Thursday, November 12, 2009

One of Those Conversations She'll Deny Later On

Scene: Casa Wabi, 6:50 a.m., the master bathroom. Wabi is brushing her teeth when Big A knocks and then immediately lets herself in without waiting for a response.

Wabi: "Morning. What's up?"

Big A: "I gotta pee!"

Wabi: Is the other bathroom occupied?

Big A (baffled): "No. Why?"

Wabi turns up the radio to avoid hearing ... sounds not emanating from the radio. She returns to brushing.

Big A: "Mommy, look at my poop!"

Wabi: "Uh. I'd really rather not."

Big A: "But you can see CARROTS in it! Carrots we ate last night!" She does a little happy dance while still sitting on the toilet.

Wabi: "Honey, not everyone wants to see that. In fact, I went through a lot of effort to toilet train you three years ago just so that I would no longer have to see it. I think it's kinda gross."

Big A (hurt): But I like looking at my poop! It's so cool.

Wabi: "That's fine if you want to check yours out. But usually people don't want to see someone else's poop, ok? It's not just me. It's like a general rule of life."

Big A (eyes narrowing): "Well, I don't like to see your lava, either! But sometimes I do."

Wabi: "Lava?"

Big A: "You know, your blood ..."

Wabi: "Oh, you mean my period. Yeah. You know the best way to avoid seeing that, Big A? STOP BARGING INTO THE MASTER BATHROOM WHEN IT'S OCCUPIED."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Late and Lucky

After a tragedy it is easy to focus laser beams of envy upon that parallel universe where the chromosomes divided neatly, the other car stopped for the red light, that blood vessel didn't burst. Everything over there is so normal and perfect and utterly different. For me the craziest thing about parallel universes is that the people in them there have NO IDEA what fresh hell they've missed. They live this miracle every moment after our catastrophes but for them, it's just hohum blah blah blah.

Today I can't help but thinking that in another universe, Parallel Big A didn't dawdle getting dressed, and we made it to the playground exactly when I'd intended -- which is really only 15 minutes earlier than we actually did. That would put Parallel Wabi & family directly under the 100-year-old pine tree when it did this:

To put it more precisely, that would put Parallel Big A & Little A on the swing set. The girls absolutely love those swings.

Or at least they did.

And so the weekend goes on as scheduled for lucky, late us. Only I'm more than happy to rate it as a miracle, if others are so inclined.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

For Better and for Worse

When DH came home early from work Friday the kids were excited. But I knew what it probably meant and was leery. Sure enough, the company's latest project got canceled. In the tech industry, progression from canceled funding to job losses can happen within hours or days. That was the case this time -- sixty people given pink slips when the week before everything seemed like business as usual. The entire studio shuttered.

The friends, family and neighbors who know DH lost his job have all responded with sympathy and kindness. It's really lovely on one level. And on another ... misplaced.

"How are you doing?" they ask.

"Oh, we're pretty ok," I answer.

"No really, must be so worried! Such a terrible time to look for work," they persist.

I'm not deluded. This is not a good time to look for work. We are not doing cartwheels over the prospect of holidays on unemployment, three out of four family birthdays in the next two months on unemployment, or even just life in general on unemployment. We have two children, two goldfish, preexisting health conditions, and a house that is worth less today than what we paid for it six years ago. Oh, and we'd promised the kids we would all go to West Virginia to see the recently relocated cousins this Christmas ... I'm really not sure if that can happen now. Yep. Life without money SUCKS.

But still, I also feel a decided lack of worry.

Part of it is that I have faith in DH. He's good at what he does, and if there are jobs to be found, he'll discover them.

More of it has to do with this little moment between DH and I a year or two ago. It was at the end of a conversation about DH's angst over us not being able to save any money since we had kids and bought our house. DH really likes to sock it away for a rainy day. It makes him feel warm, fuzzy, and cocooned. My dwindling income, the collapse of our house equity, the deflation of our 401ks -- they all bug me. But they have haunted, taunted, demoralized DH in many ways I see, but cannot fully understand.

So that evening DH griped about his disappointments. Then he shrugged and said, "Of course I would have given everything we have -- all of it -- if it could have saved the baby." After that he turned off the TV, brought his empty glass to the kitchen, and went to bed.

That little shrug of his shoulders, my half nod back -- it was truer than our wedding vows 13 years ago. We have learned so many things that we didn't ever want to know since we got married. But what we learned also allows me to pick how I'm going to deal with issues that are not life and death.

Right now I choose to be fearless.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Playdate Reject! (That would be me, not the kids ...)

Hello, my name is Wabi, and I am a playdate reject.

I HATE playdates. I've always been shy and reserved -- not completely antisocial, but sort of sub social. Wall flowerish. Mind you, I volunteer for projects at my kids' schools and in the community. I am quick with a wave and a smile if I see someone everyday. And if you lean up against the wall with me, you might just enjoy some of my jokes and snark. Our kids might also like meeting up on the playground to knock heads on the jungle gym while we chat it up on the bench nearby. Maybe.

