Tag Archives: tenure

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!

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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!

I win!

Guys, I just won a pretty prestigious award for junior faculty in the physical sciences!  I got a phone call about it this morning, but I can’t tell anyone about it yet because they don’t officially announce the winners until February, so I’m telling you because this blog is anonymous enough that it’s still basically keeping the secret!  I was allowed to tell my department chair, and I also told my husband, who took S and me out for cupcakes at the local bakery after dinner tonight to celebrate.  Yay!

It’s really nice to get major recognition for your research and teaching, of course.  It also makes me a little bit wistful… would I be doing this well professionally if my childbearing had gone as planned and I already had the 2-3 kids we were hoping for by now?  But I also feel fortunate to have this amazing career that I love that can go well even when fertility isn’t going well, in addition to an amazing husband and son who fill my life with love even when the professional side is tough.

I also want to give an anonymous shout-out to the people who manage this award.  Applicants have exactly one year of eligibility, based on when they started their faculty job, and mine fell right at the end of my parental leave with my son.  During my year of eligibility, I tried to get a proposal together, but I was struggling with a non-sleeping little infant who had only just started childcare for a few hours a day.  When he came down with an ear infection and then had an allergic reaction to amoxycillin the week before the deadline, I knew it was basically hopeless to get a decent proposal together.  Fortunately, I have a friend who won the award a couple of years ago, and she clued me in that I could ask for a deferral of my eligibility to the following year because of my parental leave.  I asked for the deferral, they immediately said yes, I applied the next year, and I was selected!  Hooray for family-friendly policies!

So, I’m on a bit of a high right now.  It turns out that I’m the first person to ever win this award from my institution.  It’s making me feel pretty good about the whole tenure thing, which is also nice.  Persistence clearly pays off in science, so it’s got to pay off in fertility too… right?

Brief Tenure Update

As I wait for the endometrial biopsy Friday and the follow-up visit with the RE, I thought I’d give a (sorta) brief follow-up update on my tenure saga.

After all my angst, my 5th-year pre-tenure review happened promptly and smoothly.  At my university it involves an official letter summarizing the department’s evaluation and a one-on-one conversation with my department chair.  Both were glowingly positive.  The conversation with the chair may have made me blush a little bit.  It was basically my chair talking for maybe ten minutes about how great I am at my job.  Then, when he asked if I had questions, I was like, “Um, thank you, this is all wonderful.  But if I had to concentrate on one thing this year to make my tenure case stronger, what would it be?” and he said, “Really, there’s nothing.  Just don’t let your teaching evaluations slide, because the university-level committee gets hung up on trajectories, and yours started out so high that it’s hard to show an upward trajectory.”

So, yay!  But also, ack!  My department has never yet officially told me anything I can do to improve, and it constantly freaks me out — because everyone can improve in some way, of course, and having no direction is disconcerting.  And also because I watched a close friend go through a horrific tenure debacle last year in a closely related physical science department, during which she worked really hard on fixing the things they told her to fix (mostly related to teaching) and then after a whole long saga her department ultimately denied her tenure on the basis of something they hadn’t told her to fix (purely research).  There were many major WTF moments during her case, and it really soured me on my institution (particularly the offending department), and has made me far less trusting of the tenure process and some of the people at my institution.  I’m pretty sure that my department is a heck of a lot more functional than my friend’s former department, and that my case is a heck of a lot less borderline than hers was, but still, I worry (she and her husband are now happily employed at a small college back in the Midwest, closer to their families, so her story thankfully has a happy ending).

And, what about all my angst about thinking that my chair was going to recommend that I use my extra year before going up for tenure?  It didn’t amount to anything, or at least nothing that I could decode.  We talked about the timeline a little, and he said that the main thing was to make sure that everyone is on the same page about my timeline, but that he wanted to make sure I understood that I only get one chance to go up for tenure, which I assured him was very clear to me (for the non-academics: the tenure decision is up-or-out, in the sense that if you are awarded tenure then you are more or less guaranteed a job for life at your university, but if you are denied tenure then you are fired and you have one year to find a job before you are unemployed).  My impression was that he was basically covering his / the department’s butt, to make sure that I couldn’t come back later if my tenure case was denied and say that I didn’t understand that going up early meant I couldn’t also go up on time.  Which I get.  Everything else about the review pointed to the conclusion that my department thinks I’m doing great and doesn’t foresee an issue with letting me go up “early,” but they can’t officially say that because it would look like a promise that I will get tenure next year, which they can’t officially make.

