Tag Archives: academia

Still Trying… With Some Perspective

After four cycles of trying, still no luck.  I know that especially since my tubes are crap this is still well within the range of normal, but I’m starting to contemplate when to go back to the RE.  The decision is complicated by the fact that my ovulation pain reached new heights of awful this month and sent me back to my OBGYN basically asking “This is not normal, right? Is there anything I can do about it?”

To give you an idea, this month for five days leading up to ovulation I experienced pressure and abdominal pain.  For the ~2 days around ovulation, everything hurt.  It hurt to sit down, it hurt to walk, it hurt to have sex (which is just adding insult to injury), and the pain was so bad that it woke me up in the middle of the night.  I mean, I know some level of ovulation pain is normal, but this just seems beyond normal.  I had brought up ovulation pain at my last annual visit and my doctor brushed it off, but it was so bad this month that I decided to go back.  So I made an appointment, which wound up being with their midwife who I haven’t met before (I thought someone told me she had retired, but apparently she’s back).

I ran through my symptoms and she basically said that she’d be happy to order an ultrasound but didn’t think she’d see anything — I agreed that she was probably right, particularly since I just had two ultrasounds in May/June during my miscarriage, which also didn’t show anything weird about my ovaries.  She said it’s probably either endometriosis or adhesions — I know I have some scarring from the first pregnancy when we lost our daughter at 18 weeks and I developed an infection that I later found out had scarred my fallopian tubes (worse on the left than the right, which is probably why my two subsequent pregnancies have both been on the right).  She said that there’s basically nothing they can do about those things: “Well, I mean, there’s surgery, but…” she said with a little laugh.  I was sitting there thinking: why are you laughing about surgery?  It was as though she thought it was ridiculous that I might consider surgery for pain bad enough that it affects me for a whole week of every month and wakes me up in the middle of the night.  I mean, that’s bad, right?  So the upshot of the appointment was that I declined another ultrasound, and she told me that my best option was going back to the RE — she thought maybe another HSG would help break up some of the adhesions and relieve the pain a little (which sounds sketchy to me, but what do I know?).  I left totally down in the dumps, wondering when I can finally put this phase of life behind me, because it’s just so unrelentingly awful (except for my son, who is the best thing in the Universe, which is the only reason I am willing to keep putting myself through this crap to try to have another one).

Fast forward two weeks to today, and my period arrives.  I’m feeling like crap, thinking I’ll never get pregnant again, or if I do, the baby will probably die again.  Then I had a meeting with our colloquium speaker.

This colloquium speaker and I have known each other on and off through meetings, talks, and conferences for a number of years.  I think we have sort of a little mutual admiration society going on. I remember meeting her for the first time when she was a grad student and I was visiting her university as a postdoc to give the colloquium.  She had just had a baby a few weeks before, but came to campus specifically to meet with me.  I was equally as interested in her science as in what it was like to have a newborn — we had a ton to talk about.  She just seemed so put together, was doing such awesome science, was interested in science education, was thoughtful, and appeared to be super-mom on top of it.  My career was a little farther ahead than hers, but she was a little older because she’s a non-traditional student who started her PhD a little later in life.  So, we kept tabs on each other a bit, as we both bounced around and wound up in our dream jobs as physical scientists at liberal arts colleges only an hour’s drive apart in New England. I started my job four years before she did, which means that she just started her job in January of this year.  I had a kid about three years after she had her first.  She invited me up to give a colloquium her first semester on campus, and this semester I invited her down to give a colloquium at our campus.  Today she’s visiting, and we started off our meeting with the usual excited back-and-forth about what we’re both up to — how her first year of teaching is going, how my approach to tenure material submission is going, etc.  Then, she changed the subject.  She mentioned that she was 22 weeks pregnant.  I congratulated her, quite genuinely, but couldn’t help feeling a small pang of self-pity that she was pregnant and I had just gotten my period for the fourth time after miscarrying, seven months into the journey to conceive our second living child.

But then, she kept going.  She remembered a conversation we’d had a while ago — she had shared that she had two miscarriages in a row, and I had shared about the loss of our daughter in the second trimester.  Well, it turns out that two weeks ago, at their 20 week anatomy scan, she got some bad news that their baby is much smaller than expected.  She is in that heartbreaking waiting phase where they’re trying to figure out how bad it is and whether they will be able to make it to viability, but there is much talk of early delivery and long NICU stays and potential long-term health issues.  Apparently they can’t yet tell whether it’s a placental issue or a chromosomal issue, but neither outlook is good.  She won’t know more until her next ultrasound in two weeks, but she’s been thinking a lot about how to handle it.  She wanted to know if I had any advice based on what I’d been through before (with weirdly similar timing relative to my tenure clock — we are truly living parallel lives in some ways).

