Friday, February 29, 2008

Times Two and Three .... and I Don't Mean Math

The second time I encountered the concept of surrogacy was after I was married, while Blaine and I were initially trying to conceive, ourselves. I have a cousin who, by the time she was sixteen, had not yet started her period. Her mother took her to their family doctor, who discovered this girl had been born without a uterus. Of course the first thing that comes to mind is that a permanent loss of fertility is a pretty big issue for a sixteen year old to have to deal with. My mom told me that tests had revealed my cousin had normal working ovaries, so she could produce eggs, she would just never be able to carry a pregnancy. My mom said, very matter of fact, “So both her mom and her sister have already offered to carry for her if she ever wants them to.” And I thought to myself, “Of course. I would too, if she needed me to.” It just seemed *natural* to me, to want to help someone else like that if you were able.

And the third time was when Blaine and I were in the throes of treatment. We kept trying procedure after procedure, medication after medication; it had been years of treatment so far, all to no avail. The doctors never found anything seriously wrong, but never had any success getting us pregnant, either. One night our phone rang and it was a friend of mine from high school. Her voice shook a little and she said she had something serious she wanted to talk about with me. She then went on to tell me that she and her husband had discussed it at length, and she would like to offer to be a surrogate for us if we needed it. She told me how nervous she was to make the call, and she didn’t want to pry into our business, but that she had given it great deal of thought and was willing to do that in order for us to become parents.

After I got over my shock, I discussed it with Blaine, and we agreed: her offer was overwhelming and kind-hearted and sincere. But bottom line, we didn’t NEED a surrogate. At least not yet. Surrogacy is a wonderful option for people who have run out of traditional medical treatments, and that wasn’t us. We still had treatments we could try. There was no reason we knew of that I couldn’t carry, and I wasn’t ready yet to give up on my dream of becoming pregnant myself. We were still considering adoption, if we couldn’t get pregnant. Simply put, we hadn’t reached that point in our own journey yet. But I always remembered her gesture and offer. I thought it was probably the kindest thing anyone would ever do for me.

Then we met Brayden’s birthmom and received a gift even kinder and more generous that would at last, after years of frustration and sadness, allow us to become parents.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Tiny People ... and I Don't Mean Babies

Although there are possibly more than three, I have three distinct memories of times and places when I encountered the word “surrogate”. I’m not even sure when in my adult life these things happened, I just remember them happening, and clearly remember my knee-jerk reactions.

The first time was an episode of Oprah …. Although I think I was probably married by then, I don’t think Blaine and I had started trying to have kids. On her show, Oprah had two women as guests …. I think they might have been sisters, or best friends, or something. There was definitely a connection between the two. One of them either couldn’t get pregnant, or couldn’t maintain a pregnancy, so the other (I really think it was her sister) was serving as her gestational surrogate.

Ok, so here’s a little bit of a crash course in surrogate terminology: Being a “gestational” surrogate means a woman carries a child that is not biologically her own. She undergoes in vitro fertilization, and the embryo(s) that are transferred into her uterus are made from the egg and sperm of two other people. Typically, it is the egg and sperm of the couple she is carrying for … the Intended Parents, or IP’s. Occasionally, there might be an egg donor, or even more rare, a sperm donor, but for the most part, it is usually the biological child of the IPs.

Now, that’s not to be confused with a “traditional” surrogate ... a traditional surrogate is a woman who carries to term a child that is biologically her own, usually fertilized with the sperm of the Intended Father (IF) and then allows another person(s), again, called the Intended Parents, to adopt that child. And before anyone might jump to any inappropriate conclusions about surrogates having sex with men who aren’t their husbands (Why yes, it appears the "comedies" coming out of Hollywood about surrogates are not only inaccurate, they are not even funny, unless you enjoy the stereotyping ...) let me be quick to reassure you, that is NOT how it works. These women monitor their ovulation, and then are inseminated (I know, it sounds so cattle-ish, but that’s the correct term and I’m nothing if not technical) with the sperm, either in doctor’s offices, or at home with special insemination kits. These women are not “baby factories” or anything disgusting like that. They are simply agreeing, out of the kindness and caring and compassion of their huge, huge hearts, to provide children for couples, who for some reason, cannot make their own embryos. In the world of surrogacy, at least the world that I have encountered, the majority of surrogacies are gestational, yet for some reason people’s minds normally assume traditional. I’m not sure why, but that’s the experience I have had, at least.

