Category Archives: A matter of faith

Closing doors

I found out earlier this week that my application for a post-doc was rejected.

I wasn’t really surprised by this. The competition for funding is incredibly fierce (this year’s competition had a 23% success rate) and the vast majority of awards tend to go to individuals who already have the PhD in hand at the time they apply.

I put an application in, even though I was nowhere near defending back in October, because every now and then the committee awards a fellowship to someone who wasn’t yet finished at the time applications were due.

It was always going to be a long shot, but I took a punt on it anyway, because the only thing I knew for certain was I wouldn’t get a post-doc if I didn’t apply.

I’m not really sure how I feel about missing out on it.

To a certain extent what I mostly feel is relief.

I’m not entirely sure I wanted to do a post-doc.

I know that I don’t want to be a tenure-stream academic.

I’ve watched Q., who’s been a professor now for eleven years. I’ve seen first-hand what he’s had to sacrifice to make it work. I want to kill anyone who complains that professors “only teach twelve hours a week and get four months off in the summer”.

Despite getting tenure three years ago, despite publishing his book two and half years ago, Q. still works evenings, still works weekends, still works hard enough that I worry he will make himself sick in the not-so-distant future. I don’t joke about heart attacks at forty.  I have nightmares about them.

It became rapidly apparent to me after we had E. (right at the same time that Q. was officially tenured) that there was no room in our household for a second career that was going to demand as much as Q’s does. No room at all, unless we were willing to cede most of the raising of our son to others.

That’s a deal breaker for me, and for Q. as well.

And there’s never been a question as to whose career will play second fiddle. We knew from the moment we made the decision that I would apply for the PhD that whatever career would result from that decision had to fit around Q’s.

I can’t move to take up a tenure-stream position, if one were to become available in my field (a BIG if these days given the current state of affairs).

I can’t move to take up a post-doctoral fellowship, or a three-year contract, both of which would keep me on the right track to be competitive for a tenure-stream position.

Academia has a term for people like me: we’re called “trailing spouses”.

I expect I’ll end up teaching bits and pieces, always as a sessional, always hearing at the last minute, hopefully mostly at the two universities in my city, but there are others that are close enough to make it feasible to teach there as well. I will be badly paid, and not at all paid in the summer months if I’m not teaching.

And honestly, I don’t really mind all that much.

Having E. fundamentally altered the way I felt about my PhD and my future career. I WANT to be able to be there when he gets home from school. I WANT to have the flexibility to spend the summers with him. I WANT to be able to put him first.

I am incredibly privileged.  I can look at the future and embrace the uncertainty of contract teaching, because Q.’s position, as a tenured associate professor, is probably one of the most secure jobs that exists. He makes a good wage. It doesn’t go as far as we would like in our big expensive city, but we will never worry about how to keep the roof over our heads, or how to keep food on the table, even if I have a semester where there isn’t any teaching on offer.

And the truth of the matter is, I’m not cut out to be a tenure-stream academic.

I have an almost paralyzing fear of failure and an inner critic the size of King Kong. I could be a textbook’s example of imposter syndrome. The thought of having to send my work out to be reviewed and, gasp, published, fills me with anxiety to the point where I fear I might vomit.

I could be taught to get over this. All academics have to learn to culture a little bit of arrogance, just enough to get over the fear (too much arrogance, however, means you become a pretentious asshole, and I’ve met my share of those).

I could get over my fear. But, to be honest, I don’t love research enough to be really good at it. I like the idea of research. I like coming up with ideas and reading lots of things. I even (sometimes) like writing about my ideas. But I fall apart at the endgame (something which I had already known before writing the dissertation but which has become ever more clear to me over the last few months). When it comes to that final ten percent, the point where in order to really get that article finished you have to read the book written by that German scholar in 1880 to add one more footnote to tie up all your loose ends, I just can’t be bothered. There are so many other things I’d rather be doing.

I do love teaching. And I have enough arrogance to know that I am very good at it. It’s not at all, therefore, a bad thing that I know now that I will be spending next year cobbling together bits and pieces, trying on for size the job of “sessional worker”, “contract lecturer”, “adjunct professor”.

Assuming, of course, that there are bits and pieces for me to teach.

And here we come to the one thing that really disappointed me when I opened my letter and discovered there would be no postdoctoral fellowship for me.

It was a guaranteed income for the next two years.

