Striving for Motherhood Part II: An Inside Look at IVF

For National Infertility Awareness Week, I re-shared my blog post from May 2019 that described our struggles trying to get pregnant. Now that it’s been almost a year later, I’m picking up where I had left off. 

32. The number of injections it would take for us to get pregnant.

A combination of different medications, with their own set of instructions on how to prepare and inject them. 

I was prescribed three meds. One shot in the morning and two in the evening, roughly 10 hours apart. And the majority of those shots? Self-administered.

Yup, I had to stab myself 30+ times in the gut with the hormones needed to accept the embryo that would hopefully knock me up. There were bruises on my abdomen by the end of it since there were only so many places to poke myself without going back to the same ones.

As if this wasn’t already difficult enough.

The first time we did my shots we weren’t even home. 

My husband Derek runs an academic quiz bowl tournament every summer that takes place at Catholic University in Washington, DC. As part of our compensation for volunteering and working the event, we stay in dorm rooms on campus.

My first IVF injection took place in some random dorm room at a Catholic University. How poetic? Or ironic, given the Catholic church frowns upon any form of reproductive technology

I remember being really scared. I generally don’t mind needles, I just never had to give myself one in this type of capacity before. 

I watched Derek get the needle together, flicking the syringe to get the air bubbles out, making sure the powder mixed in thoroughly with the saline solution. I then grabbed a part of my stomach flesh, took a deep breath (a technique I borrowed from getting acupuncture needles on the regular — thank you, Hannah!) and brought the needle in as I exhaled. I cried and it was over.

For now.

This would soon become my life for the next several days. 

The same weekend as the quiz bowl tournament, I was also performing in a show. I was playing Miss Cratchitt and Electra in a community theatre production of Gypsy, and I had to figure out when to administer my shots so I could inject myself in the proper time window after each performance. This was especially tricky if the cast made plans afterward.

I remember giving myself an injection in the dressing room after everyone else had left before running off to a friend’s birthday party. I wasn’t purposely trying to hide anything (a lot of the cast actually knew we were trying and doing IVF) but I wanted to avoid making anyone uncomfortable by injecting myself in front of my well-lit dressing room mirror. As I exhaled while giving myself the injection, I thought:

Why do I over schedule myself again?

Eleven days later, I had an appointment at the fertility clinic. The ultrasound showed that my body was ready for the final shot, the “big kahuna” if you will, of all shots: the hCG “triggering” shot that would send my eggs into meiosis and hopefully get us one step closer to a successful embryo transfer. 

This shot was so massive and needed to be injected in such a precise region that (thankfully) I wasn’t the one doing the deed — no, this task was assigned to my dear and wonderful husband, who was supportive since Day 1 of needle stabbing.

The nurse used a sharpie marker that morning to draw on my body exactly where to administer the shot — in the “upper right quadrant of my buttock” — giving Derek a clear bullseye to aim toward. Because the timing of this particular shot had to be fairly exact to work, he stayed up doing grad school work and woke me up at 1 AM when it was needle time.

I don’t know if it was better or worse that I was half awake when this occurred. I woke up from a deep sleep, and was in a bit of a daze. Initially we were going to try to give me the shot in the bathroom, but I was so tired and out of it that I ended up on my hands and knees in bed. I remember Derek giving me the shot and I immediately collapsed in a crumpled heap, hysterically crying.

I think it was a combination of many things: exhaustion from the long day, relief that this was the last shot, excitement that this is actually happening, fear that it might not work. Again a roller coaster of feels washed over me (which probably wasn’t helped by the fact that I was pumping my body with hormones this whole time), aided by the literal wet tears. Finally, this really fucking hard part was over, and with that, we were getting closer to maybe, just maybe, getting pregnant. 

It’s the day after July 4th, which ended up working in our favor because we both had the day off from work. Time for the egg extraction. 

The retrieval process was a minimally invasive, 15-minute surgical procedure. The doctor used an ultrasound to identify my ovaries, then inserted a needle through my vaginal wall to draw out my eggs using light suction. Seems pretty easy peasy, but of course I was a bit nervous. 

The outcome of those 15 minutes could be the difference between having a baby…or going back to square one.

When I was brought into the OR I remember the medical staff being really friendly; they had Bruno Mars playing over their speaker system. I was given the anesthesia, and before I knew it I was dreaming about Beyoncé. Then it was over. 

When I was in recovery I asked the doctor how many eggs he retrieved. He smiled and said 6, just as he suspected. We had asked friends to make guesses before the surgery and someone said 13, which would have been good. But we’ll take 6. Six can make a baby. 

Recovery was uncomfortable but not horrible. I had painkillers and a heating pad to help me get through the rest of the day, and I watched Beyoncé’s Homecoming film in homage to my egg retrieval dreaming in the OR. The next day I received a phone call and learned that 4 of the 6 eggs had made it to the next round of fertilization. We were celebrating Derek’s birthday that same day so I drove to Party City and got a balloon shaped like a “4” to hang in the corner of our living room. Four is good. We’ll take 4. Four can make a baby.

