Saturday, December 13, 2014

Perspective- what a difference time makes

Last year at this time, we were hopeful that Joe would get a new job after about 6 months of unemployment. Then we found out in an extremely unprofessional manner that he didn't get the job. The whole situation was quite a blow to our little family. And then he lost his unemployment benefits. There was some hope because of a refinance we were able to secure for our home, but we still questioned how we were going to make it through financially.

But we did. Last Christmas was full of generous people choosing to selflessly share their abundance with our family. It was humbling, touching, and amazing. In fact, it was the best Christmas I ever remember having. Still, our trials weren't over.

And, of course, even though I found a job and Joe later found a job, we have had trials this year as well. Having your identity stolen is not something I would wish on anyone (except maybe the person who stole mine, although I suspect her identity is not much worth stealing).

I remember when Joe lost his job and we had to exercise a lot of faith. We figured we'd exercised sufficient faith and were ready for our trial to be over. What a joke that was! Trying to tell God you've learned your lesson is much like trying to hold back the ocean.

We are feeling much more stable as a family this year. We got to spend so much time together last year and for part of this year that the very limited time we had together as a family once we both got jobs seemed grossly inadequate. I missed my husband. And yet, we did what we had to do to provide for our family, hoping that there would be an end to opposite schedules and a chance to have more time together to connect. While our schedules are still not ideal, we are finding that we finally do have more time together, and we are grateful for it.

Joy is surprising and amusing us every day. She is learning so much that I think if I was away from her for a week, I might go into shock at how different she'd be upon my return than she was when I left.

Sometimes I think about how much she is changing and wonder how much I am changing. Am I growing and developing in ways that I am unrecognizable to those who only knew me in the past? I am pretty sure that in many ways that answer is yes. And that's a good thing. While that growth was often squeezed forcefully out of me as I was thrust into challenging situations, I am able to look back and see the good that came from bad situations. I am able to ponder and reflect on things from a different angle that I would not consider before.

When I look at old photos of myself, I suspect that the past-me would not recognize the current-me or even begin to comprehend how she could get to this point. But I guess that's what you get when you grow as you live your life.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Secondary infertility and PCOS

These are topics that have been on my mind a lot lately for various reasons. But I realized that some well-meaning folks may not know a lot about one or both of these topics, so I figured I would do a quick post as a sort of PSA for anyone who might stumble across my blog.

Secondary infertility is the inability to conceive once you have had a child before. This difficulty can come for many reasons. But just because someone has been able to get pregnant before does not mean that person will have an easy time getting pregnant again.

I learned during my own struggles that my mother had difficulty conceiving her first child, just like I did. She got pregnant after using Clomid, just like I did. And then, as far as I know, she didn't have any difficulty conceiving the rest of the clan.

I, on the other hand, have a 3-year-old daughter and occasional conversations with well-meaning folks who ask when we're going to have another child. Please, please, please reconsider before asking people this question. It really isn't anyone's business but the family's whether or not they will be adding to it. Sure, you're curious and you want to know the information, but it can hurt. After all, I've had one child, so I therefore should be able to have more, right? Forget the fact that it took several years to get pregnant and get past the first few weeks of pregnancy. Forget the fact that I had to be put on Progesterone after finally getting pregnant to keep from miscarrying again. Forget the fact that I ended up in the hospital at 9 weeks pregnant, closer to death than I realized, due to a blood clot that had broken off from my legs and traveled to my lungs, filling both with clots and making it impossible for my body to get enough oxygen. Forget the hospital stay and surgery and tests. Forget the fact that my entire pregnancy was full of injecting myself in the stomach two-- and eventually three-- times a day with blood thinner so I wouldn't die, as well as a ridiculous number of blood draws to test the blood thinner level in my blood and run tests. Forget my high number of doctor's visits due to my high risk pregnancy. Forget the 9 months of nausea and vomiting in addition to all that other fun stuff. Forget my terrible delivery experience after my terrible pregnancy experience to top things all off. Forget the late-onset post-partum depression I suffered and everything that came with that long-lasting nightmare. Forget whether or not I WANT to possibly go through any or all of that again. 

Forget all of that. Just know that the reason I'm not pregnant right now has nothing to do with not wanting another child. 

