Author Archives: lyra211

Academic post

I know most people who read my blog connect most to the pregnancy posts, but every once in a while I just need to write an unabashedly academic post — so feel free to skip, or just enjoy this insight into the wilds of life as a physical science professor.

This week, my first postdoc is leaving my university.  It is so very bittersweet.  He has been in my group for five years — I hired him on a two-year grant, and then when another 3-year NSF grant came through, I kept him on.  He had to switch fields to join my group, so had a steep learning curve, and at the time wasn’t really competitive for another job and wanted to stay, and since he was doing good work, I let him.  Let me say, for the record, I am SO glad I did.

The ways in which he has contributed to my research group and my department are countless.  There’s been the simple fact of having someone in my group thinking full-time about research and working on the tools and infrastructure that we’ve needed to push the whole group’s research forward into this decade.  He’s wonderful with the students, more approachable and less intimidating than I am, and yet still pushing them towards independence rather than coddling them.  And as a member of our department, he has been the sort of team player who is comfortable both leading and following — he has led some of our department’s most important equity and inclusion initiatives, including starting a journal club to discuss recent papers on STEM equity.  He has been an enthusiastic and reliable contributor to our department’s outreach program, including saving our bacon by filling in last-minute on more than one occasion.  He taught a class to gain experience and did a wonderful job.  He’s hosted an annual tamale-making party for the students (no faculty allowed).  When something needs to be done around the department, even if it’s not glamorous, he steps up — all while getting his work done and having a life outside of work.  He is exactly the sort of person I would hope for as a long-term colleague, and I am going to miss him so, so much.

His departure is bittersweet — as sad as I am that he is leaving, I am delighted for him because he got exactly the kind of job he wanted, and exactly the kind of job I think he’s going to kick butt at.  He will manage a facility and be a lab instructor at a tippy-top-ranked liberal arts college, which is just the sort of job he wanted.  He’ll be only 2.5 hours away from us by car, and I’ll see him at least ~twice a year since our department is part of a consortium with this department and a handful of others, so I won’t truly be losing him as a colleague.  It’s the best possible way his time with me could have ended.

His departure brings up so many thoughts and questions for me.  I know I might not get as lucky with every postdoc I ever hire, but having him has been so delightful and so symbiotically wonderful for his career and mine that it makes me want to do it again.  It also makes me think a bit wistfully about my choice to join a department with no PhD program.  I suspect that my experience with this postdoc is akin to the experience of a typical R1 faculty member with their best PhD students.  And it has been beautiful, and I suspect will form the basis of a very productive long-term collaboration between us (at any rate, he’ll be on all my group’s papers for the foreseeable future thanks to his work on our software capabilities).  I also have to recognize that he has made a significant contribution to my competitiveness for tenure.  I mean, I know some of that is thanks to my hard work — I wrote the grants that paid for him to be here, I wrote the proposals that got the initial data for his projects, I trained him to enter my field and I supervised and mentored his research and other work all the way along.  But man, has he paid me back, in spades.  He has been such a productive collaborator, generating papers, coming up with his own ideas, taking my group’s research in new directions, and bringing our code base back into cutting-edge territory, which I haven’t had time to work on with all the teaching and supervising I do. I mention a cool idea I thought of or heard about at a conference, and he makes it happen and improves it in ways I never would have thought of — and he also finds new tools and tries them out, which enriches all the research my group does.  It’s awesome.

I’m grateful to be in a department that welcomes and supports postdocs — not all liberal arts colleges have this culture.  But it does make me question, to some extent, whether the choice to take the liberal arts college route was really the right one for me.  On balance, I think so.  I am very, very happy with my balance of responsibilities here (especially teaching vs. research), and while I’d love to have more postdocs like this one, part of what has made having him here so special is that he is the only one I’ve had — I haven’t had to juggle mentoring five grad students and a postdoc, which means I’ve naturally been more involved with him, which I think has worked out well for both of us.

We just had our last research meeting EVER.  It was so sad, and so sweet.  We’d each gotten each other little gifts.  He got me a book about recent research on women in science and a cooperative board game for ages 2+ that I can play with my son and husband (um, he might have gotten to know me a little bit while he’s been here!).  I had commissioned a former art major / gen-ed student of mine to make an artsy sketch of the beautiful historic building that we work in, which I then framed — our building is a really special place to work (it’s featured on all of the publicity photos of our college, for example, but it’s also a functional part of the type of work that we do), and I figured that it might be nice for him to have a tangible reminder of the happy (I think) times he spent here, even as he moves on to new places and new adventures.  I didn’t want to give him something too personal, but did want to give him something that I thought might be meaningful to remind him of his time here — and help him decorate his new office.