One bizarre thing about this whole interaction is that we have a new chair this year, who also happens to be the second-youngest member of the department (after me) and also the person with whom I am most friendly.  So it’s been awfully weird interacting in this very official way with a friend, and we have both had to carefully monitor our verbal filters in a way that we do not normally do.  He’s usually the first person I go to for advice on sticky situations or to kvetch about some problem in the department, and I am usually really appreciative of his honest and thoughtful advice and perspective.  But as chair, there are things that he’s not allowed to say, and also things that he is obligated to say that he wouldn’t normally say.  And there are things that I would normally want to ask him that I am no longer allowed to ask him (for example, I am no longer allowed to discuss with him which scientists at other universities to solicit for external reviews of the research portion of my tenure case, which stinks because he is the person who works closest to my field and also the person in my department who has been through the tenure process most recently and I would really love his advice).  It even came up towards the end of the review when he gave me some official-sounding line about how we don’t have an official junior faculty mentoring arrangement in the department but that I should feel free to go to any of the faculty for advice (I think this is an awful way to “mentor” junior faculty, by the way, but that’s a subject for another post), and I said that I always appreciated his advice and then there was this moment where we both acknowledged that it stinks that he is now chair and can’t give me unfiltered advice when I really need it.  Ah, well… this is one of the down-sides to being in a tiny department.  The flip side, of course, is that my department chair is a friend who I am confident has my best interests at heart and genuinely wants to keep me as a long-term colleague.  He’s inexperienced, but capable and ethical.  It could definitely be worse.

And that’s the update!  I now have written evidence that my department thinks I am doing a great job, and verbal assurance that there are no obvious weak spots in my tenure portfolio that I should try to fix in the next year.  I definitely have an agenda of things I would like to get done before I submit my portfolio, which I briefly outlined with my chair.  I think it’s achievable and will represent a body of work that I feel proud of.  I’m feeling good about going up on my desired timeline.  And, honestly, I’m feeling much more positive about my job than I have for a while.  It’s amazing what a little bit of acknowledgement and appreciation can do for your motivation.  I’ve felt more creative and committed to my department.  During our meeting, my chair included a little pep talk about how the department loves the work I’ve been doing and how it seems like my interests and skills are really well aligned with the department mission so I should just keep doing what I want to do and try not to worry too much about external pressures (like tenure criteria, I guess).  And I do feel like I’ve grown into the position — I’ve gotten my sea legs with teaching, and I’ve reached some sort of equilibrium with finding a research advising style that is effective without being too draining.  I can almost feel the breath of fresh air that I felt when I got my first faculty job offer — suddenly, I felt freedom to define my own research program rather than worrying about working on projects that would get me letters from specific superstars in my field.  Tenure is also supposed to grant that sort of freedom, and I can almost feel the burst of creativity and self-direction that is supposed to come with tenure.  I have ideas for ways to experiment with teaching that I’ve been afraid to try because they’d introduce unpredictability into my student evaluations.  I have ideas for research directions that are a little wackier than I was comfortable with when I needed to show that I could get proposals funded consistently.  Now, if I can just keep my teaching evaluations from sliding this year, maybe I’ll be able to take advantage of that freedom and space for trying new things!

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.

Day 3 labs and my dad’s memorial service

I swear I’m not as much of a grumpy gus in real life as I am on my blog, but I sure do feel like I have plenty to be grumpy about these days.  I thought I had left most of the bitterness of pregnancy loss and infertility behind me, but we’re now six months and one miscarriage into trying to conceive our second living child and I just today saw the second pregnancy announcement from a friend/acquaintance who is five months pregnant (which is how pregnant I would be right now if I hadn’t miscarried), and my dad’s memorial service was last Saturday, and we’re heading into midterm season which is no more fun as a professor than it was as a student, and I am GRUMPY about it all.

