Category Archives: Money Matters

Lonely Onlies? Part Two

This is the second post in a series unpacking the ideas found in Lauren Sandler’s One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child and the Joy of Being One. For the first post, see here.

In my first post I wrote about how Sandler explodes the myth that only children end up lonelyselfishmaladjusted. Turns out the research shows that most only children are just fine. More than fine. And one reason for this could well be the fact that only children have one huge advantage over their counterparts in larger families: there is no dilution of parental resources. As Sandler puts it, “Such resources can be time, money, attention – everything from money available for college to the number of words spoken directly from a parent to a child. Only children receive at least fifty percent more active care time than kids in two-child families” (74).

I can see this already with E. When he wants to tell me an incredibly long story about the adventures he and his stuffed dog went on during quiet time, there is no one else demanding my attention. When it is his bedtime, I’m not struggling to also get a baby brother or sister to sleep. When E. wants to build an elaborate train track that takes up the entire living room floor, there is no one who will knock it over, or eat the pieces, or pull them apart (although one of our cats does like to roll around on the track, which drives E. crazy). When we’re doing something with E., whether that’s baking, or reading stories, or going for a walk, he has our full attention.

We will be able to fly down under more often if we only have to buy three seats rather than four.

E. will come out of his undergraduate degree (if he choose to go to university) debt free if he’s the only recipient of the RESP we’ve set up.

Many, many years down the road (I hope), E.’s own children (if he has them) will end up with a much stronger financial position if he is the sole beneficiary of Q.’s and my estate.

I am not, for a moment, trying to suggest that having more money beats having a sibling. I’m just setting out the cold truth: if E. is an only, all of our resources go to him.

I know that there are lots of things having a sibling would teach E., like sharing and compromise and listening to other people’s feelings, but I think many of them he’ll learn from his classmates at school. Q. and I are in agreement that if E. stays an only, he needs to go to a school that doesn’t boast about its tiny class sizes. He’s the centre of our world at home. He’ll need to be somewhere where that isn’t the case to provide some balance and a healthy dose of reality. Life isn’t kind to children who grow up to be adults who believe they are special precious snowflakes.

All well and good. But a monopoly on parental resources is a double edged sword.  Only children do enjoy all the benefits that come from having undivided parental attention. But they also have no one to hide behind.

Sandler writes that only children “are the sole recipient of the parental gaze, which, as we all know, can be a withering one” (88).  She quotes Nicole Campion-Barr, of the University of Missouri’s Family Relationships & Adolescent Development Lab: “Parental authority is especially inescapable for only children. Parents will always win. There’s no one else to appeal to. It’s that simple” (46).  Carl Pickhardt: “Only children are scrutinized all the time…What makes it hard is the pressure parents feel because it’s their first and last chance to do it right…That conveys to the child, who then carries it forward” (88).  Sandler herself adds, “In the incubator of a small, intense family, parents expect their only child to be like themselves, whether they admit it or not” (88), and quotes what John Hodgman (who has an essay in Only Child: Writers on the Singular joys and Solitary Sorrows of Growing up Solo) said to his unborn second child, “You will be freer to fail” (194).

This is what scares the shit out of me.

Q. and I are both capable of intense concentration. You don’t get through a PhD (and, in Q.’s case, become a tenured academic) without this. We are train to analyze and criticize, to see what is written between the lines. We embody focus. I have been prone, ever since I was a child, to bouts of obsession, where I pick up a new interest and devour it, living and breathing it until I have thoroughly worn it out. I can recognize every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in the first thirty seconds and quote entire Monty Python sketches verbatim because of two such obsessions during high school. Q. has an ability to just sit down and get on with things that I’ve never seen anyone else match. His focus can be ferocious.

Our twin parental gaze could be paralyzing.

We could so easily be Basilisks.

E., our sensitive, introverted son, would wither beneath our glare.

I am conscious that my son cannot become my latest obsession.

I try not to overthink my parenting. I failed at this (miserably) during his first year of life when (as this blog shows) I fretted and worried and obsessed over pretty much every aspect of motherhood. But I’m getting better.

I worry though. I worry about what will happen when school starts, when the big issues start to arise. I worry that I will worry too much, think too much about his life, try too hard and crush him under the weight of my love. I worry that Q. and I together will set standards impossible to meet, or that we will be seen to do so by our son, even if we think we are being fair and equitable and only expecting him to try his best. I worry that our house, with its two PhDs and its twelve overloaded bookshelves, will be suffocating.

