The Financial Cost of Infertility

My mother is going to be buying a new house in the near(ish) future, and for a number of reasons both labmonkey and I are going to be helping her buy it.

Working out our maximum budget has been a painful exercise. It’s been very hard to look at the properties online and see what would become affordable if we only had an extra $50k. The various “nice-to-haves” that my mother has mentioned would immediately become “easy-to-haves”.

It is hard not to dwell on what might have been. IF the septic system of the old house hadn’t been about to fail (a most unwelcome discovery from the house inspection). IF my stepfather had carried enough life insurance. IF financial mismanagement hadn’t proved to be the underlying theme of their retirement.

IF we only had a little bit more available to invest.

The inevitable effect of this has been a reassessment of our own financial situation.

Q. and I are debt-averse. We spend a lot of money on groceries because eating good food is important to us, and we spend a lot of money every couple of years visiting Q.’s family, but we live within our means and I wouldn’t describe us as careless.

By my best reckoning, we spent upwards of $30,000 of our own money at our fertility clinic. A little bit more than half trying to bring home E. and the rest on our failed efforts to give him a sibling (P. being our joyful and free surprise).

I want to preface what I’m going to write next with an acknowledgment of our privilege.

Q. and I were very lucky.

Q.’s benefits covered all of our medications (which cost easily the same again).

We didn’t have to go into debt to pay for treatments.

We didn’t have to remortgage our house.

We had to make sacrifices, yes, and choices, certainly, but we were able to afford what we needed to do.

On the surface, we navigated our way through those stormy years without any real sign of financial strain, and we certainly weren’t cast into financial hardship because of IVF.

Still.

I read a lot of financial blogs (I often think I should have been a financial planner if I hadn’t been an academic) and one of the things financial blogs, especially ones who champion frugality, spend a lot of time writing about is the power of compound interest.

It’s the latte factor argument: If you spend $ a day on lattes (or shoes or lunches out), five days a week, forty weeks a year, that equals $$$$ per year. If you cut out that expense and instead invested that money every year in a low-fee index fund then thirty years later you would have $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The argument is always about priorities. Does the chicken burrito bowl (my personal weakness) bring you enough joy to be worth its price tag? What are you giving up in return?

A part of me can’t help crunching our own numbers.

$30,000 is a not insignificant amount of money. It left our bank account in various amounts over a number of years, but the end result is the same as if we’d been spending it every day on coffee.

The power of compound interest reminds me that it wasn’t just $30,000 either.

It was $30,000 plus all the gains it made on the stock exchange.

Or it was $30,000 plus all the interest it saved us on our mortgage.

The financial argument breaks down, of course, when you look at the result of what that money was spent on.

My children are not a latte factor.

They’re worth it.

Of course they are worth it.

But we had to spend money where most couples don’t in order to be able to build our family.

And we will never recover the lost opportunity costs of the money we spent to bring them home.

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Filed under Money Matters, Soapbox

Strength in Numbers?

A few weeks ago, after I’d taken the quiz to find out my BASE in terms of my writing (the link to the quiz is in my other post and I’ll wait while you go and take it because it’s really neat), I sent an email out to two of my female colleagues/almost friends to ask if they wanted to join a writing accountability group.

I sent the email partly because I was experimenting with improving my social skills for my writing, but also because I’d come to realize in the first month of my postdoc that I needed to be accountable to someone other than myself if I was going to make any progress on my book.

I was a model of productivity for my postdoc…right up until the point where I largely finished the first draft of the chapter I’ve been writing for the edited volume and needed to turn my attention to my book revisions.

And then I stalled.

I tinkered.

I read books related to both projects.

I decided to try to post 30 times in 30 days on this blog, which counted as writing time, but not the writing that would help get the book revisions finished.

I did not want to get started on the book revisions, the revisions I’ve needed to do since August 2015.

And it was too easy to refuse to start them (again) because if I didn’t start them, the only person I was letting down was myself.

If I didn’t write the chapter for the edited volume, I was hurting my co-contributors, but I was also hurting my co-editors, one of whom is Q.

I’m not going to disappoint Q. if he’s counting on my work for his own project.

Plus, the first draft of something is what I like to write the best, so it was easy to sit down at the keyboard and let all the ideas that had been burbling around inside of me come flowing out.

I already did that with my book. The result was my PhD dissertation.

I hate editing my work. HATE. IT.

And I hate being rejected by people. HATE. IT.

So it’s been unbelievably easy for me to just not do the revisions because they combine two of my least favourite things.