As part of the conversation with my OB about how to go forward with trying to conceive after my miscarriage in May, she offered to repeat my Day 3 labs, which I haven’t had done since before my daughter was conceived — I figured that if they were normal, I’d be more comfortable trying on our own a little longer, but if they indicated low reserve I’d want to head back to the RE sooner rather than later.  The results came back this week, and my FSH and estradiol are both normal (8.8 and 49, respectively).  My FSH was 8 before, so things don’t seem to have changed much there (although I do always worry about inter-cycle variability).  My AMH was a bit on the high side — good for egg quantity/quality, but apparently a potential indicator of cysts or PCOS.  Which makes total sense to me, because it seems like every time I get an ultrasound someone tells me I have a cyst and they’ll “keep an eye on it” and then they never do and then I mention it whenever they do another ultrasound and they’re like, “oh, huh, you do have a cyst… well, it looks normal, but we’ll keep an eye on it,” and then nothing happens.  I also wonder if my borderline high AMH levels are related to the fact that I get wicked ovulation pain these days — I don’t even really need OPKs anymore, because I can tell 2-3 days before the OPK turns positive that I’m starting to ovulate, and by the time I get to ovulation day it hurts to sit down.  Anyway, who knows?  My OB mostly just brushed it off (I didn’t actually get to talk to her; she left a message and said to call if I had questions and I haven’t gotten around to it).  But at least my eggs aren’t rotten, which was my main concern.  So that leaves us in purgatory of trying and trying and wondering when to go back to the RE.  I think I’ll probably wait it out until January — that would be seven cycles of trying post-miscarriage (since it took me >2 months to get my period back after the miscarriage), 10 months since we started trying after our son was born, and it would also be past the window of inconvenient due date timing (since I’m planning to submit my tenure materials next November).  Seems like a good time to step up our efforts.

In the meantime, I held my dad’s memorial service last Saturday.  It was so strange.  I still don’t really believe that he’s dead.  Most of the family got together, and it was nice to see everyone.  In a way, it was one of the more pleasant family funerals since nobody was really all that sad, since nobody was really that close to my dad — sounds weird to say it that way, but it’s the silver lining of my dad’s depressing life during which he worked hard to alienate himself from pretty much everyone in the family.  My uncle is a minister, and he planned most of the service.  He did a nice job — told some stories about my dad that were funny but didn’t totally whitewash the seedier sides of his personality.  It’s got to be disconcerting for my uncle that he’s now led funeral services for his parents and two of his three siblings, but you’d never know it from the way he was up there talking and laughing and playing Grateful Dead songs (which my dad definitely would have appreciated).  My son, S, was the star of the show, if that’s a thing that one can be at a funeral.  He was dancing along to the Grateful Dead songs, peeking over my shoulder at a family friend and saying “Boo!” during the service, and when I got up to give the eulogy he held out his arms yelling “Mama, mama, mama!” until I just picked him up and let him sit on my hip while I spoke and he tried to disassemble the microphone.

I had some really nice moments with my dad’s old friends who told me stories about the good old days when my dad was actually a functional human being and did some really important welfare reform work — like, welfare reform that influenced policy decisions across many states and also the platform for one presidential campaign that my dad worked on.  It was all before I was 5 years old, so I don’t really have any memories of those days, but it was nice to hear about how he used to be really driven and dedicated to helping other people.  I don’t know what happened — part of it was being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, although that’s clearly not all of it.  As I mentioned before, there were drugs and alcohol and abuse involved, and I’m pretty sure there were some undiagnosed mental health issues too.  Not depression/anxiety so much as narcissistic personality disorder with perhaps a touch of sociopath, if I may armchair-diagnose my deceased father.  Anyway, it was good to hear his friends remember how he used to be, and to hear stories about him that I hadn’t heard before.  Since he died a lot of my sadness has been related to the empty life he led, particularly towards the end (I won’t elaborate on some of the things I found while cleaning out his apartment, but they were incredibly depressing) and so it was nice to hear that there were other parts of his life that were more fulfilling than the parts that I had the front row seats for.

