Friday, May 24, 2019


Apologies if you came here for cute baby pictures or an update on Baby G. I have something else on my mind at the moment, and I need to get it out there.

We got home from the NICU with Genevieve on a Thursday. The following Monday, I lost my job. Or, to be more specific, I found out that I will lose my job a year from now.

The campus where I teach is closing its undergraduate program next year. Full stop. All faculty jobs over (this university did away with the tenure system years and years ago and all faculty are on annual contracts).

We have the opportunity to apply for jobs at the other, larger campus. (Spoiler: The likelihood of them hiring an English professor is slim to none.) We are being given an incentive in the form of a severance package if we stay on through May of 2020.

After that... who knows?

I got this in an e-mail because I was at home with a newborn. I texted my friends who were on campus because I couldn't believe it. They were told at a meeting. They couldn't believe it either. I cried a lot.

I love my job. I feel like I was meant to be an English professor. Talking about literature with a captive audience where I'm in charge of the discussion is a dream come true for me! Sure, grading papers is the worst, but I love the autonomy and freedom of my job, the mix of people-time and alone-time, and my office on campus. I love the students--especially the English majors--and I really like my colleagues--especially the English department, where there's just three of us and we call ourselves the Best Friends Club.

It's a huge loss for me.

A few weeks after Eliza died, I was encouraged to apply for this job and I said no. I couldn't do it. I didn't have the energy or the wherewithal to make it happen. Several weeks later, they reached out again, and this time I did it. I put together the materials and I put on a game face for the interviews. And I got the job.

It was a huge thing for me, to have something that made me feel capable and professional and like someone besides a mom whose baby died. It literally gave me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. And after a while, I started to get good at it. I felt good about it. I love thinking about complicated ideas with my students--post-colonialism, unreliable narrators, literary criticism. I love unpacking lines of poetry with students and seeing them have a light-bulb moment of understanding. I love working hard for two semesters and then having summers at home with my kids.

It's not an easy job, and there are weeks I work more than 40 hours between grading and prepping and responding to e-mails and committee work. But it feels meaningful. I feel like my work has a purpose AND I enjoy it.

And now it's gone.

Or it will be gone. It's so odd to mourn it a year in advance, but it's impossible not to mourn now that I know.

It gives me a feeling of failure even though I obviously have no control over the closure of the campus. I hadn't realized how much of my identity was wrapped up in being able to tell people, "I'm an English professor" or "I teach literature at the university." It's embarrassing to say that I've lost my job, even if it's through no fault of my own, and even when people are totally cool and sympathetic.

I spent seven years in graduate school, struggling with being a small fish in a big pond, with being unprepared for the rigors of graduate school, with feeling like an imposter, with stressing out so much about each step in the process. And then I finished my PhD and I got a job in a difficult market and I was able to stay in the city where we wanted to live and it finally felt like in a world where so many of the most important things (like, for example, whether your baby lives or dies) can be completely out of your control, this was something I could control and this was something that worked out in my favor. I got super lucky, yes, but I also worked super hard to make it happen.

And now I'm trying to imagine what life looks like after next May... and I have no idea.

The chances of me landing another job as an English professor at another university are quite unlikely. Openings are few and far between, especially if we are unwilling to relocate (we have no desire to relocate at this point). I'm also not particularly marketable, as my teaching institution emphasized teaching (heavy course load) and service (lots of committee work) rather than research and publishing, and I haven't attended many conferences since having kids, so I'm not sure I'd even get another job anywhere. The market is vicious and I'm sure there are fresh PhDs who have a better publishing record than I do at this point.

It's more likely I could get a job doing something like working at a writing center... but I'm more interested in teaching and pedagogy than I am in tutoring students in writing.

My old boss at the Kumon center will want me to buy his Kumon center so he can retire, but Kumon is sales and customer service and that's just not where I want to put my energy.

David suggested I get certified to teach high school... or teach at a private high school... neither of those ideas is particularly appealing to me, except for the academic schedule.

I might look into a job focused on writing--it would be like technical writing or copy writing... but maybe something I could do from home?

The other thing is that I need a job that really makes it worthwhile for me to work. Otherwise, by the time we pay for before/after school care and baby G's daycare, it might not be financially worth it for me to work at all. But I never imagined myself staying home full time. Sometimes I think it could be great--I could do the kind of writing I want to do and get this time with my last baby. Other times, all I can think about is how stressful the budgeting will be, and how unfulfilling and lonely it might be. Do I want to try to work from home? I don't exactly know what that would look like either.

So that is what is weighing on me most lately. I don't want it to be a cloud over this time with Genevieve, so I've mostly tried to push it to the side of my mind. Our pediatrician was asking me about it yesterday and I was telling her how weird it is to lose my job a year in advance... like I WANT to problem solve now and figure out next steps and job search and all of that, but I'm ahead of schedule and it makes the most sense financially and for my sanity to stay there through this year. She also pointed out that summer at home with two big kids and a newborn is probably not the time that I need to be focused on figuring all of this out.

