THE BIG THING IS THAT IT’S NOT AN EITHER/OR, WE WANT TO DO BOTH AND WE SHOULD DO BOTH SAYS SALOME MASWIME
Salome Maswime is a mother of two boys, an obstetrician and gynecologist, the Head of Global Surgery at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and the President of the South African Clinician Scientists Society. She is recognized as a global surgery expert for her research on cesarean sections and is an advocate for women’s health rights and equity in maternal care. Both of her boys were born during her early career while she was still in training. Although it wasn’t easy for her because there wasn’t a built-in maternity leave option at the university, she was supported by her supervisor and family.
When the children were 3 and 6 years old, she moved to Boston, Massachusetts to be a Discovery MGH research fellow at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. For her career, it was the right move, but it was hard on her family because the United States does not have the childcare support she was used to in South Africa. She relied on a village of caregivers, including family members, who would travel to the United States to care for her children when she had conferences to attend. One of her children enjoyed the experience, but the second struggled. She quickly learned that you need to prepare your children for large transitions. “We learned how much time we need to prepare the kids…It’s not as simple as moving to America. You have to present every possible scenario. Find the schools before you go there so that the kids know where they’re going and what to expect…If we had taken the time to…prepare them, it would have been easier.” The second time she moved the family for her career, she and her husband prepared the way by traveling to the new city in advance. The transition was a lot easier on her boys.
Like many science mamas, Salome has succumbed to mother guilt, but she has learned that being both a mother and a scientist is worth it. “Sometimes you realize why it was worth it to do both. And sometimes the kids themselves cheer you on….Then you see your kids being proud of you as well. Those moments keep you going.” She goes on to say that one of the benefits of being a working mother is: “We get to inspire our kids. We can be an example to them and help them model how they want to do their lives and careers one day by doing what we’re doing. It’s always lovely when I hear one of my sons say, ‘I want to be a doctor one day.’ You know that you’re inspiring him in the right way. He’s not focused on…’you’re not always here for me’…If he wants to be [a doctor], he’s seeing the balance.”
Her advice to other women who want to be working mothers is: “The big thing is that’s it’s not an either/or. We want to do both and we should do both. It’s about planning and navigating and creating those support systems. The question should be ‘how can I do it’ and ‘how can I manage it’ versus ‘should I or not’. The longer you delay having children, the more risks there are, speaking as an obstetrician…The answer is not let me get my PhD…and then later on I can start in on the family. I think it is possible to do both in a very supportive environment. But women should also acknowledge their place in science as well. We should, and can become leaders in science as well, and be at the front of discoveries and leading. More often than not I think women put themselves second and…focus on the family and let other people lead, but we need more women leaders in research and science.”