Monthly Archives: February 2015

Thoughts on Career and Family, when Family Doesn’t Go as You Expect

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This is kind of what our kids’ night event looked like, just with different science paraphernalia. 🙂

Wow, the universe seemed to be trying really hard to make me feel better yesterday.  I think it worked.

In the afternoon, I got a phone call that I’d won a prize for my research.  Woohoo!  It’s a fairly small-scale prize (like, not on a national or international level), but I’m pleased nonetheless — I hadn’t even imagined I’d be in the running.  And who doesn’t love a surprise phone call on a Friday afternoon from someone who only wants to compliment you on your research!

Then in the evening, we hosted our first kids’ science outreach event, which is part of the Broader Impacts portion of my recent NSF grant.  Despite a few hiccups, I’m ready to declare it a total and unqualified success!  There is a grad student in our department who has been SO excited about our kids’ nights, and she has really been driving the events (I had already rolled out one portion of my Broader Impacts and figured I’d save kids’ nights for next semester, but she was so enthusiastic that I let her run with it).  It was just wonderful to see her taking charge, making the event work, and being successful with it.  We’d worked REALLY hard on advertising, and got the perfect size crowd.  Most families stayed late, after the event had officially finished, because their kids were so engaged in the various activities we had planned.  I heard some parents asking their kids if they wanted to come back another time, and without hesitation they all said yes!

It was a little bit sad to run a kids’ night on the evening of the day I’d found out I’m not pregnant this cycle, especially since it involved watching a couple of professor friends interacting with their kids, but I was able to deal with it.

But yesterday made me think about balancing career and family.  It gets talked about a lot in science.  As a grad student, I went to plenty of events for women in science that focused on balancing career and family, and I lobbied for maternity leave for grad students at my university (successfully, I might add!), even though I wasn’t ready to have kids yet.  But in many ways, I’ve been “lucky” when it comes to balancing career and family, in the sense that I haven’t had to make large sacrifices yet.  I met my husband a couple of weeks into my postdoc, and he has a flexible enough job that he was able to follow me when I took this faculty job in a less-desirable area of the country for his work.  And as for kids… well, just take a look at the rest of this site.  I’ve had to balance my career against a lot of doctors appointments and dealing with the enormous emotional and physical setback that was the loss of my daughter last fall, but on the whole, I can still work evenings and weekends without penalty.  It has probably helped my career.

Sometimes these days, when my career is going well, I feel… I don’t know… I think I feel like my career success in some part comes from my lack of children.  It’s not as though I’ve significantly delayed childbearing in favor of my career — we started trying to have kids when I was 30, which is normal or even early for academics.  But it hasn’t worked out for us yet, which means that I’ve had more time in my early career to focus on research, teaching, and outreach than a lot of my peers.  So sometimes my research success comes tinged with guilt and sadness.  It’s especially easy to think that way when I compare my career/life trajectory to that of the good friend who is the father of the little girl who was due at the same time as mine (see post from a few days ago).  He also works in my field, but he got married 5 years before me, and already has a 3.5-year-old (and now a 5-day-old).  This year he was on the job market and got no offers, so he’s leaving academic science.  Sometimes I feel like his success in family life and lack of success in science is a mirror image to my success in science and lack of success in family life.  That’s a far too simplistic view of the situation, but it’s one that I can’t help but think about sometimes, especially when I’m feeling down about whether or not we’ll ever have kids.

Well, there’s nothing to be done for it.  The other way of looking at it, of course, is that I’m extremely fortunate to have a multifaceted life, with many different things that I care deeply about.  I have a job that I dreamed about for years.  I love it, I’ve been at least moderately successful at it, and it’s the sort of job that I can use to help other people learn and grow (like supporting the grad student through her success with kids’ night last night).  Being a professor at a liberal arts college is a very parental role in some ways, even if your kids all disappear at the end of the day.  And I get to keep doing the science that fascinates me, and even occasionally get some recognition for doing it well, like the phone call I got yesterday.

