Quitting grad school: a family decision

I recently quit a graduate degree program in the sciences to become a stay-at-home mom. This is the story of how and why I reached that decision.

I gave birth to my daughter during winter break in my second year of grad school, and I went back to school and work when she was seven weeks old. Before she was born, I thought this timing was perfect because I didn’t have to take any time off from school. I only had one semester of classes and teaching left, and then all I had to do was write my thesis. I had visions of a newborn who would sleep all the time and wouldn’t require any maintenance other than nursing and diaper changes. By the time she became aware and awake enough to know where mommy was, I would be done with classes and home with her while writing my thesis during her naps.

That’s how I imagined it, but that’s not how it happened. Our wonderful daughter was not the sleepy angel I’d expected, but a colicky screaming mess who cried nonstop unless she was being held and bounced a specific way. I was exhausted from being on my own with her for most of the week because my husband’s job only allows him to be home on weekends. He told me to take the semester off. I wanted to do that more than anything, but I knew that if I took a leave of absence, I would never go back. I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to finish my degree, but I knew that I didn’t have enough mental capacity in that current state to make an informed decision.

So I went back to school even though it was the last thing I wanted to do. I took my baby to daycare where she cried all day and never slept because she could only sleep while being held. I went to classes and taught and pumped breastmilk in my office and in the lab and in my car. I held baby girl for hours while she cried every night, and stayed up until 4 am doing homework.  My brain was so slow from tiredness that I couldn’t add 5+7 without a calculator.

This was the only way she would sleep.

Continue reading “Quitting grad school: a family decision”

10 things I’m glad I did before having kids

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The Arctic Ocean is freezing cold, even in July.

1.    Live on my own
Living alone forced me to learn both independence and responsibility. Sometimes I miss the solitude of it, and sometimes it makes me appreciate my family more because I remember how lonely it could be.

2.    Live without TV and internet
I went without TV and internet at home for three years before I moved in with my husband, and I loved it. I read so many books and spent so much time outside. I want my kids to learn how to enjoy life that way and not attached to screens.

3.    Work as a teacher
Working with kids from kindergarten to college was a great primer for parenthood. It allowed me to practice on other people’s kids, and exposed me to all ages and personalities. And it confirmed that I really did want to have kids.

4.    Go on a solo vacation
I went to Hawaii by myself a few years ago and did exactly what I wanted to do every day. I didn’t have to answer to anyone else… which is something that will never happen again.

5.    Take a dip in the Arctic Ocean
The summer before our daughter was born, my husband and I went on a camping road trip to Prudhoe Bay. It was an adventure of the kind that we won’t be able to have for a long time.

6.    Visit Europe
The first time I went there was just a few years ago, and hubby and I also went for our honeymoon. I’m glad we got to experience it together before the cost and hassle of kids made international travel all but impossible.

7.    Have lots of wilderness adventures
Living in Alaska for the past five years has allowed me to do and see so much that other people only dream of. After becoming a mom, wilderness adventures are not only less accessible, they’re less appealing. I’m no longer as willing to accept the risk of getting eaten by a bear or falling into a crevasse.

8.    Live in Washington D.C.
Washington is my favorite city and I love spending time there. However, I would never ever want to live in a big city with a family, and living there confirmed that.

9.    Learn how to live simply
I’ve always been pretty frugal, but my husband is the most fiscally responsible and un-materialistic person I know. He taught me to delight in frugality and simplicity, and to save wisely for the future. And I’m proud that we managed to avoid acquiring tons of unnecessary and expensive baby gear when we had our daughter.

10.   Fall in love and get married
Even though this is kind of a prerequisite to having kids, I think the beginning of our love story was so romantic and the perfect beginning to our family. I strive to always put our marriage first because it’s our children’s foundation.

Activation energy

I’m stuck in a potential well

I am a stay-at-home mom to a very high maintenance baby. I’m flying solo most of the time, because my husband’s job requires him to live at a remote camp for most of the week. Plus, I’m still a grad student with coursework to do and a thesis to write. To say I’m stressed is an understatement.

My daughter was born in the darkest week of the year, during a blizzard when the outside temperature was -40. (The blizzard started after we were in the hospital, thankfully.) I’ve always hated the constant darkness of the Alaskan winter, but this winter it didn’t even matter. She was the sun, and the darkness outside didn’t affect my mood as it usually does. Every little coo from her cute little mouth and every wiggle of her tiny toes was brighter than the brightest sunshine. The only thing I needed to sustain me was baby.

Then my postpartum hormones started to even out and I realized that I was just tired. One cannot live on baby alone. Baby gives me joy, but baby is also exhausting. I need other things in my life that give me energy.

She’s happy, I’m tired.

Years ago when I only had a full-time job and plenty of leisure time, I came up with a formula for how to spend my time: equal parts outdoor activity, learning, and art. Grad school takes care of the learning. (Supposedly. If motherhood had left me with enough brain cells to comprehend my own research. I’m told that at one time I found it fascinating.)

Outdoor activity is easy enough to come by in Alaska, but art is severely lacking in my life. I need to re-enter the world of words, music, and ideas. I need to spend more time hearing and playing music, reading, and writing. Blogging is a start, and a motivation.

Unfortunately, it takes energy to get energy. Like a chemical reaction that is thermodynamically favorable but has a high activation energy, I know that doing these things will make my life better, but it takes a lot of energy to begin.