So, with nothing but fondness and gratitude, I’m bidding him farewell this week.  His last day is Friday, and I’m taking the whole group out to lunch and then organizing an informal gathering for the whole department in the afternoon to send him off.  We will miss him, and I will always be very grateful for his many contributions and for the chance to know him and have him as a colleague.

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Halfway

This week (Wednesday) I hit the halfway point of this pregnancy: 20 weeks.

Mid-pregnancy has been a nail-biter for me this time around thanks to the anterior placenta.  By this point in my pregnancy with S, I was feeling strong and consistent movements.  This time around, if he’s kicking in the right places (bottom, top, or right edge of my belly) I feel super-strong movement, and if he’s not, I don’t feel anything.  It can be so strong in the right places that my husband felt the baby move almost two weeks ago, and yet I can still go all day without feeling anything if he gets into the wrong position.  With my history of 2nd-trimester loss, this inconsistency is maddening, even though rationally I know that it’s normal.  I wish I could just chill out and assume that everything is fine until proven otherwise, but of course I can’t.

In the second half of pregnancy I now have monthly ultrasounds with MFM to monitor growth, and I love the glimpses they give me into his movements and body — they really drive home that there is a tiny proto-person in there getting ready to make his grand appearance this fall.  There’s definitely no hiding this pregnancy anymore, since at 20 weeks I’m probably as big as I was at 5 or 6 months last time around.

S is busy being 2, and is delighting us with his ability to communicate increasingly complex thoughts.  His sense of time and logical reasoning is also improving. When we went to put on sunscreen to take him to the playground yesterday, he told us that he didn’t need it because we had already put sunscreen on him yesterday.  He still got sunscreened, of course, but we had to give him credit for a nice try!  He also discovered that my husband keeps his golf clubs at the top of a staircase in our garage that leads to the spare bedroom over the garage, and played up there most of the afternoon yesterday.  When I was playing with him, it took me a while to suss out, but he accurately communicated to me that there was a bug on the ceiling and that daddy would remove it with the broom tomorrow while S was at daycare.  I mean, that is such a complex concept to both understand and communicate!  His actual words were something like “Bug ceiling tomorrow daddy broom [name of daycare],” but as I asked him about it he kept giving me more clues and we eventually figured it out.  He also asks a lot more questions these days.  His favorite is “Why?” (sometimes with zero context), but he also likes “Going?” (for “Where are you going?”) and “Doing?” (for “What are you doing?”).  I am constantly fascinated by watching his speech develop — it is so cool to get more insight into what is going on in his busy little mind, and to start to have conversations!  He also pretends that his toys are conversing with each other, in a super-adorable goofy voice, and I finally caught it on camera this weekend.  The twos can be terrible at times, of course, but at least a third of the way through the year, I am still loving this age.

And that’s about it!  Anterior placenta aside, things are proceeding as smoothly as possible so far, and I’m just hoping for an equally boring second half of pregnancy.  Here’s to November.

Second place is a good place to be

Two big pieces of news this week: (1) We had a normal anatomy scan, and (2) as of today, this pregnancy officially moves into second place of my five pregnancies in terms of how long it has lasted.

The anatomy scan on Tuesday morning was blessedly uneventful.  It was my husband’s first time seeing the baby on ultrasound, which was pretty special for him (he came to every single prenatal appointment for my first two pregnancies, but when you have a toddler somehow all our time disappears and “divide and conquer” becomes a survival strategy).  This baby moves around a lot (which was also commented on at the 13-week NT scan), but apparently is more cooperative than S, because they didn’t have to tilt me upside-down or make me walk around and they still got all the views they needed — unlike with S, who was so stubborn that we had to wait four more weeks to get a decent view of his aortic arch.  The ultrasonographer was quick and efficient, not chatty, but that was fine — she just kept snapping pictures, saying “looks perfect,” and moving on.