If I don’t take the risk to put myself out there, I don’t have to face the consequences of being rejected.

Somewhere in late October I realized that this situation was never going to change if I didn’t change the circumstances under which I was operating, because although I occasionally lay awake at night wondering if the editor at Esteemed University Press ever wondered where my book was (answer: no, because said editor has many other books to deal with and many, many other academics who haven’t done their revisions either), and I knew I would disappoint my supervisor (and, let’s face it, Q.) if I never published the book, ultimately it just wasn’t a strong enough motivating factor.

I’d hit the point with that research where I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I was convinced that everything I had to say was bleedingly obvious and that any attempt on my part to publish said research would expose me for the fraud I am (see earlier post on imposter syndrome). The idea that if I published the book people might read and disagree with the book (or, worse, think the book was pointless) was paralyzing.

So I emailed two other women whom I knew were in the same boat (actual sentence from our meeting: “I invited both of you to join because we all have the same albatross around our neck.”).

Last Friday we had our first meeting.

We talked a bit about why we were there. One of us has trouble writing but loves to edit. One of us has no trouble writing but hates to edit (that’s me). And one of us has trouble with both.

We talked about the emotional, physical, and psychological toll NOT HAVING A BOOK in a monograph-centric field has taken.

We talked about how our colleagues would never take us seriously (even the one of us who is tenured) without a book.

We talked about how much we hated our research, how fear and shame were the only forces that drove us forward, how we were paralyzed by our own self-doubt.

“This is a very surreal experience,” one of them said after I’d spent several minutes explaining how I felt like I had to finish the book even though I didn’t want to finish the book because I didn’t want the people who knew me to stand around talking about me in five years saying how it was such a shame I’d never produced a book. “It’s like I’m hearing my own voice come out of someone else’s mouth.”

We’re going to try to help each other get through this and get our books done.

We set short-term goals for our next meeting (late December) and medium-term goals for where we wanted to be by the end of July 2018.

If we don’t do what we’ve said we’re going to do, we have to turn up to the next meeting and tell the others why we didn’t.

Shame and fear, yes.

But support and camaraderie too.

It might just work.

 

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, Books, Life after the PhD, Writing

Microblog Mondays: Care Less

I am giving a seminar paper this week at my new department. I (foolishly) volunteered to give a paper earlier in the fall, back when I felt guilty about spending so little time there as their new postdoc.

At the time it seemed like a great idea, although it’s felt like a progressively less great idea the more time I’ve spent writing the paper; it felt like a downright terrible idea this morning when I managed to crash Word while trying to figure out how to insert accents: I not only failed to learn how to type the accents I needed but I also lost two good paragraphs (which could not be retrieved even after much Googling of where the Autosave document ought to have been).

I was happily writing my paper last Friday when a horrifying thought occurred to me: I don’t know most of the people in this new department. At my home university I’m a known entity; I give good papers which emerge from good ideas. At the new place my supervisor knows I’m a decent scholar, but I’m a stranger to pretty much everyone else, including the Chair.

For a moment I found myself paralyzed by the thought that I might make an ass out of myself. It was imposter syndrome (something which I have struggled with for my entire academic career: see here, here, oh and here too) rearing its ugly head. I allowed the usual thought process – I might say the wrong thing! They might ask me about my translations! I’ll be exposed as a fraud who knows nothing! I’ll embarrass my home department, my supervisor, and Q.! – to wash over me.

And then I quashed the negative thoughts.

I am giving a paper about a project I’ve been working on for several months (and have been thinking about for a couple of years).

I will know more about my subject than anyone else in the room.

I will be fine.

And (and this was the most freeing thought of all, largely because I’ve never managed to think it and believe it before) even if I make an ass of myself and they think I’m an idiot, I don’t really care. My future in the profession (if there is a future for me in academia) does not depend on their good opinions of my work.

It was amazing how much better I felt after that.

Are you plagued by imposter syndrome too? What do you do to counteract it?

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Life after the PhD, Microblog Mondays

Habits

I’m not sure how NaBloPoMo is going to go in the last week. I’m three posts behind at the moment, I have a seminar paper to give on the 30th, and my mother really wants me to come look at potential condos with her on the 29th since I’m her unofficial real estate consultant. I can make the time to write, but, as I’ve discovered over the last couple of weeks, doing so almost inevitably eats into the time I have for academic writing. It’s been hard to find a balance, and I don’t want to post something just because I have to- I’d like my posts to be thoughtful, to have a point, something for the reader to take away with them.