Five days later was the embryo transfer: the big day. At this point 2 eggs made it to this stage. We were nervous but excited. After conducting the ultrasound the doctor asked me to drink more water, which made me feel like I fucked up and as a result, I started to cry (again, a lot of emotions and hormones riding here, plus I’m already a crier). Derek, amazing as usual, helped calm me down, and when the time came for the transfer (my bladder was full enough, yay!), the doctor inserted a speculum into my vagina and passed a catheter through my cervix into my womb. 

This next part felt like a movie.

Knowing how much (both emotionally and financially) was riding on this task, when the doctor had the perfect placement of the catheter and was ready to do the transfer, she spoke over a microphone calling for our embryo. Someone in the lab confirmed “Winkler embryo ready” and walked over with another catheter that had one of the two mature embryos (I was discouraged from trying for twins, but I was ok with that).

The doctor inserted the catheter with the precious cargo and boop! Embryo was in! We actually have a video of it happening, it was so surreal. I started crying of course, and the doctor asked if I was ok.

“Don’t worry,” Derek said. “She cries all the time. This is a good cry.”

A good cry indeed. A lot of tears were shed in this whole goddamn process, but maybe, just maybe, this good cry will finally lead to a good result after years of disappointing ones. 

A Confession Letter to the Academy

As I dug deeper into the recent NCA/RSA Distinguished Scholars/RPA controversy, I found myself reacting very strongly — with the need to ponder, reflect, and write. For additional (and in my opinion, more eloquent) insights, I would highly recommend reading Dr. Mohan J. Dutta’s blog post or following Dr. Lisa Corrigan on Twitter, but here is how I’ve decided to comment on the situation.

FYI, this wasn’t easy to write and was even harder for me to hit publish. But as my academic/life goals crush Brené Brown says to herself every morning: “I choose courage over comfort.” And so, here we are: a letter.

Dear Academy,

When I first met you, it was truly love at first sight. I came in fully intending to get my master’s, but realized the power of teaching and conducting valuable research. It seemed like you were into me too.

For years, I fought hard to win your affection. I networked and collected the best mentors in the field. I honed my teaching craft through professional development opportunities to win over students. I applied for awards and won those awards to pad my CV. I took on leadership positions and did my best to excel in those positions. I spent hours upon hours poring over journal articles and memorizing theories and citations to become an expert in my field. I did my due diligence to make you proud — as a perfectionist, I was sure of that.

Then our relationship started to shift, and it got to the point where I could no longer smile and deny it anymore. I was sensing that we needed to part ways.

Maybe it was when I kept noticing the same types of research studies being published and cited over and over again by the same, small group of [privileged] people. Maybe it was the way colleagues didn’t understand my need to advocate for students when there were other “priorities” that seemed more important. Maybe it was when the global advice was to “stay quiet until you got tenure” but I knew I couldn’t when there were serious cracks in the system that so desperately needed to be addressed.

Between serving as a role model for minority students, sitting on committees to hit a “diversity quota,” conducting research studies that might be deemed too “provocative” to be publishable, and feeling like I needed to be “grateful” for my job and that I owed something to the system, something in me snapped. I had to take matters into my own hands and walk away.

Yes, I was ashamed and embarrassed. Back then I felt like a complete failure: unable to “cut it” in academia, the rockstar who got too burnt out, a loser. But as I’m sure other faculty of color could sympathize, I did what I felt I had to do — it was my own self-preservation tactic. I was disappointed and overburdened, and I simply couldn’t do it anymore. The bottom line: there was only so much invisible labor I could take before I would either be deemed a troublemaker or a conformist.

I chose neither.

I chose to leave the only career I knew and loved, even for a few years, so I could recalibrate and reassess what I really wanted.

Please understand that it was SO freaking hard. To this day I see updates from friends and colleagues, and wonder what would have happened if I just stuck it out. I’d have tenure by now. I could have made a difference through my teaching and research.

I could have stayed. Maybebut more likely if I were white.

But I’m not, and this was my experience. I also know that if I had stayed, I would have gotten more sick, anxious, and unhealthy in the process.

Trust me, I know that I’m a huge part of the problem. Years of therapy and journaling exposed where my need for external validation stemmed from, and how I need more self compassion and mercy.

But Dear Academy, I need to call it out for what it is: you normalize it, even encourage it. You make junior scholars feel less than if they’re not working around the clock, or wasting time focusing on the “wrong things,” or having lives outside of your walls. You claim there’s a “diversity problem” but your tactics for change are shallow and cosmetic, and oftentimes you barely attempt to tap into the source — you’d rather fill your committees with token POC faculty than take the time to actually be reflexive and unpack what’s really going on here.

But I understand. It’s SO hard to flip the script when the main offenders are tenured folks who are not yet woke. And yet, you scratch your heads and seem legitimately confused when faculty of color seem hesitant to downright irritated when they need to step away from their [double/triple] work to YET again give YOU perspective? Don’t you understand, Academy? It’s fucking exhausting. Especially when these additional efforts clearly don’t meet your tenure requirements.