I know that we will be parents to a living child someday.  If biology doesn’t work out for us, we will adopt (I’m very positive about adopting, particularly since I have an adopted family member that I’m very close to, and have even mentioned the idea of going that route sooner rather than later — my husband is a little more biologically focused, so we’re keeping on for now, but it’s definitely an option for us).  Even when the uncertainty about the timing of expanding our family is hard, I keep reminding myself that we will be parents to a living child one way or another.  I am a very fortunate person.  I have a multifaceted life full of joy, meaningful work, and fulfilling relationships.  Our difficulties with bringing a living child into the world are one part of that life, but they don’t have to overshadow every other part.  It’s nice to have a day like yesterday to help remind me that my life is meaningful and appreciated even when it’s hard.

Better luck next month

Predictably, yesterday was a false alarm.  Oh, well.  I keep telling myself that it was just our first try.  Usually charting is a way to keep me from freaking out at the end of the two week wait, but this time it tricked me.

And I get to spend tonight at a kids’ science outreach event.  Just what I needed.

These constant cycles of hope and disappointment are so hard.

Hunh.

So, here’s a thing that’s been happening the past couple of days…

Yesterday, my temps jumped up higher than they’ve been since I was pregnant, and stayed there today.  (A clear triphasic BBT, for those of you who chart.)  My chart looks *exactly* like my pregnant chart, and unlike any of my non-pregnant charts (I’ve only ever seen a 99.1F reading when I was pregnant — I have high temps in general, but my normal luteal phase temp is 98.6-98.8).  So I got excited and tested this morning (13 dpo).

BFN.  (Negative, for those not into fertility lingo.)

Then I noticed that the test was expired by several months.  And I’m using the cheapies.

I told my husband, and he said, “Well, clearly we should go crazy and freak out because your temperatures have been elevated for two days.  Either that or we should be depressed and miserable because a cheap expired pregnancy test told you you weren’t pregnant.”  (That made me laugh… I love my husband!)

So, tonight I’ll go buy a good test from the drug store, and tomorrow, we shall see.

I thought I was ready to not be pregnant this cycle.  And now my head is swimming.  Maybe I’m just a little bit sick.  But what a coincidence for my temperature to get elevated to exactly the same level on exactly the same day it did in my pregnant cycle!  And I had a slow temp rise with ovulation this month… the coverline told me that this is 13dpo, but that means that I would have ovulated a day sooner after the OPK turned positive than I usually do.   So maybe I’m actually 12dpo?  It’s easy to imagine that a cheap expired pregnancy test would be negative at 12dpo (or maybe even 13dpo).  And if I am pregnant this month, it’s approximately the worst possible timing on the academic calendar — I’d be due on Halloween, give or take a day, so I probably wouldn’t be able to teach a whole class in the fall and would have to take leave next semester, but then I might have my baby as late as mid-November, which would mean only two months of leave before I’d have to start teaching again.  Then I kick myself — who cares about the timing?  I might be pregnant again!  I might have a chance at a living baby!  I’ll do anything for that chance, and the academic calendar… we’d figure something out.

So anyway, today I’ve got babybabybabybabybaby running through my head, which sucks because I really need to get some work done (my lecture prep for this afternoon… nonexistent).  Maybe I’ll go do that now… I’ll have news one way or another in the next day or two!  Ah, the uncertainty and emotional hiccups of TTC…

The little girl that was due at the same time as mine is born

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Our two little girls were going to be best buds.

When I was just shy of three months pregnant, we skyped with two close friends of ours.

“We have some news,” they told us.

“Yeah?”

“[Friend] is pregnant!”

“Wait, when are you due?”

“Mid-February…”

“No way — me too!”

We laughed and laughed and were so excited.  Our daughters were going to be virtual siblings.  They’d grow up together, lead parallel lives.  We’d hit all the parenting milestones together (they already had a three-year-old, so this is the second time around for them, but at least they’d be doing it fresh).  We’d have play dates.  Maybe our daughters would become close friends, just like their parents.