The doctor who came in afterwards was fine, but could really work on his bedside manner.  Basically his job was to tell us that the scan was normal, but that of course a normal anatomy scan doesn’t guarantee a problem-free pregnancy or birth.  Instead, he delivered the message in such a way that it sounded basically like he was saying, “There are SO MANY ways a pregnancy can go wrong!  I mean, you’ve already had a normal NIPT, but that’s only really good at detecting Down Syndrome, and of course the anatomy scan is normal, but it doesn’t pick up everything and you could still do an amniocentesis if you’re really worried about catching every uncommon chromosomal abnormality, but even that doesn’t rule out a whole host of other birth defects!”  Luckily, my husband and I weren’t too fazed by it, since we do already understand the limitations of the tests and the probabilities that go along with them, but this doctor must freak out a whole lot of families — and he’s in an MFM practice, so you’d think he’d know better!

Otherwise, 18w is feeling OK so far.  It is hugely reassuring to have the normal anatomy scan under our belts (a milestone I never had in my pregnancy with my daughter).  S’s sleep has been a little rocky lately which means I feel the pregnancy fatigue a little more acutely, but my anxiety level is MUCH lower in this pregnancy than it was with S.  I mean, I’m still far more anxious than I was in my first pregnancy, and I assume more anxious than someone who has never experienced loss and maybe particularly late loss, but I do not have the acute panic with every minor twinge that I had during my pregnancy with S, which is a huge relief.  I think the big difference is that when I was pregnant with S, I had no experience with what a normal pregnancy was like, since our daughter had died, so even stuff that I had experienced in my first pregnancy (because it was totally normal) freaked me out in my second pregnancy because I didn’t know if that was a sign that whatever happened to my daughter might be happening again.  Now I have one normal, full-term pregnancy under my belt, which gives me a much better sense of what’s normal vs. what I actually need to freak out about.

And this week is another big milestone in the sense that this pregnancy is now officially my second-longest-lasting of my five pregnancies so far.  I think second place is a great place to be, and in my ideal scenario (healthy live birth within days of my due date) it would stay there until the end, since I don’t really want to go a week past my due date again!  The milestone of a normal anatomy scan has also opened us up more to starting to think about logistics: names (boy names are hard!), rearranging our house (relocating my husband’s home office as we turn the current room into the new nursery), figuring out what furniture we need (e.g., are we going to try to do the transition to a big-kid bed, or buy another crib?  Do we need a second glider?), and all of the other things we’ve been studiously ignoring up until now.  There’s a lot to think about, but it’s fun to plan, and it feels good to be able to believe in this pregnancy enough to start actually making plans.

Another piece of ultimately good news is that our little campus daycare seems as though it should have a spot for our baby in March, which is when we really need it.  They’ve been horrible at communication (first they told us yes, then they told us no, then today the director emailed that we’re in again), but ultimately it looks like they’ve worked out a solution that should be reasonable.  The problem is that our daycare is so small that it only has four infant slots, but they rigidly age-group the kids by fiscal year so having an infant starting in March means that if they reserve an infant slot for our baby next year they are essentially only able to have three infants the first eight months of the fiscal year, which is a loss of about $10k in tuition for them.  The director was going to save us the spot anyway (which is why she originally told us yes), but then the “executive board” (two parents who are now on my blacklist) decided that the cost was going to be too high so they were just going to ignore the fact that we had top priority on the wait list and not offer us a spot until the new fiscal year in July 2019.  I mean, there are all kinds of dumb things going on there, including the fact that $10k is a miniscule fraction of what our family will be paying the daycare to send two kids all the way through from infant to preschool, and also compared to what they’d lose if we pulled our our older kid before he switched to preschool, since they have a lot of pressure on infant slots but usually have trouble filling all the preschool slots — and if we had to find another daycare for our second baby, the probability that we’d pull S out is actually quite high, since he’d be transitioning to preschool anyway and it’s better to make that transition a bigger one for him than to totally disrupt an infant’s routine four months into daycare to get them in the same place.

So anyway, the upshot is that the infant/toddler teachers were apparently just like, “Um, why can’t we just move S to preschool a few months before his age-mates to free up a spot for one of the older infants to officially become a toddler and then we’ll be able to open a new infant spot in March?”  So, it looks like S will move upstairs to the preschool about a month after his third birthday (which I think will be mostly a good thing — being the oldest in his age group means he’s occasionally seemed bored and frustrated at the end of the year when he’s ready for big-kid things and gets barred from them because of the arbitrary age grouping).  His age-group buddies will join him in July, but since he’s currently in the same classroom as the group who will be moving up to preschool this year and therefore he already knows them, I’m not too worried about the social aspect of moving rooms a few months before his age-mates.

