Thursday, March 14, 2013


How many times do you actually realize that you are doing something for the last time? Often times it's not until you look back that you realize that the last was the last.

Today, right now, I am pumping at work for the last time. My daughter is 11.5 months old and I made the decision to start introducing cow's milk. She eats all sorts of other dairy with no problem and was down to having one small bottle of my milk during the day when I wasn't there (in addition to my nursing her when she wakes up and before she goes to bed at night). So to start I'm splitting my milk and cows milk and next week we'll probably go whole cow (pun intended).

I, as much as I hate this process, find myself feeling oddly nostalgic at this moment. Not so much for the actual pumping, but because another phase is coming to an end. And, more so, perhaps because I know it's coming to an end.

I guess maybe this is a feeling that all parents have to get used to that I think I was too tired and swept away to notice before: the bitter-sweet of passing milestones of any kind.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Science vs. Gut

Everything is more relaxed with the second child. You learn not to freak out at every sneeze, cough, or fart. You learn that crying, though unpleasant to listen to, is just a means of communication and sometimes they are just saying that they don't like what's going on, and it won't kill them to cry a little. You learn that babies are generally pretty robust. Heck, you might even think you have something a little, just a little, figured out with this being a parent thing.

And then something happens to cause the nervous system in your gut (yes we actually have one there, but I'm not talking about that) takes over. This "Parent gut" nervous system does not succumb to logic, nay, it screams "DO SOMETHING! THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG!" in the face of what could be just a paper cut. Being a scientist by day, I would like to think that I usually do a pretty good job reigning in this extra gutsy nervous system. But that's where I was mistaken, that it could (or should) be reigned in at all.

By now you are probably wondering what happened. Let me assure you that everyone is OK -- more than OK, great. So here's how it went down.

Friday, while I was running an experiment and simultaneously trying to troubleshoot some problems my undergrad research assistant was having, I got the following text from our au pair:
"I think that [my daughter] swallowed part of in ear headphones.i am not sure but i can not find this fraction. dont know if it is plastic or elastic? she is ok. but i dont know what to do?" I called my husband and he rushed home to figure out what was going on. After some consultation, I felt proud of us that we decided to call the doctor rather than rush her to the emergency room (given that our daughter was nothing but her usual bubbly self). Turns out no ER is going to take an x-ray or anything else of a baby unless it's a battery or there's a respiratory problem. So it was watch and wait.

Fast forward a bit to Monday. Sunday night she had an awful night of sleep and then she seemed just upset. The au pair thought she felt something on her bum when she was changing her diaper and texted us. We, once again, rushed home. This time we were resolved to bring her in given that we already had an appointment because earlier in the day I thought she might have an ear infection because she had a cold and had so much trouble sleeping.

So you all can probably guess, the doctor saw her, and declared her in excellent health. On the one hand, phew. On the other hand -- sheepish smile -- once again parent gut won.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Hi Blogosphere, it's been a while. What can I say but that little ones keep you busy. My daughter will be 8 months in a week, my son just turned 3.

I wanted to post about something that's been on my mind for a while, in the hopes that other moms out there can relate. I don't know how exactly to explain, so bear with me for a moment or two.

I feel angry. All. The. Time. I feel like in the pit of my stomach there's a cauldron boiling away and it only takes the slightest stoking of the fire to make it boil over. Everything from running late to dishes to potty time can be an issue. And the person who bears the brunt of it -- my poor husband.

In talking about it with friends they seemed to think that this was reasonable given the fact that I'm over-tired, working a full time job, and trying to make time for two little ones (and running the household to go with it). The problem is that sometimes the anger just seems so unreasonable. And I don't like it. It makes me angry at myself that I get so angry at sometimes almost nothing. Even when there is a reason to be angry (maybe), I feel like it's way out of proportion.

In cruising the rest of the interwebs, it seems as though this is a (somewhat) common experience. So, anyone out there have any suggestions? I know that time, mostly time will help. I will sleep more and be less hormonal as I wind down breast-feeding... but in the mean time I don't want things to be quite so brutal. Commiseration encouraged.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Sir or Ma'am?

I study karate. I have for years. Recently I started at a new school and after I was asked to teach class for the first time and several students addressed me as "Sir" the question came up as to what I would prefer to be addressed as. The head instructor said that a previous female teacher (the only other one, as far as I can tell) had preferred to be called "Sir", he guessed because she was young (didn't want to be called ma'am) and they thought of "sir" in a gender-neutral way.

