Tuesday, May 6, is the third anniversary of the day that changed my life forever. Well, the first of many days that changed my life forever. During the spring of 2005, I was a PhD student about 6 months from finishing my degree, I had been in touch with a couple of potential postdoc advisors, and I was pregnant with my first child. My husband and I decided that the best time to have our first baby was between finishing my degree and starting a postdoc position, and, low and behold, it looked like all of our plans were falling into place. Then I went in for my first ultrasound. At 20 weeks we went in to make sure our baby was healthy and to find out if we were having a boy or a girl. The ultrasound technician rubbed jelly across my belly, rubbed the wand around my bulge to get everything nice a goopy, and then casually uttered those fateful words, “oh look, there are two babies in there.” Yep – we were having twins. Before getting pregnant, I kind of had some, well for lack of a better word, fantasies about combining motherhood with a science career, but all of those imaginings were for only one baby. How would I manage to fit two children into my career? At the same time? I had absolutely no idea. At that point, I kind of just tossed my plans out the window. Whatever would come would come and I would deal with it as it came. I would finish my degree and figure out my life later.
It turns out that it was a good thing I chose a “take it as it comes” approach because my life was about to get even less predictable. Four weeks after learning I was going to have twins, I had symptoms of preeclampsia and two weeks after that my doctor told me to go home and “lie around like a lazy dog” for the rest of my pregnancy. And that is what I did for the next 8 weeks until my twins were delivered six weeks prematurely. After two exhausting weeks in the NICU, Baby Girl 1 was discharged, and our lives seemed to be getting to a place where we could establish a new normal. But a week after that Hurricane Katrina hit. We were actually, very, very lucky that the storm did not hit us directly and that we only lost electricity for four days. But the result is that they needed space in our NICU for all the babies being evacuated from New Orleans, and Baby Girl 2 was discharged, in my opinion, before she was ready and with medical issues that would we would deal with over the next year. Our new normal was now life in a too small apartment with two infants in a city that gained 10,000 extra people overnight. And I was a full time stay at home mom to a medically challenged infant, and I had no idea what was going to happen with my career. Certainly, all hope for finishing my degree and starting a postdoc in the foreseeable future was gone. What would the future hold?
Fast forward three years. My girls are now active almost 3 year olds who have mostly outgrown their medical issues and have “caught-up” with their full term peer. I have finished my PhD and now have a postdoc position at a large university in the lab of a National Academy of Science member. My life and career are back on the previously plotted course. Or are they? One major effect of the events of 2005 is that I am no longer sure of my career goals. There are days that I am not confident that a science career is even right for me any more. Balancing the demands of home and career is more difficult than I ever imagined. My kitchen is never clean and there are toys and dirty clothes everywhere. I’m not confident that I am getting enough done at work? I never know if I am coming or going. Is it worth it? Would my family be better off if I stayed at home, kept the house clean and cooked healthy dinners every night? Would my daughters be better at home with me than at daycare? Then there are other days when I want to be a scientist, but I’m not sure I am in the right field. There are days when my very basic research on insects seems frivolous. Shouldn’t I focus my attention on something that would save lives? Very little is known about what causes preeclampsia, should I leave entomology and study human development? Instead of studying insect development, should I study something more related to human health? I now have friends who have either lost children who were born too early. Other friends now face a lifetime of caring for children with cerebral palsy or other extreme physical challenges. Should I focus my research on preventing and/or treating premature birth? There are people all over the U.S. who lost everything in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Should I get a job at a non-profit organization and help people who have nothing? Or should I just stay at home with my girls and make sure they have the best start possible. The answer is, I just don’t know. I know that things are really hard right now and I’ve lost a lot of the passion I once had for my job. But that may just be from the exhaustion of trying to keep my career going and keep up with two preschoolers. There is a reason I became a scientist – because I love science. I love doing research. I love studying insects! So for now, I’ll stick with the plan I came up with three years ago. Keep going and everything will sort itself out – I hope.