Friday, May 02, 2014

That nagging feeling

So, I've apparently decided to work out all of my post-ish-dissertation feelings here. And I have a lot of feelings about this (of course). I've realised that a lot of my Stepping Away From Dissertation Angst comes from my tendency to take everything in my life and extrapolate it to its logical(-ish) conclusions, and worry about What It All Means. Of course I do that: I've been trained to translate everything into What It Means.

I'm bad this way: today, I took Li'l E to the library, for a parent-and-tot nursery rhyme time. We were the only new ones there, and we both struggled to adjust. E was getting tired by the time we got there (shifts in her nap schedule are the death of me), and she is used to doing her own thing at the library, exploring all the kids' books and toys. When we went into the Story Room, she wanted to check everything out, and when activities started, she was more interested in the book bags hanging on the wall, the stacks of chairs, and everyone else's strollers. My attempts to corral her and involve her in the activities caused her to scream, and it all fell apart from there. E was the Toddler Group Screamer, and I was the Toddler Group Frazzled and Apologetic Mom.

So, I know that I have to give it another week, and be a little more strategic next time (we'll practice the rhymes, so that she knows what's happening; we won't go early and explore the books first, because then she'll be more likely to want to sit on my lap and sing songs; I'll make her take a little nap beforehand). However, it's hard for me not to turn this into a big thing that Means Things. She hates this, and we should just walk away! She needs to learn structure, and all the other kids her age can handle participating! I should have started this when she was younger! What if I'm a really bad mother? Was I too hard on her? Was I too lenient? On and on.

I've been doing this regarding my academic future. I feel such guilt when I hear opinions about How Much We Need Women In History. Women are having children and walking away from academia! Mommy-tracking! The need to contribute! (Of course, I feel such vindication when I read stuff about How Academia Is Biased Against Women, Particularly Those Who Have Children.) The idea of being yet another statistic, yet another number in an attrition rate bothers me sometimes (as if, if/when I finish I wouldn't be yet another PhD who doesn't get a T-T job).

Did I just compare my toddler to my dissertation? I guess that wouldn't be the first time.

It's Official

I just received word from Grad Studies: they've approved my official withdrawal, with the option to return at a late date. I am not a student, for the first time since I was three years old (other than the semester after I finished my Honours program and before I started my MA, and the retroactive year's maternity leave, only a few months of which I spent truly on leave).

So, now I'm starting to tell the wider public, and I'm trying to figure out how to move on with my life. I don't know how not to be a grad student: I've been one for most of my adult life. I've been working on this PhD for almost my whole marriage thus far (minus a month and a half, during which time we moved to start my PhD, and I defended my MA thesis). I'm taking little steps into my new life: E and I enrolled in a toddler program at the library (we started today, and it went badly). I applied to teach an online course, and I met with Dr. B, my MA supervisor, to discuss my options in this city. He's offered help, and my future looks fine. Honestly, this is the first time that the future hasn't terrified me in a long time.

I'm glad I have this blog: it's a useful place where I can process where I go from here.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Stepping back from the dissertation

Back in December, I sent a panicked email to my supervisor. I had returned from my maternity leave in September, and I was not making the progress that I needed to make. I had arranged for more (free, family) childcare, and needed to know whether I had time to finish. You see, I was on borrowed time: I was on extension (complete with higher, extension tuition), and the terms of my extension made it clear that I needed to finish during that year, or not at all. I needed to know whether that year ended in April or August.

Dr. Supervisor got back to me, telling me that I just needed to defend by the first week of September, and that I should get the whole draft to him by mid-May. We agreed that it was time for one, final effort with the dissertation: I would write or edit a chapter per month, and see whether it was possible to finish.

That first chapter, post-mat leave, took a little longer than expected, but it went well. Dr. Supervisor was thrilled with it. The next chapter was less straightforward than I expected. I kept hitting walls, wishing I had more research, and questioning whether I was really saying anything new. I finished a chapter, and was happy with a few parts of it, but knew it still needed work. While I awaited feedback on that chapter, I started my last chapter (which was actually chapter one), and hit a wall. I was still trying to figure out how to write this thing, when I heard back from Dr. Supervisor about the previous chapter, and he said it needed a lot of work.

I responded and confessed that I was having the same problems, and worse, with Chapter One. I outlined all the questions I was having trouble answering, which caused Dr. Supervisor to review the dissertation as a whole, and find those same structural issues. While the middle three chapters hold together as individual essays, or as one fanatic MA thesis, my whole question is too broad for the research I did. I either need to conduct months and months of full-time newspaper research (much of which is only in archives in Germany), or I need to reframe the dissertation, which would involve rewriting everything.