So, back to Oprah. The sister (yes, I’m positive it was her sister) was a gestational surrogate, carrying her own biological niece or nephew, for her sister who couldn’t carry for herself. I remember watching the show and thinking, “Yep, seems pretty straight-forward to me.” But I also remember the reactions, quite a few of them negative, of the audience members. Now, I understand that drama and conflict make for better television, so chances are the vast majority of the audience felt as I did, that it was a generous, kind, empathetic thing for one person to do for another ---- but of course the only women who got microphone time were the ones who didn’t agree.

“That’s un-natural and immoral.”

“How can you just GIVE UP your baby like that?”

“If God wanted them to have children, he would have made it so she could get pregnant. You’re messing with the natural order of things.”

The surrogate/aunt was calm and rational, and tried explaining to these people that she wasn’t GIVING UP anything. First of all, the baby wasn’t hers to give up. She went on to say she considered herself like an early babysitter … .just taking care of her niece or nephew until it was born, at which point his mother and father would care for the baby, just like normal. And as far as the GOD argument against surrogacy goes … well …. To really simplify things, what exactly would you call the story of Mary? Or any of the other surrogate births in the Old Testament? But I'm not going off on a theological tangent, so we'll end it there ...

No matter how logical and sound and rational *I* found her arguments, the audience members (or again, at least the ones getting camera time) did not. And I remember being so annoyed with those small-minded people, who couldn’t see a true miracle when it was staring them right in the face.

Geez, some people are really tiny inside, know what I mean?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Once Upon A Time .... aka A Surrogacy Story, In Installments, Because You Know How Long-Winded I Am.

When I found out I was pregnant with Kellen, totally and completely unexpectedly, four months after Brayden was born, I was so stunned I didn’t know how to react, and couldn’t quite take pleasure in the pregnancy. The pregnancy went fine, smoothly and with no problems -- unless you count gaining SIXTY pounds a problem, thank you Mrs. Eat Anything That Is Not Nailed Down, and Where Oh Where is My Morning Sickness? But, to be honest, I was too busy being defensive and snappy to enjoy the experience.

Every comment I received about “See? Once you adopt, you get pregnant!” and “It always works that way!” felt insulting to me, almost as if people were belittling Brayden and her long-hoped-for place in our family. She was less than six months old, and already people had moved on to congratulating me on my pregnancy ….. like, “Oh-ho, you got the adoption out of the way, now you can move on to the good stuff!” In hindsight, I don’t think people meant to hurt my feelings (is it anyone else’s fault I was grumpy and ill-tempered and cynical? And INSANE???) but to be truthful, I was almost too annoyed by the comments to be thankful for the pregnancy. As you know if you've been reading my blog for long, I have a problem with constructive criticism, or well-meaning but hurtful suggestions, and coming on the heels of all the ignorant fertility comments, these were just as bad.

You would think, after six and a half years of infertility treatments, that I would appreciate the gift I had been given. But it almost felt like … if I allowed myself to be happy about my pregnancy, it would somehow be a betrayal of the beautiful little girl we had just adopted (or actually, were still in the process of trying to adopt.) Everyone else could just relax and see the pregnancy as a gift, but I couldn’t. I don’t know, my head was in a really weird place back then, and I was a complete psycho bitch, and it makes me embarrassed to think about how my feelings were so irrational. I cheated Brayden out of a calm, peaceful mother who only wanted to enjoy her beautiful new daughter, and I cheated Kellen out of a pleasant pre-natal experience, although something tells me he doesn’t really remember. He was just a happy little embryo, getting Auntie Anne’s parmesan pretzels on a daily basis (No, still no clue how I gained sixty pounds, what’s your point?) so he was perfectly content. But on the OUTSIDE, I was a grump, and squandered away what should have been an amazing, long-awaited experience.

When we got pregnant with Kendrie, I was in a much better place mentally and was able to take pleasure in and appreciate the experience like I should have. And I’m one of those women who really, truly, *enjoys* being pregnant. I’ve never gotten sick, I’ve never had complications, I’ve always had lots of energy and felt great. Well, ok, maybe the last week or two, when I’m waddling around town and don’t remember what the lower half of my body looks like and the heartburn is so bad I practically mainline Zantac … maybe just that last week or two, the novelty has worn off. But overall? LOVE. IT.

