Monthly Archives: May 2015

Real Neat Blog Award

What a lovely and well-timed surprise!  Sweeping Up the Broken Pieces has nominated me for the Real Neat Blog Award.  Thank you!

It’s well-timed because I was just thinking today that I feel so very much in limbo while I wait to talk to the RE about our recent abnormal HSG results.  I really don’t have anything pregnancy-related to write about at the moment, since my mind is just a spiral of what-ifs.  And I don’t have a whole lot of academia-related topics on my mind either, since we’re in the sleepy between-semester time.  But, thanks to Sweeping Up the Broken Pieces, I have an opportune chance for a super-fun distraction!

Rules for “The Real Neat Blog Award”:

Put the Award Logo in your post.
Answer the 7 questions asked by the person who nominated you.
Thank the person/people who nominated you and link to their blogs.
Nominate any number of bloggers you like and link to their blogs.
Ask them 7 questions.
Let them know you’ve nominated them with a comment.

Now, I know that there are a lot of these awards floating around out there, so please don’t feel any pressure to go through with passing on the award.  But it’s fun for me to pass on the love, and so why not highlight a few blogs whose responses I’d enjoy reading? 🙂

My nominees are… (drumroll, please!)

The Sky and Back

Miscarriage Memoirs

Life Beyond Heartbreak

A Calm Persistance

Empty Arms, Full Hearts

Answers to the seven questions I was asked:

1. What is your favorite memory from high school?

Oh, so many possibilities!  When I read my journals from high school, my chatter is all about classes, friendships, who likes whom, insecurities, and a teenager’s clumsy attempts to figure out the more profound aspects of life.  When I think back about high school now, I remember being the only freshman girl in an advanced physics class otherwise full of senior boys, blossoming from the shy middle schooler who could go a whole day without speaking to the star of the high school play, the summers selling vegetables and babysitting at the beach, and friends.  Oh, my friends.  I’ve written before about my ongoing internet-mediated YA book club with two of my closest friends from high school.  When I think about high school now, it’s all tied together with the lives that my friends and I have led since then.  I can’t remember reading my friend’s first stories and novels between classes without thinking about the amazement that washed over me when her first published novel arrived in the mail two years ago.  I can’t remember my closest friend in my class year (who had open heart surgery at the age of 12) training endlessly to pass the physical entry requirements to the Citadel without thinking about how since then she’s joined the Army Corps of Engineers and done tours of duty in Afghanistan and Turkey.  I can’t remember my other friend’s sweet and creative handmade holiday gifts without thinking about how she’s since gotten an MBA and gone on to start businesses and blogs that highlight her amazing imagination and versatility.  I guess my favorite memory from high school is remembering the entire arc of our journey to adulthood together.  Does that count? 🙂

2. Who is your favorite athlete?

Aw, crud.  Can I even name an athlete?  Michael Jordan?  Here’s how non-sports-oriented I am…  We live in the Northeast US.  You may have heard about this year’s “deflategate” at the Super Bowl, which involved the New England Patriots (the sacred football heroes of the Northeast region).  Well, whether or not you’ve heard of it, I hadn’t.  The way I heard about deflategate was that one of my colleagues came into work talking about how he’d worked out a great physics derivation for his class showing how much pressure a football would lose as a function of how cold it got outside.  It took a whole conversation to figure out that this was somehow related to something that was happening in a football game, and that I should probably be aware of it.  I am the worst at knowing about athletes.

3. When did you know your husband/wife/significant other was “the one?”

Aw, fun question!  I love getting all soppy and nostalgic about my husband. 🙂 I often feel like we don’t have a good “start-of-the-relationship” story, because we met online.  But after we started writing to one another, before we met in person, I google-stalked him (easy, because he has a unique name) and found out that he’d done a math summer program with one of my friends from college.  So I wrote to her and asked “Hey, do you remember this guy?  Is he crazier than the average mathematician?” and she wrote back and said, “Oh!  Not only do I remember him, but he’s one of my favorite people!  I’m sure you guys will get along!”  As a result, I acquiesced to a first date in which my now-husband picked me up at my house and drove me to a remote state park where we proceeded to go on a many-hour hike and picnic in the woods.  At the end, we weren’t ready to go home, so we drove another hour to the beach (this was when we lived in California) and walked on the beach before getting dinner.  All told, our first date was 8 hours long(!).  I’d never experienced such an immediate connection with someone — it felt like we’d known each other our whole lives.  I can’t say I knew he was “the one” at that point, but I strongly suspected. 🙂

4. How best do you relax after a stressful day?

I walk my dog, and snuggle on the couch with my husband while watching an episode of silly TV (currently Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Modern Family).  We’ve been doing a lot of that lately — we’re not much for TV watching, but it’s been a stressful 8 months.

