Thursday, May 26, 2016

Lessons Learned Attending a Professional Conference with a Baby (Part 1)

I will be writing a separate entry about the science and updates learned from Space Congress in Cape Canaveral this week. But I felt it was important for me to write on this topic first. 

I've never seen a baby at a professional conference before. Prior to having my own baby, it never would have occurred to me that a mother would choose to take her child with her. Now that I have a baby of my own who refuses a bottle, my only choices are to participate in my profession with the baby or not participate at all. Yesterday, I chose to stand out from the crowd.

I didn't know how anyone would react to my presence with the baby. Worst case scenario, I thought I'd be denied entry or asked to leave. Second-worst case, I thought the baby would scream, causing me to miss most of the conference I paid for. I didn't know if anyone would stare at me or make a negative comment about how unprofessional or disruptive it was to bring a baby. I prepared to defend my choice, if necessary.

Fears are usually all in our head. Not only was I welcomed with the baby, I received so many compliments! By the end of the day, at least four people told me that they hadn't heard a peep from her and she was the most well behaved baby they had ever seen. It's not that she didn't make a peep, it's that I contained her well. She kept me on my toes!

I learned a new wrap style for the occasion: outward facing carry. I still wrap her in a sling style when nursing discretely, but my 5-month-old no longer wants to face my chest. She wants to see the world! The outward facing wrap is the most secure wrap style I've learned yet and was truly hands-free. It was perfect for times when I needed to walk around and mingle such as during the talk breaks and exhibit hall networking.

To my surprise, I did not spend all of my time standing and bouncing her along the wall. Instead, I found a back corner away from foot traffic and closest to the bathroom. There I laid out a small blanket and some toys, plugged in my laptop, and sat on the floor to listen and work. It was ideal! I may have looked silly to others, but this really was the best possible arrangement. The baby kept herself well occupied, I could work without holding her or constantly moving her active hands away from my laptop, and we were completely out of the eyesight of all conference attendees except those walking along the back of the room.

Playing with the conference swag on the floor. - May 25, 2016

In retrospect, it was a wise move on my part to wear pants instead of the cute pencil skirt I had wanted to wear. Sitting on the floor with legs in any direction would not have worked well in a skirt or dress. It was also smart of me to wear a cowl neckline.

Listening to the conference speakers uninterrupted only happened when the baby was napping. Unlike a normal day, she only dozed off for short periods of time – no long naps. Applause would wake her, usually just for a moment, but sometimes stirring was enough to snap her out of her slumber. As a result, at no time was I away from my baby and able to attend the conference as a normal professional except when two of the college-aged conference volunteers asked to hold her.

I was able to attend all of the conference talks (except when I stayed in the exhibit hall for too long during a break). Even though I was in and out a lot, I was able to get a lot out of attending. I live tweeted and I took notes. I got the gist of the conversation. I was surprised at how much of the conference I could actually attend.

As someone put it yesterday, a baby and a dog in a crowd have similar outcome: people flock to you for the cuteness. A baby is an effective networking aid. Colleagues and strangers alike approached to meet the baby and, secondarily, me. She was a natural conversation starter. The one negative was that because time was short and the baby was easy to talk about, I didn't talk as much “shop” as I would have liked. Part of that was also the fault of the conference schedule: too few and too short breaks. I had hoped that the 6:00 networking session would make up for it, but by that point, the baby had had enough and it was time to go home.

Josephine on a Journey to Mars. - May 25, 2016

Overall, taking my baby with me to a professional conference was a success. I tear up when I think of how supportive my space community is. So many positive comments and words of encouragement! I want to thank every one of you who helped me to get over my fear of negative judgment and do what works best for us. I feel so blessed to have such beautiful people in my life.

This local conference was practice. The test is next week's three-day out-of-state conference. Stay tuned!

Also, Josephine got to meet her fifth astronaut and take additional photos with ones she had already met. And she went to Mars!

Curious Josephine hanging out with Curiosity rover. - May 25, 2016

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