Some of the best of 2012

Indeed. Especially when half caffeinated.    (Image: zazzle.com)

It’s nearly the end of 2012, and it’s definitely been a year of ups and downs. This morning, I have been reflecting on some of the positives of 2012:

I officially became a PhD candidate

I had a blast vacationing/conferencing in the UK over the summer

I turned the big 30

I have experienced all the fun of Little V so far, and have been pregnant for nearly 2/3 of 2012

It’s been an eventful year! And it’s been a year dominated by, of course, science and babies. Pregnancy has resulted in some serious lifestyle changes. Some are predictable, like no booze. And yes, when you are a grad student (or a someone surrounded by other someones who just love the stuff), not drinking is an adjustment. But others were a complete surprise to me. And I have definitely changed in ways I never would have predicted.

So, with these big changes in mind, here are a few things that babies and science could NOT have lived without this year:

1. THE HALF CAFF/HALF DECAF COFFEE

I know, I know. Many pregnant women swear off coffee their entire pregnancy. But here I made a compromise- after reading some of the studies tentatively linking caffeine to miscarriage, I did drastically cut down to about 1.5-2 caffeinated cups a day. One thing that did help tremendously was that I realized that the routine of consumption was just as important as the little boost of caffeine itself. I simply love getting up in the morning and enjoying a couple of cups of coffee or meeting a friend for a latte in the afternoon. So rather than ration out the volume, I made an executive decision to trick my mind (and J’s). I switched to making half caff/half decaf in the morning. And honestly, I can hardly tell the difference. And because I only have about a cup of caffeine in the morning, I had no guilt about enjoying the occasional single shot latte in the afternoon.

2. THE BODY PILLOW

This one is a little more recent but was definitely a game changer. As an avid stomach sleeper, pregnancy made sleep difficult for me. You basically have to sleep on your side, and preferably your left side. For a month or so I used an assortment of pillows for between my knees, below my hips and my head. This definitely helped but I struggled to sleep for more than a couple of hours at a time and I could rarely get in more than 6 hours a night.  Because I was getting up at strange hours to study for my general exam, these bad nights of sleep were crushing. And my usual solution to tiredness was now severely limited (refer to #1). After a particularly rough night, I was having a nice little Saturday at BB&B and I remembered my sister’s praises of the body pillow for pregnancy. It was the best $20 I’ve ever spent. Other than getting up to pee several times in the night, I am in a dead sleep while bear-hugging that thing. I call it my boyfriend and J knows better than to get between us.

3. THE ELECTRONIC LAB NOTEBOOK

I honestly don’t know- does anyone still use a paper lab notebook? A couple years ago I made the switch from paper to having a new word document for every month. Having all my lab notebooks accessible at any time from home has really freed me up to do some work from home. And this kind of flexibility has been awesome as I get fatter and lazier by the day.

4. THE GOOD BLENDER

Until Taco Time and cupcakes start counting as health food, I have never been very good at eating healthy and this makes you feel really guilty when you are pregnant. When my midwife told me to steer clear of the salad bar at work, my fresh fruit/veggie consumption pretty much tapered off to the occasional apple and a few cherry tomatoes. Then I learned that I could combine all these gross healthy veggies (like kale and spinach) into a blender with delicious fruit (strawberries, raspberries, peaches) along with other healthy stuff (like flax seed, nuts, plain yogurt) into a blender and I would get a drink that tastes pretty much like strawberries. I now make a couple of these a day. The trick is a good blender- I splurged on a NutriBullet but any blender that can actually crush up frozen fruit will do. I feel awesome after drinking one of these things. I also get the satisfaction of being, for the first time in my life, one of those people who actually consumes the proper amount of fresh fruits and vegetables (humble brag!).

That’s all for now. Happy New Year!

35 weeks… but who’s counting?

Happy holidays!

It was absolute bliss to take 5 straight days off of work! J and I also had a pre-Christmas “treat yo-self” weekend at a lodge not far from the city. I enjoyed a pregnancy massage (wowza!) and ate several bags of peanut brittle. The beauty of being not far from home was that we felt zero pressure to go explore the outside world. We were like 2 little bears, holed up for winter in our room.

Our little vacation was perfectly timed since last week My Anxious Self was on high alert. The past few months, Therapist M has been pointing out that I may have some trouble setting attainable goals for myself and being realistic, which provides some pretty fertile soil for anxiety. Perfect example- time. If I have a 9am meeting, for example, I completely underestimate the time that it takes to wake, shower, get ready, get the bus, and arrive at on time. My first instinct is to give myself an hour because an hour feels like a long time. What actually happens is I am barely out the door at 8:50 am. I’m drenched in stress sweats and hoping that this one time the 15 minute bus ride will only take 5 minutes.

I have set some similarly ambitious goals for myself about wrapping up lab work before little V comes. And reality has started to sink in- within the next 5 weeks, I’ll  (probably) be having this baby. I’d been hoping to find a really clean stopping place for my 2 projects before leaving. Actually, let’s be honest, I’ve been hoping to make incredible progress- to nearly finish one project (maybe I can write a manuscript on maternity leave!) and make a few months worth of headway on the other project in the next few weeks. And what’s that phrase again- crazy people do the same thing over and over and expect different results?

