Monday, 11 February 2013

Snakes and Ladders

First off, Happy Year of the Snake! Yesterday was Chinese New Year and so, a second chance for a new start if, like me, you're into that sort of thing. At the moment, we're all about fresh starts, whether that just means putting one foot in front of the other, or more momentous intentions...


And where are we at the moment? Well, if the two week wait is a kind of torturous dormancy, in which we bestow on ourselves lots of tlc as we patiently, hopefully await the much coveted blossoming of new life, I always see the time from the beginning of my cycle to ovulation as a time of active building up. It's a boot camp for my lady parts, minus the cursing and insults. (No, scratch that. There is definitely cursing and insults). This time around, I am armed with my usual red raspberry leaf tea, evening primrose oil and array of vitamin supplements. Also, my Chinese medicine doctor (the new one, not the horrible acupuncturist), has prescribed a herbal concoction to augment my acupuncture, moxibustion and other treatments. The herbs, which you brew like tea, actually look rather pretty, like a sort of woodsy pot pourri. See?

Once brewed though - which is actually quite a lengthy process - they smell and taste pretty foul, I have to admit (though I'm growing accustomed). I don't even know what's in the stuff; looks like goji berries and tree ears and something similar to galangal root. I'm told this should decrease the damp and heat in my system (which is why my qi is out of balance), and unleash my reproductive potential. Or something like that. I have infinitely more confidence in this doctor than I do in many a medical professional.

The point is that, once again, I'm paying my mind and body attention and trying to keep it healthy in the build up to the Big O.

And we're building up in other ways too, or at least trying to lay some foundations for building work to come. You see, January through March marks the 'high season' of job application rounds for academic posts, as university departments undertake a long process of filling teaching and research positions for autumn. Unlike in other professions, it can take a span of four to five months from when you apply to when you learn if you've got a job or not. H and I both come from academic backgrounds, though I am something of a lapsed academic really. (How my own career path, its jolts and starts and barriers, relate to this tangled mess of infertility warrants a whole other post).

For the past three years, our lives and locations have been determined in large part by the job offers that have come our way. Eighteen months there, ten months here, another twelve months someplace else. The response I invariably get to this is 'Oooh, how exciting!'. I realize it does sound very exciting, and I won't lie - there are moments when I feel so blessed to have had the adventures that have come with this lifestyle. From soaking up the sun and the scent of lemon trees in Portugal, to the cosmopolitan chaos that is Istanbul, to the refined pleasures of London's amazing art galleries and parks, to the profound intellectual stretching of teaching university students in China. We really have seen and done a lot. Also, we've both been lucky to have work, and we know it; the situation for academic employment is universally crappy these days.

But this has also had a huge impact on our efforts at family building, and I think in no small way shaped my grief experience. I mentioned that we have big hopes for 2013, and not just in the baby making department. If we want to sprout some shoots to fill a nursery, then we really do need to put down some roots too. After many years of globe trekking, both alone and then together, it's really what we want.

The problem is getting from here (an exciting international life oriented around work) to there (the happy, 'boring', settled life we both need). H's contract here finishes at the end of the summer. Mine isn't enough to keep us here, and anyway, we hope to relocate someplace more familiar. But there are so many variables to consider in this whole messed up process: job markets, and language skills, immigration rules and provision for fertility treatments...Canada? Austria? Another third country? And that's not even considering the fact that H has his PhD to finish, which will greatly increase his employability, but for which he usually has little time because he needs to a) work or b) seek work. I already hold the qualifications I need to work, but then I'm the one who has to make the greater time commitment, as it were, when it comes to making a baby; which we'd love to hope would be soon. It would be less than ideal if H found himself out of work at precisely the time I was due an extended (unpaid in some countries), maternity leave. Not that I don't realize I'm getting way ahead of myself with that one...

All this is like looking into a crystal ball. Suffice it to say, it's a headache being inside my brain these days.

There's the needing-money-to-live part, yes. But it's more than that. It's emotional (we want to nest, dammit!) and it's logistical. We may never decide to avail ourselves of ART, I don't know yet. We have yet to have it recommended by any doctors we've seen, because technically we're in a grey area; we are able to conceive. (My body just doesn't seem to know what to do with those conceptions once they occur). But the point is, we'd like the option when or if it comes to that (and let's face it folks, staring down 38 in a mere month, the time is now if it's ever). But to even consider that we need more stability.


H stated an intention last month that although the number 13 is widely held as unlucky, it'll be oh so lucky for us. Apparently, the Year of the Snake is less than auspicious in the Chinese zodiac; certainly nothing like as favoured as the Dragon we've just ushered out. H says we'll buck all the trends. We've always sort of swum against the flow, it's true.

So while we're busy with job applications and baby making efforts and staying healthy and planning ahead, I just have to hope that this structure we're trying to build from the ground up starts to take some shape, to give us some indication of how things will look as we progress through the rest of the year.

Because although I don't even know where that will be yet, I'm feeling the tug towards home.


  1. I work away from home a lot. It's usually for 3-6 months at a time. This isn't quite the same as you moving around since I do have a stable home base, but I still feel really unsettled. It's hard to make babies and plan for the future when you never know where you will be at any given time. I wish you luck and hope you can find a place to make your home. :)

  2. I can't imagine how much the moving puts extra stress on the TTC efforts! I hope that you find a solution that you are both comfortable with and will enhance your careers too!! P.S. I made that tea once and drank it for a week. I would rather have my eye lashes individually plucked out.

  3. Wow, I just found your blog from Sarah's blog. I have so much empathy for the predicament you're in. Although I never had the opportunity to travel around as part of my career, I do understand that pressure that comes with academics to always-always-always- jump through this or that hoop. Just too much. I would say, at some point you have to make a choice based on the rest of your life and then the rest will come of it. After I finished my PhD, I decided to skip the postdoc route, so my husband and I could be more settled and stop moving around the country so much. I thought it might limited my career opportunities. It totally hasn't. Don't drink the academic Koolaid.

  4. The academic job market stiiiiiiiinks. Even though we've been living in the same place for years, I haven't felt settled, hoping my husband would get a job--any minute!--and we'd be off to somewhere new. It hasn't happened yet, but with every round of job applications, we have to hope that move is coming soon. It makes it really difficult to settle into your life when you know you're not going to be in one place for long. I hope you two find a place to call home soon!


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