I am currently suffering from secondary infertility. 

Phew. Just saying that-- just putting that out there-- is scary and freeing and heartbreaking. It is the first time I have worded like that, even to myself, despite the fact I knew that was what was going on.

Just like before I was able to conceive Joy, I celebrate pregnancies and births with happiness for my friends. But just like before, they are each reminders of my body's current failures. Just like before, I answer well-meaning friends and acquaintances politely when they ask when/if we're going to have another child. But just like before, those questions stab me in the gut. 

My secondary infertility is a side effect of my PCOS. My PCOS was also a contributing factor to my infertility before. So, yes, in theory, if I can get it under control somehow, I may no longer be infertile. One of the best ways to treat PCOS is through weight loss. When you have PCOS, losing weight is extremely difficult. Gaining weight can happen very easily, though. When you have PCOS, your hormones are out of whack. When your hormones are out of whack, your body does not work as a well-functioning machine. 

Don't get me wrong. I am truly grateful for my family the way it is now. My daughter is what I call my miracle child. Being born after a loss, she is also my rainbow baby. I'm not sure if my family is complete now or not, but time will tell.

Be kind to people around you. We are all fighting our own battles. Some are more visible than others, but those that can't be seen aren't any less battles than those that can. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

So I guess I should write something...

I haven't updated my blog in forever. In part because I don't like to hear myself whine and in part because it's a lot easier to just write something in my private journal or on Facebook. But I know not everyone is on Facebook and that no one is able to read my private journal. So I finally decided during these moments of quiet to write something (Joy is sleeping and Joe is getting the oil changed in my car and picking up a few groceries).

"Well, what the heck is going on with you these days?" you might ask. A lot and a whole lot of nothing at the same time, likely.

Joe and I are knee deep in the job hunt game. Interview-wise, he is currently having more luck than I am. Random-job wise, he is also having more luck. I did help a friend clean out her fridge and she paid me 20 bucks for the hour-and-a-half it took me. I kept thinking how much I should probably do that with our own fridge. I also have another friend who introduced me to one of her co-workers who was looking for a cat sitter. I have watched said cats on a few different occasions now. The pay is pretty good. Other than that, I'm still delivering papers and selling Origami Owl (www.debrapants.origamiowl.com if you're interested). But none of those things are long-term solutions. They were plans to help put a little extra money toward bills and savings and vacations back when Joe had a job. Now that he doesn't have a job, the money is being put toward bills, but there are many more bills than there is money to put toward it since his unemployment has now officially run out.

Yes, that leads me to the bulk of what has been on my mind since finding out the news. But to give a little background first. With the downturn of the economy, people and the government learned that 6 months of unemployment just wasn't enough for many people to help cover bills until they were back on their feet. Emergency funding was approved with an expiration date that extended the unemployment benefits. I'm not sure what the absolute longest is that someone could be on it, but when I was unemployed not-by-choice before getting pregnant, I was on it for a year before they took it away. And believe me, I was still looking for lots of jobs during that year! Most of my interviews were with staffing agencies to get me signed up with them. And most of them I never heard from after that. But I digress. When the expiration date for the emergency funding came, Congress approved an extension of benefits, as the economy was still in the crapper. This happened more than once since the funding was initially approved. And it just happened again. In the past, so I've heard, Congress has let the program expire before renewing it or changing it or whatever they did. I mean, why not? It's not like they have to worry how they're going to pay the bills and where they're going to sleep at night. And, so I've heard, those who lost the benefits were able to get back-pay of benefits. But I'm sure that time between was tough for them. I know it's tough for us.

And, of course, we don't KNOW that we will be eligible for any more unemployment. What gets me the most is that Joe spoke with someone in early or mid December to verify how long he would have unemployment benefits. He did this because we were starting to consider our "options." These options aren't exactly good for our financial health or my stress levels, but we wondered if we had reached the point where we should walk away from our house and move in with family until we could get back on our feet. You see, we are upside-down in our house by about 50K right now, so selling it isn't exactly an option. During the time Joe has been unemployed, our bills have exceeded the money we have had coming in by approximately $1000 a month. But we had savings and figured that if the money coming in and going out stayed consistent, we could last for about a year unemployed. So when Joe called the unemployment office and was told he'd have benefits for a year, we were relieved. Only that wasn't the case.

