Fertility problems and academia(12 Posts)
Having a very bad day, and want some advice. I'm 20 months into a 3 year fixed-term research contract in the humanities. We started TTC-ing about three months into the contract, after much mmm-ing and aah-ing about the wisdom of this (I started a thread about it!). Seventeen months on I have three miscarriages but no baby or ongoing pregnancy to show for this. Today I have spent yet another day where I could have been productive obsessing and fretting about it. I have two problems. I don't think either of them are fixable, but I wanted to share with people who might get it!
a) whereas obviously original plan was I'd fall pregnant and then have some time back on this contract after mat leave, this is looking increasingly unlikely. My understanding is my contract could be extended after mat leave but only by three months. The original plan was that if we reached this point we'd take a break trying until I had another job. That now seems impossible to both of us - in theory we have time (I'm 30) but we both want this awful period of our lives over asap, and I also feel like if I couldn't sustain a pregnancy when I was 29 then, while the problem clearly isn't age-related, it makes sense to get on with it, especially as we want more than one. But I also feel like this is madness. I don't know how we'll afford it if my contract ends while I'm pregnant and I don't get maternity pay, and I know that realistically it's likely to be the end of my career. I just don't know how to reconcile the sensible part of me that thinks we should stop, and the part of me that is crying about that idea as I type this. So that's one problem.
B) The other problem and the reason I think the first problem doesn't fully hit me: I've stopped believing I can conceive and carry to term at all. But that's ruining my work too. I was completely underproductive for about two or three months after my third miscarriage. I have lots of days like today where I can manage admin and emailing but I just can't focus enough to read or write because my head is full of woe and worry. I feel like I've taken a lot of the career hit of being pregnant without having the baby to show for it! I find some tasks, like teaching, help me get out of my own head, but research sucks me deeper and deeper into it and I just don't know how to work effectively with this huge sadness of uncertain duration hanging over me.
Any thoughts? As I said, I don't think there are solutions here, but I'd be really grateful if anyone who had been in this or a similar situation any words of wisdom or comfort!
Oh, that's rotten.
I know it isn't any comfort, but you're eligible for NHS investigations now, aren't you? Three miscarriages in a row. I'm currently being investigated (have been for nearly a year now, as they tick things off lists), and though it is grim to me it also feels much better than just sitting around wondering what could be wrong. I have a baby DD who's not biologically mine, so I am very fortunate and I know that I'm not in the same boat as you. But I do have some of the same experiences and am currently in yet another temporary job. It just plays havoc with time. And it is horrible constantly feeling you can't plan. But then, academia is like that anyway! If you did end up pregnant with no job, could you make it work? It is a truism, but as people say, there's never a 'right' time to have a baby. Plan all you like, wait for a stable job, and you could still find the world crashes down around your ears.
I maybe should have said - I've had testing. Nothing wrong, keep trying apparently (delivered fairly unsympathetically - but apparently 50% of recurrent miscarriers are unexplained) - that upset me enough that that was another week where I couldn't get my head into my research and piddled around doing bordering on unnecessary admin. Now we're back to trying again and I just find I go through this awful bit each month where I'm terrified I'll be pregnant and then sad again if I'm not. Every single month, no matter how I try, it unsettles and upsets me. I just don't know how to handle work around this - I find it so hard when I spend so much time alone and where I find it so hard to get away from my thoughts.
We keep telling ourselves that we'll make it work somehow if I get pregnant and it sticks. God knows how, but we also feel like we'll never forgive ourselves if we stop trying and it never happens.
Thank you for your kind words - I'm really sorry for your losses, too, and I hope that you do get answers and help.
So sorry you're in this position, recurrent miscarriage is shit enough without the added pressure of a work deadline. I don't know what testing you've had but you could consider going partially private to prof quenby in Coventry or similar, she looks at autoimmune things which aren't in the standard NHS tests, for about £300 I think (apologies if this is out of date, my miscarriages were in 2012-2014). Also after my forth MC I was referred to St Mary's who are specialists, and were more helpful than my local hospital. I think prof quenby in particular would say that unexplained doesn't mean there isn't a fixable cause, just that the tests you've had so far haven't picked it up. There's no reason at your age not to be able to carry to term, you just need to get to the bottom of what's causing it, and need medical staff who will help you with that. Good luck
It's really tricky when pregnancy plans are bound up with job plans, isn't it. I stayed in a job longer than I probably should have done because I was planning to get pregnant but when after several years nothing had happened I gave up waiting and moved to another job. I think it was good for me to have a new job to focus on so that I had a distraction and I knew that even if I didn't get pregnant I was moving on with my life in another way rather than just treading water. But maybe that wouldn't have been the right choice for other people.
