On Teaching While Pregnant

Last week was the first of the new semester, and I was 39 weeks pregnant. These two things do not fit comfortably together.

I’m not interested, in this post, in complaining about my situation; there are far harder jobs to have while pregnant than English professor, and I have been lucky to get to spend most of the huge and uncomfortable part of my pregnancy resting during the summer. Instead, I want to reflect on the experience of teaching while pregnant – and the conversation (or, really, the lack of conversation) about this experience. Women teach while pregnant all the time, but I still went into this having heard little of others’ experiences and having little idea hor it might feel or what particular issues might arise.

Some of this silence is, I suspect, a reaction to fears that if we (as pregnant women) talk about what it feels like to be pregnant and teaching, it will encourage others to see us primarily as our pregnant bodies. They may find us wanting or think of us as weakened by our pregnancies. We may miss out on important career opportunities or be sidelined – not maliciously, and perhaps out of intended kindness, but this is still something I feel pretty sure pregnant academics want to avoid.

And then there’s the question of how – or whether – to address it with students. This semester, my pregnancy is obvious, and I cannot hide it from students. On the contrary, it is one of the first things I have had to talk about with them, since I’ll be on leave for part of the semester and since my belly is very present in class. Last semester, however, I found out I was pregnant before the spring semester began and of course talked to my department head and some of my colleagues early on, but I never mentioned it to my students. Not once, all semester. I strongly suspect that although some of my students would have been interested and sympathetic, others would have instead pinned any weakness I showed on my pregnancy (as opposed to the weaknesses that come with basic humanity) and wondered why I was teaching while pregnant at all. They may have used my pregnancy to explain away my reactions to the topics we discussed in class and dismiss them instead of taking me seriously.

Of course, there were definitely days when I wished I could take advantage of all of the assumptions about pregnant women and say, “Hey, guys, I feel extra tired and sick, so we’re all just going to sit quietly for a bit now.” Or days when I wanted to say, “Even though I feel like vomiting, I’m teaching up a storm here. I’d like some credit.” But neither of those approaches really leads anywhere productive for the class. Best, I figured, to just pretend everything’s normal.

Having said that, pretending everything is normal ignores the fact that it is not normal. Pregnancy is a normal human experience, of course, but it is not representative of the vast majority of my life. It is unusual and demands physical and emotional energy that my non-pregnant life does not, and this change affects what I am capable of doing in class. I didn’t call in sick any more than usual; I showed up and did my job – teaching classes, meeting with students, etc. But I did so at a much lower energy level than usual. And I believe this affected my students’ response to me and to the class they were in. I noted a drop in my evaluation numbers (yeah, I know, such numbers are flawed (at the very least), but I have to look at them) in the spring semester, and I firmly believe that part of that drop can be explained by my pregnancy. One thing I usually have going for me in my teaching is that I am excited about the topics we discuss and clearly invested in what we are doing. Students comment on this regularly. During a semester when simply standing up for the entire class period was sometimes too much, I obviously wasn’t able to be so energetic. I still cared, but I couldn’t show it in the same way, and even without the ability to compare my performance across semesters, I think my students felt the drop in energy. They simply saw it as my normal, however, and judged me accordingly. Perhaps an acknowledgement of my circumstances could have changed that. Or perhaps not. I am still not sure what the best way to address this might have been.

I wonder how other pregnant professors have dealt with this. I have definitely heard stories of students negatively judging women for teaching while pregnant, but are there stories that show the opposite? I actually wouldn’t be surprised if those more positive stories are few and far between, given the judgment I’ve seen leveled at female professors and their female bodies for far less significant issues (dressing in ways the students disapprove of or dislike, dying or cutting their hair, being fat or short or whatever).  How do other pregnant professors balance the demands of teaching and growing a human being? What about balancing the desire to be seen as normal with the desire to recognize the specifics of the experience? And can this be done without pathologizing pregnancy? Can we be normal and pregnant at work at the same time? The answer to this should clearly be yes, but I’m not sure most departments or universities are at that point in practice.

I don’t have any answers to any of this. But I do think it’s something that should be discussed more broadly and acknowledged as an issue. Not just by people experiencing it or by people who do research on these topics, but by academics (and administrators) in general. After all, if universities want to hire human beings – many of whom, as it turns out, have or want to have families – and if they want those human beings to put down roots and stay a while, they need to be prepared for this eventuality, and, furthermore, the institutional and disciplinary culture regarding pregnant professors should go beyond tolerance (abiding by the law, etc.) to become welcoming.

Rollercoasters and Car Crashes: Exploring the Line between Thriller and Horror

When I taught horror film & literature last year, we spent a lot of time trying to define the genre of horror by exploring its limits. One particularly challenging limit to nail down was that between horror and thriller. There is, of course, a lot of overlap between the two. For starters, they both include fear, suspense, and violence. Murderers and serial killers are common inhabitants of both genres.