During that conversation, I thought but didn’t say “This is great, but what if one of our babies dies and the other doesn’t?  Will it wreck our friendship?”  I had no reason to believe that either baby would die, but I’m apparently a morbid person.  Mere hours before our 18-week prenatal check-up I’d been reading about statistics on second trimester miscarriage, so as soon as the midwife couldn’t find the heartbeat I was able to say coolly to my husband “There’s only about a 0.5% chance of miscarrying a chromosomally normal fetus during the second trimester.  I’m far enough along that they’ll probably have to induce labor.”  So yes, the thought went through my mind, although I knew the odds were low.

Well, someone has to be the rarity.  Almost two months later our daughter died.

Thankfully, it didn’t wreck our friendship — but only because those friends are some of the most awesome friends on the planet.  They (specifically the husband) called daily in the weeks after our daughter died, and weekly or biweekly since then.  During our first conversation I blubbered into the phone, “I want you to know that I’m still excited for you and that I’ll love your new baby just as much as I love [older child].”  They never talked about their pregnancy unless I asked, and even then, no complaints, only as much as I asked for.  When I had important doctors’ appointments coming up, they remembered and checked in afterwards.  Their older daughter was the first little kid I remember talking to after our baby died.  But I know her, and I love her, so it was OK.

This morning their second daughter was born, five days after my daughter’s due date.  I got the call as I was getting home from work.  And you know what?  I held it together.  I could tell that the husband was ready for me to break down, which probably isn’t what he wants to deal with mere hours after adding a new baby to the family, but he called me from the hospital anyway.  I asked the right questions.  I laughed when he mistakenly told me that the baby was 40 inches instead of 20 inches.  I told them how happy we are for them, and told them we want to send them dinner when they’re back home.  I listened to the saga of the wait for the epidural, and about how things went so fast that the mom was told to stop pushing until the doctor arrived.  It was a nice conversation.  I’m genuinely happy and excited for them, and I think I was able to communicate that.

But am I crying now?  You betcha.

One of the hardest things in all of this has been seeing time marching on for other families.  Friends are becoming new moms left and right.  Babies are becoming toddlers, preschoolers are starting kindergarten, and little siblings are becoming big siblings.  But nothing ever changes for us.  Our life as parents was put on hold 4.5 months after it started, and hasn’t budged and inch since — in many ways, it feels like a backslide.  She should have been born this week, but instead she’s dead, and hardly anyone talks about her anymore.  As time goes on and other people’s babies grow and change, ours just gets farther and farther and farther away.  I’m probably not pregnant this month, so there goes our Halloween baby.  November, perhaps?  The year has just started, but I’m already wondering if we’ll be parents to a living child before it has ended.

Loss and Social Media

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Cute, but right now it makes me feel like someone is stabbing me repeatedly with a white-hot sewing needle.

I counted the other day.  A statistical sample of the top 50 items in my facebook feed included 13 baby- or child-related posts.  That’s more than a quarter of my facebook feed that makes me want to cower in a corner with a pint of chocolate ice cream and a large box of tissues.

Not that I’m not happy for my friends.  I am, really I am!  But I’m somehow capable of a sort of wave-particle duality in which I can simultaneously be overjoyed for the happiness of my nearest and dearest while also feeling the most intense jealousy and anger that I am capable of feeling.

Lately it seems to be third-child announcements.  THIRD child.  Like, they already have two living, breathing children, and all of a sudden they’re blithely announcing that another is on the way.  Usually five or six months in advance — today I saw an announcement for late July.  There’s about twelve feet of snow on the ground, but they’re already thinking about midsummer when their third bundle of joy will arrive to join its big siblings on picnics and walks in the woods and I might not even be pregnant by then.  And even though these women are all less far along than the stage when we lost our baby, probably things will be fine and their midsummer bundle of joy will arrive right on schedule.  Seriously, how is that fair?!?!  (And let’s not even talk about women airing their pregnancy complaints on facebook.  Ugh.)

I don’t know what most of these families have been through — maybe they’ve experienced pain and loss too — but that’s part of the problem, isn’t it?  On facebook, all I see is the whitewashed happy family of soon-to-be five.  I don’t hear about the pain, and therefore my imagination assumes there isn’t any.  And my subconscious balances their three living babies against my one dead one and I feel bitter.

