Tag Archives: PhD

Aunt Becky, PhD, and the Prayer of Relinquishment

At the end of the race, there are almost always bananas.

At the end of the rainbow, there is supposed to be a pot of gold.

At the end of a journey, a destination.



And at the end of the five stages of grief, there lies acceptance.

I don’t know that I’ve ever grieved heartily and with enough awareness as an adult to really notice any given stage of grief. Not until yesterday… when in less than 24 hours I managed to go from stage 1 (blissful denial) to rapid vacillation between stages 2, 3, and 4 in a torrent of tears and snot (so much snot) before I finally settled into a puffy-eyed, rosy lipped (my lips get very bright pink when I cry a lot) depression.

Puffy-eyed bedtime and only the Chamber of Secrets could provide me solace.
Puffy-eyed bedtime and only the Chamber of Secrets could provide me solace.


So, what happened, exactly? We’ll do it stage by stage.

1. Denial

I had a lovely time on Sunday night, the night before the embryo transfer. My cousin-in-law Megan had her second annual Take Steps for Crohn’s and Colitis fundraiser at UPaint and Party in Wausau. Almost everyone painted a gorgeous picture of a lovely little bird silhouetted against a bright sky flying from it’s cage. My painting somehow got a dementor in it, but I still had a blast. It was nothing but fun and I was in good spirits about Monday’s transfer. Yes, I only had three embryos, but it could be great! That was three chances — making for a potential family of five humans and my sweet Curly girl to boot. I was good.

The dementor just kind of happened...
The dementor just kind of happened…

Even Monday morning, though nervous and stressed about heading out the door a bit late, I was still making The Jerk-based jokes with my family.

Courtesy of my Shabsky.
Courtesy of my Shabsky.

And that’s all I need…

2. Anger

We arrived in Madison a mere 4 minutes late for our scheduled appointment. Big thanks to the state of Wisconsin for upping our speed limits to 70 mph — big help yesterday. The nurse brought us back to the procedure area, same as before, and began to collect vitals, provide information, prep us with our gowns and caps and booties and all that… and I noticed that all the while, she kept saying “the embryo.” Part of me assumed it was because they were planning to just transfer one, which was always the goal. A much darker part of me knew what it really meant though.

There was only one embryo left. Two of the three we had, the three I had been banking on, had stopped developing. Just stopped. We were going to transfer only one because we had only one.

The one. I'm sure someday I'll make Highlander jokes about this. Too soon.
The one. I’m sure someday I’ll make Highlander jokes about this. Too soon.

And that one? Not even ideal. Not sure on the details… and this image means pretty much nothing to me (no wonder they call it a ball of cells, eh?) so I can’t exactly glean anything from that, but something about it not being as developed as it should have been — an early blast instead of a mature/late/something one. I don’t know. It was hard to hear the embryologist over the buzzing in my ears that always comes when I start trying to hold back tears.

I was so unbelievably, inconsolably (even by Valium) sad. And angry. ONE?!?! After ALL THAT?! After all we had been through, all the thousands of dollars and hundreds of injections and ultrasounds and trips and tears and everything… just one. One shot. One sub-par shot.

But we did SO much. We’ve been through SO FREAKING MUCH. And so many people who do NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING, but get it on once or twice have babies all the dang time. ALL THE TIME. Why are they special? Why am I not? Why are they so obnoxiously #blessed and is #cursed even a thing?! Because I obviously am. What’s wrong with me that even with thousands and thousands of dollars of medical intervention this is still the best I can do??? One.

And if that one doesn’t work? There’s nothing in the freezer to try again. Nothing. We have to start over from zero. Physically, emotionally, financially from zero. Do it alll over again. And I know I’m too close, and I know this isn’t where we are yet, but I can’t. I shouldn’t have to! I don’t want to!! It’s not FAIR!!! (Which is truly the worst thing you can say as an adult because by this point in my life I am well aware that life is not fair and nobody every said it would be.)

3. Bargaining

But it only takes one. One is enough. One is better than zero and I’ve prayed and hoped and begged and done everything right. Everything I could do. I would do anything — hasn’t what I’ve done so far proven that? Wouldn’t we be good parents? Don’t we deserve a family?

