Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Pregnant and Teaching and Writing During PhD: Oh My

I have a lot on my plate right now.


In September of 2016, I started my PhD program at the University of Rhode Island, which also involved a Graduate Assistantship where I'm able to teach essay writing courses. By the end of September, I'd decided I wanted to have a baby and was pregnant, and by October my pregnancy was confirmed. Add, on top of this all, that I'm also a writer with several manuscripts that I juggle at any given time.

I have to say, this period of my life kind of reminds me of one from two years back where, when I explained to my therapist all that I had to do and all that was expected of me, he flat-out asked "How does your head not fall off?" I think that's worth talking about. Having so much to do, putting a lot of pressure on myself and feeling the extreme need to live up to/surpass the expectations of others, can be detrimental to me. (See: my history/continuing struggles with anorexia, depression, and anxiety).

At first, the juggling wasn't too bad. In my first trimester of pregnancy/most of my first semester of PhD, I was painfully fatigued (because coffee is my life source and I had to give that up) and I got the painfully ravenous munchies every day when I dismissed my second class. But overall, it wasn't too much. I learned how to balance my classwork in a way that kept me sane--not dedicating hours and hours to taking extensive notes on every homework reading, getting ahead where I could, etc. I was only teaching one class, which is still definitely hard work but not overwhelmingly so. I was even managing to continue writing the first draft of my queer fairy tale novel.

And then, a little while after Thanksgiving, during Week 11 of my pregnancy, shit hit the fan. I was violently ill with morning sickness to the point where it was difficult to keep any food down or eat in the first place. I could honestly barely even function--mental processing was difficulty, physically doing anything but lying on my side on the couch was a challenge. This a) came right before my first set of finals of PhD and b) lasted until halfway through Week 15. By starting my seminar papers early and taking them bit by bit, I managed to complete them. I had to put my novel writing on hiatus for the time being because expecting myself to do 1,000 words per day when I felt like that only made me feel worse about my whole situation on account of guilt on the days when I fell short.

Honestly, it was a lesson in prioritizing and self-care. I pride myself on getting things done, on productivity, and sometimes my body can't handle that (see: fibromyalgia). I knew that I wasn't only taking care of myself but also my baby and that running myself ragged, making myself feel bad for not being able to do all the things at once, would only hurt us both. So I learned to slow down a little and make my number one priority taking care of myself.

Then I hit the halfway point of Week 15. The morning sickness (mostly) stopped; the baby started kicking. I was able to get myself together in the couple of weeks before my second semester picked back up. This time around I was teaching two classes, which is a lot of work in and of itself. In the interest of keeping myself in good shape, I allow myself to take my time with things that I would have expected myself to do much more quickly and efficiently before--like taking more than five days to grade 46 papers. Honestly, more than the pregnancy (which strikes me as odd), the intense grading over Spring Break made me feel more like a machine and less human. I'd have to balance it, when I got to a certain point, by watching The Nanny or Everybody Loves Raymond, or by cooking corned beef, or by painting the baby's bookshelf, or by doing out for an ice cream cone. I also made a promise to myself that I wouldn't accept any more obligations that aren't things I want to do for me until at least one month after the baby is born. (So, for example, any writing projects that I want to pursue are fair game, but if people ask me for things and it's not something I'm interested in doing, I'm not adding more to my plate.)

For my classes, again I try to get what I can done early. For example, my plan is to write one seminar paper in the first half of April and the other in the second half of April, in hopes that I'll be in a good enough mental and physical place to create better papers. Last night I did some substantial work thinking out my academic career path--Where do I want to be? What do I need on my CV to get me there? What do I need to do to get that on my CV? I have some investigative questions written to turn one of my seminar papers--on cisgender-normativity in feminism and the need to include trans women--into an article. Plus I have two scholarly journals researched to send it out to once it's all edited up.

I also, in the early part of the semester, finished out the first draft of my queer fairy tale novel and am looking at getting back to it for edits soon. My plan had been to start those last week, but I was under a time crunch for grading papers, so I let myself off the hook for a little bit, at least. In the past couple of days, I've also been researching more publishers to send my short story collection and my second poetry collection to, as well as sending out some pieces/chapbooks for entry-free competitions. Even just that mechanical aspect of writing has made me feel better, more like my writer self. Sure, it doesn't compare to actual writing and editing, but it feels like getting back this huge piece of myself that I had to, for the sake of my health and sanity, let go dormant for a few weeks. Plus I'm reading some stuff recreationally when I can, and gearing up to work on a currently incomplete first draft of a goddess novel that I've let sit for about a year.

As for pregnancy, the baby is really strong and active. Overall it's going well, but I think I'm hitting the point where things are just starting to get uncomfortable and are going to stay that way until the kid comes Irish step-dancing out and, I imagine, for a little bit after that. On the other hand, I got a new dress and shoes for my baby shower and I never get myself things like clothes, so treating myself to that was nice (and, ya know, helpful since I'd like to have something to wear that actually fits at that point).

So that's where I am. I certainly don't claim to have the perfect balance, or all the answers. But I'm managing to keep my head from falling off and, as far as I'm concerned, that's an achievement. I'm going to do what I need to as far as teaching and coursework this semester; I'm going to write what I want to and try my best not to put too much pressure on myself; I'm going to paint my baby's bookshelf and bake and knit my baby's blanket and garden once the weather's stable enough up here in Rhode Island in a couple of weeks.

I'm still not quite sure how I'm functioning and/or surviving without coffee. It's not one of the habits that I'm aiming to maintain post-pregnancy, that's for damn sure.

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