For the past two years I kept my feelings close to my chest. For the past two years only a few people knew the whole truth of what drove me away. But recent events have called me to come clean. Current discussions in our field are now coming to a head. And so, I needed to send this confession letter to you. Maybe we are meant to stay separated. Maybe hearing about this controversy was meant to bring me back to you, even for this pivotal moment, to speak my truth. In any case, I’m through with acting like things were amicable when we separated. What I went through with you, by the end, was difficult and painful.

But if anything, it helped me emerge stronger than ever. Now I know the extent of my gifts and talents as a writer and communicator. Now I firmly believe that I am capable of doing so much more than what you expected.


Dr. Rowena Winkler

Me in South Africa during one of my last trips as a tenure-track professor, 2016.

Striving for Motherhood: A Struggle Revealed

In April, I participated in CampNaNoWriMo to work toward writing one of my (many) book ideas: a memoir. Here is an excerpt.

For as long as I could remember, I have wanted to be a mother. From the time I could talk, I was caring for my “baby” dolls, rocking them to sleep and cradling them in the house. By middle school, I had names picked out for my first son and daughter, even though I barely knew how babies were made. Every serious boyfriend and I would discuss how many children we wanted, and oftentimes I would start stories with the phrase, “with my future children…”. I just knew it was a done deal for me.

In 2016, I married a wonderful man who was also my best friend. After a year of marriage, we decided to start talking about the possibility of having children, which was something we both wanted. And so, in November 2017 I finished my last pack of birth control and we officially started “actively trying.”

And trying. And trying. And trying.

Me and my husband, Derek.

As a Type-A, organized planner type. I sprang into action. I downloaded a bunch of apps to help me keep track of my cycle. I talked to Derek in advance about which days would be the best to “target” with our intimate activities. I started thinking about baby names and how to convert one of our offices into a nursery.

Looks like I was getting way ahead of myself.

Due to the fact that I had been on birth control over 10 years at this point, my body wasn’t quite sure what to do with itself without all the hormonal assistance. Each month was a guessing game of whether I would get my period for a day or two, or if it would continue for several weeks on end. My time of ovulation was so sporadic, it was barely trackable. My husband and I would try as best as we could, but we never got the timing right, and even then, the performance anxiety for us was getting so incredibly debilitating that we couldn’t relax and get into it enough for it to be remotely successful. I quickly became someone who enjoyed having sex to someone who would get so hype about it because I wanted to make sure things were “just right” in case we got pregnant.

A year came and went, and we found ourselves at the end of 2018. We weren’t pregnant, and as we watched several of our friends have beautiful babies, we decided we needed to get the medical field involved. I made an appointment with my Ob-Gyn to see what she could do.

Turns out this was going to be more complicated than I had originally thought.

If you are a recovering perfectionist/planner like me, I’m sure you can understand how frustrating it is to want something so badly and not be able to get it by following all the “steps” that are needed. I got a Ph.D. in three years for goodness sake, and yet, getting pregnant was a whole new level of work and frustration. Every month Derek and I would hope “this would be it,” only to be disappointed when the dreaded Aunt Flo came to town. There was even a month that I didn’t get my period at all, and even though the pregnancy tests said otherwise, I was certain I was pregnant. I even withheld alcohol at our friends’ wedding just because I was so sure. But soon after, my Ob-Gyn told me that this was not the case, and after a lot of tears, we had to repeat the whole cycle all over again.

All the negative pregnancy tests. Hooray.

Speaking of drinking, that became a whole vicious cycle in and of itself. I would refrain from alcohol for about a month in case I were to get pregnant. Then I would get my period, which would make me upset to the point of binge drinking to numb myself from the extreme sadness I felt about yet another “failure.” I knew that this was probably a not-so-healthy way to go about things, but I felt insane continuing this roller coaster of hope-excitement-despair every month. I couldn’t stand not getting pregnant when it seemed like everyone else around me could. I felt awful and responsible and blamed myself for not being able to make this happen.

Finally, it got to the point where Derek and I had to go to a fertility specialist. The almost two-hour intake appointment in February 2019 consisted of discussing our medical history with the doctor. To make matters even worse, Derek and I had gotten into a fight the night before and it wasn’t entirely resolved, so I went into that appointment feeling awkward and upset. But business was business, so we sat side by side in front of the doctor to talk about how to make a child happen. The prescreening checklist was overwhelming—but doable as someone who thrives on to-do lists. Derek and I had to get a series of tests completed before making our next appointment with the doctor.

Just a “sampling” of all the paperwork.

The tests were a whole other beast. I had to make sure my GYN exam was up-to-date, which was the easy part. I then had to do bloodwork, which doesn’t bother me because I had gotten a lot done over the years. But this shit was a whole new level. When it was time to sit down in the raised comfy chair in LabCorp, I watched the technician draw SEVEN vials of blood out of me. SEVEN. I felt like I was floating above myself as homeboy literally threw vials of my blood onto the lab’s table. It was fucking surreal.