Here is an incomplete list of what is on my desk right now:

  • a recycling bag with old artwork of E’s that I had been hiding in the winter clothes bin until it was safe to put them in the recycling- I had to get them out when I dug out the winter clothes and I haven’t had a chance to take the bag out to the bin with me. If I put them in the recycling bin in the house he’ll find them again.
  • a bag from a Banana Republic Outlet store with a work shirt I bought at the start of November
  • a collection of completed schoolwork E. brought home last week that I’ve looked at but haven’t yet had time to decide whether any of it should be kept
  • a pair of waterproof mittens and a pair of waterproof gloves that I bought E. but have turned out to be ever so slightly too big- they need to go into his storage bin for next year
  • one pair of pjs that E. really has outgrown
  • three white shirts that need to go into P’s 2T bin (the rest of the newest round of hand-me-downs are in a box upstairs after being washed last night)
  • two onesies and a pair of pants that P. really has outgrown
  • the vocabulary quiz my students wrote on Tuesday
  • my teaching prep for the last two weeks
  • the textbook for my course
  • my good camera
  • my iPad and its keyboard
  • a hydro bill
  • two credit card bills
  • two packages with Christmas presents for the kids
  • three separate piles of receipts
  • E.’s report card
  • a library book I’ve read but I don’t want to return yet because I haven’t had time to type out the quotes I want to keep from it
  • a toy house my mother made for E. when he was two- I got it out for P. two weeks ago but she’s not quite ready for it yet
  • two felt flowers P. pulled off of the house that I have to glue back on before I put it away

I have said on here before that one of the biggest challenges I have found in going from one child to two is the lack of time to keep on top of what I call “life admin”.

So my desk has become a dumping ground, and every couple of weeks I freak out when I look at it and take an hour when I should be actually working to clear it off. It remains blissfully clear for the rest of that day and then, inevitably, things start to pile up again. (I don’t work at my desk, but I find it difficult to concentrate on work if I know it’s messy, even if I’m working outside the house.)

I don’t have a good habit for managing the stuff that ends up on my desk.

I don’t have a good habit for flossing my teeth anymore. I used to floss in the morning but my mornings are so rushed with getting the kids ready that I can make time to brush my teeth but taking the extra minute I need to floss seems indulgent.

I don’t have a good habit for cleaning the litter box. We have two and only one cat now, so if I miss a day occasionally it’s not a major issue, but I have been missing much more than the occasional day of late because I can’t figure out when to do it. I’m either rushing in the morning to get E. to school, wrangling both (tired and crabby and needing connecting time with me) kids by myself after school, or I’ve got the kids in bed and by the time I go down into the basement it’s so I can brush my teeth before I can go to bed and I’m so tired the idea of one more thing seems overwhelming.

What has become clear to me over the last couple of months is I won’t get anything done well if it’s not a habit. My brain feels like it’s running at its maximum capacity all the time. I can make to-do lists and plan my calendar and keep my agenda up to date, but I only ever stay on top of the things that have to be done in that immediate moment. I never forget to pay a bill. I (usually) get my library books back on time. I remember the permission slips. My kids have seasonally appropriate clothing at all times.

It’s the little things that need to be done on a regular basis that seem to be always slipping through the cracks.

Do you also struggle with this? Any tips or suggestions for me?

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Filed under Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Daily Life

Road Trip

We drove back yesterday from visiting both parental households. Q. and I spent most of the drive discussing the current state of my parents (mother very stressed but long-term prospects are still good; father’s situation provokes rage and despair in equal measure). There was a lot of ranting (not all of it from me) and some serious talks about what to do next, all buried under loud music for the sake of the little pitcher with huge ears in the back.

Meanwhile, it the backseat, the drive looked a lot like this:

Five scenes from a six hour drive

Scene 1. Turia is driving. P. is asleep. E. is telling a story to himself.
E.: *unintelligible* “Don’t worry, I borrowed it from the solar system! The Earth said it would be all right.”
*muttering*
*sound effects of crashing and explosions*
E.: “And all the planets were consumed!”

Scene 2. Turia is driving. We are thirty minutes away from stopping for dinner.
P. *shrieks of laughter*
E.: “Pick up the monkey and throw it back to me, P.!”
*flurry of motion in the rear-view mirror*
E. & P. *shrieks of laughter*
Repeat scene with everything within reach in the backseat

Scene 3. Q. is driving. We are trying to get back on the highway after having to take a detour to avoid an accident right before our on-ramp.
P.: “P. Door. Car.”
E.: “How far away from home are we?”
P.: “P. Door. Car. Out.”
Turia: “One hour and forty-three minutes, according to Google, once we get back on the highway.”
P.: “Mummy, Mummy, Mummy!”
E.: “I meant, how many kilometres?”
P.: “P. DOOR. CAR. OUT!!!”
Turia: “One hundred and sixty-eight.”
P.: “Mummy, Mummy, MUMMY!!”
E.: “Oh, ok. I will not start to look for the [very well-known building] yet.”
P.: “P!!! DOOR!!! CAR!!! OUT!!! MUMMY, MUMMY, MUMMY!!!”

