LISTEN: How becoming a mother changed these researchers

Fellows Dr. Valerisa Joe-Gaddy and Dr. Lisbeth Iglesias-Ríos join the Agents of Change in Environmental Justice podcast to discuss what it means to be mothers and health researchers.


Joe-Gaddy, an alumna of the University of Arizona receiving her Ph.D. in environmental science with an emphasis in microbiology, and Iglesias-Ríos, an epidemiologist and a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, also talk about how motherhood changed their approach to research and how their careers in environmental health and justice may be shaping their children. And after their conversation stay tuned to hear Iglesias-Ríos’ son Alex share his thoughts on the environment.

The Agents of Change in Environmental Justice podcast is a biweekly podcast featuring the stories and big ideas from past and present fellows, as well as others in the field. You can see all of the past episodes here.

Listen below to their discussion, and subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, Spotify, or Stitcher.

Transcript

Lisbeth Iglesias-Ríos

When I see things overall, being a mom is the most difficult thing I have ever done. It’s not the PhD, is not the dissertation, is not anything. It’s just being a mom.

Brian Bienkowski

That is Dr. Lisbeth Iglesias-Rios. She is a fellow here and she is talking today to Dr. Valerisa Joe-Gaddy about what it means to be a mother and a health researcher. Hello and welcome back to the Agents of Change in Environmental Justice podcast, a partnership between Environmental Health News and Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. I’m of course Brian Bienkowski. I’m here with you every two weeks, senior editor at environmental health news and the editor of Agents of Change. As I mentioned fellows Dr. Valerisa Joe-Gaddy and Dr. Lisbeth Iglesias Rios have taken over today’s podcast. They talk about how motherhood change their approach to research and their profession, and in turn, how their careers in environmental health may be shaping their children. And after they talk, stay tuned for what might be the cutest conversation we’ve had on this podcast when Lisbeth’s son Alex talks about his relationship to and thoughts on the environment. I think the future is in good hands after hearing Alex talk. Enjoy.

Valerisa Joe-Gaddy

Hello, and welcome to the Agents of Change in Environmental Justice podcast, I’m Valerisa Joe-Gaddy and I’m joined by my colleague, Lisbeth

Lisbeth Iglesias-Ríos

I’m Lisbeth Iglesias, I’m a researcher in this area just moved into a new position at the University of Michigan, I’m at the the school of public health at the department of epidimiology.

Valerisa Joe-Gaddy

and I am ending my postdoc here at the University of Arizona and I am going into extension and looking at assistant professorships and looking at an I do more water quality and working with tribal farmers. Talking a little bit more about our, our children. One of the things that we, other than our research of agriculture that we have in common, is that we both have sons. So can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and your children?

Lisbeth Iglesias-Ríos

The name of my son is Alex and he’s in second grade. He’s very curious, I think very playful and very, he’s a very observant boy. He is learning how to swim and taking piano lessons. He loves building thing,s work with Legos. How about your son, Val?

Valerisa Joe-Gaddy

My son is three and a half. And it’s very important because he does tell you that he’s three and a half.

Lisbeth Iglesias-Ríos

My son does that! the halfs are important.

Valerisa Joe-Gaddy

He he he’s in preschool right now. He absolutely loves Ghostbusters. But only then 1982 version, not the newer ones.

Lisbeth Iglesias-Ríos

He likes the music or the movie or…?

Valerisa Joe-Gaddy

Both. Yeah, his favorite character’s Peter Venkman. He is very quiet. And he’s very, you know, he’s kind of a shy kid. But, but overall he’s he’s he’s like a really funny dude. When you really get to know him and talk to him. Everyone just enjoys him. Yeah, he’s he’s very. You said he’s funny. Yeah, yeah, definitely. Yeah, so that’s a little bit about Ethan. Oh, he’s in. He does swimming as well. And right now he is basically just learning how to speak efficiently. Because right now he’s he’s just talking and when he talks he talks about the weirdest things but he’s, he’s a funny kid.

Lisbeth Iglesias-Ríos

Is learning your language too, an indigenous language?