Even just this weekend, the priest talked about the little boy who made a miracle happen by bringing Jesus his meager loaves and fishes. I’ve brought him mine, haven’t I? With everything I have done, all that I’ve been through… it’s time for our miracle now, isn’t it?

And there it is… the little embryo between the two air bubbles.

embryo ultrasound labeled

Or so they tell me. I wouldn’t know. As far as I’m concerned, this actually could be a print out of an ultrasound from a cow and I’d be none the wiser. But that has to be good, right? That you can see where it is? Inside me? Please, I’ll do anything to keep it there, to make it grow, to let it be life.

4. Depression

But then again, it really doesn’t matter anyway. It’s out of my hands and come next Wednesday, when we can finally test, this will all be over. Yes, pregnancy is a possibility. But really? If after all that, we were left with one embryo. Just the one, just hanging in there, is it really very likely that we’ll be pregnant at all? I have lost my hopefulness, my optimism. The best of it, the stuff on the inside. I have to keep saying to everyone, “Oh yes! It’s very exciting! We could be pregnant right now– not too much longer ’til we find out! Keeping our fingers crossed!!” When really, I know otherwise. I know, you know? And the best news of all — my attitude will not change anything and if ONE MORE MOTHER EFFING PERSON TELLS ME OTHERWISE I AM GOING TO FREAKING LOSE IT. (Oops… that bit might have been anger again.) You cannot visualize or positive energy or pray or wish or hope yourself into pregnancy. It’s biology. And my biology hasn’t really felt like cooperating so far. It is what it is (sorry, Aimee — I know you hate that phrase, but isn’t it the best depressive phrase kind of ever?) and I am where I am and what’s done is done and it’ll all be over soon.

Back and forth and back and forth, sometimes anger, sometimes bargaining, sometimes depression over a frightening number of cycles since yesterday afternoon. And then sometime this morning, as I chatted with my friend Marie (Seth, if we ever do have a baby, her middle name (or even his middle name, to be honest) is going to have to be Marie — fair warning) about normal things, the things we chat about all the time, and I felt my funk start to lift just a bit I started thinking about what acceptance might actually mean. And I realized that Seth’s Aunt Becky had kind of already set me up for it a while ago, believe it or not. Probably on purpose too. She’s super wise and all knowing like that. Like Dumbledore. A doctor even, the good kind, PhD-style like me. Her PhD isn’t actually in theology, although as a self-taught theologian she’s quite impressive, if I do say so myself.

Aunt Becky is on the right -- she says cool things like "academic wonks," is the homeliest in a good way person I know, AND throws groundbreaking bachelorette parties for her colleagues.
Aunt Becky is on the right — she says cool things like “academic wonks,” is the homeliest-in-a-good-way person I know, AND throws groundbreaking bachelorette parties for her colleagues.

A few weeks back she sent me a link to this article about the prayer of relinquishment:

The Prayer of Relinquishment by Catherine Marshall

Maybe I’m really late to the game and this is old news for everybody else, but in this moment, I’m so crazy grateful to Aunt Becky, PhD, for sharing it with me and I can’t recommend reading the whole thing enough if you’re in any capacity inclined toward spirituality. It’s so good.

This is the crux of it all, at least to me and right now:

“…it says, ‘This is my situation at the moment. I’ll face the reality of it. But I’ll also accept willingly whatever a loving Father sends.’ Acceptance, therefore, never slams the door on hope.

Yet even with hope our relinquishment must be the real thing, because this giving up of self-will is the hardest thing we human beings are ever called on to do.”

5. Acceptance

So as Catherine Marshall says Mrs. Nathaniel Hawthorne said once upon a time… why should I doubt the goodness of God?

I wear my bracelet all the time, the one that says “Always.” as a reminder that God is good. Always. No matter what. Why would this moment be any different? Pregnant or not, my life will go on. Pregnant or not, Seth and I will still love each other and we’re really lucky to have that. Pregnant or not, our little family will continue to flourish and decide what to do from there. All I can do right now is accept what is to come, relinquish the notion that I have any control over it, and carry on for the next several days until we have an actual answer to which I can react.