My eyes immediately filled with tears for her.  And I silently kicked myself for allowing that earlier pang of self-pity.  It was an important reminder that we never, ever know what other pregnant women are going through, even when it looks from the outside like everything is perfect.  Advice.  What advice do I have?  None, really.  I don’t think I handled my 2nd trimester loss particularly well, but I also don’t think there is a good way to handle it.  I told her a few things:

  • Please accept offers of help.  I didn’t and I made things unnecessarily difficult for myself.  This is a huge life event, and it’s a small fraction of your time on the tenure clock and your life overall, so be kind to yourself while it’s happening.
  • If doing work feels therapeutic to you, go with it.  I couldn’t function for my own sake while I was going through our loss, but I could force myself to function for my students’ sake.  So if it feels right to work, work.  If it doesn’t, don’t.  You need to do whatever you can to get through this.
  • She wanted to know if I had thoughts about when she should tell her department — should she tell them soon so they could plan for the possibility that she might need to take medical leave?  I don’t know if this is the right answer, but I said no.  She doesn’t know what will happen.  Possibly nothing will happen, and she’ll be able to get through the rest of the semester without any issues.  Nobody can plan for this right now, so she has no responsibility to tell other people if she doesn’t want to.  They will figure it out.  They will not blame her for not telling them the news sooner.  There is really nothing to tell right now other than that her baby is sick and she doesn’t know what’s going to happen.  I advised her to wait until she knows what she needs so that she can ask for what she needs.  Unless she wants them to know for emotional support purposes, but my experience was that people really don’t understand pregnancy loss, especially in the second trimester, and having everyone know is often just a higher emotional load to deal with.

That was pretty much all I could think of.  I also told her that I am so, so sorry, and that I am here to help or if she just wants to talk — I told her that when our daughter died, I was just desperate to talk to people who had had second trimester losses, especially those who had gone on to have healthy pregnancies afterward, so if she has the same desire I am absolutely here for her.  I just wish she didn’t have to go through it, especially not this tortuous period of not knowing what’s going to happen.  She sounds pretty pessimistic about having a healthy baby at the end, but I will be hoping upon hope that it’s another case of unreliable ultrasound and that everything will be fine.

These childbearing years are the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, and it breaks my heart the more I learn how awful they are for so many women.  I wish there were a better way.  I wish it were easier.  I wish people talked about it more and were better at supporting each other through it.  I wish we could just wish children into our lives.  When they do come, they’re amazing, but it doesn’t seem like we should have to endure so much suffering to get there.  I will be holding this friend in my thoughts, and checking in with her in two weeks to see if she needs anything after their next ultrasound.

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Day 3 labs and my dad’s memorial service

I swear I’m not as much of a grumpy gus in real life as I am on my blog, but I sure do feel like I have plenty to be grumpy about these days.  I thought I had left most of the bitterness of pregnancy loss and infertility behind me, but we’re now six months and one miscarriage into trying to conceive our second living child and I just today saw the second pregnancy announcement from a friend/acquaintance who is five months pregnant (which is how pregnant I would be right now if I hadn’t miscarried), and my dad’s memorial service was last Saturday, and we’re heading into midterm season which is no more fun as a professor than it was as a student, and I am GRUMPY about it all.

