Tag Archives: teaching

Academic post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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 Trying… With Some Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back on the Roller Coaster

It has now been two full months, or about 9 weeks, since my (2nd) miscarriage.  I’ve honestly been pretty numb to it all… except the last few days.

It’s a very different experience, having a 1st trimester loss after (1) a previous 2nd trimester loss, and (2) the birth of a living child.  Everyone’s experience of grief is different, and I know that if I hadn’t experienced those two key events in my life, this event would have been much, much harder for me to process.  As it is, I’ve mostly just been able to write it off as bad luck.  This is my 1 in 4 pregnancies that probably had some chromosomal defect that my body rejected.  We’ll move on and try again.  That’s that.

Until the last few days.

I’ve had highly significant ovulation pain every cycle since the birth of my son, so I’ve been able to tell pretty clearly when I’m ovulating.  I knew that I had ovulated about two weeks ago.  But as the days ticked by and my period didn’t arrive, I started feeling that roller coaster of TTC emotions that I remember so well.  It’s like there’s a constant subprocess looping in the back of my brain:

Could I be pregnant?  It’s too early to tell.  I could take a test!  No, that’s a waste of money — if I still don’t have my period by Monday, then I’ll be pretty sure and I can just take the test to confirm.  Let’s google when your period returns after a miscarriage.  Mine sure seems late!  But I think I know when I ovulated, and that was less than two weeks ago.  Let’s google about getting pregnant before you get your period after a miscarriage.  It’s a thing that happens to people!  But it probably won’t happen to me, because we don’t tend to get pregnant easily.  But we did this last time.  But I really shouldn’t get my hopes up.  Chances are I’m not pregnant.  But could I be pregnant?

And repeat, with increasing intensity, for three days.  UGH.

I won’t keep you hanging any longer — I got my period yesterday.  I’m not pregnant.  I didn’t really think I was.  But boy, did I hope!  I was so mad at myself for hoping, too — or really, for caring so much.  It was so nice after my son was born to just not obsess about my cycle endlessly, and I’m annoyed that now I’m back to doing it even though I really don’t want to.  I guess it’s a good thing that I got my period, since it hopefully means my hormones are back to normal (or my body’s best approximation thereof) and now we can really start TTC again in earnest.  But it’s also a reminder of just how much time it’s taken to go through this miscarriage — this is my first period since March.  Four months of lost time, and another lost baby (albeit a very small one).

Well, I knew that getting pregnant again was likely to be a long haul, so it’s good that we started trying early.  And we’re still in the zone of inconvenient timing relative to my tenure clock, so from that perspective it’s OK if this takes another 6 months or so.  Just not much more than that, please.  I’m not sure I can handle the emotional roller coaster for another two years.

Hopefully the approaching onslaught of teaching and advising and committees and meetings will distract me from the TTC roller coaster.  Hopefully I can just turn that subprocess down to a dull roar in the back of my mind while we keep pushing on with our quest for another living child.  Hopefully it won’t eat up too many more years of our lives and hopefully there won’t be too much more disappointment and heartbreak to come.  Hopefully it’ll be a smooth journey and another uneventful pregnancy.  That’s a lot to hope for, but hopefully at least some of my hopes will come to pass.

Grrrrrraduation

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

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

But his dad.  OMG.

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

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

Him: How old is your son now?

Me: 15 months

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Half a Year

Working in academia means that the year has a distinct rhythm.  Last week the students moved into their dorms again, a fresh batch of misty-eyed parents unloaded minivans full of stuff and left their precious children to their own devices, and this week I got up in front of a classroom for the first time since last December, before my son was born.  As the start-of-school milestone passes yet again, it makes me think back on our journey, and how our quest for a living child has ticked against the start of classes during my time on the tenure track.

Three years ago we were just starting to realize that getting pregnant might not be easy for us.

Two years ago I was four and a half months pregnant and deliriously happy; I had no idea that on September 11 we’d find out that our daughter had died.

Last year I was four months pregnant and completely freaked out but hopeful.  The other faculty knew, but I waited to tell the students until it was obvious.  I was juggling an academic schedule with frequent prenatal visits and trying not to lose my mind as the anniversary of our daughter’s death approached.

This year I have a six-month-old bundle of snuggles and love.  He has ten fingers, ten toes, blue eyes and blond hair like his daddy, two teeth(!), and an intense desire to crawl.  He’s now been in full-time daycare for one week, and I miss my little sidekick, but he’s doing great.  He just started drinking from a sippy cup (after adamantly refusing a bottle his entire life), which means I have a little more freedom and my baby is a little more grown up.  We’ve survived his first two illnesses (the first a week-long epic fever followed by ear infection followed by full-body rash from antibiotics, the second a plague that swept our household and left me delirious with my first fever in a decade and left our poor little guy a drippy-nosed, coughing mess for a couple of weeks).  Completely disordered sleep suddenly seems to have resolved this week into once-a-night wakeups (knock on wood!).  He sits, he laughs, he explores his world.  Our baby is growing up.

And still, I teach.  I love being back in the classroom, talking about physics, prompting discussion, fielding my students’ intense questions about our place in the cosmos and how it all fits together.  My first class of freshman majors are graduating this year, and the amount of growing they’ve done since I first welcomed them into a college classroom is staggering.  In a seminar I’m teaching this fall (packed to capacity), during introductions the first day several students mentioned that they’re taking the class because I brought them into the field with my introductory course, and even though they ultimately chose majors in other subjects they wanted to keep taking classes in my subject because they loved my class so much.

Brown-nosers, the lot of them. 🙂

I’m in a very happy place now, but the start of the school year reminds me that it’s been a long time in the making.  Seeing the students arrive on campus also reminds me that my hopes for my son involve him leaving me to join a similar tree-lined, ivy-covered campus about 18 years from now.  As he started full-day daycare last week I sobbed to my husband, “Today it’s daycare, tomorrow it’s kindergarten, the next day it’ll be college and we’ll never see him again!”  Possibly an exaggeration, but the feeling of time passing is inescapable.  I love his emerging personality and his increasing independence, just as much as I love having my tiny baby to snuggle and hold and nurse while he lets me.