Valerisa Joe-Gaddy

Yeah. My husband is fluent in Navajo. I’m not. So my husband has kind of taken on that role where he, he does speak to him. And I think that that’s why his sentence structure’s a little different because Navajo is different. So working on both English and Navajo can be a bit of a challenge. How about your son?

Lisbeth Iglesias-Ríos

he, we speak Spanish. And when he was tiny, like three years old, he was fluent in Spanish. Since starting school things have changed, and I guess all his play, and his friends speak only English. So that’s his new world. But at home, we, I speak to him in Spanish, and he understands he just doesn’t speak speak back to me in Spanish. But we read in Spanish and steel, and I want him you know, to learn my language. How it has been the journey for you, and having a kid?

Valerisa Joe-Gaddy

I had Ethan, at my last year of my PhD. So right in the middle of dissertation writing, it was… it was a struggle. Plus Ethan was born. He was born prematurely. He was born 10, almost 11 weeks early. So I had to put my my dissertation on hold and, you know, essentially be in the NICU with him the entire time. For about, I think we were in the NICU for 60 days. And he came home on oxygen. So it was, it was a it was a change from you know, during my PhD I, the only thing I had to worry about, essentially, it was myself. But now then I had at last, you know, the last and then the final part of my PhD and then I was tasked with raising this little boy as well, who was, who was, had his own health challenges and, and, and so it was a lot of late nights writing and trying to figure out how to take balance those two, I did a lot of my dissertation in the NICU, sitting there reading, reading to him water quality magazines, articles and stuff. He doesn’t. He didn’t know. I mean, as long as I was talking to him, how about you? When did you have your son? Were you in school?

Lisbeth Iglesias-Ríos

Yes, I have a similar story than you. I was taking my my comps, my comprehensive examination for my doctoral program, the worst time, a lot of stress to prepare for the exam. He was born right after I took the exam. And, you know, to be honest, my son also was born with some medical issues that we find out later on. And he was very challenging to sort of manage, you know, right away working on the dissertation. And, and all that, yes, all his medical issues. It was very, very stressful, very difficult. And now that I see things back, I’m kind of regretting not enjoying more my pregnancy. And when that moment, you know, when he was born, instead of dedicating me I was there for him. And you know, I was always very stressed out. Always thinking about “I need to do this, I need to get up the next step in school” and I think it was it was a very challenging time. And I think my big learning lesson is these events just come around once and it’s important to pause.

Valerisa Joe-Gaddy

Yeah, that’s good advice. And I feel like a big contributing factor to why, you know, my son was born early it was that I put so much pressure on myself and try to get my PhD done and try to do all this, try to do everything, but my body really couldn’t take it.

Lisbeth Iglesias-Ríos

Me too, I think is very tough when you are becoming a mom, and at the same time you’re trying to pushing yourself in finishing your… advance your career. So how’s your day to day in your household with your son?

Valerisa Joe-Gaddy

Now it’s it’s really chaotic. Because I have a he’s a toddler now. So he’s running around, talking. And he’s going to school so it’s like trying to manage, you know, lunches in the morning, school, picking him up, dropping him off. Tried to work in between there, trying to get everything done and like you said, like trying to advance my career as well. And on top of that, we have a geriatric cat that is blind. So he just recently went blind. So he’s adjusting and bumping into a lot of things right now. So, and it’s not very helpful that my son likes to tease him now that he’s blind. But, but otherwise, I feel like we’re trying to that that work-life balance is really hard to maintain, I feel like. t’s, it’s, I try to be present in the moment, but then there’s just some things like, you know, grants or you know, papers or something, something of that is always like looming and coming up, or there’s a deadline that you have to get to. So you just feel like you have to, you know, you know, sacrifice that family time to write this thing. So you can continue on with your education. But how about your, I mean, your son’s a little bit older, but I’m pretty sure you still.