5. If you could star in any TV show which show would it be?

Oh, I know the answer to this one: Star Trek: The Next Generation!  Who wouldn’t want to be Captain Picard, and travel faster than the speed of light to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no one has gone before?!  I started watching ST:TNG when it premiered in 1987 (I was four years old).  I used to dream that I was a character on ST:TNG when I was a kid.  At first I wanted to be Wesley Crusher, but these days I’d probably opt for Geordi.  (I’d love to be Captain Picard, but I’m not sure I’m the type.)

6. If you auditioned on American Idol what song would you sing?

This is a big “if,” but mostly I tend to like to sing folk songs, rounds, and Renaissance music.  I’m not sure that’d get me onto the show, but hey, now that Katniss Everdeen’s faux Appalachian folk song has been remixed for pop radio, why the heck not???

7. What is your favorite comfort food?

Hm, I have a lot of comfort foods. 🙂 I’ll break this down into a few categories:
Snack food: White cheddar popcorn.  It was one of the only foods I could reliably eat throughout the first trimester of my first pregnancy.  It’s my occasional grocery-store splurge.  Dessert: Steamed chocolate pudding with hard sauce.  It’s a family tradition — my grandmother used to make it every year, and after she died nobody made it that first year for Thanksgiving, which I decided was unacceptable.  Ever since, I’ve made it for Thanksgiving, using my grandmother’s recipe.  Love the stuff. And despite not being a drinker at all normally, I make that sauce really hard. 🙂
Restaurant food: There’s a Lebanese bakery in the city near where I grew up, and I’ve been eating their savory pies for as long as I can remember.  It’s the taste of childhood, and whenever I go home we get them as a treat.
Dinner: This has changed over the years.  Lately, I’d have to say my husband’s saag paneer.  It’s simple, quick, wholesome, and he’s got this amazing recipe from Lord Krishna’s Cuisine that always comes out perfect, no matter how much we mess with the recipe.  Yum.

Seven questions for my nominees:

1. Describe one fun and/or relaxing thing you did this past weekend.

2. Describe an important person in your life who doesn’t get mentioned on your blog a lot.

3. If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

4. What are some of your favorite books?  (Yes, I’m hunting for summer reading recommendations.) 🙂

5. Who did you look up to as a kid?  Do you still look up to that person?

6. Do you consider yourself a science person?  If yes, what first got you excited about science?  If no, was there something that turned you off?

7. Do you have any fun plans for the summer?

Down the Tubes… Sort of.

This is what my HSG looked like the first time… today, not so much.

Today I had my 2nd HSG (a test to check whether or not your fallopian tubes are open, and sometimes to look at the anatomy of your uterine cavity).  I had my first HSG almost exactly a year ago, it was perfectly normal, and I got pregnant in the next cycle.  This year, things are looking a little bit different.

Apparently I’ve fallen into a gray area.  The good news: both my tubes are open (i.e., the dye went down the tubes and spilled out the other end, as it is supposed to do).  The bad news: both tubes show signs of significant damage, one more than the other.  Unsurprisingly, the left tube is the one that looks really screwy — that’s also the side on which I experienced endometrial scarring after my first pregnancy.  The radiologist showed me the images, and pointed out how the dye was reluctant to spill out, and sort of pooled in a big lumpy area towards the ovary.  That was the damaged bit.  It did spill in the end, but the pooling was a bad sign.  On the right side things looked mostly, but not entirely, normal.  There was subtle evidence of damage, but the dye spilled readily from the end as it was supposed to.