But for a sub social like me, setting up those playdates and breaking the ice with parents I don't know is awful. Watching me is pornography for anyone who gets off on social awkwardness. I wonder what the other mom thinks about my kid/mothering style/appearance/house/professional status/etc. There is a voice in my head that narrates in much the same tone of voice my father used when teaching me to drive:

That's a cool bracelet she has ... Say something nice about her bracelet. Say it now... SAY IT SAY IT SAY IT! Ok, so why did you tell her the bracelet reminded you of something you made back eighth grade art class? Now she probably thinks you're comparing her jewelry to pipe cleaners and bottle caps -- not exactly a compliment. Go on, what are you waiting for? Say something else to change the subject. Say anything, it doesn't matter wha -- OH JESUS, DID YOU REALLY JUST TELL THAT JOKE?
Yeah, add kids and juice boxes, and that sums up my entire experience with most first playdates.

In the preschool years, it seemed a little bit easier. I would get to know other moms slowly in the parking lots next to nursery school or daycare. After awhile going to the playground together would just naturally occur. The kids and I didn't click with everyone we met up with, yet somehow we ended up with a handful of friendly families we socialized with regularly.

But now that Big A is in kindergarten, it's back to square one on the social front. It's like I'm having junior high lunchroom flashbacks. (When all my friends got assigned to a different lunch period than me and I didn't know who to sit with ...) Ack. I still cringe at the thought.

Who knew that starting kindergarten could be so challenging ... not for the kid, but for the 38-year-old woman hanging onto her student's hand?

Monday, August 31, 2009


Last night we picked out Big A's first-day-of-school outfit, packed the lunch, and shined her shoes. After the girls were in bed DH and I popped open a bottle of bubbly and clinked glasses.

"We made it to kindergarten," I said, "We did it!"

"And now she's the state's problem," DH concluded with much contentment.

Can we take a moment to give it up for public school? After struggling for five years with daycare and preschool payments on top of house payments and medical bills and the usual daily-life costs, the start of kindergarten is SUCH a financial reprieve. We are giddy at the thought of actually putting money in a college account, or upgrading our seven-year-old computer. Yippee!

As for Big A, she did really well this morning. She looked forward to seeing the class pet lizard that she met at the school open house last week. Also, she wanted to see that blond girl she made insta-friends with at the open house ... Corinne or Carly or Charlie -- we need to get her name straightened out.

Big A did want to hold my hand while waiting for the bell to ring. But that was it, in terms of angst. The bell rang, the teacher led the line of new students into the school, and Big A marched along. She gave one wave, and didn't look back after that. I was so proud of her bravery. Honestly, I don't know where she gets that. When I have to so much as change dry cleaners, I'm a mess.

Unfortunately, poor Little A was horrified to learn that she was not allowed to go to school with her sister. (Even though we'd told her this 400 times.) She cried and waved frantically as Big A walked into the school. I kept telling her we'd see Big A again at 3 o'clock, but toddlers, they can't tell time. I might as well have said we'd see her next year.

Speaking of which, it's time to walk to school to pick my kid up. I can't wait!

Friday, August 21, 2009

End of Summer

I've had a great summer full of camping trips and fun outings with the kids. But now even though we have a lot of August left, it feels like autumn is very much here already. It's funny how things putter along in a stable pattern for awhile, and then changes come rapidly, like a flock of birds landing or a row of dominoes falling. For instance:
  • This week SIL, her husband, and the nieces left Sonoma and moved to West Virginia. Now our nearest family is located three time zones away. (Sigh.)
  • We bought our first family pet: goldfish!
  • Somehow, we managed to break Little A of her pacifier habit this month.
  • Little A now wants to wear big-girl "unner pans," so potty training has finally begun.
  • Today is Big A's last day as a student at the preschool she's attended for years.
  • In a week Big A starts kindergarten at the nieghborhood elementary school and Little A begins preschool at the same place Big A used to attend.
Changes major and minor. But even the minor ones, like the addition of the fish and the ditching of the pacifiers, impact how we arrange our days. In a few more months we'll have a different sort of normal because of all that happened this past month. And what was a normal day in July will not come this way again.

I would have been teary-eyed saying goodbye when SIL and her kids left no matter what. The entire fifteen years I've lived in California we've managed to live nearby each other. We've gone through our twenties, thirties, earthquakes, weddings, deaths, and births together. Basically, during that time span I went from being a bad ass to just having one. And our relationship deepened a lot with the addition of the kids. So some tears were in order, no matter what.

But watching the agony of Big A as their car pulled away made me completely lose my shit. She ran down the street waving her lanky arms like a castaway left on shore by the rescue boat. When she reached the corner I had to call her back.

