Tag Archives: family

Life is Good

I’ve got two important anniversaries coming up: The 5-year anniversary of our daughter’s death, and the 2-year anniversary of my father’s death.  Early September just doesn’t have a great track record for me.

But even though I’m very aware of the anniversaries… life is good.  Not only good.  Life is amazing right now.  I think I’m now removed enough from having lost my three pregnancies that their main impact on my everyday life is to make me grateful for the two amazing sons I do have.  I’m sure everyone is grateful for their children.  But the last five years have taught me so viscerally about how fragile life is that I do think I soak up the moments with my two babies in a way that I would not have otherwise.  My relationship with my father was so fraught and complicated, but now that he’s gone, its main impact is to make me appreciate what an amazing father my husband is — he is the father to my children that I never had, and his father, my father-in-law, is the grandfather that my father could never have been to my children.  Having them as part of my family heals me in a way that I didn’t know I needed.

Yesterday was a perfectly ordinary — but somehow remarkably perfect — day.  When I woke up my older son, I snuggled with him in bed and told him “I love you more than chocolate,” and as he was waking up he said, “I love you more than chocolate AND frosting AND sprinkles!”  Then I went to work, where there was an internet outage, so I spent the morning playing with a new digital planetarium that my department acquired last year — this fall I’m teaching a course that involves teaching students to use the planetarium to give presentations to elementary school children.  And I was just thinking, “How cool is my job?!  My work for the day is to play with this amazing planetarium!”  Then I picked up the baby from daycare — it was hotter than heck, so when we got home I drew a cool bath and just let him splash around.  Let me tell you, there is no better way to appreciate a deliciously chubby 8-month-old than to watch him play naked in a little baby tub and splash and giggle.  I read to him for a while, put him down for his nap, folded laundry, loaded and started the dishwasher, whipped up some banana bread to bake, and sat down to do some writing to help my masters student turn his thesis into a published paper.  When the baby woke up after a 2-hour nap, I nursed him and we went to pick up the big kid from preschool.  After preschool, I played with both kids on the floor, building with Duplos, and there wasn’t even any squabbling over pieces.  Then we headed over to a friend’s house for dinner, banana bread in hand, and the kids were mostly well behaved and I even got to have a somewhat uninterrupted conversation with my friend, the math professor.  Home, snuggles, bedtime, packing lunches for the next day, and doing a crossword puzzle in bed with my husband, and we turned out the lights.  Perfect.

I am so aware of how temporary all of this is.  The baby is growing at an alarming rate.  Soon he won’t be a baby anymore.  Someday, my kids will be out of the house.  Someday, life will be over.  I just feel so fortunate every day to have the family that we have.  To have the job that I have.  To be the parent and professor that I wanted to be.  I think the last time I felt this content and happy and excited for the future was the summer before I left for college. I remember that beautiful glow, appreciating everything I had and eagerly anticipating everything to come, and it’s the same as the feeling I’ve had this summer as the baby has been turning into a little person and as the reality of tenure has sunk in.  I know this won’t last — nothing this perfect ever does — but for now, I’m soaking it up.

The one thing that makes me sad and wistful is that… I want another baby, and my husband doesn’t.  I think I’m OK with that.  I recognize that more children means more divided attention and time, and I want to spend as much time as I can with my two existing children.  I think I’m more at home with the chaos of dealing with small children than my husband is — it stresses him out more than it stresses me out, and I don’t want to risk his mental health or our relationship by adding more stress than he can handle.  At the same time, when we talk about why he doesn’t want another baby, for him it mostly boils down to immediate things.  He says maybe if his parents lived closer and could help, and maybe if we didn’t have a dog, but he’s just feeling like he’s starting to get enough time back for work and exercise and he’s not ready to give that up again.  Which I get, but I’m also thinking 10 and 20 years down the road, when the kids will be in school and what our family will look like in the long run.  We both come from small families, and I worry that my kids will feel alone with no cousins and only one aunt — they’re basically it for their generation.  Plus, I admit that my current baby is so wonderful and perfect that it’s hard for me to accept that this is the last baby.  And I still haven’t quite given up on my dream of having a daughter, although I’d also be happy with another son.  And when I consider my husband’s reasons, what I hear underneath it is that he could use more support.  And I think… I could take on more of his responsibilities around the house (we split things pretty much 50/50 now), and we are also fortunate enough to be able to hire out some of the work, like dog-walking or cleaning or cooking (we tried hiring someone to clean and cook a few months before L was born, but it didn’t work out particularly well so we stopped when my husband’s parents came for the month of December).  I think this decision is a “two yeses, one no” case, so I will ultimately defer to my husband’s wishes — I just can’t imagine pressing such an important life change onto someone else.  When I asked him how sure he was recently — like, should I start giving away the baby clothes, or should we revisit in 6 months — he said he’s pretty sure, but we can revisit in 6 months.  We obviously can’t wait forever — I’m 36 now, and given our history it seems unlikely that the process would be smooth, and biology might just decide “no” for us.  So I’m waiting to bring it up again until our little one is a little bigger, and not holding out much hope, but there is a little spark of hope there.