I’m… not yet sure what this means.  I tried to ask a bunch of questions, but things were happening kind of fast, and I think the radiologist and the fellow aren’t supposed to discuss anything related to treatment or next steps — that’s a job for my doctor.  The fellow asked if I’d scheduled a follow-up with the reproductive endocrinologist (RE) yet.  I said I hadn’t, and he said I should definitely schedule one to discuss it with her.  That sounded a bit ominous.  They did tell me that since my tubes are open it is possible that I could get pregnant, but that I’d be at high risk of an ectopic pregnancy because of the damage.  In the little bit of googling I’ve done since then, it seems that depending on the severity of the tubal scarring, either they’ll continue with fertility treatments and watch me like a hawk in case I do wind up with an ectopic pregnancy, or they might even recommend going straight to IVF.  I’m really not sure yet.  Clearly I need to talk to the RE about her impression of the results and my options for the future.  With one mostly-normal tube, the outlook might not be that bad, but with one very screwed up tube the danger of an ectopic pregnancy might be too high to risk it.  I just don’t know yet.

I got back from the hospital too late to schedule the follow-up appointment with the RE, so I don’t yet know when it will be.  I guess I’ll do that in the morning.  Wish me luck.

About the experience of the HSG… I really didn’t have a very hard time with it the first time around, and this time it was still no big deal.  Yes, it’s unpleasant and crampy when they put in the catheter, but then it’s totally fine after that.  The emotional experience was very different.  I wasn’t as freaked out this time around… but everyone kept asking me if I’d had an HSG before, and when I said yes, they were really curious about why I was having another one and asked a ton of questions.  I had to tell the whole story of my daughter’s death and our subsequent misadventures three times, once for the nurse, once for the fellow, and once for the radiologist.  I was frustrated by the third time — don’t they have my chart?  Can’t they talk to each other?  Is it really medically necessary to make me repeat this painful story three times?  Since they’re just diagnosing me, not treating me, I don’t think they really needed to know — I got the impression that they were mostly just asking from curiosity.

The first nurse who brought me in to the procedure room and kept an eye on me while I changed and waited was 25 weeks pregnant.  I was feeling glum about having a pregnant woman lead me through the procedure, especially when she started asking me chatty questions like “So, do you have kids?” and “Have you ever had this test before?  Oh, then why are you having it again?” and I had to tell her my whole story.  But once we got talking, she was lovely.  She apologized for accidentally prying enough that I had to talk about our loss, and talked about how she’d had an HSG before she got pregnant, and what a wimp she was — how her doctor had given her Valium for her anxiety and she’d said “ouch, ouch, ouch!” through the whole thing, even though now she realizes it really didn’t hurt that much.  I’m assuming she wouldn’t have told this story to someone who hadn’t had the test before — since I knew I’d be fine, it came across as funny and kind, but I imagine that to someone who’d only been reading horror stories about HSGs on the internet it would be terrifying!  The nurse who was actually in the procedure room with me had the same first name as me, which was funny since it’s not a very common name.  She was nice at first, although she was talking about her kids (actually her deceased sister’s children, whom she’s raising), and then as I was leaving after getting the bad news that my tubes were scarred, she said “oh, you can have my kids!  Believe me, after a week in your house, you’d want to give them away too!” … which is very high up on the list of things that one should NOT SAY to an infertile person.  She said it again after I’d talked to the radiologist.  I thought about saying something to her about how I didn’t mind, but some people might find those sorts of statements painful, but then I didn’t.  I couldn’t think of a way to do it that wouldn’t sound defensive, and really, I just didn’t want to deal with it at that moment.

So, now I wait for the follow-up appointment with the RE, I guess.  I’m just not sure what to think at this point, other than that it would be really nice to get some good news instead of bad news for a change.  I have to say, at least for now, I don’t feel depressed and miserable about this (what a nice change, eh?!).  I actually feel a bit relieved that there’s an explanation for why we haven’t been getting pregnant, and that there are solutions available, even if some of them are massively expensive and would take over my life (i.e., IVF).  I’m in the VERY lucky position of having excellent insurance that would cover multiple rounds of IVF if we need it (although I’m sure the medications would still be massively expensive), so that’s one less source of stress at least.  Anyway, that’s my story for the day.  I’ll update again after we’ve talked to the RE.