So, that’s where we are now.  Making arrangements for the funeral and my dad’s affairs has been eating up my life since he died ~3 weeks ago, and with traveling back home on the weekends and my phone ringing off the hook I’ve been very behind on work and it’s been very stressful.  I’ve still got a stack of grading to be done, but I’m keeping up on the essentials, and now I finally feel like I might have a tiny hope of catching up — not that any academic is ever truly caught up, but at least I hopefully won’t feel that I’m constantly dropping balls and letting people down.

One sort of interesting thing that happened this week is that on Monday I was apologizing to one of my masters students for not answering an email that he had sent on Friday — I said that I didn’t want to play the sad card, but I did want to explain that my father’s funeral was Saturday so I just didn’t look at my email all weekend.  He said, “Wait, your father’s funeral?!” and I realized I hadn’t actually told him that my father had died, even though it had come up with all the other members of my group at one point or another.  But after that student found out, nice things started happening all week — the grad students in our department all signed a sympathy card for me and chipped in on a gift certificate to a local restaurant, and then “the students” brought surprise baked goods to our research group meeting today.  When I walked in and said, “Well, this is nice!  What’s the occasion?” they said, “We just wanted to do something nice since you do so much for us,” and it just about collapsed me into a weeping puddle of goo right then and there!  I have strong suspicions that this masters student who found out late goaded the other students into action — it fits his personality, and he’s a non-traditional older student, already married, so he’s significantly more mature than the other students in our program.  But it is clear that all the other students eagerly piled on once someone initiated, and I am grateful to all the students in our program — and my research group — for their kindness this week.  Even though it’s a little awkward, it’s nice to be treated like a human with feelings and shown a bit of appreciation occasionally (not that that’s why I do what I do, but it’s still nice when it happens!), and at a time like this it means even more than it otherwise would.  Our tiny department has all the pros and cons of small town living, but the way people support each other is one of the biggest pros there is.

My Blog Title is Apt Again

Well, whaddya know.  I’m pregnant.

It has never taken us less than 8 months to conceive before.  This time, first try.  We are thrilled and a little stunned.  I’ve always been a little skeptical of the stories you read of how people who have experienced infertility/loss often get pregnant quickly after a full-term, healthy pregnancy — I mean, maybe it happens to some people, but I was sure it wouldn’t happen to me.  Well, here I am!

For now, of course.  I know as well as anyone that first trimester miscarriage is a distinct possibility, as are losses at later stages of pregnancy, as are all manner of other health problems (I’m still at elevated risk for ectopic pregnancy and placental abruption, for example).  But for now I’m pregnant, and that’s a very, very good thing.

We’re a little shocked at the timing — I mean, we were trying to get pregnant, obviously, but we just didn’t expect it to happen this quickly.  Of course our minds started jumping to the possible reality of having a new baby join our family in January.  Two under two — yikes!  It would also throw a monkey wrench into my tenure plans (I’d been on track to submit my materials a year and a half from now), but… we’ll deal with that.  Our family is more important than my tenure case, and if I wind up using both my clock extensions and spending nine years on the tenure clock, so be it.

I was also just starting to cut back on pumping at work this week, but for the moment I’m still breastfeeding/pumping four times a day, which is going to start feeling like a lot as I get more pregnant.  But… what if I wean, and then miscarry?  I’ll be mourning the loss of a baby simultaneously to mourning the loss of a wonderful breastfeeding relationship.  I suppose I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing (i.e., weaning from the pump during the day, since I would never mourn the loss of a relationship with my pump!) and see how things go over the next few weeks.  I’ve got a viability scan scheduled for a week from Monday, after which we’ll know a little more (and, if all goes well, I’ll start back on Lovenox).

What a weird and wonderful week it’s been.  Pregnant again.  Holy cow.  Here’s hoping this little bean sticks around!