We are at a crossroads. We could borrow against our retirement savings because of this emergency, buying ourselves another couple months to live before being in terrible shape still and then being without options. Or we can move. Of course, Joe could also get a job, or I could get a job, or we both could get a job, and then we could stay here. But we only have so long before we cannot afford the bills anymore if that doesn't happen. And even if I get a job (which several people have been so kind as to send me job leads, but most are for jobs paying less than $13 an hour), unless it is by itself enough to pay the bills (spoiler alert: it won't be unless it pays approximately $5 an hour more than the most I've ever made at a job before), we would still be in this predicament. Joe can make enough, even if he takes a pay cut, to pay the bills and allow me to continue to be a stay at home mom. Washington state has one of the highest childcare costs in the nation to go along with its high cost of living. So there's that fun factor to take into account.

And here we are. Currently, we're playing a bit of a waiting game while still looking for jobs. We're waiting on Congress. We're waiting on this company Joe interviewed with before Christmas to let him know where he stands. We're waiting to hear back from other companies we've spent countless hours applying for jobs with. And while we wait, if time runs out, we need to start selling our belongings, packing, and walk away from the house.

But, in the meantime, we have received a lot of blessings at Christmastime. Family, friends, and strangers have shown us support in different ways. We are so grateful for and appreciative of that! We hope this next year is kinder to us, even though we aren't off to a good start yet!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Problem with Parrots

Joy likes to repeat things she hears. This isn't anything new. Luckily, I have been more aware of things I'm personally saying and have watched myself more since she came around.

Sometimes, she hears things from TV shows or other people and repeats them.

At times, those repeats shock me. "Let's play tag!" she announced one day, when we'd never played it before. I'm not sure who introduced tag to her, but she hadn't been around anyone a day or two prior that I figured would have played with her. Was it a TV show? I have no idea.

Recently, as we were out for a walk and she didn't want to head home, I decided to tell her, "You can't catch me!" and speed walk to distract her. It worked. She giggled as she hurried behind me, finally tagging me and calling me "it." But before long, she decided she wanted to play "Hide and Go Seek," which was another game she brought up that I had no idea she knew what it was. Granted, she tends to play it more like Peek-a-Boo than Hide and Go Seek, but I was surprised she'd heard of it anyway. She stopped at a bush and called out, "One, two, three, four, five... ready or not, here I come!" Joe and I were cracking up.

Those parroting moments bring me a lot of entertainment. But what bothers me is when she hears on her TV shows or wherever else things I'd rather she didn't say. Hearing her parrot the Lord's name in vain makes me cringe. I have sat down with her and told her that while some people say that, we don't. And I tell her why. I even give her an alternate thing to say, such as, "Oh my goodness!" I think it has finally gotten through to her, because I haven't caught her saying that for a while, when it seemed to be a regular thing for a while there.

What are some of her favorite exclamations right now? "I did it! I did it!" And this is usually followed by an, "I did it all by myself!" She's so proud of her accomplishments, from finishing a puzzle, eating her food, putting her toys away, or something else. She also likes, "That is so amazing!" or some other similar exclamation using the word. She likes to exclaim about how "high" or "tall" or "big" or "beautiful" or "cute" things are as well, often with an enthusiastic "Wow!" thrown in there.

Sometimes I wish I could keep her in a bubble.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Doors and windows

A ton has been going on in the past couple months for our family. Around the beginning of May, I had a cold. But right around the time I was supposed to be feeling better, I noticed some symptoms I haven't had the other bazillion times I've had colds in the past 12 months. I was worried I might have pneumonia or bronchitis, so I went to the doctor's office on Friday before Mother's Day. She assured me I had neither and sent me off with a prescription for antibiotics "just in case."

Because I'm not one to go to the doctor demanding drugs, nor am I one to take antibiotics "just in case", I hung on to them. But the day after Mother's Day when things weren't getting better, I decided to go ahead and take them. I just had a feeling my doctor was wrong and it wasn't something that would just go away on its own.