Next was the HSG, which was essentially having a radiologist push dye through your fallopian tubes to determine whether they are open or closed. I was extremely nervous the morning of the procedure and asked Derek to come with me. A coworker had gone through a similar procedure and said it was really painful. I had walked into that lab expecting the worst, but the two female technicians were really sweet and in a quick instant, the procedure was done. I cried after it was over due to the overwhelming emotions related to finding out what the fuck was wrong with my body. I’ll soon be told at my follow-up appointment with the doctor.

The day of the follow-up appointment, Derek was running late and I walked into the doctor’s office alone. They wanted to move things along, of course, so I started to take notes without him. The doctor was explaining the results of my (what seemed like a million) tests when Derek called because he couldn’t remember what floor the office was located. I hung up and rolled my eyes at the doctor. Doesn’t he know there’s signage to tell you these things?

The doctor gave me a piece of paper and asked me to create two columns where she spewed out a series of numbers. On the left side, I wrote:

FSH: 10.04
AMH: 1.55
AFC: 9

And on the right side, I wrote:

FSH: < 8-10
AMH: >1
AFC: <10

(Though not quite as legible, as I had forgotten from elementary school math how to denote “greater than” and “less than” signs, smh).

The doctor explained that the left column was my results and the right was what was considered “normal.” She continued that for someone my age it was “surprising” that two of these numbers are borderline. She then stated that it’s likely that I have DOR or Diminished Ovarian Reserve.

In other words, my body doesn’t make quite enough eggs and could explain my variable ovulation periods where one month I have a period for three weeks straight and the next month I have a two day period.

Here are some stats that the doctor threw down at us:

  • On our own, we had a 3-5% chance of conceiving.
  • With IUI we have a 5-10% chance.
  • With IVF it jumps up to 30-40%.

Well then. At least we aren’t completely to blame for our failed efforts the past 16 months.

3 Ways I Gained Perspective in My 30s

ICYMI, I turned 33 years old exactly 10 days ago (you can check out highlights from my Lady Gaga-themed birthday party here). Some folks in my position would be sad to be officially out of their 20s, but in all honesty, I kinda love my 30s.

Why do I prefer this decade of life? I’ve said this out loud to a number of people, but in case you missed it, I’ll lay it out right here, right now: I am *finally* becoming more comfortable with who I am and what I want.

As with everything, this is still a work in progress. However, as my birthday came and went, and we charge into a new astrological new year (where my astrology peeps at?!) I’ve been very reflective lately on how I got here.

And so, after much thinking and introspection, I’ve landed on three major ways my perspective has changed as I’ve embraced my 30s—and more importantly—embraced my authentic self.

New Perspective On Family

Over five years ago (has it really been that long?) my dad passed away, which flipped my entire world upside down and forced me to look at things in a completely different way. I suddenly found myself taking a step back to reflect on what actually matters, and as a result, made some changes in terms of how I live my life. Some days are better than others of course, but after my dad passed I’ve made a concerted effort to not take anything (or anyone) for granted.

How did I gain perspective? By discovering…

  • I have an amazing support system, including a wonderful chosen family in addition to my biological fam.
  • I have a wonderful husband and partner who is ready and willing to stick by my side no matter what life throws at us.
  • My parents are a part of me and have played a huge role in who I am and how I operate in the world.
  • I need to embrace my culture because it is definitely something I want to pass on to my future children.
  • When it comes to family in general, you need to hold on to the things that matter. Let everything else go.

New Perspective On Career

In one of my more popular posts, I talked about my pivot from teaching communication to working in the field of communication at Vectorworks—a HUGE deal because I thought I would be a professor for the rest of my life. Now here we are, almost two years later, and I feel like I’ve already learned so much: about leaning on my team, trusting myself, and remaining curious regardless of where I am employed. I’m proud that my efforts at Vectorworks have paid off in the form of a promotion, where I now have the opportunity as Communications Manager to lead and mentor junior writers on my team. Even though it was very scary at the time, leaving academia has taught me many life lessons that I wouldn’t have received otherwise.

How did I gain perspective? By observing…

  • Perfectionism doesn’t bode well for me in the workplace.
  • Working 24/7 doesn’t bring me joy and balance.
  • Having amazing co-workers makes the workday worthwhile.
  • Having solid mentors and managers is immensely valuable.
  • My “not enough” at work is actually great…even promotable!
  • I am capable of making a lasting impact on my team and organization.

New Perspective On Mindset

Many of my teachers/benefactors have discussed the power of meditation, but it isn’t until very recently that I’ve decided to make the effort to meditate at least 10 minutes every morning. Since beginning this practice, I have been more cognizant of staying present and observing thoughts and feelings without judgment or attachment. As practicing yogi I’ve always understood the power of mindfulness and breath, but through daily meditation, I hope to work on bringing yoga principles to my every day awareness, outside of the mat.