Lisbeth Iglesias-Ríos

Yeah, I totally identify myself with what you’re mentioning, because I think we’re on the same boat. Yeah, I mean, the good thing is that he’s more independent now that he is eight. But life continues to be very busy, he is in different activities after school. I mean, I enjoy doing all those things with my son, and, and mostly seeing him absorb new experiences, knowledge. That’s a lot of fun. But yes, it’s true. It’s very difficult to have that balance. I don’t know how people do that. I mean, it’s is always something and I think, you know, one needs to be very, what is it, we’re very purposeful? is that the word? to set limits, and say, now it’s time for my family, or now it’s time for my kid otherwise things never happen. So this summer, I will just built some garden boxes. And I’m very excited to work on my garden and have veggies and have that time with my kid. Yeah.

Valerisa Joe-Gaddy

Is he interested in a lot of the growing and…?

Lisbeth Iglesias-Ríos

I think he is, we haven’t done anything, because I moved to this house, it’s gonna be two years. But the house is an old house from 1945, with a lot of things that were not in good shape. So little by little, you know, every year, I’m doing some repairs. And so I’m trying to push him to be more outdoorsy and work with the soil and, you know, like, grow our own vegetables and things like that. And it’s very tough to be I was working surely in all the soil, and it was a lot of work, but I’m very excited.

Valerisa Joe-Gaddy

So nothing really prepares us for the challenges that then the changes essentially, that come with raising your child so. So, so much as your changes, so much of yourself changes. So how did your kids change your perspective on your research and your work?

Lisbeth Iglesias-Ríos

Mm hmm. That’s a big question. I think for me, was the whole combo of things before, during and after having my son. But I think during my dissertation, I was working on the topic of labor trafficking. And I guess, while I was working on my dissertation, and you know, doing all the literature review and doing the analysis, just digesting the global implications of labor trafficking and exploitation, including children, was critical to inform my current work, and think about my kid, the position of my kid in this world and other kids, no? other children. How about you?

Valerisa Joe-Gaddy

I feel like my my direction has changed a little in that, before I used to be very in the lab and more like did a lot of more bench work. And now I’m doing a lot more, I feel like social behavior work in the sense that I now try to do more science communication, and more, you know, making sure that everyone can understand, you know, water quality and why it’s important and, you know, agriculture and why that’s important. You know, everyone is so quick to blame the agricultural industry for water use here in the southwest. Um, I mean, it does use 70% of the Colorado River. However, that is, you know, we need that for food, it feeds, it feeds it, it is grown into food it is grown for, you know, cows that produce milk and you know, beef and cheese. And there’s just so many other factors that I felt like, after I had my son, I did have to reexamine how much I wanted to be in the lab. And so I think it was a little bit helpful with COVID in some aspects, when we were able to transition more into staying at home, that I was able to do a little bit more of these the, like science translation and policy translation and making sure that that was something that everyone can understand. So yeah, it has changed a little, I still doing a lot of microbial stuff, but I, I am taking that the microbial sciences, and using my expertise in that, and making sure that everyone understands how to, how that is applied to water quality in agriculture, and many different avenues of life.

Lisbeth Iglesias-Ríos

Do you want to stay in academia?

Valerisa Joe-Gaddy

Yeah, I think I am planning on staying in academia. Right now, I know that that for me, it has been very helpful to be in academia, because I have had the, the pleasure of working a little bit more on my own time. So so being able to, you know, have that… being able to, you know, rearrange my schedule to make sure that I met at an event that for my son is a little bit it’s something that I really like a part of academia.

Lisbeth Iglesias-Ríos

I agree, I, I really with you, I, I have that flexibility. And some days, you know, things happen, and maybe you were went to work on during the weekend, and that’s gonna work for you. But as long as you move on, I think there’s that flexibility is precious, I think is… that’s freedom in a way, is very important when, when you have kids. The only thing that worries me to be honest about academia is the difficulty, is academia is very complex. And I see sometimes very few tenure positions, and it’s very difficult to get there. And then I one of the things that I dislike is that I would like in academia to have more integration of community work. And now just, you know, like publications, like base merit on publications, and not in the work that one is doing, or developing with communities. So I was going to ask you now that we’re talking about this, how do you see your work influence your parenting?