I worry that E. will believe he is a disappointment if he does not wander down the same road filled with books and schooling that lured his parents.

Having a second child would not change any of this. I know that. But it would dilute the gaze.

It would make the Basilisks blink occasionally.

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Filed under Family, Lonely Onlies?, Money Matters, Second Thoughts, Siblings

Cultivating Stillness

So we are officially one week into the autumn semester here.

One week since Q. started teaching again.

One week since I did not, for the first time since we moved to this city seven years ago (except for the year I was still on leave after E. was born).

One week since I have, officially, become a SAHM.

And I am, not to put too fine a point on it, going absolutely fucking crazy.

Not with E. It’s got nothing to do with E. Right now we’re having a good time together. There are no tears at nursery school drop offs, because he knows I’m picking him up right after lunch. We potter around the neighbourhood.  We bake. We clean the house. We weed the garden. We spend part of every day building a couch train (where we take all the cushions off the couches and put them on the floor in a very particular order that is known ONLY to E. and tears ensue when I, or the stuffed animals helping us, invariably get it wrong). We read books (currently he is big into Amelia Bed.elia Goes Wild). We play alphabet Go Fish (and I regularly lose to his favourite stuffed animal, which is both amusing and somewhat humiliating at the same time). I successfully signed him up for swimming lessons (making sure to be logged in to my computer at the exact moment registration opened in order to grab our most-wanted spot), which will start at the end of the month.

It’s not E.

It’s me.

I am losing my mind because the future is stretching out in front of me, all nebulous and uncertain and I DON’T HAVE A PLAN.

I don’t do well without plans. (Understatement of the century, right there.)

I knew when I started the PhD I probably wouldn’t get a tenure-stream position. Being unable to move to take up a job elsewhere makes that highly unlikely, even before the job market tanked. By the time I was in the throes of writing up the dissertation, I knew I didn’t want a tenure-stream position, even if one existed. I didn’t have the drive for it. I wasn’t willing to work the hours it required. There was no room in our household for two career-stream academics if we were going to actually parent our son ourselves.

But I don’t think it ever occurred to me that I wouldn’t get contract teaching. Even if it was only one course at first, or just a few tutorials, I always assumed I would get my foot in the door. The pay wouldn’t be much, but my time would be flexible, I’d still be teaching, and I’d stay bound to the academic year. I could be at home with E. in the summers.

And then this academic year started, and I don’t have teaching, not one little bit, and my foot’s not in the door.

I’m supposed to be embracing this year at home.

I am supposed to be viewing it as “a golden opportunity to spend one more year with my son, who is probably going to be our one and only, before he goes off to kindergarten and his teachers see more of his life than we do” rather than “an indictment of failure because you just spent six years on a PhD and for what- if you’d just stuck with contract teaching you’d be entrenched in the courses by now and no one could get rid of you even though you wouldn’t be properly qualified”.

Oh yes, I haven’t actually FINISHED the PhD yet. I’m supposed to be doing revisions right now (more on that in another post).

So it is maybe premature to consider the PhD a waste of time when I haven’t even finished it yet.

We are a week into our new routine, and already I am catching myself trying to make up a new plan. At night, during E.’s quiet time, even when he is at nursery school and I should be working on the dissertation, I find myself surfing websites. My inner monologue goes something like this:

Ok, so we could transfer over your teaching qualifications from Australia. Then you could teach high school here. But there aren’t any jobs in teaching right now! Well, no, but you could send out your CV to some of the private schools- the ones that teach Latin and would like that you’ve coached rowing- and just see if they bite. But teaching high school in Australia stressed me out. It’s not family friendly- not during the year. I wouldn’t be able to do pick ups or drop offs for E. at school.

Ok, so what about university administration? There’s a job for a grant writer/editor at the big university downtown. They want a PhD in their minimum qualifications. You could be good at something like that. You could do well with something like that. You’re not actually qualified for that job, but if you get your foot in the door with a university, you can always move sideways into another position. Yes, but can I do an office job? Can I do nine to five? What if the job doesn’t come home with you? Wouldn’t that be a nice change? But what about the summers?

Ok, what about libraries? You love books. There are lots of interesting things to do in a library. Yes, but they want a degree in Library or Information Science. Great idea! More school! Let’s put off the decision making! Are you serious? Do you really think Q. would agreed to that? Yes, yes he would. If you said, “Hey Q., I know I just spent six years working on my PhD and I’ve been a student for nine of the twelve years we’ve been together, but I think what would really make me most happy would be to go back and do another two years getting another degree”, you know that Q. would agree. He wants most of all for you to be happy. He’s not the selfish one in this marriage. But that’s not fair to him. And it’s not making a decision, it’s just deferring it. You’d be hiding your fears in another degree program.

