Tag Archives: pregnancy after loss

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/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.

Update: End of the 1st trimester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Him: But what are you teaching?

Me: The advanced course.

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

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

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

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

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

Chromosomally Normal Boy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Academic Pregnancy Timing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still Looking Good

Since my last post, I’ve had two ultrasounds: my last with the RE, and my first as a new OB patient with the local OB.  Everything is still looking good — growing right on track, nice strong heartbeat, and I even got to see those first little twitchy movements on the ultrasound today.  My official due date is Nov 7, though I’m currently measuring two days ahead, which puts me somewhere around 9w right now (I was measuring 9w0d today, though according to LMP/EDD I’m 8w5d).

The weird thing is, I felt totally calm until after the ultrasound today, and then I got all shaky and weepy and was barely able to hold back tears while I was talking with the new midwife in the practice during my appointment.  She must think I’m nuts — everything looks perfect, and I was an emotional wreck anyway.  I should have been thrilled.  I’m honestly not sure I can explain why I was so weepy today.  Yeah, yeah, pregnancy hormones and all that… but I think it’s also just because with everything I’ve been through, pregnancy is so darn stressful, even when things look good.  In fact, especially when things look good, because I’m an expert at handling losses at this point, but I also know that the later I go, the harder it will be if this pregnancy ends.  There’s the fear of getting attached, the fear of getting hurt as much as I was hurt when my daughter died.  And, let me tell you, when that little nubbin was kicking its little arm and leg stumps on the ultrasound this afternoon, I was amazed and a little in love in spite of myself.  Just dreaming that this might work and we might get to add another baby to our family… it’s so big, and so incredible, and I’m just afraid to even start to believe that it might happen.  Hence the tears and shakiness.  This is wonderful, guys, but it’s also really intense.

I mean, the plus side of almost losing it in front of the midwife is that when I asked if I could come back in two weeks instead of five for a heartbeat check, she didn’t even hesitate — and she also offered to let me come back as often as I need to for reassurance.  I really don’t think I would have been able to stay sane waiting 5 weeks to know that everything was OK.  They might consider me a normal (if geriatric) OB patient, but I am pretty far from emotionally normal, clearly.

She did try to reassure me with the old line about how “a normal heartbeat at this gestational age means that you have a less than 5% chance of miscarriage,” but I put the kibosh on that.  I told her (gently, I think) that those numbers don’t really mean anything to me since losing a pregnancy at 18 weeks (and I didn’t even add that they almost certainly don’t apply to me, since 2nd and 3rd trimester losses are highly correlated and MFM told me I have a significant risk of placental issues in all my pregnancies).  I have long since stopped expecting doctors to have any idea about what it is like to lose pregnancy after pregnancy in the first and second trimesters.  I do appreciate it when they try, but I sort of feel like whenever I’m feeling up to it, it’s a service to the others who will come after me if I try to give them some insight into what it feels like and what is and is not reassuring, so I’m glad I spoke up a bit today.

Anyway, next week is my intake appointment with MFM, along with the bloodwork for NIPT and the other standard first-trimester testing, and then the following week I go back for a quick check-in with my OB, and then it’ll be time for the 12w ultrasound.  So, at least I have weekly opportunities for reassurance over the next few weeks to help me stay sane.

If I am lucky enough to make it through the first trimester, I have to start worrying about the fact that my pregnancy is pretty much at the worst possible timing for an academic, but that’s a subject for another post.  There’s nothing I can do about it now, other than trying (and failing) not to think about it, because it would really make me feel a lot better to have a plan but I can’t make one until I’m ready to tell my department chair that I’m pregnant.  I mean, after four perfectly-timed academic pregnancies in a row, it figures that the awfully timed one would be the one that sticks, amirite?  I’m also trying not to freak out about the fact that this baby and my tenure packet are due exactly the same week.  But hey, cross that bridge when I come to it, right?  These are really very good problems to have, in the grand scheme of things.

And that’s the update!  Hopefully, my updates will be similarly boring and normal from here on out.  Wish me luck!

Houston, we have a heartbeat!

It’s been three years and three pregnancies since I last saw that little flickering on the ultrasound screen, but the good news is that today I got to see it again!

Since I love me some stats: I’m 6w6d, both according to LMP and ovulation date, and the fetal heart rate was 125 (anything over 120 is great).  The CRL and gestational sac both measured 7w0d, so right on target.  And there was only one embryo in there (phew).  As a point of interest, I’ve now gotten pregnant four times in a row on the right side, which suggests that that’s the only functional side left thanks to the scarring from my first pregnancy.  The summary: everything looks good so far.