So anyway, the point is that things are good, and we’re thinking about the future and starting to plan for a new family member, which is a nice place to be.  There’s always that part of me that fears making plans or telling people (like my students) about my pregnancy, because what if…?  But I’m mostly able to accept that those fears will always be there, that the possibility of another loss will always be there, but that it’s OK to be optimistic and hope and plan in the meantime.  In a way, having faced the worst in the past makes the worst seem at least hypothetically more manageable this time around.  I hope beyond hope that it won’t happen again, but I know that if it does, we’ll get through it, because we’ve done it before.

Mother’s Day Sandwich

The concept of the “sandwich generation” has really been resonating with me lately.

In the last year, I’ve experienced parenting a toddler, two miscarriages, one first trimester, the death of my father, and two major surgeries for my mother.  Since my parents were divorced for 25 years before my father died and I’m an only child, all their arrangements/care has fallen to me.  All while doing my full-time job, of course.  We spent this Mother’s Day visiting my mom in the hospital at the end of her week-long stay — she had a hip replacement last Monday (her second), then had a bad fall on Wednesday, needed surgery again on Thursday, and I just brought her home today.  We packed up the toddler into the car on Saturday and came to her house for the weekend to take care of her cat and her house and visit her while she was still in the hospital.  I’m writing this from her house, where I’ll be for the next couple of days taking care of her as she starts to recover, and then I’ll be driving back and forth (two hours each way) several times over the next couple of weeks, depending on what she needs.  We just did this in December/January with her first hip surgery, so at least we both know better what to expect this time.

I’m exhausted, no joke.  The timing isn’t awful, since it’s the end of my semester, but I’m still running around like a chicken with my head cut off this week begging random people to proctor exams for my extended time students while I’m with my mom, figuring out what to do about the student who badly burned his hand while fire-juggling this weekend, dealing with the student whose dean told me that she was almost hospitalized for mental illness this week and is trying to help her figure out whether she can finish the semester, and the stack of term papers that are sitting there giving me the hairy eyeball while the clock ticks down to the day that senior grades are due on Monday.  With all of my extended-time students and various other necessary accommodations, out of two classes with a total of 85 students I have had to make arrangements for a grand total of 26 hours of exam proctoring this week, not to mention all my regular grading work and, you know, writing, editing, and printing the exams, running review sessions, and dealing with the inevitable “I know it’s exam week but can you please please meet with me for two hours the day before the final because I’m freaking out about stuff I still haven’t learned and now I’m finally motivated to learn it.”

Anyway, yesterday it was all kind of crashing down on me.  But at some point after driving the two hours back from visiting my mom with my toddler only sort-of napping in the back and then dealing with his meltdown at the end of a weekend of disrupted routine and cooking dinner for the dear friends that we didn’t want to uninvite over since who knows when we’ll be free to see them again and having had no time whatsoever for a Mother’s Day celebration myself, I suddenly thought, “How lucky am I?”

I am so lucky.  I’m so lucky to have my amazing son, my wonderful husband, my dear mother, and our unborn son as part of my lives.  The sandwich generation is only a thing for people who are fortunate enough to have their kids and parents in their lives at the same time — I am so needed only because I am so deeply involved in the lives of all of these people.  The death of my father this year only drives home to me how fragile it all is, how short our time here on Earth is together, and how fortunate I am to have such rich relationships (which he never really had).  And at least my mother should recover from these surgeries (if all goes well) and have many more healthy years with me and her grandson(s) before we have to say goodbye to her.  After all our pregnancy losses, I never take for granted how incredibly fortunate I am to be mother to a living child, nor to be pregnant with his little brother, and it was so sweet to see my son giving his Nana a hug and kiss in the hospital and getting to bring her his school photo (which turned out completely adorable this year, unlike last year) along with the flowers to brighten up her hospital room.  This is life: messy, hard, but ultimately beautiful.  Being there when things are tough — for your tantruming toddler or your convalescing mother — is what it’s all about.

There will be lots of other Mothers Days that will hopefully be a little calmer, but I wouldn’t trade this one for anything.