As part of the conversation with my OB about how to go forward with trying to conceive after my miscarriage in May, she offered to repeat my Day 3 labs, which I haven’t had done since before my daughter was conceived — I figured that if they were normal, I’d be more comfortable trying on our own a little longer, but if they indicated low reserve I’d want to head back to the RE sooner rather than later.  The results came back this week, and my FSH and estradiol are both normal (8.8 and 49, respectively).  My FSH was 8 before, so things don’t seem to have changed much there (although I do always worry about inter-cycle variability).  My AMH was a bit on the high side — good for egg quantity/quality, but apparently a potential indicator of cysts or PCOS.  Which makes total sense to me, because it seems like every time I get an ultrasound someone tells me I have a cyst and they’ll “keep an eye on it” and then they never do and then I mention it whenever they do another ultrasound and they’re like, “oh, huh, you do have a cyst… well, it looks normal, but we’ll keep an eye on it,” and then nothing happens.  I also wonder if my borderline high AMH levels are related to the fact that I get wicked ovulation pain these days — I don’t even really need OPKs anymore, because I can tell 2-3 days before the OPK turns positive that I’m starting to ovulate, and by the time I get to ovulation day it hurts to sit down.  Anyway, who knows?  My OB mostly just brushed it off (I didn’t actually get to talk to her; she left a message and said to call if I had questions and I haven’t gotten around to it).  But at least my eggs aren’t rotten, which was my main concern.  So that leaves us in purgatory of trying and trying and wondering when to go back to the RE.  I think I’ll probably wait it out until January — that would be seven cycles of trying post-miscarriage (since it took me >2 months to get my period back after the miscarriage), 10 months since we started trying after our son was born, and it would also be past the window of inconvenient due date timing (since I’m planning to submit my tenure materials next November).  Seems like a good time to step up our efforts.

In the meantime, I held my dad’s memorial service last Saturday.  It was so strange.  I still don’t really believe that he’s dead.  Most of the family got together, and it was nice to see everyone.  In a way, it was one of the more pleasant family funerals since nobody was really all that sad, since nobody was really that close to my dad — sounds weird to say it that way, but it’s the silver lining of my dad’s depressing life during which he worked hard to alienate himself from pretty much everyone in the family.  My uncle is a minister, and he planned most of the service.  He did a nice job — told some stories about my dad that were funny but didn’t totally whitewash the seedier sides of his personality.  It’s got to be disconcerting for my uncle that he’s now led funeral services for his parents and two of his three siblings, but you’d never know it from the way he was up there talking and laughing and playing Grateful Dead songs (which my dad definitely would have appreciated).  My son, S, was the star of the show, if that’s a thing that one can be at a funeral.  He was dancing along to the Grateful Dead songs, peeking over my shoulder at a family friend and saying “Boo!” during the service, and when I got up to give the eulogy he held out his arms yelling “Mama, mama, mama!” until I just picked him up and let him sit on my hip while I spoke and he tried to disassemble the microphone.

I had some really nice moments with my dad’s old friends who told me stories about the good old days when my dad was actually a functional human being and did some really important welfare reform work — like, welfare reform that influenced policy decisions across many states and also the platform for one presidential campaign that my dad worked on.  It was all before I was 5 years old, so I don’t really have any memories of those days, but it was nice to hear about how he used to be really driven and dedicated to helping other people.  I don’t know what happened — part of it was being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, although that’s clearly not all of it.  As I mentioned before, there were drugs and alcohol and abuse involved, and I’m pretty sure there were some undiagnosed mental health issues too.  Not depression/anxiety so much as narcissistic personality disorder with perhaps a touch of sociopath, if I may armchair-diagnose my deceased father.  Anyway, it was good to hear his friends remember how he used to be, and to hear stories about him that I hadn’t heard before.  Since he died a lot of my sadness has been related to the empty life he led, particularly towards the end (I won’t elaborate on some of the things I found while cleaning out his apartment, but they were incredibly depressing) and so it was nice to hear that there were other parts of his life that were more fulfilling than the parts that I had the front row seats for.

So, that’s where we are now.  Making arrangements for the funeral and my dad’s affairs has been eating up my life since he died ~3 weeks ago, and with traveling back home on the weekends and my phone ringing off the hook I’ve been very behind on work and it’s been very stressful.  I’ve still got a stack of grading to be done, but I’m keeping up on the essentials, and now I finally feel like I might have a tiny hope of catching up — not that any academic is ever truly caught up, but at least I hopefully won’t feel that I’m constantly dropping balls and letting people down.

