Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Spreading myself too thin

I am at that stage in my academic career where, if someone asks me to do something, I am scared to turn it down, just in case I am never asked again. The result is that this semester I have taken on Too Much Teaching.

The module I teach in the Shit Hot Critical Theory Department was so over-subscribed that this year they asked me to teach it twice over, to two separate groups of students. It is also running as an MA option, which means that I have had to organise further classes solely for graduate students: every week, I tie myself up in knots trying to explain complicated bits of psychoanalytic theory to them. I am also doing some further teaching at another institution altogether, supervising undergraduate dissertations.

I seem to be pursued from all angles by anxious students wanting to ask me questions: every time I check my email, I find my inbox full of communications all marked 'urgent query re: essay'; at the end of every class, there is inevitably a small delegation of people waiting to talk to me. This morning one of them even followed me into the toilet: 'Are you in there, Ms Heathen?' came a voice from outside the cubicle. 'Can I ask you a quick question about my essay?'

Mr H is still working away from home during the week. Because I do not wish what little time we have together at the weekends to be entirely taken up by domestic chores, I try to cram both housework and teaching preparation into the week, while my marriage is inevitably condensed into the weekends. There seems very little time left over for myself.

Somewhere along the lines, something has had to give. And that something appears to have been my own writing - both here on my blog, but also within my PhD.

I was supposed to submit my dissertation by the end of this month. I am not going to be in a position to meet this deadline, and so am going to have to apply for (yet another) extension. I have gone through this whole process several times already - firstly after my miscarriage and latterly when I was undergoing IVF. These extensions have to be formally approved by a special committee of senior academics: somewhere in the remote recesses of the University, there sits a body of men (and somehow I always imagine them as elderly men) who are by now intimately acquainted with the vicissitudes of my reproductive system. This time, however, I have a more immovable deadline than the one imposed by the University: somehow or other, the dissertation has to be finished before my due date of 18 April next year.

With every passing day, my list of unread items in Google Reader grows ever longer. My blogging friends have been such an incredible source of support to me over the past twelve months or so, and I feel simply horrible about the fact that I am finding it increasingly difficult to find the time to repay that support - to sit and wait with those who are undergoing treatments of whatever kind, to try to empathise with those who are trying to find a path through the labyrinth of adoption, or even simply to nod in agreement with those who voice the frustration and pain inherent in living with infertility.

Night after night, I lie awake, my mind racing with all that I have to do the following day. Often, I compose blog posts in my head, posts which then never make it beyond the draft stage. I started this blog because I wanted to try to make some kind of sense of my struggle with infertility and pregnancy loss. As I continued to write, I realised that what was also important was to feel part of a broader community of women. Those twin aims have not diminished. Of course, it would be perfectly easy for me to publish a series of posts in which I confess that, at the weekend, I gave into a craving for Brie and have been racked with guilt ever since, or in which I tell you about how I finally cracked and bought a pair of maternity jeans, which constantly threaten to fall down whenever I wear them. But I don't want this blog to turn into a laundry list of common pregnancy symptoms. The blogs which I most admire - and the one which I myself aspire to write - are those which offer a degree of reflection on ART, infertility, loss and life post-treatment: whether that life includes children or not. Thoughts on these issues continue to swirl round and round in my mind... it's just that I have too much going on in other areas of my life to begin to process them in any meaningful manner.

Bear with me until term finishes in three weeks' time....

Thursday, 6 November 2008


Don't worry - I haven't turned into one of those bloggers who finally gets that elusive BFP, promptly forgets that they were ever infertile and then skips off into the sunset to decorate the nursery...

Mr H is stuck out in Madrid on a three-week assignment at the moment. Because of flight times, he cannot make it home at the weekends. This week is reading week for my students, which meant that I did not have classes to teach, and so I decided to fly out to see him. Coincidentally, last weekend also marked our fourth wedding anniversary.

We had a wonderful few days together. Although infertility and pregnancy loss have taken us to some pretty dark places, and have at times stretched our relationship almost to breaking point, we weathered that storm. After eight years together, we are still going strong and, perhaps just as importantly, we still actually like each other - I know that it's a bit of a cliche, but he really is my best friend as well as my lover.

While in Madrid, I also threw caution to the wind and ate a wide variety of cured meats. I also consumed a large and very bloody steak, which I washed down with half a glass of red wine. I cannot help but feel that much of the dietary advice aimed at pregnant women may be culturally specific - I can't really imagine that French women are warned of the potentially dire consequences of consuming Brie, or of not cooking their steak all the way through. One of Mr H's Italian colleagues did, however, inform me that there is an old superstition in Italy that, if you eat too many raspberries while pregnant, you will give birth to a bright pink baby! Given my fanatical belief in the anti-ageing properties of blueberries, Mr H is now worried that our baby may emerge looking a bit like Violet Beauregarde!