Fast forward almost a month (yes, I'm serious) and several phone calls and doctor appointment, and I wasn't any better. In some ways, I was actually worse. At that point in time, I had gone through one round of antibiotics, been given a regular inhaler and a steroid inhaler, put on steroids, put on a cough medicine, told I was having an asthma attack (for days, apparently, if that was what was actually going on), puked countless times from coughing so hard, and lots of other fun stuff. My doctor, who up until that point in time had insisted I didn't have pneumonia without running any tests, had done no tests whatsoever. She had listened to my lungs and checked my ears and nose and throat, and that was about it. Oh, and written or called in prescriptions (although technically an on-call doctor called in a prescription for an inhaler over the weekend one Sunday because of my difficulty breathing and hopes that something like that would help).

So, my doctor finally ordered a test. But it wasn't a simple chest x-ray or lab work or anything like that. It was a $850 (my portion, anyway) chest CT.

Then she told me I had a "nodule" that was about 8.5 cm in my lungs. Turned out a week later that there had been a typo and it was only 8.5 mm. I thought the crisis was over. But she still wanted me to see a pulmonologist, so I had an appointment scheduled with one for today, not sure if I really needed to see one.

Then Joe got laid off from his job right before July started. We're baffled as to why, but we are looking at it as a blessing in disguise. We have cut expenses and are making ends meet and trying not to dip into our emergency savings, but he also got a severance check from work. Luckily, we still temporarily have insurance coverage, which will cover today's appointment.

So, I went in to see the pulmonologist, hoping and almost sure he'd say the issues I was having were due to pneumonia (yeah, that turned out to be what my doctor diagnosed me with after the chest CT) and that the nodules were nothing to worry about. But he can't say that without further testing. Because of the location of the nodule, a biopsy wouldn't be easy to do. So I had blood drawn to test for Valley Fever and will have a PET scan done sometime next month, and then I'll have a follow-up appointment with him. Fun stuff. Basically, he's looking to see if the nodule in question (and others in my lungs) are due to an active infection or if they are left over from some old infection but are inactive. Once he has that information, he'll know what he wants to do for the next step.

So, for now, as I've been doing since the beginning of May, I wait. I am glad that I was given a second round of antibiotics when the doctor found out it actually WAS pneumonia and started feeling better almost immediately. I haven't puked for probably between 2 and 3 weeks now. I'm breathing better and using my inhaler less frequently.

So some doors are closing and windows are opening and hopefully answers will be found soon. Things may be changing drastically here in the near future. We shall see.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Abercrombie & Fitch, rape, chastity, money, and weight

I've had jobs ever since I was young to teach me responsibility and earn a little money. Delivering free local newspapers while still in elementary school was a venture forced upon me that embarrassed me to no end. Babysitting for money became my next source of cash flow. And then when I turned 16 and got my first minimum wage job, I thought I had really made it. I was able to spend money on myself and get things I'd been denied up to that point by my penny-pinching parents.

Despite my mom's warnings to save my money and cautions that I would never have this much disposable income again in my life, I spent every dime I didn't donate to my church in the form of tithes.

And I liked it.

I thought spending money helped me fit in with my richer friends. I thought it helped me dress better, as I was able to start buying my own clothes versus wearing hand-me-downs and whatever my mom was willing to buy for me as my back-to-school outfit. Miller's Outpost and Clothestime and other trendy stores became some of my go-to places for shopping. I even started buying cookies from the snack cart between classes and supplementing my lunch money allowance when I went with my richer friends off-campus for subs, pasta, and other fast foods.

These spending habits followed me to college, where I was even more desperate to feel included after all my old high school friends and I were on different paths. I was so alone, and I just wanted to fit in. So from day one, I tried. Now Urban Outfitters and their $50 shirts and other clothes I couldn't afford became my personal "must haves." In fact, as I watched The Host in theaters some weeks ago, I spent part of the movie fixated on the fact that the weird mesh-y top the main character wore was IDENTICAL to one I had purchased at Urban Outfitters around 1999 or 2000. Talk about weird. I'm not even sure what I thought was cool about that top in the first place. But it was at Urban Outfitters, so it must have been cool.

