Motherhood, the Elephant in the Laboratory: Women Scientists Speak Out
edited by Emily Monosson


Cornell University Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-8014-4664-1.
Reviewed by Susan M. Andrus
Posted on 11/20/2008

Anthologies/Collections; Nonfiction: Cultural/Gender Focus; Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: American Women in Their Cultural/Historical Context

We often praise mothers, but what's behind the words? Sometimes little in the way of support, financial assistance, day care, or flextime. Yet mothers prove that not only can they manage all their responsibilities, they can learn more, produce more, participate more, volunteer more, and give more.

That's the thesis of Emily Monosson's superbly edited book written by thirty-four scientists who also chose to be mothers in the midst of their quest for a Ph.D. These women tell what it's like to spend their child-bearing years studying, doing research, defending their research, writing grant proposals, publishing their research, teaching, working all hours in a lab, doing a post-doc, and deciding to have or not to have children.

All the women in this collection had children at some time in the process. They related how others either supported or did not support their decision. Most of the husbands, family and friends supported them. Many of the advisors, institutions, employers, and supervisors did not.

Already experienced writers, these women wrote short, beautifully expressed personal essays that make up this enlightening book. As in the title of Theresa M. Wizemann's essay, "The Eternal Quest for Balance—A Career in Five Acts, No Intermission," these women spent or are spending their lives contributing to improving society while balancing a career, family, and even hobbies. With few concessions, they are doing it all in spite of poor working situations, low pay, and often inadequate child-care facilities. But these women see their lives as enriched through making the choice to have children.

As women, each of us has chosen different career paths, but these essays remind us that we're not alone. We have a special contribution to make, but we also must accept the challenge to make the path easier for our daughters by insisting on better working conditions that allow maternity and paternity leave, child-care options, and flextime, honoring motherhood rather than punishing women for choosing motherhood.

As Wizemann writes, "Bringing up a child and bringing up a career are remarkably similar. They are sometimes hard to conceive, and sometimes heartbreaking, rarely predictable, but tremendously rewarding. Motherhood is the grandest experiment. Don't miss out. And remember that you are not alone in your eternal quest for balance."


Emily Monosson, editor, is an independent environmental toxicologist, writer, consultant, and mother of two children. She lives in Montague, Massachusetts.

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