Tag Archives: teaching

Still Trying… With Some Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Maternity Leave

Now that I’m 10 weeks into my maternity leave with Soren, I wanted to put down some thoughts about what leave from my tenure-track research job has been like.

I love my science, and I love teaching.  So I wondered how I’d feel about completely switching gears to caring for an infant full-time (while maybe squeezing in some science around the edges).  I was worried that I’d be bored, lonely, and isolated.  I was worried that I’d feel I’d made a huge mistake in becoming a parent.  I didn’t think that would be the case — after all, I’d been longing and working towards this goal for years — but I worried about it nonetheless. It reminds me of starting my job at a teaching-oriented liberal arts college.  I’d never taught a class of my own before — just TAed in grad school and done a bunch of outreach, plus taking classes on teaching science.  I was worried that once I started, I’d either hate teaching, or suck at it.  Neither turned out to be true, thankfully.  Well, despite desperately longing to be a parent, having never done it before I naturally worried that I’d either hate parenting, or suck at it.  Fortunately, none of my worries seem to have come to fruition.

I love spending time with my son.  He is endlessly fascinating to me, and he has changed and grown so much over the past 10 weeks — it seems like every day he does something new, or seems a little more aware, a little more like his own person.  And he is a truly wonderful baby.  I’ve mentioned before that I thought we were lucky, and with every passing day, I only feel that more strongly.  He seems to have this quiet curiosity about the world.  Every time I bring him out of the house, someone comments about how he just watches the world with his big eyes, and it’s true.  At home, he’ll be goofy and smiley and fuss when he’s bored, but when we’re out and about, he just wants to take it all in.  He’s amazing, and I’ve never been happier than these last 10 weeks of being his mom, full-time.

That said, no newborn is truly easy. Our struggles of the moment revolve around sleep, especially napping.  Last week I transitioned him from napping exclusively on people (usually me) to napping in his crib.  This works, to some extent — he will generally fall asleep in his crib, but only for about 45 minutes at a time, which doesn’t seem to be enough since he often wakes up fussy (and when he napped on people, he would occasionally go in for epic 2-3 hour naps and wake up smiling).  I’m not sure what to do about this… it’s possible that he’s just too young for crib-napping, but being napped on for 6+ hours a day was getting physically uncomfortable (with my now 14lb baby!), and I also just hope he’ll eventually get used to crib napping and learn how to join sleep cycles together without being manually soothed in between.  The main problem is that this experience also seems to have destabilized his night sleeping slightly — instead of the 6-8 hour chunk of time he had started to give us at night, he’s back to 3-4 hour chunks.  Not that this is terrible — it’s totally survivable.  I’m just worried that he seems to be regressing.  Or maybe this is just the 3-month sleep regression hitting a couple of weeks early?  Or maybe it’s part of the difficult reaction he had to his 2-month shots last week, which was the first night he stopped sleeping in long chunks?  Hard to say.  But I suspect every new parent worries endlessly about sleep, and this is the first real sleep issue we’ve encountered — and it’s not even that bad.

But, back to science and motherhood.  When I do find time to do a little work, to think about science, it breathes extra life into me.  I feel my brain stirring, and it feels really good.  I haven’t managed to do much work — at most, a couple hours a day, and usually more like half an hour — but the skills I’ve developed as a young faculty member of making progress in small chunks of time have served me well.  I wrote an entire new proposal in time for the once-a-year deadline for the large international facility that I use for my research, and revised and resubmitted another proposal that had been provisionally accepted last year but hadn’t managed to squeeze to the top of the queue.  I’m also almost finished revising and resubmitting a journal article that I submitted two weeks before my son was born — it’s a pretty straightforward set of corrections, so I expect that the article will be accepted before the end of my leave.  These things have made me feel really good.