Before I went to Italy in 2001, I bought a little pair of tennis shorts and a form-fitting t-shirt at Abercrombie and Fitch. In fact, I purchased the outfit while shopping with my would-be rapist. I was spending time that afternoon with him walking around the mall and getting some last-minute items for my 6-week study abroad program. He was a co-worker I was playing Good Samaritan for since he'd gotten intoxicated off Chili's margaritas and other miscellaneous alcoholic beverages that he started drinking with his lunch while eating in my assigned section of the restaurant (and I think I therefore felt at least partially responsible). I didn't want him behind the wheel, and taking him to the mall with me while I ran errands and he sobered up was the first of several suggestions he was willing to agree to.

The clothes were a poor choice not only because the shorts were shorter than anything I should have been wearing but also because they were ridiculously over-priced for what I was getting. A lot of those clothes I bought at stores like Abercrombie and Fitch just didn't last long before they started falling apart. But that didn't matter. I was buying a name brand. I was buying into the hype of what was "cool."

I was wearing that newly purchased outfit later that night when he picked me up and forcefully carried me to my bedroom where he raped me.

I got rid of that outfit. I haven't shopped at Abercrombie and Fitch since then. Perhaps the memories tied with that store were tainted for me, and definitely those tied with the shorts and shirt were. Then again, perhaps I stopped shopping there because I realized it just didn't matter any more.

I comfort-ate instead of addressing the rape and prolonged my healing process by refusing to acknowledge the significance of that event in my life. I am far from healed from it, but I am more self-aware, which is a start. I have learned that I became terribly self-loathing after the rape. I blamed myself instead of the perpetrator. I told myself if I wouldn't have served him alcohol, if I wouldn't have refused to let him drive his car home, if I wouldn't have gone shopping with him until he sobered up, if I wouldn't have let him into my home when he stopped by that evening and I was temporarily alone, if I wouldn't have worn that outfit or some other such drivel, that I somehow could have and should have prevented that rape from occurring.

In short, I was making myself responsible for his choices. I was making myself responsible for his actions. I was saying that at that moment in time, I became too attractive a prey for that predator to keep his hormones or need for power or whatever it was that drove him to act in check, and I was therefore at fault for whatever conspired.

I brought myself up on charges, found myself guilty, sentenced myself to endless suffering, and threw away the key without even a second thought. 

And yet, I never once laid the blame squarely or even mostly on him, where it belonged. Where it belongs.

Then I attended a Gestalt therapy group. The group leader asked for volunteers to be "worked on." As I sat among the roomful of strangers casting curious looks at each other and trying to guess the next volunteer, I nervously raised my hand before I could talk myself out of it. I had no idea what I was going to say. I was asked what I wanted to be "worked on" for that evening. Unsure myself what the plan was from here, I opened my mouth, and the story of the rape and my guilt came tumbling out through rivers of tears. Surely, here, I would be strung up from the rafters for all to spit upon.

Instead, I was assigned the task to face the males in the group, one at a time, and repeat to each one while looking him in the eyes that I was not responsible for my rapist's actions and the rape wasn't my fault. I cannot describe how incredibly difficult it was to look into the faces of these strangers and give voice to words I did not believe to be true.

In fact, if I must confess, sometimes I still don't believe them to be true. I have struggled to figure out just why. And I believe this is partially because of the church lessons on virtue (apparently synonymous with chastity) and modesty that were taught and the messages received by me as a result of those lessons: namely, the primary responsibility for the sexual interactions between a male and a female fall on the shoulders, cleavage, thighs or other arousing anatomy of the female. I was therefore taught indirectly that what it means to be a girl is to supposedly have power to take away someone's agency with how I look, if I am not dressed modestly enough. Yes, only that extra fabric stands between a boy and his agency. However, at 21 years old, I was still trying to figure out who I was. I knew I wanted to be and was supposed to be beautiful and attractive to men. But I was left to figure out on my own what exactly that vague yet cryptic message meant. I knew that the confusing and erroneous societal ideas of what beautiful and attractive should look like at any given moment were often not in line with what I figured to be okay and not okay from my religious teachings. I had a slew of conflicting messages coming my way, and I was desperate to sort them out for myself.