And that’s the full update.  I don’t know if I’ll keep updating the blog very much beyond this point, especially if we don’t have another baby.  But maybe I’ll check in every once in a while — I do still read all the blogs that I’ve followed over the years and love to read the occasional updates there.  But the immediacy of needing a place to write out my experiences has mostly passed, I think, and more recently it’s been a way to maintain the wonderful relationships that have sustained me through some of the worst experiences of my life.  So thank you to anyone still reading.  I’m sending my love to you all.

Tenure

Well, it’s official! I somehow managed to miss not one but TWO calls from the university president to my cell phone this weekend, though as a result I now have the call recorded on voicemail and can listen to it on repeat.  I got the call in front of my husband and kids and did a wild happy dance while I was listening to it, so of course my three-year-old asked for it over and over again that night: “Mama, I want to listen to when you got tenure again.” (My heart, it melts!)

We celebrated at a local Italian bakery.  S had cannolis for the first time at his friend I’s birthday party at daycare this week, and apparently cried when he couldn’t have seconds.  I gave him the choice between ice cream and cannolis, and he chose cannolis, but then once we got there wound up more interested in the fruit cake and chocolate mousse.  What could I say… eat your heart out, kiddo!  Maybe we’ll do this again if I ever get promoted to full professor. 🙂 Here’s the photographic evidence:

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Friends, SO MUCH LIFE has happened on the tenure track. In case you’ve missed the tally along the line, here’s the cliffs notes version of what didn’t go into my tenure packet…

Year 1: Adopt a dog! Get married!
Year 2: Start infertility testing. Last grandparent dies. Get pregnant! Buy a house! Baby girl dies in the middle of the second trimester.
Year 3: Lots of infertility/loss testing/treatment. Get pregnant again! 
Year 4: Baby boy S is born!
Year 5: Start trying for #2. Miscarriage. Father dies suddenly. Miscarriage. Mother has major surgery #1. Start recurrent loss testing.
Year 6: Pregnancy #5. Mother has major surgery #2. Baby boy L is born!
Year 7: Somehow… tenure!!!

It’s been quite a ride, and since I’ve been busy thanking everyone who helped me along the way this week, I wanted to make sure to give you all a big, giant THANK YOU.  As I look back down that list, I would definitely not have made it through years 3-6 without this outlet.  I am so grateful to those of you who have been with me, cheering me on, for part or all of this journey.  It’s been a wild ride, but I couldn’t be more grateful to be where I am now, and to have met such amazing people along the way.

Tenure/Baby Update

This is a big month for tenure and baby!

Tenure first: the university-level committee has now had two meetings about my tenure case, one on its own and one where they brought in my department to discuss any questions they have with them.  That latter meeting took place on Friday.  Afterwards, my chair sent me a formal, uninformative email basically telling me that the meeting had taken place but that they couldn’t officially vote because one of the committee members couldn’t be at the meeting, but that everything was recorded for the absent committee member and we should find out the outcome after March break.  However, after that I got an email from my awesome faculty mentor — she was actually elected to the university-level committee (for the third time) this year, and while she has had to recuse herself from voting on my case because of her role as mentor, she is present for all the meetings.  In her email, she congratulated me for making it past the university-level committee!  I replied to her and was basically like, “Um, thanks… but did I?” and then she was all like, “Oh, oops, I guess they won’t officially tell you the vote until they can record the absent member’s vote, but um, basically, yeah.”  So, thanks to my faculty mentor spilling the beans, I now know that the vote from the present members was very positive (which my chair confirmed when I mentioned it to him today).  So, unofficial yay!!!  As I mentioned in my last post, this is basically the last major hurdle — if both my department and the university-level committee vote favorably, then the odds of my case getting overturned by the university president or board of trustees are astronomically low.  I still won’t get the final, official, irrevocable decision until sometime around Memorial Day, but I’m breathing a sight of relief to know that nothing weird is happening at the level of the university committee.

Baby: He is four months old!  The transformation from three months to four months is just phenomenal.  He’s like a different baby — so interactive, so giggly, so much more aware, and just clearly soaking up so much about the world.  I remember this phase from when S was little — it’s the phase where they still can’t do much, but they are so curious and get bored so easily that we basically hop around the house to different “stations” to keep him from getting fussy: the play mat in his room, the bouncy chair while I cook in the kitchen, a blanket on the living room floor, sitting up in the boppy while I fold laundry in our bedroom, etc.  He is also starting to tolerate the car better, and loves to go on outings (especially now that he can stay awake for longer, and now that I can wear him facing out).  We go to the university for various baby-friendly events, we’ve gone to the grocery store, and shopping for clothes for me and the kids (two of my old pairs of pants gave out spectacularly in the same week, which left me with exactly one pair of non-dress pants that sort of fit and didn’t have holes in it).  We haven’t been able to do much walking outdoors because it’s been cold and snowy, but the forecast is nice for this week so I’m hopeful.  I’ve also mostly mastered handling both kids after picking up S from daycare (not really any trick to it — honestly it’s just easier as L gets bigger).  It’s so much fun to take the kids to the local children’s museum or the library together at the end of the day, and mostly S has been really well behaved when he knows I have to take care of L too.