And then there have been the funny intersections between work and parenthood.  My son, at 10 weeks old, has so far napped in the following places:

  • A lecture given by a famous astronaut
  • A pizza lunch for physics students
  • My department chair’s office

He has also nursed in two of those three places (hint: not my department chair’s office!).  I never imagined myself breastfeeding at professional activities, but hey, I’m the full-time caregiver of my infant.  When the baby’s hungry, it would be cruel to make him wait, and he’s not really at an age yet where I can do much to “tank him up” before events — if he’s not hungry, he doesn’t eat.  I haven’t gone to many professional events, but some of them are important for recruitment and professional visibility, and I enjoy them as well.  Being in a very male-dominated field, even at the undergraduate level at our university, it does feel slightly awkward to feed my baby at these events, but it helps that I know I’m backed up 100% by the other faculty in my department, who are all parents, most of them relatively young (even our chair’s kids are still middle-school age).  Although as the sole female professor, breastfeeding is a new thing in our department.  I suspect that it will become easier/less necessary as Soren grows, since he’ll eventually be in daycare and will be big enough to space out his feedings more.  And I also like to feel like I’m doing my part to help normalize breastfeeding to the students, who haven’t thought about these issues yet.  If it makes them uncomfortable, well… maybe they should think about why.

So, mostly our days are spent hanging around at home, snuggling, reading, playing, feeding, sleeping, and changing diaper after diaper after diaper.  But now that Soren is old enough to go out in public I’m starting to get back into my university life just a little, and it feels really good.  Overall, we are doing great together, and I’m looking forward to continuing to watch Soren grow.

And, because I can’t resist, here’s another picture.

IMG_0333

Time Warp

I’ve had two experiences over the past week or so that have made me feel like I’m in a time warp back to last year.

This past weekend, I was one of the organizers of a big regional event for undergraduate women in physics.  Last year I attended the same meeting, held at a different university, four months after the death of our daughter.  That was one of the notable times that I lost it in public.  During the meeting, a string of female science professors got up to introduce themselves and talk about their work and personal life.  One, who works in my field and whom I know casually from conferences, was just slightly less pregnant than I would have been if our daughter hadn’t died.  Seeing her up there and hearing all those women talking about how important their kids were to them was incredibly painful — somehow amplified since it was a bunch of female scientists living the work-life situation that I so desperately wanted.  I quietly sobbed in the crowded auditorium, and found myself physically shaking afterward.

This year, I was the hugely pregnant woman at the front of the auditorium, and it felt odd.  On the one hand, it was wonderful to have such a clear reminder of how far I’ve traveled in a year.  On the other hand, it was also a clear reminder of what my emotional state was like last January, and I was acutely aware that seeing my large belly might be painful for some of the women at the meeting and I might not ever know.

Similarly, the last time I went to a prenatal appointment, I saw a woman sitting with her partner in the waiting room with THAT LOOK on her face.  Fighting back tears, looking down, clearly avoiding eye contact with anyone else in the room, but not looking at anything in particular.  Her partner was holding her hand and hovering protectively.  I don’t know her story, of course, but I strongly suspect she’d just had a miscarriage.  And there I was, in all my 8-months-pregnant glory, remembering exactly how painful it had been to sit in the waiting room last year watching heavily pregnant women and newborn babies come and go around me.  To remember how even when they moved me to a private waiting area, a woman about as pregnant as I now am waddled up to the water fountain in front of me and all I could feel was the bleakest despair.  I wanted so desperately to say something to the woman in the office last week.  To tell her I was sorry for her loss.  To tell her that I’d been there.  To tell her she’d make it through, even though it didn’t feel possible right now.  To let her know I wasn’t the carefree pregnant lady she probably assumed I was.  But how can you start that conversation?  I couldn’t.  I smiled hesitantly at her partner.  And then my name was called and I walked away.

The pain of pregnancy loss has so many associations for me now.  Seeing sad women in the waiting room of an OBGYN practice is an obvious one, but who would have thought that an event for female physics students would do it too?

These two situations brought me back strongly to last year, but I’m also happy to report that my husband and I are moving forward and planning to welcome our son home in just a few short weeks.  We finally took the plunge and started organizing our baby stuff.  I washed and sorted all the hand-me-down clothes, and we started buying stuff to fill in our needs around the edges. The Amazon boxes have been arriving in a steady trickle.  We even took a trip to Ikea for some furniture, and now the room in our house that has stood empty since we moved in a year and a half ago is starting to look terrifyingly like an adorable nursery.  I still feel the dizzying duality of fear and joy when I think about it.  I imagine holding our son, rocking in the old rocking chair that my in-laws brought us at Christmas.  When that gets too scary, I remind myself that even if we don’t bring home our son this year, we will eventually be parents, and that the nursery will eventually be used by a living child, even if it’s not this one.  Thinking about it as our family’s nursery, rather than our son’s nursery, is my coping technique du jour.  I wish I could fully commit to making it HIS nursery, but I’m just not quite there yet.  And still, we act like he’s coming home soon.  The carseat is installed in the car, just in case.  We’re planning on taking a trip to Target this weekend for exciting necessities like diapers and wipes.  We’re preparing, ready or not.  While it’s not likely yet, he could theoretically arrive any day (now that I’ve reached the 36-week mark).  I mostly feel calm, until I think about things too hard.  But I suspect that’s a normal feature of late pregnancy.