With Kendrie’s pregnancy, I was able to let go of the ginormous chip on my shoulder, and see it for the blessing that it was. I had gotten the hang of being pregnant after years of trying, and you know what? I was pretty good at it. Hey, Mikey, she likes it! I felt like I could do it a dozen times. The only problem was, we didn’t want any more kids.

Well, let me rephrase that. Blaine and I would have loved to have had more kids. But we had to be realistic. We could do the math, and knew that soon, we would have a newborn, a one year old, and a two year old in our house. Some women do that, and do it well, but it’s often called a “daycare”. Not only is that a lot of diapers, but it was a lot for me to handle as a stay-at-home mom. Adding a fourth baby in the next year or two, before the oldest was even ready for pre-school, was just more than I thought I could handle. I loved staying home with them, but must admit that there were days (the blue toothpaste and poopie diaper in the bathroom day comes to mind**)(see below) where I had to accept that I had reached my limit, if I wanted to do this mothering gig to the best of **my** abilities. Sure, I could have done a fourth kid … but I didn’t think I could do it WELL. So Blaine and I decided, more than a little bittersweet, that we would call it quits at three. I was happy with our family, but sad that I wasn’t going to get to be pregnant again. Because turns out? I really liked it -- stretch marks, c-section scar, unflattering maternity swimsuits and all.



Every year on our children’s' birthdays, Blaine and I each write them a letter. Sometimes I forget and two or three months will go by, then I write the letter and have to fudge the date and *pretend* I wrote it on their birthday. Regardless, these yearly letters go into scrapbooks I keep for the kids, for them to read when they are adults, or for me to pull out and embarrass them with when they begin dating, along with the naked baby pictures and potty-training stories. But I digress.

I also write an occasional letter to my kids on momentous events ….. first day of kindergarten, first bike ride, when Kendrie finished chemo, etc. Today, as I wrote down “type Kendrie’s birthday letter” on my to-do list (notice I didn’t actually write the letter, but instead wrote a reminder on my list, so I can have the joy of crossing it OFF my list once it’s done?) I remembered the very first letter I ever wrote to Kendrie. Since I seem to be having a seven-year flashback week, I thought I would let you read a copy, as well. I think it goes a long way towards explaining my mental health. Or lack thereof:

September, 1999

Dear Brayden, Kellen, and Kendrie,

I wanted to take a quick moment to jot down a note to the three of you, relating the story of how our first day home alone went, after Kendrie was born, and on your dad’s first day back to work. Alone. Just the four of us. Me and a newborn, 1 yr old, and a 2 yr old. {You pretty much know this is going to be a disaster, even before I get started, don't you?}

When Kendrie was born, Grandma and Grandpa M. were here to help out and stay with Brayden and Kellen while I was in the hospital. Then, after they went back to OKC, your dad went back to work. This past Monday was our first day with just the four of us, and although at the time I didn’t think the events of the day were very funny, any more than a rodeo clown being trampled is funny, in hindsight it most likely will be. Maybe. So I thought I would write it down before I forget everything -- like I could EVER forget a day that went that badly, ha!

It started out ok, just a little stressful as I tried to balance getting you dressed, fed and keeping you entertained while Kendrie was breastfeeding every hour or so. Or more often than that. New babies are pretty dang needy, I was remembering. She was only a few days old, so of course nursing was still frequent. Things went all right throughout the morning, although both of you were a bit whiny. I’m sure it’s a big change to suddenly have my attention split three ways and to be fair, at the beginning, Kendrie is getting more than her share.

You quickly realized that once I sit down to nurse I’m pretty much stuck in the chair, and that’s when you both started standing on the furniture, coffee table, fighting over toys, pushing, and in general doing all sorts of things you don’t normally do. My vision of me, sitting in a rocking chair by the window, with a gentle breeze blowing the white eyelet curtains lightly around me, beautiful babe at the breast, nursing tenderly and lovingly, Braham’s Lullaby chiming softly in the background, while you two played happily and quietly at my side …. Um, yeah. THAT wasn’t happening. But I took it in stride, and by the time lunch was over and I put you down for naps, I would have qualified the morning as “reasonably successful, just busy”.

