In May 2015, I joined the faculty at the University of Florida College of Nursing (UF CON) as an associate professor. Fourteen months later, I became a single adoptive mother to a newborn. My successful journey through single motherhood while balancing my academic responsibilities was due, in large part, to the overwhelming support I received from the entire body of the CON including the dean, department chair, faculty, staff, and students.
Working From Home
When I think about the reaction of my senior colleagues when I shared the news that I adopted a newborn, I am in awe. My department chair was elated, and after congratulating me, the first words she uttered were,“Miriam, you have my support. I am here to provide you with whatever resources you need to succeed at motherhood and your academic career. You can take maternity leave, work from home to direct your research, teach online, and teleconference as needed.” Before I could respond, my department chair excitedly went next door to inform the dean, who glowed with joy about my news, grabbed my hands, and stated emphatically, “You are taking maternity leave.” I was stunned.
I was surprised about the reactions I received from the administrators because I was not sure what to expect. I was a newly hired associate professor trying to build my research program following relocation from another institution. Because I was a relatively new hire, I was afraid they would express misgivings about my status as a single mother with no family support, which might affect my productivity as an employee; however, these fears were not realized. Although the administrators strongly encouraged me to take maternity leave, I opted to work primarily from home and hire a babysitter to assist me, who cared for my son when I travelled to campus to teach and to attend research team meetings. Incredibly, senior colleagues encouraged me to bring my son to our hour-long meetings and to classes after students requested it. As a result of their kind support, I brought my son to research team meetings, where my colleagues enjoyed meeting him, and to class, where my students happily posed for photos with my son and me.
Was it Unprofessional to Bring a Baby to Work?
Despite the tremendous support I received to bring my son to the CON, at times, I felt that it was unprofessional. Realizing that I was projecting upon myself the negative stereotypes about motherhood and child-rearing, I asked myself several key questions: What is unprofessional about being a mother? What is unprofessional about role modeling to my son the importance of strong work ethics? What is unprofessional about exposing a baby to intellectuals who are positive role models? I surmised that exposing my son to an environment replete with kind, smart, and diligent professionals could only help him learn the behaviors he needs to become successful in life.
It has been nineteen months since I started my motherhood journey, and I am still breathless about the kindness and support I received and continue to receive from my colleagues. Knowing that I had the option of taking maternity leave as well as the full support of the administrators who were not concerned about my productivity was reassuring.
His Majesty, Kasi, Among Nurses
By Miriam O. Ezenwa, PhD, RN
Nurses, my Angels
They gather to do what they do best
Fix the ills around the world
Care for those needing their healing presence
Enters, His Majesty, Kasi, drawing attention
Heads turn left and back, eyes twinkle starry-like
Smiles everywhere, hearts blooming light
Love! Love in the air for His Majesty
Calm nurses, my Angels, research retreat in progress
Work in teams, way of the future
Stand strong, hands locked in place
Embrace people from far and wide
Including those who don’t look alike
We are stronger in the spirit of the rainbow
Need to rest from the trip to here
Nurse Karen holding tight, heart pumping peace
The future is smart for His Majesty, nurses’ wisdom grows in strength
His Majesty needs a diaper change
Nurse Jeanne-Marie and nurse mommy to the rescue
Now, where were we?
Back to fixing the world
How about fixing how we secure our existence?
Many ways of teaching, the more the merrier, the merrier the better
Sleepy-sleepy, growth in rapid measure
Uncle Yingwei got this one, his manly touch is much needed
Once! Twice! Hunger and starvation
Hurry Mommy! Tummy thunders, feels like no end in sight
Mommy doting, needs now met
Sorry for my interruptions, I am just a baby
To resume business, let’s take stock
Goals are important, set now, assess in time
We are nurses, born to fix ills, from birth to death
Yes, nurses fix ills all the time
His Majesty needs a break, nap is golden
Nurse Versie won the prize, His Majesty is a treasure
Mommy close by inspecting every touch
New mommy, but instincts never fail
Back to research retreat, His Majesty is listening
Teams assembled, lead authors identified. Here! Here!
Oh no! Nature calls again, can’t ignore
Nurse Cindi in charge this time
Mommy always in tow, my bag in hand
Back again to wrap up, day went well
We must tell our story, stir the soul
His Majesty must depart now
The throne at home beckons, Queen Mommy in charge
Car must be readied, His Majesty commands comfort
Uncle Yingwei again to help, he has been there from day one
Goodbye, nurses. His Majesty must retreat
Till we meet again, a year from now
Assess your outcomes, inform His Majesty
Did I say that nurses are great?
Lest I forget, nurses are magnificent
You are my tribe, away from home
His Majesty, Kasi, enjoyed your company
Spread the word, it takes a tribe
A tribe of nurses, best any time
It helped me focus on enjoying motherhood and have the peace of mind related to a secure livelihood. I remind myself of how blessed I am for the inherent flexibility of my academic position. This feeling of gratitude propels me to work harder so that I do not disappoint myself or the trust the administrators bestowed upon me, to find an appropriate work-life balance required for success in academia.
My Tribe Away From Home
When my son was six weeks old, the CON had a faculty research retreat, and although I did not have a babysitter, I did not want to miss the retreat. I talked to my department chair about this problem, and she suggested that I bring my son to the retreat. The entire faculty in attendance surprised me with their support. At that moment, I knew that I had found my tribe at the UF CON even though I was 6,000 miles away from my home country, Nigeria. I captured the interactions between my son and my newly found tribe in the poem, His Majesty, Kasi, Among Nurses.
Take Home Message
Current knowledge suggests that many mothers in academia struggle to succeed as they balance motherhood and academic responsibilities. These challenges could be quadrupled for single mothers in academia who are immigrants and who may not have family support. I experienced many challenges being a single adoptive mother, particularly on the days that my son was sick; however, I always had the help of my colleagues, who personally assisted me in caring for him. Their support enabled me to excel at motherhood and my faculty role, and I am immensely grateful for this support. Based on my positive experiences, I encourage other universities around the United States to emulate the actions of the UF CON administrators and support mothers in academia as they balance two important aspects of their lives: motherhood and an academic career.