Family Planning as a PhD Mom

Here’s a secret… I had been planning to start trying to make baby #2 in the first week of January. I had kept it from the blog. We had been updating our donor contract, gotten our donor on board, I’d been collecting syringes from the pharmacy, and taking a prenatal vitamin. But then my PhD progress threw a wrench in the works.

I finally got my dissertation data last week, and it was not all that I hoped it would be. It was OK, but not enough to constitute a dissertation. So, my advisory committee and I decided that I needed a second study. A new study, a new ethics application, another 400 people recruited, another big batch of data collected, and a whole new story to write up about it. My original plan was to be finished writing in spring, and defend early summer. My new plan is to finish writing in summer, and defend in fall. So conceiving in January would mean I could be defending my dissertation with a fresh baby on my boob – no thanks!

The new plan is to start trying to conceive in MAYBE March, skip April (we’re too busy in December to have a December baby), and resume in May. I’m bummed out for many reasons…

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Fertility tracking

I have re-downloaded Fertility Friend, the ovulation charting app that helped us to inseminate efficiently the first time. I tried taking my temperature this morning for fertility tracking, but the battery was dead in my basal thermometer. I’m surprised I even kept it after we made one baby and deciding we were one-and-done. I bought a new battery and plan to start charting temps asap, but it’s very different this time around. In case you haven’t used temperature charting before, the rules are simple but tough to follow: take your temp IMMEDIATELY upon waking, at the same time every day, and put your daily temp on a graph to watch for the rise in temperature associated with ovulating. These days, I sometimes wake up in my bed, sometimes in Avery’s, sometimes at 5am, sometimes at 7am, and I’m up through the night, too. I don’t think I can depend on just temping.

So today I bought the digital ovulation monitor that I used last time for our actual inseminations. It’s a $50 device that comes with 10 ovulation tests, and it’s another $40 to get all the refill test strips I would hopefully need throughout our next round of TTC. It’s expensive, but what I like about it is that it distinguishes between the days leading up to ovulation and the actual day before ovulation (when the lutenizing hormone peaks). It’s really, really handy for the at home inseminating families who don’t have ultrasounds or meds to guide them. When I got the hang it of it last time, I was able to give our donor several days notice for the upcoming ovulation/insemination. And it’s better than temping for me these days, with the #momlife that I wasn’t living last time we conceived.

So that’s where we are with TTC right now. We’re tracking my cycles, and planning a get-together with our donor and his wife for early in the new year to talk about it. We hang out with them a lot, but always with kids in tow, which doesn’t give us the space to talk about making babies… This time we’re coordinating a childless double date, and I’m excited for multiple reasons!

Working backwards from baby

My wife and I have been waffling on when to have baby #2 (and some days we even go back and forth on whether or not to have another child at all). But it seems that we really thought about timelines for the first time last night – when do we want to HAVE baby #2? When’s the best time to disrupt the flow of our lives so that it will cause the least waves?

Originally I had thought that I’d love to be done school and have a job first, so I could get a paid maternity leave. But the issue of disrupting my professional trajectory is a very real one – when I had Avery I completely lost my passion and drive for my PhD and my CV has become outdated and unattractive to potential employers. If that happens again, I will not want to be newly employed by a company I hope to stay at long term when I go through my “mothering-is-everything” phase. So we have decided (and I say that word without strong conviction) to aim to have a baby shortly after I’ve defended my dissertation. Since I aim to defend in early summer 2019, and we don’t want any more birthdays in July and August (there are 7 immediate family birthdays in these two months already), we’re looking at trying in January. BUT I highly doubt that will happen because I haven’t been tracking my cycle and we haven’t even talked to our donor about it, let alone get our donor contract renewed.

Suddenly it feels like 9 months is a long time, when I don’t want to be sitting around between PhD and career for longer than I need to.

Countdown to TTC for baby #2: our timeline

My wife has started reminding me with increasing frequency that she wants another kid, and although we talk about it as something way down the road (“some day…”), there are a lot of moving pieces in our timeline and I think we need to be clear about all of the variables.

We’re still not planning to have another baby until I’ve finished my PhD, gotten a job, and have worked at that job long enough to be eligible for maternity leave. But the shortest estimated end-date for my PhD is about one year from today, and you only need to work about 3 months (600 hours) to qualify for maternity leave in my province. If I were lucky and got a job just a couple of months out of school, we could technically be birthing baby #2 a year and a half from now (*HARD GULP* – did not realize the shortest timeline was so short…).

