Mountains Beyond Mountains

Last weekend, David and I took a little timeout from our sadness, quick trip over to the mountains. We stayed in Blowing Rock.  I haven’t been to this part of North Carolina since I was a young kid, and so it was nice to go back and remember what it felt like to be a kid in those places.  Everything seemed familiar, like I had been there before, but I couldn’t specifically recall precise memories associated with those places. When I came back to Chapel Hill and was talking to Sarah about the places, she reminded me of some funny stories that happened there (she was two years older than I was, after all).  Once, when we were in Blowing Rock, we were eating dinner in a restaurant owned by the parents of a guy that my aunt was dating.  Sarah kept repeating over and over again, when asked what she wanted to eat, “All I want is a big plate of corn,” because all day, Sarah had been saying how much she wanted to eat corn on the cob.

There are some places that I actively remember. I actively remember how much I loved Tweetsie Railroad, and how much Melissa would cry when the Indians would run through the train. I am actually dying to go back there if for no other reason to see if they have made their Wild West railroad show a little bit more politically correct and not cast the Native Americans in the role of the bad guys.  I also remember climbing the stairs at Mt. Mitchell and visiting my favorite place in the mountains when I was a kid, Little Switzerland.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit any of those destinations on this quick weekend trip. However, I was able to recall with sheer terror the Mile High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain.

We took Knightley with us for the weekend, so it was a real family trip visiting historic tourist stops like “The Blowing Rock” itself…

And of course, it should come as no surprise that bringing Knightley on the trip made life a bit more energetic and a lot more fun.

Poor David, who had also just broken his toe when Knightley tripped him walking down the stairs at our house, was a little exhausted at times from having an enthusiastic dog pull him all around.

We stayed in a nice little cottage at a pet-friendly inn  at the quaint town of Blowing Rock.

The next day, we visited Grandfather Mountain with my terrifying encounter with that swinging bridge.

Knightley and David were not as scared as I was and they led the way over to show me it was safe.

After that, we took some nice hikes, enjoyed the views of the mountain, and ate a nice picnic lunch. Knightley turned out to be quite the little rock climber.

Did I mention that we saw some bears and a cougar?

Note: the bears and the cougars were in enclosed conservation habitats on Grandfather Mountain.

All in all, we had a wonderful quick weekend that helped to get our mind off of other things and to remind us that there is so much beauty in the world that we have yet to experience.

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The Odds May Not Be In My Favor

I never read The Hunger Games series, but I saw the movie because David read the books and wanted to see it. I did not particularly enjoy it. I don’t need to watch teenagers killing each other, thank you very much. Been there, done that when I worked in the Bronx Family Court. Nonetheless, in the past ten days I keep repeating the oft said line from the movie, “May the odds ever be in your favor.”  It could be because that for the past few weeks, the odds have ever not been in my favor.

I feel like I need to offer another preamble to what is about to follow in this post.  In my last post, I explained the diagnosis I was given by my reproductive endocrinologist.  I wrote at the time that I put this on my blog because of the need for the cathartic experience of writing for me.  All of that is still true.  But this blog entry, I write for a different reason. I make this disclosure because I feel like it is important that sometimes people come forward and explain real life experiences that are ignored by political platforms and platitudes. As I have aged, I have learned one lesson time and time again, do not speak too broadly, because you can never know intimately the circumstances of someone else’s life.  I write this so that people can consider a practical effect of a politician’s rhetoric.

Because it is another presidential election year, we have once again the heightened circus of partisan politics that seems to bring out the most extreme in all of us.  This year we once again have the GOP adopting a party platform that would outlaw all abortions and extend 14th amendment protections to any “life” that starts at conception. We have GOP Senate candidates who would flunk basic biology classes when it comes to understanding of human anatomy stating that rape really shouldn’t be an exception to laws that would outlaw abortion. Finally, we also have new steam behind “personhood” movements in states to try to outlaw abortion and also other medical procedures by granting constitutional rights to a fertilized human egg (Mississippi was the first state where this was up for a vote, and fortunately, it failed). Actually, that isn’t so different from the GOP platform. Abortion platforms are rarely an issue upon which I give much thought, beyond the fact that I didn’t like that politicians think it is okay to infantalize women by believing that the government should have rights to dictate our healthcare. Today, the politicization of another woman’s healthcare choices has taken on a new meaning to me.