Update: End of the 1st trimester

Seems unbelievable, but I’m rounding the corner at the end of the first trimester!  I had a prenatal appointment today at 12w5d.  Going into the appointment, I felt the Schrodinger’s Cat duality of wondering whether my baby was alive or dead.  As I walked into my OB’s office, I reflected that despite my knowledge of the statistics, it felt to me as though my personal odds were about 50/50 of getting news of a living baby.  I would have been equally unsurprised by either outcome.  Fortunately, this time the statistics prevailed, and I heard a strong, steady heartbeat, which the OB had to chase around my abdomen since apparently this baby is particularly active.  I really like this OB, and she seems to have picked up on the fact that I am not really interested in chatting until I’ve heard the heartbeat, so this time she got right to it.  I still didn’t have much to chat with her about, since, I mean, what is there to ask at this point in the pregnancy?  But I appreciated her willingness to keep letting me come back as often as I want to check in on this new little guy (I’ve been successfully limiting myself to every two weeks for these late-first-tri visits, although with all the RE/MFM visits this was the first actual two-week stretch that I went without news).

Since everything was still looking good, I decided to go ahead and tell the other faculty in my department — with the way I’m popping, I’m going to need to switch into maternity pants soon, so I figured I’d tell them before they had to awkwardly pretend not to notice.  Their responses were completely in character for each of them.  My chair, who is the next-most-senior faculty member in my department, the person in my department I am most friendly with, and dad of three young children, was delighted for me, asked questions, reminisced about when his older kids first met their younger siblings, asked about how S was taking the news, and assured me when it came up that we don’t have to talk about my teaching load for the fall right away if I don’t want to and went straight back to baby talk.  A+ response for him.

The next-most-senior faculty member was pretty formal.  He shook my hand, asked if I was “ready,” and did a bit of reminiscing about when his own two kids (now teenagers) were little, and about how he didn’t sleep for seven years straight.  Fine.  I’ll give it a B+.

Then I told our research faculty member, who has a 6-year-old daughter and who is also the most stereotypical nerd I have ever met.  He “wow”ed and “that’s amazing”ed and told me about how his daughter keeps asking for a younger sibling even though he and his wife are clearly too old.  He didn’t have much to say, but was supportive, and I know he’s the sort of nice guy who is just happy for me and doesn’t really know what to do with it.  He gets an A- for effort.

Then, there was the senior member of my department.  He… was also true to form.  Awkwardly gave me a high-five when I told him, then immediately asked if the pregnancy was planned.  I answered politely, but had to work really hard to keep my eyes from rolling.  Then he asked a few more questions, I told him I was due Nov 7 and it was a boy, and he immediately became concerned about teaching.

Him: November… are you taking leave in the fall?

Me: I don’t know yet.  I need to talk to [chair] about it.

Him: But what are you teaching?

Me: The advanced course.

Him: Oh, man, that’s going to be a tough one to schedule around.  Have you thought about it yet?

Me: I’m going to talk to [chair] about it.  I have some ideas.

He finally moved on, but just did not take the hint that I was going to talk to [chair] about it and was not interested in discussing it with him at that moment!  I mean, I know he’s been around our department the longest and has been chair the longest of anyone and is super-attuned to curriculum issues, but… as my husband said when I told him about the conversation after I got home, “That conversation is a great example of the things people say that make women feel discouraged in science/academia.”  Knowing this guy, I know he wasn’t trying to be discouraging or insensitive, and that he is happy for me, so it didn’t actually bother me much at the time.  But he’s also put his foot in his mouth in this way a bunch of times before and I kind of wish I could call him on it once in a while.

Anyway, that’s the story.  We are at the hairy end of the academic year, when things are just completely off-the-wall crazy, and so I think I’ll put off the nuts-and-bolts conversation with my chair about teaching until next week when we’ve both had a chance to finish our last classes and breathe a little.  I would like to get to it soon, because I am worried about what the university will/won’t allow and would just like to know that there’s a plan in place, but I was also grateful to just have the happy conversation with the chair today and save the nitty gritty for a bit later.

So, that’s the scoop!  I’m feeling optimistic heading into the second trimester.  Still nervous, still with my (many) moments of panic and uncertainty like this morning, but overall handling things better than during my pregnancy with S, I think.  As far as spreading the word further than the people who see me every day, I’m not in a rush.  I think I’ll let it spread organically as I run into friends and acquaintances.  But as scary as it can be to tell people about a pregnancy when you’ve had so many bad experiences in the past, it’s also fun, and it’s nice when people you like are happy for you.  (My chair/friend told me that my news “made his day” as I was leaving.)  So, I’m looking forward to spreading the news as it happens, and am also starting to allow myself to get a bit more excited about the prospect of adding a new little one to our family this fall.