My Surprisingly Intense Sociological Climate Study Interview

I’m always a little bit tickled to be the subject of a research study.  Who knew you could study people?! 🙂

And now for an academia/pregnancy loss crossover post…

On Monday I participated in a follow-up phone interview for a national survey of professional climate in my field, which is being run by a national women-in-science organization.  After the interviewer (a sociologist who focuses on issues of gender and minority status in the sciences) gave me her standard spiel, I said something along the lines of “Well, I’m happy to help out, but I don’t know that I’ll have much to tell you — I can’t imagine that I wrote anything interesting on the survey!”

Ha.  What was supposed to be a 45-minute interview, max, lasted for over an hour.

Sociologists are good at their jobs.  I had been thinking about the climate survey as a chance for women to talk about sexual harassment and overt sexism in the field, and I’m fortunate enough to have experienced blessedly little of this.  I’ve got my stories, as does any female physical scientist who survives to the professorial stage, but on the whole they’re quite mild compared to what many of my friends and colleagues have been through.  But man, this sociologist drew out all kinds of climate issues that I’d never even thought of as climate issues before.  I thought I’d talk about two of them today.

First: the hierarchical attitudes towards professor jobs at R1 institutions vs. liberal arts colleges. 

This came out when I was talking about my time as a postdoc, at an institution where I was very unhappy for a number of reasons.  I had (and in fact still have) several issues with my postdoctoral supervisor, who was not particularly supportive research-wise, and was blatantly unsupportive along several other dimensions.  This culminated in an experience mere weeks before I left the institution for my current job, which I shared with the interviewer:

My postdoctoral department had a Christmas play tradition.  Maybe you know the sort — every three years the responsibility rotates between students, postdocs, and faculty, and the relevant group writes, produces, and acts in a play that “roasts” various other members of the department.  Lighthearted and fun, right?  Well, my postdoctoral supervisor was the faculty member who wrote the Christmas play that happened a few weeks before I left this top R1 department for my current job.  During the play, he referred to me as a suffragette (because of my work on equity and inclusion in our field), and gave the following line to a character in the play: “Oh, [the pregnant physicist].  You don’t have to worry about her… she’s off to tutor rich kids and will never be heard from professionally again!”  And this mere weeks before starting my job as an assistant professor at a top liberal arts college.  You can bet I felt devalued, demoralized, and ready to get the heck out of that place.  It did an amazing job of making explicit many of the climate issues I’d barely been able to put into words while I was there.  But indeed, in a top R1 institution that had a fraction of female postdocs that was 1/3 of the national average in my field (which is not large to begin with), I *did* stand out as the “suffragette” type.  That’s not hard to do when you’re routinely the only woman in a room with a dozen men.  And while the grad students, male and female, were all surreptitiously asking me how they could get a job like mine, their supervisors openly mocked my career path.  Awe.  Some.

So, the interviewer and I explored this issue a little bit more, including some of the comments I’ve received since then from collaborators and faculty at other institutions.  Everything from backhanded compliments like “You know, everyone thinks you’re too good for your job” to clueless questions like “How come you’re at [institution]?  Did you not get any other faculty jobs?”  It’s a climate issue that I’d never really articulated as such, and I thought about it a lot after my interview with the sociologist ended.

Second: Departmental support (or lack thereof) after my daughter’s death

First, let me just say this: I love my department.  It was an oasis of sanity after my crappy postdoctoral experience at the top R1 institution.  My colleagues are generally wonderful human beings.  We talk to each other.  We know about each other’s research, teaching, and advising challenges and successes, and we have a basic working knowledge of each other’s personal lives as well.  We work hard to create a welcoming and inclusive environment.  We are functional and make decisions sanely and with a minimum of politics.  We like each other.  I am proud to be a member of my department and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

That said, my interviewer’s antennae pricked up at an offhand comment I made during the interview, about how it was sometimes lonely being the only women in my department, and how female faculty in other departments had been important sources of support when I was going through difficult personal and professional challenges.  She asked me to expand on this thought, and eventually asked me to be specific about the challenges I was referring to, as long as I was comfortable talking about them.

And that was when we got started on the subject of my daughter’s death.