I know she's right, but I hate the uncertainty. I hate not knowing. I hate feeling like my PhD and the years I've spent teaching have been a waste and that I'm a failure. (I know this isn't logical, but it's where my mind goes at 3am when I'm feeding the baby in a dark house and thinking about what comes next...) I worry about our retirement savings and what happens to our plans to pay off our mortgage and save for college when we're suddenly down to one income with three kids. I know we're actually quite fortunate, but it still feels difficult and scary not knowing what comes next. I cried for a while because I felt like I was losing summers at home with my kids and I'm so unwilling to give that up. Does that sound bratty of me? It's just that it was truly the biggest perk of my job outside of the job itself. But I'm not sure what options I'm left with if I'm not looking for a 12-month gig.

I'd love to hear from people who have made big career transitions, or who write and work from home, or who want to hire me to teach literature to college students (ha).

I'm trying to be optimistic, but I'm quite skeptical of windows opening when doors close and paths unfolding and the universe catching me when I take a leap of faith. I keep telling myself that if the worst case is that I stay at home with baby G for a while, that I'll be fine. Life is big and what happens next doesn't have to be forever.

But in addition to being scared and uncertain, I keep circling back to being really, really sad. Sad that I don't get to keep doing what I'm doing. Sad that what we worked so hard for on our campus wasn't enough. Sad that so many of us are displaced and unemployed and waking with a pit in our stomachs.

I will say that baby snuggles soften the blow of terrible news, so I'm trying to focus on that. Today is the girls' last day of school, so they'll certainly keep me busy in the coming weeks. And I know that I can be resilient, but damn, being resilient is exhausting, you know? I'd rather just be gainfully employed doing what I love to do.


  1. I’ve been a long time reader, but this is the first time I’ve commented. I’m sorry to hear about your impending job loss. I reluctantly quit my amazing MSW position after having my fourth baby, and I grieved over the loss of who I saw myself as (ie working mom, advocate for others, counselor, etc) for quite some time. It took me a long time to acknowledge myself as a stay at home mom. I had to allow myself time to grieve so I could emotionally move forward. I now work on an as needed basis (about one day a week) filling in for other social workers, and while I still miss working full time, I can admit to myself that my family life is a lot happier, way less chaotic, and I’m more present with my kids/spouse. I spend a lot of time thinking about (and researching) my distant future return to full time work and how the state of the country is possibly leading me down a different path using my unique skill set as an advocate for others. Much luck to you on this journey. I’ll be rooting for you!


  2. Oh man, the "soul suckage" label of this entry seems very accurate, so sorry to hear these news! Having read your blog for years, I always always got the feeling of how invested you were in your students and teaching and loved it. I know it probably doesn't console you much, but at least you know this a year in advance and can calmly weigh all options, research, prep for it etc. It's super unfair timing with a new baby just here, but at least it's not one day to the next I guess. Sending you all the good thoughts!

  3. As someone who also lost a job unexpectedly (almost five years ago, yikes! -- you can check out the posts tagged "job loss" on my blog), I can relate and I am so sorry, Brooke! :( Even when you know it's a mass layoff/closure & nothing personal, it's hard not to take it personally. It is a loss, and as with any loss, you are justified in feeling sad and needing some time to mourn. Knowing a full year in advance might prolong the agony in some ways, but it does give you time to weigh all your options, do some networking, etc. Meantime, enjoy your summertime/mat leave with your girls! <3

  4. I'm also a long time reader and am so sorry to hear this news. Like you I have a humanities PhD and three kiddos. I never did get a teaching job after I finished my degree and wasn't willing to move, so I did freelance writing/editing for many years while my kids were small, then went back to school and became a therapist when the youngest was in kindergarten. This summer we are figuring it out while I keep my regular work schedule, but by next year my goal is to be a school-based therapist so I can have that long chunk of time off with them. Oh, and the program I attended to get my therapy degree asks me back to teach (because of the PhD, even though it's in an unrelated field!) so I get my student fix--not in my original field, but still teaching/talking about ideas and I love it. (In some ways it's even better than previous teaching I did b/c they are master's students so they are overall more invested and serious than undergrads.) Anyway. I am really sorry you had the ideal situation pulled out from under your feet and I wish you well in finding your way (I know you will figure it out...but wish you didn't have to!) Best of luck and thanks for your blog, I love to read about your adventures and your beautiful family.

  5. I signed the petition to keep your campus open, I wish that it would work but I know probably not. :( Keep an eye on WGU openings...working from home at least and teaching/"mentoring" they call it. Thinking of you! -Angie

    1. I would sign such a petition, if someone can share a link! I've tried to find it via google, but I keep getting blogged for GDPR reasons, since I'm in Europe.