Physically, I’m fine.  Most of the time I feel pretty placid about the wait.  Other women have told me they were miserable by 36 weeks; I’m not.  Sure, there’s some discomfort, but it’s all minor aches and pains.  I can still walk my dog two miles in the morning (just slowly).  I can mostly sleep at night (with a few interruptions).  I can mostly focus on work and sit at my desk comfortably (as long as I waddle to the bathroom every so often).  Life feels more or less normal.  The strangest thing about this week is the buildup to the start of classes.  It’s the first time in three years as a professor that I haven’t been caught up in the buzz of the start of the semester.  I’m working hard, trying to finish two papers before the baby comes (I finished a draft of paper #1 and sent it off to collaborators today!), but I’m not putting together a syllabus or writing lecture notes or fielding frantic student emails about whether there’s space in my class.  Students mostly aren’t bugging me about stuff, because within my little department they all know that I could disappear at any moment.  I’m watching my colleagues buzz around instead.  I’m guiltlessly saying no to any requests that do make it to my inbox.  It’s unsettling to start to disengage from work so thoroughly, but also kind of exhilarating to imagine how different our first few weeks of parenthood will be from the academic life that has been my “normal” for… well, forever.

So that’s where I am at the moment: in a strange time warp, in limbo between my painful past and what I dearly, dearly hope is our impending future with our son.

When to reveal a pregnancy after loss

First, I should say that I’m so grateful that I even get to consider this question. 🙂 We went in for another quick heartbeat check this morning at 11w1d and everything was still looking great.  So now we’re starting to seriously consider when and how and to whom we will start spreading the news.

We’re naturally “staggered revealers” anyway.  Both times, we’ve let some people know right away (I called my mom the same day we got the positive pregnancy test, and my husband let his parents know also within a day or two).  Both times, we’ve let a few close friends in on the news early in the first trimester.  So it’s not as though nobody knows — at this stage, my mom, my cousin, and my husband’s parents and sister know, plus a very small handful of our close friends (including H who is the only person I know in real life with whom I’ve shared this blog.  Hi, H! ❤ ).

One of the odd silver linings about having a very public loss at 4.5 months is that we now know who is supportive and helpful during a loss and who is not (there were surprises in both directions).  That made it even easier this time to spill the beans to our loved ones who had been super-supportive through our previous infertility and loss, because we knew they’d be supportive if it happened again — and golly, would we ever need their support.  But that’s not the hard part.

The hard part is the rest of the world.  Here are some of the categories I’ve found tricky:

Acquaintances that I see on a regular basis — Mostly this category is made up of people I work with.  This is the trickiest category, partly because I’m showing much, much earlier than last time around.  I hate to make everyone pretend that my increasingly obvious belly is not there.  I’m quite certain at this point that it’s not just my imagination — I caught my department administrator doing a double-take when I walked past her the other day.  It was really obvious, but she didn’t say anything.  I do want to wait until after our nuchal translucency ultrasound on Thursday, but then I think I’ll have to start telling people in my department, before it gets absurd.  For the rest of campus… there are a few others that I’ll be itching to tell at the end of the first trimester because they were unusually supportive after our loss (one of my fellow faculty in another department was the only person who wrote to acknowledge me on Mother’s Day this year), but I think otherwise I’ll just let the news slowly percolate out naturally.  I’m a little worried that everyone else will be too much on eggshells to ever bring up the topic, but I’m sure something will work out.  If random acquaintances don’t want to talk to me about my pregnancy at all, that’s just fine — I’m enough of a basket case as it is!

Family and good friends who are far away — As an academic and a recovering academic who moved cross-country 2.5 years ago, we have a lot of these.  For friends and family who were sympathetic but not unusually supportive with our first loss, it’s hard to know when to tell them.  There’s no particular urgency, but we want to balance their feelings of being kept in the loop and part of our lives with our desire not to have to deal with a lot of burdensome communication if something else goes awry.  We also want to avoid accidentally having these people find out via some impersonal means like Facebook that I’m pregnant again.  We’ve basically decided that we’ll tell any friends we see in person from here on out (including the 8 adults and two children descending on us for an awesome weekend of fun with my close college / grad school friends starting today).  For the rest of this category… I think we’ll wait until after our the point of our first loss, which will be in late September of this year, and then start emailing/calling.  Since our friends and family know our history, I think they’ll understand if we share a bit later this time around.

