Monthly Archives: December 2015

What a Difference a Year Makes

A year.  One trip around the Sun.  The same stars are up when I walk the dog at night, the same snow and slush is covering the ground (finally!).  Thankfully, despite being in the same physical landscape, I am not in the same emotional landscape I was in a year ago.

One week from today, I will have been pregnant for a year.  That’s right, 52 weeks of pregnancy.  In between the first 4.5 months of pregnancy with my daughter and these 7.5 months of pregnancy with my son were 9 months of agony, first waiting for answers to the question of why our daughter had died, then fruitlessly trying to conceive, then being told we’d need to do IVF, then apparently winning the lottery just before signing on the dotted line of the IVF consent forms.  All told, between my first and second pregnancies I’ve been through 12 total months of pregnancy, plus 18 total months of trying to conceive.  It’s been a long road.  Not as long a road as for some of you, I know, but long for me.  And there’s still a month and a half to go before we get to meet our son (I hope I hope I hope).

A year ago I was pretty close to the emotional nadir of my life.  I was dealing with the still-raw reality of our daughter’s death, just starting to find out about the complications we experienced that might inhibit my fertility, wanting so hard to be pregnant again but being told by doctors to wait.  Last year was a very snowy winter, and I remember taking my dog for her daily walk in the woods near our house (on snowshoes), which was the only thing I ever actually wanted to do after our daughter died.  I remember days when I’d be hit with a wave of grief in the middle of the woods, and I’d sink into a snowbank and stare across the lake at the rising sun and feel so horrifically empty inside that I couldn’t bear it.  Here I was, surrounded by incredible natural beauty, safe and well fed, with warm and supportive companionship from my husband, my family, my friends, and my dog, and all I could feel was grief, misery, and profound loneliness.

Now, things are so much better.  Not spectacularly brilliant, with the magical shimmer that everything seemed to have during my pregnancy with my daughter, but good.  I’ve got a busy little baby boy kicking me from the inside, and we’re tentatively starting to make plans for the future that involve a living baby in our family.  Other than a Christmas Day bleeding scare I’ve had about as uneventful a pregnancy as I could hope for.  (The bleeding was very light and was probably hemorrhoids, but since I couldn’t tell where the bleeding was coming from they brought me in to the hospital and hooked me up to the monitor for an hour to make sure everything was OK, which it was.)  I’ll never “get over” my daughter’s death, but I’m more or less at peace with it these days, and hopeful about the impending arrival of my son.  I feel mostly like a functional human being these days, rather than an emotional mess at all times the way I did a year ago, which is a nice change.

With 30 months of anticipating a baby under my belt, and 1.5 months left in this pregnancy, I should feel like the end is in sight.  And in a way, I do.  But after everything that’s happened, I still find myself in a strange place emotionally.  My husband and I have made all sorts of plans: parental leave, childbirth/breastfeeding/parenting classes, learning to install a car seat, meeting with a financial planner, reading books, etc.  We’ve even planned out a nursery, including picking out furniture and other items.  I’ve got a folder full of bookmarks of stuff we’re planning to buy from Amazon, Ikea, Carter’s… but so far (at 32w5d) I’ve only actually bought one pack of onesies and some sheets for the hand-me-down co-sleeper.  The rest of this is all in our heads.  As so many of you have been so good about reminding me, babies don’t need much stuff, and there’s no law that says we have to buy the stuff now rather than after the baby arrives.  We’ve got the essentials of a car seat, a place to sleep, and enough items of hand-me-down clothing to get us through the first few days.  But I still struggle with the part of me that wants to just pull the trigger, set up the nursery, believe that this baby is going to arrive alive, and nest like a normal pregnant woman.  The problem is that it’s still terrifying, and I still dwell on the ways that my baby might die.  So I go back and forth, make more plans, but never actually do anything.  I think these things are all normal to feel, given what we’ve been through, if occasionally exhausting.  I miss the joyous optimism and eager anticipation of my first pregnancy, but I also appreciate the gratitude I now have for my pregnancy with my son.