"I don't want them to go!" She said as we trudged up the steps into our house.

"Me either," I admitted. "But remember, we're visiting this Christmas. We'll get to explore their new town. That's going to be so much fun!" It would have been more convincing to say this while not crying myself. But it was the best I could do under the circumstances.

"But they'll miss my BIRTHDAY and Halloween and Thanksgiving!" Big A cried. "Christmas is too far away."

"I know this is hard, baby. But we'll get used to it. It's going to be okay."

"I sad, mommy," piped up a bewildered Little A. "I so sad. They. Gone. Way."


I'd like to think that deadbaby grief has made me better at saying goodbye and letting go than I used to be. At least the nuts and bolts of the process are very familiar. When Big A tells me she wants to move, I certainly understand what she is feeling. Being left behind is hard. The surface sameness of life is such a sham. Old routines are hollow. Of course Big A wants to move and try something new, if only so that the outside of life matches the inside.

"If we did move, what kind of house would you want to live in next?" I ask Big A. She describes a tall Victorian mansion -- pink, naturally. One with a nice big climbing tree in the yard.

"That sounds pretty nice," I say, meaning it more than I want to.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Fourth of July

What a difference ten degrees makes! Our annual watching of the Sonoma Fourth of July Parade with DH's sister and the nieces usually involves gallons of water, searching for shade, and triple-digit heat. But this year morning fog and afternoon breezes kept the heat down to the high eighties. As a result we lingered on the square for a long time after the parade ended. Everyone had fun, and for once, nobody seemed in danger of heat stroke. Awesome.

My childhood in Upstate NY during the 1970s and 1980s is often unrecognizable to the childhood my kids experience today in the San Francisco Bay Area: economically, socially, geographically different. But Fourth of July in Sonoma always reminds me of the very best part of when I was a kid -- summer weekends spent with aunts, uncles, and cousins. Parades, family, picnics, and fireworks ...what could be better?

Going into the event I was extra nostalgic this year, because big things are changing. SIL, her husband, and the nieces will leave California for a new job and life on the East Coast by the end of August. DH and I knew that business issues made their moving away a possibility, yet when it went from theoretical to reality, we still felt shocked and heartbroken. SIL and her kids are the only relatives living within three thousand miles of us. We spend every holiday with them, plus lots of other random, hanging-out days. The A-team and the nieces adore each other.

I decided to wait a few more weeks before telling the kids about the move. It's a delicate balance. Tell them too soon, and Big A will spend months dwelling and probably not enjoy the time we have left with the nieces. But if I wait too long to tell the girls, then Big A might feel like she didn't have proper time to get used to the idea before it happens.

Sigh. All I can say is THANK GOD for skype. That should at least soften the transition.

But even with the aura of change that settled over the holiday, in the end all the adults involved managed to set aside the looming sense of finality and just have a great time. As an in-your-head sort of person, I am not exactly a party animal. But there was a nice mix of people at the party this year, plus a lot of good wine, so even I managed to be in the moment.

Walking back from the fireworks this year I struggled under the weight of my "baby" Little A. It made me realize how memory plays tricks. Here I'd been thinking that all those July 4ths in Sonoma were the same, and that this was an abrupt and startling end of it. Yet each year spent up there was a whole different world -- both for us, and for SIL and her husband. There were pregnancies, some of which resulted in live babies, and some of which did not. And there were so many job changes and transitions for all the adults. The parade might have seemed the same, but other than that, each July 4th up there was totally different, in terms of the world we were all grappling with at those moments in time.

And so by the end of the weekend I'd managed to stamp out the sour sort of nostalgia I'd started with, and I just felt satisfied and glad. We really squeezed every last bit of juicy fun out of that tradition of going up to Sonoma. Everyone involved is always going to remember those years as special. And now we get to try to dream up a new tradition for next year. That's luck. That's really good luck.

Friday, June 26, 2009

I Am the One ( In 1 out of 5 ...)

The other day I had a project transition meeting with an editor whom I'd filled in for while she was on maternity leave. At the very end of our meeting I said, "Congratulations on your new little one. I hope everyone is well."

To which the woman happily chirped, "Oh thanks! I had some health problems but I'm better now. And we were also worried throughout the pregnancy because my daughter had a 1 in 5 chance of d0w.n syndr0me, and scans kept showing fluid around her heart. But she turned out just fine too!"

Clutching my lukewarm cup of tea, I fought the urge to blurt "What a coincidence! One of my babies also had 1 in 5 odds for a trisomy, plus anomalies on scans. Except my daughter was NOT fine!"

I realize this woman didn't do anything wrong. Yet the exchange unexpectedly rubbed me entirely wrong.