One sort of interesting thing that happened this week is that on Monday I was apologizing to one of my masters students for not answering an email that he had sent on Friday — I said that I didn’t want to play the sad card, but I did want to explain that my father’s funeral was Saturday so I just didn’t look at my email all weekend.  He said, “Wait, your father’s funeral?!” and I realized I hadn’t actually told him that my father had died, even though it had come up with all the other members of my group at one point or another.  But after that student found out, nice things started happening all week — the grad students in our department all signed a sympathy card for me and chipped in on a gift certificate to a local restaurant, and then “the students” brought surprise baked goods to our research group meeting today.  When I walked in and said, “Well, this is nice!  What’s the occasion?” they said, “We just wanted to do something nice since you do so much for us,” and it just about collapsed me into a weeping puddle of goo right then and there!  I have strong suspicions that this masters student who found out late goaded the other students into action — it fits his personality, and he’s a non-traditional older student, already married, so he’s significantly more mature than the other students in our program.  But it is clear that all the other students eagerly piled on once someone initiated, and I am grateful to all the students in our program — and my research group — for their kindness this week.  Even though it’s a little awkward, it’s nice to be treated like a human with feelings and shown a bit of appreciation occasionally (not that that’s why I do what I do, but it’s still nice when it happens!), and at a time like this it means even more than it otherwise would.  Our tiny department has all the pros and cons of small town living, but the way people support each other is one of the biggest pros there is.

Bad news

It seems like there’s a lot of bad news these days.  Destruction in Texas and the Carribean.  The increasing threat of nuclear weapons.  The government rolling back protections under Title IX and DACA — one of my handful of freshman advisees this year admitted to me that she is a DACA student, and she is scared stiff.  She’s an amazing kid who had a tumultuous childhood first growing up in Guatemala with her grandparents, and then being sent to live with her parents in the US when she was in elementary school.  She was a shining star at her US high school, and is now a freshman at a top liberal arts college who is studying to be a pediatrician.  She loves working with young kids, and used to take care of toddlers at her church growing up, and is applying to work at the campus daycare where my son goes.  THIS is the kind of truly amazing young woman our President wants to deport?!  I am so angry on her behalf, and on the behalf of all of the kids who did nothing wrong, often everything right, and find themselves rejected and under threat by the only country they have ever known.

On top of all of that, I got some personal bad news yesterday morning: my father died.  It was very sudden and unexpected; he’s had multiple sclerosis for almost 30 years but was healthy otherwise, and it seems that he just died in his sleep sometime Wednesday night.  I’ll apparently never get answers about what really happened either (i.e., was it a heart attack or stroke or what?), since in cases like this they don’t do an autopsy unless there’s suspicion of foul play.  So, I spent yesterday afternoon on the phone with everyone: the paramedics, the police, the funeral home, my father’s landlord, the county probate office, my entire family, and the few of my dad’s closest friends that I knew how to contact.  Yesterday was a total blur, and today I have a bit of a breather before traveling home this weekend to start making arrangements for his funeral and figuring out what to do with all of the financial stuff and his physical belongings.

I have really complicated feelings about this loss.  My father and I weren’t close.  He abused drugs and alcohol when I was a child, sometimes in my presence, was verbally abusive, and made me feel unsafe on a number of occasions.  I had occasionally wondered what his end of life would be like, what I would do if he wound up needing more intensive long-term care than the disability services he had used for decades.  In a way, it’s a relief that it ended this way, although I feel guilty for feeling that way.  But I also know that he would have wanted to die in his sleep rather than have a long, slow decline to death.  And, I do have some good memories of him when I was young.  I know that he was always very proud of me and my accomplishments, and that he was delighted by the birth of his grandson.  He’s my father, and while over the years I’ve already done a lot of mourning for the father I would never have in my life, I’m finding that, surprisingly, there’s still some mourning I’m going to need to do for the father I did have.

For the moment, I’m just taking it from one day to the next, with the practical side of me figuring out what needs to be done while the emotional side of me wrestles with the aftermath (particularly at 2am last night, alas).  Since my parents have been divorced for 25 years and I have no siblings, it’s clear that I’m the next of kin and it is my responsibility for making decisions and arrangements.  My mom has already offered to help however she can, of course, but legally it’s my responsibility.  I feel very unprepared, and wound up googling various iterations of “what to do when someone dies” and “checklist for when a parent dies” yesterday just to even get a sense of the scope of what happens next.  And today, with nothing concrete to accomplish, I’m sitting in my office not focusing and writing a blog post while pretending I’m going to be able to keep up with the crushing workload of the start of the semester (oh, and with a major deadline for my research next week too).

Anyway, I do take solace in the fact that this I know that this is the way my father would have wanted to die, even though he would probably have preferred that his death be later in life (he was 68).  I’m doing my best to respect his wishes and the needs of my family as I make arrangements for his funeral and what to do with his body.  I’m feeling grateful that I have so many wonderful people jumping to support me, including my husband, mom, and cousin, a couple of my wonderful colleagues at work, and friends (even though I haven’t really told any of them yet — I’ve got a couple of rock-solid awesome friends who I know will have my back once I can muster up the energy to pick up the phone again).  I’m also grateful for my snuggly, goofy toddler, who is still totally oblivious to grown-up sadness.  Playing with him last night after daycare was the best medicine by far.  I am lucky enough to have a village that will help me get through this difficult time.

