Getting things done... pregnant edition
September 25, 2019 1:15 AM   Subscribe

I am 11 weeks pregnant. I cannot, for the life of me, get anything done. Send help? Anonymous for workplace reasons.

I feel like this is a little like that question about being 100 percent productive at work: I KNOW that the answer is: screw productivity! "Enjoy this time!" There is more to life than producing value for stakeholders!

BUT. I am an academic and had planned, before getting knocked up,* on knocking out my first book manuscript this year. But now that feels totally impossible: and also totally imperative. If I don't write like the wind now, when? How will I do fieldwork with baby in tow?

Add to the mix that my attention span is totally shot and I can't even keep up with basic stuff like grading, household management, whatever. I am anxious and bad at logistics all the time and this is a new level of disorganization and spiraling about it.

A few weeks ago I was so tired that I could do nothing but nap all day-- that seems to have waned, and now I'm frustrated that I'm STILL not able to focus. My sister is like: "it'll be better in two weeks, hold your horses!" but this feels.... like it won't be better in two weeks? I feel really deeply STUCK.

Can't tell whether I need a new planner / todo app or a developmental editor for the book or a pep talk from someone who's been there or what. Grateful for any of the above. Thanks, Metafilter. You're great.

*on purpose. productivity panic aside, I'm (we're) thrilled.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
So enjoy this time is maybe not the right perspective. To me, being pregnant is physically and mentally draining. It's kind of like the day after you had food poisoning for the first few months. You should be kind to yourself, like you've just had the flu.

You can't go at the same speed you used to for awhile. It may get better in a couple weeks or months.

Get a planner! Pick the two most important things you want to do that day. Try to do those two things. Ask for a lot of help. It's ok if you're less productive right now. So was almost every other woman during their pregnancy. I felt like shit for four straight months and got little done and then felt great and mostly normal. During those four months, I was a third to half as productive because it was all I could do. And I don't feel bad at all about it years later.

Plus babies sleep for 16 hours a day at first so you can totally write for a few hours a day then.
posted by Kalmya at 1:44 AM on September 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

The first trimester I was so tired. I get it - building an entire organ is a lot of work (placenta). Once 14 weeks hit I was SO MUCH BETTER! You can kick ass then. I was a complete wreck with new baby - so much sleep disruption and steep learning curve. Don't count on that new baby time. I did make a quilt a little at a time in the new baby beginning. It was a fuck ton of work. So, not impossible, obvs.


Also when they're small they can tuck right into a little pouch on your body (baby wearing) and you could most likely do some field work with sleeping babe.

You got this 💪
posted by PistachioRoux at 3:43 AM on September 25, 2019 [10 favorites]

It couldn't hurt to bring this up at your next well-baby gyno visit, and ask about blood tests to determine if you are lacking certain vitamins (iron, for instance, Vitamin D, folate, B12, etc.). Assume you are taking prenatal vitamins.

I was better in my 2nd trimester, and had the energy to do office work, as well as make the long trek to the in-house frozen yogurt bar every afternoon (dangerous, but so tasty). Hopefully you will regain some energy and clarity as time goes on, but do mention it to your doctor next time.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:05 AM on September 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

Take heart! This was me exactly 10 weeks ago. I was completely distracted – not getting any work done, constantly forgetting where I was going and driving past my destination or getting home with only half the groceries I needed, and certainly not "enjoying this time!" (It was not enjoyable.) Things started to improve at 14 weeks, and now I'm at 21 weeks and back to normal levels of productivity and focus.

I think we discount how disruptive changes to how we eat/sleep/feel can be to every other aspect of our lives. I could barely tolerate food and wasn't sleeping, so I was just constantly hungry and tired. No wonder I couldn't concentrate! As soon as my appetite came back, so did my ability to sleep, and then my ability to focus on work.

Hang in there. Focus on getting the bare minimum done for the next few weeks, make a plan to check in with your doctor if the situation doesn't improve, and look forward to mid-October. You'll make it!
posted by notquitejane at 4:19 AM on September 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've been pregnant three times and I agree that in general in my pregnancies, that complete hormone/organ-growing/blood flow-increasing fog lifted around 14 weeks, and I did not spend the rest of pregnancy in a coma.

That said, every pregnancy is different and you don't know what kind of a ride you're on until you're on the train. My youngest child's pregnancy was fraught and I was admitted to hospital 5 times during the pregnancy. So from that perspective as well as future parenthood, part of what you're experiencing is the need to make a few mental adjustments about productivity.

