I’ve never given birth before. Why birth? In the past I’ve heard writing a dissertation is a lot like giving birth, but since I haven’t birthed any babies, I figured, well that was a wasted analogy on me, then again maybe not. I’m under an extremely tight deadline to finish, with a first draft meeting in 5 weeks. When I got the email about the posting schedule for Cacophony and saw that my name was listed under January 10th. I muttered aloud to my iPhone: “Damn you David Parsons, Damn You! The day before my birthday, really?” This exclamation of frustration must be said in an Elizabethan tone, I’m Jamaican and a lover of Masterpiece Theater, so really embody the vexation as I’m damning David Parsons (the post doc fellow in charge of Cacophony) and because most Jamaicans love drama.
Let’s return to the foreign birthing process that seems to mimic my dissertation writing process. After I got the drama out of my system, I quickly shifted to my analytical brain, and thought “well, just because the post is due on the 10th doesn’t mean you have to submit it then. You have a dissertation to write, so just submit it early”. I realized that with writing small or big projects, one has to complete them in ways that is conducive to one’s own process. Before attending The Graduate Center’s Wellness Center’s Dissertation Completion Now workshops, I would just be stuck in the drama. Now I’ve learned that I can experience the emotions of the drama, because I need to express my frustration, but I also need to call on the resources that will help me write, hence—the analysis. As an anthropologist from CUNY I’ve been trained to examine the value in things, it’s the political economic vein of our department, so analysis is key.
I’ve been around 3 women shortly after they gave birth. The first was my oldest sister, who almost died giving birth to my nephew, the horrible first draft college essay writer, who just got accepted into his 1st choice college. Follow the firsts, there’s a pattern. His birth was via C-section and I was at the hospital when he was born and I remember visiting my sister a week later, and she literally dropped 60lbs. You wouldn’t have known she was pregnant. She lost so much water weight she literally lost a 4th grader. My best friend said that because she had walked so much during her pregnancy, that after several pushes, her first daughter plopped out. My older sister had an epidural with her first daughter, and had a natural birth with her second, recalled telling the nurse, that it couldn’t be too late for an epidural because she had a VERY low tolerance for pain. Painful as it was she had a 1st and last natural birth. My 3rd godchild’s mother describes her labor as “a reenactment of the exorcist” picture projectile vomit with limited head spinning. Another good friend of mine who gave birth recently said, “it was really transformative” it changes you. She had her partner, 2 doulas, and a birthing assistant.
While this dissertation has put me through changes, I’ve been fortunate to not have an exorcist moment although there are many days that writing feels soul wrenching. So I guess, like birth this dissertation is transformative. After complaining about how hard it is to write my dissertation, My best friend told me that although she’s never written a dissertation, that it MUST be like birth. She said “there’s a time when you’re pushing and pushing and feel like you cannot push anymore or else you’re gonna die, and the nurse says ‘just 1 more’ and you feel like you’ve got nothing left, but somehow you do, you pull that strength from somewhere, and next thing you know the baby’s here.” Well, I feel like I’m pushing and pushing and pushing and I’m calling on every ounce of strength within me to finish writing this dissertation. Even though, I have a flair for drama, yes I really do feel like I’m gonna die, because this is taking some warrior-goddess-slave insurrection-Herculean strength to push this thing out. Some days like today I haven’t written much, but on other days I’m writing a lot. My advisor told me that I “have to live eat, drink, sleep the diss until it’s done.” I do that now, waking up with my own labor pains, frantically reaching for my iPhone to write in my notes section, sometimes for an hour or more. At 3 am when you’re flowing it’s kind of exciting writing and hoping that this burst of creativity or analysis is going to produce a healthy, pretty baby (dissertation).
While parenting can be great at times, the reality is that being a parent is a huge sacrifice and it’s hard. I’ve decided to start sacrificing from now so my baby can be healthy, declining holiday parties, and even my own tradition of a New Year’s Day brunch-come-dinner for 30 that I usually host and do most of the cooking for. I realized that I can’t be present at every holiday event and be with my baby. I told my family: “don’t ask me to bake anything, because we won’t be celebrating over cake next spring, if I don’t get this dissertation out.” Earlier today I had a huge panic attack because I did an honest assessment and realized I will miss a deadline for submitting two chapters. As my panic attack continued I remembered that I had to write this post, then I had a revelation. I recognized that non-dissertation writing actually relaxes me to write my dissertation, more than any episode of Downton Abbey, or Poirot. For me, that’s saying a lot. I will not attempt to look at last season’s True Blood, Luther, Game of Thrones or Sherlock until it is DONE. Scandal will be my only guilty pleasure. Tonight, as I sat and watched HGTV and The Sing Off I was thinking about my dissertation the entire time, and which interviews I needed to include next. There’s a book titled Eat, Pray, Love, my autobiography right now is “Eat, Drink, Sleep, Diss.”
A dear friend and colleague currently doing fieldwork in South Africa sent me a wonderful detailed outline to help me finish. I appreciated the structure to help me think about my process of writing, even though it is not how I generally write. His was neat and orderly, with page numbers and page limits for each section. I’m more of a butcher paper on the wall kinda gal. I need some disorganization and mild chaos to function, like amidst the excitement of the baby crowning, a labor and delivery nurse hunting for another blanket because the mother may have chills after birth.
Oh, I forgot about the damn placenta and afterbirth. I think as long as they get all of it out, I’ll refer to those as the minor revisions, if any after the defense. The hard part will have already been done. I look forward to dropping that 4th grader that I’ve been carrying around these past 8 years. My late mother always said that “labor and delivery was a forgetful experience, because any woman who remembered her labor would never go back again, yet they do.” I will most likely go through this again when I publish, begin new research, and hopefully I will appreciate those labor pains I’m experiencing now because I will have passed through it before. I’m now more relaxed and not quite ready for sleep. I still haven’t birthed my BABY, but this preemie of a blog post will suffice. I will most likely spend no more than an hour editing it, and unfortunately will not include some cool picture of an ultrasound, it will just be text and your imagination will have to do the rest. I must focus my energies. Thank You David Parsons, this post rotation has me in the mood to work tonight towards another birth—my dissertation.