concerned about the ongoing affect this is having on my family unit and the overwhelming feeling that I just want to be at home curled up on the sofa with my babies reading their favourite stories and just being together.