Here is my personal story. The day after we met with our doctor who explained to us how difficult it would be for me to get pregnant, David and I found out that I actually was, in fact, already pregnant. It seemed like a complete miracle to me. Two days later my pregnancy was confirmed at the doctor’s office.  I was cautiously optimistic. I knew this was a very early pregnancy and that with my issues, there would be a higher than average chance that I would miscarry (again the odds, not in my favor). Nonetheless, I was sure that this had to mean something. I had never had the experience of having a positive result for a pregnancy test.  This was more than I could have imagined. Two days later, my hopes came crashing down when on a subsequent blood beta HCG test, it was revealed that my HCG numbers were not doubling every two days as they should and were in fact not rising at all.  The nurse on the phone prepared me for the likelihood that my beta HCG numbers indicated that the pregnancy was not viable.  Two days later I was tested again and the numbers were still stagnant, stuck in the exact same place.  At this point in time, the doctors began speculating that I might have an ectopic pregnancy and that I would need to come in for an ultrasound and some additional testing.  That weekend, David and I took a short trip to the mountains to get away and get our minds off of the sadness of what we were feeling.  On Monday, when I went back to the doctor’s office again, I felt mentally prepared when I heard the news that my uterus in fact contained no embryo, and that for me, the best thing to do was to terminate the ectopic pregnancy.  Today, that is exactly what I did, with a dosage of methotrexate.

Ectopic pregnancies  in the fallopian tubes are never successful pregnancies, and in fact are life threatening to the woman carrying the embryo.  Many ectopic pregnancies resolve themselves on their own without medical treatment, but without treatment, an ectopic pregnancy can lead to a ruptured fallopian tube where the woman can hemorrhage and die.  In fact, ectopic pregnancies are still the leading cause of pregnancy-related death for women in their first trimester. For women who have to have surgical intervention to repair a damaged fallopian tube or to remove a fallopian tube in danger of rupturing (or that has ruptured), it can affect their fertility and their chances to have future pregnancies. For me, having a baby is my greatest hope for the future.  Because my fertility odds are already stacked against me, I want to everything that I can to maximize my ability to get pregnant and stay pregnant in the future.  I didn’t want to risk bleeding and dying either.

I know that many people point out that “life of the mother” is one of those clear abortion exceptions that would apply in this circumstance. Most reasonable people would believe that of course an ectopic pregnancy has to be terminated one way or another, and it isn’t a viable pregnancy anyway. Of course, sometimes politicians don’t consider the “life of the mother” to be an exception to a general prohibition on abortions, like in the Republican 2012 platform or those proposed personhood amendments.  In fact, some readings of the personhood amendments indicate that in the situation where a mother’s health was threatened by a pregnancy, that the physician would have to value both the life of the woman and a mass of replicating cells as equals.  But consider the more “moderate” position, that abortion should be banned except in the instance of rape, incest, or life of the mother.  In that case, who would be the one deciding when a pregnancy fit those conditions?  Would it be written into regulations? Would it be judges? Would you need a criminal conviction for rape before you could have permission to have an abortion?  Would Todd Akin be the arbiter of deciding whether or not a rape was “legitimate” or not?  Would a politician who doesn’t understand basic human anatomy be setting the rules? Would a woman in my situation have to wait until an ectopic pregnancy became “life threatening” and I was actively hemorrhaging in the emergency room before it could be resolved? Consider all of those factors and then consider this – not everyone agrees with the weight of medical literature and experience that an ectopic pregnancy is life threatening. Some people’s religious beliefs hold that the treatment that I received for my ectopic pregnancy is immoral and repugnant, and that I should have only allowed my fallopian tube to be removed as a morally acceptable equivalent (Even if it meant that I would never have the opportunity to have kids in the future! Thus, I must pay the price for my ectopic pregnancy by my continued sacrifice of fertility). Would the people who hold those religious beliefs be the ones making that decision for me?  Couldn’t I be trusted to make my own decisions based on my own moral and religious beliefs? Or do I need to be protected from myself because of the damage that weighing my potential medical treatments can have to my “health and well-being“?

