‘Perfectionist’ Working Mom Finds Relaxing Life After Depression
OKAYAMA – Hiroko Masuda took a brief break from researching to give birth to her daughter. Three months after giving birth, the new mother passed her doctoral thesis revision.
Masuda, now 37, who currently lives in Okayama, once bragged about being “a woman with no blanks on her resume.” She had devoted herself to solar studies at Kyoto University and then studied in the university’s doctoral course.
In his first year of doctorate. program, Masuda won Kyoto University’s Tachibana Prize for Outstanding Researcher. In her third year, she received another internal award for Outstanding Women Scientists.
Masuda married a former college classmate around this time and had bright prospects for his future as an academic.
“If I finish my doctorate. thesis sooner and give birth in the fall, I will be able to put the child in a daycare six months later and continue my research without interruption, ”recalls Masuda.
Researchers should pursue the latest academic achievements in their fields, so that any suspension from their study activities could have a critical impact on their careers.
After starting to work as a postdoctoral fellow on a fixed-term contract, Masuda feared that his child-rearing duties would make it difficult to achieve good results for the next position.
As expected, Masuda’s daughter was born in October in her third year of her doctorate.
“It would be impossible (for others) to know when I gave birth if they only saw my CV,” she said. “I felt really proud of myself back then.”
It was the last time she could trace her ideal career. Her husband helped her with household chores, but he frequently took business trips for one to two months, leaving Masuda to take care of the daily household chores on his own.
His pace of studies is slowing down. Back home, Masuda wanted to work on her computer to reduce the gap with her colleagues. But her daughter needed attention.
Masuda would sometimes direct his stress to his child by saying, “Stop talking now. “
Always a perfectionist, Masuda believed that mothers should always think of their children first and show them a smile. She found herself unable to accept the difference between reality and ideal and blamed herself for “doing such things”.
Several months after becoming a postdoctoral researcher, Masuda was diagnosed with depression at a psychosomatic medical clinic.
Masuda considered leaving college, but believed that only the “losers” gave up. She couldn’t find any value in herself except to study in her lab.
Masuda then learned that the school was looking for University Research Administrators (URAs) to provide support to researchers. Although still keen to continue her college career, Masuda changed jobs to “stay in college.”
Her husband landed an assistant professor position at Okayama University around the same time. With her husband in another prefecture, Masuda worked while taking care of his daughter alone.
Every day, she gritted her teeth and only made an effort “for tomorrow”.
During her third year as an URA, Masuda became pregnant with her second child. Her morning sickness was so severe that she couldn’t take care of household chores or work.
After seeing his 3 year old daughter cough from a cold, Masuda felt that the situation was “beyond my limits”.
The mother and daughter took a taxi to Kyoto Station, then took a Shinkansen bullet train to reach the father’s apartment near Okayama Station. The girl threw up in the taxi.
Masuda furiously urged her husband to “take care of yourself”, but she heard unexpected words in return: “No problem at all. I can afford to do it.
Masuda wanted his wife to understand how hard his days were, but his response made him ashamed of having such thoughts. She returned to Kyoto without her daughter and lived separately from her family.
Her husband handled everything well, like picking up their daughter from daycare and returning to her lab for her research. The girl now fondly remembers going to the lab every day for snacks and eating McDonald’s fries in her father’s car on the way home.
Their second child was born nine months later.
While on maternity leave, Masuda was pushing a stroller in Okayama when a question suddenly crossed her mind: “Why don’t I pursue my dream of becoming a teacher?”
Masuda loved to study and teach since he was a child. Before entering Kyoto University, she wanted to work as a teacher.
But she was engaged in solar research and thought she should stay in college.
Okayama’s atmosphere, much more relaxed than Kyoto’s, allowed Masuda to begin to think that she didn’t need to rush things.
She decided to register with the Okayama Prefecture Association of Private Schools. A job offer quickly arrived.
She quit her job at Kyoto University.
Since April 2017, Masuda has been working as a part-time teacher in private and secondary schools. With classes only three or four days a week, she has a lot more time to devote to herself and her family. Her children can now take swimming lessons and other classes during the week.
Masuda still cannot completely give up his college career.
She was proud of the many stamps on her passport for traveling the world to compete with other top scientists.
Remembering his days as a postdoctoral fellow causes a heartbreaking feeling. She believes that the Japanese cannot work slower at certain stages of life.
“They (the Japanese) never relax for 24 hours,” she said. “Norwegian and Swedish academics place great importance on their families, and it is common for women and men with young children to return home at night. “
Masuda added, “If the situation was like this (in Japan), I could have continued my research. “
After becoming a teacher, Masuda began to wonder why high school operators urged students to attend high-level universities.
“It is wrong to consider that attending prestigious universities represents happiness (for children),” Masuda said.
The current Masuda may appear to represent his previous definition of a “loser”.
But after struggling and overcoming huge obstacles, Masuda can now say with all her heart that she is happy with her current path.
This article is part of Asahi Shimbun’s special coverage on gender equality and diversity “Think About Gender” and was originally published in Japanese in March 2021.