Books, babies and breastfeeding
"I submitted the manuscript to the publishers just after 11pm on 30 April and I had my new baby daughter a few hours later"
Dr Jodi Gardner, Director of Studies for Law at St John’s, had a remarkably busy time in lockdown. She finished two new books with three young daughters at home, taught classes online, and gave birth to her fourth child. As part of our series of pandemic stories from St John’s, she tells us how she did it.
One of the best things about teaching at St John’s is the connection you have with your students. I enjoy face-to-face teaching so much that when the pandemic started, I stayed in my office to continue to teach my classes before the students raced off to different parts of the world.
Once all the in-person classes were over, I starting working from home. When schools closed it was a huge challenge – we had three young children, home-schooling requirements and the general stress of lockdown. We also have quite a small house and I didn’t have a proper desk, so I had to do my work from my daughter’s child-size desk under her bunk bed! I was also desperately trying to finish my two book contracts. One was an edited collection looking at the impact that the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent austerity measures had on different types of debt. I submitted the manuscript to the publishers just after 11pm on 30 April and I had my new baby daughter a few hours later, on 1 May! I got the book over the line by the skin of my teeth.
That wasn’t the plan. The manuscript had to be in by the end of April and my due date was 18 April. So every day I was on borrowed time, urging my bump, ‘don’t come’, ‘don’t come’! I emailed off the final pages of my book and then it was almost as if my body was like, ‘now you can come, baby’. I had a check-up at Cambridge’s Rosie Maternity Hospital at 9am the next morning, thinking that I would have to be induced, but the baby had turned in the womb; she was in breech and had knots in her umbilical cord. I was moved straight to have a C-section and Rosalind – Rosie – was born safe and healthy at 3.16pm.
I have four daughters: Eleanor, 8, Maggie, 5, Trixie, 3, and Rosie, who is now nearly six months old. My husband Sebastian, who is an evening Porter at St John’s, is currently taking parental leave. Rosie was so late in arriving that when she was 10 days old I started teaching revision classes to my students before their online exams, but because of lockdown I was teaching from home over the internet. Every day for nearly two weeks I did eight hours of online revision classes. I had warned my students that I would have the baby with me and would sometimes be breastfeeding. I offered to organise an alternative class if it made anyone uncomfortable, but they were all so cool about it and excited to see the baby. During such a chaotic and stressful time, it was lovely to see my students again – albeit virtually – and to help them get over the exam finishing line during a global pandemic.
Rosie will hit an age when she starts having flashbacks to her mother giving law revision classes over the top of her head and her first few words may well be ‘elements of a binding contract’!
Rosie’s next introduction to College life was more exciting. We took part in the filming of a socially-distanced clap and cheer in which some of the Fellows and staff lined First and Second Court to mark what would have been General Admission for our graduating students in June. I thought it was a really important symbol that the College supported the graduates who couldn’t have the traditional send off, so I was determined to be there with Rosie.
Now I’m back in College full-time, working in my room in Merton Hall. Lectures and seminars are online, and we are all learning a lot of new skills – trying to ensure that the students do not miss out on a quality education in such an unprecedented period. The HR department has been very supportive and, if anything, excited that our family is doing things a little differently. Seb is fantastic and I couldn’t do it without him. Before the pandemic we always felt support bringing the kids into College so they were a part of my life outside St John’s but also in St John’s, and we are looking forward to the day we can do that again.
I am very lucky to have an office that allows me to teach face-to-face with enough space for social distancing. This connection with the students is so important. I see how hard the students are working and how resilient they are in the face of these challenging and uncertain times, and it makes me incredibly proud.
* Debt and Austerity: Implications of the Financial Crisis edited by Jodi Gardner, Mia Gray and Katharina Moser is out in November (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2020).