Part of my bitterness owes to the keen loneliness on being the isolated "one" in the 1-in-five risk stats we both received. Her kid ended up in the 4 out of 5 who are OK, while mine did not. And therefore her pregnancy experience is now fit for corporate meeting banter, while mine will never be. It's one of the smaller injustices that comes with this sort of loss, but nonetheless it still hurts to not be able to discuss what happened openly, in almost any normal circumstance.

But it's more than that. Ever since the Tiller murder I am extra sensitive to the formulaic story that showcases a pregnant woman who is scared to death by possible problems brought up by a screening test, only to go on to have a perfect baby in the end. This story raises my hackles for several reasons.

First, the story always leaves out that it was a screening test, rather than a diagnostic test such as amnio or CVS, that caused the scare. The general public has the impression that all pregnancy testing is very inaccurate precisely because nobody clarifies what test they are talking about.

Though I hasten to add that "inaccurate" is also misunderstood when it comes to the tests. Most people don't understand how pregnancy screenings work. A screen won't diagnose a specific baby's problems. It only states the risk of a baby having a problem based on the outcome of other babies who had similar fetal measurements, maternal serum levels, etc. By design, a screening test casts a wide net for potential problems. You actually want to have some women in there who end up with healthy babies when you design the parameters. Why? Because a terrible screening test is NOT one that warns women carrying healthy babies that there might be a problem. No, a crappy screen is one that miscasts unhealthy pregnancies as fine. Our current screens have an extremely low rate of missing sick babies. So for what info they are designed to give, screens function very well. Yet all we ever hear from people is how inaccurate they are!

Another beef I have with stories of pregnancy testing scares is the tone in which they are relayed. There is usually a lot of resentment and hostility for being made to worry when all was actually fine.

My issue with the hostility is that these women actually chose to take the path of long-term worry, if they didn't bother to get a CVS or amnio to further clarify their screening test results. CVS and amnio, unlike screening tests, diagnose problems. And they have a 99.4-100 percent accuracy rate. So when it comes to a trisomy, there won't be any wondering either way once you get those results.

Yes, amnios and CVS are invasive and carry risks of their own. The average loss rate for amnio in the U.S. was recalculated by a recent UCSF study to be something like 1 in 1200. But if you have a 1 in 5 shot at a baby with a trisomy, the chance of a real problem is vastly greater than your chance of hurting the baby -- healthy or otherwise-- with the invasive test.

Bottom line: If you are going to wait and wonder after receiving poor screening results, don't hold a grudge against the screening test for this predicament. Your "needless worry" is the direct result of your choice to get a screen but not follow up with a diagnostic.

Thankfully most people are not the "one" in the 1-out-of-whatever risk assessment they receive, so even if they don't fathom what their particular stats mean, it still works out OK for them in the end. But misunderstandings about screening tests are so pervasive that I think they do a great disservice to people like me, who researched and soul-searched and ultimately ended up on the lonely side of the 1 in 5 statistic despite everything I did.

When most folks think that all pregnancy tests are equal and equally faulty, it is only a short leap to treat women who go through medical termination with disdain. Because if you believe the tests are wrong, it is easy to decide women who end pregnancies for medical reasons must be lazy, selfish, or just unwilling to take a leap of faith that would probably be rewarded with a healthy baby in the end. It is easy to scorn, and scorn at its root is just a few steps away from hate.

A long ways down that hateful, ignorant road, are the bloody steps of Dr. Tiller's church -- a long ways down, but still, the very same road.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Random Pondering of the Day

1) Why is the Ford Escape the mall security vehicle of choice where I live? Are they just trying to egg on shoplifters?

2) My local utility district imposed water rationing during last year's drought. This year the drought abated, rationing lifted ... and rates went up by 15 percent. Why? Because revenues went down during water rationing.

3) Finally, why oh why must children learning to yo-yo practice standing over a toilet?

Monday, April 20, 2009

When Babies Attack

There is an interesting bunch of comments over at Niobe's regarding whether it is proper for a woman to bring live offspring to a walk of remembrance in honor of lost babies. The range of opinions is large, but can be very generally characterized as follows:

1) Babies? Oh, you mean those diaper-covered daggers with grenade handles. Remembrance marches should be adult-only events to protect the newly bereaved and anyone else who doesn't have a living child.

2) Babies do sort of suck. But ones born to parents who had a previous loss get grandfathered into my good graces. So ... bring your kid to the walk, if you really want to.

3) Babies represent hope. And kids who lost a sibling -- what are they, chopped liver? Let everyone whom the loss impacts walk together.

I am in the minority on this issue -- firmly ensconced in Group 3. I loooove babies. Babies were a much better soother for me than liquor or drugs or religion in my darkest days of loss. They were the best thing for me.

I should back up and say that in the first few weeks after my loss, seeing a baby was tantamount to a punch in the throat. I understand why some people recoil from kids in the wake of loss. I remember that stage well. But the lucky event that propelled me out of that place was the birth of my niece Scamp.