I told her about how I found out my baby was dead on a Thursday, got out of the hospital on Saturday morning, and went back to work Tuesday.  How nobody told me I might be able to take a medical leave or suggested that I cancel my classes for that first week.  How I’d had multiple surgeries since then, most recently in February, and even though I’ve told my department chair that I had to leave for surgery (including one week when I had a procedure on Monday and depending on the outcome might have had to have another surgery on a Friday), nobody has followed up to ask about how I’m doing health-wise.  Other than that brief logistical conversation with the chair, nobody in my department has any idea of what I’ve been through since my daughter died.  I’ve mentioned my surgeries to one or two department members once or twice, and have even made offhand comments about my baby when it comes up, but they very obviously shy away from the subject and so I’ve stopped talking about it.  As a result, they know that I lost a pregnancy in the middle of the second trimester, but they know nothing else about my life since then, including all the challenges I’ve been through in the past 8 months, and the fact that I’m facing the prospect of high-risk future pregnancies.

By contrast, there are three female faculty in other science departments who have been life- and sanity-savers.  One of them offered to take over my lectures the week after I delivered my daughter, and has been a literal and figurative shoulder to cry on throughout the whole experience.  Another routinely checked in every few months at the end of work-related meetings to find out how we were doing and how the medical stuff was progressing.  A third was the only person (in my whole life) who wrote to acknowledge my loss on Mother’s Day.  What would I do without these amazing women?  But on the flip side… it turned out that my otherwise all-male department is not really equipped to help me deal with a loss that none of my colleagues have experienced and really can’t even imagine.  As a result, I think in retrospect that they bungled it.  I feel a lack of administrative support because I was not made aware of my options in the wake of this medical crisis.  I feel a lack of personal support because nobody in the department has offered any emotional support or even inquiry into my wellbeing during the months of intense medical attention that followed my loss.  Yes, these are my coworkers, and as such they’re certainly not required to be my confidantes, but as I mentioned in the first paragraph, the culture of my department is such that we tend to have strong personal connections as well — in every area other than this enormously significant part of my life.  I can tell you the theme of my coworker’s daughter’s fourth birthday party and all about my other coworker’s kids’ Saturday morning swimming lessons on campus, but they have no idea that I’ve missed a cumulative week or more of work over the past 8 months for surgeries, doctors appointments, therapy, etc.

The interviewer also asked about ways in which this experience affected my ability to function professionally.  I had a list ready, from three declined invited talk invitations (and therefore three conferences that I couldn’t bring myself to travel to, resulting in a loss of professional visibility), to comments I received on teaching evaluations about some sloppiness with preparation in the middle of the semester, to reduction in publication output, to jeopardizing relationships with collaborators with whom I wasn’t comfortable sharing this very personal news to explain delays in my research output.  Frankly, I suspect I don’t even know the extent to which this experience has affected my professional life yet.  And yet my department is not even acknowledging that this significant professional impact might have taken place.  It’s not really their fault — I suspect it wouldn’t have been better anywhere else.  But my experience does shine a light on how the climate in my field occasionally fails female scientists — or anybody with out-of-the-box medical and family issues.  I can’t say for sure, but I suspect that a more gender-neutral but similarly intense health issue would have been dealt with very differently by the other members of the department.

Well.  This post is getting awfully long, so I’d better wrap it up!  In summary, I was surprised at the extent to which the interviewer pulled climate issues from my interview that I had never really articulated to myself as such before this experience.  It was incredibly emotionally intense, and I was in tears throughout most of the section in which I was talking about the loss of our daughter.  I felt shaky and distracted for a couple of hours afterwards.  But I’m glad I participated in the interview.  I think that these issues of academic hierarchy and the flexibility to deal with medical issues that arise during childbearing years that aren’t *exactly* normal pregnancy and birth, but are very closely related, are issues that our field should address.  Perhaps the broader-context way of articulating the latter issue is that our field needs to be, in general, more accepting of the impact of life, health, and family, particularly when our needs fall outside the standard script and at non-ideal places on the academic calendar.  I’ll be really interested to read the report when it comes out.

Next Steps

Today we had our long-anticipated consult with the RE to go over everything that’s happened since our baby died eight months ago and talk about next steps.

