I attended three seminars last week. That might not be a remarkable fact for most post-docs, but it probably is remarkable for mothers of 2.5 month olds. Each seminar was explicitly related to past, present, or future research and I didn't want to miss out on hearing about the cutting-edge science just because I had a baby.
Methods and Results
Seminar 1, 4 pm: I knew Minnow was in need of a nap. I drove to campus and parked about 6 blocks from the seminar location. I loaded Minnow into the front pack and by the time I made it to seminar she'd fallen asleep. The room was crowded but a kindly male prof gave up his seat by the rear door so that I didn't have to sit front and center. The chair pivoted quietly and in this fashion I rocked Minnow for the first 40 minutes of the seminar until she began to stir and cry. I moved to the door and she quieted down so I paused there hoping to hear a few more minutes. But Minnow cried a few more times so I left the room. I fed her in a restroom stall (ugh) and put her back in the pack because she was still tired. I returned to the seminar room and she promptly fell asleep. I was able to catch the conclusions slides and even got to ask a question. I'd guess that there were some in the audience who never knew there was a baby present until they looked back to see who asked the question.
Seminar 2, 10 am: Fish didn't work until noon, so I left Minnow in his care and rushed to campus. I managed to park a few hundred feet from the room and slid into a seat just before the talk commenced. I stayed for the 30 minute talk and a few questions but had to leave in the midst of a discussion. I rushed home and Fish left for work.
Seminar 3, noon: I had a meeting at 11 am on campus (rescheduled to a time when I had no sitter), so Minnow and I were on campus already. She fell asleep at 11:30 and stayed asleep in her stroller until half way through the talk. I left to feed her (same darn bathroom stall) and returned with an alert happy baby. For the rest of the talk I bounced her on my knee and made faces at her and she was happy with an occasional shriek of delight. I managed to pay attention to the talk (mostly) and even managed to ask some intelligent questions. I'd gotten the speaker's permission to have the baby there and it was a small, pretty informal group, but later someone commented that Minnow had stolen the show.
As far as me getting to learn something, all of the seminars were a success. I was actually least enthralled by the way Seminar #2 ended up, because I had to leave early. The sleepy baby (#1) was the easiest for me (although dicey). As far as Minnow was concerned, staying home and playing with daddy (#2) was undoubtedly best, followed by the happy bouncy seminar (#3). And as far as the rest of the audience was concerned, seminar #3 probably was the least appreciated behavior. It seemed important to me to start making appearances at campus events again, and I felt like my attendance was noted by the faculty. Hopefully they were impressed that I was there. I don't want anyone to think that I suddenly a less serious scientist just because I have a child. Finally, I want to model "good behavior" to any women scientists who might be thinking of having children and any male scientists who doubt that women can be moms and still think about science. Hopefully I succeeded.
Conclusions and Future Plans
I'd do any of those three options again if I had to, but I think it will work better once Minnow is in regularly scheduled daycare. Then I will just try to be more strict about my (on-campus) working hours and only attend seminars when I have adequate childcare. It's not particularly fair for Minnow to be cooped up in a front pack or stroller when all she wants to do is play.