Tag Archives: family

Halfway

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

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

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

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

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

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Second place is a good place to be

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mother’s Day Sandwich

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update: End of the 1st trimester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Him: But what are you teaching?

Me: The advanced course.

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

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

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

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

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

Chromosomally Normal Boy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Long, 2017!

I’ve rarely been happier to say goodbye to a year, but the flip side is that I’m looking forward to a fresh start in 2018.  Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version of 2017, and what I’m looking forward to in 2018:

The Good

  • My son.  He continues to delight and amaze me every single day of his life.  This week at home with him has been truly lovely.  He’s starting to have the patience for longer books (Dr. Seuss’s ABC, Angus and the Ducks, and Do You Speak Fish? are three current favorites), and his sense of humor is just wicked (this week it’s all about the yes/no questions and giggles: Is this hairbrush your dada?  NO!!!!  Is this pillow your dada?  NO!!!!  Is that doggie your dada?  NO!!!!  Totally cracks him up every time).  We have a Solar System rug in his playroom, and he loves running from the Sun to Jupiter to Neptune upon request, and playing Solar System Twister by trying to stand on as many planets as possible at the same time.  He likes to play hide and seek, mostly by hiding in plain sight and dissolving into giggles as we pretend to search for him (Is S under the table?  Is he in the bathroom?)  I could go on and on, but I’ll stop. 🙂
  • Work stuff.  My first postdoc got a job offer!  This was a huge deal, since I have been worried that he would not get an academic job and would be forced out of academia after which I would have been convinced that I ruined his career by bringing him to my rinkydink little college for a non-traditional postdoc opportunity.  Instead, he was offered a potentially permanent job that he would most certainly not have been qualified for before working in my group for four years.  I am so happy for him.  And I shouldn’t jinx it, but my year of supervising three thesis students isn’t going as badly as I feared, and I think they’ll all have high-quality theses come May.  There’s also a light at the end of the tunnel for a really big invited review paper that I’ve been working on for about a year now — it should be done by the end of next week.  It’s a ton of work, but will have high impact, and I’m pretty proud of it.  And as I wrote a few days ago, I totally rocked my 5th-year pre-tenure review and am optimistic about the tenure process that will start next fall.
  • My support network.  Having difficult years really makes you notice all the wonderful people in your life who are around to help you through the crumminess.  First prize goes to my amazing husband, of course, but I’ve also got prizes to hand out to other relatives and friends as well — the list is long enough that it makes me feel good about where I am in life right now.  Having a kid hasn’t totally squelched my important relationships as I feared it might.  I’ve been leaning on them a little more than usual of late, though, so I’ll have to make sure I’m giving back in the new year.

The Bad

  • Two miscarriages.  Recurrent Pregnancy Loss diagnosis.  Ongoing testing with no answers yet.  Coming up on a year of TTC living baby #2.  Oh, and the due date for my first post-S pregnancy is coming up this week.  Blargh.
  • My father died.  I had a complicated relationship with him, which has made it tough to sort through my feelings about his death, but the short version is: it sucks.  I think my grieving process has been largely focused on morbid thoughts about the mortality of my son and husband (also myself), which is not fun.
  • My mother had major surgery two weeks ago (a hip replacement).  Recall that I am ruminating on mortality, so it freaked me out emotionally right from the start.  My mom also lives a two-hour drive away, which is better than a plane flight away, but since she lives by herself she really needed help.  I made three round-trip drives in a week (one overnight stay the day she came back from the hospital, plus two day trips).  Thankfully, she’s on the mend now and I can relax a bit.  But I’ve really been feeling the whole “sandwich generation” thing this year.
  • Work-wise, this fall was a survival semester, in the sense that I phoned it in on a lot of teaching stuff and was kind of a crappy collaborator on a couple of projects.  Mostly I managed not to be too crappy at any one thing, which I feel like I can be at least a little bit proud of when you consider how my semester went.  Another part of my grieving process seems to be occasional irritability, which is out of character for me, and there are a couple of emails I wish I hadn’t hit “send” on — although I have to say that the people on the receiving end did basically deserve them, even if I am usually more diplomatic.  Oh, well…. I don’t think I burned any bridges too badly.  And I did an OK job of circling my wagons and prioritizing critical stuff like my research group and paper drafts, so hopefully I managed to mostly insulate my professional list from my personal problems.