Talking about Family Planning with Students

Last week the senior faculty member in my department hosted his annual 4th of July barbecue for our department — all the faculty, their families, and all the students who are here doing research for the summer were invited.  It was quite a crew (for a liberal arts college), with 30 or more people hanging out in his backyard, munching hot dogs and (veggie) burgers, and splashing in the pool.  It was a beautiful day with some really great people, and I love that my department is such a welcoming and family-friendly place (this is one of several regular events throughout the year at which partners and children are explicitly encouraged to attend).

I was sitting on the grass with my son on my lap.  He was contemplatively munching on a veggie burger.  We were surrounded by students.  They were commenting on how much he’s grown since the last time they saw him, how long his hair is (it’s in these amazing platinum-blond ringlets right now since we haven’t cut it yet), asking what new things he can do, etc.  Then, one student busted out with “Are you going to have more kids?”

I gave my stock response: “We’ll see!”

Another (perceptive) student said: “It sounds like maybe you say that a lot.”

I laughed and said, “You’re right!  A lot of people are curious.  Almost as much now as when my husband and I first got married and we got lots of questions about when we were going to have kids.”

Another student said, “It’s kind of a personal question, isn’t it?”

I said, “Yes, it’s personal.”

The student who asked in the first place apologized.  I told her I didn’t mind, that I was also very curious about things like that when I was her age.

It was a brief twinge of discomfort in an otherwise lovely day.  I kept turning it over in my head.  I almost wanted to tell them why it was personal — to tell them about the daughter we lost before our son was born, or the fact that I’ve been pregnant three times with only my son to show for it, but I didn’t want to spoil the festive mood.  On the other hand, I feel that we generally do our young people a disservice by being so closed-mouthed about the realities of pregnancy loss and infertility.  I teach my students lots of things, and sometimes they learn from me whether I want them to or not — I know that the students have been keenly interested in my life since I revealed that I was pregnant with S (the students were also keenly interested when I was pregnant with his big sister, although that generation has all graduated by now).  I also know that for all the young women, I am the sole example they have of a female professor in our field, which can feel like a heavy responsibility.  I want them to be encouraged by my example, not daunted.  But I also want to prepare them for challenges they are likely to face.  There were about 8 students sitting with me on the grass during this conversation — odds are that several of them will experience miscarriage sometime in their lives, and probably one of them will experience infertility.  Is it better to prepare them, or to let them find out for themselves?  I made a choice in the moment, a choice that felt right to me at the time, but I could imagine having handled it a different way.

For now, I educated them that asking questions about fertility plans is personal.  I’ll save the conversation about pregnancy loss for another time.

Grrrrrraduation

Please permit me to grouse for a moment.  I don’t get to do it much in real life these days since I haven’t told many people about our miscarriage.

Last weekend was our university’s commencement ceremony.  One of my research students just finished his bachelor’s degree and is staying on in my research group to write a masters thesis next year.  So, he graduated this year, but he’ll also graduate next year (assuming all goes well).  He’s a nice kid, came in as a transfer student from a big state school after his sophomore year, switched majors from English to physics at the same time, and then proceeded to complete the entire physics major in two years!  He’s had some hiccups, and his research skills need work (which is why I’m glad he’s staying for a masters), but it’s extremely impressive that he did what he did.  He’s also just a really nice kid, who works really, really hard, and so despite some of my frustrations with his lack of research progress, I very much enjoy working with him.  I was really looking forward to meeting his family this week and telling them how great it’s been to have him in my research group and how glad I am that he’s staying for another year.

But his dad.  OMG.

To set the scene a little: One of my colleagues (who has three kids) traditionally brings his kids to watch commencement from a beautiful grassy hill overlooking the ceremony, right near our building, which makes a convenient meet-up point for our majors to come visit after the ceremony.  This year I decided to bring my son and join him — it allowed me to participate in commencement and congratulate our students without giving up weekend time with my son, and my son had a blast playing with my colleague’s kids on the hill during the ceremony (or mostly watching them in awe and trying to steal their baseball when they weren’t looking).