Right. So what about freelance writing/editing and working from home? You’re available for E. and you can do your own writing too. TOO SCARY. DON’T MENTION IT. WHAT IF I FAIL?

Well, LOOK. We need to come to some sort of decision here. This is your future and the future of your family we’re talking about. What do you want to do? PANIC STATIONS!

And round and round I go, over and over for hours and hours.

Today, I am saying only this:

Stop, Turia. Just stop.

I don’t NEED a plan right now.

I can’t make a plan right now.

I can’t even begin to try to imagine what the rest of my life will look like because a) I haven’t finished the PhD yet and I need to spend my time making sure my thesis is ready to defend when we finally settle on an examiner and a date, and b) we don’t yet know that E. will be an only. I’m 95% convinced that he will be, but I can’t make plans based on the assumption that we are really, truly, done with trying until we do the last FET.

So today I am telling myself to let go of the need for a plan. I am telling myself to cultivate stillness. I am telling myself to wait, wait at least until the new year, when the thesis will be done and the FET will have happened, before I make any decisions about the future.

And I am also telling myself to be gentle. I am reminding myself that I don’t have to figure it out all at once. What E. needs from me as his mother in the next couple of years as he starts full-time formal schooling is not necessarily what he will need from me when he is eight, or ten, or fifteen.

I am trying to train myself to imagine other possibilities. Q. and I were both raised by mothers who were at home with us for much of our childhood, who then went on to become teachers. Our mothers were always around in the summers. It is exceedingly difficult for me to imagine a life where that is not the case for E., a life where I work in an office and we have two weeks together in July or August. There would be good things in that life too. Maybe E. would get to go away to camp when he was older, something my sisters and I never did because our mother was always at home. Maybe E. wouldn’t spend hours marooned at school waiting for his mother to finish her work devoted to other people’s children so she could come and pick him up, like we did. Maybe E. would have a mother who could come to some of his assemblies and come on school trips and do all of the things during school hours that parents who are also teachers are never able to do.

My mother stayed at home until I was ten (the advantage of being the eldest). But when I was ten and she went back to work, she was only a year older than I am now. I don’t want to be a SAHM mum long-term. It wouldn’t be good for me mentally. I’m already struggling enormously with the idea of going without an income for the year, even though Q. makes a good wage and we will be ok. We won’t be putting much away for later, but we’ll be ok. But we’ll have to think about money a lot more than we have in the last few years, and we’ll have to be much more careful with it, and I’m realizing just how important it is to both of us and to our marriage that we don’t usually have to be super careful.

I’m really lucky, I know that. I am incredibly privileged that I can have this year at home with my son, that my husband fully supports me being at home, that he makes a good enough wage that we can manage with me at home without doing more than tightening our belts a little. I am (relatively) young still, and healthy, and I will have a PhD before the year is done, and I have the chance to choose, really choose, what I most want to do with my life.

Right now, though, I don’t feel lucky.

I feel adrift.

And trying to embrace the NOT KNOWING is proving to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Blink and you'll miss it, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Life after the PhD, Money Matters, PhD, Writing

Crossroads

This is my 500th post on this blog.

It seems appropriate to hit such a milestone at this point.

I turned thirty-five this summer.

My thirties thus far have been almost entirely devoted to achieving two things:

1. Motherhood

2. A PhD

The quest for both started in my late twenties- I was twenty-eight when I started at the clinic, twenty-nine when I started the PhD- but it’s safe to say that my thirties have been dominated by these two very different goals.

My blog has been there for almost every step of the ride. When I started it, in March 2008, I had just started at the clinic and I was in the second semester of my doctorate. I’ve turned to my blog in good times and (especially) in bad. I’ve documented wherever the roads to both became bumpy (and boy did they get bumpy at times).

Now I’m at a crossroads.

By the end of 2014, I should have the PhD in hand. I have a complete draft that has been revised. My supervisor and two of my three committee members like it (the third is being frustratingly slow to read it). I’ve had two and a half months free of it, and I think now I can stand to look at it again and start to make this final round of revisions before the defence. There have been many, many times along the way where I didn’t think it would happen, but I know now I will finish. And some days I even think it will all have been worth it.