That said, everything changes next week, when L starts daycare!  It’s such a bittersweet transition.  On the one hand, I’m very, very ready to get back to using my brain to think about physics again and to have multiple-hour stretches in which to concentrate on a task.  On the other hand, I will miss the special time with my sweet and amazing little baby, and I find it so hard to think of him getting overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the busy daycare environment.  Fortunately, we’ve worked out a plan to keep him in half-day daycare until the fall semester.  For the six weeks that I am teaching this spring, we’ll shuffle our schedules so that I’ll pick him up M/W/F afternoons, and my husband will pick him up T/Th afternoons (which is when I teach).  Then in the summer, I’ll just work half days. I worked half-days all summer when S was a baby, and I LOVED it.  I was super-productive in my 4.5-hours of daycare time, and then I still got to spend most of the day with S.  I am really looking forward to doing the same with L this summer.  I feel so fortunate to have the flexibility to arrange my schedule this way — I’m basically getting a Canadian or Nordic-style parental leave despite being in the US.  My babies are only babies once, and the closeness with them at this age is so intense and so important, and I am grateful that I’m able to devote so much time and energy to my baby while also keeping up with the career that I love (and that I know will sustain me as they grow and need less and less of my time).

Basically, I’m on cloud nine these days.  Even though there are difficult moments during the days (and nights!!!), overall I am just so appreciative of everything that I have in my life right now: a wonderful husband who shares all the good and bad parts of parenting, a great job to come back to very soon, and above all these two wonderful tiny humans with whom I am sharing the most remarkable relationships of my life.  I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I am just enjoying L’s babyhood so much more than I did with S, mostly because my anxiety level is so much lower.  When little old ladies at the grocery store tell me to savor every moment, I can honestly smile back at them and tell them that I do.  (I mean, clearly not every moment, but most of them!)  It’s been a long road to get here, and I mourn the little lives that I never got to know, especially the daughter that I didn’t get to raise, but I am above all grateful for everything that I have — particularly S and L.  What amazing little humans, and what a wonderful family we have.

Two kids, OMG

Little L is now 7 weeks old, and the sweetest little bundle of love we could have hoped for.  In true second baby style, he is more laid back than his older brother — much happier to just chill out in the bouncy chair rather than being held all the time, very smiley and outgoing with all of our family including grandparents and aunt.  He seems to fall asleep easier and cry less, though he is definitely all-around more alert and tends to wake up at little noises or changes of light in a way that his big brother didn’t as a newborn.  He is also not as good a night-time sleeper as his big brother was, and is still mostly doing 2- and 3-hour stretches at night, with an occasional longer stretch thrown in (his record so far is 5.5 hours, but we’ve only gotten a 5-hour stretch twice, and once was when he was sick).  At this age S was sleeping 7-hour stretches pretty much every night, and he got up to 8- and 9-hour stretches by the time he was 2 months old.  But, then he stopped sleeping at just over 2 months old and drove me insane with sleep deprivation for the following two months, so I’m hoping that L is just gradually building up and won’t regress the way his big brother did (I can dream, right?).

Our big scare so far has been when big brother S brought a nasty daycare bug home when L was 3.5 weeks old.  S was out of daycare for 3 days with a fever, and despite our maniacal handwashing and isolation campaign, poor little L got the bug and was miserably sick.  There were multiple middle-of-the-night calls to the pediatrician wondering if we needed to bring our newborn to the emergency room because his breathing was so labored.  Then, just as things seemed to be looking up, he woke up at 2am one night, wouldn’t let us put him down for the rest of the night, was hardly nursing especially on one side, and by 10am I had brought him to the pediatrician and confirmed what I already knew: he had his first ear infection at 4 weeks old.  Cue his first round of antibiotics.  I would have liked to wait longer, but at least those antibiotics are miracle drugs and he was back to his happy self within 24 hours.  Now everyone is finally healthy again, and has been for the last couple of weeks, and we’re finally starting to figure out how to do this whole family-of-four thing.

