This post is written by Anna Kebke. Anna is a Russian from Sweden, and is in her final year of her BSc (Hons) Marine Biology degree at the University of Aberdeen. She is passionate about sustainability and previously completed a sustainability internship with Sky. She’s also farmed ecological shrimp in Swedish waters using waste heat, and she coordinates a food waste programme at the University of Aberdeen. Anna has been with her partner Thomas since they were 14, resulting in Anna finding herself pregnant right at the start of her degree. She wrote this piece to highlight the fact that having a baby (at any age) shouldn’t limit your career or quality of life, and the importance of helpful surroundings when you find yourself in a new situation. Anna’s Twitter is @AnnaKebke, if you are in a similar position and fancy a chat!
At 19, the summer after graduating the Swedish equivalent to high school, I started feeling nauseous. I was tired, dull. It might sound like a particularly bad hangover, but there was actually a little human responsible for early morning dates with the toilet bowl. My carefully crafted life-plan was suddenly scrambled. The font had been changed from Times New Roman to Comic Sans.
After studying natural sciences in school, I was ready to continue my journey to becoming a marine biologist. Choosing a university was difficult, but after careful consideration (supported by the fact that my boyfriend of six years – now fiancé – was going there too) I clicked ‘accept offer’ on my UCAS portal, and secured my place at a prestigious Scottish university.
So here I was, pregnant, afraid, and moving to a new country in the next two weeks. If it sounds like I had a lot on my plate, it’s because I did.
I was both excited and terrified at the same time, but even before my first scan a couple of people told me that I’d ruined my life by becoming pregnant and any shot at university would forever be doomed. Luckily, this negativity and judgement was outweighed by some very supportive people calming me down and assuring me that university was not the big scary monster that it is often made out to be. My mum finished her PhD with two young children (no biggie), so why couldn’t I go to university as planned? I promised myself I’d do my best.
The first year of my undergraduate degree involved a lot of repetition, and seemingly endless hours memorizing various life cycles. The teaching staff included some basic laboratory work to make sure we knew that science could be fun too. This is where pulling out the I’m pregnant card really worked, and the joys of the internet became apparent. I could skip lectures and catch up on them online (which also meant I could pause for the excessive amount of pregnancy pee breaks!), AND have a free pass from lab sessions dissecting rotten animals. Thankfully, teaching staff and healthcare professionals were all very helpful and I am forever grateful for that.
My daughter Freja was born in April, right in the middle of spring break (very well-timed indeed). Four weeks later I sat my first university exam with leaky boobs and a newborn at home. I’m now in my fourth year of study and the routine of picking up my daughter from the university nursery instead of running to the local pub (which my partner and I still do when we have family over) is just a natural part of life.
I’ve always been a very driven person. I knew early on that I want a career as well as children and that there would never be a right time to do both. Life will not always go according to plan (hello, 2020) but deciding what is important to you at this moment in your life will get you far. If, like me, you choose to have a baby and go through university as well, you will have to work your ass off, but it’s much easier to work hard when you can see what you’re working for.
My advice would be to do everything that you have to do first (essays, research papers, meetings etc), then you can use the gaps for fun stuff. It’s vital to not forget about your own mental and physical wellbeing – super important whether you are parent to a human baby, a pet or a collection of houseplants.
In my opinion, there simply never is the right time to have a child. The stork won’t come knocking on your door holding a baby (though that would be less painful…), particularly not if you want a career in science. There will always be something in the way – starting your dissertation, invitations to field work, speaking at conferences, or job offers. You simply must learn to adapt and make the best of the situation that unfolds.
Living life through both mine and my daughter’s eyes gives me a much greater perspective of my goals and I dare say that I am a much more rounded person and scientist because of her.