I did become a mother, something for which I am grateful each and every day, even though that made attaining the PhD ever more difficult. And by the end of 2014 we will likely know whether our family is complete as it now stands, or whether we might yet welcome one more member.

Regardless of what happens with that final FET, the second half of my thirties is not going to have the same focal points as the first.

I will not be trying to expand my family.

I will (probably) not be in academia.

I don’t know what the next 500 posts will bring, but I believe that my blog will still be here, that I will still be writing in this space when I turn forty. I wonder if I will be as surprised by the next five years as I have been by the last five.

This year, the last before E. goes to school, my unexpected extra year at home, is my opportunity to put aside the stress and the panic and the constant deadlines of the PhD and to sit, really sit with myself and examine what I want out of my life, and what my family needs from me.

I have the chance now to find the new focus for my life.

I have the responsibility now to figure out just what I’m going to do now that there is no question that I have grown up.

It should be a bold new world.

I’m scared shitless.

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Filed under Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Family, Life after the PhD, Money Matters, My addled brain, PhD, Writing

Work Matters

It’s looking like our gamble didn’t pay off, at least not for this year.

I am looking at September, and I am, at this moment, unemployed.

I applied for contract teaching positions at four universities.

I didn’t get any of the positions.

Q. and I had a talk about it, while we were still in Oz, when it was becoming ever more obvious that there are just too many people out there with similar qualifications or with so much seniority that they are entrenched in a course even though they have no real qualifications in the subject (and I do). The irony is that I was a contract lecturer before I started the PhD, and if I had kept doing that, I myself would have been entrenched in those courses by this point, even though I would have been less qualified to teach them than I am now.

I told Q. that I wanted to stay home with E.

“This is our last year with him before he goes to school,” I said. “If he’s going to be it for us, I don’t want to have lost that year.”

Q. agreed.

So it looks like I am getting an unexpected year as a SAHM.

E. is going to continue to go to his nursery school, but probably for only three mornings a week rather than three full days. This will undoubtedly be better for him at this point, but we’re not sure how good it’s going to be as preparation for the following year, when our only option for JK is five full days. E. clearly is a child that would have done well with the old half-day program.

We are going to be stretched financially. We’re not going to be in danger of losing our house or anything, but we will have to prioritize differently, and we’re certainly not going to be putting a lot of money away.

But I know that I am lucky. I am lucky in that I have a husband who has a secure job and who makes a good wage, and I am lucky in that my husband wholeheartedly supports my desire to stay at home with E. for this year, while also at the same time understanding that, of course, I will want to do something else eventually. But I don’t have to figure out what that something else is RIGHT NOW.

We’ve never been without an income on my part. It’s fluctuated a lot over the last seven years, but it’s never come anywhere close to what Q. makes. My income was cut in half this past year after my scholarship ran out and I was back on the minimum guarantee. It paid for E’s nursery school with a bit left over to tuck away into our savings.

Losing that safety net is going to be hard for us. We’ve been so careful financially for so long, and we’ve worked so hard to save money, to pay off our mortgage faster, to build up investments, to pay for infertility treatments. We have no debt other than our mortgage. It will be a challenge for us to budget without our extra savings capacity, to feel comfortable with that smaller amount arriving every month, even if it is only for a year.

But Q. and I both believe it will be worth it if it means I can have that year with E.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at all worried about being at home with E. There was a comment made by a parent on Ask Moxie the other day responding to a post about preschool and daycare, where the mother said that she largely sent her children to preschool because she was a strong introvert and she needed the time to herself.

It was like a bomb went off in my head.

I’d somehow forgotten that, even though I’m E.’s Mummy, I’m still an introvert.

I can’t think of anything less well-suited to an introvert than to be a parent of a young child. There is no room for quiet and introspection and solitude when you are faced with such a constant well of need.

I love E. with all my heart, but I still often find being his mother exhausting.

Reading her comment made me feel better about all the times I get tired of E. I’m not actually tired of E. himself, I’m just tired of having someone else around me, asking me questions ALL THE TIME.

Most days I suspect I need his quiet time more than he does. Her comment made me understand (belatedly) why this is so.

My son is also an introvert. He is a delightful, highly sensitive child, who is happiest when he gets to stay at home, doing his own thing, with his mother.

And so, while I am a bit nervous about how I will cope with this uncharted territory (because I have never been free to ‘just’ be E’s mother- I have been working on the dissertation since before he was born), I know that E. will thrive.