Yes, it’s hard. So so so hard. But as Melissa told me last night, even Jesus got angry. Why shouldn’t I? God gave me all these emotions and I’m free to feel them. They’re not wrong. They’re normal. And this is so hard. It’s no wonder that I feel angry and sad and depressed and worried and even hungry at times. (So so hungry.) We feel things. It’s what we do.


So stages of grief and all that aside… we had an embryo (i.e. the embryo) transferred to my uterus yesterday. At present, it’s a little ball of cells floating in space and the hope is that it will eventually implant into the uterine lining, effectively establishing a viable pregnancy. I don’t know how likely that is or is not. All I know is that on August 5th, we’ll do a blood test for HCG — a pregnancy test (not the pee on a stick kind). A negative is the real thing. Negative = negative. A positive could still be a false positive though, so if we do get a positive result, we have to do another blood test two days later on August 7th to look for rising levels of HCG, which will effectively confirm the positive result. It would be lovely to think that maybe I could look for signs and symptoms of pregnancy in the interim, but with the hormone overload my body is currently going through, I already have just about all of them and there’s no way any sign of actual pregnancy could be differentiated from the craziness happening in my body baby or no… so we wait.

Wait and accept and relinquish and let that little bit of hope in because that’s pretty much all we can do.

N is for Nutella. And other nectars of Satan.

Life… you know? Sometimes it can be so hard to write! Let’s be friends on Facebook, then you’ll know I’m still around. And we can virtually hang out– how fun! (Rachel Stankowski, search for me and I promise to accept you… except if you thank me for “excepting” you, I will probably unfriend you. Grammar.)

I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m “back,” but I am here today. So let’s talk about the letter N.

Since I told you before about my childhood obsession with frosting, it probably won’t surprise you that as an adult with a more refined palate (ha!), my attentions turned instead to Nutella.

Source -- According to this blogger, "Nutella is frosting, if frosting were laced with crack and sprinkled with the tears of virgins." YES.
Source — According to this blogger, “Nutella is frosting, if frosting were laced with crack and sprinkled with the tears of virgins.” YES.

Mmmmm… Nutella. It’s delicious on everything and anything, but most delicious on nothing but a spoon. (Or your finger, in a pinch. I’m not going to lie though, I’ll even lick it off the foil covering when I open up a new jar.)

And yet, Nutella does not feel quite the same way about me. In fact, it hates me.

The hate grew gradually, over time, but that whole “made with skim milk” claim right on the front of the jar has most certainly become a big warning label for me.

Made with milk = contains lactose. And I just can’t do it.

Back in my binge eating days (you know, like yesterday, except when those days also included lactose) Nutella was basically my go to substance for the drowning of feelings and rapid intake of calories.


While I was on Weight Watchers,* I even calculated that a full jar of Nutella constituted 24 points (FYI: that was on the “old” points system, so don’t go eating a jar of Nutella and recording it as such if you participate currently)… and I’d save up the extras and work out to “afford” to eat at least half a jar. Because what better to spend 12 points on?!

The extremes to which I would go. I wonder if I can help you to understand…

I would save up my WW points all week and on the day furthest from my weekly meeting, I would have everything all planned out. I’d bring a spoon to school with me, even if I didn’t need one, just so that I’d have it ready in my lunch bag. On the way home, I’d swing by the Safeway on Shady Grove Rd in Rockville and I’d park halfway between the Safeway and the Krispy Kreme because not a lot of other cars parked there. I’d run in, purchase my jar of Nutella and a couple other healthy cover foods, and then head back to the car where I would absolutely DIG IN. When I got back to the apartment, I would pull into a spot close to the grill area near the parking lot, where a cleverly placed garbage can allowed me to dispose of the evidence, and then I’d head up the four flights of stairs to my apartment– moaning and groaning all the way because, let me tell you, there’s just no eating a whole jar of Nutella (or even half!) without basically destroying your insides. Try it when you’re lactose-intolerant and it’s even more catastrophic.

