T minus three months

The university has made its decision.  I asked for a further six months on the grounds of limited childcare; they have given me three.  Their answer came back with the strict warning that they will not, under any circumstances, consider any further requests for more time: if I do not submit my dissertation by 1 December, then I fail.

I think that, providing nothing unforeseen happens over the next three months, then I should be OK.  We’ve upped my daughter’s days at nursery from two to three days a week, and my husband will take over on the domestic front at the weekends to free me up to work.  There has even been some talk of him taking some vacation days between now and December, but I’m not sure whether this will actually happen: he’s one of those workaholic types who are absolutely convinced that the wheels will fall off if he’s not there to keep them in place.

But the way in which the University has responded has made me hopping mad on two fronts.  How can anyone attempt to dictate how long it is ‘reasonable’ to take to recover from a miscarriage, or indeed a failed cycle of treatment?  If I had been dealing with any other recurrent, chronic and long-term health condition, I do not think they would have disputed the amount of extra time I had requested in the past.  But they appear to view infertility differently: as a matter of lifestyle/choice.

Their approval of the three-month extension was forwarded to me by my dissertation advisor, who made the helpful suggestion that, ‘if you feel you will find it difficult to meet this deadline, then you could perhaps consider buying in extra childcare.’  What with?  Magic beans?  Although we are fortunate enough to be in a financial position to put Little A into nursery for an extra day a week while I go all out to meet this deadline, here in the UK, we still have some of the most expensive childcare in Europe.  This suggestion came from someone who was actively involved in the campaigns for more affordable childcare run by the Women’s Liberation Movement back in the 1970s (and, forty years on, little has changed on that front).  And this is, I think, my increasing problem with much of academic feminism: as feminism has become established within the university, so too has it become increasingly divorced from its activist beginnings.  It has become in the process a methodology–(in my discipline in particular) a means of saying clever things about art–rather than a political practice with the potential not just to change women’s, but everyone’s, lives for the better.

But I intend to use this fury to propel me through the next three months.  And, if nothing else, it’s got me blogging again.

Why I stepped away…. and why I came back

A couple of weeks ago, I applied for a six-month extension on the submission date of my PhD.  It was rejected.  The powers-that-be were concerned that I had already had a number of such extensions.  They required further evidence of all the periods over the past five years when I had been unable to work on my dissertation.  And so I spent much of yesterday constructing a timeline of my infertility–from an initial diagnosis of endometriosis in June 2004, to a miscarriage following a ‘spontaneous’ conception two years later, to a cancelled cycle of IVF and a diagnosis of diminished ovarian reserve in January 2008, to a further attempt at IVF in May of that year, which had to be abandoned following egg retrieval, through to a second ‘spontaneous’ (and, frankly, miraculous) conception which resulted in the birth of my daughter in April 2009.

In order to clarify in my own mind exactly what had happened when, I had to sift through a box of paperwork I haven’t opened in over two years.  And there it all was in black and white.  The discharge papers from hospital following my miscarriage.  The drug protocols for my two failed IVFs.  The monthly bills for the acupuncture which, I believe to this day, contributed to my second pregnancy.  The weird and wonderful supplement regime (21 pills a day!) which I followed for six months after my miscarriage, completely convinced that it would result in a further unassisted conception.  Suddenly, it all came flooding back to me: the uterine surgeries, the daily injections, the invasive and uncomfortable internal scans, and, above all, the deep, deep sense of failure and loss.

I still feel a pang of regret when my period arrives with inevitable regularity every month, but I have to say that I do not experience the deep, deep visceral ache for a child that I did when I was going through primary infertility.  And I can see now that I didn’t want to return to my first blog for the same reason that I didn’t want to open up that pandora’s box of paperwork: I simply wasn’t ready to go there, to knock the scab off those old wounds.

But the scars of infertility remain–literally, as well as figuratively.  I think that I’m ready to begin to think about how my experiences of IF line my experience of motherhood.  I’ve been reading other people’s blogs–even commenting sometimes–but now I’m ready to take my place within the IF community again.  I’ve thought long and hard about whether simply to pick up where I left off on my previous blog, but I’ve decided to start a new blog to mark the fact that I’m now writing from a very different perspective from where I first began.  What to expect?  I will, of course, continue to reflect on my own personal experiences of infertility and on the broader cultural representation of the condition.  There will be posts about my developing relationship with my daughter–and I fully accept that there will be those within the IF community who are simply not in a position to read, let alone engage, with those posts, but it would be disingenuous of me to pretend that that relationship was not now a significant part of who I am.  There may be some musings on my experiences of trying to combine motherhood with a career in academia.  There may be some feminism, some knitting, some gardening, the odd recipe or two.  The blog will, in other words, be a reflection of who I am: a mother, a daughter, a feminist, a homemaker.  I just hope that some of you may be interested enough to keep reading.