I have promised myself that when E. is at nursery school, that time is my own.

I will not run errands.

I will not clean the house.

I would like to write, but I recognize that there will be some time after the dissertation is finished where I will not be able to do so. But maybe a bit later, after my brain starts to think about other things again, I can pick up the pieces of story in my head.

And at some point I will start to think about the long-term, and what we will do, what I will do, if this year was not just an anomaly, but an indication of what is to come.

There are huge advantages to being a contract lecturer when you are not the primary wage earner in your family.

It would keep Q. and I in academia together. Our years would follow a similar pattern. We would be free for holidays at the same time.

I could refuse to teach in the summer semester and be home with E. in the summers once he’s in school, which is something I’ve always wanted to do.

I could have relatively flexible hours and be around for most school pick ups and drop offs (and the ones I couldn’t make, Q. would be able to organize his schedule to make himself available).

I have known for a number of years now that I don’t want a tenure-stream position, even if one were to come available (which will happen when pigs fly, given how bad the job market is). I just don’t think there’s room for two in one family if there are children involved. A tenure-stream position demands too much of you. I’ve seen how hard Q. works. We can’t both work that hard without abdicating most of the day-to-day responsibilities of raising our son.

I’m just not willing to do that.

But contract work would have been a good alternative.

I may have to start thinking about other options, but I’m not ready to do that yet. I’ve been in school, as a student or a teacher or both, for almost my entire life. I am suited to it. It nourishes me. Contemplating a life built on other rhythms seems impossibly alien right now.

In an ideal world, I would find a job I wouldn’t hate going to in the morning, that allowed me to be there when my son got home from school most of the time, that would let me spend the summers with him.

Contract teaching would have worked, but that door might not open for me.

I’m not sure what else is out there that might fit the bill.

If I were really, really brave, I would say outright that I know exactly what I want to do: I want to write. But I have not earned the right to say this. I haven’t tried, not really, not properly, to write, to see if I could succeed at it. And it’s not fair to Q. to saddle him with the financial responsibilities of the family (which would cause him enormous stress), and it is not fair to myself to cut myself off from some sort of position that would grant me financial independence and stability if anything were to happen to my marriage. (I do not think that anything would happen to my marriage, but I am a child of divorce and I know what happens to many women who head single-parent families.)

There’s time enough to figure out what I might do.

This coming year belongs to my son, my miracle baby.

I am going to spend my days with him, and I am going to count myself lucky.

Because now I know how close we came to not having anyone else in our house at all.

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Filed under (Pre)School Days, E.- the fourth year, Money Matters, PhD, Writing

What I would write about (if I only had the time)

I have six BILLION things I want to write about.

Some are good things, like how I found out yesterday I’m going to get paid this summer, about as much per month as I was being paid this academic year, which is beyond exciting as I spent most of this academic year believing I had no right to any funding at all for the summer. So the new roof looks less stressful, and our cottage vacation seems less frivolous, and I guess we’ll have the money for the FET when we decide it makes sense to do that.

Some are bad things, like how I was involved last week in a deeply distressing e-mail exchange where I was bullied by a big-shot professor in the U.S. to the point that I seriously considered pulling the paper I’m giving at a conference in a few weeks just so I wouldn’t have to deal with her any further.

Some are things I don’t have any answers to, but just wish I had the time to write about, like how we had this wonderful dinner out the other week and we were walking home, with E. holding both our hands and swinging between us, and I had this moment of realizing, really realizing, that if this is our life, we will be ok. And how I can think that one second and then struggle to breathe the next when I understand that, deep down, I don’t believe we’re going to be able to add to our family again, and I am not ok, so very much not ok with that reality.

Some are things that make me frustrated, like how I am STILL sick, more than three weeks after it started, and how I just can’t quite seem to shake it, and how I am so tired of being tired, and I still have all this work to do, and Q. is so stressed as well, and it’s just overwhelming if I look at it all at once. And how my face is a disaster zone (again) and I have no idea why, but the birth control pills, which I thought were helping, don’t seem to be anymore.

