Monday, January 19, 2009

Two roads diverged in a wood

I'm at a place in my academic training where I have to decide between various paths. I am applying for post-doctoral fellowships and must choose between a more clinical track (read: flexible and easier but perhaps more isolating, and less prestigious) or a more clinical research-oriented track (i.e.: more academic, more nose-to-the-grindstone grant-oriented, more intellectual, longer hours and more take-home work, but greater opportunity to make a positive contribution to many lives at once, academically more prestigious).

And somehow infertility rears its ugly head yet again to muck up another part of my life.

I am finding that I would choose two entirely different things depending on whether I can have a child or not. Which of course, I don't know the answer to.

I've always thought that I would pick a softer, easier clinical path (maybe part-time) if I had little ones at home (especially if there were multiple little ones, or higher-order multiple little ones even). It has always seemed that then my family would be at the center with work filling out around the edges of my life (at least when my child/children were young). But if childless, my ambitious side has always thought I should do the most difficult, competitive, intense clinical research track.

I had thought by now it would be clear which way things were heading.

Deadlines are fast approaching. I'm being courted by one research fellowship that requires me to apply for a pretty hefty training grant (due later this week). And I am just filled with anxiety about it. I'm a shoe-in for this fellowship. Or I could pursue a more clinical track (which might feel like a cop-out if I don't have kids)... or I could not apply for anything hoping that I will be pregnant by July and can just take some time off for awhile and be (of course if I'm not pregnant by July or don't stay pregnant, this would be disastrous emotionally).

It raises all these issues of legacy and meaning and purpose. Which of course being infertile does too. And leaves me wondering whether to plan as though a baby is coming (when it may not be) or just keep going forward with my life and if a baby appears figure things out then...

Can you see how my head just goes around and around and around? (Looks sort of like the exorcist, except it's just thoughts. My head doesn't actually spin around).

Anybody gone through anything similar? Thoughts on gaining clarity?



  1. Those sound like some tough choices. Im sorry I don't have any answers. I always "try" not to put things off "in case" I am pregnant because that may never come but a career is tougher to factor in because like you said one of them means longer hours. I do say though, do what is going to make you the most happy. Good Luck!

  2. I hear you - I am an attorney and there are things I would do differently - read help me make partner - if there is not a baby in the near future. I did not have much choice in working less this year than I did last with all that went on - I worry about the future and what I should be doing.
    I do not think I want to throw myself into work now - I am cycling again in is very difficult.

  3. I'm a CPA trying to climb the corporate ladder (somewhat). I gave up a job opportunity earlier this year because it would require me to move and my husband would not join me for nine months. At that point we were just accepting that trying to conceive naturally was not going to work. I didn't want to wait nine months to conceive so I declined the opportunity.

    That nine months is almost up and I am still not pregnant. I think I would have had regrets no matter what choice I made.

    I don't think there are any simple (or correct) answers to these questions, but I wonder which you would regret more...taking the easy track and never having a baby or taking the more difficult track and figuring out the baby stuff when it happens. Good luck with your decision. I know it's hard.

  4. That sounds like a scary choice to have to make, regardless of the big question in play here - whether or not you're taking only your own life into consideration, or if you're taking yours and your future children's.

    There are many things I've put off due to the "maybe I'll be pregnant/have a child by then" thoughts. Everything from planning to go visit my folks at Christmas to major career shifts. I went to library school because it's a respectable way to make a living, didn't require much schooling (read "money that could be better put to IVF use"), and would potentially allow for flexible hours while Sprog was still in its needy pre-K phase. But here I sit, babyless, bored out of my skull by public librarianing, wondering if it's too late to get a j.d. so that at least I could go be a law librarian with an interesting job...

    But of course, that's money and time and energy that I'm planning on using to conceive (and then raise) Sprog, and so if I end up with another grad degree in the same year that I end up with a baby, I'm going to be pissed (not to mention way overextended.)

    Of course, if that baby doesn't come, I'm going to lose my mind through the soul-sucking boredom that in inherent in taking a job that requires less than what you have to give.

    Thoughts? Lots. Assvice? None whatsoever. Good luck - it's one of the hardest questions that most women are ever going to face in their lives and I do look forward to hearing about your decision once it's made.

  5. My biggest advice is make the decision that applies to where you are now- also above all else follow your heart, I have missed a ton of things thinking that would conceive or I would have my adopted baby, I am not doing that anymore, we can't give up living and our dreams! Good luck, whatever decision you make will work out in the end!