Friends who didn’t know about our first loss — This one actually has two subcategories: (1) People whom become friends with since our daughter’s death 11 months ago, and (2) Facebook friends who have been important parts of my life at one time or another but with whom I am no longer particularly close.  The thing is, at some point both these categories of people will presumably find out that I have a baby (preferably a live one this time!).  And honestly… I feel weird about them finding out that news without knowing the context of this pregnancy.  There are a couple of reasons for that: (1) It feels like dishonoring our daughter to announce her sibling’s (impending) arrival without acknowledging her existence.  And (2) I know exactly how painful the apparently effortless, out-of-the-blue Facebook pregnancy/baby announcements can be when you’re going through infertility and loss, and I don’t want to whitewash our experience by only posting the happy side without at least acknowledging the rest of it — and potentially providing some relief or hope to the acquaintance who is going through infertility or loss and hasn’t told us.  We never posted about our first pregnancy on Facebook, which wound up being a relief after we lost our daughter.  But eventually we will talk about the pregnancy or our baby on Facebook, and I want it to be honest. Figuring out how to do that is tricky.

Students — The first time around, I told my research group at the end of the first trimester, notified my advisees at the beginning of the fall semester that they would need to identify a new advisor before I went on leave in the spring, and mentioned it to some other students when it came up at a department social event.  At 4.5 months I was showing while I lectured, but I never brought it up in class, and when our baby died just a few weeks into the semester, I was too freaked out and confused to have a calm and reasonable conversation with the students about it, so I just never talked about my loss with them (even though some of them were lovely and left cards and flowers outside my office).  I would probably do things differently now, but I’m also a different person now than I was then.  I still think that some of the students in the class had no idea what was going on, and I wanted to disrupt their educational experience as little as possible, so I don’t regret keeping it out of the classroom. This time around… I will wait to tell my research group until they’re back from summer vacation, and I won’t mention it to my big class of freshmen/sophomores at least until we’re past the halfway point in the pregnancy.  The only reason I think it’s something I should officially address in class at some point is to reassure them that my due date isn’t until February and that it’s very unlikely that my pregnancy will affect their experience in the class.  That’s all they need to know about it, as far as I’m concerned, but I do want to make sure that they don’t worry as they start to notice my belly expanding.  There are various other students who will need to know at some point, but the awesome thing is that I was scheduled to be on sabbatical in the spring anyway, so I can continue to use that as an excuse to turn down responsibilities for basically as long as I want!  (Sorry, you’ll have to find a backup advisor for the spring, since I’ll be on sabbatical!)

So that’s our plan.  There are still a few details to work out, and it feels like a big logistical puzzle, but I’m making progress and (mostly) looking forward to being able to let people know about our good news.  I’ve already had a couple of awkward conversations about this pregnancy, and I’ll be interested and amused to hear what comes out of people’s mouths when I tell them this time around (particularly the ones who said clueless things after our loss), but I’m really looking forward to being entertained by these stories rather than shattered by them.  I feel so much stronger now, after everything we’ve been through, that I feel ready to deal with whatever awkward conversations come my way — after all, if this experience has taught me anything, it’s that other people are *way* more freaked out about talking about pregnancy loss and infertility than anyone who’s been through it themselves.  If anything, I’m worried about making other people feel awkward because I’m *too* open about my pregnancy after loss feelings!  We just told our first local friend, a math professor at my university who has been great and supportive through our loss.  He was asking about whether I’ll get more monitoring this time around, and I was telling him about our pregnancy being high risk and what that meant, and then ended with, “But really, I’m just so happy that I’m pregnant again and that the baby isn’t dead yet.”  Which was true, and exactly what I was feeling, but I could tell that it shocked him a little — oops. 🙂 I’ve gotten so used to being able to say whatever’s actually on my mind when I talk to my husband and my mom (because they get it) that I’ve forgotten that it’s really not appropriate to be that straightforward with people who haven’t been through it all with me.  Guess I’ll have to up my brain-mouth filter for the next several months!