How did I gain perspective? By realizing…

  • The power of staying present reaps many benefits.
  • Being mindful in what I say and do oftentimes reduces my anger/defensiveness/fear.
  • Some deep breathing (even for a few minutes!) can do magical wonders.
  • If I surround myself with people who can serve as teachers/role models on conscious living, I am constantly reminded of what I strive for in my own life.

So there you have it. Not a mind-blowing list by any means, but certainly one that took a few decades of work to bring to my awareness.

Anything you would add? Anything I may have missed?

Making Nature Matter: How Inspiration is Instructive


“Creativity inspires authenticity. The greatest artist is in the moment, and simply allows.” ~ Adriene Mishler, Yoga with Adriene 

I wake up and walk outside to look over the beautiful horizon, and immediately am moved to write. Poetry that would normally take hours or even days to write back home is now pouring out of my pen and into my journal as if someone is whispering the lines into my ear.

I rise with the expanse that rises alongside me
Marveling at its beauty
While marveling at how little I stop to take in its beauty in the first place
Life is funny like that
You rush through it without realizing what is even there
What you may have lost
What is still open for you to gain

41732493_10101664747883939_1203988730180796416_oThe lack of hustle and bustle can do wonders for clearing your brain and sparking innovationThere’s even scientific research claiming that spending time in nature can indeed inspire creativity. It certainly did for me.

It’s overall good for your health too. Studies have shown that being in nature can improve memory, increase focus, reduce anxiety and depression, and act as an overall de-stressing agent. When I was at Knoll Farm for the Labor Day Namaste Getaway yoga retreat, I’ve never felt so relaxed. I used the words “marvel” and “wonder” more times than I could count; the scenery is just breathtakingly beautiful.

Additionally, the farm would surprise us with little poetic treasures that seemed to spring up throughout the trip. In one example, I found a Robert Frost anthology on a bookshelf and read poems that inspired my own takes of his work. Here’s an example:

RF and RBW

Another gem from the farm was when a bee flew onto my backpack…to drop off a dead fly. In the spirit of my last post, where else would I have even noticed such a fascinating (and kind of morbid) gift?

One final example of the many serendipitous moments that happened while on the farm. Erica, one of our trip leaders, opened up a random book right before our morning practice and used it to lead us in meditation. I think it was perfect:

Anything that goes up into the sky will fall down again to the earth, pulled by the force of gravity. These energies of illusion, these decorations and worldly beauties can never reach great heights, but they still do attract you. This is the way these saktis, or energies and elemental miracles, work.

~M.R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen’s Come to the Secret Garden: Sufi Tales of Wisdom, p. 125

Elemental miracles indeed. Funny how these “worldly beauties” are never treated as such. I’d like to flip the script to do more mindfully appreciate them, how about you?


What Happens When Beetles Teach You Life Lessons


As I looked up from my journal, I noticed something moving on the ground.

A beetle.

“He’s pretty big,” I thought. “I hope he doesn’t crawl this way all over my stuff.”

Suddenly, as if he was listening, the beetle turned left—away from my yoga mat—right on cue. Looking a bit further up, I noticed another beetle on its back, clearly dead.

“A fallen foe?” I wondered. I decided to continue watching the beetle who appeared to be the victor of whatever went down between him and the other creature, and noticed he was actually limping.

“Poor guy,” I thought. Wow, how quickly I went from wanting him to move away from me to sympathizing with his current state.

Now intrigued, I watched him pull himself along the floorboards of the Mountain Yurt—where we finished a yoga practice merely minutes before. He didn’t make it very far before he got caught on the edge of a floorboard and flipped over onto his back.

I immediately sprang up from my seated position on my yoga mat and walked over. Still too afraid to touch the insect that caught my attention, I used some leftover business cards in my backpack to set him upright, but he kept getting flipped over again and again.

Finally, after several tries, I scooped the beetle up and brought him outside. I then picked up my yoga mat and journal and started making the trek back down to the barn, where my group would be gathering for lunch.



This encounter with my newfound beetle friend happened a few weeks ago at Knoll Farm in Waitsfield, Vermont. I was there for the third annual Labor Day Namaste Getaway led by yoga instructors (and my friends) Kristin Walsh and Erica Schommer. This trip was my second time at the retreat and my second time at Knoll Farm. Surrounded by nature in all its beauty and splendor.

…and here I am, sitting a huge Mountain Yurt, alone, staring at a beetle. The whole time all I could think of was: since when do we have time to watch beetles like this? 


In a world full of distractions (both online and offline), folks can find it difficult to slow down, savor each moment, and keep in mind what’s important.

I think Morrie Schwartz said it best in Mitch Albom’s beautiful novel, Tuesdays with Morrie: “…most of us all walk around as if we’re sleepwalking. We really don’t experience the world fully, because we’re half asleep, doing things we automatically think we have to do.” 

I too am guilty of this. I wake up, automatically look at my device, get ready for the day, drive to work to stare at another device for eight hours, go home to watch Netflix on yet another device, go to bed after final moments with my original device, rinse, and repeat.

