As a parent in academia, travelling – and leaving wife and kid behind – is far from easy. That is why we decided to take an ambitious plunge when I had to go to Reykjavik for the conference of the Nordic Society Oikos: the whole family would come!
Oh, boy, that was an adventure! Baby’s first international travel, baby’s first airplane flight, baby’s first scientific conference… While conferencing an sich is already a challenge (let’s face it, days packed with social interactions and high-impact science are fun, but take a mental and physical toll), conferencing with a baby is next-level stuff.
Of course these were unforgettable times! Exploring the wild beauty of Icelands’ winter wonder land with wife and baby resulted in fantastic memories of happiness in a breathtaking setting. Those pictures coming out of this week will forever have a prominent place in our albums. Having my loved ones close also meant I did not have to miss them – and they did not have to miss me. Fantastic for me, close to lifesaving for them: we were all in it together.
This adventure of course did not come without its challenges. There was a reduced time for social interactions (as in: oh no I will not go to the bar with you after this long day of talks, there is a cute baby waiting for me at home!). Most important challenge, however: conferencing with a baby is TIRING!
It already started on the way to Iceland. Our plane suffered a five hour delay, so we had to spend a whole afternoon at the airport. The flight only left after baby’s bedtime in the end, so that meant me walking up and down the isle to keep her asleep. Baby didn’t notice – best day ever! – but the tiredness was kicking in.
And then the baby tumbled right off her schedule. New house, new place, different time zone, a totally different routine: sleeping became problematic. Struggling at night to get her to sleep, back to sleeping in my arms or in our bed instead of quietly in her own, you definitely feel that harder after a day of conferencing.
So, how bad was that sleeping? I know it felt pretty tough, but I wouldn’t be the data scientist I am if I wouldn’t dive right into the numbers again. So I expanded on the graph I made for an earlier post to see how sleeping really went.
So what does the data show? As in my earlier post here, her sleep was gradually improving up till around 15 weeks, when we dropped into the ‘4-month sleep regression’. Using a rigorous sleep schedule, we fought our way out of this slump, up till we got a block of 8 hours of sleep again at around week 20.
But then, with the trip to Iceland approaching, sleep gradually worsened again, with a new low the week before her trip (both baby and mother were ill, while daddy was at a meeting in Sweden). We thus started our Iceland-adventure with a deficit, partly caused already by my earlier academia-related travelling. The trip to Iceland created another slump on top of what was already pretty much going wrong (note the set of nights where we didn’t get blocks longer than 2 (!) hours). These things get you.
I have to say the downfall was less steep than it felt to us at the time, but I think that is exactly the thing of taking your baby on an international trip: things are worse, but you also just have much less energy to deal with it all.
All in all, I would recommend this. Being a dad in academia inevitably means that time needs to be divided more stringently between home and work, so keeping up that spirit at the conference isn’t that much of a difference. But did I loose ‘conferencing-ability’? I bet you I did! And an important side-note is the following: we had some extra much-needed help on this trip, as my wife’s parents travelled to Iceland with us. Without them, I do not think any of this would have been possible.
PS: I acknowledge these things can be tremenduously harder even for moms in academia. But there is other people who can tell those stories.