What I've found overall is that now, almost 9 years since my last delivery, my productivity is much higher in life than it ever way before I had kids, because I have developed almost an extra muscle in an ability to jump into tasks and focus for shorter yet very productive bursts (even writing). But it took time to develop that skill.

So basically, you may have to readjust some of your timeframes, but your long-term productivity, and I assume you are planning a long-term academic career, will be okay.

Of course that doesn't help you get a book out now. So, engage your partner. You have TWO jobs. Your book/work, and growing the baby. Everything else (laundry, food, etc.) should be outsourced or taken on by your partner during this time, and hopefully that will clear some more space for you...especially after 14 weeks. It's an adjustment for a couple to realize that you sleeping is caring for your child, is.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:51 AM on September 25, 2019 [11 favorites]

Doing fieldwork AND knocking out the book in 29 weeks sounds very daunting. I would say that even if you weren't pregnant, though I obviously don't know what fieldwork entails for you. While pregnant, it sounds really stressful to think about that kind of breakneck speed for getting out a book. But if there is any way to imagine doing all the research now and getting the book done on parental leave, writing for 3 hours a day, it might be more manageable. Make sure you explore all options for delaying tenure review if that's still an issue. Also a million times yes to warriorqueen's comment.
posted by nantucket at 5:08 AM on September 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, the first trimester is completely a wash - I slept 18 hours a day and couldn't eat anything, how could I possibly be productive? But by 14 weeks I could do things again and at 20 weeks I felt like I could do everything and more.

I am sorry this is hard, it really is hard. It is also sadly non-negotiable: you may not want to agree, but your body is busy and it cannot support you to do other projects right now, it is working on a major deadline and your other activities are not a priority at the moment. Think of it as the busy season, all hands on deck, you have to get this project together and then things will ease up a bit. Generally in that situation the best thing to do is delegate to others who have more resources, can you get some people to help you right now? Who is on your team and what can they take on?

This is a time for radical honesty. Most likely, you will feel better in a few weeks and can resume your plan. But also, things are different now - you need to be clear with yourself about that and come up with your alternate strategies. You'll probably feel better in the second trimester, barring complications, but soon after that you will have a baby. Take advice from those who have been there before you (+1 to warriorqueen) and come up with some alternate plans. You'll get these things done, I am sure it will be okay, but you do need some new strategies.
posted by epanalepsis at 5:30 AM on September 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

This might be a good time to start doing some things that will make your home life easier: hire a cleaning service; stock up on ready to eat healthy meals and snacks; discuss a new division of household chores with your partner. At work, if at all possible, ask for a teaching assistant for next semester!
posted by mareli at 5:48 AM on September 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

This struggle is so familiar to me! I'm pregnant with my second, so I even KNEW that in a previous pregnancy I was very tired for 12-14 weeks and then things got much better, yet I was still crying to my husband at 10 weeks along this time saying "But what if I never have energy again??". It's very frustrating, but for most women it really does improve.

Sadly you won't be able to go back and make up the time when you were really exhausted, so some of your planned accomplishments during pregnancy may not happen. Try to do your best and re-calibrate as necessary. The reality is, you can only do the best that you can do and then go from there.
posted by Bebo at 5:50 AM on September 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

I want to be honest with you. I’m 26 weeks along and while some of my energy came back around week 13, I’m still not at usual energy levels. It sucks.

For me, I’ve just come to accept it. I can only do so much, and now that one of the things I’m doing is powering a second life, something else I might normally do has to be dropped. It sucks that I’m not superwoman, but I’m also OK that I’m not. You can make the same decision for yourself.

Sending you good thoughts as you continue on this path!
posted by samthemander at 7:39 AM on September 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

For encouragement for the future, check out this article in Smithsonian about Anthropologist Briana Pobiner doing fieldwork with her son, in Kenya. (She and others also did fieldwork while pregnant, not that you need to do that ...)
posted by gudrun at 8:09 AM on September 25, 2019

I'm barely days ahead of you (nearly 12 weeks), and I've been pretty ineffective as well, I still need to nap after dinner and then fall asleep before bed and then sleep all night and I could so use an afternoon nap too but I'm feeling better than I was even a week ago, and so much better from a month ago.

