Somewhere between four and five years ago, I took part in a blog discussion among other women who’d lost a child at some point during their pregnancies or shortly afterward about how their experiences had changed them. Most of what followed were searches for meaning, most of us too close to the moment, too focused on just trying to go forward to really practically grasp what and how they had changed.
Since then, I’ve written a few posts on the same topic, but really, it’s only been lately that my understanding of myself since that time has become clearer. It’s been muddled considerably by the reality of the recession, which greatly altered Josh’s and my prospects for dual academic careers. I would have hated the idea that that could happen five years ago–that Natan’s life/death could become mixed up in something so mundane. I really wanted his life to have some higher spiritual meaning. But really, why? Do I put such high pressure on Samuel? No. Do I expect his life to be for the sake of feeding my cosmology? Not really. I just love him, and genuinely like him, a lot.
I continue to resist any suggestion that things “happen for a reason” or “always work out for the best” because if that were true, I’d have too much trouble reconciling my faith with the really ugly, or what I more often experience, the really annoying. I still hope I can do more to help the world and be a better person because of what I went through, just as I hope living with Samuel will also help me push myself more.
The truth is though, I’ve accomplished a lot less since Natan died than I expected to have done. Four and a half years ago, I had no higher ambition than to be an academic and a great teacher. Those are great ambitions, and I don’t have reduced admiration for people who do that. Something I resisted though, really until recently, was the reality that the mix of experiences I’ve had since January 2007 changed me so much that I’m not suited for it anymore. I can’t pinpoint what came from my failed pregnancy, from Natan’s death, from Samuel’s birth and life, from the dehumanizing aspects of the market, from our financial struggles, from my unsatisfactory experiences in academia since I defended. I should point out that I have had plenty of wonderful experiences as well, but somehow those have really, really not felt like enough. I complain a lot about the tedium of grading, dealing with annoying or problem students, and boredom with scholarship in my field. Lots of people do the first two–the real problem for me comes with the last one.
For a long time, when I pick up an article or book in my field, I’ve felt complete and utter disinterest. I was telling Josh recently that I came to graduate school with certain questions that only early American cultural history could answer for me. My dissertation provided me with those answers, and I’m on to new questions, but they’re not the ones I can answer by being a history professor. And I’m not sure I care whether anyone else was interested in those historical questions and whether my dissertation answers the questions they had. And I can’t seem to care enough to fake it.
That was an entirely vague paragraph, but it’s the best I can do without getting into details about my diss and what I think it did. I think I’m simply not interested in the profession. It took me a long time to come to that conclusion, because in no way do I think I should have quit graduate school or not finished my dissertation. It also took a long time, because, well, what else have I been trained to do? A well-meaning person recently forwarded me something about things to do with your history PhD other than be a history professor. My reaction, “Ugh, those are even worse.” I was a great student, yet I don’t like working with other people very much. I’m much happier in my own head, or more accurately, sitting at a computer with a cup of coffee, at home or in a coffee shop, with no one else’s expectations surrounding me and no need to bend to another person’s whims. Obviously, life doesn’t work like that. But my hope is I can find a way to live like that more often than not.
So here goes–my craziest confession yet. I’m going to finish out this academic year where I am, obviously continuing to do the best I can by the department and my students. Then, I’m done. We’ve, through some incredible good fortune, managed this year to pay off our most considerable debts, and can afford to live frugally for the next couple of years as a one-income family. My plan: write. I have a number of ideas, all of which are crazy, none of which may work out. I have a good amount done on one of them, but with a job and a family, it’s too much to just finish without bowing out on one of those things.
And while I’m at it, I’ll admit some other big recent news. I am 14 weeks pregnant and had a cerclage yesterday. All went well. It’s very very different being in Mississippi rather than Michigan, but my doctor’s competent and I like her. I did have to put up with a number of idiotic questions from nursing staff, “Is this your first?” First what?? “Baby.” No, of course not. No one has a cerclage put in at 14 weeks with their first. The surgery was done in the general operating room because it’s a small hospital, without room in L&D. But let’s just pray I don’t have to visit the general areas again because my patience really began to wear thin.