Thursday, July 25, 2013


I just got an email from Sam that has lengthy correspondence with Dr. Evenbigger, much of it about me! Very exciting. This guy has only read one of my papers and a poster, but he is eager to hear the results of one of my big unpublished dissertation projects. He has also proposed organizing a workshop and book with me and Sam, and ideas for collaboration on a project that could be a postdoc (though not in the immediate future). It's flattering and gives me lots to think about.

Tomorrow I have a phone interview for a postdoc I'm very excited about, and I was even given a list of questions in advance! How organized!

Monday, July 22, 2013

I Am A Scientist

Sometimes a good email can really pick you up. I hardly got anything done last week (other than feeding my baby) and was feeling overwhelmed and unmotivated. Early this morning I read the suggestion* to have a "feel good" email folder where you keep messages that make you do just that. Jon has suggested something like this before to help me fend off the Impostor Monster. Today I got two feelgood emails that motivated me to have a productive afternoon preparing for ESA.

First I got an email about scheduling a phone interview for a postdoc! I am "one of X highly qualified applicants." It feels good to make the shortlist. (I was not offered the other job I interviewed for, but it sounds like it was a difficult decision for them, and honestly it's for the best. Starting that job this fall would have been incredibly stressful and difficult considering my compromised health).

Then I got an email from someone on a scouting trip to do doctoral research in Nyota. She emailed Sam for advice, and Sam referred her to me! I suppose I'm something of an expert on how to be an outsider. Years ago I started a document with all kinds of notes about things I wish I'd known when I started research in Nyota, so it is rewarding to pass on that information. She also met one of my field assistants who immediately asked her if she knew me, and told her "she's great." Considering the sometimes difficult relationship with my field assistants, that is wonderful to hear.

This month I have also received some email requests for pdf of my first published dissertation chapter. Even better, someone said it "make my day" when they found the paper. I even skyped with that person who wanted my feedback on her project idea. The paper went through 4 or 5 journals and nearly 100 numbered document versions and just dragged on and on in review, but now it feels like it truly was worth it.

On days like this I can own it. I Am A Scientist.

*It was in this excellent post that describes one woman's liberating attitude towards and honest tale of being a tenure-track faculty member (at Harvard!).

Friday, July 19, 2013

Intimidating applications

I have an extreme K-selection strategy when it comes to applying for jobs-- I only select the jobs that I feel I have a fighting chance at, and I put a lot of time into my applications. I am realizing now that I have an easier time writing a cover letter and feel like less of an impostor when the job description is more specific. The positions hiring a postdoc that does "some kind of related research" are much more difficult for me than those with a clear description of the intended project. When its open-ended, I spend a long time researching the lab group and their publications, scrutinizing the collaborators, and generally feeling inadequate (like here and here).

A position was recently advertised near Jon's Hometown, which is where we would move anyways if I don't find a job by Christmas. The PI is someone who I intended to contact about postdoc opportunities; I learned of his research last year at ESA when I met his graduate student. It would be fabulous to work there and he is doing exciting research. But the more I read, the more worried I am about articulating the fit with my research. Are my questions big enough? I look at the coauthors on his pubs and there are tons of well-known biologists (mostly men). Am I good enough? Can I cut it?

Argh. This application is important and I need to be convincing. But first I have to convince myself.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Calamity

Warning: This is the story of the end of a birth gone wrong. If you don't want to read about frightening things that can happen during labor, please stop reading. If you want to read on, click through.

Part 1- The Pregnancy
Part 2- The Birth
Part 3- The Calamity (below)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Birth

Note: This is a birth story. It's not as graphic as it could be, but if these things weird you out, skip it. If not, read on.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Pregnancy

Tomorrow my little one turns 2 months old, so I'd better get these thoughts down before they leave me completely! At the beginning of my pregnancy, I thought I'd want to blog all the time about being pregnant. It turned out that that feeling went away after we started telling people (i.e. right at the time I could have started blogging about it). So for the curious, here's all 38 weeks summarized in one place.

As I've mentioned before, it made a lot of sense to try to have a baby before finishing grad school. My advisor was very supportive of his grad students having kids, and my student health insurance covers maternity 100% (I'm planning a post later about the bills for this baby). We waited until I was finished with field work because being pregnant or bringing a child to Ukenzagapia would have made it even more difficult. Then we waited several months more and tried to time it so the baby could be born in that sweet spot after my defense but before graduation. I went off the pill in June and started tracking my cycles using this book (HIGHLY recommended!). I was anxious that it might take us several months to get pregnant, but I got pregnant in September, which was the first month that I ovulated when Jon and I were in the same place (I was away at that time in both July and August).

I could tell (from charting my temperature) that I was pregnant several days before taking a pregnancy test. I also started having mild nausea almost immediately-- about 10 days after ovulation, around the time of implantation (which is also right after I did a triathlon!). Mostly the nausea didn't make me really want to throw up, it just make me feel gross and made my relationship with food desperate. Thankfully, a friend of mine (and reader of this blog!) mentioned that it's an EMPTY stomach that usually makes you feel sick. This means that when I was most hungry, NOTHING sounded appealing. When I felt the empty stomach nausea coming on, I tried to find the closest food that didn't sound gross. These foods for me were pretzels, tortilla chips, banana chips, and carrots. I needed to eat something little like that to calm my stomach before I could think about something like cooking dinner (which otherwise sounded disgusting and totally overwhelming). This made me diligent about packing snacks for myself if I was out and about. Thankfully, the nausea for me mostly went away after 5 or 6 weeks.

