In October of 2013 I submitted my dissertation prospectus to a table of enthusiastic and supportive professors. One of them called attention to a particular sentence buried in the middle of the document. “I see here that you’ve written…Could you please tell us about…Well this sentence, right here: ‘It seems difficult, but nevertheless realistic, to complete these hours and the dissertation by the spring of 2016 in light of upcoming and unanticipated parenthood.’ Are congratulations in order?”
Yes, they most certainly were. My committee members could not have been more kind in that moment of revelation, and I would have gladly reveled in their sweet remarks had morning sickness not rushed me out of the meeting.
My plan was ambitious. I was going to write my first chapter by the end of that summer. I was going to take only one semester off from teaching. I was going to nurse for three months, get right back on my ADD meds, and be back to work in no time. All said, I would be unmedicated for exactly one year and then be back to normal, just with more to do.
Well, two years later, I am still tweaking my stimulant medication. I was put on anti-depressants from the middle of my pregnancy through the first few months of my son’s life to prevent postpartum depression (a successful experiment). I am on my fourth “new” birth control. I took a year off from teaching. I gained (and lost) fifty pounds, but forfeited a lot of muscle and am plagued by loose skin. And as inspired as I was by the momentary spotlight on sexism directed towards the appearance of women in academia, I am nevertheless really embarrassed by my new body.
In the context of this not-so-brave new world, I submitted my first chapter A WHOLE YEAR after I thought I would. My mapping project is threatening to join the quickly increasing stack of “things that didn’t work out.” So what has happened? Is it mere laziness that binds me to my TV? Or feelings of being overwhelmed? Or a variety of chemical combustions occurring as I struggle to find equilibrium? Or the loneliness I feel when I think, “am I really all alone in this struggle?”
How did I think this would be so simple? Why did I assume that there was a “New Normal”? All of my social media “friends” with children seem to have graduated and gotten jobs in the time that I spent staring blankly from my couch.
Cognitive Therapy has taught me a lot about ways to push back against these thoughts: I did have a healthy pregnancy; I do have a sweet little boy. I have been able to spend time with him during his first year. I am back in the classroom. I have medical issues that others do not.
But this is so unsatisfying! Who cares what good I’ve got? What I really want is my degree and a job. Can I square that with also wanting to be with my toddler? If so, how? Or is it already too late, anyway? Is the damage to my CV irreparable (not published, no teaching awards, no honors or certificates)? And even if I do just crank this thing out, will it be at the cost of something else, like my marriage or parenting? How can I make a choice when there is so much at stake?
The dissertation process is daunting for everyone. I hate my first chapter. It is scattered; it lacks unity because it lacks depth. I also resent my first chapter. It took too long. It took too much. It isn’t enough.
But you know what? I’m going to share some of it in September after I meet with my director. And I’ll post about teaching Gilgamesh tablets and the Beowulf codex and the Bayeux Tapestry. Why? Because if I can get through the past two years, I can surely get through the next two.
Until next time, wishing you all unabated productivity.
[edited March 2, 2016].