  6. Good luck to you sweetie. I have no words of encouragement. I have never had to choose like this. Go with your heart. Do what is best for you at this moment in your life. Good luck!


  7. Yes, I went through something similar, but I already had/have an established job. First, I think you should follow your heart, in that you should follow what you want to do, not what you think will win you prestige or fame. Do what you think will make you happy. Also, I think you have to live your life as it is today. You can always change plans later if baby(s) appear.

    I thought I had done it all with my career and having children was something I hadn't done. I was pretty fed up with my job, even though I loved what I did. I even considered quitting to focus on baby making, though financially, that wasn't feasible. Over the last year, I realized that I still really love my job! I never intended on being a SAHM. That would drive me crazy. I love feeling like I make a difference in the world with my work. Maybe I will feel different when I do have a child, but I doubt it! I know that I will reduce my hours probably to half time once I do have a child.

    I think the whole work issue for modern women is really tough. There is a conflict between career and family that I think is bigger for women than men. We are expected to do it all, and some of us, like me, want to do it all, but it's just not always possible. What to do, what to do?

  8. oh yes I have done this and done this for years when trying to get pregnant, then infertility treatments (which by the way I put my entire life ON HOLD for, no job, no nothing, and then when we found out that I will never be pregnant everything changed). So it's really really tough, but, now I have a job that gives me everything that I want, it's challengin, it's in my field, but, there is lots of flexibility, which is a big deal.
    The only thing I learned is pick what ever makes your soul sing because nothing in life is gaurenteed, and if we make plans for children - well it could be years - or it could be never - or it could be the next cycle, and if research is it(what makes you the most excited), then your children will appreicate both the time that they have with you and the contribution that you are making.

  9. while the heart's path to happiness is quite clearly a child right now, what would bring you the most fulfillment? i try to avoid the what ifs and make decisions based on today's status. the details can always be worked out at a later date...

    this is most certainly a tough decision...good luck. you'll be fabulous no matter what you decide- both as a career-woman and as a mother.

  10. I'm not a doctor, but I have had some of the same issues. I put so much on hold because of making room to be a mother, and now I am regretting it=no baby, and career kind of stalled (but pickign up!). So if I had to tell me what to do, I'd say go pedal to the metal, and figure it out later. So much better to have a legacy of important work, than a legacy of waiting around.

  11. Mo,

    I am a 41 year old professor going through infertility issues right now. I only have a PhD, but I advise you to do the clinical reasearch fellow track. I believe at most places it is not impossible to switch to the other track if, hopefully, family obligations become a concern.

    First, as an adacemic woman you should not have to chose between a career and a family. Granted the "easy" route would free up time, but you will likely have more opportunities for research in the future which in theory could allow you to set your schedule more readily than if you have clinic hours.

    If you want to discuss further, you can email me at

  12. mo, i agree with everyone. you need to decide what's best for you now. i moved jobs in september, the middle of my first ivf cycle, to a more research-intensive institution. i left a cushy job that was very easy and would have been supportive of me having a baby to go to a place where no one has had a baby in a long time, where they expect you to do a lot of work and work from home and on the weekends. i tried to think about what would be best in the long term, regardless of the circumstances. i'm still not sure i made the right decision, but it is something that you can always change. you're not locked in anywhere. fellowships are only 1-3 years. you won't be stuck with the decision that you make today. ;)

  13. I went though something very similar (although quite different) last year. I had cancer as a child and my fertility has been questionable. My husband nad I were trying to decide - do we keep trying or do we buy a house? Some might say it is easy to do both but for us it had to be one at a time for financial reasons. Either we buy a house or we keep trying for the time being.

    We went back and forth and back and forth for many months; always while trying to conceive, thinking that IF I got pregnant that would be our answer - we have the baby and the house buying gets put on hold. At some point I found myself thinking, "what if I never get pregnant?" will we keep trying for ever.

    For me the choice was to stop trying and start looking for our home. I needed to feel like something was moving forward in a positive way in my life. I still wonder where I would be if we had just kept trying.

    I will never know because about 2 months after we made the decision to start looking for a home, I found out that I can not have children of my own. My husband and I am still processing this but I do know that I am glad I chose to start looking for the house.

    Everyone's decision points are different and no one can tell us what the "right" time to do something is. I guess the best advice I can give is my opinion that if you go for the harder more demanding path; and the baby comes along; you will figure it out then. But if you go for the easier option now; will the chance to persure the bigger challenge still be there later?