Then, it all broke loose. Brayden, you REFUSED to take a nap, and kept calling me to come in your bedroom. I finally went in to discover you had taken off your pants and diaper, put on a new pair of pants, and peed all over your bed. In that order. So I stripped the sheets and told you if you wanted to wear panties that was fine, but you had to tell me when it was time to go potty. You assured me you would. Shortly after, Kellen woke up from his nap, and everyone was pretty crabby (me included!) but then I got Kendrie down for a nap so I decided to spend a few quick moments on the phone. Total rookie parent miscalculation. Brayden, you insisted you had to go to the bathroom, but went ballistic when I tried to go in to help you, screaming at me to close the door, you could do it yourself!!! So in frustration I said Fine! Let me know if you need any help! And I shut the door. Rookie parent mistake #2.

Ten minutes later I went in the bathroom to see if you’d gone. Not only had you **not** gone, you had found two brand new tubes of mint blue toothpaste and used them to finger-paint the entire bathroom, including the sink, toilet, rugs, towels, bathtub, and your own face and hair. Plus you had taken off your clothes and peed on the floor.

Not knowing how to get mint blue toothpaste off everything, I threw all the rugs and towels in the washer, then threw you in the tub for a quick bath. Kellen, you decided you didn’t want to be left out, and wanted to take a bath, too, and started banging on the door and yelling to be let in the bathroom. Not wanting to wake up Kendrie and begin another never-ending cycle of nursing, I let you in and stripped you down, not bothering to check your diaper before taking it off and dropping it on the floor. Naturally, there was poop in it and I now had another mess to clean up off the bathroom floor. {Good heavens, WHAT had you eaten???}

Fearing you would step in it and get poop all over everything, I told you to stand still while I went to get the wipes. I ran out of the room, and in the excitement, you peed on the side of the tub. I finally got both of you in the tub, got all the toothpaste, pee and poop cleaned up, and then got the two of you cleaned up as well. I kept the bath quick (keep in mind Kendrie is still sleeping, but I don’t know how long that window of opportunity will remain open, before The-Child-Who-Must-Nurse-Every-Five-Minutes wakes back up and demands to be fed.)

When it was time to get out of the tub, neither of you wanted to, but I dragged you kicking and screaming out of the tub. I diapered Kellen quickly, knowing your tendency to “let loose” if you run around naked. But then Brayden ran naked into the living and peed, yet again, on the carpet. At this point I decided my day couldn’t get any worse, and what was one more load of laundry? Only then did I see the humor in the whole situation and wish I had grabbed my camera to record the action.

But, despite our shaky beginnings, things are improving and I still love each of you more than life itself. No matter how much of a mess we make, you are my three favorite kids in the whole world, and I wouldn’t trade staying home with you for anything --- but let’s try to be a little neater in the future, ok? Because I'm starting to feel a little like a trampled rodeo clown.

Love, Mom

Ok, so now, NOW, do you people see why I wasn't courageous enough to attempt baby #4 at this stage in my life? I simply didn't have the nerve or the endurance. Or a big-enough washing machine.

Monday, February 25, 2008


The face of eleven:

Or more accurately, the face of "If I cooperate, can I have extra Nintendo time tonight? Or more dessert? Or maybe a kitten????" ....

And not to be confused with the "Geez, are you almost done yet?" face.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Have I Mentioned How Much I Love These?

Blaine and I finally got around to hanging up the last few pictures in our house this weekend (code for: he was sick of me nagging him about it so we just did it and pretended like it was quality marriage time instead of the hell-on-earth that hanging pictures together usually is for us.)

We had these collage posters made at a Sams in Atlanta before we moved. Only a few Sams in the country have these FREAKINGTOTALLYAWESOME machines that allow you to make poster-sized collages out of your prints. You scan as many images as you want into their special-special machine with its special-special software** and then they scramble the pictures into a poster size print. You can preview, and if you don't like it, just hit "scramble" and it will re-arrange the photos, until you find a composition that makes you happy.

The entire process makes me happy. Happier than you can ever know.