Valerisa Joe-Gaddy

So I guess for me, I try to be more environmentally friendly. So I noticed that with my with my son, he is very aware of that, in the sense that he… when he was at school, and he saw that someone turn on the hose and left it on he like ran over there and tried to turn it off himself. And then he had to have a teacher come and help him turn it off. And he’s like, “no water running!” And yeah, I thought it was important. But I can see that my, my work has influenced him in the sense that he is much more aware of water and you know, his access to water. He is a lot. He’s a lot more water conscious than I was when I was his age. How about, how about your son?

Lisbeth Iglesias-Ríos

Um, I think my work is onI guess precarious employment and labor exploitation. So I think one of the things that I value most is to be able to raise him in a more empathetic way, you know, to someone that cares about people and the world that surrounds him. I guess I tried to show him to be grateful and value his interactions with others and think about the impact of our actions in the environment. I think, as you mentioned that the kids just absorb some ways it comes out and they, they absorb that from us. And I always want to ask you are your key or your son more aware of environmental injustice is that you were as a kid?

Valerisa Joe-Gaddy

It does, I feel like it does to kind of take like a mental toll on him. I mean, he’s only three, but he’s already, you know, lives through this drought that we’re having out here and like wildfires and COVID. And, and one of the things I noticed, too, is that like, during COVID, we were very, the Navajo Nation got hit pretty hard. And we were very careful and making sure that my, my parents and my husband’s parents were okay, since they still reside there. But my son is still very cautious about that, even when we go visit them now. He’s like, make sure to wash your hands, because that’s, that’s what we were saying to him the entire time was like, “make sure to wash your hands. We don’t want to get my grandma grandpa sick,” you know. So now he is very, he washes his hands. And I don’t want to, you know, he’s more aware. But also, I don’t want to make him worry all the time. How about your son? I mean, he’s a little bit older. So.

Lisbeth Iglesias-Ríos

But I don’t know if Alex is more aware, I think is different. I grew up in Mexico City, which is among the most polluted cities in the world. And I do remember being very aware of discussions about air pollution, because we live through that, you know, like, we have a day that you cannot use the car. And the cars have stickers, like the yellow car circulates is a and then the blue one and things like that. Noise pollution, water contamination. There’s also restrictions of provision of water in the city. And now my father is still living in Mexico City. So now it’s worse. So I remember feeling as a kid, very impotent when facing these environmental issues. And I remember also appreciating green spaces and the parks. For Alex, I think is different. I think he’s, he’s aware, but at the same time, we, you know, we live in Michigan, we see the rivers, like maybe have that. I was a kif, so I think it’s a little bit different, but he hears you know, stories about the chemicals and the PFAs, you know, like that comes to his mind. And I agree with you, you want them to be conscious and aware, but you don’t want to create the anxiety when facing these issues. But I just wish that I can influence and guide him in the in the most positive way and, and that he will become a man that is conscious about people and, and I think that’s what I want him to be – more empathetic, more, you know, learning how to work in solidarity with others. I think that’s very important. How about you?

Valerisa Joe-Gaddy

Yeah, I, I echo all those, those thoughts as well. But I also really want to make sure that my son Ethan is very, looks at the whole picture and sees that everything is holistically. I feel like sometimes when I tell people I’m in research, they automatically think like medical research or something in that area. But research spans all different areas. And that, you know, just because I look at water and more of like, more of like, the, the the resources available in farmers that doesn’t make it any less important than, you know, medical research or anything. So I want him to make sure that going into, you know, as raising him, that he looks at the big picture, as opposed to having these narrow focuses. So

Lisbeth Iglesias-Ríos

I agree with you, and I guess. At the end of the day, we want them to be happy What is your favorite thing about being a mom?

Valerisa Joe-Gaddy

I guess I love seeing him just grow and figure out things on his own. And both like physically and mentally like he can switch on the light It’s now by himself. And he that was such a big thing. He was like “look mom!”. And but also he’s, he has like a push bike. So yeah, kind of. But over the weekend, he moved up a level in his swim class, because he actually swam by himself for the first time. Like, without any, you know, any additional yeah, flotation or anything. So he swam, and he was so proud of and that just made me feel really, like, proud. And it’s like, little tiny things like that, that I didn’t think that would make me so, you know, emotional and be like, I’m just just love that little guy. How about you? What’s your favorite thing about being a mom?