Chromosomally Normal Boy

At 10w5d, the results of our NIPT screen came back, showing that I am pregnant with a chromosomally normal boy.

Hooray for chromosomally normal!  I have honestly been freaking out a little bit about what I would do if there were chromosomal abnormalities.  I mean, I freak out about everything in pregnancy, so it’s not anything special, but I am hugely relieved to find that our risk of chromosomal abnormalities is so low (<1 in 10,000 for all of the common ones they tested for), and now I can stop worrying about that particular aspect of pregnancy.

The boy thing is more complicated.  I’ve written before about my complicated feelings about the sex of our babies.  The short version is that we were wildly excited in my first pregnancy to find out we’d be having a girl — my husband and I both want healthy babies above all, but bonus points for a girl.  Well, I had my girl… it just turned out that she died, so I didn’t get to do much mothering of my daughter.  With all of my subsequent pregnancies, I’ve been hopeful that I might get another chance at being the mother of a daughter, and both times I’ve made it far enough to find out the sex, I’ve found out that we were having a boy.

The news is honestly easier to deal with this time.  My son is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me in my life.  Not only do I have no regrets about being his mother, but every day I feel grateful and awed that I have the privilege of being his mother.  I love him more than I can express, more than I have ever loved any other human on the planet (please don’t tell my husband or my mom!), more than I knew was possible.  So, it’s not that I think I won’t love this little boy.  Obviously I will.  More than I can currently imagine, I’m sure.

It’s more that I can’t help but wonder about what being the mom of only boys will mean I’ll miss out on.  My male friends are mostly less emotionally less close to their mothers than my female friends are, so I might miss out on that often-special mother-daughter relationship.  If I have grandkids, I’ll always be the mother-in-law — I won’t have that special closeness during pregnancy when my daughter wants to know what it was like when I was pregnant with her, and I probably won’t have the experience that my mom had of being in the delivery room when her grandson was born.  Those are the big ones, but there are little ones too.  Helping a daughter through puberty would be a heck of a lot easier than helping a son through puberty for me, I think.  I loved Girl Scouts when I was a kid, and I would just love to pack my daughter off to Girl Scout camp rather than having to consider the local Boy Scout camp whose website brags about the different number of projectiles that boys will learn to fire.  And ugh, the superhero/macho/violent culture that stereotypically goes along with little boys is so repulsive to me — I donate any hand-me-downs we get with those hypermasculinized slogans and characters on them (seriously, it starts when they are babies and toddlers!), and I try whenever possible to stock my son’s wardrobe with bright colors and gender-neutral themes, but I’ll have less and less control over his interests and preferences as he gets older.  I mean, obviously none of these things are guarantees.  Some men are really close to their mothers, and some women aren’t.  There’s no guarantee that even if I had a daughter she’d ever get married or have kids.  There are plenty of great co-ed camps and activities to choose from.  My interests are more stereotypically boyish than girlish.  I fully realize that sex and gender are far less deterministic than we tend to assume.  And yet… we live in a gendered society.  I love the company of other women.  I don’t get much of it in my everyday life, where I live with my husband and son and work in a building and in a field dominated by men.  I hoped that there would be one other set of XX chromosomes joining our house to keep me company, and it’s a lonely feeling to think that my life will be even more male-dominated than it already is.

Of course, all of this assumes that (1) this pregnancy will continue, and (2) we’ll be done having kids after this next one.  Obviously I would be delighted if (1) were true, but it’s not a guarantee. (2) is probably true.  Before we got married, we thought we wanted 2-3 kids, but after our son was born, my husband said he’d be OK with stopping at one, although he was also OK with two — he sounded pretty skeptical that he’d be up for three.  I’m also pretty skeptical that I’d be up for three.  Considering everything we’ve been through to get to this point, if this pregnancy keeps going well, it’s hard for me to imagine doing it all again: trying to conceive, possibly having even more miscarriages, being pregnant, dealing with a newborn… and we’ll be older, and who knows if I’d even be able to get pregnant and carry to term again at the age of 37+, and obviously there’s no guarantee that we’d get a girl even if it all worked out!  So I’m pretty sure we’ll be done after two, and since (thankfully!) everything is looking good at this point, odds are high (though definitely not guaranteed) that I’ll be a mom of two boys and that’s that.  I’m OK with it, and in some ways delighted about it… just wistful.