My first (internal) reaction was, "That's crap!" on two levels. 1) "Sir" is not gender-neutral. 2) I am a woman, not a man. But now that I think about it some more, I realize that it is much the same issue that I have faced at work being a scientist. Be a woman or try to be one of the boys. I suspect a similar choice has to be made by the minority gender in any similar situation. It seems amplified in situations that one would like to be able to say "I can do anything you can do."

So which sends the "right" message? Try to blend in and in a gesture of solidarity and conformity go with "sir" in my new school? Or insist on being called "ma'am" as a verbal reminder of the fact that I am a woman, and I can (hopefully) still do it all.

Given that I have made the decision in my professional life to dress like a woman professional and even wear a bit of makeup, I think they are all going to have to call me ma'am. But I'm curious to hear what others would say.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, May 4, 2012


It's hard to believe that 4 weeks have already gone by since my daughter (DD) was born. Before I tell you how things are now, let me go backwards a bit and summarize how the birth was. I would like to share it because it easily was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

I don't know if it was the beautiful, sunny and unseasonably warm spring day, or the fact that it was our anniversary, but there was something in the air as we drove to my 10:30am doctor's appointment. I was 10 days "overdue" and I was scheduled to go in for a non-stress test (NST) and an ultrasound (US) before going to see the midwife. Between the nurse not really knowing how to work the baby-monitoring machine and waiting for two separate tests, that easily took over an hour. The bottom line when it was done was that the baby was happy right where she was.

So then there was the small matter to discuss with the midwife of when she was going to come out. I was easily 3 cm dilated and she felt very strongly that after a membrane sweep that started causing contractions, I was going to have the baby either that day or the next. So then we had a choice. We could wait and see if the labor kept going on its own and have a fallback plan of scheduling an induction for the next day, or I could go in that day, they could break my water, and get things rolling that way. Given that the midwife that I saw for the majority of my appointments was on call, and would welcome what would technically be an "induction" (breaking my water) in the Alternative Birthing Center (ABC, one room in the hospital -- even though it's called a "center"), we decided to go for it.

In the haze of surreality on that bright day we went home to get my things ("See you later Mom, we're going to have a baby..."), and then out to get some lunch -- a lunch that was supposed to be an anniversary lunch of sorts, so we went to one of our favorite spots. We enjoyed our last little bit of time as couple for a while in the midst of some great food and some consistently strengthening contractions.

It's a little funny to show up to the hospital and when asked why you are there say "I'm here to have a baby." We checked in at triage and then were shown up to the ABC. It's also a bit funny to "get ready" for birth in the sense of getting changed and putting your stuff away, especially after all the preparation you do for the fact that it's an unexpected event.

They broke my water around 2:30 pm. In reality it's just a tiny little pin prick. That was enough to really get things rolling. DH and I walked the sunny hallways outside the ABC to develop a "good strong labor". I started using Hypnobabies, which is the at-home course we used to prepare. I could probably write a whole post about exactly how it worked and singing its praises, but perhaps the biggest illustration of the endorsement I would give it is a couple of snippets from my labor. 

The first is that at one point I took a break from wondering the halls and lied down to listen to one of the tracks. They actually thought that I was sleeping, and one of the nurses even fell asleep herself! Well, I was most definitely not sleeping - in fact I was in really active labor and transitioned to the final stage of labor before pushing just after that little "nap".

The second is that I got into the jacuzzi for what was to be the last part of my labor, and not only did they not realize that I was 10cm dilated, but that I was feeling like I wanted to push. After the fact it was a bit comical/dramatic that they had to rush to get me out of the tub so I *didn't* have the baby in the tub. A handful of pushes later and she was out. The whole thing was 4 hours from start to finish and DD was born at 6:35 pm.

There are obviously plenty of details that I am skipping over, and if anyone wants to know more, I'm happy to share (comment or send me an email). I couldn't be happier with the way things went. It was an incredible experience to give birth drug-free.

After DD was born, it was early enough that DH went home to bring my parents and DS to the hospital to come see us. He brought us flowers (all by himself!). We went home about 24 hours later. And now here we are trying to figure out life with two kids :-)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Maternity Leave

Seeing as how I am still pregnant and trying to take it easy, I am finding that I am, for lack of a better word, bored. This is a very strange feeling, so I thought I would share some recent thoughts.