My first pregnancy was similar, I had to drop a course I was so exhausted and just in survival mode, but in the 2nd trimester my energy picked up, I felt very clear and focused, and I got a ton of work done (I was doing my PhD). I was fairly productive up to the last weeks of my pregnancy (when my brain just turned off and I was in this lovely diffuse attentional state and cleaning like crazy. I am hopeful the same will happen for you and you can get the manuscript done in bursts of energy. For fieldwork, that is a harder question, you will need childcare or to work opposite shifts if you have a partner. I wrote most of my thesis after my son's birth and can barely believe I did it now, it took a lot of caffeine and I was not at my best but I got it done before he turned 2 and a bit faster than some non-parent grad students, I think because I could feel the clock ticking every minute I wasn't at home with my son. I got help with collecting my data via volunteers and a paid TA, is that a possibility? My data was experimental/lab-based so I'm unfamiliar with fieldwork.

And fwiw in terms of household management I do laundry weekly, I tidy up when I can, but I mostly have lived on takeout and cereal 90% of the time for the last two months, don't feel bad if you're not doing your usual, order things online, simplify, put off the non-urgent, it will be ok.
posted by lafemma at 8:17 AM on September 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

You are being productive, you know. Just in a different field.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 8:42 AM on September 25, 2019 [9 favorites]

Everyone's pregnancy is different and everyone's baby is different so I'm not sure any of us can offer you more than anecdata. Warriorqueen's advice about your partner taking care of all household management since you already have two jobs is very sound. Pregnancy is so much work and the first trimester especially is like a fucking thirteen week flu.

The second trimester is often (but not always) better than the first and third, so you may want to make a short and eminently reasonable list of the things you want to accomplish if you do feel better then. Do NOT put "knock out an entire manuscript" on this list. Can you operate on the assumption that you're not likely to complete the manuscript before the birth and focus on using any available energy to prepare/plan your future work in a way that makes it manageable to accomplish little bits at a time when you have a newborn?

For instance, can you take care of the fieldwork that would be most difficult to do with a newborn? Can you make a very detailed outline of the manuscript, with excellent notes and instructions for yourself that you'll be able to understand even when you're postpartum and profoundly sleep-deprived? When you're home with an infant you may well be able to knock out a couple of paragraphs of very specific scope each day if you already have a detailed outline and know exactly what you need to accomplish, but you probably won't have the energy, time, or executive functioning to figure out the whole master plan for the manuscript and decide what you'll need to do on any given day.

And if you want us to hope you a little bit: I was SO BAD at logistics/organization/focus pre-kid and it completely changed when my kid was born, and I know a lot of other women who have had this experience. I don't know if my brain actually changed or if it's a function of necessity / time pressure / clarity of purpose, but once I got past the sleep-deprived newborn phrase I started getting more done in a day than I used to do in a week pre-kid. Yes, kids make everything harder, but motherhood also makes you a lot better at doing hard things.
posted by xylothek at 9:31 AM on September 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

Your body is working very hard, your hormones and metabolism are doing very new things. The exhaustion is not so much a weird side effect as a natural consequence. Once your baby is home, you will be exhausted because sleep, feeding, nursing, baby care, etc. So get help now. Hire people to do stuff that doesn't have to be done by you. Your partner can do more, but that resolution is seldom truly effective, so subcontract laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping, etc. Pay fairly. In addition, schedule your time much more fiercely, use lists, don't be a perfectionist where it doesn't really matter. My smart phone allows me to be more productive and organized, wish I'd had one 50 years ago.
posted by theora55 at 9:44 AM on September 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

Re: fieldwork, definitely reach out to other parents in your discipline about what worked for them. In ecology, having a kid in a carrier or bringing a playpen are not uncommon, depending on the site and what you're doing. I know colleagues who bring their preschoolers along on some collecting trips and it works out well. Your work and your kid will vary.
posted by momus_window at 10:30 AM on September 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

11 weeks was an absolute low point in terms of energy levels during pregnancy for me. By the second trimester it was much much better. Actually the first trimester was by far the worst of pregnancy for me - even the delivery was better. YMMV of course, but don't judge how you will feel based on these few weeks. Post-delivery it won't be all sunshine and roses, but you will not new growing something inside you any more. It can be a long road but a year post-baby I felt pretty much back to "normal" - nothing is permanent so get through things the best you can. And yes, my husband basically did everything during this period, so that I could keep my regular work schedule, take Lyfts home and collapse in exhaustion at 7 pm.
posted by peacheater at 11:02 AM on September 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

I certainly can’t promise that you’ll feel better in a few weeks - every person and every pregnancy is different - but it is relatively likely! The most common pattern is being exhausted and sick during the first trimester, feeling good during the second trimester, and gradually going from feeling good to being quite physically uncomfortable during the third trimester. I’m currently pregnant with my second, and the sweet spot for me has been from somewhere around 14 weeks to 30-32ish weeks. And for me, the discomfort in the third trimester has been almost entirely physical in a way that wouldn’t prevent me from writing or other sitting at a desk work, while the exhaustion and general feeling terrible-ness of the first definitely had a major impact on my ability to do that kind of work.