When I went to the OBGYN’s office today for a heartbeat check and I heard that little whooshing thump, I smiled and fell in love all over again.  How amazing it is to have a little one on the way again.  How lucky we are that it looks like it might work out for us not once but twice — I never forget how awful it was the many times I doubted that I would ever be able to have kids, and I always know how lucky I am that I wound up being able to after all.  I still hope against hope that this will be a healthy, uneventful pregnancy like my pregnancy with my son, and a healthy mom and healthy baby are all that really matter to me in the end.  This is just one of many ways in which pregnancy after loss is emotionally complicated — I don’t think my feelings would be this strong if I didn’t have to deal with the feeling of having my daughter stolen from me three and a half years ago.  I never forget her, and I always wonder who she would be if she were a little three-year-old running around now.  My sense of loss is mostly about her, and I’m doing my best to focus on the world of things that I will gain by hopefully adding this new little life to our family come fall.

Academic Pregnancy Timing

First, an update: we had our 10w ultrasound with MFM yesterday, and things are still looking great!  Little bean is growing right on schedule, nice strong heartbeat, and lots of movement.  It is just amazing how quickly this nugget is turning into something resembling a recognizable human — this week we could see arms, legs, head, profile, and even fingers.  Tomorrow I go for my first trimester bloodwork, including an NIPT screen.  I admit it: I’m falling in love with this bean in spite of myself, so I really hope I don’t get blindsided in the coming weeks.

I didn’t mention it in my last update, but one reason I was particularly relieved by this week’s ultrasound results is that the results last week showed a very small bleed around the gestational sac — the ultrasound tech downplayed it, and the midwife didn’t even mention it, but it was there.  Of course, it freaked me out.  So this week I grilled the ultrasound tech about whether he could see any sign of the bleed remaining, and he assured me that there was absolutely nothing to see.  So, it didn’t exist two weeks ago, was super-tiny last week (I had no vaginal bleeding at all), and this week it was gone.  I’m chalking this up to the down-side of all these extra ultrasounds, which is that this sort of thing probably happens all the time (which the first ultrasound tech and my mom have both sworn is true), but we would never have known if I wasn’t being monitored up the wazoo.  At any rate, it seems to have resolved on its own.

Now, the real point of the post.  It still seems early for me to be worrying about due date timing, but as I’m gearing up to start talking to my chair about this whole pregnancy thing in a couple of weeks, I want to prepare by writing down my thoughts.  I mentioned in my last post that a November due date is pretty much the worst possible pregnancy timing for a university professor — at least in the US, where maternity leave sucks.  My university offers a full semester of paid leave, which is actually pretty good by US standards.  But with a November due date, neither semester is a good time to take the leave.  If I take it in the fall semester, I’ll be sitting around twiddling my thumbs until November, and then I’d have to go back to teaching at the end of January when the baby would be only about 10 weeks old.  If I have a c-section, I won’t be medically cleared to go back to work at that point, I’d still be covered by FMLA, and I just really don’t want to put a 10-week-old in daycare (not to mention that our university daycare, where my son is enrolled, doesn’t accept infants until they are four months old!).  In a civilized country my husband might be able to take leave, but he gets literally no parental leave from his company (it is not covered by FMLA since they have less than 50 employees).  He can take vacation days, but that’s not enough to bridge the gap until the baby can start daycare in March.

Another possibility might be to try to power through the last few weeks of the fall semester with a newborn, and then take leave in the spring semester.  But there are a few problems with this one as well.  First, it’s technically not allowed by our university parental leave policy, which specifies that the semester of leave (which is only available to the “primary parent”) must be taken during the semester in which the baby is born or adopted.  Second, what if the baby comes early?  I can imagine powering through three weeks of the semester with a newborn… but not half the semester.  If (and that’s a big if) I could get around the university policy and convince them to let me take leave in the spring, I might be able to call in some favors and have other faculty cover my classes for a week or two, but it just so happens that in the fall I am scheduled to teach an upper-level (majors and masters students) course on my particular specialty, which literally nobody else at my university does, so it’s a bit ridiculous to expect my colleagues to teach a subject that they have no more clue about than the students.