But not in Waitsfield, Vermont.

No, the reason why I look forward to this retreat SO much and came back a second time (and hopefully will return more and more times!) is that I am forced out of this senseless, robotic routine.img_4875-e1537021434266.jpg

I am forced to look outward AND inward.

Yes, it can be pretty intense…but refreshing and needed. There are SO many things you don’t notice when you’re running around “half asleep.” The gorgeous sunrises, the delightful moments of stillness, the fresh, crisp air.

And yes, you may even miss the epic journey of a tiny beetle crossing wooden planks.


This post is the first of a series based on my experience at the Labor Day Namaste Getaway 2018. Feel free to show some love by subscribing for upcoming posts at the sidebar to your right. ➡️ ❤️


How to Face Anxiety Through Choreography

Last weekend, Artistic Synergy of Baltimore (ASoB) wrapped up its children’s production of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” (YAGMCB), where I proudly served as choreographer. But first, I have a little secret I wanted to disclose before I get into the experience:

I’m not really a trained dancer.

Shocking, but true. I never took dance classes growing up, outside of performing a few Filipino folk dances in my youth. I eventually competed as a ballroom dancer, but this was much later in life, and it’s now become more a social hobby than a serious way to learn dance technique.

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Regardless of training (or lack thereof), I’ve always been quick to pick up movement, and have a pretty good sense of rhythm. And more importantly for musical theater dancing (in my opinion), I’ve always had a strong vision of how the movement should translate on stage to tell a story.

Which brings me back to Charlie Brown.

In college, I was in the ensemble for a production of YAGMCB, and it was an absolute blast. I was only a sophomore then, but it was the first time I felt like a member of the TCNJ Musical Theatre community, and it was such a good feeling. I made a lot of friends doing that show and had a great time playing a child in our intimate black box theater.

Fast forward 10+ years, and I took advantage of an opportunity to choreograph Charlie Brown at ASoB. Although I was super excited to try something new in the DMV theater scene, I was also really nervous about this (seemingly large) undertaking for several reasons:

  • As previously mentioned, I’m not officially trained in dance, so how could I possibly be an authority on dance for this show?
  • I’ve never worked with kids on a theater production, will I be able to connect with them?
  • I’ve never worked with this particular community theater group, what if I don’t fit in?

Questioning aside, because I was so familiar with YAGMCB and loved my time spent doing the production in undergrad, I was willing to push my anxiety aside and give it a go. So, I said yes. I said yes in an attempt to create a similar positive experience for these young actors.

And boy am I glad that I did.

I couldn’t have been more happy with the process “working on the other side of the table” with ASoB. At our first read through, I was immediately welcomed by the production team and felt comfortable and accepted. These kids were serious performers (much more serious than I was at their age!) and they were committed to the show from day one. They also were willing to give me feedback as I tried to figure out the best way to showcase their dance abilities through my choreography. In other words, their professionalism and enthusiasm were simply unmatched.


Yet there were still moments I felt overwhelmed and/or intimidated. Even though these kids were 20 years my junior, a lot of them had WAY more dance experience than I did, which made me question my own credibility. For the large full cast numbers, I had to corral 20 young actors onto the stage and explore ways to make sure they looked good and were seen—a challenging feat that made me rework things constantly. Lastly, some rehearsals tested my patience regarding giving notes…and having to repeat them because kids don’t always remember everything the first time around. And that’s ok.

But the good times still far outweigh my own feelings of self-doubt, nervousness, and frustration. I experienced beautiful moments where I almost cried watching these kids perform; they truly transformed before my eyes, and it was so incredibly cool to watch. These young performers took the show, shaped it, and made it their own. They infused their own personalities and experiences into the production, and that in and of itself was so special.


And let’s not forget the sense of community with this group—it was so palpable. Everyone wanted to help. From the costumes, to the props, to the promotion, to the snacks at intermission, there was always a steady flow of parents, volunteers, and theater group members willing to take time out of their busy schedules to put on this show. It was awesome.

So yeah, I may not be completely dance trained. But choreographing this children’s production of Charlie Brown trained me in other skills I find to be invaluable, such as collaboration, teamwork, consistency, passion, perseverance, and communication. These kids helped build my own confidence to believe in myself…by demonstrating how they believed in themselves to put on a fantastic show.


And at the end of the day, I think that’s what journeying through life—and finding happiness—is all about. ❤️

This is What Happens When You Live Right Now

This past week I went to DC after work to visit my academic friends who were in town for the AEJMC national conference.

Although I was super excited to see my dear ones, I will admit that I also felt a bit nervous. You see, it had been at least a year since I had seen many of these people, and it was almost exactly one year ago when I told them I would be leaving academia and working in industry.

Why was I so nervous? Even though I knew I had to walk away from the career I once loved, the decision was very difficult. I had put a lot of time and energy into my education that prepared me for the academy. My grad program and mentors had invested a lot in me, and I felt like I was letting people down—and I’ve lived most of my life as a people pleaser. So to say I felt anxious walking into that conference hotel with no idea who I would run into is an understatement.