The New Year

  • Getting back on the TTC wagon.  In a way, it feels good to have a fresh start after this most recent miscarriage, and to know that I’m back with the RE who will keep a really close eye on everything and do whatever she can to help us conceive the living child that we’re dreaming of.  I had visions of being a normal pregnant lady at my local OB’s office, but the silver lining of being abnormal is that I get more support and reassurance and can work on developing a plan.  I’m optimistic about our chances of success, since S is proof positive that my body is capable of carrying a baby to term.  I wish I could see the future and know how long it will take and what we’ll have to go through to get there, but I’ve been through enough at this point that I’m also feeling relatively calm and confident that I can just go with the flow for a while.  I am definitely in a much better place than I was three years ago after the loss of our daughter.  It seems like I shouldn’t be, since I’ve had three times as many losses by now, but for one thing I have S, and for another thing I’ve developed a certain amount of resilience.  I have hope for 2018.
  • The push to tenure.  There’s a certain narrowing of focus that happens when you’re less than a year from putting in your tenure packet. I’m in a good place right now: I already have a really solid portfolio of work, and I have a bunch of things in the pipeline, and I know what I need to do before next fall.  I’ve already done most of what I need to do, and the rest is in process.  Some of it is dependent on other people (like my students), but not too much.  I’ll be working hard this year, and I’ll have to prioritize like crazy, but the tenure process is another thing that I’m optimistic about for 2018.  I am so looking forward to submitting my tenure packet next fall and knowing there’s nothing more that I can do.  I think I’ll feel good about the body of work that I’ve accomplished on the tenure track.
  • The adventure of parenting.  I know people say the twos are terrible, and plenty of people will tell you that threenagers are worse, but you know what?  I’ve loved every age and stage of S’s life so far, and while there are certainly challenging moments/days, the thrill of seeing this little person growing up into himself more than outweighs the difficulties.  I am more crazy in love with this kid than I ever knew I could be, and I am looking forward to seeing what new skills and interests and ideas he develops in the new year.  I’m looking forward to getting more insight into his odd little mind as his communication skills improve.  And I’m looking forward to more snuggles and giggles as the toddler years wear on — I know that all too soon he’ll be too grown up for mama snuggles, so I’m soaking up every moment of it while it lasts.  I also love watching my husband surprise me with his parenting ninja skills, and I fall in love with him again every day as I see him growing into an amazing father.  He is so creative and funny with S that it just melts my heart.  Our family is so beautiful right now, and I hope that it will always stay that way — or perhaps even grow in love with a new member on the horizon.

And that’s the year!  Happy 2018 to everyone.  My hope for you all is for a brighter year full of love, laughter, new memories with your loved ones, and wishes coming true.

Testing Cycle and Tenure Ruminations

OK, quick update for the people who care about pregnancy/RPL, and then longer rumination for people who care about tenure.

I’m now about halfway through the testing cycle that my RE had recommended.  I had my second SHG last week, and have gotten the results of most but not all of the blood work she ordered.  The short news is: everything looks pretty much normal.  Of course, I have mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand: yay, no obvious problems!  On the other hand: if I have no obvious problems, then there are no obvious solutions to help me stop having miscarriages.  The SHG did show that the lining on the posterior wall of my uterus was noticeably thicker than the anterior wall, and they said that it was slightly unusual but might not be clinically significant.  So my RE recommended an endometrial biopsy, apparently forgetting that she had already recommended an endometrial biopsy, which I already had scheduled for December 29.  So, endometrial biopsy it is!  Now I’m just waiting for that test date to roll around, and after that, we can presumably start trying again.  My follow-up appointment with the RE isn’t until later in my next cycle, so perhaps technically we should hold off for another cycle in case there’s more testing or treatment she recommends, but we probably won’t.  Since there’s been no significant abnormality so far, there seems no reason to wait.  Plus, it probably won’t matter anyway, since I ovulated on my “good” right side this month (two follicles, apparently!  Blargh, I was bummed to miss the opportunity…) and next month I’ll probably be ovulating on my “bad” left side, which means all attempts at conception are likely to be futile.  Oh, well… but one cycle of missed opportunity still seems worth it, just in case they can find a treatable cause of our recurrent miscarriages.

Now, on to the tenure rumination.  If you don’t care about tenure, feel free to skip the rest of this post.

First, some context: Friday was the deadline for my department to submit its letter for my 5th-year review to the administration.  At our university, the 5th-year review is the last check-in before the big tenure review one year later.  It’s a department-level review, but the administration wants to see the letter before they give it to me, basically to cover their a$$ses legally and make sure there’s nothing controversial in there that could come back to bite them if I get denied tenure in the future.  My chair tells me that usually this administrative rubber stamp doesn’t take too long, and he hopes that we will be able to have our one-on-one meeting about the review before the end of the calendar year (though obviously at this point the timing is out of his hands).  Which of course means that I’m freaking out a little, so keep that in mind for the rest of this discussion.