Some are funny things, like how E. is into the “Why?” questions in a big way, and how he talks non-stop in these hugely complicated sentences with four or five clauses, and how people now smile and laugh and give me knowing looks on streetcars as they, too, listen to E.’s constant questions. At dinner the other night we had this lengthy conversation where E. explained that he was keeping his poo across the street, in a poo tree in the neighbour’s yard, and how the fire trucks on his pyjamas were poo fire trucks, so they would come and get the poo and deliver it, but before that would happen the front-end loaders had to come and FLING the poo out from the tree, and it went on and on and on with Q. and I just grinning at each other. And the next day E. decided he was a giant python, so we’ve had several days of “Can you carry me up the stairs, Mummy? Because I’m a giant python and I don’t have any legs” and “When I see something I want to eat, I’m going to give it a big hug and such a big squeeze and then I’m going to eat it all up” and “Do you think the other kids at nursery school will be surprised to see that I’m a python? Maybe they are afraid of snakes. You could warn them so they wouldn’t be scared.”

Some are things that keep me up at night, like the fact that E.’s nursery school teacher thinks he had an anxiety/panic attack during circle time a week and a half ago. I have known for a while now that E. is very sensitive, and feels things very acutely, and has a very strong imagination, and tends to worry about anything and everything, but I am now starting to suspect that he is struggling with anxiety, real anxiety, not just normal toddler fears. This breaks my heart. I am working on not blaming myself.

But I have no time to write anything meaningful. So instead, I will leave you with this, the printed version of which I gave to my supervisor yesterday.

IMGP8092

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), E.- the third year, Money Matters, PhD, Second Thoughts, The Sick

Priorities

I did our taxes last week.

It was quite a good result in the end.

I knew we were going to get money back, but we are going to get back quite a lot more than I was expecting/hoping for.

Here’s the thing: it took me four days to realize I hadn’t once looked at that final refund tally and thought, “That’s a really big chunk of a full IVF cycle.”

I didn’t even look at it and think, “Well, we’ll have the money for that FET no matter what happens with my teaching in the fall.”

When I first reached the end of the program, and saw the total, what I mainly thought was this:

I want to get a cottage.

And then I thought about how Q. wants to take down our old shed and replace it this summer, and how we are redoing the roof in the spring, and how this tax refund just gives us that little bit more breathing space while my income for next year is so up in the air. And I told myself not to be frivolous.

Q. had the same thought I did.

So we’re going to be frivolous with some of it, we who are never frivolous with our money. We’re going to rent a cottage for a week in late August.

It isn’t fancy, but it has a screened in porch and a canoe and it looks out over a lake and there is deep, clear water off the dock and a shallow entry into the water from the shore with a patch of sandy beach where E. will be able to potter around with his buckets and his shovels (and, let’s face it, his trucks).

We’re going to have a family holiday, just us three.

I’m tired of mortgaging our present for a potential future that I can hardly bring myself to believe might yet come to be.

I want to build memories with E.

Most of all, I need a distraction.

On the other path, the future that I thought was going to happen but isn’t now, I wouldn’t have been able to travel in the week we’ve rented the cottage.

I would have been as big as a house.

I would have been seeing my midwives every week.

Instead, I will swim and canoe and read and stargaze and build sand castles with my son.

And maybe, just maybe, be happy.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Family, Grief, Loss, Money Matters, Second Thoughts, What were we thinking? (aka travelling with small children)

A room of his own

Yesterday I finally had to admit to myself something that I’ve been suspecting for a week or so now.

I’m displacing all of the anxiety I’m feeling about the loss of the baby onto my plans for E’s new room.

I have been, you see, obsessed with E’s new room. Obsessed to the point that I am spending WAY too much time on the internet looking at rugs and curtains and duvet covers and worrying whether something is too grey or too red or too plain or too busy.

Obsessed to the point that I am also rapidly becoming paralyzed by my obsession, incapable of actually making a decision, of committing to something, because it might turn out to be the WRONG decision and I won’t love it.

I want to love it.

I want to love every single thing about this room.

It’s as though if I can manage to make this room perfect and exactly what I’ve imagined and exactly what I know E. will love and will suit him now and will grow with him later, that will somehow help to gloss over the fact that the other room, the nursery, will be a study again, when we thought it was going to be occupied with something so much more important than books.

Yesterday I found what I thought would be the perfect duvet cover, and I loved it immediately, and I was SO happy. And then I realized it was a comforter and not a duvet cover and that the pattern didn’t come in a duvet cover at all. And I cried. I was that upset. Over a stupid non-duvet cover.

I feel this overpowering need to do something special for the child that I do have.

We never did much with the nursery. Q. painted it, and I put a lot of time and effort into choosing the crib (because I wanted solid wood) and the mattress (because I didn’t want one filled with off gassing nastiness). But all the rest of the furniture was mismatched hand-me-downs, and we just put some random things on the wall, and called it finished.