If I had a squillion dollars and was designing my perfect playroom and had to choose between a real-live jukebox, a Galaga arcade game, or this poster-machine, I would choose the poster machine hands down, every single time. Although really, if I had a squillion dollars, I should be able to have all three, don't you think? Geez, I guess a squillion dollars just doesn't go as far as it used to.

So far, I have six posters and counting, one for each of the major vacations we've taken the past few years. I mean, seriously, can you think of a better momento for a family vacation??? The top picture is of our trip to Southern California in November of 2004, and the second picture is Kendrie's Make-A-Wish trip in Feb of 2005.

PS. Have I mentioned that I LOVE THESE????

**If someone else knows of someplace else I can get this done, I'm all ears, because the nearest Sam to me currently that has this capability is in Dallas.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I Owe My High School Geography Teachers a Grave Apology

Because apparently I was too busy passing notes, reading Teen Beat under my desk, day-dreaming about my high school boyfriend Kenny, or perhaps picking lint out of my belly button to have paid attention. As evidenced by the DISMAL scores I received on the Traveler IQ Challenge for the world in which we live. I seriously, seriously, SERIOUSLY avoid using the word "retarded" due to its incredibly un-pc and offensive connotations ..... but considering this site gives you an IQ score after each test, and since Wikipdeia states an IQ below 70 is considered mentally retarded .... well, I can pretty much do the math on my own shabby state of knowledge. Something tells me Jeopardy won't be calling anytime soon.

I thought I would kick butt in the North American test, but forgot how stinking big Canada is, and that my knowledge of Canadian geography is perhaps, if possible, just as terrible as my knowledge of world geophraphy.

The mocking little "try again, you loser" button is addictive, though, so I hope all of you enjoy these tests this weekend like I have. And thanks to Kristina in Ohio for sharing them!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Quality Family Time -- Educational, Too!

Kendrie found it.

Kellen did not.

And me, being the stellar parent role model that I am, showed them how they could add the "-y" to the end and make it a whole 'nother word.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Done at Last! Done at Last! Praise God Almighty, We’re Done at Last!**

**Ok, so technically we weren’t completely done, because two days after our renter moved in she called to tell us the front storm door fell off its hinges, so I was back over there again today with the handyman …. But for the most part, we are done!

Don’t worry, this isn’t turning into some kind of home-improvement blog. The one thing that renovating a rental property has taught me is that the Bob Villa gene obviously skipped a century or two in my family, and I have no desire to repeat the process anytime soon. While pleased with the work I accomplished, I also discovered there’s a whole lot more I *can’t* do than I can, and perhaps serving as landlord is better left to the “handy” people of the world. But for better or worse, it’s done now. Although I did really like the part where I got to buy new stuff.

It’s not that I even think our before and after pictures are that interesting, but by golly, this is the project that has taken up the vast majority of my time since we moved here, and so I’m going to post them. I reckon I’ve spent almost as much time there, as I have moving myself into my own house. We spent way more money (hence the reason our son is still living in a closet) and man-hours (I remember thinking I would have the whole house painted in a few days --- ha! Pity the fool!) {that fool would be me, in case it wasn’t clear} than we intended; I’ve had paint in my hair for two months, ruined at least three manicures, have freakishly overdeveloped shoulder muscles thanks to the paint roller (no lie, I broke one IN HALF with my strength! And well, with my really bad posture) and I am on a first-name basis with the paint guy at Home Depot. I’ve single-handedly made SEVERAL of my handy-man’s mortgage payments, spent many evenings away from my family, felt the thrill of manual labor (not) and the self-satisfaction of a job well done. And all things considered? I. AM. SO. OVER. THIS. PROJECT.

But in the meantime, for your viewing pleasure:

The master bedroom BEFORE:

The master bedroom AFTER:

The front bedroom BEFORE:

The front bedroom AFTER: (and I have no idea why the walls look so baby-shit yellow because they are actually tan in real life):

The middle bedroom BEFORE:

The middle bedroom AFTER:

The bathroom BEFORE:

The bathroom DURING:

The bathroom AFTER:

The kitchen BEFORE:

The kitchen AFTER:

The living room BEFORE:

The living room DURING:

The living room AFTER:

And then I was going to do some cute little Photoshopped images of ME, before and after, but quite frankly, I'm sick and damn tired of the whole thing.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Boy They Kept In the Closet

I started to label this post “Coming Out of the Closet”, but didn’t need *those* kinds of internet rumors floating around about my son, that’s for sure! So I re-titled the post, although after reading the title again, we’ll probably have Children’s Services calling us any day. Mainly, I just wanted to share with you some photos of Kellen’s room, aka The Old Storage Closet.

