Academia Beyond Grad School · Children · Marriage

This is my Story: Part I

Written by Carolyn – a former graduate wife


The below story is shared with us from a former graduate wife.  Her story has been challenging, encouraging and intriguing for us to read, as we have realized just how powerful and difficult it would be to try and capture our own graduate wife stories in words. Clearly her entire story couldn’t be written out…or that have taken weeks to share, but she has summarized her graduate wife journey below as best she could.  We hope her testimony and chronological journey speaks hope and courage as you look to your future (as it did to us) as many pages lay before each of us yet unwritten…

NOTE:  I fell in love with my husband because he hung around libraries, loved laughing and had a heart for God.  Our story could be filled with all the wonderful and zany times we had during our graduate life, but the below focuses on other issues.

Joe and I met in Vienna, Austria, where I worked, and married in Massachusetts, where I grew up.  Then we moved to Oxford, England, where Joe’s graduate career was already in progress.  England and Oxford were beautiful and we enjoyed taking walks around the city, visiting small villages where cream teas were heavenly and soaking up the atmosphere and architecture.

Joe’s adjustment to marriage in his already established routine seemed minimal; mealtimes definitely were upgraded from a regular bowl of tomato soup to meat, vegetables and dessert.  My adjustment took longer, understandable in part to having been an independent woman until I was 30+.  ( In the first few months, I took some walks by myself and wondered where I could stay for a night…)

Joe’s area of interest was philosophy and while we were courting in Vienna, he had talked of his academic desires and struggles, which stemmed from having been persuaded by one of his tutors that the topic that he originally had chosen to pursue was not really worthwhile.  He moved on to another area and soon discovered that he held views radically at odds with positions espoused by the academic establishment.  It was a time of extreme loneliness intellectually and yet incredibly stimulating mentally.

While this was happening in Joe’s academic life, I unexpectedly became pregnant.  I had a great job at a company that produced risk-assessment studies for multi-national corporations and my paycheck was the sole income for our existence.  Joe quickly realized that he would have to finish earlier than expected, and it put tremendous pressure on him.

We were blessed with many friends and well-supplied older mothers with all kinds of baby clothes and equipment, all of which we borrowed.  Our wonderful baby girl was born at the end of February, and we looked forward to Joe’s defense of his thesis for a degree at the end of the academic year and to returning to the United States soon after.

On two fronts, things quickly fell apart.  Blissfully happy to be pregnant, I hadn’t read the literature carefully about postpartum depression (PPD), which took up residence in my life.  Tears were ever-present for two long months while my hormones seesawed back to normal.

At the same time, Joe’s thesis draft was extensively marked up by his advisor and Joe had to race to revise the manuscript in time for the defense date.  While requiring an inordinate amount of work in the short term, this critique proved to be the beginning of a sharper, simpler writing style.  Joe received his M. Litt. degree and we prepared to leave England with a beautiful baby girl.

In mid-June when our worldly goods were packed into tea crates, we said goodbye to Oxford and friends and flew to Boston, MA.  My parents housed us for one month to enjoy their grand-daughter while we waited for the tea crates to arrive.  We expected to move on to Joe’s parents’ city to look for work later in the summer.  One day, my mother received a telephone call, and the man calling asked to speak with Joe.  As they talked, my mother realized that her son-in-law would have a teaching job at a small liberal-arts college.

Joe was offered a one-year adjunct teaching job of two philosophy courses per semester.  To say we were grateful to God is an understatement.  Through friends in that area, we found a free semi-furnished place to stay ninety minutes away from the college and moved our small amount of worldly goods there.  We unpacked the tea crates, threw them away and settled in.  Within three weeks, the owner of the property decided to sell the place and asked us to move out, effective immediately.  We moved to within ten minutes of the college, but had no furniture until my parents and others locally donated a generous amount of necessary items – double bed, dining room table and chairs, a couch, extra chairs, etc. (We had baby furniture already provided.)  In order to survive, Joe worked 2 other jobs (cleaning services in the evenings) while I stayed home with our daughter.  I don’t remember eating out at a restaurant during this time, and buying a pizza for $5.00 one night was quite a treat.

It took me six months to adjust to being back in the US; I was so homesick for England and the familiarity of friends and shops.  In that time, Joe applied and was accepted for Ph.D. work at a university in another state.  Again we moved – I was an expert by now with packing!   Thank God for married student housing.  One can live under the government poverty level and still have a life.  After working in the university library for a few months and two weeks in a State Farm office, I settled on being a care-giver for our daughter and other people’s children and enjoyed being a second mother to many children.

Joe was looking forward to the rigor of full academic study again, but without the adversarial environment that he had experienced at Oxford.  However, he was greatly disappointed when he was unable to find anyone among fellow grad students and faculty members who were sympathetic with his views.  After being at the university for two years and hearing how another grad student had been recognized in some way for his work, we came home from campus and Joe broke down at lunchtime, sobbing.  It frightened our daughter and she immediately drew a picture for Daddy to cheer him up.  When recognition doesn’t come, after hours spent diligently reading, studying, thinking, writing, discussing, showing up for department events and spending time on endless department requirements, where does one find the will to go on?


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