So, after the ceremony, my student wanders up with his dad.  I get to congratulate my student, beam, and lay it on thick with his family — I really love getting to talk up my students to their parents, especially students that I genuinely enjoy like this one.  It’s a win-win feel-good situation.  Then his dad stayed to chat while I was supervising my son’s shenanigans with the big kids.  The following conversation ensued:

Him: How old is your son now?

Me: 15 months

Him: So, are you going to have another one?

Me (inwardly rolling my eyes): We’ll see!

Him: No, but really, do you WANT more?  Are you planning on it?

Me (through gritted teeth): We’ll see!

He actually seemed like he was going to push the subject(!) so I excused myself and scooped up my son.

How clueless are people?  And why, WHY would you ever think it was OK to interrogate your kid’s professor about her reproductive plans?!  This one of the few times that I felt that bringing up our losses would have been not only socially awkward but… unprofessional.  I mean, there were times when I had to discuss the loss of our daughter with colleagues, since it affected a lot of my professional life as well as my personal life.  But… a student’s parent?  And a week after a miscarriage?  Seriously?  Argh.

Several people have asked me about my reproductive plans since our miscarriage (which was only TWO WEEKS AGO), but this one has just been gnawing at me.  I’m so angry about it.  Oh, I won’t hold it against the student… if people held my dad against me I’d never have gotten anywhere in life.  But I might just try to avoid one-on-one conversations with his dad next spring.  And I also want to vent on my blog.  Check that one off the list!

Anyway.  Things here have settled down a bit.  I did have one freak-out this week… I had some pelvic pressure, pain, and fever, but I also had a terrible respiratory infection of some sort from my son that might have accounted for the fever, so I didn’t know what exactly was going on but I was so afraid that I was getting another pelvic infection.  The doctor was great, saw me right away, did a repeat ultrasound, redrew my HCGs, and assured me that the fever is probably unrelated.  Turns out I have a medium-size ovarian cyst, which she said can be common during pregnancy or after a miscarriage and is most likely responsible for the pelvic pressure and pain.  I had a cyst during my first pregnancy with my daughter as well, so I think it’s just something my body does in (doomed) pregnancies, maybe?  Anyway, I am mostly reassured and only feeling a little sheepish for having another freak-out around this miserable pregnancy.  I think it’s just that with everything I’ve been through I really don’t trust my body anymore.  With my first pregnancy, I was a pretty laid-back pregnant lady, but look where it got me — not only did my daughter die, which was unavoidable but nevertheless made me question every little risk I took in that pregnancy, but when I didn’t push about getting symptoms addressed after I delivered her, I wound up with retained products, hemorrhaging, and an infection that damaged my fallopian tubes.  I am just so done with the laid-back approach and am glad that they are investigating my worries comprehensively.  Hopefully this is really the end of it now!

My Blog Title is Apt Again

Well, whaddya know.  I’m pregnant.

It has never taken us less than 8 months to conceive before.  This time, first try.  We are thrilled and a little stunned.  I’ve always been a little skeptical of the stories you read of how people who have experienced infertility/loss often get pregnant quickly after a full-term, healthy pregnancy — I mean, maybe it happens to some people, but I was sure it wouldn’t happen to me.  Well, here I am!

For now, of course.  I know as well as anyone that first trimester miscarriage is a distinct possibility, as are losses at later stages of pregnancy, as are all manner of other health problems (I’m still at elevated risk for ectopic pregnancy and placental abruption, for example).  But for now I’m pregnant, and that’s a very, very good thing.

We’re a little shocked at the timing — I mean, we were trying to get pregnant, obviously, but we just didn’t expect it to happen this quickly.  Of course our minds started jumping to the possible reality of having a new baby join our family in January.  Two under two — yikes!  It would also throw a monkey wrench into my tenure plans (I’d been on track to submit my materials a year and a half from now), but… we’ll deal with that.  Our family is more important than my tenure case, and if I wind up using both my clock extensions and spending nine years on the tenure clock, so be it.

I was also just starting to cut back on pumping at work this week, but for the moment I’m still breastfeeding/pumping four times a day, which is going to start feeling like a lot as I get more pregnant.  But… what if I wean, and then miscarry?  I’ll be mourning the loss of a baby simultaneously to mourning the loss of a wonderful breastfeeding relationship.  I suppose I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing (i.e., weaning from the pump during the day, since I would never mourn the loss of a relationship with my pump!) and see how things go over the next few weeks.  I’ve got a viability scan scheduled for a week from Monday, after which we’ll know a little more (and, if all goes well, I’ll start back on Lovenox).