I couldn’t be more wrong.

Faces lit up when they saw me. Pleasantly surprised, folks exclaimed, “what are you doing here?!” before giving me a huge hug. I even ran into my beloved Ph.D. advisor and was able to catch up with her and my grad school friends as if nothing had changed.

AEJMC Scholars

With my academic colleagues at AEJMC

But actually, something had changed, based on what I was told. My friends said I seemed calmer, happier, more zen. My energy was no longer the hot mess of stress and anxiety that appeared to be my norm just over a year ago. That I looked good, that I should keep doing yoga, that my hair looked great—ok, these physical things shouldn’t matter as much, but it was still all very flattering.

I even got a few, “so, you’re coming back to academia, right?!” comments, to which I replied:

“I’m good right now. I have a good job, and I’m happy, and I have better work/life balance. I’m gonna stick with this right now.”

Right now.

Right now I don’t know what my future career holds for me. Right now I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to academia, or if I’ll make yet another pivot down the road. Right now I’m honestly trying not to think about it too much.

Nope, right now I’m going to keep riding this positive wave of energy I’m apparently radiating and continue doing what feels right. Because that’s how I feel.

Right now.

Theater Review: Moulin Rouge the Musical

IMG_3217When I saw that Moulin Rouge the Musical was premiering in Boston at the Emerson Colonial Theatre, I jumped on the opportunity and bought tickets to surprise my husband as a belated birthday/pre-wedding anniversary present (we sang “Come What May” in our wedding ceremony). And once I found out that Aaron Tveit was playing Christian, I was practically giddy in anticipation of our road trip driving up I-95 to see the show. However, once the show was over, I’m sad to say that we were both disappointed with how the musical version of this movie was presented.

I will start by saying that the entire thing wasn’t a complete bust. First (and foremost in my mind) the set design was absolutely stunning—when you walk into the theater you actually feel like you’re in the Moulin Rouge—and we would know, as hubs and I went to the actual Moulin Rouge in Paris when we were in Europe for our honeymoon (#humblebrag 😎). The opening number also felt very Moulin Rouge-esque as well, with high energy singing and dancing to get the crowd ready for the show.

As the show went on to tell the story we’ve all grown to love, the set pieces moved to reveal extremely detailed and realistic looking backdrops: from the use of 3D perspective to make you feel like you’re actually in a rooftop apartment (with a tiny elephant and windmill in the background to boot, so cute!) to the use of actors walking around “buildings” to make you feel like you’re actually at a cafe in France, it was all brilliant. Scenic Designer Derek McLane is an Emmy Award-winning designer for his work on the Academy Awards, and you can certainly see why based on the designs used here. Sonya Tayeh, the show’s choreographer (who is also known for her choreography on SYTYCD, who my husband also saw in the lobby and didn’t realize until after the fact #notsaltyatall), made great use of the space and the dances were downright fierce. The number that opens Act II was particularly fun to watch—a mashup of “Bad Romance” and “Toxic,” (don’t worry, I’ll explain later). Overall, the choreo was fantastic; it appropriately represented the movie’s style while giving audiences a sense of Tayeh’s signature choreography style.

Now let’s get to some of my gripes with this show. I will start of by saying this: I am a HUGE fan of the movie. I watched it many many years ago with community theater friends in South Jersey. I know the show well. To reiterate, I sang a song from the movie at my wedding. I can also bust out “Elephant Love Medley” at any moment if given the opportunity (go ahead, I dare you). So I will admit that expectations were high.

I wasn’t upset about the few changes made in the show that weren’t the same in the movie; in fact, I think some of them helped drive the characters/story a bit better (examples: you get more of Satine’s backstory, Zidler is generally more supportive of Satine and Christian’s affair as long as she’s happy, the Moulin Rouge performers are less catty/jealous and seem more like a family). I didn’t even mind that Christian is now an American from Ohio, as it added some comedic elements.


What I did take issue with was this weird need to add MORE popular songs to the score to get audiences excited…when I would bet a lot of people were excited to be there because they loved the songs in the movie in the first place (myself included). At first, it was kind of cute and funny (example: Toulouse singing Lorde’s “Royals” to describe the Bohemian lifestyle) but then it was getting to the point of obnoxious—I described it to my hubby as if the show was “trying too hard” and in the end it just made us feel uncomfortable. This was particularly poignant when the songs didn’t fit the characters AT ALL, like when Satine sings Katy Perry’s “Firework” instead of “One Day I’ll Fly Away”REALLY?! I’ll admit that it was probably the most beautiful, soul-wrenching rendition of “Firework” I’ve ever heard in my life, but who would ever take that moment seriously when you’re snickering about the song that made Left Shark famous? And that “Elephant Love Medley” song I said I could bust out in any moment? Not this version: they added more songs to the mix that were less love song classics and more popular 2000s hits. Cue facepalm and smh. 