I saw a midwife for all of my prenatal care. As long as I was in the university hospital system, everything was covered. I didn't really have many options, but the one option I had ended up being a good one! Many people asked if we were planning a home birth when I mentioned seeing a midwife, but these midwives all attend at the hospital. I didn't have much interest in a home birth, and I felt like delivering with a midwife at a hospital was the best of both worlds for a low-risk pregnancy: the low-intervention philosophy of the midwives but all the specialized OBs and facilities in case something went wrong (which it did).

I intended to have an active, fit pregnancy. I rode my bike to school (at least occasionally) until about 5 months, and I stopped then mostly because of the weather. After that I walked or took the bus. I kept going to group fitness classes and swimming until I injured myself right around 5 months. I did exactly what they tell pregnant women not to do. Please, let this be a cautionary tale.

I was alone at the office on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (January 21). In a fit of office cleaning, I decided that a box of magazine left by some former grad student that had been in my office for YEARS just HAD to go. That day. And no one was around to help me. So I tried to be careful. I carefully moved the box from the floor onto my wheelie chair, pushed it down the hall, and then moved the box from the chair onto a table. Later that afternoon, I noticed a little bit of pain in my pubic bone. I went swimming later that afternoon and felt the pain a little when I kicked on the breast stroke, but didn't think too much of it. I knew my pelvis was supposed to be widening and I figured that's what I was feeling.

But after just a few days the pain was much worse. Walking started to hurt. Having to catch my balance suddenly. Dragging something with my foot. Getting dressed. Getting in and out of bed. All of these motions made my pubic bone hurt, and not a sufferable kind of hurt, but a stop-doing-that-immediately kind of hurt. It wasn't getting better, and I was quickly feeling extremely limited by the pain.

My instinct told me there was a way to make it better and that I didn't just have to wait it out for the next 4 months. I emailed a friend and colleague who had just had a baby a couple of months before and was still in physical therapy for severe post-partum pelvic girdle pain (PGP). I did some reading about it when she ended up back in the hospital (!), and it seemed like what was happening with me too. She told me to get help as soon as possible. I had to get a referral to physical therapy, and PT couldn't schedule me for almost 2 weeks after that which felt like an eternity to start treatment. So, I scheduled an appointment with a chiropractic school nearby, because they could see me the next day and it wasn't terribly expensive.

To make a long story short, my pelvis was out of alignment which caused the PGP. Best I can figure, when I moved that damn box, I braced it against my thigh, and the pressure indirectly exerted on my pelvis via my femur shifted it. Normally, the human pelvis is not so easily shifted, but the hormone relaxin loosens up those ligaments that normal hold everything in place. This is why they tell pregnant women to be careful with heavy objects and new exercises. It's not really about injuring the baby but injuring yourself. I could feel that the two halves of my pelvis were slightly uneven where they meet in the middle of my pubic bone.

I went to the chiropractor and physical therapist nearly every week for the rest of my pregnancy. Both did some adjustments, which definitely helped. After the first few weeks of treatment, my pain was more manageable. I had good days and bad days, but I had good days! The pain level seemed to change most radically overnight, so I talked extensively with the physical therapist about how to sleep. I got a memory foam pillow for between my legs. The PT gave me exercises to do in the morning and night, and I did them religiously. The only other exercise I was doing was a water fitness class, and even there I had to be careful and there were some moves I couldn't do without pain (so I didn't do them).

I had basically no nesting instinct. In fact, our place was so messy that I probably had an anti-nesting-dissertation-finishing instinct. The last 4 months of my pregnancy were also the last 4 months of my dissertation. I worked like crazy. I got up, did my exercises, went to school, worked on my dissertation, came home, worked on my dissertation, did my exercises again, and went to bed. On the weekends, I got up, did my exercises, worked on my dissertation, did my exercises again, and went to bed. I wrote much of my dissertation sitting in our guest bed. If I was struggling to stay awake at my desk, I took a nap on my office couch. Some days I had midwife, chiropractor, or physical therapy appointments or went to water fitness. Some evenings I hung out with friends, but nearly not as often as before.  I had hours upon hours of uninterrupted time (and I needed it!) to work on my dissertation, and I knew it would not be that way again any time soon. I was so motivated to finish before the baby was born.

There were so many things I put off until after my dissertation or defense! I just wouldn't let myself near the edge of the preparing-for-baby rabbit hole. I sent my dissertation to my committee 31 weeks 4 days into my pregnancy and defended at 34 weeks 4 days (babies are considered full term at 37 weeks and 'due' at 40 weeks). During those three weeks in between, I hosted a baby shower, had a baby shower, filed for a tax extension, went away for a long weekend, applied for and interviewed for a job, and prepared my defense seminar. I felt like I could really start thinking about being pregnant!

I never got to the point where I was done being pregnant and I thought I had at least another week. In the week before Adele was born, we went to a breastfeeding class, wrote a birth plan, bought a car seat, unpacked the zillions of hand me down baby clothes, bought nursing bras, and had a cleaning service clean the apartment. My water broke at 37 weeks 5 days and she was born about 28 hours later. But that's a post for another day.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Back in the saddle

Adele will be 8 weeks old on Thursday. Yesterday I submitted a job application-- the first new application since my defense. I'm almost caught up on my email backlog. I'm planning to go to my office 1 or 2 days this week. At home, I can work at my desk while bouncing her in her bouncer with my foot or wearing her (still getting used to that). I can tell I'm feeling better because I'm thinking about work again. I'm my own boss, and I'm choosing to get back to work which makes it less overwhelming because I can do it on my own schedule.