I hate feeling bitter.  Most of the time, I do so well at seeming normal.  I’ve dandled a couple of six-month old babies in the last few weeks without even crying.  Just yesterday I cooed over a wee one, bounced her around, flew her like an airplane, and her dad told me that even though she’s in a stranger-danger phase she seemed totally at ease with me.  I like babies, and most of the time they like me back.  But my goodness, does it hurt.  To hold those babies, and then hand them back to their parents, and then go back home to a house with a big empty bedroom and a closet full of hand-me-down baby items that people started sending when I was three or four months pregnant.  And yesterday, dad-of-the-wee-one (his third, by the way) so casually talked about when we have kids… which as far as we know now, might never happen.  Or might as well be a decade from now.  At least, that’s how I feel.

I don’t know that there’s a solution, other than staying off facebook entirely, but I do know that if — when — we finally welcome a living baby someday, I’ll talk about the bittersweet nature of our experience.  I don’t know if I’ll want to post on facebook until after our story has a happy ending, whatever that might be.  I never announced my first pregnancy to my facebook “friends,” which was a huge relief in the end.  But sometimes I find myself writing a still totally hypothetical second-baby announcement in my head.  Lately it’s been going like this:

“One year ago today, our first daughter was born.  Most of you haven’t heard much about her, because she died from a placental abruption when I was 4.5 months pregnant.  Today, we’re overjoyed to announce that we’re expecting our second baby in December.  We make this announcement with hope, love, and not a little bit of trepidation.  I hope you’ll see good news here in a few months.  If you ever find yourself going through the particular hell that is second trimester pregnancy loss, please know that we are here for you.”

The two week wait after loss

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Amen! (Except math. 7×14 days is only like 3.5 months. But otherwise I agree.)

I really thought I was over the two week wait anxiety.  You’d think I’d have learned by now that there’s no rushing biology.

Speaking of which… has anyone else had the embarrassing experience of realizing how hopelessly naive they were about reproductive biology before they started trying to get pregnant?  I know I can’t be alone… I remember seeing this study making waves in the media around this time last year.

The last time I received any formal instruction in reproductive biology — around 10th grade or so — it was mostly designed to freak me out about how easy it would be to get pregnant, how it might only take one act of unprotected sex, and BAM!  A baby.  (With the implication that my education and life would be effectively OVER.)  In 8th grade we all giggled at the old condom-over-the-banana act, and in 10th grade we collectively blushed while labeling the parts of the male and female reproductive systems, but at no point do I remember learning about the mechanics of ovulation and the timing of baby-making sex.  You’d think someone might have mentioned it.

As a slightly neurotic, academically oriented, driven and ambitious young woman, I was, I now realize, absurdly and excessively cautious about birth control.  I insisted on condoms, even though I was on the pill (which is just good practice for preventing STIs, but honestly I was mostly worried about pregnancy).  As a 26-year-old, my then-boyfriend convinced me that we should try sex without a condom — he told me he’d pull out in time (oh, what famous last words!).  Predictably, one time he didn’t.  I freaked out, and ran to the drugstore to buy plan B the same day.  Did I mention I was on birth control pills?  We hadn’t even had unprotected sex.  But I was taking no chances.

Intellectually, I knew bad things happened with fertility and pregnancy… I just didn’t think they’d happen to me.  People had been telling me my whole life how to avoid unwanted pregnancy, so I naturally concluded that once I wanted it, pregnancy would be as easy as falling off a log.

Snort.

And that brings me to the two week wait.  In our early days of trying to get pregnant, when I still wasn’t really sure how ovulation and implantation worked, I whipped out my first pregnancy test at 7dpo (by the way, I had no idea when ovulation was at that point… I still thought my cycles were going to be regular 28-day cycles and guesstimated accordingly).  Eventually, as my cycles got weirder and waits got longer, I did some reading about fertility rates per cycle, sighed, and settled in for the long haul.  I learned to relax and think about other things while I waited to get pregnant, knowing that it was normal for it to take a few months.  I thought I was over the two week wait, really I did… until now.