For David and I, the past two weeks have been the biggest roller coaster of our lives. I had so many moments of utter grief and sadness.  Today, I have come out of this experience with greater hope moving forward.  I felt like my early diagnosis was a blessing for me because it has enabled me to resolve this ectopic pregnancy in a way that minimizes harm to me and that limits further damaging my fertility odds (I realize, that in approximately 10% of cases that methotrexate doesn’t resolve the ectopic issues entirely and further surgery is needed, but I am hoping the odds will be in my favor in that regard). I am grateful that I was able to resolve this in consultation with my doctor and with support from my loved ones. I am grateful for my ability to pray on the issue and feel comfort in that I was making the right decision for me.  Obviously, my own religious and moral beliefs were a guide to me.  Every woman should have that same right without outside political interference.

As Hillary Clinton said several years ago, abortions should be safe, legal, and rare. That is the goal we all should strive for and to achieve that, we need politicians that understand human anatomy enough to understand that greater sex education, access to contraception, and access to good quality prenatal care is what is needed to achieve that end.  Then, at the end of the day, every woman can feel empowered to make their own decisions based on their own beliefs and values.  It bothers me when people characterize pro-choice positions as being pro-abortion. That isn’t the case at all. It is pro a woman being able to evaluate her health options based on available information and her own values. If a Catholic woman wants to have her fallopian tube removed instead of receiving methotrexate, that should be her decision that she makes with a doctor who has informed her of the risks of both procedures. But that woman shouldn’t get to decide how I deal with the same set of facts and the sad recognition that for me, this pregnancy wasn’t viable.  If another person wants to stand in judgment about my health, then I view that as their problem, not mine.  For my part, I feel happier today knowing that I am able to turn all of the pain I felt this time about an unsucessful ectopic pregnancy into hope for getting pregnant and having a baby in the future. The odds of a successful pregnancy may still be stacked against me, but until my chances are 0%, I will be an optimist.

Old Souls

In case you are not familiar with spin off’s from TLC’s famous Toddlers and Tiaras series, there is this woman (mother to one of the pageant contestants) who is 32 years old and the mother of four daughters. She had the first when she was 15 years old, making her oldest daughter 17 now. Said oldest daughter is now expecting her first child making this woman at 32 years of age, a grandmother.  See this glorious woman for yourself.

This is the sort of demented thinking that I am experiencing these days. Upon watching this, I have two reactions:

1. Since I might not be capable of having children of my own, I feel like it is my God-given right in this moment when I am coming to terms with that fact, to point out all of the terribleness that I see with other people’s parenting.

2. Actually, this woman’s life choices might have been better than mine. Her choice to get pregnant at the age of 15 actually turns out not to be so bad from the point of view of a 34-year-old who is one of the 76 out of 100,000 women in my age group suffering from premature ovarian failure.  It is a special kind of pathetic when the choices of an unwed teenaged mother look better than my own.

For a long time I didn’t think that I was going to put any of this infertility stuff on my blog, because it is intensely personal and I didn’t want to seek out attention on something like this. I usually want to hide in the back of a room before talking about this to anyone, but I am introvert anyway. Even though this blog isn’t “private”, I know that no one who doesn’t know me reads it anyway, and for the people who do know me and read this, they probably know it is easier for me to write it than it is for me to talk about it. It always has been when it comes to me and my emotions. At today’s doctor’s appointment, I finally got the medical confirmation of what I felt like my body has unconsciously told me for a very long time, and that is that I have more rapidly come to the end of my good eggs than the average woman.  My levels of Antimüllerian hormone (AMH) are “undetectable” according to my doctor, meaning I have very few eggs left.  So now, our best hope of me getting pregnant is to try in vitro, where I stand about the same odds as women much older than me in actually getting pregnant.