Setting lofty goals comes from a good place, I think. I want to push myself (and impress my advisor, sure). But the result is that most days I feel like a failure. And with each failure, it’s almost as if I can see the time it will take to get my PhD extending before my eyes- I will still be here in 8 years if this PCR fails again! Not logical, but all the same, it feels so real.

So my goal for today is to set some REALISTIC goals for myself for the next few weeks. First trick is coming to understand what “realistic” means- can I accurately estimate how long things might take? And the second trick is to make these goals very flexible. If the baby comes early or my ankles swell to the size of tree trunks and I can’t walk, I do not want to be obsessing over plasmid transformations. I want to put dissertation baby in the corner- just for a little while- and enjoy this crazy adventure of having a baby.

 

Pregnancy dreams- and my possible sexism.

Oh, the 80’s.

Before I was even pregnant, I would have a recurring dream that went something like this- I would suddenly realize I had a baby (or several). I would be excited yet terrified. I would then find myself somewhere away from said baby(ies) and panic would set in as I realized that I had forgotten about baby(ies) and that they were alone and probably hungry, scared, etc. Panic stricken, I would spend the rest of the dream trying to get home and/or properly dial a phone to reach someone that could help me. (Why is it so hard to operate a phone in a dream?!?!). Of course, I would wake up having never reached home after many frustrating attempts to get there.

My dreams have gotten incredibly vivid as I get closer and closer to meeting little V and just last night I had a replay of “The baby dream”. Except, for the first time ever, I actually got myself to the hospital, gave birth (hypnobirthing worked great I’m happy to report!), and even successfully breast fed the little bugger. Then I left the hospital ALONE and suddenly, I was at a conference in Minnesota with my advisor, frantically trying to call J to get an update on our hours-old infant. Then a long procession of frustrating things happened, as usual- I get ahold of the neighbor who tells me our baby cries all the time. This makes me feel so sad. I get ahold of J who is out and about without the baby, seemingly unaware that babies cannot be left alone in the house. I am screaming into the phone at him about this, and adding other advice like “make sure he sleeps on his back!” and “he has to eat every 3 hours!”. And the whole time I am also trying to operate a computer to buy a plane ticket home because, what the hell am I doing at a conference when I just had a baby? And, I wake.

I feel like “The baby dreams: versions 1 and 2” must be about my anxiety over balancing baby life with the other life compartments (Venn Diagrams!). And it’s hard to disregard this fear- it’s pretty legit. It will be hard. I worry that I’ll feel guilty that one baby or the other (little V or dissertation) are suffering from a lack of attention. Both babies and grad school are more than full-time gigs. I’ll have to make sacrifices.

But “The baby dream: Version 2” also reveals something a little more disturbing- that I seem to regard myself as the only capable parent. In reality, I have an incredible husband and we plan on splitting up parental duties 50/50. In my dream, I have to reprimand J about leaving the baby home alone. Wow. Really psyche? In my dream, I seem to be the only one with any parenting common sense and J is useless.

I’m now trying to figure out if there are parts of me that really, genuinely, feel like I know best when it comes to looking after little V.  I’m used to being around families where the duties are largely defined by gender: mom stays home and takes care of babies/house, dad works. Both J and I grew up in families where things operated this way. So probably some gender biases have seeped into my subconscious. I’m also a child of the 80’s where there were no shortage of TV shows/films about the hilarious consequences of men *trying* to take care of babies. Does a part of me doubt that a man can be just as wonderful a nurturer as a lady?

The Venn Diagram.

Sometimes it is so satisfying to compartmentalize. How do I define myself and what I am about? Where do these things overlap and where are they distinct? And as a grad student in science with a baby on the way, this particular Venn diagram probably comprises 90% of my head space.

Little V has been cooking for almost 34 weeks now (!) and I’m both excited and terrified to discover how this baby changes, well, everything? In addition to being a science grad, I’m a wife of almost 5 years to husband J, lover of big city living, and at times, casually creative (an enthuastic but range-limited karaoke singer and recent owner of a sewing machine). I can trend a tad anxious/obsessive- a character I’ll play occasionally to frequently that Therapist M and I affectionately refer to as “my anxious self” (MAS). I hear many new parents discover they have an “anxious self” as well, so I figure I’m already a step ahead in that area.

I feel like being a scientist has, in some ways, prepared me for this baby. I think this is where these 2 compartments interesect. I already know my way around strange sleep schedules. And no scientist is a stranger to the maddening frustration when NOTHING seems to be working (your baby just won’t sleep/poop/eat/behave the way you envision). Then there are those rare “Champagne time!” moments when experiments come together or grants come through and you are in awe of how your dissertation/project/experiment (baby) has advanced to the next level. But science, thankfully, has little tolerance for subjectivity and emotion in its method. It demands cold-hard data and rigorous controls. And the whole parenting thing, where instinct and hormones rule, seems so very disparate from the scientific way of thinking. I can’t wait to see how these two worlds blend- and don’t- in the next year ahead.