And yet, I did it. Time after time after time. In company, I would eat the Nutella on animal crackers or some other suitable vehicle. But man, as soon as I was alone, or at least unobserved, I would eat it as though I hadn’t eaten in weeks and wouldn’t again for weeks more.

Binge trigger? Maybe. But as the title suggests, I prefer to think of Nutella as a nectar of Satan. Ridiculously tempting and easy to acquire, but just waiting to destroy me from the inside out.

Nutella’s not nearly as tempting to me today as it was before I used up all the lactase my body had to offer. (Lactase is the enzyme that breaks down the milk sugar lactose. Not making lactase is what makes a person intolerant to lactose. The more you know.) These days, lactaid (or as Target brand likes to call it: dairy digestive supplement) doesn’t even help much and I voluntarily avoid things like cheese, chocolate, and baked goods simply because I know what I’m in for if I eat them… and it’s not good.

They say an elephant never forgets. And for the most part, I believe that to be true. Things that have stung emotionally are basically impossible for me to forget. Things that sting physiologically, on the other hand? Those, I forget pretty readily. So I do it to myself again and again with, not so much the Nutella, but other tempting nectars that present themselves… things like alfredo sauce (seriously, lactaid does not work in that instance and I need to stop!), cheese curds (Wisconsiiiin!!! WHY?!?!?!), and hot chocolate (because it’s NOT just chocolate, sugar, and water, FYI).

Lactose isn’t the be all, end all though. I told you that my hands went totally crazy while I was in Arizona and that hadn’t happened since I had the piggy pigs (swine flu) and started getting rashes all the dang time while I was in grad school. At that time, I stopped eating gluten and that seemed to help quite a bit. But the doctor (MD, gastroenterology) told me the gluten thing was all in my head, so I ate it again. And then my hands… and my stomach… and whatever. I am a mess! But, I am also a doctor. Not a physician, but close enough right? And I know how I’m feeling better than anyone else.

Recently, another doctor of the same variety as me (i.e. PhD rather than MD, also her name is Rachel, too, except she’s French** (awesome!) so it’s pronounced Ruh-shell, you know, the pretty way) sent me an interesting article she saw in the Oprah magazine about dietary changes for intestinal disorders and the battle to get to a place that’s healthy, or at least pain- and bathroom emergency-free, in the absence of hard evidence and in the face of everyone in MD-style medicine calling you crazy. It was my story, exactly, except much worse. And it was so validating. Especially because Rachel sent it, and because Rachel likes Oprah’s magazine like I do, and I kind of worship Rachel as one of the most brilliant and thoughtful people I know… so….

So, at this point, I avoid lactose and gluten. When I do, my stomach is (relatively) calm and my hands remain human-sized. Perhaps this food avoidance is addressing something that is merely psychosomatic, but if that’s the case… it’s working!

And here’s some super good news: several varieties of store bought frosting are both lactose AND gluten free. Bring it on, Satan!

{Cyanide and Happiness, of course}
{Cyanide and Happiness, of course}



*I would like to be clear here that this was while I was on Weight Watchers the most recent time, back in 2010-2011, when I wanted to lose weight before getting married. At the time, I weighed approximately 165 lbs, which is, on my 5’10” – 5’11” frame, perfectly healthy and, dare I say, even somewhat THIN! And yet, Weight Watchers happily took my money and let me participate in full. I even lost some weight! Because anyone can lose weight if they restrict what they eat to a great enough extent and exercise (cardio plus weights!) for a mere 1 – 2 hours per day. Easy peasy, right? But let’s be honest here, WW doesn’t care, they’re getting paid, that’s good enough. And that’s why they let me join for the first time when I was still in elementary school. Nothing better for a little girl… who now eats Nutella by the jar. (Except not really because it’s chock-full of lactose and it would destroy me, but you get my point.)