And now for the longest (more realistic) timeline estimate. I would very much like to have baby #2 before I’m 35 – I already feel limited by my age when I’m too tired or stiff to keep up with my toddler (*side note: not all 35 year olds feel as old as I do and plenty of moms older than 35 can keep up with toddlers just fine). I’ll be 35 in July 2020. It takes 10 months to grow a baby from conception; therefore, I’d like to be working on conceiving baby #2 by early next fall (2019), which also happens to be about the time I hope to be starting a job. Yikes – when I lay it out like that we’re really cutting it close to the start of my future career. Sorry, future employer. And let’s hope I can actually find a job right away…

If we follow through on our plan for reciprocal IVF, it takes time to go through the planning, appointments, plus the 6-month sperm quarantine for a known donor. Let’s work backwards to see when we need to start the ball rolling:

June 2020 – Have baby #2. I’ll be about to turn 35, and Avery will be about to turn 4.

October 2019 – Conceive baby #2.

March 2019 – Put our donor’s sperm on ice and wait 6 months for him to get re-tested for STIs. Following testing, IVF can be done.

September 2018 – Start talking to our donor about going through the more intensive donor process for IVF, start researching reciprocal IVF.

So it looks like I have about 6 more carefree months before TTC research consumes my brain again! And I thought I was consumed by research on at-home insemination…. IVF is a whole new ballgame that I never thought I’d have to learn about. Maybe I can convince my wife to take the lead on research this time.

*Edit to say that I got my age wrong in the above calculations… I will be 32 this summer, not 33. Sheesh. So add a year to the longest possible timeline.

On having a second child

My wife and I always knew we wanted one child. Even when we wavered on having any children at all, we knew that if we did, we’d want an only child. We both loved the idea of the one-child lifestyle, the extra resources, traveling more, getting back to restful sleeps and feeling like ourselves again sooner. It was set in stone.

And then we had one.

We certainly have not decided to have another child, but the conversation is starting to happen. It started when people asked us if we wanted more and our answer changed from a unanimous “NO” to “never say never.” 

One day we were talking to a friend who said she felt her ovaries screaming as soon as her friends started having kids and my wife and I unanimously said “babies are addictive.” We looked at each other like, “oh, you feel that way too?” And then there was the time I expressed some nervousness about babysitting a friend’s kid while taking care of Avery and my wife said “it’ll be good practice.” “For what?” I asked. We left the answer unspoken. We’ve also casually dropped baby names that would sound good with Avery. A big 2nd baby trigger came when our donor family had their baby over the weekend. We haven’t met her yet, but the pictures were TO DIE FOR. The picture of the older sister holding her new baby sister made our hearts melt into a puddle on the floor.  

We really have no idea what the future will bring, but the fact that we’re subtly exposing to each other that we’ve thought about it is a big development. And as I deal with every big decision, I’ve started thinking about this in terms of a pros/cons list. 

Cons To Having A Second Child

  • IT’S HARD! Holy shit is it hard to be a parent of a baby. I don’t know how much easier it gets, if it gets easier at all, and there are moments with Avery where I even vocalize how I couldn’t go through this again (e.g. sleep deprivation). 
  • I’ll likely just be starting to build my career when we would try for another because I have a couple of years left on my PhD and we would want kids close-ish in age if we had another. Even if my wife took the parental leave (I’d be carrying again), I’ve learned that having a baby DESTROYS my mental acuity and motivation for brain-work.
  • If I didn’t have a job yet or if I were just starting to build a client base as a self-employed consultant, we’d be just as broke as we are this time. A 12 month maternity leave would be SWEET, but I’m so far from that.
  • I’m afraid that our life would be completely overtaken by “the kids this and “the kids that“… I’m still 90% mom, 5% student and 5% wife, and I’m really hoping this ratio balances a little better as Avery gets a little older. I don’t know where the extra percents would come from if we had a second baby.
  • Even part time childcare for one child is going to be tough on us financially. 

Pros To Having a Second Child

  • Although it’s hard, it’s also the most amazing experience we’ve ever had, and Avery is the most wonderful and beautiful thing in our lives. Another child would add more amazingness, wonder, and beauty into our lives. 
  • I would love another crack at my dream home water birth experience. 
  • I LOVE being a mom. I feel like it’s my calling in life. 
  • Every exciting milestone, every heart melting smile, every laugh, every hug, every new personality characteristic… times 2