Here I will point out that the “flexibility” of academia is in many ways a double-edged sword.  Yes, my daily schedule is pretty flexible, which is awesome, and it’s usually easy for me to leave early to pick up my son from daycare or arrive late after taking him to the doctor in the morning.  Except when it’s not.  If I’m scheduled to teach, I basically have to teach.  Maybe I can get someone to substitute for one of my intro-level courses, with a lot of advance notice, and maybe I can get away with canceling one class per semester, two at the maximum, but that’s about it.  The inflexibility of the start and end dates of the semester are another example.  In many other fields, it would be possible to move start/end dates of projects around, especially with as much advance notice as pregnancy provides.  But in academia, the semester is when it is, and you’re basically teaching for all of it or none of it.  Academics can’t schedule a random vacation week in the middle of April (seriously, it’s ridiculous for me to imagine just peace-ing out on my students to go to Jamaica for a week right now, much as I’d love to!).  Then there are long-term commitments that you can’t really back out on.  For example, I have been supervising a student for the past two years who is staying to write a masters thesis with me next year.  I can’t just tell him “nope, sorry, come back next year!” because academia doesn’t work that way.  And it would be super-unfair to him to try to get him to switch advisors at this point, since he has invested years into learning the methods and techniques and already has the bulk of his thesis work done.  So regardless of when I take parental leave next year, I will be supervising at least one and probably three theses in the spring semester, even if I’m also taking care of a newborn full-time.  And my main research facility’s annual proposal deadline is always in April, regardless of whether or not I am on parental leave, so either I suck it up and find a way to put in proposals or I just don’t get any new data for my research that year.

But, back to my teaching dilemma.  So, I think I have actually come up with the least awful solution — the problem is that I don’t know if my department/university will allow me to do it.  It turns out that the classes I’m scheduled to teach next year have a huge amount of overlap with the classes taught by the one research faculty member in my department.  He can’t teach my advanced class, but he taught a different advanced class that uses a lot of similar tools and techniques just last year — we could definitely put together a hybrid course where I taught the first half of the semester and he taught the second half.  Then, in the spring, we would swap and he’d teach the first half of the semester while I’d teach the second half, after the baby is old enough to go to daycare.  It works out perfectly in terms of his course load (which is lower than a normal faculty member’s), and also minimizes impact on the department curriculum since it would only involve canceling his gen-ed class that he’s scheduled to teach in the spring semester.  Gen-eds are the easiest to cancel, because they aren’t required for any major and we always offer several per year so students can just take a different one.  If they had to cancel my fall class, it would be a huge monkey wrench for curriculum planning, for various reasons that I won’t go into (planning the curriculum for the department seems to be a major logic puzzle that changes parameters every single year).  I don’t know for sure that this particular faculty member would be on board with my plan, but I definitely would if I were in his shoes — I think it’s a pretty good deal to teach for two half-semesters instead of a single full semester, and they’re both classes that he’s taught recently and wouldn’t have to do much prep work for.

So, that’s the proposal I’m hoping to float by my chair when I am finally up for discussing it with him.  I honestly don’t know what he’ll say.  One thing that gives me hope is that just a few days ago I had lunch with my most awesome female mentor from a closely related department (who is a full professor and just finished a stint as department chair, and has served on every university committee multiple times).  I did tell her about my pregnancy, and my worry about figuring out the course schedule, and before I even had a chance to tell her my idea she was just immediately all like “Well, you will teach two half-courses, one in the fall and one in the spring, and your department will deal,” like it was the most obvious thing in the world.  So, at least I know she’s in my corner, and my idea is not totally crazy.  And I really do think it is the best way to minimize the impact of this leave timing on our department’s curriculum, the baby, and me.

So, that’s the scoop.  I’ll continue to mull it over, and then the plan is to talk to my chair in about two weeks, once the NIPT results are back and I’ve had the NT ultrasound to make sure that everything is still looking good pregnancy-wise.  There’s not much urgency, so I could technically keep waiting, but for one thing my belly is already starting to pop (I guess being on pregnancy #5 will do that to you!), and for another thing I know that once I have a plan in place it will help me chill out and not stress quite as much, which I would really like to be able to do.  Then I can return to stressing about my tenure packet, which is due in exactly the same week as this baby!  Again, I fully recognize how lucky I am to have these sorts of problems: to be at the point where I have done enough high-quality work to be able to (mostly) confidently submit a tenure packet, and to be at the point where I can reasonably hope that I might be able to welcome another little one to our family in the near future.  It’s an exciting time of life, and I really don’t want to mess it up!