So as the calendar year ends, I am grateful for this pregnancy, hopeful for the future, and happy to report that I’m in a much better place emotionally than I was at this time last year.  As a (discontiguous) full year of being pregnant draws to a close, I’m (more than) ready to finally meet our living child, even as I struggle to believe that we ever will.  Will 2016 finally be the year?  The magic 8 ball of pregnancy statistics says “signs point to yes,” while my internal magic 8 ball says “reply hazy try again.”  Only time will tell… but in the meantime, here’s to a new year, a new pregnancy, and a new outcome.

Speaking at a Conference, 7 Months Pregnant

Being pregnant at an academic conference is a strange collision between the personal and the professional.  It’s one of the few times in a career that your personal life is (very) visibly on display, and your colleagues suddenly feel comfortable commenting on it.  This week I spent two days at a conference, presenting an invited talk to an audience of scientists in my particular technical field.  Here are a few thoughts.

First, I’m so glad that I’m not this lady.  It was both appalling and fascinating for me to read about a woman being uninvited to a conference after disclosing to the organizers that she would be 7 months pregnant during the meeting (side note: the resulting #7monthsawesome Twitter trend was fabulous and empowering).  The story broke mere weeks before I knew I’d be taking my last plane flight for a very long time to give an invited talk at a conference while I was exactly as pregnant as she would have been.  I debated with myself, checked with my doctor, and reached out to my thesis advisor (who was on the organizing committee for the conference) about the wisdom and importance of attending this conference 7 months into a high-risk pregnancy… but my doctors assured me that with everything looking normal so far in this pregnancy, and with the blood thinners I’ve been taking to avoid clotting issues, there was no medical reason not to fly at this point.  Especially since it was a short flight to an extremely major city where I could get top-notch medical care if something did go wrong, there seemed to be little reason to call it off.  So I waited until a few weeks before the conference to buy my plane tickets, made sure to book direct flights and aisle seats, shortened the trip to two days, and at #7monthsawesome I headed off to the meeting.  (Thankfully, my advisor didn’t disinvite me from the meeting in the meantime!)

Overall, I thought my colleagues treated me reasonably professionally — the comments were limited to coffee breaks and mostly involved brief congratulatory acknowledgments that quickly transitioned into science talk.  I’ve gotten used to the vague belly-ward gestures that are supposed to indicate my pregnancy — usually it goes something like this:
Old white nerd guy: “I see that congratulations are in order [waves vaguely towards my abdomen]”
Me: “Yes, thanks!”
Him [clearly relieved]: “So, science…”
The younger crowd, many of whom are friends as well as colleagues, tend to want longer and more involved interactions.  Interestingly, I don’t think any women with children have said a word to me about my pregnancy, despite the fact that there are at least two here that I know reasonably well (well enough that I’d at least say congrats if I saw them pregnant).  The younger women without kids are clearly interested but don’t really know what to talk about beyond the general info (due date, sex of baby).  But the young men with kids are all over this stuff — they want to talk about how many weeks I am and how the flight was and what my university’s parental leave policies are like.  It’s kind of funny, but in a good way — I think it’s just a bit of evidence that male scientists in my generation are both interested in and working at being involved parents, in a way that older male scientists often weren’t.

Mostly, being at a conference while pregnant has just been like any other conference experience.  Nobody’s been overly solicitous (a few ribbing comments about how I couldn’t take advantage of the open bar at the reception, including one “You know, there’s really nothing wrong with having a small glass of wine — you’ll just get some dirty looks!” but that’s it).  People have asked me more about my science and my faculty job than they have about my pregnancy, which is great.  Physically I’ve found it hard to sit in uncomfortable chairs all day, so I spend more time standing in the back of the room than I normally would, but I’m not so uncomfortable that it’s really affected my ability to focus.  I frequent the restroom more than usual, but at a male-dominated science conference, there’s never a wait at the women’s room anyway.  The flight was probably the most uncomfortable part, since I was confined to a super-uncomfortable chair for a long time, and then the breathless feeling that has started to take over as my kid moves up into my ribcage was exacerbated by the thin atmosphere in the pressurized cabin.  Bottom line: I’d totally attend a conference at 7 months pregnant again in the future (assuming an uncomplicated pregnancy), but I probably wouldn’t do a longer-haul flight than the 2.5-hour trip it took to get here.