At first I couldn't believe how annoying, rude, and insulting the timing of that birth was. Scamp entered the world only six days after I said goodbye to my own daughter. I seethed at the unfairness of having to bind my stupid breasts to stop my milk while SIL geared up for a happy life at home with baby. I ground my teeth down to nubs listening to SIL complain about how hard it was to get up to feed the baby after a C section. I'd just gone through surgery and I was tired, too. But the reason I couldn't sleep was because of panic attacks due to complications from the loss. I yearned to tell SIL to suck it.

So when torrential rains flooded the roads between Oakland and Sonoma, I rejoiced at not having to go to the hospital to visit SIL and Scamp. Then once they went home, I perhaps exaggerated a wee bit about the whole family being deathly ill. "So sorry, we can't visit yet. Wouldn't want to give the new baby a cold, right?"

SIL, for her part, was lovely. She'd had a previous loss herself and understood. "Whenever you come is fine," she told me right after my termin.ation. "I realize it's hard. I won't be offended if you stay away for awhile."

All my instincts were screaming "Stay away forever!" But after about three weeks DH and I realized that like it or not, we had to go to Sonoma and see the baby. SIL and her family are the only relatives we have in the whole Pacific time zone. Staying away was weird.

Nobody asked if I wanted to hold the baby when we came. I couldn't decide if that was really kind or really mean. Finally, in an internal act of defiance, I thought, "Fuck it. Let's REALLY get this thing over with." I picked up Scamp and took a good look at her.

It was not what I expected. I didn't have the urge to drop her or start screaming at the loss of my own baby. In her nonchalant, unconscious way, she was utterly fascinating. Scamp settled into my arm and pursed her lips. They were the cutest little lips.

All I could think was, "Oh my God, she is adorable." And ... that was it. Nothing else. No spite or envy or bitterness. I was aware she wasn't my baby, but suddenly that didn't mean I had to dislike her out of loyalty to my own. In fact, I liked Scamp already. She and I were gong to get along -- I could tell it already. I patted her back gently and wished Scamp all the love and happiness on earth. Miraculously, I truly meant it.

It was the first moment since my loss where I didn't feel stunted and ruined by rage. It was also my very first moment of peace since I'd learned my baby might be sick. And all of those gifts came from a must-be-avoided-at-all costs baby. Go figure.

So that was when I decided that babies were no longer to be avoided. To this day I have a special bond with Scamp. She gave me so much, even though she is utterly unaware of all of it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Summer Planning

I just finished my two weeks of fancy-schmancy, uber-expensive antibiotics and I would like to give them a standing O. After months of feeling crappy, suddenly I'm normal again. (Well, at least normal in that neck of the woods.) As someone whose life is a convoluted syndrome of complicated circumstances, I marvel when a simple solution works. I feel better. Drinks and leftover Easter eggs for everyone!

This is a month where most of what happens is preparation for other months. I'm doing activity research for the girls and trying to decide if/when we might go camping or otherwise travel, or just have the kids at activities, camps, preschool/daycare. Because by this summer I'll be back working more than I have been this winter, so I need dedicated blocks of time where my office is quiet. I could attempt to save money by working when they are home with me, but historically that's been dicey. Picture two girls running with scissors and wielding markers while I hide book manuscripts and page proof. Yeah, it was just like that, plus muddy fingerprints on the ctrl+alt+del buttons of my keyboard.

Thus far I've got Big A signed up for a week of art classes and another week of theater camp this summer. Big A also wants a week at horse camp, but I am leery. In theory she loves horses -- but her experience mostly involves waving at fields of them from the car, or clutching a shiny pink bejeweled neck of one on a carousel. With real animals, Big A tends towards skittish. She's fine at the zoo, where moats and barriers keep creatures away. But should a dog amble up and say hello to her on the bike path? Cue hysterics. So putting down a nonrefundable fee for horsie week is something I'm on the fence about.

Speaking of fences, today a new one gets installed at my house. It replaces a 50-year-old dilapidated trellis. While I adore the elderly couple who lives on that side of the yard, I did not love that they got to stare at my bathing-suited backside every time I took the kids in our pool last year. I'm soooo excited about the new privacy fence. We are also installing a more secure gate to keep the pool area separated from the rest of the backyard. We jerryrigged a system of homemade gates and fences that worked fine last year, but a couple weeks ago I saw the girls merrily scaling the old pool gate. Oh how they grow. So now my efforts to keep unsupervised kids out of the pool must grow as well.

Anyone else out there making summer plans now?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Helpful Hints from Wabi

Dear TG Associate,

It's great that you are now comfortable enough with your identity to begin taking concrete steps to transition from male to female in the general world. How exciting it must be to take the plunge. I'm so happy for you!