The year before I started the PhD I taught, as a sessional, at my university. I enjoyed it so much it spurred me into deciding to go back to school myself. But it was always a gamble. Sessional work at my university is based around a convoluted system of seniority where having a PhD does get you ranked more highly than someone without it, but not by much. Had I stayed a sessional, I would have had six more years of experience now. The job market is much worse than it was when I applied to do the PhD. There are many more people in my field floating around my city, underemployed. Most of them rely on the contract teaching to make ends meet. Some of them are the primary wage earners for their families. They don’t have the luxuries I do.

I don’t regret applying to do the PhD. I’ve done very well with government funding. For three years in particular I made a very good wage, one that made it possible to persevere until we were blessed with E. without causing much financial hardship. I couldn’t have spent as much time at home with E. as I did if I had been a sessional.

But, now that we are in the endgame, I look at September and I worry. I wonder if we have made a giant miscalculation. I wonder if there will be any teaching for me.

I don’t dwell on it. There’s no point. We won’t know the true state of things until the autumn semester starts.

But one thought did flit through my mind when I opened that letter.

That post-doc would have meant another IVF cycle.

I’ve been moving the goalposts, you see.

I can’t remember when I first realized my feelings had changed, but I think it was within a day or two of that last appointment.

We had said we were done.

We had said this was going to be our last retrieval.

I wanted a 2.0, or I wanted closure.

I didn’t get either of these.

If this cycle had been a clear negative, a bright white BFN, then when (I can’t even bring myself to say if) that last FET failed this coming summer, we would have had no difficulty in walking away. That would have been five blastocysts. Five blasts and nothing to show for it would have been enough.

But it wasn’t a negative.

We got SO close.

Both of the embryos implanted. They just didn’t turn into babies.

So for a number of days now my overriding thought process has been about the possibility of one more fresh cycle, after the dissertation has been defended, sometime in the fall or early winter.

I know part of this is an instinctive means of self-protection. If I’m thinking about another cycle, I don’t have to think about this cycle and what its failure might mean. I don’t have to face up to the reality that this miscarriage, in all likelihood, marks the end of our dreams of a family of four.

But I also recognize that this cycle didn’t produce a result I was expecting. It teased me. It let me get so close, but not close enough.

Two long protocol IVF cycle with transfers of two fresh blasts.

One baby.

Two miscarriages.

Maybe the third time will be the charm?

I haven’t discussed any of this with Q.

There’s no point, really. Not until we know what I’m doing next year.

When we first started trying for a baby, Q. and I agreed that we would not go into debt to cover fertility treatments.

We’ve stuck to that. We’ve dropped close to $30,000 of our own money (and easily that again on medications which, thankfully, Q.’s insurance covers) on family building. We only have one child to show for it, but we never went into debt. We went without a lot of other things.

I don’t hold a major scholarship anymore.

If I don’t get enough contract teaching, we can’t do another round of IVF.

We gambled.

Now we have to wait to see if our gamble paid off.

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Filed under 2.0 Pregnancy, A matter of faith, Anxiety Overload, Grief, Loss, Money Matters, Second Thoughts

Shattered

Back in the summer, when I was in the middle of a crisis of confidence with my PhD dissertation (which, if I’m being honest, hasn’t really ended, but I’m at the stage now where I have to just get over myself and finish the damn thing), I spent a lot of time blogging about how conflicted I was feeling about going back to the clinic and starting to try for a 2.0.

At the time, I wrote this:

And so my reticence about going back to the clinic is not just about whether or not we are truly ready for a 2.0 (because I know we can’t ever really be ready in the same way one can never really be ready for a first baby- you just have to go ahead and have one and cope with what comes), or about how we will balance two children and two academic careers, or about how E. will adjust to being a big brother.

What it’s really about is I’m opening myself up to failure again, and, what’s worse, opening myself up to failing at something at which I’ve already passed.

It’s as though failing to have a 2.0 would not only be a failure in its own right, but it would also colour/darken the triumph that is E.

I wouldn’t have really passed infertility after all. I would have somehow squeaked through the first time without the gods noticing, but my greed at trying again would ultimately catch me out. As though the universe would take back my shiny certificate I earned with E.’s birth and rip it up, shaking its head. “You didn’t really pass, Turia,” the universe would say. “You bought yourself some time for a while. But in the end you’ve failed.”

That was what I was the most afraid of.

It’s happening.

I really believed after we had E. that we had FIXED things. Yes, it took 35 months, and IUIs and IVFs and FETs, and there were many, many heartbreaking BFNs before we got there, but when we did a long protocol IVF and transferred blastocysts, it WORKED.

I got pregnant.

I gave birth to a live, healthy baby.

And I honestly believed the second time around would be easier.

Because we KNEW now, or so I thought, what we had to do.

We knew what my body needed.

I absolutely believed that one of the two blastocysts that had been frozen and waiting for us at the clinic for three years was going to be E’s younger sibling.