This morning I organized my thoughts into three concerns I wanted to discuss, and one question (the big “what next” question).  My three concerns were (in order of biggest to smallest concern):

1) During the hysteroscopy when my intrauterine adhesions were treated, one of my tubal ostia was never visualized.  Should I be worried?  Is it possible that I could have tubal scarring in addition to endometrial scarring?
2) My periods have been noticeably lighter since the D&C.  Should I be worried about the quality of my endometrium?
3) Every time I have an ultrasound (and I’ve had a LOT of those!), I’m told that I have a cyst on my ovary and that they’ll “keep an eye on it.”  They never do.  Should I be worried?

Here are the RE’s responses, condensed:

1) Tubal scarring is possible, and now is a good time to check on it.  Given my history, it’s not clear exactly when the scarring of my uterus occurred, and I had enough wacky interventions (like manual removal of the placenta) that infection at some point is a distinct possibility — if infection was involved, it very well might have affected the tubes.
2) In essence, no, I should not be worried about my endometrium since I have full-color hysteroscopic images of the inside of my uterus and it’s clearly nice and vascular/glandular.  She pointed out some good spots and bad spots on the images, and said that it seems clear from the images that most of the endometrium is just fine.  So, while she would normally be concerned by lighter periods given my history, she said that this is good evidence that there’s no need for concern just now.
3) She basically said that the sort of cysts they’ve seen in the past were no big deal, but that she plans to do another ultrasound in the near future if I don’t get pregnant in the next couple of months (or if I do, for that matter) and we’ll check then.

As for next steps… I get to do a repeat HSG and some bloodwork next week (woohoo!) unless I’m miraculously pregnant this cycle which I’m pretty sure I’m not (10dpo today and no implantation bleeding again).  If that comes back normal, she sends us off to keep trying on our own for 2-3 more cycles with the same sort of digital OPK timing we’ve been doing, and after that we start escalating with other treatments — probably superovulation with timed intercourse at first.  On the HSG they’ll be looking both at tubal patency and at cavity regularity, and if any hint of irregularity is seen in the cavity she’ll do either another sonohysterogram or another hysteroscopy to check the lining before doing extra-stimulatey ovulation.  (I’m hoping for hysteroscopy, assuming they can do it in-office like my last one — that procedure was a cakewalk compared to the others!)  If both tubes are closed, we go straight to IVF.  If one tube is closed, we discuss, and maybe go to superovulation quicker.

So that’s the story.  I’m very comfortable with the RE’s suggested balance of trying naturally vs. being proactive, and I felt reassured after our conversation with her.  She emphasized that now that we know about the clotting mutation they uncovered after our baby died, my chances of carrying a baby to term eventually (with the help of daily injections of blood thinners, which she was very positive about) are “excellent.”  So that was nice to hear.  I can’t say I really trust probabilities much at this point, even vague probabilities like “excellent,” and I’ll believe it when I see it, but I’m allowing myself at least a little bit of optimism as a result.  I have to say, though, it’s a mark of how my “normal” has shifted that I left the consultation thinking “yay, another HSG, and then a few more months of trying, and then more treatment!”  Yay, another HSG?  What sort of alien creature have I become?!  But at this point, anything to assuage my fears that there’s something (else) wrong and that our attempts are just more wasted time is far more valuable to me than worrying about the pain and discomfort of one more invasive test.  After all, I’ve had all these tests before, and they really weren’t so bad… bring it on!

Why I Love the End of the Semester

Taught my last class today!!!1!!

OK, guys, I was in a crummy place this morning.  But now, the very same evening, I’m back to feeling like a worthwhile and even moderately happy human being.  What got me there?  My students.

Today was my last day of teaching for the semester.  I did a little lecturing, the students did short presentations on their final projects, and then I tied it all together with a segment of the class that I call “What Can You Do Now that (Most Of) You Couldn’t Do Before? (WCYDNT(MO)YCDB).” My class this semester is very hands-on, very project-based, and involves an introduction to both computer programming and basic statistics (neither of which most of the students have ever encountered before), so it’s intense, but my students come out with a lot of tangible skills for research and science in general.  It’s a really fun class to teach, and the students grow a lot.  Around this time of year they’re stressed out by the last lab report (due tomorrow) and their final projects (due next week in lieu of an exam), so I like to take some time to remind them about how far they’ve come during the semester.  And by gum, did it work — all the students were grinning and nodding along, recalling everything they’d achieved during the semester.  The last thing on my slides was a message: “Way to go, guys!” — and they burst into applause.  It was a lovely moment.

