Monday, March 31, 2008

Ah the foolishness of youth

As a young undergrad so many years ago, I was faced with an important decision. It was my senior year of college, and I had to decide what to do with my life.

I had started college with a plan to get my degree in biology and then after graduation get my masters in Physical Therapy. That was the plan. But as an undergrad I had several opportunities to participate in research, and I had a fantastic time at the bench. As my senior year approached, I was leaning more and more towards graduate school.

In fact, I foolishly spent far too little time actually weighing my options. So many of my classmates were applying for grad school, and the people around me in the lab definitely encouraged me to go on to grad school. I was smart enough, I could manage a pipet pretty well, so who was I to argue?

I can remember thinking as an undergrad that I could either get a job as a technician (or some similar position in industry) and try to figure out if grad school was right for me, OR, I could go ahead and just go to grad school and decide once I was already there. That way, my naive little brain argued, I wouldn't have "wasted" any time... if I didn't like it, I could always quit, right?

I actually figured out pretty quickly that bench work didn't float my boat*. I was much happier when I was taking classes, teaching, and doing other service work than when I was at the bench full time. But it turns out that leaving grad school is a lot harder than you might think.

The culture in academia creates the feeling that academic research is not only the most noble calling, but also the nexus of all brilliance. To leave academia, the implication is that you weren't smart enough to cut it. Quitting grad school then can only be interpreted as failure. Emotionally, I couldn't do it. I couldn't let myself be a failure, not in front of my friends, my parents, my mentor, my fellow students. And so I plugged along for 3 more miserable years, trying to make the best of it.

Now here I am, still at the bench because the two-body problem gives me very limited options right now. In my post-doc I am actually working now with a handful of undergraduates, all women, all juniors and seniors. They are starting to ask me for advice about graduate school. It would be easy to just tell them to go to grad school, but as difficult as it is, I owe it to them to be honest about my experience. Even if I risk being labeled a "traitor" by my colleagues.

I think that far too often undergrads only hear one message about grad school. From their professors, from their parents, from their counselors, from their labmates... all of those sources are likely to have a pretty biased opinion on grad school in general. Where will foolish young undergrads get a more balanced viewpoint?

I think it's really important for everyone who has the opportunity to provide advice and guidance to undergraduate students (most often academics of various flavors) to really help students make an educated decision about grad school, rather than just encouraging them as the default option. For many dedicated academics it's hard to remember that just because a student is talented doesn't mean they will be well suited for life at the bench.

For my part, I try to urge undergrads to take a year (or more) to work as a technician in a lab and see how they really feel doing bench work as a full time job. I try to share my experience and viewpoint with them so that no matter what they decide to do, at least they've gotten more than just one picture of what grad school is like.

For another realistic look at grad school, check out: Should I go to grad school? Short answer: No. **

*For the record, I LOVE science. It's beautiful. I love seminars, I love reading, I love thinking about data. But bench work is not fun for me. And so a career at the bench just isn't the right career for me in the long term.

**Thanks to Jenny F. Scientist at A Natural Scientist for the link.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

New favorite game

The Bean's new favorite game is called "Put X in Mama's mouth", where X is any item that she can pick up. This game is good for a LOT of giggles.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


So, I am starting to wind down on breastfeeding.

The Bean is 11 months + 1 week old. I committed myself to breastfeeding for at least a year, the length of time promoted by the American Academy of Pediatrics. I am quickly approaching her 1 year birthday, a time at which she can transition from breastmilk to either cow's milk or soy milk (we haven't yet decided which... if anyone has any experience with soy, I'd love to hear about it). And we have a pretty significant stockpile of breastmilk in the freezer to plow through, enough to carry her through her actual birthday.

So this week I have gone from pumping three times a day (once at home, twice at work) to pumping just twice a day (once at home, once at work). Next week, I'll stop pumping at work altogether. Bittersweet is the only way I can describe it. I am elated at the impending freedom that not nursing during the day will bring... No more nursing bras, no more restrictions on my clothing, and I'll be able to move my daily run to daytime instead of running right after work (when I'd much rather be playing with the Bean). Even just transitioning from two pump sessions at work down to one has been very liberating.

But I am sad and anxious too. Nursing has been an incredible bonding experience for the Bean and I, and it's been wonderful for us. I am so glad that I could help nourish her strong little body and help her grow. I hope that I'll have enough milk to continue nursing first thing in the morning and last thing at night for months to come. So I'm nervous at how my body will react to the change in demand.

But overall, I'm pretty happy at being able to hit my "breastfeeding for one year" goal. Not all working moms have the luxury of a semi-supportive work environment, and even those who do often have trouble keeping up with their child's demand. It's been hard, but I'm proud to of what I was able to accomplish. And I'm looking forward to next week when I can shift my run schedule to the daytime...

