Monday, January 27, 2014

Amenorrhea--revisited, revisited

Quick update (since I live my life on the Internet): the round of birth control pills did not do what they were supposed to do, which was to force me to have a period (and no, I'm not pregnant). I realize that most women do not look forward to their 'monthly visitor,' but it's been so long (and I took the pills against my better judgement), so I was disappointed to not have a period. By around Wednesday of last week (when it was becoming pretty obvious that nothing was happening), I was getting worried.

Worried, but yet still very, er, calm?

In the back of my head, crazy thoughts started to pop up, like maybe my ovaries are full of cancer and that's why I haven't had a period in over a year and a half. Then the more rational part of my brain kicked in, and I would think, absolutely nothing else is wrong with me. I'm pretty sure if I'd had cancer manifesting in my reproductive system for the last eighteen months, something else would have shown (more extensive weight loss, pain, weird lumps, etc.). I am fine. Regardless, I was kind of on the emotional side on Wednesday, having unexpected tears a couple of times during the day.

On Friday I emailed my health care provider at MIT Medical to let her know about my lack of flow. She got back to me later on in the day, and her response gave me a great deal of relief. Although it seems to have been something of a surprise that the birth control pills didn't trigger a period, she also didn't seem alarmed (i.e., she didn't tell me I needed to come in immediately). I'm to do a couple of extra tests, an ultrasound, and more blood work, but this is just to make sure everything is indeed all right.

So, that's where I stand, or sit, or whatever. I'm most likely normal, and I'm just to carry on from here. Personally, I will try to eat more on a consistent basis (rather than making up for the lost calories during the weekend), and I'll continue to take a multivitamin to help me get the iron I don't get from my pseudo-vegetarian diet. I'll also assume that for now, I'm mostly normal, until proven otherwise.



Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Caring for the academic in your life

The title of this post makes it sound like having an academic in your life is like having a pet, or a tank of sea monkeys. I promise, that even a challenging kitten like ours (who's always had a lively personality to say the least), is still easier than coping with, encouraging, and supporting someone looking for a profession in academia. I got the idea of putting together this post after having coffee with an acquaintance who also moved to the Boston area thanks to her spouse (he's only starting his PhD, so I found myself in the advice giving/experienced position).

A semi-recent PhD comic gives an not-so-inaccurate look into the life of the partner/spouse of an academic:

Andrew was still home when I read this comic (I think he was getting ready to leave), so I informed him that I was his academic groupie...which of course lead to some inappropriate conversation about whether or not I'd been living up to my "groupie duties."

Anyway...Andrew and I moved to Edmonton in order for him to complete his Masters (and then we stayed for his PhD), and we're now in Somerville for his post-doctoral research. Although we didn't make either of these moves without consultation, we probably wouldn't have lived in either place if it wasn't for him. As Andrew looks for a full-time job we're expecting to move once more, but again, it won't be without mutual agreement. I don't generally travel with Andrew when he goes to conferences as I usually have to work/I know I won't see him if I do come, but I've been left at home with the kitten on numerous occasions.

So, how does one care for the academic in your life? Well, to start, not unlike a pet, you make sure they have food, water, and shelter. I often joke that if Andrew and I weren't married, he'd be eating ramen noodles for most meals, and finding himself doing the "sniff test" every morning to help him figure what to wear. This isn't to say that Andrew's incapable of cooking or doing laundry, but he'd got experiments, analyses, papers, meetings, etc., that tend to take priority. He's not the "Absent Minded Professor" either, it's just that being an academic never stops. It comes home with you from the lab/school/conferences.

The next thing I would say that's important is listening and NOT give advice. I can't help Andrew if he's having a problem with an experiment or his analysis program, or marking assignments. I'm a librarian and know nothing more about superhydrophobic surfaces (surfaces that really, really repel water) than what he's told me. Often, Andrew just wants to talk out what's going on, and listening is the best thing I can do (although I do have enough scientific understanding that I can occasionally suggest something useful).

Listening and offering support/encouragement is also important, and often very tricky. Throughout much of Andrew's academic career, he's been very certain that he enjoys the teaching aspect, and is okay at the research aspect (I mean he's received a TON of scholarships, so he must be all right), but not quite sure if he really wants a full, tenured professor position. This has become an even more difficult problem since he's now applying for jobs and attending interviews. Sure, I want Andrew to have a job, but I don't want him to take one just because I WANT him to be a professor. I'll love him no matter what he does as a career, and it doesn't hurt to remind him of that every now and again.

What's really frustrating for me is when I'm left to fall back on cliched/stock comments, like "Everyone has to go through this [the feeling that his PhD work will never end/job hunting/interviews/doubts about being a professor]". Recently I basically resorted to saying "Suck it up, Princess," but sometimes I think that's necessary, too.