Which, by the way, have I mentioned that it’s a challenge? My husband and I have agreed that going from 0 to 1 kids was more challenging emotionally/psychologically, but that going from 1 to 2 kids is much more challenging logistically.  I mean, I know that people do it all the time, and with many fewer resources (family support, financial, etc.) than we have… but I just don’t know HOW.  I mean, when you have a newborn and a toddler around, the newborn pretty much always needs something, and the toddler often needs something, so if you have one parent per kid it works pretty well, but then you basically can’t get anything done other than watching the kids.  I mean, maybe you can take the toddler to the grocery store, or engage the toddler in a cooking/laundry project, but not all the time.   So, how do people do it all???  Especially single parents or stay-at-home parents?  There is a single mom of two young kids who is a professor at my university — since she was a single mom by choice, she has been flying solo since Day 1 of their lives.  I have SO MUCH respect for her — always have, but now I want to study her life to figure out how she makes it work, because I literally have no idea.

At some point soon I am going to have to start taking both kids to do stuff at the same time, because my husband is already back at work, and our last family support leaves on Tuesday.  I seriously have no idea how it is possible to take care of a newborn and a toddler at the same time, but I guess people do it all the time, so I’m just going to have to try it and figure it out as I go.  I suspect that my toddler’s screen time will increase like crazy, especially while I’m nursing, because already it is difficult to pry him off me. Without intervention by another adult, he will reach across his brother to try to grab my face wailing “Mama, mama, pick me up!!!” the entire time that I am trying to feed poor little L.  I have to say that overall he’s an outstanding big brother, very gentle and sweet, talking and singing to little L… but not when I’m nursing — that’s when the jealousy really hits.  Ah, well… we will figure it out, and it will get easier as they get older, or so I am told!

Having family around has been wonderful — my mom was here for most of the first two weeks, and then my husband’s parents came for a month (they stayed at an extended-stay hotel, which was phenomenal, if expensive).  My sister-in-law was also here for Christmas week.  They just left today, and my mom will be back Mon/Tues, and then we’re on our own.  Both my mom and my husband’s parents are wonderfully helpful — I haven’t had to cook or clean since the baby was born.  So, now it gets real!  But other than the two weeks of illness sweeping through the house, and other than the sleep deprivation, my parental leave has been truly wonderful so far.  I have been just drowning in love for my two little babies, and I love seeing them starting to play together.  My husband has been a total trooper — he is a true partner in this whole parenting game.  Our family is such an amazing thing — it’s hard to believe how much we have grown in love since my husband and I met just over seven years ago.  While I never forget our missing little daughter, and the two babies we lost so very early, I feel incredibly fortunate for everything that we have, and excited for everything that is to come.

Full term, and the end is in sight!

Hard to believe, but here I am at 39w1d — officially full term!  I just had what is looking like my last prenatal appointment this morning — one more NST and ultrasound, and then the midwife checked my cervix which is looking like it’s starting to do things (2cm, 60% effaced, medium, soft, and -1, for those who like the stats).

I’ve been talking about the possibility of induction with my providers for the past few weeks — my favorite doctor in the practice is on call next Friday, and L&D had openings, so we went ahead and scheduled an induction for next Friday.  I’m a little nervous about induction, but I’m more nervous about going too late and risking the complications that come with that.  I feel good about being induced at 40w2d — my dating is extremely precise (was tracking ovulation and had several ultrasounds around 6-8w that all agreed with ovulation) so there’s no chance of accidental prematurity, baby was measuring 76th %ile as of last week (bigger than my first son), and since my first son was born at 40w5d (after labor at 40w4d) and my cervix is already ripening I think the chances of my body not being ready for induction are pretty low.  I found some great statistics online, and with a Bishop score of 8 (or more by next week) and a previous vaginal delivery, it looks like my odds of needing a C-section with induction are about 6% or less.  Plus it’ll be good to have a date when I know I can stop taking the Lovenox — I just hope I don’t jump into spontaneous labor an hour after my dose sometime in the next week!  (I actually skipped it this morning, just in case the cervical exam got things moving — last pregnancy a doctor did a membrane sweep at 40w4d without warning me, and I had my first contractions within an hour after that appointment!)

It’s so hard to believe that by next week we’ll almost certainly be meeting our second son.  I mean actually hard to believe — it just doesn’t feel real yet, somehow.  We’re as ready as we can be, and now I’m just hoping for no surprises, no emergencies, and maybe even a similar textbook labor and delivery as we had with S.  It’s so helpful to have the memory of S’s birth to ground me — I feel much less fearful about going back to the labor and delivery ward of our local hospital than I did last time, when my only association with that place was the awful delivery of our daughter.  I now know that things can go well, and I even have an expectation that they might go well, rather than feeling like I’m constantly in emergency mode.  Part of me wonders if my more even-keeled emotional state in this pregnancy will affect the baby.  Maybe this baby will be more laid-back than his big brother?  We can hope!  (S was actually a pretty great newborn — he’s mostly just a bit more clingy and anxious than the average toddler, I think.  But if I got another like him, I’d be thrilled!)  Wish me luck!

 

Random potty win

So here’s a thing that happened tonight… S both pooped and peed in the potty!  Without any training whatsoever!

