Identity change

When I got married, I changed my last name. I was very attached to my maiden name, and couldn’t bear to let go of it completely, so I dropped what had been my middle name, took my maiden name for my new middle name, and finished off my new signature with my husband’s last name.

I thought about it a lot. A lot, people.

Was this the right thing to do? Was I okay with changing my identity in a way that my husband was not expected to do? Was I okay with having to explain or otherwise indicate for the rest of my scientific career that I had one publication under one name, and others with another? Was I okay with the possibility of being disadvantaged because one could infer my martial status by comparing the name at the top of my CV with my publication list? Was I a terrible feminist because I became a Mrs.?

I accepted the changes, the new identity, in large part because I knew I wanted a family, and many little things in family life would be easier if we all had the same last name. And I am okay with all of that. I also accepted that feminism comes in many flavors, and that it is my own damn choice to pick my name.

I’ve been Mrs. (and now, Dr.) Haas for about seven years. I’m content with my name change choice. I’m content with the way my identity has changed.

Now it’s changing again.

Mr. Haas and I are having a baby. I’m becoming Mama Haas.

We have wanted kids for quite a while now. For the last year or two, we have had increasing baby envy. There were times when I had to stay far away from Facebook – I couldn’t bear to see or hear about other peoples’ kids, when month after month we remained childless.

So, we wanted this. I wanted this. What I did not want was the experience of having my identity as an individual swept aside.

We’re far enough along that the baby bump is a baby bulge, and the riskiest part of the pregnancy is behind us, so I’ve shared the news with family, friends and co-workers. Everyone has been supportive and congratulatory.1 But now that they know, Baby Haas is dominating the conversation.

People have stopped asking “How are you?” and started asking “How do you feel?” They mean well. They want to show care and concern. Thank you all so much for your care and concern and love and all the rest. Now can we please talk about something besides my uterus?

Spur-of-the-moment conversations in the hallway are more and more about my baby, my body, my belly, my health, and less and less about teaching, or research, or any of our many shared interests. I’ve been given countless warnings not to lift too much, work too hard, sleep too little, or use hazardous materials that might harm the baby.

Pregnancy is a worry machine. The moment you are (or even might be) pregnant, you get hit with a list of Do’s and Don’t’s and Avoids. Take a multivitamin. Don’t lift heavy things. Don’t eat sandwich meat. Drink more water. Don’t drink alcohol. Go visit the doctor. Always hold the railing so you don’t fall down the stairs. Eat lean protein, but don’t eat too much fish. Don’t eat sushi. Drink less caffeine. Don’t take medications. And now, don’t get bitten by mosquitos or travel to Central or South America.2

Aside from all of that, there are the internal worries: Am I growing fast enough? Is this pain normal? Will the baby make it to term? Will I be a good mom? Is it safe to wear a seat belt this way? Is this morning sickness or food poisoning? Will my students and colleagues take me seriously when the baby is ballooning inside me? How will I make it through a one-hour class without needing to pee? Will the cadmium I used in a previous research project lead to birth defects? Is it really safe for me to be in lab with all these potential hazards?

So listen, my dear and caring colleagues: I don’t need more worry. I have plenty without yours. I am receiving plenty of warnings and admonishments without your assistance. I am grateful for offers of support (particularly specific offers, like hand-me-downs, advice for buying baby gear, and recommendations for day care!), but the support I could really use right now is a conversation about the things I am trying to accomplish before Baby Haas arrives.

I would like to be treated like your colleague again, not the friendly walking incubator who happens to teach on your campus.

I didn't tell my students the news until Baby Haas started to become apparent. I enjoyed them not knowing, not asking or talking about it, not having their concept of me transform from professor to mother. When I did finally tell them, they greeted the news with kind congratulations. A few students asked about Baby Haas's due date (early August), sex (female), and name (still undecided), but in some ways they have been more accepting of my new "familial situation" (as one colleague called it) than my coworkers. With my students, I still get to be me.

1: I told my extended family at Christmas, when (almost) all the aunts, uncles and cousins were together. Oddly enough, this prompted the mothers in my family to share their terrible stories of morning sickness and vomiting. I don’t understand this strange form of bonding and will do my best to resist whatever urge I may have to do the same to someone else in the future.

2: Being childless made me sad. Being pregnant in a world that cares more about the cells dividing in my abdomen than my own humanity – as evidenced by many of the items on the Do & Don’t list and the way that information is distributed – makes me angry.