The problem is that my deadline is two and a half weeks from now. Last week consisted of a flurry of phone calls between my supervisor and me. There was the possibility that I could throw myself at the mercy of the faculty, and beg for another extension. However, that would mean having to find (and pay for) full-time childcare for Li'l E (and part-time childcare was stressful enough for us). The cost is a huge issue as well: we would end up going into severe debt, if I tried to finish in the next year, and considering that I am incredibly unemployable on the tenure-track job market, there's no financial benefit to finishing (and, let's be honest: unwilling to move my family away from our home town, especially now that Chris has his dream job, and really unwilling to work 70-hour weeks while I have a toddler). I have my ABD status, and that's enough to get teaching work. (Long term, I'd like to find some kind of stable, university-adjacent work, but none of that will require a PhD.)

There's another possibility, which I've chosen to pursue (on the advice of my department): I've asked the Dean of Grad Studies for permission to withdraw from my program, with the option to re-register, when I'm in the place where I can finish. If that goes through, and I find myself regretting not finishing in a few years, if be able to come back and finish. Apparently, there is precedent for this option, within my department. My supervisor and my grad chair have written letters of support for me. So, we'll see what happens.

This may not happen. I might be finished for good. It's a strange feeling: I'm simultaneously feeling giddy what freedom and like I'm grieving a loss. It's like I'm going through a breakup. For the past nine years, this has been my singular goal, and while it's not a complete loss (and while I long ago gave up the expectation that I'd become a professor - - basically, ever since I learned the realities of the job market), I always presumed that is finish. That I would have the right to have "Dr." in front of my name.

So, now I wait. And, in the short term, my plan is the same: we're moving in a few weeks, and I'm happy that I now have time to pack. I signed up Li'l E for a nursery rhyme program at the library, because I now have time to spend with my kid. I'm submitting an application for sessional teaching work (just one class, at first) to my alma mater, and the deadline is on Wednesday. I'm figuring out how to take care of myself again.

I imagine I'll have a lot to write on this blog again, now that I'm not exhausting myself, trying to draw blood from a stone with that dissertation.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Dear goodness, it's been a year (almost)

Exactly one year ago, Chris and I sat in my hospital room,  trying to settle down and have one last quiet night before our lives were turned upside-down.

Tomorrow, my silly little girl will turn one. I now have a toddler running around my house, hiding combs in my winter boots.  When I try to evaluate how my life has changed over the past year, it's easy to think of the inconveniences: I rarely get to wake myself up in the morning; leaving the apartment is a giant ordeal; I can't go to the bathroom without a small creature scratching at the door; my carpet is perpetually covered in Cheerios; I can't sit down at the computer and write my dissertation while she's awake, because she wants to climb on my lap and bang on the keyboard.

But I'm so thankful that our family has grown by one small person. She's so joyful: every person she meets is her new best friend, and every spoon, potato and Kleenex box is an exciting new toy. She's thrilled about the existence of books, and I'm thrilled to have a small creature with whom I can snuggle on the couch and share my love of reading. She wanders the house singing (mostly she sings "doot doot doot"  with occasional trumpet sounds). I love watching my parents and in-laws interact with their grandchild, and seeing her bring out softness and sweetness in all of them, beyond what I've seen before.

I haven't changed as a result of motherhood as much as I presumed I would: somehow, a part of me expected that I would suddenly become a proper and level-headed Mom, full of wisdom,  and not as ridiculous as I usually am. Instead, I now realize that my child will likely make poop jokes at inappropriate times, and that it will be entirely because of me.

I resist the idea that parenthood is some absolute and necessary experience of adulthood and womanhood, just as I cringe when parents of multiple children state or imply that those with one child haven't experienced "real" parenting.  But this small person (who I still can't believe is my very own to keep) has changed me during this past year. I've started to learn how to love and accept this child on her own terms, to see her own personality and not just some person I want her to become. That lesson teaches me to love myself as well.

Happy birthday, Little Bug. Here's to a great second year.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

To My Love, On Our Eighth Anniversary

Hello, my love,

Eight years ago today, I made the best decision of my life. I married you, and we ran away together half-way across the country. We made a life for ourselves, far from friends and family, and then created a family around us where we were. And then, this year, we made the next best decisions of our lives: we had a beautiful little girl, and ran away together half-way across the country, back to our friends and family. I'm so glad that I've had you, my love and my best friend, beside me this whole time.