However, breaking the news to everyone the other day could have gone smoother. If you ever come out to people en masse again, I suggest ... actually coming out. You know, announcing the news. Because simply starting to send emails as some chick named Karen without ever mentioning "formerly went by Kraig" was very confusing.

Especially because you did it on April First.

Best Wishes,

Wabi, Queen of Helpful Hints

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Keeper of Your Heart

This week one of my cousins died in an accident. There are a whole range of emotions that go along with a 17 year old losing his life, especially when the details involve a speeding motorcycle and lack of safety gear. So many unanswerable questions that all begin with "WHY?" -- Too many whys to contemplate.

The current thing that sticks like a burr in my mind is the story of what happened in the hospital later. After brain death was confirmed and everyone gradually gave up hope for a miracle, staff at the medical center approached my cousin's immediate family about organ donation. His mother consented to donate the liver, corneas, and kidneys for transplant.

But she expressly said they couldn't have his heart. The transplant team asked about it. She refused to let them take it.

My cousin's mother is a nurse who sees the benefit of organ donation in her work. I'm proud she gave what she did. But I am also mystified by the matter of the heart.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Medical March Madness (I Win!)

March turned into a tournament of doctor visits. I've been to the gastroenterologist for the initial meet-and-greet, went back three more times for food allergy and bacteria testing, got an upper endoscopy with stomach and intestine biopsies. And today, I finally received test results and diagnoses: gastritis, along with bacterial overgrowth of the small bowel. Oh, and I'm also supposedly lactose intolerant. Woot!

In the grand spectrum of possible causes for belly pain, these are fabulously treatable ones. A few weeks of antibiotics followed by probiotics should solve the small intestine problem. For the gastritis, I can take an over-the-counter stomach acid reducer to calm things down (something I avoided for eons, because my primary care doc initially warned me they might make my pain worse). And since I already stopped eating dairy awhile back, the lactose intolerance is a moot point.

There are real, concrete solutions at hand. I'm not a syndrome anymore. I am simple and clear cut. I win!

Part of me wonders at how slooooow the wheels of HMO-based medicine turn. I went to the doctor the first time for this right before the presidential election, and here we are just shy of April. Meantime I've had pain every single day for five months. I realize it wasn't life threatening pain, but still. It was enough to wear me out and wake me up night after night. And if I'd bought my PCP's boiled-frog pronouncement on the problem, I might be on antidepressants and in talk therapy now! Presumably a shinier version of me, but nonetheless still in pain, since antidepressants and psychologists don't do squat for bacterial problems.

But wait, there's more: My HMO currently refuses to pay for the extremely pricey, specialized antibiotic that my GI Doc wants me to take. So now my doctor's office is having the drug manufacturer negotiate payment of the RX on my behalf. This may take several weeks. If the drug company isn't persuasive, then my GI doc plans to prescribe Cipro instead. Considering the realm of side effects than can come with that super-powered drug, I'm hoping I get the first-choice option. Regardless, at least the end of the stomach-pain era is in sight for me.

Maybe this just shows my newbie status in the world of health care wrangling, but the fact that my doctor and I are sitting on the sidelines while two businesses negotiate treatment seems utterly wrong. Ignore the guy with the decade of medical training or the patient with the infection -- this is all about business, right? We'll just be sitting over here twiddling our thumbs while the firms have their say ...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Daffodils, Again

Last year I wrote about the neglected daffodil bulbs that sprouted in their bag after Little A's illnesses and tests prevented me from planting them in a timely fashion. Back then I promised I would post photos of the flowers once they were safely deposited in the ground.

I never posted the followup pictures. It's not that the daffs didn't grow at all once planted. They did. But I'd gone and set them up as a damn metaphor for the beeyoooteeful reflowering of Little A's health and our family life ... and that proved a wee bit embarrassing. Without a lot of soil around them, the daffs didn't put much energy into their sprouting. They turned out strange. The sunny heads looked great, but lay with their chins in the dirt. A 2-inch stem is just not long enough to hold a daffodil high.

But spring keeps rolling around, and today I looked into the yard and saw this:

Hey, good lookin'. What's up with you?

I guess another difference between this year and last is that I don't think being compared to a stunted flower is quite so unsettling anymore. They were pretty, those flowers; and pretty strange. But with some time and a little more dirt, they managed to sort things out.

I guess I'll stick with the metaphor.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I was about to post a long-winded treatise on how dealing with physicians after you've experienced serious medical errors is a minefield of awkwardness. But then Bon wrote a beautiful post about what acceptance of the death of her baby feels like over at Glow in the Woods. I nodded all the way through, recognizing myself in what she said.

Like Bon, I said goodbye to my lost baby a little bit at a time. The first big moment of letting go came seven months after my loss, when I was pregnant again and learned Little A had normal chromosomes. Up until that point the lost pregnancy and the new one were firmly merged in my mind as the same. So that was the first moment I relinquished my ghost baby from my body. It was when I began to tiptoe slowly away.