The last thing I'm going to suggest as important in caring for your academic, is having an understanding and flexibility around the demands of their workload. As I wrote above, academics take their work home with them almost every night, and frequently on the weekends, too. Luckily for Andrew, I usually write in the evening and need to be at my own computer, too, so it works for us. I would also point out that I'm not saying the non-academic spouse should be left to do all the housework/child care, but you may need to accept that your academic can't veg out on the couch with you all night, or go to a movie/shopping, or whatever else people do at night.

Ultimately, I'm extremely proud of Andrew. He's one smart cookie, and I can now say that I'm married to a doctor (even if he's not the kind that helps people).

Andrew J.B. Milne, PhD, in his full University of Alberta academic robes.

Ciao, Andrea

Monday, January 13, 2014


Remember how I wrote back in the late winter/early spring that I was experiencing post-pill amenorrhea? Well, I still haven't had a period. I've seen two more health care professionals at MIT Medical (both nurse practitioners, one of whom specializes in obstetrics), and I've now been told that what I'm experiencing is hypothelamic amenorrhea.

It's what I kind of what I thought the problem was, but couldn't quite believe was the problem because I'm not a super trim, high performance athlete. Basically, I'm too lean to support the process of menstruation. My BMI is fine, partially because I have a higher than average amount of muscle for a woman. I only exercise 8-9 hours a week, and spend most of the rest of my time sitting, but I guess that's enough to do it. More probably, of those 8-9 hours of exercise, I spend 2 hours lifting weights in the gym, and 2-3 hours lifting myself practicing aerials (hence why I'm rather muscular).

So, what's my treatment? I could cut down on exercise, or I could eat more. I know from tracking my diet for the last several years that I consumed between 2,100-2,300 calories/day, and on average have a balanced calorie intake/output every week. The other option was a chemical reminder to my brain and ovaries about what their supposed to do once a month.

Presently, I'm back on birth control pills. This isn't necessary because I wanted the quick and easy fix, but I want/needed the definite (or should be definite) fix. It's just for three weeks, which is what I have to continually remind myself. Three weeks only, and I've decided if it doesn't work, I will NOT be continuing on them no matter what. I've gained around 6 pounds in 2 weeks thanks to the pill. As Andrew repeatedly reminds me (and as I know myself, I really do), it's the pill that's caused this weight gain, and it's because my body is retaining water.

That doesn't help me feel better.

As I've blogged before, I was overweight as a child and teen, so any hint of gaining weight makes me worry. I hate that the weight gain has happened so quickly (2 weeks!) and it will probably take me a couple of months to get back to where I was before January. Except, given that my weight and body compilation seem to be the source of my problems, maybe I just need to accept that I need to be 5 or 8 pounds heavier to be healthy. That, my dear readers, if definitely more easily said than done.

I'm not going to delve into the issues of popular culture and female body image. Others have done, and will continue to do so better than I am capable of, but there are times when being a young-ish health-conscious woman sucks.



Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A long slow return to blogging

I went blog-silent in December.

No particular reason, I just didn't have anything interesting, or note worthy to post about. Toward the end of the month, I did get my Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN), which means that Nora is now up on Amazon. There are other spots on the Internet that provide a detailed explanation as to how to obtain an ITIN, but I might add my own two cents if nothing better to write about pops up.

I worked on a new story in December, a pure romance about the circus. It's mostly done, just half of the last chapter left to go, but now I'm a bit stumped as to what to do with it. Correction, last night I decided that my heroine, Beth, needed a better resolve, so it'll be another chapter or two before I'm done. I'd like to send it to Entangled Publishing (they expressed interest in Cimwai's Bay, but ultimately turned it down), but I'm not sure what line my story would best suit. It's about the aerialists and acrobats in a travelling circus. My character's a little too old for one category, I'm not sure if there are enough romance tropes in it for another, and there's no sex. There will probably be sex (Eep, I've never written more than a kiss before, so this shall be...interesting).

What's coming up for me in the new year? Not a whole lot. Andrew and I are still in something of a transitional stage, living in Somerville. Even if he get's a job offer (there are interviews coming up), we may opt to stay in the States until his postdoc funding is complete (it's good for two years). I'm still working remotely, which is fine for the most part, although it can get a bit lonely at times, especially right now while the days are short. I've started to volunteer with a food pantry organization nearby, which helps get me out once a week.

I'm also going back to NECCA in February for their Introduction to Teaching Aerials workshop and I hope to start helping at Esh Circus Arts as an assistant instructor for the next session. I'd once thought of becoming a figure skating coach (for kids), but since I stopped skating when I started aerials I gave that idea up. I'm still interested in coaching/teaching in some form, and since my focus has changed, I feel like being an aerial instructor might be a nice alternative. I'll report back after the Teaching workshop.

Currently we don't have any major travel plans beyond my driving to Vermont. We might go home to Ontario over Easter, but that will probably depend on how busy Andrew is with research stuff.

I hope everyone is warm and safe wherever they're reading this from. Somerville's been a real treat weather-wise. We were +10 Celsius yesterday when much of Canada was disgustingly cold, and even though today was on the negative half of the thermometer, at least it was sunny.