This has been both one of the hardest and one of the best years of our marriage. We've been through some of our biggest struggles yet, and as you've particularly risen to meet those challenges, you've amazed me over and over. I love you so much more today than I did a year ago.

Last year's anniversary was very much our worst. I was in so much pain, mid-way through that pregnancy, with the fibroids degenerating and leaning on my sciatic nerve so hard that I woke up in the night screaming. And, when I couldn't sleep because of the pain, you would hold me and sing to me. I know you never sing for other people, because your tune's a little off, but that's the most beautiful music I've heard in my entire life. For months, you took care of me. You cooked every meal. You washed all our clothes. You did everything (along with our friends) to move us back home. And then E was born, and you continued on caring for us, through the challenging recovery. At the hospital, as you took on the role of E's and my primary caregiver, many members of the hospital staff told me how lucky I was to have someone like you. And, all that while, you slept for sixteen days on an uncomfortable pull-out couch, getting up with every feeding, and holding me and singing when I got scared.

And now, as we parent that hilarious, active and challenging child together, I fall in love with you more and more. E loves you so much, and is always braver when you hold her.

Because I feel the need to include a goofy picture of you every year, I included one from my birthday, when E was three days old. The doctor had just scared us with the possibility of head surgery, and I broke down and cried for quite a while. But then you returned, and rescued my birthday. We read together, and took silly and serious pictures of ourselves, and recorded video messages, telling E how much she aged us already.

And now I'll watch Doctor Who episodes with you, because you've made me nerdier since I married you.

From your wife

Monday, May 27, 2013

Statements of Intent

There's a post, which I've been occasionally writing, and then saving as draft, and then deleting, for the past few months. It's a post about the small compromises which I've made, and how they've made my life as a parent livable. It's about comparing the ideals I had before I procreated, to the realities of parenting. It's also about having to put away all the parenting books that seemed full of guilt messages, and just doing what worked for us.

And I've deleted that post over and over, because it turns out that I'm terrified discussing parenting choices on the internet. I've been around too long, and know that every small choice has become ridiculously controversial in certain circles.

This is more of a reminder for myself, and a statement of intent for my blog: while I have opinions, which I sometimes voice a little too strongly in personal conversations, I'm going to stay out of it. We're all getting by as well as we can, making sure that our kids are sleeping, eating and learning as well as they can.

While I'm making statements of intent: I'm also staying off the parenting boards, and I'm trying to lay off the books (outside of Mayo Clinic guides to development and stuff like that). I'm also making a valiant attempt to avoid googling my child's symptoms, because I'm enough of a hypochondriac about myself that nobody needs for me to start focusing my crazy on the next generation as well.

And now I'm going to make popcorn and watch a bunch of Arrested Development on Netflix, because in spite of the fact that I now have a kid, I'm still the reigning Queen of the Nation of West Procrasti.

On Leave

Last week I received word that my request for sick leave was approved, and applied retroactively to September. The university credited me this year's tuition, and I'll go back in the fall. In the meanwhile, my library card doesn't work, and I'm not supposed to be engaging in any research/academic work. (Ha.)

It's a strange feeling, suddenly having that weight off my shoulders. It's now okay that I've been useless for the past year. I've spent the year doing was doing what I was supposed to be doing: taking care of myself and my family. I was sometimes a little hard on myself about my lack of progress, because I know people who finished their dissertations in the midst of being pregnant and having a baby. Of course, I constantly have to remind myself that it's not fair to compare myself to anyone else, because I've been a rather exceptional case. (So exceptional, in fact, that I was granted leave after the terms of my extension explicitly stated that I didn't qualify for leave!)

It's funny how my brain is more full of ideas and strategies for finishing, now that I'm not registered. I'm going to get myself an alumni library card, since I qualify for one here. I'll start practising my German while the baby's napping, and since it requires the use of a headset microphone, I've ordered a baby monitor, and will watch the little lights for signs of the kid making noise. I'll also take this opportunity to review my primary sources, since it's been a while, and the review will be good for getting my brain going. That's all I'll really do this summer (and meet with my supervisor when we go back to the Island in the summer: he'll want to see the baby, and then we'll draw up a timeline for completion).

