A lot of people wanted to know what the dealio is with dental school. (God, I hate when people say "dealio". Count your blessings, though, I could have said "dizzle".) I am most definitely going back. I plan to start auditing some classes this fall-- hopefully over the internet and not in person, so that I can still care for Caroline until I start back up in clinic. I will start officially in early January, right where I left off when I took my leave of absence due to preterm contractions. So, I will graduate with the class of 2011 rather than the class of 2010. The idea of being a year "behind" honestly doesn't bother me anymore. It did at first, when I was still pregnant, but now that I have Caroline? Doesn't even register on the scale of Stuff That Bugs Me. Having and raising her is a far bigger accomplishment than my DMD will be. And yes, that sappy statement would have totally made me gag before I had her, but I didn't even blink typing it just now.
While I was pregnant, one of my biggest worries was that having a baby would make me not want to be a dentist anymore, because I suspected that parenthood would change my priorities. And while the idea of sending her to daycare and missing out on her smiles does get me all choked up, I really and truly do still want to finish dental school and go to work afterwards. I will always treasure this year that I was given to spend with her, but I want to be able to provide things for her that I could never give her as a stay-at-home mom-- international travel, private schooling if she needs it, any kind of lessons or activities she wants, a paid-for college education. Besides, I've racked up so much student loan debt and worked so hard towards this goal that it just wouldn't be practical or desirable for me to stay at home. I can definitely see why some moms choose to stay home with their babies, because that is just as a precious of a gift in its own way. I just don't think that it's the right choice for me, personally, to be one of them.
Others wanted to know how my relationship with Tyler has changed. I had to think long and hard about this one. It was definitely difficult during my pregnancy. It took him a long time to get excited about it... at times, I wondered whether he ever would. But once Caroline arrived, and especially while she was in the NICU, he was my rock. He loves that little girl so much. One of the best part of becoming parents, I think, is watching each other be parents. I have never felt so in love with him as I have watching him sing to Caroline, or tickle her, or rock her when she cries.
But, I don't know that I can really say our relationship is any weaker or stronger now that she is here. Life changes 2000% when you have a child, but we are still who we are, and we love each other in the same way. I hope that doesn't seem like a cop-out answer, because I don't know how else to articulate it. Our day-to-day life and priorities have changed completely, but we still lean on each other and laugh together just exactly like we always did. All the external things are different, but internally, our relationship is still fundamentally the same, know what I mean? We always wanted to have children someday, so I guess the fact that Caroline came much sooner than we planned didn't cause any long-term problems between us. We both accepted my pregnancy in our own time, and now she's here, and it's hard to remember what it was like when it was just the two of us, because we are so happy as three. Aside from her prematurity and reflux, she has been an incredibly easy baby, so I'm sure that has played a big part in our relatively smooth adjustment to parenthood.
Do we still have moments where we long for our old life, or feel that we weren't quite ready for all this responsibility? Do we occasionally wish that we'd had more time as just the two of us before we'd added to our family? Sure we do. Maybe I'm not supposed to admit that out loud. But in any case, those moments are few and far between, because now that we have Caroline, imagining a life where she had never existed is unthinkable. And it might help that we both feel that way and don't feel uncomfortable telling each other so. There are no misunderstandings or hard feelings there-- we were thrown into this together, and we are both doing the best we can.
I'm not saying we haven't had some hard times. Having a baby can be difficult on the best of marriages, and I sometimes resented the fact that my life was completely turned upside down as far as my career goes, while Tyler's went on relatively undisturbed. It was tough to adjust to suddenly going from the whirlwind of clinic to the quiet of our apartment, and then the isolation of new motherhood. And sometimes I've probably taken it out on him, and he has been impatient with my resistance to the change, but he's taken it in stride and done his best to help me out, and in the end, I see in him the wonderful father that I knew he would be.
If there is anything that has made our relationship stronger, I would say it hasn't been parenting itself, but rather the NICU experience. We were handed a huge challenge right off the bat, and we really had to support each other just so that we could get through it. Tyler was strong and comforted me while I struggled for days, and then the night she was transferred, he reached his breaking point and it was my turn to step up for him. We made it through together, because of each other. Any parent who has had a child hospitalized will tell you that there is a lot of potential for misunderstandings and hurt feelings and disagreements, but we managed to get by without a single problem between us. Those two weeks probably strengthened us more than eight months of pregnancy and the past seven months of parenting ever could.
As for our future plans, I will be done with dental school in June of 2011, and Tyler will be done with his PhD in June of 2012. I will probably do a one-year residency in general dentistry somewhere near New Haven, where he is in school, and then we will go wherever his career takes us after he graduates. It's looking like Denver is the most promising prospect for him to get a post-doc and then a job, but since it's a few years away we are not entirely sure yet. He is pretty famous in his field (you may have seen him before on his National Geographic special!), so he shouldn't have trouble finding work-- several institutions have already contacted him about possibilities for the future. And of course, I can be a dentist anywhere, so I have always planned to follow him wherever he chooses to go.