As I said above, I had increasingly become consciously aware that my body had been telling me this for a long period of time. And now, I am able to see just how long my body was trying to give me this message, since from a biological standpoint, our bodies generally want us to reproduce and pass along our genes.

a. I have been impatient from even my earliest memories. I considered it a personal failing if I wasn’t the first kid in my class who finished a particular assignment or test. There hasn’t been a day in my life when I haven’t inwardly shouted to myself “HURRY UP!” at some point during the day. Maybe my impatience was born from my own body telling me that I don’t have time to waste.

b. I have always felt older than my given age and always felt more comfortable around people older than my own age group. I am not talking about the obnoxious freshman in high school who says, “I only hang around with the seniors,” but rather I mean that I always found myself most comfortable with people’s grandparents.  I have always been a big hit with my peers’ grandparents.  They love me! And now, this makes sense because my egg supply has always been on par with someone much older than me, so from a hormonal perspective, I always have been an old soul.

c. As a kid, I told my primary teacher, “I’m never having kids,” a shocking thing to say when you are a kid in the Mormon church. At the time I said that because I was convinced I was going to be a ballerina with the New York City Ballet during my childbearing years.  My body wasn’t suited for that either. Still, it turns out as a nine-year old, my sense of premonition was somewhat remarkable.

I know it is normal for women who have this diagnosis to feel some tremendous sense of guilt accompanying this diagnosis, because they feel like they waited too long to have kids. I certainly feel that way, but at the same time, I don’t see what I could have done to have kids at an earlier age. I am not this career-driven creature who delayed childbearing out of some desire to make it to the top of my chosen profession. In fact, part of me feels a little guilty at this point in time because I feel like I sacrificed a lot of my potential to do something great in my career so that I would be in the position to have a family, and now maybe those sacrifices don’t make as much sense. I could have done the Foreign Service years ago, or I could have made many different choices to make it to the top, but I didn’t because I wanted the chance to have a family if the opportunity ever presented itself. I feel like I would have needed to completely alter my personality for it to have been remotely possible for me to get married at an earlier age, and probably that marriage wouldn’t have been so happy because I wouldn’t have been myself.  I would never second guess the reason why David and I didn’t get married until we were 30.  Maybe I should have had more unprotected sex as a teenager?

This kind of second guessing obviously is not helpful. The only thing that is helpful at this point in time is enough money to pay for multiple rounds of in vitro, and hope and prayers that this may be possible in spite of the poor odds in my favor.  The hardest part of this for me is realizing that my own choices really have no control in this matter. Ultimately, I don’t have any control in the outcome of this, and I have to find peace either way. So, if in vitro doesn’t work, and it is more likely than not that it won’t work, then I have to be okay with that.  It is our best option, and that is better than doing nothing which is the only other option that I have. I wish there was some medicine that I could take that would magically make me have better eggs, but there isn’t.  So this is what there is.

I will be okay either way.

In My Dreams

I have mentioned before my paranoia as a kid. I have mentioned that I slept underneath enormous comforters and giant stuffed animals to try to protect myself against all of the possible things that could harm me while I was sleeping.  When I was a kid, I had many nightmares that caused me to wake up in the middle of the night, ensconced in my protective cocoon, frozen, afraid to move.  I liked to play dead under pounds of fabric as my safety mechanism.

