Archmamas: Archaeology, Motherhood, and Path to PhD

By Blair Zaid

The roles for women in the academy are ever expanding. We continue to achieve high levels positions in institutions that have been exceptionally male dominated.  However, one role continues to be a bit daunting for women in the academy and particularly archaeology: the role of mother. The combination of archaeology and motherhood raise important issues on the path to academic success. Few fields are as physically demanding and require such “on the ground” living experiences that can rightfully intimidate a childbearing woman. Also, the extended time in the field affects all of us, but it does have a significant impact on even the most basic childcare recommendations such as breastfeeding and vaccination schedules. So given the complexities of the concerns on a field full of intelligent and capable women, why are we so silent about our maternal experiences?

Motherhood in archaeology is like any excavation, scratch beyond the surface and there are many sources of inspiration! In, 2008 SAA published their latest special edition issue examining the status of women in archaeology and our departments very own Dr. O’Gorman and Dr. Norder contribute to the conversation (Vol. 8 Num. 4). The articles on childcare and the affects of motherhood on our careers offer great insight but little hope to having a ‘successful’ archaeological career once you become a parent. Nonetheless, when we talk to our advisers they share their stories about climbing ancient monuments 8 months pregnant or rushing to their hooding ceremonies with babies on the way! So luckily we are faced with some very positive examples of mama archaeologists. However the question remains, what are some concrete ways that motherhood affects us?

One experience I shared with a number of my colleagues is what I call “a crash of confidence.” While this is similar and almost a crucial point in graduate education in general, once again there is a special shadow that hovers when a women decides to extend her family during her graduate or pre-tenure phase of work. I have been blessed with a child, and as a first time mother, the experience is both life enhancing and life altering.  In many ways my daughters arrival was perfect, yet she also came smack in the middle of my dual degree graduate program and dissertation planning.  I had just survived taking one comprehensive exam while actively planning my wedding.  Pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood have made such normal activities as basic concentration and organization especially difficult, much less reading, processing, and taking notes for research. While some of my insecurities are self inflicted symptoms of an ‘overachiever,’ the academy’s mixed emotions about my path to motherhood was at times less than supportive, especially as a graduate student. At times I considered smaller local projects or even no field work at all. But, I knew that those choices would inhibit my growth as a mother not just an archaeologist.

So, how do you beat this ‘crash of confidence’? We needed to SPEAK UP! Ask for help! The myth of the “how does she do it woman” does more to hurt new mothers than save us. Ask for more time from work, be honest about your levels of exhaustion, and need for child care and health benefits. This puts all our concerns out in the open and then no one is left wondering about or concerns or motives. While speaking up can help us achieve practical support from those around us, we also need to hear the support of other arch-mamas and not just in whispers between meetings. We need spaces to share our triumphs and sorrows and especially a space for us to gather and support each other through the process.

The affects of motherhood on one’s archaeological career are almost immeasurable. The choice to start a family through marriage or expand it with children is often met with sympathy and disappointment, as if making these choices splotches your career. While you may decide to delay your fieldwork, bring your family into international lands, or whatever, the insight motherhood brings is also a strong contribution to our work, even though we only speak about it in the acknowledgements. However, those of us that have the choice and opportunity to have children know that the joys of raising a child come in an endless variety of laughter, pain, and sometimes just plain old silliness. Even as I type this on my laptop a little baby hand reaches out to help press the buttons. As our presence in the field continues to increase, the conversation about the totality of woman’s experiences both in the field and at home, will only enhance our field and the full richness of archaeology.

In conclusion, we know that you really only read this for cute baby pictures so here you go!

1 thought on “Archmamas: Archaeology, Motherhood, and Path to PhD”

  • Hello Blair, I am an undergraduate, hoping to pursue archaeology. I have two young children and have been wondering how I will make this happen. If you would be open to speaking via email, please let me know. I would be happy to find another mother in the field. Thank you for showing me it can be done!

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