But I'm also going to allow myself some space. I'm on leave, and I'm going to make sure that I appreciate that. This is the first time I haven't been a registered student in a decade, and I want to take some time and enjoy being home with Li'l E.

This has all coincided with the good news that E won't need surgery (there was some concern, but it has thankfully turned out to be unfounded), and so we now have fewer health professionals in our lives, which means fewer appointments. (Okay, in the next few weeks, she has a physical therapy appointment, 6-month checkups with both her family doctor and her pediatrician, and then her next round of shots. But then we get a break!) More importantly, we no longer have that anxiety hanging over us, and we can just move on with our lives, dealing only with normal baby stuff.

And so I'm grateful for this bit of respite from all the craziness of the past year. Normal is a nice change from the usual.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Introvert has a child, discovers she's now always being watched

Li'l E is asleep (although we'll see whether she sleeps for more than half an hour). I'm sitting down with a cup of tea (this week, it's David's Teas' Salted Caramel, because I'm apparently in the mood for tea that tastes like candy). I'm finally starting learn how to carve out little moments in my day.

For a while, it seemed impossible to get anything done or to take any time for myself. At first, Li'l E and I had the double whammy of my slow recovery and her constant feeding (undersized baby more than doubles her weight in the first three months: oy). I also had a serious case of the New Moms, where I didn't know how to get anything done while she was awake, since she wanted to be cuddled constantly. But now she's growing up a little (and so am I), and I've been working on getting her to be more independent. Now, I can at least get housework done while she's awake, and she's just pleased that I talk to her while I work.

The next hurdle is getting back into the dissertation process. I really don't know how to work while she's awake: she's so demanding, and wants my attention constantly. I'd be too distracted to form many coherent thoughts. (I guess I could do mindless tasks and some editing while she was awake, but writing is another story.) I need a lot of sleep right now in order to continue to function, and so working after she goes to bed is out of the question. I imagine that nap time will become my ideal writing time, once I get on a roll. Li'l E takes several small naps a day, and during her morning naps I've already formed the habit of approaching them with the attitude of "I MUST WORK AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE."

Really, the problem is that I'm so tired and distracted. Perhaps reintroducing my SAD lamp into my morning routine would alleviate some of the tiredness, but I'm also tired because I'm physically catching up with the requirements of my new life. I don't know how to deal with the distractedness part. Right now, I'm trying to deal with it by taking a little time to be quiet. A cup of tea and a little bit of silence. I grew so accustomed to having endless quiet time at home over these years, and now that I have a small and loud constant companion, I find that I need to deliberately carve out quiet time for myself. I never before realised how much my mental health depends on time spent being alone and quiet.

So. Where do I go from here? I finish my project of organizing the house, so that I have space to work. (We really didn't get off to a good start here, with my inability to take part in the unpacking process. We've been in survival mode until now.) I get started writing while family is around to deal with the baby, and then create tasks that can be done during naps. I continue to allow myself a little quiet time.

And now the baby's awake, and I'm typing with one hand. That second cup of tea will have to wait.

Update: I just got a message from my grad secretary, saying that she's confident that I qualify for medical leave (backdated to the beginning of this school year), even though the terms of my extension stated that I could not apply for leave. Apparently my case is exceptional!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

When motherhood is weird

Oh hey guys! Guess what: I had a baby like a million years ago and then didn't post about it on this blog. And by "a million years" I mean "nearly three months." I've been in a bit of a haze since then, and have been trying to figure out how to succinctly explain the insanity that happened to us when I had the baby, and then three months disappeared, and we're piled under this deep snow in late winter, and I haven't updated since the summer.  Living up to my naaaaaaaaame!

So. Going back to where we left off, it turns out that the fibroids I had were insane, and the pain I was experiencing last summer was the fibroids getting unsustainably big and going through degeneration. (Oh hey! Apparently other women get hospitalized with narcotics for that stuff. I moved across the country and felt bad that I was so unhelpful in the process.) Other crazy stuff happened, like the sheer weight of fibroids + baby causing my ribs to pop out in painful ways, which made me my chiropractor's most complicated patient. I had a lot of health professionals tell me that they'd never seen a case as extreme as mine before, so that was fun.

Then, a little more than a month before the baby's due date, and two days after we had my baby shower (where we got the stuff we really needed, like the car seat) and set up the baby room, I went for my routine OBGYN appointment and found out that I had dangerously high blood pressure. I got sent straight to the hospital.

