What if your pregnancy lasted five years instead of nine months?
In less than two weeks, I will defend my dissertation. In many ways, my dissertation is like my second baby: I formed the idea for the research study, nurtured it, and grew it until it became an independent project all its own.
But right now I’m like that pregnant mom who’s in the very last stages of her third trimester: bored with being pregnant and wanting to get to the next stage. I’m not bored of my dissertation topic — the experiences of high school girls at elite boarding schools — but I’m bored of the process. And it has occurred to me how familiar this feeling is — excited and anxious, impatient and annoyed, unsure and exhausted.
My son was born almost two weeks past his due date. I had a fairly uneventful pregnancy, but the last two weeks were misery. It just went on too long. I was done. I was tired of that feeling of expectation, of waiting. And that’s how I feel now.
Pregnancy has other similarities to writing a dissertation. And in my bored moments as I stare at my computer screen looking at my dissertation draft for 100th time, I often think of them.
- You can calculate a due date, but you find out that this date is meaningless. When I began my doctoral program, I sketched out a time line for finishing my coursework and writing my dissertation. Likewise, the first thing that the nurse did when she told me that I was pregnant was tell me my due date. And I’ve learned that meeting both of those due dates are largely beyond your control.
- You consult guidebooks, but they’re often contradictory, confusing, and cause unnecessary anxiety. I was the Queen of Pregnancy Books. And I also have about a dozen dissertation writing guides. In both cases, I found that the more that I read, the more anxious that I became about my own condition.
- Mentors or friends may help you more than the “experts.” I’ve had a positive experience with my dissertation committee and with my adviser. But I must say that it’s other doctoral students and recent graduates who have been in my shoes to be the most valuable. They’re the ones who tell it to you straight because they’ve recently been there. Similarly, I had no complaints about my ob/gyn or her staff. But it was my friends who had recently been pregnant, as well as my sister, who was a few months ahead of me in pregnancy, who provided me with the best support.
- Don’t be afraid to do it “your own way.” Forget about rigid divisions in “philosophies” — whether they relate to childbirth or research methods. There are a few types of research methodologies that are strongly encouraged by doctoral students in my department. It’s recommended that you try to mix statistical methods with more qualitative, open-ended techniques, such as interviewing or document analysis. (This is called, not creatively, “mixed-methods.”) I didn’t want to do that. I only wanted to hear people’s stories and didn’t want to give surveys or crunch numbers. During my pregnancy, I tried to figure out my own unique plans for childbirth. (Probably no to epidurals, but maybe. Hire a birth doula, but no to most other “natural” childbirth stuff.) But, as most moms can tell you, whatever you’re expecting to happen during labor and childbirth…. It’s going to be completely different, and so….
- Finally, childbirth will not be anything like you think. My birth plan included having my birth doula ready to meet us at the hospital. I had practiced breathing techniques. I had my birth ball. I had my iPod playlists. I had spent months doing exercises. I had specific plans for how I would get through early labor, active labor with no epidural…. And, well, let’s just say, when labor hit, hard and strong with no warning or “pre-labor,” I curled up into a fetal position, told my birth doula to go away right now, and refused to do a single exercise that I had practiced for weeks and weeks. Then, at the hospital, when told vaguely where the anesthesiologist’s office was located, I literally tried to run — completely naked — to the anesthesiologist’s room for an epidural with the nurse following me, telling me that I couldn’t run into the hallway without my clothes on. And now, as I think about my dissertation defense hearing as the final stages of labor, I know better. I’m trying to prepare myself for anything. And most of all to remember that the most important thing is for it to be done.
What was pregnancy and childbirth like for you? Was it like you expected?
Thanks to Finish the Sentence Friday!