We’ve been talking up the potty, of course.  Mostly when he complains about diaper changes.  We tell him, “Oh, I know you don’t like diaper changes.  Did you know that once you learn to use the potty, we’ll never have to change your diaper again?”  But he’s shown almost zero interest, and usually refuses to sit on the potty when we ask.  Everything I’ve read has said to either train way before a new baby comes or way after, and since he was showing almost no signs of readiness a few months ago we have just been ignoring potty training as a thing altogether.  Still, sometimes he asks to sit on the potty, and of course we let him, but nothing has ever happened when he’s done it before.  Honestly, mostly it’s been after he poops, as a way of stalling before a poopy diaper change.  But hey, whatever, sitting on the potty is sitting on the potty, amirite?

Well, apparently something is starting to click in his brain, because tonight after his bath he was sitting on my lap wrapped in a towel when he said

“S almost peeing!”

“Do you want to go sit on the potty?” I asked him.

“Yeah!”

So daddy whisked him off to the potty, where he proceeded to both pee and poop like a champ!  And he even told us that he wasn’t done and needed to keep sitting on the potty, and then pooped some more.  We had a celebratory dance and lots of praise and talked about how cool it was that he pooped and we didn’t have to change his diaper!  (Though, wiping is a challenge — he wanted me to wipe him while he was sitting on the potty “like when mama and dada go potty!”  I tried, but I was like, “Um, sorry buddy, I’ve never done this before either…”  Any tips for toddler wiping???)  Then we had him say “Bye-bye poop!” and he got to flush, and he seemed very proud and excited about the whole thing.

We are reluctant to go full-on potty training mode a mere 4.5 weeks before my due date, but at the same time, this seems like it might just be a real opportunity to seize.  I think we’ll just go with the flow (I mean, hey, it’s worked so far!) and see if he continues to be interested, or if this is just a one-time fluke.  But if he shows any more interest, I think a trip to Target to let him pick out some big-boy undies might be in the cards for next weekend.  I have to say, I could never have imagined that I’d be this excited to watch someone else go to the bathroom! 🙂

Breech Watch

35 weeks today!  Hard to believe our new little guy will make his appearance in about a month!

Everything is still looking good, with one exception: he still hasn’t flipped to head-down, so we are officially on breech watch from here on out.  Last week the ultrasonographer at MFM told me he was breech, and today the local OB did a quick scan showing that he is transverse.  She said that if he really moved from breech to transverse on his own in the last week, she’s “very optimistic” that he’s still on the move and will flip on his own.  But if he’s still not cephalic next week, they’ll schedule a version for the following week.  It’s a bit complicated by the fact that he’s on the large side, still measuring around 80th percentile, so it’s not clear how much longer he’ll have room to move on his own.

I’m mostly managing to not freak out about this news.  I know that both late flippers and successful versions are more common if you’ve given birth before, so I’m hopeful that either he’ll flip on his own or a version will be successful.  Worst-case scenario (currently at about 25% probability, according to my reading) would be a scheduled c-section if he won’t flip.  While I’d love to avoid a c-section if possible, my perspective since the loss of our daughter has always been that whatever gets baby out as safely as possible — for both baby and mom — is the way to go, and if that’s a c-section (which it sounds like it is, thanks to the Term Breech Trial), so be it.  The idea of a c-section freaks me out quite a bit, and I can’t help but think wistfully of my super-easy recovery from S’s birth, but at least a scheduled section sounds less scary than an emergency section.

Otherwise, it has so far been my favorite kind of pregnancy: boring and uneventful.  I finished my hat-knitting project (I wound up knitting three sizes of hats just to make sure there’ll be something to fit each of two kids), and I’m looking forward to giving them to my sons (plural!  can you imagine?!) after the birth.  The nursery is in reasonable shape, all of S’s old clothes are washed and organized, S is going nuts waiting for Halloween, as well as being obsessed with the two new babies in his daycare (he almost cried when baby Jack wasn’t there this morning), and we’re just generally trying to get the last few things on our to-do list done.  Except for some rain, we’re having beautiful fall weather, and I’m mostly just trying to enjoy these last few precious weeks as a family of three before our lives get upended, hopefully in the most joyful possible way.

Anniversaries

Today is the fourth anniversary of the day we found out my daughter had died.  It’s also four days after the first anniversary of my father’s death.  It’s been a somber week.

Both anniversaries feel a little bit lonely — nobody has remarked on either (though I did get a handwritten card from the funeral home about my dad).  I understand why.  I’ve had a couple of wonderful friends who remembered some of the important dates around my daughter’s death and have checked in with me on those days, which I so appreciate.  Four years later, while I still mark this day as a private day of grieving, I don’t feel as much need for the support, so it’s OK with me that my friends have stopped reaching out.  It feels natural and fine that they’ve played an important part in my healing process and the support has faded as I’ve needed it less — it’s not as though I’d expect them to remember and get in touch on this day for the rest of our lives.

