Fieldwork's tough enough without having someone kick you from the inside
July 27, 2017 10:53 AM   Subscribe

Suzanne Pilaar Birch was seven when she caught the archaeology bug on a family trip to Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas. “Oh this is so cool!” she declared. “I want to come back here and dig.” So when, 24 years later – and now a professional archaeologist based at the University of Georgia and still devoted to digging – she was invited on a field trip in Cyprus, it should have been a no-brainer. Except that she would be six months pregnant on the trip.
“It was irresistible, though,” she says down the phone from Athens, Georgia. “It was a neat project and it had funding and often that’s not the case. I thought, ‘Oh man, how can I say no?’”

Pregnant women are always pictured so clean, dressed up nicely, in a yoga pose or something
Still, she wanted some reassurance that accepting the offer wasn’t crazy. People from outside of her profession were shocked when she told them her plans: “Like, ‘Oh wow! You’d better take care of yourself’.” And googling only turned up a solitary blogpost. “I had nobody to personally contact and ask, “What was it like for you?” she says. So she turned to social media. Fortunately, she had a ready-made online community to ask, having co-founded TrowelBlazers (previously) in 2013, a website celebrating female archaeologists, palaeontologists and geologists from history – “awesome trowel-wielding women” – which had grown into a virtual support network of women. So in March this year she tweeted: “Anyone else #pregnantinthefield? How far along were you, how far did you travel, how long was fieldwork? (Maybe even, what did you wear?)”
posted by Johnny Wallflower (5 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
I love Trowelblazers, and I loved the #pregnantinthefield pictures. Fieldwork is really challenging even when you're not pregnant. Archaeological fieldwork tends to be a little more stationary than paleontology or primatological fieldwork, but it's all physically exhausting, and you're not necessarily sleeping in comfortable places. And, depending on where you are, normal bodily functions become a real hassle. Menstruation in the field can really suck, for example - disposing of tampons, or if you use a menstrual cup, disposing of a cup full of blood. I've gotten malaria enough times that I would be nervous about being pregnant in the field, but I have friends who've brought their kids with them to the forest for fieldwork, and that seems like it's also a wonderful experience.
posted by ChuraChura at 11:28 AM on July 27 [5 favorites]


I also wanted to say that, even for women who aren't pregnant, so much of the conversation around fieldwork begins and ends with "Stay safe!" I'm a 29-year-old woman and people still say to my parents, "You let your daughter do that?" The infantilization of women doing things that sound scary is so frustrating to me. I'm an adult with lots of experience and I don't take unnecessary risks. I'm not a ward of my parents, and they don't get to say what I can and can't do. It wasn't up to my boyfriend at the time whether or not I could go do fieldwork, even though people would say to him "But how do you feel about her going and doing something dangerous?" It's wonderful to see a group of women who are confident about continuing to be intrepid and live their lives and do interesting things in spite of the pervasive infantilizing attitudes about women making choices other people wouldn't, and pregnant women needing to exist in a bubble of happy clouds and gentleness and nothing at all risky.
posted by ChuraChura at 11:42 AM on July 27 [25 favorites]


So I've never been pregnant in the field but I've done a metric fuck ton of fieldwork and most places if you're a westerner you have a wall tent and a cot at least, often nicer than that, often a hotel room of sorts, and food and good water and medicine and a satellite phone and some reliable trucks of boats or airplanes. Even a cook maybe. You'll be "in the field" but still living better than 90% of the world. This woman is on Cyprus, it's not exactly a third world country. Many women (most?) have more than one pregnancy entirely spent doing manual labor!! I'm not surprised she got the response she did. It's common enough that most places have a policy for how pregnant you can be and still go somewhere off the road system (8 months usually). And I guess I'm not surprised this story is in the Guardian.
posted by fshgrl at 8:58 PM on July 27 [1 favorite]


This is not in your usual milieu, Johnny Wallflower, but I adore everything about this post! As a woman who's been pregnant three times, and who took an archaeology vacation, and whose husband oversaw a state's archaeology program. SO RELEVANT TO MY INTERESTS. These pictures are absolutely gorgeous!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:07 PM on July 27


Marge Gunderson must be an honorary member.
posted by amanda at 6:36 AM on July 28


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