What’s it like to be a pregnant archaeologist?
Recently, while half asleep on the train to work, I saw an article in the mighty Metro newspaper that snapped me awake: a story about a woman named Lee-Ann Ellison from LA, who was still going to the gym, and weight-lifting whilst eight-and-a-half months pregnant.
Of course, everyone had an opinion, most of them bad. But it also appeared that they had completely forgotten about the lady in the centre of the ‘online storm’: Ms Ellison seemed to be happy, and more than capable, of carrying on with her usual routine in spite of being eight months pregnant. Since the monitoring of her baby during routine clinic appointments confirmed the child to be normal and healthy, why shouldn’t she be able to go on with doing what makes her feel healthy, happy and strong? Why is it anybody else’s business?
This story got me thinking about women in field archaeology, and how we have historically coped with being on site whist ‘with child’, how our employers cope (or don’t cope, more commonly) with pregnant employees, and whether carrying on with fieldwork was at all detrimental to the mother or the child. After a quick google of ‘pregnancy and field archaeology’, I became utterly depressed by the results.
Firstly, the information, or should I say the women willing to provide information on this subject matter, is scarce. What little I could find is utterly depressing. Instead of finding stories of supportive employers, I was reading the anonymous accounts of female field archaeologists feeling lonely, persecuted and unsupported.
One particular website, ‘Assemblage’, hosted by Sheffield University, highlights the plights of least two women who believe their pregnancies directly contributed to their redundancies.A sobering PDF file is also downloadable from the ‘British Women in Archaeology’ website which highlights the cold hard facts for women of working in British archaeology, and whether or not the profession – in comparison with others – supports families.
Anecdotal evidence from various sources also indicates that the treatment of pregnant women working in field archaeology ranges greatly from over–solicitous (wrapped up in cotton wool and shoved into the office, and off of billable jobs), to be being able to work on site happily with no pressure, to one unit that systematically made pregnant employees redundant. It appears that there is no continuity in the commercial sector as to what pregnant women can expect from their employers. Does this mean that female field archaeologists should assume that their career choice means that having a family is off the table? Is this yet one more life experience, like others such as full-time employment and a living wage, which is out of reach for archaeologists?
Good grief, we are really not doing ourselves any favours if we want to attract young people to the profession, are we?
Let’s take a leaf out of Lee-Ann Ellison’s book. Women have been working in manual labour jobs for as long as they have been having babies. For millennia, we have carried on with physical work before, during and immediately after pregnancies; we’ve all heard the stories of women in subsistence lifestyles giving birth and strapping the baby to their backs and getting on with work just hours later. During my ten years on Time Team, several female members did their jobs quite accurately and well during varying stages of pregnancy.There are iconic episodes of Carenza, Helen and Brigid getting down and dirty with their bumps!
I think what it comes down to is personal choice. It should be up to the individual to decide whether they feel they can still perform their duties, within reason of course and without placing the baby in any danger. But mainly – under no circumstances should they be forced to take a change in role, especially if it places their job in jeopardy. Just because an employee is about to have a baby does not mean that she can’t perform her duties. There will inevitably be some necessary adjustments to the work pattern, but this should be an ongoing discussion between the individual and employer.
Being pregnant is not a disease or a disability. Given that the recent Profiling the Profession report indicates that 46% of all field archaeologists in the UK are female, as a profession we should be far ahead of many others when it comes to dealing with a situation that affects nearly half of our workforce! It’s about time that archaeological employers get their act together and sign up to a contract of professional respect for expectant mothers who happen to be field archaeologists. How does that saying go? Hell hath no fury…
Why should I care? Well, here’s the DV newsflash of the year: I’M PREGNANT! That’s right folks, Baby Dave-Jeffries will be arriving in December just in time for DV Christmas celebrations!After six months of digging along with her momma, I’m hoping she (yay! A girl!) will arrive ready to wield a trowel, (WHS, not that ‘lady version’ nonsense) and know instinctively just how to keep her sections straight.
Even I have to admit that having a baby squishing your stomach and minimizing lung capacity is not conducive to shoveling. But again, that should be MY decision, based on how I feel as well as regular consultations with my doctor. Apart from that, I am pretty mobile and reckon I could still give someone a run for their money mattocking…but I suppose it’s time to hang up the trowel for a bit. See you next summer!
Congratulations, Raksha! All of us here at DV mission control are over the moon about the impending arrival, and can’t wait to take up our auntie- and uncle-duties. Time to get some baby-gros with a DV logo made up, natch!
And even better, both Raksha and the sprog will be in fine form by the time our next dig rolls around, so we’ll be seeing them both on site this summer! If you want to dig with us and learn from Raksha herself, register for our newsletter below for all the updates on our digs!
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