They were from the same cycle, you see.

The cycle that WORKED.

When both FETs failed this fall, it really shook my confidence. But Q. and I talked about it, and we agreed that it hadn’t been exactly the same.

E. was the product of a fresh cycle.

So we waded in again.

We did exactly the same thing we did to get E.: a long protocol IVF with a five day transfer of two blasts.

And it WORKED.

We felt vindicated. We’d been RIGHT. We knew what my body needed.

And then I had an ultrasound where I learned that there wasn’t going to be a baby in September and my whole world came crashing down.

I don’t know anything anymore.

I don’t know if this loss was a fluke, if we were so unlucky as to have that blastocyst grow into a baby who was never meant to be.

Worse, I don’t know if E. was a fluke, if somehow he squeaked through unnoticed, but there’s something hitherto unrecognized in my body that will cause me to kill any future babies should I be so foolish as to try to keep growing them.

All I know is any confidence I had in myself, in my body’s ability to nurture and carry a baby, has been shattered, possibly irrevocably.

I was GOOD at being pregnant, you see.

I had almost no complications with E.

I carried him to thirty-nine weeks and four days.

I still felt good in the last week of my pregnancy.

I looked freakin’ amazing pregnant.

I had a fast, unmedicated labour and delivery, with very few physical repercussions.

I was able to successfully breastfeed my son, even through the MSPI issues and his later rejection of all day feeds, for thirteen months.

I was NORMAL.

I’d held on to that, all through the summer while I wrestled with my emotions, all through the fall and the FETs, all through December and the IVF grind, all through January and February, until I wasn’t allowed to believe it any longer.

All right, I told myself, I suck at getting pregnant. But that’s the hard part. I have a perfect track record with being pregnant.

One for one.

Now it’s one for three.

I didn’t blog much about the embryo that never got further than the gestational sac.

I thought about it, a lot actually, but I never wrote much down.

But if it had been the only embryo that implanted, I would have counted it as a loss.

I would have had a positive beta.

The numbers might not have doubled properly.

I might have known before that first ultrasound that things weren’t going to turn out well.

But I would have been pregnant.

It would have been a loss.

I thought about that, after the first ultrasound, but I didn’t say much to anyone else.

I had the other baby to concentrate on.

“The good baby” is what the ultrasound tech called it at that first appointment.

Except it wasn’t a good baby either, in the end.

The day after it happened my father called me. I tried to explain to him how I was feeling, how I could cope with E. being an only child but that if that was how it was going to turn out, I wished so much that we had never even tried to further expand our family, that we had been content with him as an only, that we had saved ourselves this pain and heartbreak.

“Well, Turia,” said my father, “surely it’s better to have actually tried. Everyone fails at something in their life, and you’ve done really well up until now.”

He’s right. I haven’t failed at very much before now.

But he doesn’t get it either.

There is a great gaping chasm between failing at something because I haven’t worked hard enough, or haven’t done enough research, or haven’t put enough thought into it, and failing at something when I have done everything in my power to make it work, have altered my life for months on end to give it a chance to work, have wished with all my heart that it would work, and, worst of all, have failed at it when it has already worked once before.

I thought I knew things.

I don’t know anything anymore.

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Filed under 2.0 Pregnancy, A matter of faith, Anxiety Overload, Family, Grief, Loss, MSPI, Nursing, PhD, Pregnancy, Second Thoughts, Siblings

7w3d and all is well

We had the same ultrasound tech as last time. She was wonderful- put in the probe, took one look at the screen and then immediately turned to us and said, “I see baby’s heartbeat. Baby is growing. It’s a good baby.” She took a more careful look around, confirmed that the baby was still there and growing and then started taking measurements.

Baby measured 7w2d, so still a day behind, but s/he’s grown a week since the last scan which is right on track. The heart was nice and strong – 154 bpm. There was a very noticeable yolk sac- I don’t remember it looking that obvious with E. Maybe it has something to do with where it attaches. Baby was definitely bigger but still pretty blob like. I remember E. being in a ‘peanut’ stage with this ultrasound, but this one still looks more like a blob.

The circle is the yolk sac. The blob is the baby.

The circle is the yolk sac. The blob is the baby.

The empty second sac is still there, and so is the blood clot/SCH. The SCH has actually grown significantly since last week (it’s doubled in size if I read my chart correctly). I saw a different doctor today (mine wasn’t in) and she didn’t seem too concerned about things. She told me to stop the Fragmin as of today (HURRAY!) and to now start weaning off the prednisone. I started weaning off the prednisone at this point during E.’s pregnancy but it took a lot longer to stop since I was on a triple dose because of the hives.

