For a lot of women, and the people that love and care for them, ‘week 6’ of pregnancy has a pretty horrible connotation. And for good reason. This is the dreaded week that morning sickness starts for a lot of women. Not all pregnant women experience morning sickness (a fact that still boggles my mind), but I was not one of those women. I had had some nausea and fatigue during week 5 but nothing prepared me for that 6th week. Because my luck is the way it is, the beginning of week 6 was also the beginning of a faculty interview for a job I wanted very badly and thought I had about a snowball’s chance in hell of getting.
From my previous miscarriage I knew that the first day of week 6 was when the nausea would hit me like a ton of bricks. I looked at the calendar. I looked at my baby app. And that’s when the dread set in. For those of you who have never gone through a faculty interview before, let me paint you a picture. You arrive after a full day of travel and typically meet a faculty member or student at the airport, possibly having dinner soon after. I don’t know how other people look after flying all day, but for me it’s about as physically flattering as fluorescent hotel bathroom lighting. After a restless night getting about 2.5 hours of sleep (in my case because I was nervous AND also because I accidentally drank the caffeinated hotel room tea right before bed instead of the similarly-packaged decaf), you get up and try not to look completely haggard. You then parade yourself through breakfast meetings, various maze-like hallways, and “pop-ins”, trying to come up with new things to say about where you’re from, how your flight was, and what research you’re interested in. Then comes the talk. The dreaded job talk. It’s dreaded because everyone expects something different. It’s nebulous and sufficiently vague. You have to somehow speak to the department and institution culture without actually knowing anything about them, while also sounding original, independent, and collaborative. All at once. In less than an hour. I was interviewing in a state which I had visited only twice before for conferences, only having professional experience in a completely different ecosystem 1,200 miles away. More parading. More tours. More dinner. Another night of sleep, probably more restful this time, but not entirely. And maybe a final breakfast meeting as well as a meeting with the entire search committee. It’s energizing and fun and exhausting and anxiety-producing all at once.
Now that you are presumably tired just from reading that paragraph, let’s throw 6 weeks of baby-growing in there. Mamas reading this know just how uncomfortable the first trimester can be. Just to give you an example, I actually had to leave a breakfast meeting during this interview to go projectile vomit in a hotel bathroom. I can’t remember the excuse I made up for my bloodshot eyes. Something about allergies……in February. The months of February and March also saw me turn into a professional napper. Lunch time. After dinner. In the middle of typing an email. I could never predict when I would simply fall asleep. This is how I felt during the most important interview of my life.
Interviews for women create stress for other reasons as well, and these are amplified when you’re pregnant. There are laws that prevent employers from directly asking about your marital status or whether you have, or plan to have, children. There are more subtle, unspoken rules, about interviewing when you’re a woman in your late 20’s or early 30’s. For men, these rules are simple because, no matter what, they work to your advantage. Nobody questions whether you’ll continue to be a productive employee after having a child or getting married. Nobody asks you whether your spouse will allow the family to move to a new place. For women, this is a very delicate area to traverse. Talking about your spouse could work for or against you. Some women mention their spouse as a way to erase doubt and answer those questions that the search committee may, or may not, be thinking. Some choose to avoid the topic entirely and even go so far as to remove wedding or engagement rings. Same goes for kids. I have heard faculty members make assumptions about recently married women without children, implying that they would take maternity leave the moment they arrived, or the moment they hit tenure, and cease to be active faculty members.
I somehow made it through the entire thing without puking on, or in front of, anyone and without passing out in the middle of a sentence. And apparently without anyone noticing just how miserable I was. I’m not sure how I pulled it off. But a week later I received a phone call from the Department head saying they wanted to offer me the job. You know the saying “when it rains, it pours”? This works for positive things as well.