I did have one very sad/awkward interaction.  When I was just over 3 months pregnant with our daughter last year, I attended a conference where I met a colleague for the first time.  He’s someone whose papers I’ve read and with whom I’d exchanged a few emails, so it was nice to finally meet him.  At one dinner with him and a bunch of other scientists, I sat between to him and a female collaborator who has a young daughter — I’d wanted to talk to her about her experience doing science with a young kid at home, so I told her I was pregnant and proceeded to interrogate her.  The male colleague sitting on my other side overheard, and so we chatted about my pregnancy — he has an elementary school-age daughter, and he asked all sorts of questions about the pregnancy, in a friendly way.  When I saw him at this conference, he immediately came over and again started asking questions in a friendly way:
Him: “Wow, I guess it’s been a couple years… congratulations again!  Have you been getting much sleep?”
Me [awkwardly]: “Oh, um, plenty of sleep…”
Him: “That’s great!  How are you adjusting to the new lifestyle?”
Me: “Um, well, actually, our first baby died when I was 4.5 months pregnant.”
Him: “Oh… I’m so sorry.  I had no idea.”
He tried to recover and ask me about this pregnancy, but that was awful too.  I could feel myself turning red in the face — It felt like embarrassment, not that that I think I have anything to be embarrassed about, but I guess I was just feeling embarrassed about the situation.  I think we were both relieved when he changed the subject to science instead, and we had a nice science discussion after that.

Aside from the awkwardness, I’m glad that I chose to come speak at the conference.  It felt really empowering to stand up in front of this audience of scientists and give my invited talk while my son kicked in my belly.  I think it’s generally good for the field to have visible signals that women are combining family and science.  I also think a lot of people don’t understand how capable women can be even far into pregnancy (at least when they’re lucky enough to have a so-far uncomplicated pregnancy like mine).  I do worry a bit about people mentally “mommy-tracking” me, since it’s now totally obvious that I’ll be on leave next semester during my facility’s big proposal deadline… but I think that the positives balance the risks.

And otherwise, things are still going well.  Tomorrow I’ll be 31 weeks pregnant, so just nine short weeks to go until my due date, and a maximum of ten weeks until we meet our son (assuming all goes well).  I’m working hard to finish all my grading and coursework before the week is over so that I can focus on my research for the ~2 months left until the baby arrives.  I’ve got one paper draft mostly written that I really, really want to have finished before I go on leave.  There’s another paper draft by a student that I’ve been sitting on since the start of the semester that also just needs some TLC from me before submission — if I can really get two papers submitted, or at least out to collaborators for final commentary, then I’ll feel particularly great about heading off on leave.  (And if not, I’ll gladly do it anyway!  But it’s good to have goals.)  I feel that our preparations for the baby have stalled a little bit… I was feeling so brave until the breakdown about the baby shower, and now I’m feeling nervous again.  But we’ve still got two months, and with hand-me-downs we really have everything we need for a newborn already, and there will be plenty of time to think about nursery-decorating later if necessary.  For now, I’m just hanging on between prenatal checks, feeling my belly dance and starting to play with getting reactions from my son — now when I press on my belly, he’ll often kick back, which is just too cool.  Hiccups are another cute new thing that I’ve started to notice (although less cute when they happen at 2am, like last night).  We’re getting there, one day at a time.

Why I don’t want a baby shower

This week one of my closest friends (the father of the little girl who was born a few days after my daughter’s due date) called to chat, as he does every week or two.  At the end of our phone call, we had the following exchange:

Him: “Oh, hey, I wanted to talk to you about something.  I really need your help, or at least you need to go along with this.”

Me: “OK, what can I do to help?”

Him: “[Wife] and I love you guys a lot.”

Me: “We love you guys too!”

Him: “We want to throw you a baby shower at our apartment in January.”

Me: That… is so kind of you… and I… [Bursts into tears]

I surprised myself as well as my friend by bursting into tears that way.  I wish I could say they were happy tears, but they weren’t.  They were “but we can’t have a baby shower because I still don’t actually believe that our baby is going to be born alive” tears.  And they continued for about 10 minutes as we finished our call, and then started again when I tried to talk to my husband about it.