Still, I felt a strong need to keep looking back. Little A's surprise birth exactly one week before the first anniversary of the death complicated that. The joy (and feeding) of a live baby eclipsed all else for awhile. And it felt wonderful to be in the moment, to have the weeks go by and the photos pile up showing the happy progress and growth. But ... it also made me feel guilty. It seemed I was somehow slighting the baby who came and vanished. I think that's why I started this blog when Little A was an infant. Even with my outrageously good turn of fortune, I still needed to voice the stories of what had happened in the previous year. I wanted to be able to write about the good things that happened in my family, too -- this has never strictly been a babyloss blog. But mostly I *needed* to vent that bad stuff. It was an irresistible urge.

To be honest, the second anniversary of her death swamped me like a sneaker wave. I think my life was finally stable and safe enough for me not to guard against the onslaught. So it came, and it shook me in a way that grief had not in a long time.

And then Little A got sick, and life flipped around for me again: new fears and concerns. But as terrifying as some of what happened in 2008 was, there was always hope that it could get better. There were also little stretches of happiness and calm. And during one of those worry-free patches in June of last year, it occurred to me that I my ghost baby's estimated due date had passed unnoticed by me for the very first time.

For me, it took about two and a half years after the death to let go in a significant manner. I knew the change was real when the third anniversary of my daughter's angel day rolled around this December, and I didn't feel the need to write about it. I was busy taking my eldest child to a showing of the Nutcracker that day. It was an awesome day, not at all ruined by my knowledge of what had transpired three years before. If anything maybe that made it just a smidgen sweeter, by contrast.

These days I don't write so much about my babyloss grief journey because it mostly feels completed. When I get a pang, I dish. But most of my harangues revolve around other issues. And that feels right. I guess when it comes to grief, you just have to do what your gut tells you to do: Wallow when that's the only thing you crave, and then move forward when that starts to feel more like a rut than a catharsis.

Forgive the awkward segue, but this feeling of release is precisely what made my last conversation with the doctor so damn frustrating and ironic. Because I have done the work to get over this pain as much as I am likely capable of getting over it. And frankly, outside a doctor's office most days, I feel good -- so long as I'm not dealing with things that would make anyone wig out a bit, such as a sick kid or your own mystery illness. But one lasting tattoo of these experiences is my discomfort dealing with doctors. Discussing my medical history always makes me freeze up. I suck at distilling the story into dry, emotionless bullet points. Because all of the most noteworthy events in my medical life (the D&E, Little A's c section) revolve around medical errors or cascades of complications from medical errors.

Talking about someone else's mistakes or misinterpretations within the medical field is AWKWARD no matter how you go about it. And I never know how doctors will react, either: will they think I'm a raving lunatic? A liar? Somebody ready to sue the next doctor they run into? Or maybe I remind them of someone they accidentally hurt in the past -- their own mistake that haunts them. Any of these reactions is possible, but none of them are particularly helpful in getting me decent care.

Anyway, I think I need a do-over with that appointment with my doctor. Heh, THAT's gonna be a great conversation, when it eventually takes place ...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Boiling Frogs

I finally managed to see my primary care doctor yesterday about the stomach/back/belly pain I've been experiencing. Since I saw her partner for a sick appointment the last time, I had to bring her up to speed on the whole scenario of what happened and what tests I've had so far. Every test has been normal, yet the pains persist.

Of course she asked me what my level of stress has been. I said, "Heh," and briefly outlined what's been going on my personal life for the last three years. She gasped here and there, and stated that it sounded like a traumatizing level of stuff. In addition to giving me a referral to a gastroenterologist, she suggested I should take antidepressants and possibly seek more counseling, since I haven't gone to any therapy since right before Little A's birth.

I expected she'd refer me to a GI doc, but the antidepressant discussion totally threw me. I get that GI problems are often linked to anxiety and stress. I'm absolutely sure some part of my stomach problems are stress, given that they began around the time of Little A's lung CT scan. And I appreciate being asked how I'm coping.

BUT ... the thing is, my doctor didn't actually ask how I was doing. She just listened and said, "You look really sad and tired. And when you were just talking, your body was really tense. You just don't look well. I think you should seek psychological counseling and possibly medication to help your mental state."

"Um ... I am tired," I stammered. "I've been up since five a.m. with my sick toddler. And I'm in pain. For three months."

"Wabi," she said. "I worry that you're a boiling frog."

I wasn't aware of the analogy, so I asked her to explain it.

"If you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, he'll try to jump out immediately. But if you put him in a pot of cold water and warm it up gradually, you can boil that frog alive and he'll just lay there and let you."

My mouth dropped open. There was so much I wanted to say, but it was all jammed up behind a huge WHAT THE FUCK that had to come out first. So I just took the referral and left, mulling and simmering for the rest of the day.