The other context has to do with parental leave and the tenure clock extension policy at my university.  Since these policies vary from place to place, it’s worth a bit of explanation about how it works here: these days, the parental leave policy is that you get a full semester of leave at full pay if you are the “primary parent” (usually birth mother) of a child.  (If you’re not the primary parent, the leave policy is less generous.)  Then our clock extension policy is that all parents have the option of taking zero, one, or two semesters of tenure clock extension for each child born/adopted while on the tenure track.  I agonized over whether to take the clock extension and how much clock extension to take, but in the end my (previous) chair made the point that at least in theory there’s no down side to taking the full two-semester clock extension, since there’s no penalty for going up early for tenure at my university, which means that even if I take the full year of clock extension, I can still go up for tenure at the normal time if I am ready.  So, that’s what I did, and I have been discussing with my department all along that my plan is to go up “on time” according to my original clock (which would be one year “early” with the extension that I got because of the birth of my son).  So according to my current plan, I would submit my tenure materials next fall, around October or November.  This review is therefore an important final check-in about my progress towards tenure — if there are any red flags, I can delay the submission date of my tenure materials by up to a year, but I’m hoping to just get it over with and submit on time.

Yesterday when I checked in with my chair about the progress of my 5th-year review, he said a few things that made me think that he was going to encourage me to take the extra year, which freaked me out a bit, and I’ve been ruminating on it ever since.  The caveat here, of course, is that he didn’t actually say “I think you should take the extra year,” and I’m probably reading way too deeply into offhand remarks, but I actually think it’s probably not a bad thing for me to do some thinking through the issues so that I will be prepared for our official 5th-year review conversation.

If he asks me, “Why do you want to go up early for tenure?” … what will I say?

I think my answer breaks down into two major professional and personal answers, and two minor but still valid supporting answers.

Professionally: First of all, I want to remind my chair that I’m not going up early.  I’m going up ON TIME according to my original clock.  Basically, I don’t want to spend an extra year on the tenure clock unnecessarily even though I am grateful to my university for giving me the option.  Because I think I’ve earned it, darn it.  And because I don’t think there’s any substantial deficit in my tenure packet that an extra year would fix.  My reviews so far have been glowing.  Advisors inside my department, outside my department at the same university, and outside my department at other universities have told me that my department would be nuts not to give me tenure, and a few of the people outside my department at my university have told me I should *actually* go up early… like submit my materials now.  And when I look at the evidence, I think they’re right.  My university requires “excellence” in three categories: teaching, research, and colleagueship (this last category is also known as “service,” and even though we are technically supposed to be excellent, nobody ever gets denied tenure because of colleagueship, and my colleagueship is just fine).  As a liberal arts college, the emphasis is a bit more on teaching, and the research expectation is a smidge lower than at a research university.  My teaching evaluations are consistently the highest in my department, and comfortably above average for the university and my division within the university.  I’ve taught every level of course that we offer, multiple times.  I will have supervised six theses, an average of one per year, by the time I go up for tenure, which is consistent with my department’s number of majors per faculty member (and I’ve never turned a student away from my research group who wanted to work with me).  My thesis students have gone on to be very successful, both in and out of academia, even when it wasn’t a priori obvious that they would be (and my first postdoc just got an offer for a permanent job this week, woohoo!).  As for research, here I also think I’ve clearly exceeded my department’s expectations.  My department expects that we should publish 1-2 papers per year.  In my five years on the tenure track, I have been an author on 33 papers, with 8 originating directly from my research group (where I or one of my students or postdocs is the first author).  There will be at least three more from my group in the next year (one already in revisions, one to be submitted this week, one drafted and to be submitted next semester; in my field it’s rare for a submitted paper to not be published within six months, as in, it has never happened to me).  Anyone in academia knows that h-indices are fraught with all kinds of issues, but as a blunt instrument they’re commonly used to indicate research impact.  My h-index is essentially identical (+/-1) to the next two most senior members of my department.  Let me be clear: it’s not identical to what theirs were when they went up for tenure.  It’s identical to their current h-indices, even though one is 8 years ahead of me post-PhD and the other is a full professor who is a couple of decades ahead of me post-PhD.  For them to deny me tenure on the basis of research quality or quantity would be absurd.  External letters matter too, but I am well known in my field and have received several high-priority invitations in the past year that will get me significant visibility in my final pre-tenure year — and I’ve been networking and inviting senior people in my field to my university for talks to make sure I have enough exposure.  There’s no official guideline about external funding (just that we should seek it as needed), but I’ve brought in almost $1 million in grants during my time on the tenure track, which is a typical milestone for tenure at a research university (which ours is not).  Professionally, when I look at my case objectively, I just don’t think there’s a reason to wait.