Warning: I'm about to get up on my soap box. Maternity leave. It seems to be one of those things that you really don't think about it until some time during your pregnancy when you realize that you should spend some time figuring out the logistics of how you are going to deal with taking care of yourself, and the new little person in your life. And yes, this delay in figuring things out even happens to those of us who are not going through it for the first time.

I think the reason why I didn't think of it sooner was that there is so much about maternity leave that *seems* like it should be common sense. You go through a major physical event in your life, you have a new life to figure out to take care of, and you need time to deal with both. And you should not be penalized for needing that time. After all, we were all born, we all have mothers, and it seems like it's in society's best interest to take care of them in some manner.

The day I sat down to figure out how my maternity leave would work for this child, I ended up sitting at my desk and crying. Mind you, I consider myself a pretty strong and not over-emotional woman. I cried out of frustration, anger, and feeling like I was being punished for the fact that I was having a child.

Before I tell you the reasons, and about my personal situation, I should emphasize that I am *LUCKY*. There are women out there who have much worse situations than myself.

First, there are three levels of laws/rules/policies that one has to wade through: federal, state, and employer. At the federal level, there is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA, which is surprisingly recent -- only since 1993), one is potentially eligible for 6 weeks of unpaid leave with the birth (or adoption) of a child. What the FMLA guarantees is that you will have a job when you get back. That's it. There is, however, a catch. In order to be covered by FMLA you have to have been working for your company for at least a year, have worked a minimum number of hours, and your company has to have a minimum number of employees (for more specifics see the U.S. Dept. of Labor website). For people like myself who have been fortunate enough to have had a steady job for years, but recently switched jobs, it really sucks. I could have easily been left in the situation of not being eligible for ANY leave.

Oh, and by-the-way, the U.S. is one of only four countries in the world that does not offer guaranteed paid leave. The other three: Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and Lesotho (extra credit to people who even know where to find all of those three countries on a map).

So then there are state-level policies. Most states only go so far as upholding the FMLA regulations. A select handful do a tad bit more to either guarantee you can use your sick days (four states) or have disability insurance programs that encompass the "disability" of giving birth (five states). [Don't even get me started on how giving birth is considered a "disability".] I am fortunate enough to live in a state that does indeed have a disability insurance program, but of course there are caveats. First, how it's all calculated and what you are actually eligible for is rather impenetrable despite actually having a website and "FAQ" devoted to the topic. And I should mention that I am not the only Ph.D. that I have talked to that reached a similar conclusion. Second, there are again eligibility requirements centered on how much you have worked for your current employer. So you should be aware of what your state offers, but don't count on much.

Lastly, but hopefully not least, there are the policies of your employer. This is what can be the saving grace for a lot of people. It's also something to keep in mind in taking a new job if you at all have family in mind (dads too!). I think it's really sad that I have to consider myself lucky that my employer offers 6 weeks of paid leave if you have worked there for four years. I haven't worked there that long, but luckily (sadly) I fall into a loophole because the funding for my salary comes from an outside granting agency, so I get 6 weeks paid. After that, I could take unpaid leave. What makes my situation truly fortunate is that my direct supervisor is very understanding and I get to make my own schedule. I can work from home and was told it is OK for me to do so for as long as I need after the baby is born.

So I was able to sort my particular situation out and should actually be able to get paid while I am out on leave. But this feeling I am left with is incredibly unsatisfying. I want to DO something. I would like to be able to help those less fortunate than myself. [For example, I know a woman who, though she was working at the same employer for years, switched funding sources and therefore she is currently ineligible for maternity leave of any kind.] I am hoping that sharing my story may accomplish some part of that.

Also, just as I was about to start writing this post, I read an that Parents magazine recently published: The Fight for Better Maternity Leave. The article is an easy read, and has other facts beyond the ones that I cite (unfortunately most of them are rather disconcerting).

That article also mentioned a web site/ organization: The first issue/goal of their organization that they list is maternity leave. After perusing their site, I decided to join their mailing list. Perhaps others who read this will be motivated to do the same. I have faith that there is strength in numbers, and the current situation *has* to change.

Art Project

Rarely does Mommy get the chance to do art projects. A little while ago I was able to attend a workshop on Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI). This is a very valuable technology for using MRI to explore the connections within the brain that I know comparatively little about. Even though there are some complex algorithms that go into figuring out where the pathways are, others have designed data analysis such that even a relative newcomer like myself can learn the basics of the analyses. The bonus is that the results are, for lack of a better word, pretty. So here's a little art project I would like to call "chia brain".