E’s new room is different. It’s not going to have a theme or anything- I’m not really a theme sort of person- but it matters to me that I spend some time on it. The nursery was always going to be temporary. This is a room he will be in for a long time- possibly until he moves out if we never have another child, as if we don’t we’ll have absolutely no reason to rationalize leaving our current house.

Plus, I know who he is now. I want his room to reflect that. So I have found a double decker bus wall decal and a red letter pillow.  The walls will be grey.  His duvet cover will be red.  There will be a reading chair and (hopefully) horizontal bookshelves.

His room should matter.

But it shouldn’t matter as much as it does right now.

Q., in his usual perceptive way, has said to me, “E. is a toddler. As long as there is some red in there he’ll be happy.” and “E. is a toddler. Don’t get anything too nice because he’ll just wreck it.”

He’s ceded control of the room over to me entirely. He is happy not to have one more thing to think about. I am happy to be able to control its design, because I cannot control so many other things in my life, and you know, you KNOW beloved readers, how badly I cope with this. Life lesson that Turia just will not learn.

The worst part is I keep having conversations with myself along the lines of, “Well, you shouldn’t spend x on y because we’ll be doing the last FET in the summer and we need to keep money set aside for that.”

And then I get angry. Angry that my living son won’t have something that I know would be perfect for him because I’m still thinking about the child-that-might-never-come-to-be. E. won’t think he’s being neglected. But I feel like he is, like he’s being sacrificed, again, for the sake of this elusive dream.

It would be easier, too, if I knew what would be happening next year. If I knew I’d have an income, I’d feel more comfortable splurging a little bit more now, even if I still wouldn’t be able to rationalize a custom duvet cover AND custom curtains from Etsy AND a rug from Pottery Barn. (You have no idea how much I am coveting this rug.)

I’m not quite sure how to let it go.

The other outlet for my anxiety has been organizing the house. I’ve been seized by an overwhelming need to clean and organize the entire house from top to bottom. Two weekends ago I sorted through my clothes and purged all the ones I don’t wear anymore, and yesterday E. and I pulled everything out of our (very large) linen closet and we set aside a ton of things we don’t use to bring to the Goodwill. There’s still a lot to do: the two big storage closets in our basement (one of which is basically full of outgrown baby clothes, and baby toys, and baby books, and baby things, all of which I thought we were going to be using in September), the cabinets in our basement, and, especially, my study, since I’ll be moving to a much smaller room. I’m planning on chipping away at it over the next few months and hopefully by the time we can paint E.’s new room and set it up (after semester finishes in April), most of the house will be under control.

It gives me something to do.

It keeps my mind off of things.

But it’s a poor consolation prize.

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Filed under 2.0 Pregnancy, Anxiety Overload, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), E.- the third year, Grief, Loss, Money Matters, My addled brain, Second Thoughts

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

Future Imperfect

I am burying it, as deep as it can go.

I am shying away from conversations with people who know, because I don’t want them to ask how I am doing. I don’t want to be reminded of what has happened.

It’s when I’m reminded that I start to cry again.

The only place I’ll allow myself to engage with what happened is here.

Here I feel safe.

Here I can work through my emotions without interruption, in my own time, when I am ready.

I know I should probably be trying to process what has happened. I know it is not healthy to bottle things up inside.

My jaw is already sore because I’ve started unconsciously clenching it again.

I am so quick to anger these days.

I have so little patience for E., my most beloved son, when he gets silly or defiant and pushes my buttons.

I should be letting myself grieve, letting myself cry, letting myself do what I need to accept it, and, in time, heal.

I’m not ready.

The problem is it’s not just about this baby.

If it were just about this baby, this loss, I could stand to think about it, to confront it rather than hide it down deep, as far as it can go.

I’m not ready to engage with what I’m afraid this loss means.

A friend who had a miscarriage before she had her second son sent me an email where she told me that she knew how awful it was to have to replan a year when you hadn’t wanted to change the plan at all.

I feel like I’m not just having to replan the next year, but replan my whole life.

I’m so afraid that this loss marks the end of any chance we had at becoming a family of four.

I know, I know- we have one frozen embryo- a blast- waiting for us at the clinic.

I don’t know what grade the embryo is, and it probably seems premature to discount it.

FETs don’t work for me though.

Fresh transfers?

Three out of four blasts implanted (the two Day 3 embryos we transferred with that very first IUI/IVF conversion cycle in May 2009 I’m discounting because my thyroid was too high. They never had a chance.), although, of course, only one of them ever turned into a baby.