What a weird and wonderful week it’s been.  Pregnant again.  Holy cow.  Here’s hoping this little bean sticks around!

Nursing on the Tenure Track

Hello, everyone!  It’s been a while, but I’m still here, mostly reading and commenting on all y’all’s blogs, but also thinking about writing once in a while.

First, a quick update: Little S is 10.5 months old.  He has 7 teeth (with tooth #8 about to pop through any day, poor guy), and is right on the brink of walking and talking (he walks with a push toy, and can stand for a couple of seconds before plopping down on his bottom.  I think he’s been trying to say the word “cow” for one of his favorite toys and “dog” when we see dogs out on our walks).  The best parts of the last week have been (1) he learned how to splash in the bathtub (wet, but fun!), and (2) we took him sledding for the first time after Saturday’s snowstorm — he was skeptical, but didn’t cry, so it’s a win, I think!

Our nursing relationship is still going strong.  I didn’t really think much about nursing long-term before he was born — in fact, when our weirdly aggressive breastfeeding instructor demanded to know my nursing goals while I was still pregnant, I stammered out “um, try it and see how it goes?”  Then, my kid was a born sucker (there’s one born every minute, after all), and I was surprised to discover that I really loved our nursing relationship.  It’s not all roses, of course — I seem to be prone to plugged ducts (not mastitis, thankfully), and it quickly became apparent that the downside of nursing is that a small human is still physically dependent on your body months/years after you’ve finally evicted them from the inside, so your freedom is a bit limited.  But on the whole I feel so fortunate that it’s worked for us, and I love the closeness and the special relationship that it’s helped to develop between my son and me.  Nothing beats that snuggle time.

Another thing that I didn’t think much about before my son was born was how moms combine nursing with work, particularly academia.  I mean, I vaguely knew that women pumped while they were at work, and that lactation rooms were supposed to be a good thing.  But man, it’s a whole lot more logistically complicated than I ever imagined.  We had a few challenges that were somewhat particular to my baby: for one, he never took a bottle, which made it complicated for anyone other than me to feed him.  When I went back to work part-time four months after he was born, his dad finally figured out a labor-intensive cup-feeder solution, which the daycare ladies gamely continued until he was 6 months old and learned how to use a sippy cup.  But he would refuse to eat from anyone other than dad or the daycare ladies, and actually these days he generally refuses to take a sippy cup from dad.  When I organized a conference at my university that took place on a Saturday when he was 7 months old, the little guy went on a hunger strike and my husband brought him to me to nurse over the lunch break so that he wouldn’t have to go 12 hours without eating.  Even if he had been one of those normal babies who takes a bottle without a fuss, it’s never easy to leave home as a nursing mom, because for every feeding you miss you have to pump to keep yourself comfortable and keep up your milk supply.

Which brings me to pumping circumstances.  I’m very fortunate to have my own office with a door that closes and locks.  However, all the faculty/staff offices in my building share a single key, and occasionally people will let themselves into my office if they think I’m not there, to leave something on my desk or change a lightbulb or whatever.  So, yeah, after one awkward incident, I made a great big sign for my door as well as a smaller sign that hangs from the doorknob and covers the keyhole when I’m in there.  Also, my window shades are almost as old as my 100-year-old building, and don’t close all the way, and my window is right at eye level on a staircase that students sometimes use to leave the building.  Oh, and the electrical system in our 100-year-old building is flaky, so there have been days when the lights in my office flicker in time with my breast pump, which is a little disconcerting.

I thought that lactation rooms sounded like a great idea, until I had to use one when I went to a conference at a large research center in November.  Don’t get me wrong — I think they’re infinitely better than what most women have, which is nothing more than a bathroom or a broom closet.  But once you’ve been pumping for a while, you realize how critical the timing is.  I found that with my tendency towards plugged ducts, I couldn’t safely go more than about 3 hours between pumping sessions (maybe 3.5 if I stretched it), at least when I was at peak milk production when my son was around 6-8 months old.  If I fed my kid at 8 before we left for the day, then my ideal pumping times were ~10:30, 1, and 3:30, and then I’d nurse him when I got home around 5:30.  The problem with a lactation room is that most of the other women are on the same schedule, so everyone wants to pump at ~10:30, 1, and 3:30, and nobody wants to pump at 9:30 or 4 — so the lactation room is empty most of the day, but crowded when you need it. Surely there must be a better solution!