**I’m sure you’re familiar with the bacteria E. coli, short for Escherichia coli, yes? Well, my friend Rachel (the French way) says it so ridiculously beautifully that because of that pronunciation and the movie Amelie (have you seen it?! SO good!) I would consider myself a Francophile. Science is just better with in French-accented English. It’s true. Also, one time, Rachel complimented my dexterity (with tiny little dishes full of Chlamydia— good reason to be careful!) and it made me feel so ridiculously happy that it’s one of those things that this elephant will never forget.

Dr. Money Machine hurts my feelings.

This is a post I’ve been working on for quite… a… while…  I had this idea about what I wanted to say, but every time I finished, the whole thing sounded so angry, even though angry wasn’t really my intent.

Not my intent, but through the writing and re-writing process, I realized that I actually was still pretty angry.  And I had to find not only the right words, but also a new frame of reference.  I think I finally found both– you can let me know if you agree.

Once upon a time, in a land much like Hogwarts (when Dolores Umbridge was in charge), I defended my dissertation (that’s like getting your N.E.W.T.s).  (Which do you prefer– references to Harry Potter or Jurassic Park?  I can do either quite well…)  After 6 long years, I was finally given the green light to write… and I wrote my heart out.  Two weeks before my defense, I turned in my dissertation and I was proud of what I wrote.  I poured my heart and soul into that treatise on gonorrhea and chlamydia in mouse vaginas (sounds like it might be a joke, but it’s not) and I was actually kind of excited to hand it in.

Two weeks later, my mom, dad, grandma, sister, and brother-in-law flew into town and my fiance, now husband, brought them onto the base for my big day.  (The Uniformed Services University is on a naval base in Maryland.)  First was my public defense.  The room was packed, my family and friends were all there, I was wearing an awesome dress and killer heels, and I rocked it.  (I love making PowerPoints, because there is something seriously wrong with me, and I think it was the best I’ve ever, ever made.  It even had jokes!!  JOKES!)  It was awesome and I felt great.

Thirty minutes later, my family was safely tucked away with my labmates and friends and I was headed to my private defense.  I was nervous, of course, but not nearly as nervous as I had been for my public.  Everyone who had already been through this process had told me what it was like– “This is the point where they finally respect you and treat you like a peer…”  “It’s really just like a conversation, they won’t grill you like they did in quals…”  “You know more about your project than anyone else, it’ll be a piece of cake…”

Except that for me, it really wasn’t like that.  This is the point where I usually get super angry, so I’ll spare you the details, but one of my committee members went totally off the rails and got mean.  It was not constructive and I am undoubtedly biased, but I really don’t think it was warranted.

And it hurt.  Many, many tears were shed.  Even more angry words were hurled in his general direction.  And I have spent much of the last two years feeling like the whole dang thing was unforgivably unfair.

Oy.  The power of words to hurt!

But, then again, they were just words.  And as much as words can hurt, I can choose how much power I give them to hurt me.  So, let’s evaluate…

Was my thesis well-written?  YES.

Am I proud of what I wrote?  YES.

Am I proud of what I accomplished during those 6 years?  YES.

Am I now employed as a professional scientific research writer with a successful track record of publications and funded grant applications?  YES again.

know these things about myself.  And I know that those ugly words came from a hateful man going through a rough time in his unpleasant life.  And I am sorry for him.

I am sorry that he is incapable of engaging the students that he agrees to teach and mentor in a productive way.  I am sorry that he doesn’t know the pleasure of a positive approach to discourse.  I am sorry that he is so angry.

It was unfortunate that he chose to take his anger out on me on my big day.  But I forgive him, because ultimately, it has absolutely no bearing on the presentation I gave, the dissertation I wrote, or my ability to function as a scientist in the real world… and maybe he needed that outlet.  I don’t know.  My hope for him is that he can find a better way.

My hope for those who are, like me, unlucky enough to have to deal with this man at pivotal points in their scientific career is that they don’t internalize his words.  And that if they accidentally do, they get over it quickly.  (More quickly than I did anyway.)



…My hope for those who have already had the distinct displeasure of dealing with this man is that you will recognize the insanely clever title of this post and it will make you laugh.  And if that still doesn’t make it better, just remember that he never had the chance to catch your tears in a Dixie cup to sip on later.  (Thanks to DW for that visual– love it still!)