FETs?

Zero for six.

And two of them, in two separate transfers, were exactly like this frozen embryo: a blastocyst that hadn’t quite made it to blast status by the time of the transfer, and was frozen on Day 6.

Late bloomers.

Late bloomers that did nothing in my womb.

I can’t see how this one is going to be any different.

And so, while it’s true that this loss does not, in itself, mark the END of our attempts to expand our family, I am so very afraid it marks the end of our hopes that we might succeed.

We’ll transfer that last embryo.

Of course we will. We won’t leave it alone in the dark.

Probably in the summer. We’ve reverted to our original plan to go and visit Q.’s family in the middle of the year, so we won’t start anything at the clinic until after we’ve returned.

But after that? When it fails? (I can’t even bring myself to write ‘If’ because of course it will fail. FETs fail with me. It’s what they do.)

I don’t want to look at what comes next.

By the time we are through with that final FET, we will have spent as much of our own money (or possibly even a bit more- I’ve lost count) on failed efforts to bring home a 2.0 as we did trying to bring home our first baby.

In December, Q. and I agreed that this would be our LAST.RETRIEVAL.EVER.

When we found out that only one embryo was frozen, and we’d had another terrible attrition rate (70%), I freaked out.

All I could think about was: one more chance.

Everyone told me to let go of the anxiety about the future, to concentrate on the current cycle.

I did.

Yet here we are again.

One more chance.

And not even one I believe in.

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Filed under 2.0 IVF, 2.0 Pregnancy, Anxiety Overload, Grief, Loss, Money Matters, Second Thoughts, Thyroid

2.0 IVF- Relief

The clinic called this morning at 8:45 a.m. as I walking E. to nursery school. It had been a stressful start to the morning. I woke up too early and couldn’t get back to sleep because I was so nervous, and E. woke up on the wrong side of the bed, so hangry he couldn’t even calm down enough to eat anything, and telling anyone who would listen that he was “planning to have a horrible day” at nursery school.

The nurse on the other end of the phone was calm, reassuring. They always sound so calm, no matter what the news is they’re delivering.

“I’m just calling because your doctor has already looked over your chart,” she said. “He’s looked at the report from the embryologist and has decided to go with a five day transfer.  We’ll call you tomorrow to confirm the time for Friday, but it will probably be noon.”

Thank FUCK.

I was so relieved I cried as soon as I had hung up the phone.

One more box checked.
One more hurdle cleared.
One step closer.

What was tormenting me, in the wee hours last night when I couldn’t sleep for fretting, was the realization that if we’d had to do a day three transfer I wasn’t going to get what I most desperately needed from this cycle.

Not a baby. A baby still strikes me as this amorphous wisp of a dream, that can’t even be given voice lest it vanish on the wind.

No, I’m talking about closure.

When our second FET failed and we made the decision to do one more fresh IVF cycle, a significant part of our reasoning was that if it failed we wanted to be able to say that we had done everything we could to make E. a big brother.  We wanted to give 2.0 his/her own chance, not just rely on the embryos that were left from E’s own cycle.

I realized last night that if our doctor had told us we had to go to a day three transfer, and it didn’t work, and anything that was frozen also didn’t work, I’d never get that closure.

E. was the product of a blastocyst transfer.

If we’d never got to blastocysts again, I would have always wondered what could have been. I would have remained unsatisfied with this cycle. I would have always believed something could have been different.

I would have come right up against the fact that money had become the deciding factor. If we’d done a three day transfer, and everything had come back negative, if we’d had insurance coverage for procedures, I’m sure we could have rationalized trying one more cycle in the summer. But paying out of pocket? Not a chance. We’ve blown through all the money we saved all last year for our shot at a 2.0, and then some. Fronting up for another fresh cycle would have been out of the question.

Now we’re one step closer to lining up all the variables to make sure that, no matter what the eventual result is, we can walk away from this cycle confident that we gave it our very best shot.

The next step?

Achieving an attrition rate better than the 77% nonsense that happened with E’s cycle where 17 day three embryos produced only four blasts.

If I could wish and make it so, I’d ask for four. Two to transfer. Two to freeze. Just like with E.’s cycle. Enough for a couple more second chances.

And now, we wait. Again.

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Filed under (Pre)School Days, 2.0 IVF, A matter of faith, Anxiety Overload, E.- the third year, Money Matters, Second Thoughts