I second talking to parents in your field and at your institution, especially ones who have been pregnant themselves about how they’ve managed pregnancy and having a baby. You might find it most helpful to talk to people with young kids for a more recent perspective.
posted by insectosaurus at 11:48 AM on September 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

I disagree with "enjoy this time." I mean, do enjoy it, but it's yours! In fact, these are the last months for a long time when your time IS completely yours, so live it up, and if that means writing this book, then go for it!

I think you're right to be a bit skeptical that all your energy will come back. My experience is that some energy comes back, but also, because you're going through a major life transition, you may still be fairly distracted. And the full amount of my energy never came back -- I went to bed hours early all pregnancy.

One book that might help is Get It Done When You're Depressed. It has a number of short chapters with titles like Expect To Have Trouble Thinking, and Tackle One Project At A Time. Some of it won't relate, but if you substitute "exhausted" for "depressed," some will.

You could also leverage productivity tools and strategies. I'm currently really into the book The One Thing. I have been eyeing this 90 Days of Intention journal / planner. Let me know if you want more ideas along these lines. (If you want to memail me, I definitely don't know you unless you work at UC Davis or UC Berkeley, where I know like 3 total people.)

You can do this! I'd just adjust your self-expectations downward and then use every strategy you can to make what focused time you do have as effective as possible. The skills you gain will help a lot in the future. Good luck!
posted by slidell at 12:45 PM on September 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

Multitasking and prioritizing are the essential new parent skills. So is not letting the perfect get in the way of the finished.
Every pregnancy is different. Every child rewrites the book.
Lots of good advise above. Delegate, delegate, make a few lists and get lots of sleep and good food. Check with your obstetrician in case they need to get ahead of some issue.
Turn your face to the sun and bask in the knowledge that you are wonderfully productive, just as you are. Congratulations!
posted by TrishaU at 3:01 PM on September 25, 2019

My first trimester was pure exhaustion. I could have slept 18 hours a day easily and still felt groggy when awake. Like other say, it did get better in the second trimester, so I hope that happens for you too.

Random tips:
- get a cleaner, even if you think you can't afford it.
- It's ok to eat sandwiches for dinner if you can't face cooking. Or take out.
- A yoga mat and a throw pillow in your office are great for short naps in the middle of the day, without being as obvious as having an actual sofa-bed (my dissertation advisor, who gave zero f*ks, had a sofa bed with a fluffy blanked right next to her overflowing desk).
- Now is a good time to get better at saying no to service work from lazy colleagues, emotional labor for students, and all the extra favors that people ask of female academics.
- Re grading: have a good hard look at your syllabus. Do you really need all those assignments? If it's lots of essays that are time consuming and require lots of feedback and your attention, is there a different way you can assess your students? For instance, have them do peer-review of papers, in-class presentations or exercises (because you can give them a grade right away rather than having to take home something to grade later)? Perhaps ask the Center for Teaching on your campus for tips (you don't have to tell them it's because you are pregnant, just that you want advice on other assessment methods).
- When do you feel most ok during the day? Is there an hour somewhere that is more or less ok? Whatever that time is, make that your writing time and make it sacrosanct. Turn off your email and internet, do not answer the door, turn off your phone and write until your time is up or you need a nap (on your nice yoga mat!). The best time of the day should go to you and your writing; any other times you can carve out can be spent on grading, emails, etc.

And finally: If you are on facebook, there is a very active private facebook group for academic parents that may be able to help you with this question and give discipline specific advice/pep talk. A lot of my friends are on there and have found it both discreet and helpful. If you want to send me a private email via this site, I can send you an invite.

Good luck!
posted by EllaEm at 5:17 PM on September 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

It may or may not get better, but consider getting a prescription for the fancy prenatal vitamins. Total anecdata: I found I had more energy on the days I took those.

Relatedly, now pregnant with my third and the absolute acceptance that about 1/2 my brain is missing and that I'm just not able to do the housework has been quite liberating.
posted by luckdragon at 4:55 AM on September 27, 2019

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