It has, by any measure, been a phenomenal semester for my research group.  I have a new freshman(!) who won a very competitive fellowship that will fund his research in my group at least through next summer.  I also had two graduating thesis students this year, one undergrad and one masters.  The undergrad was a co-recipient of our department’s prize for excellence, achieved honors on his thesis, and when he gave his thesis presentation during our research seminar I nearly burst into tears — here was a kid who had never done research when I took him on two years ago, and he was up there talking like a grad student, answering questions thoughtfully and thoroughly, and just generally standing there being a scientist. A couple of weeks ago the college hosted a poster session for science thesis writers, and a huge segment of his family (a sister, two grandmothers, a grandfather, an uncle, and a couple of cousins) showed up to see him present his research.  It was just lovely to see how proud they were of him, and how proud he was to show off his wonderful work to his family.

My masters student didn’t cross the threshold of our department until he was a graduating senior.  He had been double-majoring in two different subjects (neither of which was mine) but took my introductory class in the fall of his senior year, decided to stay for a fifth year to write a masters thesis in my research group, and is off to do a PhD in my field in the fall — somehow I’ve brought him into this field that he loves enough to do a PhD in, and I’ve helped him get there over the course of just two years.  He started doing research in my group just over a year ago, and yesterday he defended his masters thesis brilliantly, despite a barrage of challenging questions from my collaborator and friend who had come down from Harvard to serve as his external committee member.  When she (a Harvard professor!) said that she thought he deserved an A on his masters thesis defense, in a field he had just entered a year and a half ago, I just about burst with pride.

Guys, this is why I do what I do.  College students change and grow so fast, and I just simply love knowing that I’ve helped them in some small way with their growth as a scientist and, sometimes, as a human being.  Sometimes students come into our program and it changes the trajectory of their lives.  Sometimes I just teach them basic statistics, and feel good about knowing that they’ll be able to interpret medical studies and read the newspaper without being duped.  But either way, at the end of the semester, I look at my students, see how far they’ve come, and feel all warm and happy inside.  I try to pass on that feeling to them as well — at this time of year, I try to make a point of telling my students how I see their growth and their potential, and how proud I am of them.  Soon their families will descend on them for graduation, and I’ll see parents beaming with pride as they take pictures of their sons and daughters in robes.  This will be my third graduation at my current university, and it seems that every year my emotions surrounding graduation are just deeper and deeper.  Maybe someday I’ll be a curmudgeon, but it won’t be for many years yet. 🙂

The last two years have been SO hard on a personal level.  But when my students need me, for something as small as help on a problem set, or as large as advice on their next steps in life, it forces me to function, and to focus on life beyond my narrow sadness.  Many of the things that used to bring me joy in life have been harder or more complicated to deal with since our loss and during the years that we’ve struggled to become parents, but teaching hasn’t.  Watching my students grow is one of the few positive ways I’ve been able to see life moving forward, to think about the future with hope instead of fear and despair.  Working as a liberal arts college professor is a very parental role in some ways, and even if my students leave at the end of the semester and never come back, I know that I’ve helped in some small way to shape their future at a critical juncture, to help make them into the adults that they are meant to be.  My job is challenging and demanding, but it’s also extremely rewarding.  The challenges, demands, and rewards have been very healthy for me as I’ve struggled to deal with infertility and loss.  As I look back at the end of the semester, I’m able to feel a lot of satisfaction in what I’ve accomplished, and what I’ve helped my students accomplish, even while I’ve been working through what can at times feel like an all-consuming personal disaster area.

Thank goodness for the end of the semester. 🙂

My feed today

Here are the new blog posts that showed up on my feed today

1) Pregnancy announcement
2) 7 week pregnancy update
3) Work
4) Nausea during pregnancy
5) Infertile couple moving on to IVF

I’m still here, not pregnant, not moving on to IVF, not doing anything, really. I hate to complain, since everyone whose blog I read has been through plenty of crap and more than “deserves” to be pregnant, and the fact that all you lovely people who have had so many troubles are suddenly pregnant is giving me hope, but… it’s hard, guys.  Really hard.  Thinking I might need to step away from the blog for a while… if I’m not around, know that you all still have my support and best wishes.