And as a public service, I plan to write a "working girl's guide to breastfeeding" in the very near future...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Congratulations again!

Congratulations to Kate over at A K8, A cat, A mission who's daughter Noodle was just born! A natural birth, and Kate promises the birth story soon...

All these beautiful baby girls! It must be spring!

Did she or didn't she?

Well, I did it. I went on the Vegas trip.

Husband's mom, Grandma K, arrived last Monday. When she came, I warned that I probably would not be able to leave little Bean. "Follow your heart," Grandma K said... I was just so worried that Bean would not take well to having someone that she hadn't seen since Thanksgiving putting her to bed at night, and taking care of her during the night.

But Bean was not at all shy with Grandma K, no stranger danger at all. On Tuesday, Bean went to school for just a couple of hours (for routine's sake) and then Grandma K picked her up... by the time Husband and I got home, Bean and Grandma K were old buddies, playing and laughing and dancing to her Blue Moo CD. And, creme de la creme, Bean had taken a 90 minute nap for Grandma K without a fuss. It was very reassuring, and I told Husband that night that we could probably go to Vegas on Thursday.

Wednesday was another good day with Grandma K, so Wednesday night after I got Bean to sleep, I prepped her food for the next day and told Husband I would go. I stayed up (far too late) that night trying to pack.

The thing is, for a vacation, you usually like to bring your A-list outfits, right? Well, I hadn't yet figured out which of my pre-pregnancy clothes fit again. Turns out, most of them fit... just not the way they used to. I'm at about +3 pounds right now compared to my pre-pregnancy weight. But since I took a prolonged break from running, got pregnant, had a c-section, and breastfed for the last 11 months, my body isn't quite the same shape as it once was. *sigh* So I went through a good percentage of my wardrobe trying to find something that looked right on me.

Ah well, let's hope training for this half-marathon does my legs and hips some good. And that eventually my rack goes back to normal.

Anyway, Thursday morning we left the house before dawn. I sat in the backseat with Bean, holding her little hand and trying not to cry. The worst was actually trying to say goodbye at the airport. It was heart wrenching, and I almost backed out. But Husband stood patiently on the curb, and hugged me as Grandma K and Bean drove away.

In the airport, there seemed to be babies the same age as Bean everywhere. "No fair!" I complained, but Husband promised there would be no adorable babies in Las Vegas. "Who brings their baby to Vegas?" he asked.

It turns out a lot of people bring their adorable 11 month old babies to Vegas. But in the end, I'm glad I didn't. There was so much cigarette smoke everywhere we went that the cough I had been courting for the past three weeks got worse by the hour. I ended up losing my voice!

But I started feeling better each time I called Grandma K to check on the Bean. She did wonderfully, of course, and was perfectly happy to let Grandma K take care of her.

Husband and I, meanwhile, had a wonderful time laying in the sun by the pool, reading our books, relaxing, and taking walks together. It was in the 70s the whole time, and we lapped the sun up like starving little kittens. We hung out with our friends until way too late, we slept in, we had leisure time together, we went out for a romantic dinner. It was wonderful.

On a scale of 1-10, I rank the trip an "awesome".

My reunion with the Bean wasn't quite what I pictured. When Grandma K pulled up at the airport, I peered in the back window to see the Bean. As soon as she saw me, she started bawling. It was like suddenly she realized "Oh yeah, I missed my mom" and she took several minutes and some great big kisses to calm down.

To my relief, she nursed happily that night, and all through the next day. I had been very worried that the Bean would give up on nursing while I was away, but luckily I was just paranoid.

On Easter Sunday, we took Grandma K and the Bean to the local zoo. It was Bean's first trip to the zoo, and she had a great time, despite lousy weather. Her favorites seemed to be the jaguar and the bunnies, followed by the 5 month old baby gorilla. Of course, she called the jaguar "dog", but you know... close enough.

Anyway, overall the trip was great. It was REALLY hard to leave, but the Bean had a great time with Grandma K, and I think the trip was really good for Husband and I. But I don't think I'll be doing it again any time soon.

Oh wait, I'm supposed to go to a conference this summer.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


A very nice post that says better than I ever could why having both a female and a black candidate for president is NOT a sign that this country is moving forward...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Drumroll please....

The Bean has been taking her first independent steps this week!!!!

She's been building up to it, but this morning she took 6 consecutive independent steps (and repeated her performance several times). It was very exciting, and little Bean clapped for herself.