Seriously though, WHAT THE FUCK?

1) Is she saying that I'm a retarded frog just happily paddling around the boiling water, completely oblivious to the roil? Because I kind of recall telling her that I was well aware I was under lots of stress.

2) Doesn't the frog die in either scenario of the analogy?

I bet I did look stressed telling about my life. But frankly, it would have been a little bit less awkward and, well, stressful if my doctor seemed to have any memory of our last exchange about these subjects. Because we've talked about my medical history before. Then I must have done a better job at keeping my voice from cracking, because the other time her reaction was, "SQUEEEEE! Weird medical mishaps -- tell me all the details!"

Which was also disconcerting. For different reasons.

I'm the first to admit that the last couple months I haven't been twirling on a mountaintop singing with Julie Andrews. Aside from a fabulous summer, 2008 sucked. And lord knows, I've got my scars and mental tics. But I also don't drink heavily, snort coke, or smoke anything. I don't beat the kids or daydream about driving my car into the ocean. I'm basically ok. Functionally disfunctional, and cracking jokes along the way. Enjoying the kids and trying my best.

I thought I was some sort of a success at this. Moving on and getting over. And then she went and decreed I wasn't. It made me wonder if I was completely dellusional -- am I just telling myself I'm ok, when I'm really hanging by a thread?

So ... What is your idea of "good mental health" after a trauma and a tragedy? Do you have to be able to talk about it 100 percent of the time without feeling it? Do you have to stop thinking about it, or just stop minding that you think about it?

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Big A flunked the eye exam at her five-year-old well visit with the pediatrician. No surprise to me, since I've noticed she now sits on the hardwood floor right in front of the TV rather than lounge on the comfy sofa ten feet away. World'sBestPediatrician referred us to a kid-friendly optometrist. WBP and I shared stories of getting our own glasses when we were kids to show Big A that glasses were normal.

Turns out Big A needs no convincing that glasses are neat. "I want to have glasses like Mommy and Daddy!" she shouts, "When can we go?" I am wondering if there might be some sort of replacement insurance one can buy for children's eyeglasses, since there must be 50 different ways she could crush her specs every day of the week.

Insurance musings were pretty much the beginning and end of my internal dialog about Big A's eyes. At least until I mentioned the optometry appointment to DH. Surprisingly, he seemed crestfallen at the news that Big A is nearsighted. He wondered if Big A was distracted during the eye test. Since then he has pointed out moments when he thinks Big A is seeing very well from beyond ten feet.

"What's the big deal? I asked him. "We both got glasses when we were in gradeschool."

"Yeah," he said wistfully. "But I had hoped she would be more perfect than us. Glasses mean she isn't, and that she'll have to deal with this for the rest of her life."

I get what he meant. Really, I do.

But the thing that popped into my head was we made one kid with an extra eighteenth chromosome, another with brittle asthma, and you're seriously sad about this one having 20/80 vision?

Somehow, it didn't seem appropriate to share at that moment. So I just changed the subject.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

2009 Resolutions

Oh, what the hell. Maybe I'll have better follow through if I put these out there:


1) Go for a walk every single day for the first 100 days of the year. This probably sounds totally lame to anyone who spins, swims, or runs on a regular basis. But I tend to lie around like veal in the winter months. Walking for the first 100 days of the year will probably net me many extra hours of exercise compared to normal. And then when I have my annual oh-my-God-it's-almost-swimsuit-season panic attack in April or May, I'll be in better shape to start exercising more strenuously at that point.

2) Organize my bedroom closet. They say a bedroom closet is a metaphor for what's going on in the rest of a person's life. That's so true for me -- mine has been a den of chaos since I became a mother. It seems like I never have anything to wear, yet the rack is so full I can't wedge another hanger in there.

Time to ruthlessly prune my wardrobe of everything I don't wear anymore. Even if I do manage to get back down to my prekid weight, those prekid work outfits I've been saving for years? Out of style. Likewise, I have tons of too-big clothing from early postpartum days. All of it needs to go.

3) Go to the dentist. It hit me the other day that I haven't had my teeth cleaned since my pregnancy woes began in 2005. I don't think this is a coincidence -- after my nearly two decades ago, I also stopped going to the dentist for a long time. I think there is something about the dentist experience that tweaks my sense of being vulnerable. Getting teeth cleaned makes me feel ... invaded. But, time to suck it up. I'm way overdue for a checkup.

4) Renew (or, depending on age/passport status) or apply for brand-new passports for everyone in the family. Currently it seems unlikely we'll have the extra money to go on any foreign adventures this year. But not having valid passports for everyone just ensures that we stay home. At least having the valid travel documents leaves the possibilities open for us. (You know, in case I inherit megabucks from some long-lost relative ...)

Wishing much resolve to others in the resolution boat!