Personally: I think I probably shouldn’t bring this up with my chair, but there’s one huge personal reason that I want to go up for tenure this year: I do not want to be worrying about tenure when (assuming we’re lucky enough to get there) our second child is born.  I really hate that I put pressure on myself to be productive during my first parental leave, and to come back to work and start traveling again before I would have if I hadn’t been worrying about tenure.  I don’t blame my university, but it is an unassailable fact of my personality that if I have tenure hanging over my head, I will be worrying about my productivity while I am on leave.  I know that no matter when our second child is born, I will need to worry about some professional things: I will still have a responsibility to my research students and collaborators to help move projects along.  But I want to remove the tenure pressure from the equation.  I’ve worked so hard to earn tenure, and so hard to have kids, that I think I’ve earned a parental leave that is on my terms.  I also have the feeling that if I take this one tenure clock extension, and have a second kid during the clock extension, that I’ll have no choice but to take the additional clock extension, and that means I’ll spend nine years in pre-tenure purgatory, which just sounds miserable.  We’ve been trying to have a second kid for almost a year now, and if it had worked out, I most definitely would have used this clock extension — but in my mind, the silver lining of two miscarriages in a row is that now my second baby definitely won’t be born before next fall so I can get tenure out of the way before baby #2 comes along.  While I think a year is a reasonable long-term approximation of the impact of a child on one’s career, the impact is extremely front-loaded, and in the short term, a year is not enough.  I can’t shake the feeling that the more clock extensions I take while my kid(s) is (are) young, the farther behind I’ll fall as tenure approaches, though I am quite confident that in the long term I will be an asset to my department (and in the short term as well, as I discussed above).

In addition, the two minor issues that I mentioned are:

(1) The feminist in me wants to get tenure on time because I see how parental leave and clock extensions put women behind men and I think it sucks.  The last successful tenure case for a woman in the sciences at my university took nine years (two parental leaves) and a bunch of controversy before it went through.  Meanwhile, the guy in her department with three kids and a stay-at-home spouse sailed through early — and in fact, her department encouraged the woman to delay her tenure case so that she wouldn’t go up for tenure the same year as the man.  So now she’s less senior than him (and paid less!) even though he started after her, and even though they both had kids on the tenure track.  I think it sucks.  I don’t want to delay my seniority, and I want to show other women in my university that they don’t have to be scared to go up when they’re ready.  I think the clock extensions are a good option to have, but I don’t think anyone should be putting pressure on pre-tenure women to use them for any reason other than their intended purpose.  Not to avoid going up in the same semester as the hotshot young guy, and not (in my case) for no clear reason other than that it’s expected.  One question I would like to ask my chair (but probably won’t) is: if you pretend that I don’t have a baby, but that my record is otherwise identical, would you still be sitting here now at the end of my 5th-year review telling me that if I only had an extra year on my tenure clock it might make or break my ability to meet tenure expectations?  I am really quite confident that the answer is no.

(2) Money.  With tenure comes an 11% pay raise.  One of the main reasons that women’s salaries lag behind men’s salaries is that they advance more slowly in the childbearing years.  I don’t have any interest in being part of that statistic, thank you very much.  I did a sketchy calculation yesterday about the difference in lifetime earnings between getting that boost one or two years from now.  It’s definitely in the tens of thousands and approaches the hundreds of thousands of dollars (depending on what you assume you do with the extra money).  My husband and I are not strapped for cash, thankfully, but I want fair compensation for the work that I do, including timely raises when I have earned them (like now, I think).

Of all of these reasons, I think I’ll have to focus on the professional reasons when I talk to my chair.  But I think the other reasons are important, and I wish I could talk about them.  Particularly the personal one about wanting my next baby to be post-tenure.  I get a little weepy when I think about how I might have spent more time with little baby S if I hadn’t been pushing myself to get back to work and not fall off the tenure track.  I still get weepy every time I think about being away from him while he’s so little.  After all I’ve been through for S and the future sibling we are hoping for, I want to take the professional pressure off a little and just be there for them while they are small.  Possibly this is exactly the kind of thing my university dreads when it considers the institution of tenure — that it provides a license to take a step back from professional responsibilities.  But I’m not that kind of faculty member.  Believe me — I don’t have a dead wood bone in my body.  I have every confidence that over the course of my career I will be an enormous asset to my department.  I’m just a human who wants to shift priorities a bit for a few years and not jeapordize my entire career as a result, which is the nature of the up-or-out tenure system.