One of the hardest things so far about being a mom is being a sick mom. I'm not much of a baby in general. When I get sick, I usually keep on truckin', going to work (to the chagrin of my co-workers) and not really doing much to take care of myself. But when I get really sick, it's nice to be able to get a little extra rest.

I have been pretty darn sick this week with a terrible, terrible sore throat, cough, etc. And the workload, both at home and at work just isn't letting up. There's no opportunity to just sit down and rest. To sleep in one morning, or to take it easy after work. And I can't afford to take days off because in theory I'm going on a trip next week.

So I'm feeling a little sorry for myself. I haven't been running this week because taking deep breaths makes me cough. And I'm feeling rotten and tired and run down.

I'd make Husband take care of me, but he's sick too.

So poor tortured me.

Seriously, the cursing has got to stop

It does. It really does. But now I think I'm clinging to it as the last vestige of the woman I used to be before baby. I think I'm cursing more, not less.

The swear jar isn't working. Mostly because neither Husband nor I notice when I curse. It's so ingrained in my normal speech patterns that it doesn't raise a red flag 98.9% of the time (+/- 1 percent error).

The other day, Husband actually caught me (for once) using a totally unnecessary "f**k".

"You knew what you were getting yourself into!" I exclaimed. "You knew you were gettin' a sailor when you married me."*

"But I didn't necessary want a sailor for a 2-year-old daughter."

Hmm, good point.

*There may or may not have been some curse words thrown in there for emphasis.

Friday, March 7, 2008

A little baby love

She's on the move...


Congratulations are in order for Day By Day Female Scientist who has just given birth to her beautiful daughter. She was just 37 weeks along, so the wee one is in need of a little extra help, but appears to be strong and getting stronger.

Drop by and give Day By Day your congratulations and support!


So a few months ago, a bunch of my good friends from grad school decided to reunite in Vegas for a weekend of March madness shenanigans. Husband and I debated about whether or not we could go. We were just recovering from the Christmas holidays, during which we had much less time for grown-up activities (like seeing friends, talking to each other, etc) than we had anticipated. And the March weekend was still months away... it seemed reasonable at the time that Bean might be ready for a weekend with Grandma while Husband and I had a break together to play with some of our friends.

Husband had me all convinced that this would be a great time to get away together... we'd get to hang out with our friends, get a couple of uninterupted nights' sleep, go someplace WARM(!), and actually spend some non-baby time together. The Bean, meanwhile, would have the attention of a very devoted grandma to play with her and hug her and keep her safe and happy while we were away.

And, we assured ourselves, if at the last minute I decided I just couldn't leave the Bean, we could bring her along and just lounge by the pool all weekend and maybe bet on a couple of basketball games.

All of this seemed fairly reasonable at the time.

Now our trip is two weeks away, and I have to tell you... I'm not sure I can do it. I was clearly not in my right mind when I agreed to this.

At the time, I was extremely burnt out. The idea of having a couple mornings to sleep in seemed like heaven. And it is still grey and wintery here, and the idea of going ANYWHERE and laying by a pool was also extremely attractive. I also believed that it would be quite reasonable to bring the Bean along if I decided to.

Okay, taking a baby to Vegas is the dumbest idea ever. Seriously. I think the only thing worse than going to Vegas Easter weekend (which we are) is taking your baby to Vegas Easter weekend. Right? This is not a family friendly place. And after the miserable time we had baby wrangling in L.A., I don't think baby wrangling in Vegas is going to be any easier. So it's just not a realistic option to take the Bean with us.

But leaving my 11 month old for two days sounds like we should win the World's Worst Parents Award. I feel like we're just one step up from that couple who locked their three-year-old foster kid in a closet while they went away for the weekend. I mean, of course Bean would be fine (right?) with Grandma, and I bet she'd have a great time. And Grandma is dying for some one-on-one time with the Bean. But I feel terrible for wanting to go.

And I'm not even sure if I want to go anymore. If we hadn't already bought our tickets and booked our hotel, I would definitely not be going. But we have. Will I even be able to have a good time? Or will I just be feeling guilty and sad the whole time?

Sigh. Oh internets. I feel terrible.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

An all-too-apt metaphor

During a run, when I'm tired and facing a big hill, I can usually motivate myself to push through the exhaustion and just make it up to the top of that hill. And the closer I get to the top, the harder I push to hit that crest.

But when I'm running on a long hill, so long that I can't even see the top... motivation becomes difficult. It's harder to give that extra push because I'm already so tired, and I know I'm going to be running hard for at least the forseeable future.

These days I constantly feel like I'm running on a hill with no crest in site. It varies in steepness, but I'm just constantly trying to catch my breath, and I never get a chance to just coast...