Scene 4. We are listening to Sharon, Lois, and Bram’s Greatest Hits. Q. is driving. “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” is playing.
E.: “You know, I think there are other versions of this song where they are eating things other than chicken and dumplings.”
*song ends*
P.: *very quietly* “Choo-choo.”

Scene 5. P. is asleep again. Q. is driving.
E.: “I still feel sad when I think about P. [our cat who died in April of 2016] just like I still feel sad when I think about Grandpa I. [my stepfather, who died in August 2016].”
Turia: “It’s ok to feel sad, E. You feel sad because you loved them and you miss them. I still feel sad when I think about them too.”
E.: “Remember after Grandpa I.’s funeral and I said that maybe at night he would get out of the cemetery and go geocaching? Maybe our cat gets up at night too.”
Turia: “Do you think she’s the one who makes our floorboards creak when L. [our other cat] is asleep on our bed?”
E.: “Yes!”
Turia: “Is she a little cat ghost?”
E.: “No! She is a cat zombie! She gets down off the shelf in her box and goes all around the house.”
*long pause*
Turia: *very quietly, to Q.*¬† “We really need to make time to bury her and get the box off of our bookshelf.”
E.: “Brrrrraaaaiiinnnnssss!”

Happy chaos.

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Filed under Blink and you'll miss it, Choose Happiness, E.- the seventh year, P.- the second year, What were we thinking? (aka travelling with small children)

Microblog Mondays: My Field’s Harvey Weinstein?

TW: Sexual assault and child abuse mentioned.

Last week I was wasting time on a jobs wiki  when I stumbled across a couple of links to articles about a sexual harassment lawsuit that had been filed by a graduate student against an EXTREMELY PROMINENT academic in my field. The lawsuit alleged not only that said famous professor had harassed her repeatedly for years, but also that the university had turned a blind eye to his behaviour, even when she had complained.

Quite recently, about a month after the original articles were published, another one came out indicating that the famous professor has stood done from all teaching, advising, and other student-related activities. The anonymous comments on the job wiki have made it clear that this professor’s reputation for sexually harassing women was well known, even outside his own university.

Assuming the allegations prove to be true, and if it was also true that “everyone knew and nobody said anything”, it sparks a number of interesting moral issues. Were you complicit if you sent high-flying female graduate students to work with this individual, knowing his history? Were you complicit if you sent high-flying male graduate students to work with this individual but warned off your female students, knowing that your male students would then reap the benefits of being associated with such an academic superstar (including very high placement rates in tenure-track positions)? Were you complicit if you knew his history and still invited this individual to your campus to give a lecture, or asked him to write a chapter for an edited volume, or to review a manuscript, or any of the myriad duties that fall on established academics when it’s “business as usual”?

Are we complicit if, going forward, the allegations are proven and we still cite this individual’s articles and books in our own research?

While reading up on this I also discovered that last year another professor in our field pleaded guilty to trading child pornography over the internet. Q. has a very famous and influential article by this individual on the syllabus for one of his courses. It seems a no-brainer to strike that off, but (as my rabbit hole of Googling quickly proved) this is a thorny issue and one that a lot of academics are now wrestling with.

Can you separate the scholarship from the scholar?

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Microblog Mondays, Soapbox

Dormant

Dear bulbs,

Thanks for joining our garden. I’m sorry it was so late in the year before you were planted, but luckily we’re pretty far south for such a northern country; winter hasn’t really arrived yet.

You might be wondering what kind of a life you can expect here. Perhaps you noticed the relatively haphazard way in which you were planted- at high speed, not evenly spaced, and at inconsistent depths. No one was thoroughly watered, like all the packages recommend, but it’s supposed to rain soon, so that should help. Those of you who are most likely to be eaten by squirrels over the winter (tulips- I’m looking at you) did receive a dusting of cayenne pepper before the soil was swept back over, but otherwise you’ve largely been left to fend for yourself.

The good news is you’re in good company. I planted around 250 of you this year, and I’m certain I’ve planted close to 1,500 bulbs over the last seven autumns. You probably noticed some of your older and more experienced neighbours when I accidentally dug them up while trying to find space to plant you.