(Oh, and about two weeks before that, my parents and sister were in a bad car accident, which resulted in my father, whose respiratory system is very much a delicate balance, spending a week in ICU with pneumonia. So, my family spent about a week between hospitalizations and health crises. And the stress of that probably didn't help matters.)

I was initially admitted to the hospital with the intention that I'd only be there for a few days, as they got my blood pressure stabilized, and then I'd be sent home with medication and monitoring. But, before I could leave, they wanted to do an ultrasound, to make sure that the baby hadn't been affected. At the ultrasound (one of many ultrasounds where the tech freaked out because my fibroids looked unusual, and insisted that they couldn't be fibroids), we discovered that the placenta was touching one of the fibroids, causing the baby to have a growth restriction. She was in the third percentile for size, at that point. While the doctor assured me that she was healthy, and that small babies catch up, I freaked out. That was not good for my blood pressure.

So, armed with the knowledge that my high bp and my PUPPPS rash were the result of the placenta sending out warning signals through my body, we were given a night to decide whether to deliver immediately, or to wait a few days until the baby was 36 weeks old (with the hope she could avoid NICU). We decided to wait, and she was born a week later.

The c-section was insane. (Note: not only was she in the frank breech position, but fibroids were blocking the birth canal, and so c-section was the only option. Thank goodness for modern medicine.) Because of the enormity and the nature of the fibroids, there was a serious risk that I'd bleed out and need an emergency hysterectomy to save my life. There were also question about whether the growth restriction would cause problems for the baby. When they wheeled me into the Labour and Birth ward, the entire staff was standing around to greet me, looking nervous. The head nurse informed me that they'd be taking me to the regular OR, because the L&B operating room wasn't big enough for my complicated procedure.

"Don't worry; this is standard for our more complicated c-sections!" she reassured me.

When I got to the OR, the surgical staff was buzzing with excitement. "A baby!" one of them squealed. "We haven't had a baby born here in YEARS!"


My anesthesiologist periodically counted everyone in the room and asked, "Now, how many here need to be here, and how many are here to observe?" It was a circus. There were teams from more departments than I can even remember now. I do remember that we had pretty much all the residents from NICU, and a big team of staff and students from Respiratory Therapy. Someone brought in four units of blood, in case I needed a transfusion. Chris had to wait outside until I was prepped (actually, we had to ask permission for him to be there, because the regular OR doesn't normally do c-sections), and so I was suddenly alone, shivering on the table as they inserted the spinal block. I sang to myself the old hymn "Under His Wings" and repeated Psalm 91, and someone in the room marveled at the fact that I was so calm and still, in the midst of such insanity.

Everything went better than expected. My biggest fibroid had gone through some kind of liquid degeneration, and my OBGYN drained a whole gallon of fluid from it, on the operating table. That resulted in a bit of commotion. When the baby was born, she had a bit of trouble with her lung capacity, and that whole NICU team swarmed her, got her breathing and warm, and rushed her out of the room. Honestly, I didn't get to see the baby until she was a whole day old, because she was in NICU and I wasn't well enough to leave my bed.

I didn't get a hysterectomy, and I didn't end up getting a transfusion until two days later, when my hemoglobin levels were so low that I was fainting when I tried to stand. That transfusion was the best thing to happen to me (it even knocked my cold out of my system!).

We stayed in the hospital for a week after that, since the baby's pediatrician was worried about the fact that her head had been squished between my ribs and a fibroid, and thought that the sutures in her skull may have sealed prematurely, which would make it difficult for her brain to grow (if all sutures were sealed), or would cause skull shape deformity (if one of the sutures was sealed). We waited for a neurosurgeon to look at an x-ray of her head, and were then sent home with the reassurance that at least not ALL of her sutures were sealed. (The question still remains if one is sealed: the neurosurgeon ordered a CT scan of her head, and now we're waiting to find out if the baby has to have surgery when she's 8-9 months old.)

And that's the end of the dramatic part of our story. Now, I've been slowly recovering (the fibroids still give me some pain, as they shrink and degenerate), and the baby is growing and developing wonderfully. She's now big for her age, after a couple of months of crazy non-stop feedings. ("Small babies catch up. It's what they do best." - the OBGYN who saw her growth restriction. At least I already knew that they catch up by EATING LIKE MANIACS.)

Li'l E slept for 8 1/2 hours last night, and is napping again now, which is how I had the time to type up this whole blog post. We're enjoying being non-dramatic for a while. Now, if I could only get her to nap like this on a regular basis, so that I could get some writing done.