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Nursing: the end game

Little Bean is not so little anymore. She's 10.5 months old now, and she's getting to be more of a toddler everyday. This morning when I dropped her off at school, she and her favorite friend Kiely (who is 11.5 months old) were both standing up and clapping together. I mean, come on, that is too adorable!

Anyway, as my active little girl has gotten more and more active, she's been less and less interested in nursing. These days I can usually only convince her to nurse when she's tired (i.e. before naps, before bed, and during the night). She is pretty variable in her interest in bottles. Some days she drinks 3 full 5 oz bottles, other days, like yesterday, they only get 8 oz into her. And the other 7 oz go down the drain... which seriously makes me die a little inside.

As her interest in nursing has waned, my milk production has fallen in response. It's getting to the point where pumping is a stressful half hour debacle of diminishing returns. I'm pumping longer and longer each day to get less and less milk. This situation can not last indefinitely. In the not-too-distant future, I will have to abandon pumping.

So I talked to her teacher yesterday after school, and we decided to send two 4 oz bottles plus an extra 2 oz in a sippy cup for lunch. Taking the amount that we're sending to school from 15 oz down to 10 oz ought to ease the burden a bit. And I've got 210 oz in the freezer. That is exactly enough to cover bottles every day for the rest of March. And at the beginning of April, she'll be almost a year old, and so I can introduce her to cows milk, thus avoiding formula.

So I think it's endgame time. It has come a little sooner than I anticipated. I really thought that I'd be able to keep pumping for a year. But at this point, for my own sanity, I have to give up on obsessing with making some arbitrary milestone instead of relying on common sense: every baby is different, Bean is an independent little girl with a mind of her own, and she will probably be ready to stop breastfeeding altogether (*sniff*) sooner than some others. But I made it pretty darn far with the breastfeeding, and in terms of the benefits for Bean's health and development, making it 11 months is probably just as good as making it a year. (It was oddly comforting to hear from Bean's teacher that Kiely started on cows milk at 11 months.)

So pretty soon here I guess I'm going to start phasing out the pump sessions. I just can't keep up with the daily stress of long pump sessions and little to show for it. It's too frustrating and tiring.

I'm hoping to keep nursing Bean at bedtime for as long as she's interested, and I'm a little nervous that as I phase out the pumping that I will lose my milk altogether. But it's something I don't have any control over, so I'm trying not to worry about that.

So for now I'm gonna keep pumping three times a day, but it ain't going to last too much longer. And I have to find a way to be okay with that.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Difficult week = Radio silence

Last week was tough, both at work and at home.

I just got in a crap load of data at work (~132,000 data points), and my boss is breathing down my neck to get it all analyzed. She's like a kid on Christmas Eve, but I'm still making her present...

And the Bean scored yet another ear infection. She was sent home from school on Thursday with a fever, but we thought it was a tummy bug because she wasn't eating and her teacher said had some runny poop. By Friday, the Bean had a 103.7 degree fever, and the doctor diagnosed her with yet another ear infection (this is number 6 or 7 since November). She gave us some antibiotics, but Friday night was one of the worst nights of our lives. Poor Bean was feverish, and cried inconsolably for hours. She'd go to sleep only to wake up 20 minutes later, screaming again. It was terrible. Her fever didn't resolve until Sunday morning. Poor little Bean!

This kind of seals the deal that the Bean is almost definitely going to need tubes in her ears. Our appointment with the ear, nose, and throat specialist is in 2 weeks. I hope the Bean can stay healthy until then...

But yesterday the Bean was doing a lot better. We got her a little baby walker to help her practice walking, and she LOVES it. She spent most of the day on Sunday practicing "walking" forward. She's getting really good at it, and can walk quite a distance just holding on to one of our fingers for balance. She's improving by the day, and I'm pretty sure she'll be taking her first solo steps in a few weeks.

It was also fairly good weather for parts of the day yesterday, so we got out for a couple of family walks with Pup. It was really nice to be out, and the crocus' are starting to bloom here, which the Bean was very interested in. But mostly she's interested in dogs. She says "Dah" whenever she sees a dog walking by, and if the dog is playful she gets REALLY excited. On the other hand, she also says "Dah" when she sees our two cats... but to be fair, she can't make a "C" sound yet.

But the good news for me is that I did a 6 mile run yesterday without any problem. So that made me feel really good. I've been running 5 miles on a really hilly route near my house, and yesterday I did a flat 6 mile run. I'm still running really slowly, but I figure my speed will come back with time. I'm just glad my lungs and legs are strong enough to keep me going for 6 miles. It made me feel like I was actually going to be able to do this half marathon in June... provided I can tear myself away from my adorable baby long enough to train.