As for my dad, well… I think that’s different because everyone close to me knows that I didn’t get along with him and was not close to him.  They know that his death raised complicated emotions for me.  So, probably they’ve either not thought about following up, or assumed it wasn’t important to me, or they have thought of it but have been too daunted by not knowing what to say.  And while it’s true to some extent that it’s not hugely important to me that anyone reach out, I admit that I would have welcomed some acknowledgment of the complicated feelings, or just someone to say that they were remembering him or thinking of me in some way.  I have been grieving, in my own way.  The death of a parent is always a little earth-shattering, even if you’re not close with your parent.  It’s not really something you can just emotionally skate over, even if I don’t have to deal with the deep feelings of loss and absence that I assume someone close to their parent would have to deal with.  I did a lot of my grieving for our relationship long before he died, but there’s still something so horrifyingly final about his absence from the planet.  No chance to revisit our relationship, no chance that he might be a better grandfather than he ever was a father.  And of course, a reminder of my own mortality, and the sadness that comes with seeing how easily his existence seems to have been forgotten.  He led a fairly sad and lonely life, and feeling like I’m the only one remembering the anniversary of his death just drives home the sadness of his empty life even more.

So, that’s where I am this week — not as melancholy as I sound, I promise!  But it’s a big week for memories and contemplation.

One hopeful project I started this week is that I’m knitting matching hats for my son, S, and his little brother.  When I was pregnant with S, I was too nervous to do any sort of nesting projects before he was born.  I thought several times about knitting something for him, but just couldn’t bring myself to do it, because it was too depressing to imagine having it lying around if S died too.  We reluctantly got some furniture in the room around this time in my pregnancy with S (or maybe even later?), and I remember sitting in the rocking chair in his room and crying every night for a long time (weeks?) before he was born, wondering if I’d ever be lucky enough to meet him.  This time around, I have been able to relax and hope a little bit more, which feels good.

This weekend we went to a craft store to pick out some fabric for the window seat bench we are making for the new baby’s room (it’s an Ikea hack that we’ve been happy with in S’s room — we’re basically redoing everything we did in S’s room, furniture-wise, just with different colors and patterns), and while we were there I wandered over to the yarn section with S, who helped me pick out some yarn to make a hat: “One for S and one for S’s baby,” as S insisted.  S’s favorite colors are “light green,” orange, and purple right now.  There was no orange yarn in the baby section, so S picked out one skein of a lovely lavender and one of a lurid yellow-green.  I eventually convinced him that the skein he picked out was closer to yellow than green, and was able to suggest a softer leaf-green color instead, but there was really no negotiating beyond that!  So I started making this hat, with lavender and leaf-green cotton yarn.  It is a cute gender-neutral baby combination, and I love that S is so excited about me making matching hats for him and his baby brother that I don’t really care if the colors are a little weird (and will totally clash with S’s maroon winter coat). 🙂 It felt so nice (and a little bit ridiculous) last night after S was in bed to just sink into the stereotype of the nesting pregnant lady, resting my knitting needles on my 7-months-pregnant belly between rows.  This project is, for me, an act of hope, and an act of love and connection between me and S and the new baby.  I know that whatever happens, I’ll treasure the memories that these hats will bring.

Tenure/Pregnancy update: End-of-summer edition

30 weeks pregnant and all was well at our monthly ultrasound this week.  Little guy is bopping around in there, currently lying sideways across my belly.  My husband and I have settled on a default name (unless we come up with something we like better by the time he is born) and are setting up the nursery.  I don’t remember at what point we did all this with S, but I think it was later.  I do remember that this was the point in my pregnancy with S at which our dear friends offered to throw us a shower, and I broke down in tears and just couldn’t handle the idea of planning for a living baby (the upshot was that we agreed on a “sip-and-see” a few months after S was born, which was a lovely compromise).  Some days I still can’t handle the idea of planning for another living baby (how lucky can we possibly hope to be???), and some days that’s all I can think about.  I still feel plenty of pregnancy impostor syndrome — like, this pregnancy isn’t actually going to last, there’s not actually going to be a new baby, it could all come crashing down at any moment.  But I’m at least able to act more normal this time around, mostly not responding weirdly to people’s innocent inquiries about whether this is our first (standard answer: “No.  We have a 2.5-year-old at home”) or jibes about how we’ll have our hands full with two boys (standard answer: “I sure hope so!”).