Speaking of schedule issues, when I was teaching last semester, my class met from 10:20-11:40am, which meant that I had to pump around 9:45am to get to my class in time to set up, hand back papers, and have everything ready to go.  Then after class I’d be swamped with students until at least 11:50, which meant that if I had a lunch meeting or seminar I had <10 minutes to pump, which wasn’t quite enough time, so I either had to arrive late at my lunch meeting or pump after the lunch meeting, which meant stretching the time between pumping sessions to >3hours — and then if I got held up at the lunch meeting, it could easily go to 3.5 hours or beyond.  Two plugged ducts later I decided it wasn’t worth the risk, so for the rest of the semester I was late to all my lunch meetings and seminars on teaching days.  (I was totally ready to play the “breast pump” card, but nobody ever asked — I hope they don’t think I’m flaky now.)

The other thing is, I have no idea how nursing moms manage all the travel in academia.  I have a number of advantages, including a husband who works from home and has a very flexible work schedule, plus my son has three supportive grandparents, two of whom are retired.  For the conference in November, my husband came along.  The conference was three days long, but we compromised so that I went for 1.5 days and then we came home so that my husband only missed two days of work but I still got to go to half the conference and give my invited talk.  In February we are going to a two-week-long workshop in California (I was actually invited to attend for all three months of the workshop, but that was totally unrealistic, so I settled on two weeks instead).  One of the grandparents is tagging along to babysit for the first week, and my husband is coming out for the second week.  I am already dreading this, partly because upending my son’s schedule is going to make him a cranky, whiny, sad little baby, and partly because I suspect he’s going to go on a sippy-cup strike which will stress my mom out while she’s trying to babysit and will mean she’ll probably wind up bringing him to me at the conference at least a couple times a day to nurse.  He’s doing pretty well on solids these days, so the nursing intervals are starting to stretch out, but he still nurses quite a lot.

When people talk about how to support young parents, especially young mothers, in academia, they talk a lot about conference daycare and lactation rooms.  What I could really use to help me continue traveling is money, with the flexibility to use it however I need.  In addition to my normal conference costs, this two-week trip is going to also require us to pay for two extra plane tickets (my mom’s and my husband’s), two weeks of a rental car (which I wouldn’t normally splurge on, but with a baby it seems necessary), all the extra food for my mom and husband, and then there are the hidden costs of my mom and my husband taking vacation time from work.  We are fortunate enough to be able to afford it, but if we weren’t so lucky, it would be a real barrier to my attendance at the conference.  If I were going for only a day or two, it would also be immensely helpful to have funding to pay for a service like Milk Stork — I know people in business careers whose companies have agreed to pay the cost of Milk Stork while they are on work travel, but it’s not exactly the kind of thing I can charge to a research grant (as far as I know).

As a pumping scientist mom, I have had some fairly wacky pumping experiences, including pumping in an old Nike radar station and a transmission electron microscopy lab.  It actually felt weirdly empowering to pump in such super-sciencey places — I am science mom, hear me lactate!  🙂  And as tricky as it’s been to combine pumping with academia, I’m still more than a little bit sad to think that our nursing relationship is already starting to wind down as my baby grows up.  Honestly, part of me loves that nursing gives me a reason to bring my son along to conferences, instead of leaving him for days at a time.  In his whole life, I’ve never been away from him for more than the length of a daycare day, and I’m dreading the first night that I spend away from him (y’know, except for the uninterrupted sleep part).  I’d also really like to continue nursing for as long as he’s interested, but I’m just not sure how realistic that is with all the travel that my job requires.  I’m a little bit worried that I’ll inadvertently wean him (or totally distress him) the first time I have to leave him for several days.  It’s also having an impact on my career: for example I’m probably going to turn down an invitation I received to a conference in Germany in April because I just can’t imagine that a week-long separation is going to work at this point.  That said, if having a baby has taught me anything, it’s that with babies, change is the only constant.  He’s already getting very fidgety at our nursing sessions and nursing for shorter times and less frequently than he used to, so maybe he’ll surprise me one day and just decide he’s done, and I’ll shed a tear and pack up my pump and move on with life.  We’ll see.  I feel fortunate to have made it this far, and I know that I am luckier than many women who don’t have the flexibility to make an extended breastfeeding relationship practical.  And knowing that our breastfeeding relationship is finite makes those snuggles all the more precious while they last.