That happens a lot. Every spring I tell myself I’m going to mark the areas in the garden where there aren’t enough bulbs to make things easier in the autumn, and every spring I’m too busy keeping one step ahead of the weeds to do so. Some of you had a taste of what that feels like when I accidentally dug you up the same day I planted you because I’d forgotten where I’d been digging.

I have a lot of sympathy for squirrels who can’t find their acorns.

Not all of you will grow, of course. Some of you I’ll have planted too deep, and others I’ll have planted too shallow, and some of you will be eaten by squirrels or dug up by squirrels and abandoned on the surface. Some of you will bloom next year but then never again. You at least have the advantage that I’ve learned not to cut off your leaves until they’ve died back, so you’ll be able to store up all your energy for the following year. I got a little snip-happy one day this spring, so it might not be as colourful next year as you would expect given the number of bulbs in the garden.

Some of you will get to meet my kid. He spends a lot of time keeping me company in the garden. When he was younger he used to like helping me plant bulbs. I’d dig the hole and he’d drop the bulb in, telling each one, “Night, night, bulb. See you in the spring.” These days he doesn’t plant or weed much but he loves digging for nature. The rule is he can’t dig for nature where there’s an established plant, so he digs in the empty spots which also happen to be where you hang out. He’s very good about putting you back in the ground when he fills in the hole, but he doesn’t always pay attention to which end should point up.

Lest you think the life of a bulb in the garden is unfairly difficult, I hasten to point out that, in my garden, the general attitude towards plants is one of benign neglect. I water perennials the first year they’re put into the soil, but after that they have to rely on rainfall and the occasional full-garden sprinkler. We mulch semi-regularly and I do weed, although you’re likely to have died back by the time I really get started on my annual battle against the bindweed that’s hiding almost everywhere. I’m pleased to say that I’m finally winning the war there.

I make the same mistakes with my perennials that I do with my bulbs. I forget that I’ve planted them and pull them out in the spring, thinking that they’re weeds (icelandic poppy and red coneflower, I am truly sorry). I let other plants overgrow them and block out their light (lupins, if you’re not dead, I promise no more calendula incursions next spring). I dig them up and move them around if I don’t think they’re thriving (and sometimes the digging up and the moving around guarantees that they won’t be thriving).

Plants in my garden have to make flowers (sorry, ornamental grasses, I’m not very sorry that you all died). Most of them need to attract bees and butterflies. They need to be pest resistant as the sum total of my pest control strategy is occasionally sprinkling baby powder on the oriental lilies so the red lily beetles don’t eat them. There are a lot of worms in our garden, so I hope you like worms (there are also lots of grubs and larvae and centipedes and snails and pill bugs and ants, to judge from the results of my son’s digging for nature expeditions).

The good news is that most plants get to just keep on growing. I’m always looking to fill in gaps, and block out the bindweed, so it’s rare that I make the decision to uproot or even divide a plant (although, salvia, your time is coming; yours too, prairie coneflower). I know I should pull out tulip bulbs when they only send up one leaf and no flower, but I often just cut the leaf off instead when I’m weeding, and the bulb survives to grow again another year.

You don’t know this yet, but you’ve become part of something very special. The corner where you now live used to be a terrible eyesore in the neighbourhood. It’s taken a lot of time and energy, and there’s been a lot of sweat, some swearing, some crying, and even some blood, but I’ve turned our little patch of earth into something I can be proud of, something our neighbours always comment on when they walk by. When I was out this week planting you and cutting back the frost-wilted plants, nearly everyone who walked past stopped to ask what I was planting and to tell me how much they were looking forward to the spring.

The garden is beautiful in almost every season, but you, my bulbs, you are the heralds of spring. The indigo and yellow and lavender of the crocuses is the first promise that the winter is ending, and every year I count the blooms as they emerge. Yes, daffodils, I know that when the tulips are at their peak they are a riot of colour and everyone is drawn to their showy exuberance, but I love you best for your cheerful yellow faces and your steadfast loyalty in returning every year. Irises, you are a new experiment this year as I adore your larger cousins. And snowdrops, you’ve been a dead loss in the garden every other time I’ve planted you, so hopefully you’re game for a challenge.

I may grumble and complain about planting bulbs in the autumn, when the days are too short and the wind is too sharp, but when spring comes I am reminded, again, that every bloom was worth it.

Night night, bulbs.

See you in the spring.

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Choose Happiness, Daily Life