Lisbeth Iglesias-Ríos

Well, I’m with you. You know, I think being a mom is like a privilege. And I enjoy also seen my song growing up, exploring and absorbing the world. I think there are good teachers for us a smaller. I’ve learned a lot about myself, while being a mom, you know, in many aspects, I think when I see things overall, being a mom is the most difficult thing I have ever done. It’s not the PhD, is not the dissertation, is not anything, it’s just being a mom.

Brian Bienkowski

Okay, folks, I hope you enjoyed that conversation. And now as promised, Lisbeth sat down with her son Alex, to talk about his relationship to the environment and some of his thoughts about how we can better protect the Earth.

Lisbeth Iglesias-Ríos

This is Alex.

Alex Iglesias

Hello.

Lisbeth Iglesias-Ríos

You want to introduce yourself?

Alex Iglesias

My name is Alex. I am seven year old, seven years old. Sorry. I do live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, by the way, um, and, and even though I am separated with my two parents, I do go between houses. And I quite enjoy it. I am quite fine. And I think my mom here kind of wants to ask me some questions. So let me pass it there.

Lisbeth Iglesias-Ríos

Okay, so we were talking about the environment, the Earth and climate change.

Alex Iglesias

Yes.

Lisbeth Iglesias-Ríos

What do you want to share, Alex?

Alex Iglesias

Quite much about climate change that I’ve been thinking about, in my mind, pretty much like, like, basically our, basically, on quite much if you’re gonna ask this question. I know it is. Probably what is climate change? Imagine the world as the human body. If we don’t water it and feed it. I mean, in a way it will not. It will just not keep standing. And, or not live because even even though it’s even though if a couple of people just don’t take care of it, even put up a big world impacts. You got any more questions?

Lisbeth Iglesias-Ríos

Just talk about what do you think about the environment? What can we do?

Alex Iglesias

I think what we should do is stop relying on machines, todo things. And maybe start going, maybe just start going more farmers, less machines because the way we originally like before we even invented machines. Most people say the food tasted way better, they did a better job. And or Andrew was less like viruses that might come into the foods and quite much. And for like global impacts like people littering all around. I think for our schools, maybe you could try doing a school project or anything. Or and if you see litter, you should either pick it up or maybe well pretty much just pick it up. And if there’s any recycle bins or trash bins around, um, you should probably throw it in there to help the environment more. And if you see anybody, like throwing litter on the ground, you might just go to them and say Hey, could you please pick that up? And I bet they will. Um, any other questions?

Lisbeth Iglesias-Ríos

What will be a good idea for the school. What type of project do you envision that can be helpful to for kids to learn about climate change or the environment?

Alex Iglesias

Maybe maybe like their teachers can yeah pretty much maybe like the teachers can make up like and just tell the kids sincerely like to maybe if they see like some litter on the floor, maybe they should clean it up and and and if they see like plastic on the floor they should put it in the recycling bin. Any other questions?

Lisbeth Iglesias-Ríos

Why do you think we need to take care of our planet?

Alex Iglesias

Basically ourselves, the soil, the planet and the animals that are living in it because we if we didn’t take care of our pets we won’t have any pets today. And quite much all types of living creatures. Like in the sea we need to protect the sea. Some people now just throw a bunch of litter in it like plastic bags and and turtles think it’s like jellyfish and they eat it and they can get really sick or, or just get really sick, get bad cold or just completely get wiped out. Any other questions?

Brian Bienkowski

That is all for this week, folks. I hope you enjoyed Val and Lisbeth’s conversation and Alex. Alex, I have so many more questions for you and you seem like such a cool little dude. I’m so glad he was part of our podcast today. If you enjoy this podcast visit agentsofchangein ej.org. And while you’re there, click the donate button. You can also find us on Twitter and Instagram and please follow us on Spotify, iTunes or Stitcher wherever you get your podcast.