You can have it all if you are ready to pay the price!

When I joined AWIB as a Board Member in 2011, I had just returned to Addis Abeba from a year in London where I attended the one-year coursework of my PhD program.

It was one of the hardest years of my life.

I had always known I wanted to pursue a PhD. Working in the aid sector back in Ethiopia after earning a Master’s Degree from the U.S. in 2004, I was convinced that I could better serve Ethiopian women as an academic-activist. However, getting into a PhD program was easier said than done and I was rejected by the first three universities I applied to.  I was finally accepted into the MPhil/PhD program in Gender Studies at SOAS, at the University of London in 2010. More importantly, I won the prestigious Mo Ibrahim Foundation Scholarship without which I would not have been able to afford the 25,000 GBP tuition. This opportunity intersected with the alignment of other aspects of my life. In one month in 2010, I got engaged, moved into a new house, started planning for a wedding, won a scholarship and prepared to leave Addis, my then-fiancé and my family. Two days before I left to go to a new city, I discovered I was pregnant.

All my memories of that first year are filtered through my experience of a difficult and lonely pregnancy. Although I had hoped to pass my exam for the year while still pregnant, my daughter Rekka arrived three weeks early and attended class with me in a baby sling. My Aras period was spent in a bed with books.

I came back to Addis for my fieldwork and with help from my family in taking care of Rekka, I was able to conduct 90 interviews in one year. I would have finished my program on schedule but my life path pointed in another direction – my son Leeben was born in October 2013 and I finally had to take a maternity leave from my studies. Many months and several re-writes later, I finally submitted my thesis last April. I sat the viva exam exactly five years after starting my program and passed.

When friends ask how I managed to pursue a PhD while a full-time mom to very active kids I nursed for two years each, I blank out because I don’t really know how I did it. I know I didn’t watch TV for many years. I remember nights reading research on my phone while nursing in a dark room. I remember going to bed at 4am for many, many nights. I remember being afraid that I would have to discontinue the program, a failure I would have not been able to live with.

I know that as a feminist, I am supposed to tell other women that they can do it all. They can achieve the pinnacle of their academic and career pursuits and still be nurturing mothers and partners. And if my experience is anything to go by, you CAN have it all – if you’re willing to pay the very high price.

Sehin Teferra (PhD)