    Best of luck in your journey.

  14. I have no advice. I am just wishing you some peace as you make your decision. Good luck!!!

  15. With all the great advice here, I don't know how much I could add...but you are the only one who will live with your decision.

    I, personally, would make the decision according to what life is NOW, and not what may the end you can always change paths when the time comes (though I know that, too, would be difficult).

    I was in a comfortable job at a familiar hospital with plenty of saved time off...and I so wanted to stay because it just plain would have been easier. But now here I am, in a new position, no saved time off, uncomfortable and working harder than I ever imagined...but it was what I WANTED.

    A baby is what I want too...but I just don't have that yet. If I did I might have made a different choice, but I sure would have missed out on a lot of great things.

    Infertility is already making me miss out on a lot of things in life...I don't want to have to blame IF for a lack of personal fulfillment in the career sector in case I don't achieve 'baby' at the end of this.

  16. Go with what you love, what makes you happy at the end of the day. For everyone that is different.

    Neither of us thought we'd be where we are now. I'm an MD/ PhD who has left first lab research then clinical research when we had our first child. We worked hard to have him and I knew that was right for us. I'm now part-time clinical and love the work I do. It has a huge impact and I am content at the end of my day.

    What I didn't realize through all my planning and now struggling to have another child, is how my view of "successful" has changed. As I start to recognize that a second child would be a miracle, I have awoken to what is most important to me. My husband and my child. I love the cooking, sewing, talking, playing I get to do. I don't want my professional life to consume more. At first that was to have more time with the new it is to have more time for my loves and lovely ones.

    Take the opportunity that will let you sigh happily at the end of the day and make you strong for the life ahead.

  17. Wow, wow, wow. That's a lot. We're in sort of the same boat over here -- attorneys -- and it's a tough call. I'm trying to push ahead each day and really not think too much about the future . . . which probably isn't a good long-term plan, but tomorrow truly has enough trouble of its own. Hang in there.

  18. I'm also a physician - i've enjoyed reading your blog! I'm on my 4th IVF and recently had to make a decision about jobs for this july 2009 (i'm actually finishing a fellowship...) I decided to make the decision about jobs assuming I wont have a child... knowing that if I made decisions (ie took the easier path) assuming that I would have a child and IVF ended up not working out then I'd be doubly sad. I think in general its A LOT easier to go from a research career to a clinical career then vice-versa.

  19. No words of clarity or advice, but did want to wish you lots of luck and peace with your impending decisions.

  20. I'm sorry you're dealing with this, now, too. Somewhere in this process, I found/decided it was better to assume I would not have a child / be cycling / be pregnant, because assuming (hoping) I would be had caused me to put too much stuff off, etc., etc. I haven't been perfect about this, but generally that (assuming I won't) was the right choice for me to make most of the time (er, in terms of process it wasn't always true and in terms of outcome it's now observably false, but having to deal with a much-wanted pregnancy, etc., even though some aspects of timing, my life structure, etc. were "inconvenient?" A bearable problem.).

  21. Hi Mo,

    I hate that we have to make this kind of choices in our lives. I have a PhD and am in the "middle" of my post-doc. Ironically, I chose an institution that could really launch my academic career if my labwork took off.

    Between IVF and the pressures of being a post-doc, sometimes I wonder if I made the right decision. But, looking back on it, I wonder if it is a coincidence that my post-doc to me to Massachusetts--one of the few states with IVF coverage....

    I am now in the position of determining what comes AFTER the post-doc. Try for an academic position (like you, prestige and some self-satisfation) or go the route of industry (less prestigious, but more regular hours).

    I still wrestle with making that decision.

    You know, there are so many uncertainties in life. So many things around the corner that you cannot see. I doubt that you can make the "wrong" choice. Changes can be made...we can always look back and think that "with hindsight I would have made a different choice," but you will never know if that is true.

    I wish that I had some wonderful, wise answers for you, but I am sure if I knew what they were, you would have come up the answer already yourself. Good luck.

  22. Hi Mo
    I think some people here said pretty amazing things. I particularly like Duck's point of view and agree with dreamsandfalsealarms regarding what kind of legacy we are leaving. I feel right now that I did put a lot on hold believing I could get pregnant any minute. And now, it's been six years.
    I just decided that I'll live my life valuing what I already have and doing things that help with my self-esteem. After the BFN after my IVF, for a while I felt like a walking failure, like that spread to all areas of my life. And I don't want that to happen. I am much more than IF. We all are. We should do things that make us feel whole, regardless of the outcomes of the fertility struggles. If you are really tempted by the more time consuming path, do it anyway. do what calls to you the most. And do it with joy.