One thing I did know after my rape was that I didn't want to attract that kind of attention again. I needed to get rid of my prettiness. I didn't think I really had to worry about how desirable I was as a person, because my worth was gone. I was destroyed by this action. But sexual predators were still out there, lurking somewhere. I didn't want to be prey anymore. I hid myself away. I coped terribly. I developed a binge eating disorder that plagues me to this day. I covered my emotions up with food, mistaking the satisfaction of a pleasurable eating experience with contentment. I assured myself I was fine when that was far from the truth.

And yet, someone occasionally was attracted to me anyway. One by one, I pushed suitors away, sure they would leave when they saw the whole truth of the ugliness that was me behind the mirage I was sure they must have been seeing. Finally, when I was brave enough to share my story with someone who had the ability to turn and run and break my heart from doing so, he stayed. I was lucky that way.

Still, I have those thoughts. And I now also have the unfortunate negative consequences of my reluctance to acknowledge the gravity of the situation and its impact on my life. Sometimes I push people away, sure they'll leave once they know the real me. And some gladly clock out and turn tail at the first push. Some leave on their own accord. Precious are those who know the whole truth and have still stayed. For it is they who I believe really know ME.

THIS is how those messages hurt me. They hurt me as much as, if not more than, the rape itself. I am trash. I am ugly. I am worthless. Those are my new messages now.

But I'm fighting against the messages. I am fighting against the lies. I know we all have the ability to change our thoughts, to change our beliefs (even those that are so erroneous and damaging which we stubbornly cling to anyway), and to change our actions.

Of course, as a student of human behavior, I realize we can greatly influence the actions of others. I think this is the other reason why I continue to hold myself responsible for my rape at times. I know that how we interact with others affects how they in turn interact with us. And not all these interactions are verbal, physical, or even in person. Advertisers know this. Politicians know this. Great salespeople know this.

Abercrombie and Fitch knows this. And they think their marketing and selections will work in their favor. Perhaps some people will buy their clothes more now that they know the CEO has spoken out against anyone size XL or larger. Perhaps they will believe the brand is more "exclusive" than some other alternatives, thinking supporting it will include them in the ranks of the "cool" and "popular" and "thin" crowd. Perhaps not. I know that I don't have the choice right now, so it's easy to say I will never wear their clothes again. But the strong part of me who is writing this knows I won't.

It's not because of my rape, either. I'm just not interested in immodest clothing anymore. I'm not interested in spending hard-earned money on clothing that isn't more durable. I'm not interested in supporting brands that tell you that you have to be a certain way or you have no worth. I've had enough of those lies for a lifetime.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Girl chores versus boy chores

I have a pretty great husband. He isn't the best at taking initiative in helping out around the house with things that need to be done, but he is more than willing to help out when I ask him to. I have to admit, I laugh when I ask him if he can swing by the grocery store and ask for something and what would be a quick stop for me is a challenge for him. I tend to receive phone calls from him while he's at the grocery store asking for some sort of clarification, no matter how extensive my directions to him are before he leaves the house.

I've learned that there were certain things he grew up not even learning how to do because he was a boy. Likewise, there were chores he did that his sisters didn't have to do because they were girls.

The idea is kind of fascinating to me. Why can't a girl learn how to change a tire, change her oil, mow the lawn, pick up dog poop in the yard, or take out garbage cans? Likewise, why can't a boy learn how to change a diaper, cook, wash dishes, sew a button, or do the laundry?

I commented on Facebook last night that I had just mowed for the first time in probably 3 years. I've mowed at our house, but I don't think I have since I got pregnant or since our daughter was born. Partly because someone has to keep an eye on her, and that is usually me. And it's not exactly easy for a pregnant lady to mow, I'm sure. I know it's somewhat unusual for women to mow, but it's not something that should be delegated to men.

In fact, I decided that as I had time and energy and the ability to do so, instead of just asking my husband to do certain chores, I would do them myself. I'm a capable person. I don't like feeling like I'm constantly giving him things to do around the house, either. If it's something I haven't done in a long time, like mowing, my skills may be a bit rusty and could use some refreshing. And if it's something I haven't ever done before but could learn how to do it just as easily as he could, I might as well learn that new skill.

So I guess I have to make a general list of things to be done around the house, and whoever gets to each of the items first will take care of it.