  6. I’m so sorry again about your job. All your feelings about this loss of your job are so understandable. Even though I quit my job I could relate to a lot of the feelings you describe . For me, working from home part-time sucked all the life out of me - basically it was just more work with almost no more adult interaction. As the first commenter said, staying at home has given me more energy for my kids, husband, and self and lots of time to ponder how I may use my professional talents someday in a new, unique way. If you ever want to discuss in more detail, let me know - I’m always here. Wishing you the best of luck with sorting all of this out. It isn’t easy.

  7. I have been reading your blog for years, and I am so sorry about you losing your job. I have some parallels to your situation and would be happy to share more about my experiences, or to just listen because I can empathize. I have a PhD, lost my job unexpectedly, could not relocate for a new job because of my husband’s work, lived in a place with limited opportunities for me, felt like a loser for losing my job, worried a lot about the loss of income, had young kids at home...

    This was 6 years ago now, and while I am still sad at times about what could have been, my work situation now is quite good.

    I ended up making writing part of my job, and I have done a ton of research about working from home, freelance, etc, and I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have. I also wonder if there might be online teaching opportunities for you? I know that’s not ideal, but just an out-of-the-box thought given your restrictions. I’m sending you my contact information to the gmail address on your contact page.

  8. Oh no! What a horrible time to get that news, just when you want to be concentrating on Genevieve and your family and not worrying about anything else!

    I know there's a lot of competition for academic jobs, but I hope you'll still apply. I would hope your teaching experience would count for something. I had a lot of professors who were stars in their field who couldn't teach worth a damn; I would much rather have a professor like you. I don't want you to give up on a career that brings you so much fulfillment!

  9. Oh, wow, Brooke -- from one academic mama to another -- what a bitter, bitter loss. Everything you say -- sad, scary -- in this post sounds bang on the nose, so much of our identities are wrapped up in being an academic.

    You are passionate, talented, and resourceful, and you've got a committed partner who has a stable job. I have faith that you'll come out on top in the long run.

    I know you don't do FB much, but there's a spin-off of the Academic Mamas group for Academic Mamas off the Tenure-Track, which has people both who are in alt-ac positions and people who are considering leaving academia. I'm sure they would be able to offer both advice and sympathy if striking out away from academia is the way you want to go.

    And if you're going to have to face losing your job, facing it when you've got a delicious newborn to cuddle is probably not the worst thing in the world. :)

  10. Another long-time reader with a Humanities PhD here. My experience was kind of the opposite - I didn’t get a full-time permanent teaching job until I was six years out of my PhD, and I did have to move across the country for it. So my experience is kind of reverse to yours. But I certainly relate to feeling like the PhD and having a job was related to my personality. Everyone says not to, but how can you not? It *is* part of you - it’s related to your interests and drive. But you never know what opportunities lie ahead! We’re cheering you on, and look forward to hearing about it. Good luck!

  11. I haven't read the other comments, so I apologize if this is repetitive... After a traumatic childhood that took so much from me, I've found that other losses can be harder - haven't I given up enough to things I couldn't control?? Knowing that I'd done all I could do only to have other things slip thru my fingers has hit me harder than I feel like it should, depending on what else is going on. The combination of loss you didn't deserve and post partum hormones is hars . I get that you fully understand how much worse things can be, but I also know that you've endured far too much already. Damnit, couldn't you just have this one thing you loved stay as long as you wanted?? Your feelings and hurt are fully valid. 💔

    All that being said, following along with you has made me feel like I should've considered an English degree, (I may yet!) and I love hearing about your job. I often think it would've been the better choice to my own SAHM choice. It has not been a great choice for me... Love your book recommendations (please keep them coming!) and your commitment to social justice issues. It feels like a loved one (that would be you!) has been treated so unfairly! I know there aren't any easy answers or solutions, but I feel your sadness and am there with you. I hope things come clear in surprisingly happy ways.

    Als , a bit slow, but the NICU must have been pretty hard to deal with after such an unexpected and difficult labor experience! So glad you're home and sweet Genevieve is healthy!

  12. No wise words or solutions. Just a post to say I am so sorry.

  13. Hugs, I'm so sorry to hear this - I'm sure it was quite a shock, and probably very triggering from a grief perspective since it was so unexpected and also because this job in particular was so tied up in your grieving/healing process after Eliza. I too am a planner so I can totally relate to the frustration of wanting to figure it all out NOW but not really being able to because of the timing. That's really tough. All I can say is that you're a talented writer and a passionate and dedicated teacher, and any university/employer would be lucky to have you. Keeping my fingers crossed that the stars align and a great opportunity finds its way into your lap in the next 12 months! (And in the meantime, I hear you've got an excellent book manuscript stashed away somewhere! ;-)

  14. I'm sorry. That really sucks. I think if I were you I would try to put it out of my mind for now as thinking about it is just stressful. In time hopefully your gut feeling will help lead you in the direction that is right for you and your family!