On the tenure side, I submitted my materials to my department today!  Hooray!  Now comes a long, long wait.  If I’m lucky, I’ll have a final answer by May 2019, and if I’m not lucky, I’ll have a final answer by December 2019.  The big steps in the process are:

  • This fall the department solicits letters from experts in my field around the country/world who can comment on my research portfolio.  This process typically takes a couple of months, as I understand — it happens in two stages, the first of which involves sending letters asking people if they will agree to write letters, and the second of which involves sending letters asking them to actually write the letters and then waiting for the responses.
  • Hopefully by the end of fall, but possibly later if there are delays, my department will have collected all of the external letters and will meet to go over all of my materials and vote on my case.
  • After my department has made its recommendation, presumably sometime in the spring, my case will go to a university-wide faculty committee for evaluation.  This committee currently includes members from the departments of English, Music, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Economics, Sociology, Chemistry, and Biology — there’s also one from Earth and Environmental Sciences, but she can’t vote on my case (unfortunately, since she’s the most qualified to evaluate it) because she’s officially my faculty mentor.  I go to the end of the line for the university-wide committee this year, since most faculty start at the university in the fall, but I started in the spring, so I’m on a one-semester-late review schedule.  This is the main reason for uncertainty in when I’ll get an answer about my tenure case — they will review my case in the spring if they have time, but if they are overwhelmed with fall cases they aren’t obligated to review it until next fall semester.
  • After the university-wide committee votes on my case (if the vote is positive), it goes to the Board of Trustees, and then the university president.  If I’ve gotten positive reviews at each stage up until this point, it’s usually a rubber stamp at the upper levels, but there was a case in recent memory that was positive at the department and university level but was overturned by the president, so there’s always the possibility that something weird will happen.  Since the Board of Trustees meets only a few times per year, this is another potential source of delay, depending on when the university-wide committee reviews my case.

After all of this, I’ll get a yes or no answer: either yes, I can keep my job essentially forever (barring unlikely circumstances like a major failure to meet my duties or major reorganization of the academic structure like eliminating my department), or no, I’m fired and I have to go look for another job.

It’s a long time to be in limbo, and many faculty find the uncertainty torturous.  My goal is just to try to relax and let the process play itself out, and allow myself to be distracted by the hopeful new addition to our family in November.  It’s the sort of setup that could either be really great (because I’ll be so busy with a new baby that I won’t have time to fret about tenure) or really awful (because being home with a new baby is psychologically challenging and so is waiting for news about your tenure case).

But either way, both of these big projects are looking like they’re in good shape at the moment, so I have to focus on that.  And now that I’ve turned in my materials, they have something else in common too: there’s essentially nothing I can do to change the outcome of either at this point.  The work I’m submitting for tenure has been done and documented, and this baby is baking away and the only thing I can do is to take care of myself and wait to see what happens.  I should avoid doing stupid things, like starting a feud in my department or suddenly becoming a binge drinker, but otherwise I have to accept that I have little to no control over the outcomes of either my pregnancy or my tenure case at this point.  And that’s hard for someone who likes to plan and act!  But if nothing else, my experience with pregnancy loss and infertility have given me plenty of practice at waiting, accepting lack of control, and dealing with difficult outcomes.  So, I’m pretty sure that whatever happens, we’ll make it through.

Baby and Tenure Update

Baby and tenure packet are both cooking along, so I thought I’d post a brief update.

Today I’m 28w pregnant and therefore officially in the third trimester.  While I do feel much more relaxed with this pregnancy, I had my first significant baby freak-out earlier this week — I had just been feeling off, and woke up with a sort of painful burning in my lower abdomen and then had two bouts of super-intense sharp pain over about an hour in the morning that freaked me out and sent me running to my OB worried about a repeat abruption.  She very calmly told me she didn’t think I was having an abruption, and that it sounded more like something GI-related, but if it would reassure me they’d check on ultrasound, which they did (just a quick, unofficial ultrasound).  Everything looked fine with the placenta, and baby has been kicking up a storm ever since, so I’m just left feeling a little sheepish.  I’m still glad I went in instead of stewing in worry, though.  While I am significantly more relaxed in this pregnancy than in my pregnancy with S, that’s like saying that my wind speeds have dropped from hurricane level to tropical storm level — I am still very, very far from the carefree blissful assumption of a healthy baby that I experienced for the first 18w of my first pregnancy.  But objectively, everything is fine.  I’m starting to drag a little and feel the achy pelvis and lower back that I remember from my pregnancy with S, but it’s still not bad, and I’m still immensely grateful for every day that I’m pregnant with a healthy, squirmy baby.

On the tenure side, I’ve drafted my research and teaching statements, gotten some feedback on them from my PhD advisor and my faculty mentor outside my department (who has served three times on our university tenure committee), updated my annotated CV, and am now revising everything and preparing to submit at the end of the month.  While my materials aren’t technically due until early November, I’ve obviously got another big deadline looming at the same time (i.e., my baby’s due date!) so don’t want to leave it any later than I have to.  I had discussed with my chair turning everything early and he’s totally on board with it.  So, my goal is to get my packet submitted by the end of August, before the semester starts, and then just allow myself to be distracted by teaching and the new baby while the process goes forward over the course of the year.