And speaking of the love medley, let’s talk about Satine and Christian. I will respectfully disagree with folks who thought they had poor chemistry (maybe they’ve gotten more comfortable with each other by the time I saw the show?)—I actually thought they worked well off of each other. They seemed to be falling in love, and “Come What May” did make me cry, so there’s that. In spite of my excitement over seeing Aaron Tveit perform, to be completely honest I felt like Karen Olivo knocked it out of the park, especially in Act I. Homegirl drops down from the ceiling on her swing and you simply cannot take your eyes off her. Catherine Zuber’s costuming makes Olivo look AMAZING, and her voice is sheer perfection. In some of her songs, you could literally hear a pin drop, which is saying a lot given the audience is a rowdy bunch.

Tveit is so dreamy and cute, so he was the perfect Christian (ok yes, maybe I am biased because I have a crush on him in case you didn’t know by now) but to be completely honest he didn’t blow me away until Act II. It made a lot of sense that he held back, given the arc of the character, but once he went full out jealous/angry/sad WATCH OUT. “El Tango de Roxanne” is one of my favorite numbers in the movie, and it did NOT disappoint in the musical version (despite a few changes, including less Argentine tango, which did make me a little sad). However, Tveit’s growl and angsty belt in this number are what musical dreams are made of in my opinion, so kudos for exceeding my expectations and stealing my heart, Aaron. ❤️

All in all, I was so pumped to see a movie-turned-musical that I think we all can agree would translate well on the stage, but for me, this version fell a bit short. The decision to add an insane number of popular hits to the score without any second thought of how that would impact the depth of the characters is a disservice in my opinion. This is especially upsetting for audience members who loved the original movie and/or appreciate musicals for its originality and artistic vision. In its current state, the show is better suited for a theme park or cruise ship and needs refinement if it wants the Broadway-caliber it should deserve.

New Job, New Adventure: Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone and Out of Academia


As you can probably guess from the title of this post, I have some news to share:

I accepted a job offer two weeks ago. And it’s a non-academic job.

Now before y’all get all hype and confused and whatnot let me explain.

As many of you know, I left a tenure-track position at VCU to move back to Maryland for mostly personal reasons. My husband Derek got a promotion, and I decided that it would be better for us to be closer to friends and family (see FB note announcement below).

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However, I will admit that I also left VCU last year a little unsure of whether I am meant to stay on an academic career trajectory. The tenure-track path was really tough and stressful, (a lot harder than I expected TBH), and as much as I loved the flexibility of academia and teaching students, there were aspects of the job that (for me) were hard to contend with, such as:

Please note that this clearly isn’t the reality for everyone, but these were some of the issues that came to mind when reflecting on my own lived experience.

And yes, I will be completely and utterly honest: I know that a lot of this is on me. I am a recovering perfectionist and I’ve always gone above and beyond the call of duty when it came to work. I also get really emotionally invested, oftentimes to the point of negatively impacting my health. But lately I began asking myself: At what cost?

And so I had to do some soul searching.

This past year I was the Managing Director of the Oral Communication Program in the Department of Communication at the University of Maryland, my beloved alma mater. I am so grateful to the Department for allowing me to come back and try my hand at administration in higher ed, something I was interested in pursuing for a while. The added bonus was being able to see my mentors on a more frequent basis, and come back to a campus I’m familiar with and love.

I dove right into work, as I always do, trying my best to set up a calendar, trying hard not to be so upset with myself when I didn’t know how to do something, playing into my strengths and networking with entities all across campus.

But I also struggled, trying to manage expectations among the many constituencies I interacted with (i.e., graduate students, professional track faculty, undergraduate studies, etc.) and equally trying not to take things personally when those expectations could not be met (a hard enough feat when you are prone to social anxiety that includes LOTS of ruminating). I was the go-to person for faculty and student issues, which gave me opportunities to deal with conflict and engage in empathetic listening, but left me emotionally drained. I represented UMD’s basic course on campus, wrote assessment reports, and even taught a section of COMM 107 (something I had not done since 2010), but I realized that I missed my identity as a PR person.

And so, an opportunity came up to be a PR person again.

After this opportunity presented itself I did a lot of thinking (along with some discussing with my husband), and ultimately I decided to give the industry end of things a whirl.

After many many years of schooling and four years of teaching PR at the faculty level, I’m stepping out of my comfort zone to go forth and finally practice what I’ve been preaching to my students.

Next week, I start my position as a copywriter for the in-house marketing team at Vectorworks, an engineering tech firm based in Columbia, MD.


Although I’m a bit nervous, I am excited to go into the private sector, write for different kinds of audiences, get into a more structured and consistent schedule, and join a team that I seem to get along with and seems to be equally pumped to have me on board.

Did I expect to be making this career change four years into obtaining my Ph.D.? Nope. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about this crazy ride we call life, you never know what twists and turns are going to be thrown at you.

I’ve decided to submit to the turn and see where it takes me next.