It might have been in grad school that I heard this conversation for the first time. Now that I’ve participated as a mentor in the ISA Pay It Forward event for the past two years, it’s something that is asked of me.
When is the best time to have a baby?
As a grad student, this was something I fretted about. But then again, I had it all planned out. I was going to get my PhD, my first job, and married at 26, tenured at 32, and then a baby at 33. While I was in grad school, a few friends had gotten pregnant and had babies. We were told “oh, that’s a GREAT time to have babies. You’re writing your dissertation while they’re young and they won’t remember it.” Supposedly, babies make you more organized and more on top of your work. Babies are portable. Babies are easy! It’s the older kids that are hard! You don’t want to be TOO old when you have kids!
Remember my plan? I did start my first job and got married at 26. I finished my PhD at 27… and then got divorced at 28. It was also around that time that I started having symptoms of endometriosis: dysmenorrhea that made me lay in bed for a few days a month, random bleeding, and pelvic pain. I got my diagnosis around the time I met my husband. I had my first laparoscopy three months after we got married. My doctor had told me that if we wanted to get pregnant, this would be our first step and not to wait. Plenty of women with endometriosis end up with hysterectomies in their 30s (which we now know is not the best way to deal with endo, but…) Two rounds of Clomid later, we were pregnant and our son was born nine months later.
At this point, I was still on the tenure track. A senior member of my department commented that I had gotten pregnant “quickly” while others whispered about my pregnancy. According to them, I had found that “best time” to have my baby… I found a method to delay my tenure clock and also to have a semester off from my teaching load. That “best time” looked a lot different to me… it was marked by recovery from a c-section, difficulty breastfeeding (who knew that you could get preeclampsia postpartum and have your milk dry up thanks to hard core diuretics?) and postpartum depression that set in when I realized that I was going to have to give my baby formula (what I then saw as a failure on my part…overachievers like those who pursue PhDs don’t fail at anything). Strategy had nothing to do with it: my gynecologist told me that endo doesn’t wait for anyone and so I took my chance and went with it.
Last week was infertility awareness week. While I got pregnant with our son relatively effortlessly (one surgery and some clomid is relatively effortless on the infertility spectrum), trying to get pregnant again was insanely difficult. I definitely wanted to wait until I had my tenure letter in my hand (because I was waiting for that “right time”). During that awful stressful year, I ended up having emergency surgery that affected my fertility again. And then we tried. And tried. And tried. I saw the one reproductive endocrinologist in town who was a complete asshole to me (I later learned he was a complete asshole to everyone). I took clomid again. I did injectables. I did not get pregnant.
My gynecologic surgeon suggested I drive up to our closest big city, to the women’s hospital where he had done his residency. That’s a 90 minute drive, one way. A three hour round trip that would have to be done multiple times a week, for testing, ultrasounds, and any other monitoring that would need to be done if we did more invasive fertility treatments. All while teaching and doing research. Not to mention that my insurance (and my husband’s) doesn’t cover fertility treatments. I’ve had friends who did IUI and IVF, spent the thousands of dollars necessary to do that, and still had their hearts broken in the end. My husband and I thought long and hard about it and decided IVF wasn’t for us. Maybe if we hadn’t had our son, we would have been willing to invest the money into the risk, but we couldn’t justify it. The right time, that time that I thought would be so perfect post-tenure, just wasn’t.
I’m that annoying person who has a happy ending to my story. After giving up on baby #2, I got pregnant a few months later with no interventions. There are so many people who don’t get that happy ending. We like to point to fertility issues as an age thing, but honestly, I know plenty of women who have problems getting pregnant and/or staying pregnant for reasons not related to age. So, now, post-tenure me rolls my eyes at those conversations about “the right time” to get pregnant. (Or, worse, people who suggest timing your pregnancies to have the summer off! Kudos if you can actually pull that off!) So, when young women ask me when is the “right time” to get pregnant, I tell them there is no right time. You just need to take a leap of faith and do what is right for you and your family… and also not worry about the whispers that might follow. We academics are planners. We just need to make that connection that all that planning may not work out the way we want it to.