I don’t know when it was when I stopped remembering my dreams, but I now hardly ever wake up with a cognition of what my dreams were. So when I wake up and vividly remember the nightmare that I had just experienced, it stands out. It happened to me this week. I had a crazy, scary dream that I was listening to the radio because NASA scientists had just made contact with extraterrestrial beings and were attempting to communicate with these beings, and these communication attempts were being broadcast on the radio.  I don’t know why this terrified me so much, but it did. I woke up in a cold sweat under the heavy comforter I still need to sleep under even in the middle of a North Carolina summer. I felt an additional weight pressing down on me.  It was Knightley, who was sleeping on top of my chest.  I don’t know why he chose to do that on that particular night, but that sensation of a heavy weight pressing down on my chest (Knightley isn’t the lightest little dog) was so calming after waking up terrified that there were aliens in my bedroom.  It made me feel safe.

I fell back asleep and whatever mental process is responsible for dreams was kind to me. Instead of my dreams greeting me with more frightening sounds and images, I dreamt that I was at the doctor’s office and the doctor told me I was pregnant. I woke up actually remembering that dream too.  It was crazy to me to have two dreams on the same night that were entirely memorable for completely opposite reasons, but I guess that is just the way my subconscious works.  I appreciate that in my dreams it doesn’t matter that my uterus lacks the perfect symmetry and perfection of the “golden ratio” (If you need a little help remembering how important the “golden ratio” is to nature, that second link is to Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land, which we loved to watch as kids).

Cake Walked Goodbye

A couple of weeks ago, we sent off a very good friend to her new job in Alabama with a birthday/farewell celebratory cake party.  I have been wanting to host my own Cake Walk party for quite some time. You see, when I was a kid at McArthur Elementary School we had a spring carnival every year. Year after year, there was only booth that was of any interest to me – the cake walk booth. I would spend all of my tickets walking in a circle, trying to win a cake. I never did.  I was always confused when people used the expression “such a cake walk” to describe something incredibly easy. Sure, it may be easy to walk in a circle but actually winning a cake is very tough! So now that I am an adult and more in control of things, I thought I certainly would win in a cake walk that I organized.

And so, I baked four cakes, and then the party revellers brought cakes of their own. The rules were easy. When your number is called, you win a cake, and you have the option of deciding whether we could eat the cake now or  you take it home for later. There were so many cakes to choose from!

Wouldn’t you know it? My cake walk failures have continued, even into adulthood.  Not only did I not win, but I came in third from last! That means almost everyone else got to pick out a cake before me.

But maybe I was the real winner, because as it turns out, no one picked my Lane Cake that I baked (it is the white cake in the center of the picture above). So yes, I selected my own cake, and I felt like a winner, because I know that cake is pretty much the best cake ever. Also, the Lane Cake was even more fitting for the occasion, because it is a cake that was born in Alabama.  Haven’t you ever read To Kill a Mockingbird? (FYI: I use the Cook’s Country recipe for Lane Cake.)

So, I let my winning Lane Cake become Tracy’s birthday cake for the evening.

I think what is important to remind myself here, is that more than the thousands of calories of sugar that was consumed that evening, the real main event for the evening was everyone coming to express best wishes for Tracy in her future life in Alabama.  We will all miss her very much.

Cake Walk, one of these days I will conquer you!

Frog Days of Summer

This blog has been neglected for several weeks as I have been forced to come to the realization that summer is rapidly drawing to its conclusion. It is has been hot now in North Carolina for what seems like 524 years, so I am not entirely saddened by the approach of the start of the school year and the fall.

A few weeks ago I was up in Boston for the annual meeting of the American Association of Law Libraries. What happens at those conference does not bear repeating on a blog (in part because I don’t want to bore the five people who read this blog). The best part of the conference is always having the ability to catch up with old friends while I am there. This year, I had the added bonus of being able to see my fantastic friend Katie and her family, since the conference was being held where she resides. We spent a pretty perfect Boston day in the parks and green spaces of downtown Boston.  This was in fact, the only time I snapped any pictures during my stay in Boston, and I did it with my iPad.

We played in the Frog Pond and rode the swan boats in Boston Common:

I was also treated to little C’s performance art interpretation of sculptures we passed along our meandering walks:

Having to go to boring meetings is certainly made more tolerable by spending time with great people. When I am able to spend time with Katie, I feel like myself again. I feel so lucky to have some pretty great friends in my life.