I am facing one tricky decision that I need to make in the next few weeks, which is whether or not to ask my department to solicit letters from former students as part of my tenure packet.  There’s a little bit of explanation required here: it’s not a standard thing that my department does, but other departments around the university do include it as a standard component of the tenure packet.  The only universally standard metric of teaching effectiveness at my university is the end-of-semester evaluations filled out by students in my classes.  Mine are good — consistently above average numerically, with lots of positive comments and relatively minor gripes.  But I’m also philosophically opposed to having my teaching evaluated only on the basis of those student evaluations, since there’s a ton of research showing that they are biased and not good indicators of teaching effectiveness.

So I’ve wanted to include multiple metrics of teaching effectiveness in my tenure packet.  I already asked my department to send faculty to observe some of my classes (which they’ve sort of done… last semester my chair visited one of my classes and had a really great conversation with me afterwards about his observations, and then another faculty member visited the last 12 minutes of one of my classes and said he thought he got a pretty good sampling of my teaching, blargh).  While I’m glad that I’ll be including peer evaluations to some extent in my packet (another component that is standard in many other departments at my university), the dimension that I think is missing is any sort of measurement of the longitudinal impact of my teaching/mentoring, including the work I do with research students (which falls under the category of teaching at my university).  So, I had discussed with my chair the possibility of soliciting letters from former students.  Apparently my department had their first meeting about my tenure case last week and discussed that they’d be happy to do it, and it’s basically up to me (1) whether or not I want them to do it and (2) what sample of students I want them to ask.

For example, I could ask them to solicit letters from only my former research students, or I could ask them to solicit letters from every student I’ve ever had in class, or I could ask them to solicit letters from only former majors in our department.  Whatever I choose, they will all get the same prompt (which my chair already drafted and shared with me), which is basically a letter from the chair saying that I am being considered for promotion to associate professor with tenure and asking them for any reflections they have on the quality of my teaching and mentorship, and how their experiences with me may have impacted their subsequent career development.  So, a pretty generic prompt, with no carrot or stick to encourage them to reply.

Philosophically, it seems like a great thing to do to assess a dimension of my pedagogy that is not otherwise reflected in my materials.  I suspect I might get some really strong letters — I think I have had a pretty significant positive impact on a number of our students (and I don’t think I’m being delusional about it — certainly I’ve had students tell me that they have felt that way).  But… part of me wonders if I should just leave well enough alone and not introduce an extra dimension of randomness.  My teaching evaluations are good, and on that basis alone I’d probably get tenure, so why rock the boat?  It’s certainly possible that I could get negative letters (though I can’t think of any former students who are out to get me), but the thing I’m more worried about is getting weird letters from students who don’t understand the tenure process and therefore say things in a way that they might think is positive but that might raise questions for the tenure committee.  Basically, the more data the tenure committee has in its hands, the higher the probability that there will be something a little odd for them to fixate on.

So, anyway, I’m thinking about it this week, and planning to talk to my aforementioned outside-the-department faculty mentor to see what her experience has been reading student letters as part of the university tenure committee.  My inclination at the moment is to ask my department to go ahead and solicit the letters, and for the sample to be all of our former majors.  My reasoning is both the principle that I would like my tenure packet to reflect the long-term impact of my teaching/mentoring as a dimension of my teaching effectiveness, and also that I think it’s likely that it will be an overall strength of my packet rather than a weakness (I just don’t think I’ve made any of our students mad enough that they’d be motivated to write and complain about what a horrible professor I am, and I know that I’ve had a significant positive impact on a number of our former students that isn’t reflected in my end-of-semester evaluations and would likely be reflected by these letters).  So, that’s the last big decision I need to make before I turn in my packet.

Overall, this is an exciting and busy time as I prepare for so many new things: a new semester, a new baby, and a new stage of my job.  It’s always easy to love life in August as a university professor, but I’m really feeling the gratitude this year for all of the wonderful things I have in my life.  My anxiety about the tenure process has been kept at a minimum both because I’m actually able to do something about it at this stage (e.g., work on my tenure statements) and because I have had the perspective of expecting a new baby and watching my friend land on her feet after her tenure denial last year — both of those have grounded me and reminded me that whatever the outcome of this case, I’m going to be fine, and in fact, much better than fine.  I’ve also had the wonderful distraction of preparing for the new baby.  My husband and I took most of last week off from work and had a lovely staycation — we did fun stuff with S that we don’t usually have time to do (like taking him on longer trips to the zoo and the aquarium and the beach), and we also kept him in daycare a few days so that we could get stuff done around the house (newborn and 0-3mo clothes are out of storage, washed, and folded, expired infant carseat has been replaced, and my baby to-do list has gotten longer since I finally had time to sit down and think about all the things we need to do).  The big-kid bed transition is officially a success, and I loved having the opportunity to spend more quality time together last week as a family of three — we have a really great family right now, and so much to look forward to.