Given my history, the RE wants to see me weekly until I graduate to co-management by my local OB and MFM.  So after the ultrasound today I called both of those offices to set up my first appointments.  I’m also supposed to re-start Lovenox, and possibly progesterone depending on the results of my blood test today.  Fun, fun, fun!

I also sent in the waitlist form for campus daycare.  We never sent in the form for either of my last two pregnancies, since we figured there was no point before seeing a heartbeat, so it felt like kind of a big step to do it today.  But with spots as hard to come by as they are (since they only take four infants each year), it’s important to do it as soon as possible.  It’s a little awkward now that we’re part of that tiny community — the director will see the form, and she knows us now, but I’m sure she deals with knowledge of early pregnancies (and losses) all the time.

So, even though my face is pounding with the Sinus Infection That Will Not End, I’m pretty excited.  Not too excited, mind you… I’ve been here twice before, and only one of those ended well, but it’s a really big step in the right direction to get past the point of my previous 1st-trimester losses.  And seeing that flickering little heartbeat… well, I can’t help but think about that tiny little life just starting to take shape.  It’s hard not to get just the slightest bit attached.  I hope we get to meet it some day.

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.

So long, pregnancy #4

We had our 6-week ultrasound today for pregnancy #4.  It did not go well.  There wasn’t much of anything to see — a bunch of irregular lumps that might have been bleeds and might have been products of conception but no gestational sac, yolk sac, or fetal pole.  The OB gave me the option of waiting and coming back in a week for another ultrasound, but admitted that she thought there was basically no chance that it was a viable pregnancy, so she gave me a prescription for misoprostol to take this weekend.

I knew, going in.  I’d had some extremely light spotting on and off, and zero pregnancy symptoms.  Even with the encouraging betas last week, I’ve been pregnant enough times now that I just knew something was off.  I usually get stretchy round-ligament-type feelings, and I’d gotten them the week after the positive HPT, but then they tapered off.  I’d had some tenderness while nursing, and it tapered off too.  But even though I expected it, it’s not much easier to deal with.

I just feel the overwhelming weight of needing to (1) get through this miscarriage, (2) go through the whole long process of trying to conceive again, and (3) going through another anxious pregnancy where I’ll be freaking out at every stage.  It just feels like too much right now.  But there’s no getting around step 1 — my only hope is that it won’t drag out too long (like it has the other two times, says my pessimistic self).  I can’t say I’m really looking forward to step 2 either — I just hope that awful ovulation pain doesn’t come back.  And while step 3 is a necessary mile marker on the way to the goal of having another living child, I’m really not looking forward to it either.  I’m just so tired of everything conception- and pregnancy- and miscarriage-related.  God, I can’t wait for this phase of my life to be over.

The other set of decisions I’m having to make is how aggressive to be with follow-up.  I put in a call to my RE’s office this afternoon, although I haven’t seen them in 8 months so I don’t know if they’ll get back to me quickly or have me come in for an appointment before they’ll talk to me.  I need to decide whether or not I want to ask for testing of the products of conception, for example (probably, since I always think that more data are better).  I had a lot of testing after the 2nd-trimester loss of our daughter, but I will probably make an appointment with the RPL clinic at my RE’s office for a consultation to make sure there’s no other testing they recommend (they encourage consultations after two consecutive losses).  For example, it seems like it wouldn’t hurt to have my thyroid and some other things checked again, since they haven’t been checked in several years.  My guess is that everything will come back normal, and they’ll just tell me to quit breastfeeding and send me on my way, but you never know.  My OB did tell me she’d recommend progesterone next time as a precaution (the RE had me on it for my pregnancy with my son, so I’m no stranger to it).

Breastfeeding is a whole other can of worms.  I know that it probably makes sense to wean before we try again.  While there’s no really good evidence, there’s circumstantial evidence that it can lead to difficulties with implantation, and so it seems like a sensible step to take now that my son is 20 months old.  But… he doesn’t want to wean, and I don’t want to wean, and the whole idea is just making me feel a lot more miserable.  It’s like, on top of dealing with dead baby #3, I now have to face the prospect of making my one living baby miserable and bringing an end to one of the few things that has gone perfectly right during my reproductive years — depriving myself of a beautiful part of my relationship with my son just on the off chance that it might help me not kill another baby.  It’s just not fair, dammit.

Well, as many of the readers of this blog know all too well, even with recurrent losses the odds are still reasonably good (though not great) that next time will be a success, so probably the main thing to do is just move on with getting un-pregnant and then trying to get pregnant again.  I can only hope that it will go quickly and not drag out for another eternity.