Monday, November 2, 2009

Midlife Crisis

I hate making big life decisions. Hate it. But you know what's even worse? Making lots of big life decisions all at the same time.

I'm graduating in June, and that reality is standing just a few months in front of me, with a giant cliff behind it. I need to look for a job, but applying for jobs requires knowing where we want to live. (We would like to settle somewhere within a day's drive of some family, and our current location does not fit the bill.) Looking for a job also, to a large extent, requires knowing how soon we want to have a second child. So I'm facing decisions on three fronts: having another child, choosing a city, and deciding on a career. And I'm completely frozen with the enormity of deciding all of those things at once.

I'm in that dangerous mid-thirties territory where fertility starts to drop, and it's not like I was exactly fertile to begin with. (It took more than two years to get pregnant with LL. I'm naively hoping that this time will be faster, but I'm not naive enough to think that a second pregnancy will come without a whole lot pain and intervention.) It seems incredibly stupid to wait to have a second child if we're sure that we want one. The only reason to wait would be for career reasons, but ultimately, if we end up unable to have a second child because I didn't want to disrupt my career path, I'll hate myself. So, we're starting to try for a second child. Right now. We're giving it a few months of the old fashioned way, but we're planning to make an appointment with Dr. M sometime around February or so.

That decision is actually the easy one. More difficult is ... how the hell do I handle a potential pregnancy while also facing a career crossroads? In general, I think that looking for a new job while also trying to get pregnant is one of the stupider things I've ever done on purpose. Because one of these things is guaranteed to happen:

1. I'm pregnant while I'm interviewing for jobs. Everybody in the world advises against this. Nobody gets job offers while pregnant. Why would I make the job hunt even harder, when I'm already looking for a job during the worst recession of my (or my parents) lifetime? On the plus side, if I do manage to get a job offer this way, at least I can strategically plan my first day of work (X months after my due date, where I get to pick X without worrying about maternity leave).

2. I'm pregnant during the first year at a new job. "Hi! Thanks for hiring me! I'm going to immediately need 6 months off." Awkward.... Particularly if I end up in one of those all-too-common fixed-length academic jobs. Taking a two or three year position, only to immediately leave for six months, seems cruel. And a fantastic way to burn bridges.

3. I'm undergoing fertility treatments during the first year at a new job. All the awkwardness of #2, with extended hormone imbalances thrown in for fun.

4. I don't get any job offers. Not the worst thing in the world, I guess, but it does mean that we can't move. S is totally willing to move to wherever I get a job; he would telecommute to his old job for a while, if they'll let him, until he can find a good local job. But there's no way we would move to a city where neither of us has a job, because that would be financial suicide. So, in this scenario, I'm unemployed, so we need S to keep his current job. So, we can't move. But we'd still be trying to get pregnant. Either we succeed in getting pregnant, in which case we will be raising two small children while living far far away from all family and simultaneously looking for a job for me. Or we don't succeed in getting pregnant, in which case I will be going through fertility treatments while looking for a job while being a SAHM while being depressed about my years in grad school going to waste.

All four of these options sound bad to me. Bad bad bad. The first one is the best of them, but it's still not that great (and the least likely: I quickly get pregnant AND I get a great job offer? Sure. Like I have that kind of luck).

Everything basically comes down to this: I'm terrified about the future. I've never before felt this uncertain about where I want my life to go.

It speaks volumes, I think, that I'm writing my dissertation and planning my defense, but those two things are the things in my life that I am least worried about right now.


  1. Wow that is alot to worry about. My first piece of advice you've already done. Figured out was most important (second child) and based everything else around that. You seem to be worrying about alot of what ifs that you have no control over. I would love to be able to tell you not to worry about stuff you can't control, but I know from personal experience how hard that is. So as an outsider this is how I see things:
    Raising 2 small kids with no family around is doable. Not ideal but totally doable, alot of people do it my own parents included in that. Plus it would not be a permanent situation. It would change as soon you found a job. Which you will. It may not be right away, but you will.
    So you've decided to try for the second child. AWESOME! The next decision would be where do you want to live? Closer to your family or S's family? Based on that decision, you know what area to start applying for jobs. You have some amazing support systems from your Summer employer to your mentor. Use them for references, contacts etc. You can do this! I totally know you can. Your fear and your worry is totally normal. Focus on what is in your control and what you can do, everything will be dealt with as it come.

    I hope that wasn't too preachy.

  2. At least you both have agreed that having a child is the most important part. And I'm a believer that generally things have a way of working themselves out. Good luck!!!

  3. I don't know what you can do about worrying, I know how hard it is to stop myself from doing just that. I am glad you and S have figured out your current priority, and first of all, good luck with that. Then hopefully the rest will fall into place.

  4. I had a similar freak-out when I was graduating from my graduate program and beginning to TTC. I was talking to my supervisor/mentor, talking a mile-a-minute while going through all these "what if" scenarios. She looked at me straight in the eye and said, "If any of that happens, you'll just deal with it."

    She was exactly right. Because even though things turned out in a scenario that was not even ON my radar at that point, it was still a challenge... and I just dealt with it.

    You can handle it, however things turn out, I promise. In the worse case, you still have a husband you love and two children you adore. Life will follow.

  5. good advice from everyone! you know you want another kid - the rest will take care of itself.

    for what it's worth, my parents have a friend who got a medical fellowship after she interviewed 8 months pregnant.

    decide what you want first, figure out how to make it happen next, and think about contingencies more deeply after you've got an idea of what contingencies are more likely.


  6. I have little to say other than I hear you. Trying to figure out a career plan while family-building, both in the midst of a recession is seriously stressful. And we don't have your added stress re relocation, since I doubt we'll ever leave Boston. As everyone else has said, figuring out your number one priority is so key -- congrats on doing that. Everything may not fall into place easily or exactly how you'd like it, but life will march on, and you will adapt to whatever road it marches down. Good luck.

  7. I just thought I'd mention that ScienceWoman (now SciWo) interviewed for jobs while pregnant and/or breastfeeding, and landed a dream tenure-track position. So it can be done!

    Another thing, and I don't know what exact subfield you study, but have you considered doing your postdoc (or maybe even your whole career!) at a national laboratory? It's not connected to teaching at all, so if your baby comes in the middle of a semester, well... there's no semesters. A lot of women find the national laboratories to be more family friendly than universities. And you could still go for a tenure-track position at the end of your postdoc.


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