The way we left it was that I’d think about it and I’d talk to my husband, and then we’d talk again this weekend.  I really want to say yes to my friend — I found out afterwards that my mom was in cahoots, and thought that he should be the one to ask partly because she knew I’d have a harder time saying no to him (she was right)… but I think I have to say no.   It’s taken me a while to figure out why.

My poor friend was confused too.  “I just thought… you’ve started letting your mom buy some baby clothes, and you’ve started letting people give you hand-me-downs, so I thought you’d be OK with it.”  And he’s right… I am more or less OK with those things, at this point.  Partly it’s that we had some hand-me-down baby stuff when our daughter died, so I’ve already dealt with that.  Partly it’s that my anxiety over not having things ready when the baby arrives in January is getting stronger than my anxiety over having to pack up a bunch of baby stuff if our son dies, so the practical side of me is ready to start acquiring stuff.

But my feelings about a baby shower are really not about the stuff.  We’ll acquire stuff for the baby one way or another — that much is clear.  I’m not about to burst into tears at the thought of our friends giving us baby gifts.  We’ve already gotten a few, and I’ve been able to thank the givers profusely and write thank-you notes on the cute baby-ish stationary I bought for the purpose.  I also know that if this baby dies, we will use the baby stuff on our eventual future baby (since we will be parents one day, one way or another), just as we’re planning to use the stuff that people gave us for our daughter when our son is born.  So I really don’t think my discomfort about the idea of a baby shower is about the stuff.

When I think about a baby shower, the part that freaks me out is imagining sitting in a room full of friends and family with everyone excited and happy about a baby who might never be born.  I’ve gotten pretty good at pretending to be a normal, happy pregnant lady on a day-to-day basis, but I’m really not.  Every time I answer a well-meaning “Is this your first?” from an acquaintance with a “yes” (twice today!), I feel sad and anxious.  Every time I keep my mouth shut about my fears for our son and my memories of my daughter, it hurts, and imagining the concentrated pretending I’d have to do even in a room full of my nearest and dearest just makes me dread the idea.  Most days I manage a pretty good impression of a normal pregnant lady who’s getting ready for her baby to be born, but there’s still a surprisingly large part of me that doesn’t believe he ever will be.  Somehow the smaller doses of gift-accepting and even the little bit of looking at baby items that we’ve done have felt mostly manageable, but this larger celebration does not.

As my husband said, it’s not as though we really need to have a shower.  Babies don’t actually need that much stuff, and we are fortunate enough to be able to afford the stuff that we do need on our own.  I get that our friends and family want to honor this exciting transition in our lives, but I think there are other ways to do that (many of which they’re already doing, because we are lucky that way!).  I’m also pretty certain that the decision to skip a baby shower is not one that I’ll come to regret later.  I was also not into the idea of a bridal shower, for much less significant reasons than this time around, so I didn’t have one, and I’ve never regretted skipping that ritual either.

So, I’m planning to say a very loving and appreciative “no” when I talk to my friend later this weekend.  I think I will probably suggest that we aim for a “meet the baby” gathering at their house (which is in a major city two hours from us, where many of our friends and family live) a month or two after our son is born instead.  That will give our friends and family a chance to honor the transition in our lives without freaking me out about having a party for a baby who might not be born alive.  And I’m sure there’s still plenty of baby stuff that will be useful at that point, if people want to give us gifts (like, clothing for older babies!).  And if they want to give us gifts before the baby is born, that’s fine too — just not in the context of a baby shower.

Baby shower drama aside, things are still going well.  I’m currently 29w2d, which means I’m firmly in the third trimester.  Our growth scan this week was right on target (55th percentile), and our little guy now weighs three pounds and is still very active.  I’m still feeling physically fine — my day today was extremely active (two 45-minute dog walks, three hours of volunteering at the therapeutic riding center, laundry, cooking, and a chorus rehearsal), and I’m just sitting here with a slightly sore back, but feeling good about everything otherwise.  My biggest medical concern at the moment is that our baby seems to favor a breech position and hasn’t flipped over yet, but they tell me I shouldn’t start worrying for another few weeks (easier said than done!).  All in all, things are looking good, the end of the semester is in sight, and February keeps getting closer.  It still can’t get here fast enough.