Everything looked so good she told me not to come back for two weeks. When I said I had to be back in next Thursday for another intralipid infusion she agreed I might as well have another scan at that point too since I’ll be at the clinic. I’m happy with that- I feel sick the morning of an ultrasound, but the reassurance is worth the pre-appointment anxiety.

There was certainly no discussion of me taking more time off work. I don’t know if she’s less cautious than my doctor or if he just felt that last week was a really critical one. Regardless, I’m happy to be able to start getting things back into order as I am really behind with teaching prep (to say nothing of the dissertation).

When I got home, I had a proper conversation with E. where I told him that I was growing a baby in my body. Q. and I had agreed we’d tell E. if this scan was all right as it’s not fair the way we’re always talking around him, and I know he worries about why I’m always going to the doctor. So we talked about how I’m going to the doctor so much because they’re making sure that everything is ok with the baby, and that I’m not sick myself. E. seemed moderately interested. He said he wanted a baby sister just like in the Berenstain Bears’ New Baby but then was most interested in pointing out how when the baby was born “it would play with baby toys” and wouldn’t be big enough to play with his own toys. I’m not entirely sure he gets it yet, but it’s a start.

Pregnancy-wise, I am having much more trouble with food than I was at this point with E., although I suspect partly that’s due to the fact that I’m not on a triple dose of prednisone this time around. I get a lot of low level nausea throughout the day. It’s not serious, but it can be enough to put me off my appetite. I still mostly want to eat salt and potatoes. Dinner is the hardest meal as it seems the nausea gets worse throughout the day. Q. cooked a lovely meal last night and I could barely touch the pork, ignored the salad completely and ate almost all the fries.

I also had a completely insane dream two nights ago. Every single part of it was insane, but weirdly I looped back to the first element when I neared the end, so when I woke up it took me that much longer to realize that all of it had been a dream. I found myself lying in bed thinking, “Ok, so the bit where we were all running in the downtown core of a big city while some sci-fi droid things shot at us wasn’t real, and the bit where I signed up for prenatal classes at eight weeks and there were girls there I went to high school with wasn’t real, and the bit with the medieval/dragon boat racing festival wasn’t real, but what about the bit with the mall and my sister’s birthday? Did I actually miss her party because the mall was closing and I couldn’t find the right present?” Eventually I determined none of it had been real, but I felt exhausted that whole day- I think because I’d been so busy in my dreams!

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Filed under 2.0 Pregnancy, A matter of faith, Anxiety Overload, E.- the third year, Food, Medications, Siblings, Sleep, Symptoms, Ultrasounds

6w3d- Ultrasound

Ok. Here’s the deal.

The technician saw two gestational sacs.

In one there was a baby, measuring 6w2d, with a strong heartbeat of 127 bpm.

The other was smaller and empty.

The u/s tech tried (I think) to let us down gently.

“The doctor will explain it all to you,” she told us. “Sometimes they still develop. Sometimes they are just slow.”

Then she asked if we wanted a picture.

“I give you one of the good baby,” she said. “That baby looks perfect.”

While waiting for the doctor, I read my chart. I showed it to Q.

“That second sac is completely empty,” I told him. “It’s not going anywhere.”

Q. thought for a minute. “Maybe we should have told her that her telling us that second sac wasn’t going to keep developing would have been really good news,” he said at last.

He was right. As much as I have tried to get my head around the possibility of twins over these last couple of weeks, there’s no denying that when it was clear from the u/s tech’s measurements that the second sac was empty, I mostly felt relief. A twinge of sadness for the baby that tried to be, but mostly it was relief.

The ultrasound tech was really cheerful (she’s not usually- I’ve had many an ultrasound with her before). She printed us a picture. She said congratulations a whole bunch of times. It must be one of the only nice parts of their job.

Then we met with my doctor.

“That second sac isn’t going anywhere, right?” I asked.

He shook his head. He had been talking in terms of a “brother or sister for E.” I don’t think he would have mentioned it at all if I hadn’t asked him about it.

“There’s a very very small clot located right next to the gestational sac with the baby in it,” he said. “You’d have to really be looking for it to find it.” (I have no idea how they can find ANYTHING. I could see the two sacs- they were black blobs- but how she managed to see and measure the baby and identify the yolk sac and the heart is beyond me.)

“That, plus the empty sac raises your chances of miscarriage. I’d like you to aim for a very restful week. Do you need a note for work?”

I looked at Q. He sighed.

“I’ll teach your class tomorrow,” he said (one of the perks of a husband who works in the exact same field you do).