However, despite the blurred lines between the two genres, they are distinct. They feel distinct. They are differentiated from each other by the emotion they aim to evoke in their audiences. And as I was drifting off to sleep last night, considering this distinction, I had this thought that I want to briefly explore as a way of illustrating the difference between the emotions of the two genres: A thriller is a rollercoaster ride; horror – at least, good horror – is a car crash. 


Silence of the Lambs (1991) is one of the examples my students raised as a film that sits at the border between the two genres. The film features a monster (Hannibal Lecter – sociopath, serial killer – is a human monster), puts the protagonist in danger, and induces fear and/or anxiety in the audience. Seven (1995) works similarly, but it also contains procedural elements that distract from horror’s typical emphases.


When we defined horror in class, these are the central ideas we agreed upon to limit the genre:

  • Horror includes the threat of death and/or madness.
  • Horror includes or is about the violation of our expectations or social norms.
  • Horror includes the emotions of fear, dread, and/or anxiety.

Thrillers, like Silence of the Lambs and Seven, include the threat of death and emotions of fear, dread, and/or anxiety. They emphasize the short-term emotions that the class’s definitions attribute to horror. They work on adrenaline and the immediacy of plot and suspense. Their central questions include: What’s going to happen next? Will the hero(ine) save the potential victim in time? Who is the actual villain? Like a rollercoaster, there are ups and downs, thrills (hence, the name of the genre), but these sensations do not extend outside of the limits of the film. The killers in these films may not violate our expectations or social norms; they do not challenge our sense of the world. As another example, I think of The Fugitive (1993). The driving tension of The Fugitive is our anxiety for its protagonist and his situation (will he escape? will he uncover the truth?), not any sense that the reality we generally accept is under threat or in question. You leave the movie (or rollercoaster) and go on with your life, unchanged, not seriously affected.

Horror, on the other hand, goes beyond this. It presents a different type of fear, a potentially more lasting kind of fear. Now, to be fair, not all horror films achieve this – and some do not achieve this for all viewers. I am considering, both with thrillers and horror, the best (or perhaps the most representative) of each genre.


Where the fears of a thriller may quickly fade, therefore, as does the adrenaline from a rollercoaster ride, the emotions evoked by horror can be more lasting, like the feelings after even a minor car crash. The experience of being in a car crash leaves one shaken; it forces an acknowledgement, however brief, that the life that feels so safe and secure is really not. Driving, something we do so routinely, is actually dangerous and, despite our confidence in our ongoing existence, we could die at any moment. Similarly, horror raises questions about the rules of the world we live in and think we understand. What if our bodies are taken over and we lose control of ourselves – whether via aliens or the supernatural? What if the people around us are not what they seem? What if we only think we are sane? The world is shown to be unsafe, insecure.


The best horror has certainly left such an impression on me. For instance, The Babadook (2014) not only upset and terrified me while I watched it, but left me thinking about it for days afterward. And even now if you were to come up to me and say “Ba-BA-ba dook! dook! dook!” it would probably freak me out a bit. The film shook me up – both because of the monster and because of what it represents. I wasn’t able to easily walk away from it as simple entertainment; it got at something deeper.


Gender + Environment in Science Fiction (revised CFP with extended deadline)

Building on our previously posted CFP, we are inviting contributions focusing not only on non-print SF media and expanding our project to include any form of science fiction. We believe this will lead to a stronger and more inclusive examination of gender and environment within the genre.

CFP: Gender & Environment in Science Fiction (edited collection)

There are many important studies of gender in science fiction and a growing number of studies of environmental science fiction, but more work is needed to bring these fields together. We wish to fill this gap and invite contributions exploring the intersections of gender and environment in science fiction.

The central question of this project is as follows: How do gender and environment intersect and/or influence each other in or across science fiction texts and media? Projects might also address the following questions: How do varying media forms influence representations of gender and environment in science fiction? How might examining gender and environment together influence ideas about or definitions of science fiction as a genre? How do the language and/or imagery of science fiction contribute to our conceptions of gender and environment?

We have previously solicited essays focusing primarily on non-print science fiction, but we are now interested in expanding the project’s scope to include print science fiction as well. At this point, therefore, we invite abstracts addressing the intersections of gender and environment in any science fiction text or media.

Please submit abstracts of no more than 300 words and a brief CV to Christy Tidwell (christy.tidwell@gmail.com) and/or Bridgitte Barclay (bbarclay@aurora.edu) by October 1, 2016. We have been strongly encouraged by the editor of the Ecocritical Theory and Practice series, published by Rowman & Littlefield’s imprint Lexington Books, to submit a proposal. For those asked to contribute, we anticipate completed essays of approximately 15-18 pages will be due by April 1, 2017.