From a practical point of view, look up maternity allowance - my understanding is that if you changed jobs and weren't eligible for statutory maternity pay, you should still get maternity allowance if you have earned enough in the previous year. It is the same as SMP. I don't know if in your industry you would normally get more than SMP -if so then that is a different kettle of fish.
I wish you all the best.
Thanks so much for these kind comments. Sorry that this thread is turning into one long drip-feed - I keep leaving out relevant information! I did go to Coventry for NK cell testing. Turns out I don't have elevated NK cells. They have put me on progesterone from 7-14dpo each month (which I'm on now - which may be why I'm feeling particularly shit), because that's what they do for all their unexplained patients. They said that they do think there's something wrong because three MC isn't 'normal' at my age, but that there's no specific test or treatment. They were at least very nice, supportive and encouraging, though - in stark contrast to my local NHS hospital ('you're just quite unfortunate... Next time you miscarry, do it into a tupperware container').
My current strategy at work is just to apply for things etc. as if there was no chance I'd get pregnant. But it is affecting my work, and I don't even have the small protection from repercussions for that that I'd have if it were the result of an ongoing pregnancy. I can live with losing my career to have a child. I'm terrified right now that I'll get to the end of this contract, have no baby but also that I'll have wasted so much time and been so rubbish that I haven't produced enough to be a competitive candidate. And then I'll have no career and no baby.
That's awful, what the NHS hospital made you feel. I get so angry about this. My first GP, near Oxford, was totally uninterested and didn't care in the slightest (never said anything quite that bad though!); my new ones happen to be linked with a hospital where they do a lot of research into maternal health and so they've been much more helpful.
Sorry to have assumed you'd not been tested - I think I am just evangelical about it because GP no. 1 didn't even tell me it was an option.
But yes. Sorry, it is just shit. I wish I knew a way to make it not shit. It's one of thing things that makes me so aware that the world (and academia especially) really just doesn't get how pregnancy is for a lot of women.
Thanks LRD. You're right, it is just shit and I guess no one can do much to help. I think you're right that the reality is so underrecognised. I know three different women who all recently had their first child - all conceived within three months of getting a permanent job. All three have been posting a lot on social media about academic maternity discrimination and they're absolutely right that it's an awful problem but it sort of makes me feel even more isolated - if I were pregnant I could be vocal and there would be at least some sources of solidarity, as it is I feel like this is my private shameful secret.
I don't know if it's any help - but try not to feel guilty about being distracted. Maybe choose to do the work you like best which you often don't allow yourself to do - like side projects which feel like an indulgence.
I found it really hard on a research contract when I knew my position was too insecure for paid maternity leave and for me to count on a job to go back to, and then once I decided to take the plunge it took a long time to conceive. I got obsessed for a little while by a two-week-wait forum, and felt I was losing my mind.
It's very hard for women planning to have families and quite a few female colleagues just didn't have children. But your plan to carry on applying is a good one - you have to take risks for what is important to you. I know a few people who have begun new jobs when pregnant, and that will or may mean missing out on a nice long maternity leave, but you can perhaps negotiate some flexibility if you're offered a post. Permanent lectureships often have less teaching in the first term or year, for example. Lots more things are possible than appear to be possible in a job advert.
Careers are long but the window in which to have a family is quite narrow. You've been both sensible and brave in planning to start a family now - I wish you all the very best of luck on every front.
Sorry, x-post armadillo - but thanks so much for the nice comments. I think I need to start planning around it, depressing as that is - ie making sure I'm always busy but not in a highly intellectually demanding way the week before my period. As you know, it's so hard not to know when - I wish I'd developed a bit more of a long-term strategy 17 months ago, but of course I didn't know I'd need it then!
Hi OP, so sorry you are going through this. I tried for nearly 4 years and in that time had 3 post docs and a temp lectureship. For what it’s worth I would just say keep applying for things. If you get them, and you get pregnant- well that’s a great problem to have o solve. I really regretted every missed opportunity which I’d let pass because I might get pregnant (and didn’t).
All the very best luck
On the distraction and lack of productivity
Front / you’re probably doing much more than you realise. But if you’re really worried, take some time off as sick leave. Just take a month off, keep off the internet, and spend some time looking after yourself. You’ve had bereavement after bereavement and you need to heal from that. I had a mc just before a big fellowship deadline and I took no time off. It took me months to recover and I so wish I’d just sacked off the bloody application, done it 6 months later, and spent the time in bed crying. I’m sure in the long run I would have got more done in any case
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