I’m not on bedrest (and I don’t know how I’d manage that if that had been the request given the toddler in our life). But I’ll try to keep my feet up as much as possible, and I’ll get someone to cover my duty day at E’s nursery school on Monday. The good news is he told me to start doing the Fragmin every other day. My stomach bruises are getting really ugly, so that suits me just fine.

I’m back in to the clinic tomorrow for another intralipid infusion, and then another ultrasound next Thursday. Hopefully that one will show the empty sac has been reabsorbed and the baby is growing well. If I’m really lucky the clot could be gone too, but I had one with E. (I think it was bigger but not as close to his sac) that stuck around for the whole first trimester and never caused a problem.

So. Good news for this stage in the game, but I feel very much still in limbo. It still seems tenuous, uncertain.

It’s going to be a long week.

 

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Filed under 2.0 Pregnancy, A matter of faith, Anxiety Overload, Medical issues, Ultrasounds

5w5d- How time passes

The life of an infertile in the first (and early second) trimester:

1. Immediately following a good beta or ultrasound:
Experience uncontrollable joy. Be filled with the urge to tell total strangers you’re expecting. Sleep eight straight hours a night. Daydream about names. Plan when to tell people. Make a mental to-do list of what needs to be done. Eye up baby things on sale.

2. Every day leading up to the halfway point between the good result and the next appointment:
Revel in being pregnant. Enjoy symptoms. Rub belly surreptitiously. Take extra care when walking on slippery paths. Feel confident. Everything is going swimmingly!

3. At the halfway point between the good result and the next appointment:
Except what if it is isn’t?

4. Every day between the halfway point and the day before the next appointment:
Experience uncontrollable swings of emotion: from elation to despair and back again on an hourly basis. Wake up in the wee hours and struggle to fall back asleep. Start to doubt your symptoms exist. Pinch bbs obsessively to see if they remain sore. Curse yourself for your arrogance. How could you revel in being pregnant? Surely that was a sign for the universe to smite your happiness? Haven’t you ever heard of hubris?

5. The day before the next appointment:
Freak out entirely. Recognize that the pregnancy must have ended. Start to prepare yourself for the bad news. Plan how to tell your partner if you’ll be at the appointment alone. Express relief that you haven’t yet told your parents. Regret telling as many people as you have.

6. The morning of the next appointment:
Cry. A lot. Send out pleas into the universe including to gods you don’t believe in. Feel sick with nerves and find yourself incapable of eating breakfast. Cry more because now you’re hangry. Practice keeping a stiff upper lip when you hear bad news.

7. The moments before the next appointment:
Try not to vomit. Shake. Make futile efforts to concentrate on reading material. Experience the worst nausea of the pregnancy thus far.

8. When the appointment is over and everything is, once again, fine:
Start again from the beginning. Repeat as needed until far enough along in the pregnancy that you can feel movement. Then begin to worry about whether or not you are feeling the baby often enough.

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Filed under 2.0 Pregnancy, A matter of faith, Anxiety Overload, My addled brain

5w2d- Released from bloodwork

The clinic called around 3 p.m. when I was on my way to pick up E. I’d had a fairly stressful day. I always worry like mad the day any results are coming in, and, of course, my body picked today to not give me any clear symptoms. So I spent the two hours between 1 p.m. (which was the earliest they might possibly call, to judge from previous experience) and the call itself psyching myself out and trying to prepare for bad news.

“Your levels are rising nicely” was the first thing the nurse said to me.

I exhaled.

And then, I swear, my uterus started cramping for the first time today.

Asshole.

6397.

Doing just what it should be doing.

No more bloodwork now (thank goodness as my veins are a mess after a double blood draw in one arm this morning and the intralipid infusion IV in the other) and back in to the clinic for the first ultrasound on the 16th.

I’m realizing, again, that I’m actually incapable of relaxing and enjoying the early stages of a pregnancy. It’s too tenuous. Too easily brought to a crashing halt. I’ve read too many stories that didn’t have happy endings (one of the inevitable side effects of spending time in the ALI blogosphere is you get a very skewed perspective on how often things go wrong).

So right now I’m just trying to enjoy the good days when I have them, ride out the worry when it rises to the surface, and keep my fingers crossed that everything continues to go well.

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Filed under 2.0 Pregnancy, A matter of faith, Anxiety Overload

4w5d- Still in this

Beta doubled and then some: 1883.

Back again for one more in four days, and then the first ultrasound will be on the 16th of January.

It’s still early.

It’s still so very early.

But again, today is a good day.

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Filed under 2.0 Pregnancy, A matter of faith, Anxiety Overload