I ovulated on Saturday.  Every day, multiple times a day, I wonder if I’m going to get pregnant this cycle.  I know I probably won’t.  We timed sex perfectly (day of ovulation and one day before — thanks, OPKs!), but even so there’s only about a 30-40% chance it’ll happen this cycle.  And that means that more likely than not, I won’t be pregnant, and we’ll have to try again.  I fully expect it.  And yet, there’s a treacherous little piece of me — OK, a big piece of me — that thinks, “Yeah, but what if…”

For better or for worse, I seem to be one of the lucky(?) women who gets an early hint from implantation bleeding.  Before my pregnancy with our daughter, for both cycles using the OPK I experienced very clear implantation bleeding a week after ovulation (I suspect the first was a blighted ovum).  That means that I’m freaked out for this weekend, waiting to see if the telltale smear of blood will appear on my towel after my morning shower.  If I see it, I’ll be even more anxious the following week while I watch my temperatures every day and wait to take a test.  If I don’t, I know I’ll keep thinking “Yeah, but what if…”

Why is this suddenly so much harder after loss?  Part of it is good: I have hope again, finally!  Now that we can try, I want to try!  All of a sudden, our baby might be only nine months away!  (If we get pregnant this cycle and it sticks, it’ll be a Halloween baby, in case anyone is wondering.)  It feels like the early days of trying to get pregnant, when every cycle might bring our longed-for baby.  But part of it is desperation: I’ve waited so long now, surely it must be my turn!  What if I’m not as healed as they told me I was?  What if there’s some lingering damage from my train wreck of a pregnancy that is keeping me from getting pregnant?  Do I really have to wait another year before going back to the reproductive endocrinologist?  I need help, people!  To sum it up, there’s a lot of anxiety underlying the getting pregnant process after our loss.  (And I’m sure there’ll be even more anxiety if we ever get to the being pregnant process again… but that’s a subject for another post or six.)

Anyway, that’s where we are today.  In two hours, the calendar will flip to my birthday / due date.  I’ve been weepy today, and I suspect I will be tomorrow.  Also in the background is my worry that stressing over the birthday / due date combination is going to reduce my chances of implantation this cycle.  But I’ve got a long (9am-9pm) workday ahead of me, so at least I’ll be staying busy.

Solidarity fist bump to those of you out there who are struggling through the two week wait after loss.  If you’ve got any tips, please share!

My Birthday / Due Date

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My morbid black birthday cake?

My birthday is this week.  My birthday is (was?) also our baby’s due date.

Birthdays have never been a big deal for me.  I’ve enjoyed every age that I’ve been — some more than others, but I’ve never been bummed about moving on to the next one.  This is the first one that’s felt like it comes with a ticking clock.  I’ll be 32 this year.  I know, I know, lots of women don’t have their first baby by 32, especially these days, especially academics.  Still.  We started trying to get pregnant when I was 30, and in some ways it feels like we’re actually farther away from being parents now than we were when we started.  When time slogs by in months — from cycle to cycle, with 9 months of pregnancy ahead if we ever get that far (oh, how I hope the next one lasts nine months!) — years start to seem short.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about our parents’ birthdays.  My mom and my husband’s parents are going to be such wonderful grandparents, but as they enter their mid-60s I wonder how much time our future children will have to get to know them.  My first grandparent died in his 60s.  One died in her 70s.  Another in his 80s.  And the last a year ago in her 90s.  There’s no predicting it, of course, and they’re reasonably healthy so far, but as our parents start to creep up on those ages — while we spin our wheels in the land of pregnancy loss and infertility — I worry.

And of course, there’s the very obvious absence of our daughter this February.  My husband’s birthday is almost two weeks after mine, so odds are that our daughter would have been born in between our birthdays.  We were so excited about being a February family.  When I was pregnant, I used to daydream about my birthday.  I had imagined how uncomfortable I’d be — but how joyful I’d be as well.

That said, what makes this birthday / due date double-whammy a little easier to deal with is the good news we had on Monday.  All of a sudden we’ve gone from months of bad news and uncertainty to good news and hope.  This week also marks our first attempt at getting pregnant.  If I do get pregnant this cycle (unlikely as that may be), I’ll feel as though it’s partly our daughter’s doing — a gift from her as she encourages us to move on with our lives.