  23. Although we work in very different disciplines (I'm just finishing a PhD in a humanities-based discipline), I'm nodding my head in recognition of the complexity of the choices you face. Trying to balance an academic career and a family is hard at the best of times, but when you factor in infertility it becomes ten times harder.

    I think many of the other previous commenters have offered some sage advice. For a long time, I put my life on hold on the grounds that I would very probably get pregnant soon. Eventually, though, I decided that I couldn't wait indefinitely for something that might never happen. I think that there does come a time when you have to start doing whatever feels right for you at this present moment.

    Good luck, no matter what path you decide to go down!

  24. It looks like you've gotten some good comments.

    I'd probably ask - will you regret it if you took either path if you a) got pregnant, b) didn't get pregnant?

    So many times I'd not done something because I was in the middle of a cycle. And as of right now, I have no regrets. BUT - I was encouraged to go ahead and plan for life without kids, and that way, you can be pleasantly surprised if it happens, but not totally disappointed if it doesn't.

    Either way - I know you will make the best choice for you.



    For Mo + Will,


  26. I hear your frustrations. I have also put my career on hold and have stayed in an unhappy job for way too long because of IF, thinking I would figure it out once I got pregnant. (Or stay home with the kids!) Now it is over 2 years later and the job market stinks so even if I wanted to start looking it would be difficult for me to find a new job.

    If I could have done it differently a long time ago.

    I say, as others have said here, that you should think about what will make you happy now. You can deal with whatever comes along when it shows up.

    Best of luck with your decisions, I know it can't be easy!

  27. Oops - I meant to say:

    "If I could have done it differently a long time ago I would have."

  28. I try to get out of decision paralysis by making decisions based on what I do know today.

    The truth is you can always alter course or revisit the path you're on once you have more knowledge (though we often forget that!) Speaking as one who once spent too much time delaying decisions or living in the land of "what if," I'm now living smack dab in the middle of here and now.

  29. Great advice here. I have none, as I just need to try and keep my job while dealing with the stress of cycling. All I can offer is tequila therapy. ;-)

  30. i was in the same place myself 2 years ago, albeit very different career and choices, but facing the same fork in the road. i very much agree with all the commenters who mention not forsaking any options in the hopes of a future baby who may not arrive, but i found that what felt most "right" to me was a choice that left the family door very much open because i knew in my heart that one way or another i would have children, whether through IVF or adoption or some other path, planning around the no-kids option just felt wrong to me. i get bogged down in weighing all the variables but ultimately there is usually a choice that just feels right. i hope you find that kind of peace in your decision, although it can be a long and ever-evolving process with career choices. best wishes to you.

  31. I just made a similar decision this past year - completed (yay) my PhD and was trying to decide whether to do a post doc or jump right into a faculty position. We were just starting to realize that having a child might not be as easy as we thought it was going to be when I had to make the decision about what to do/where to go/who to be for the next few years.

    I'm repeating what others have said, but I/we made the decision based on what life is like now. I made the decision that I needed to do a post doc. We made the decision together about where that post doc was going to be. Of course, I'm a big pro/con person, so there were lists and spreadsheets and...well, anyway, you get the point.

    And we wound up moving from a state with guaranteed IF coverage to one without. We're very lucky that I have fantastic insurance through my post doc, and that I don't have to pay in every month.....BUT, I have a cap on infertility coverage and we are getting to the point where if IUI's don't work, we'll have one shot at IVF and that's it. Do I think about that possibility? Yes...

    But in my current academic life, I am blissfully happy. Happier than I thought I could be during the end of my doctoral program. And I do think that that is because I chose based on what I need professionally now. I know that I can switch over and do clinical work if I want to in the future. But right now, this is what I want to be doing.

    You know best of all what you need and want best of luck making this decision.

  32. I got chills reading your post because I am in, philosophically speaking, precisely the same predicament right now (the difference being I am nowhere near as accomplished as you are and am considering going back to school for an advanced degree/making a career change). I don't know what the answer is but I am starting to lean toward going at least in the direction of my career dreams. Who knows how long it will take for me to become a mother? I am tired of feeling like everything else in my life is on hold. So I guess I would second earlier advice and suggest that you should follow whatever path is most likely to fulfill you career-wise (everything else aside), and let the other pieces fall into place when they happen.


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