Monday, August 19, 2013

Postdoc-hood & Infertility

Guest Post: the below post was submitted anonymously by an astronomy post-doc.

My husband and I have been actively trying to conceive for over a year and a half and working with a fertility specialist for over a year. We’re both postdocs in STEM. I’m in astronomy.

As a postdoc, I know I’m not alone in feeling a lack of control over ‘the next step’ in my career. Having another important piece of my life feeling as though it’s outside of my control has at times been too much. It’s particularly hard at the beginning of each new cycle. I’m a naturally optimistic person, and so each month I get excited about the possibility, and then when it doesn’t happen, I’m still learning how to cope with the loss.  

I’m extremely grateful for the flexibility that comes with being a postdoc. Because of this, I’ve been able to arrive late or leave early for the multiple appointments each month (1x during the first week of the cycle, 1-3x mid cycle, and 1-2x at the end of the cycle). I’ve also been thankful that I can choose whether to travel or not for research. Although I love to travel, we saw early on that, even if I don’t feel stressed while traveling, it has a significant impact on the length of my cycle, when I ovulate, etc. But I do worry about the impact this has had on my research and forward progress in this career.

I’m still finding the right balance, for me, of how much emotional and mental energy to give to our fertility quest. We know we’ll be parents, whether through treatment or through adoption, so sometimes I am able to legitimately take a longer timescale view of the process and gain comfort in that. But other times it’s just really hard.

It has helped to speak with others who are going through similar experiences. Infertility impacts ~6% of couples (though the rate varies depending on a host of factors), which means there are a lot of couples out there who are going through a similar experience at a similar phase in their career with similar additional factors that come into play.

By the way, I have searched a little online to see if there’s a chat group for postdocs with infertility, but haven’t found any. If anyone knows, definitely post a comment to let the rest of us know.

Anyway, when I read the post about menstrual cycles on this blog, I thought – maybe it’ll help someone else to know there’s another postdoc out there going through this. Not that this post has contained much in the way of advice or answers. Truthfully, I don’t know what to do except take a deep breath, talk with friends when I get sad, frustrated, and/or angry, and hope for the best.

Speaking of which, in October we'll start the process for in-vitro fertilization. Wish us luck. I can post about that process, if folks are interested.

8 comments :

Anonymous said...

Fertility is a very sensitive topic at the work place. When I was in graduate school, classmates (who have become life long close friends) were willing to talk about it and we kept it among ourselves. However, once I move onto postdoc, fertility becomes a topic that nobody wants to talk about, mainly that's personal choice. Regardless you are a male or female, being a father/mother might draw discrimination at the work place, such as being shuffled to a less important project. While this has never happened to me, I don't want to take any chance for hurting my career. Thus, I prefer to keep it private to avoid any speculation.

I can see that you are trying to seek for support. I doubt that it would be a chat group within astronomy community. As I mentioned earlier, it is a very sensitive topic at the work place. As you might have known that astronomy is small world. People most likely do not want to talk about the infertility problem openly. If you want a chat group within astronomy community, then one has to create it and let people post anonymously (or with nickname).

I have participated in different types of forum, fertility, parenting, lifestyle etc. It has helped me in adjusting my new life as a postdoc in a different country. I would suggest that you find a fertility/infertility forum in your country of residence, introduce yourself there and talk about it. You can provide as much information as you would like. Almost all of them are females. This is probably because they are more willing to talk about fertility/infertility/parenting. Trust me, these strangers are very supportive. They don't judge. Based on my experience, people on the fertility/parenting forums have never said anything hurtful in contrast to general topic forums. Strange enough, it works for me by talking to these strangers. In the end, they aren't strangers anymore. We form a bond to help each other along the way. I would rather talking about some of the issues with a stranger, who actually went through the same thing, than to a family or a friend, who can't understand.

P.S. If you want me to point you to the right forum, let me know where you reside, I'll send in couple of suggestions.

Rosemary Mardling said...

I had my babies 24 and 21 years ago. I felt alone and ignored in my department (3 women academics out of 40). I am horrified to read that young women still feel that they will harm their career if they talk about their family dreams in the workplace. Actually, in my (generally) friendly collegiate field (exoplanets), I can't imagine that is a problem with colleagues. But I can imagine that there are still many departments around the world (sad to say, maybe more in the Anglo world) where this is a problem. I wish you all the tranquility you deserve. Stress is our main enemy - I know it was for me but I managed to produce two angels in the end...

Anonymous said...

Jessica--

You are very brave to be so open about your experiences; by doing so, you are probably helping countless women who are going through similar experiences. I have been through a similar experience and chose to keep it mostly to myself (it's just how I'm built; plus I'm not terribly brave!).

Because you know that adoption is an option for you, my only advice (having gotten to the other side) is to do what you're already doing: focus on the fact that you will have a family. Someone will fall into your life just the way they are supposed to.

I'm a mom, now, and hoping for a second; it is worth everything you are going through.

Good luck with the IVF.

Karam said...

Hats off to you for sharing your experience and it will surely give courage to other infertility suffering women to fight for it.

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Russell Jackson said...


My husband and I were planning to have a baby from quite sometime. After trying for several months, I got disappointed and frustrated with the failures. Then I came to know of this fertility calender, which surprised me as I learnt that there is only a short period in the menstrual cycle in which a lady has highest chances of concieving. I followed it religiously and it worked wonders for me as now I have my baby girl beside me. It worked perfectly for me and hope it does the same for everyone who is trying to get pregnant.

sumita rao said...

Such a brave woman you are I follow these kind of ladies who can give a path to others. Infertility fight spirit.