No lie, this is the room the previous owners used for storage. Rubbermaid bins, paint cans, holiday decorations, etc. We looked around at the camping equipment, mattresses, ice chests and cardboard boxes, and thought, “Hey, we could put a kid in here!” And so we did. I mean, when you buy a house that only has two bedrooms, and there are five people in your family, a little creativity is in order. Even if the bedrooms are the size of Alaska.

We left the storage shelves attached to the walls and Kellen uses those as his “closet”. There’s plenty of room for his bed, bookshelf, stuffed animals, toys, and lots and lots of space in the middle for him to play. If he WOULD play upstairs, that is, which he won’t anymore, because apparently the kids were channel surfing the other day and ran across the movie “Chucky, or whatever the hell that movie is with that demonic little doll, and now none of them will go upstairs. Ever. For anything. Something tells me I’ll be learning to program the remote and block certain channels and certain shows in the near future, unless I enjoy sleeping with all three kids in my room (which I do not, just for the record) or enjoy making thirty-seven trips a day up the stairs with the kids because they are too frightened to go by themselves (repeat …. Do not enjoy.)

So anyway, here are some photos of Kellen’s closet bedroom.

What I find interesting is that door at the other end of Kellen’s room? That’s a door to another storage closet. One that separates the closet-closet from the storage space in the attic. Just how many dead bodies did they think we were planning to keep up here, anyway?

And before you feel too sorry for Kellen, having to stay in a closet, for goodness’ sake, let me point out that his “closet”, while not only bigger than my first apartment, is also directly connected to the upstairs living area/game room.

So he has immediate access to the sofas, television, dvd, vcr, Wii, karaoke machine, games, books, and treadmill. And we have an air hockey table, but can’t fit it up the damn stairs. I mean, all he needs is a mini fridge and it would be nicer than my freshman dorm room at college!

In all seriousness, we do plan on having some remodeling work done. We want to close up the wall between his room and the game room and put a door or double door between them, so he can have his privacy as he gets older. We want to close in the shelving units and make a “real” closet for him to use, replace the carpet, and {thinking big} we’d love to add in a 3/4 bathroom for his personal use. As it is now, he has to walk through the game room, across the hall, and through the girls’ bedroom to use the bathroom there. Once the girl’s rooms are separated (why yes, that is my face, with flashing dollar signs for eyeballs, considering all the work we want to do) it will be harder for him to use their restroom, and it seems a little cruel to tell him he has to hold it until he can get downstairs in the middle of the night.

But, until we win the lottery, he’ll be trudging across the upstairs to potty. And sleeping in a closet.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Letter #29

Dear Future Physician,

Thank you so much for wanting to dedicate yourself to
this profession. I know that it takes constant and
continual work to remain on top of things in your
field, and I admire your commitment to that.

Basically what any physician needs to do is always try
to put themselves in the patients' place. Be kind,
considerate, caring, and informative. Get a "read" on
each patient individually. Can this person handle a
lot of information? Does this patient need more of my
time? Am I looking the patient in the eye while we
talk? Am I treating this patient with the respect I
would treat my own family member? Am I showing this
person that I truly care about them as an individual?

As far as the office staff is concerned, is there a
big turnover? Patients prefer that the staff remains
constant, so am I doing what I can to keep them happy
in their jobs? Are the staff members professional,
keeping patient information confidential? Do they make
sure that other patients don't overhear things they
shouldn't? Are they treating ALL the patients kindly?
Is the office, including patient rooms and the waiting
area, a pleasant place to be? Is everything CLEAN?
Would I like being a patient there myself?

As a teacher, I feel that my regular physician and I
turned a corner when he asked me for my thoughts on
public education vs. private education. Since then,
we've often had short conversations on education
during my appointment time. That alone, has made me
feel as though we are equals in my health process.

My surgeon and I have traveled down the road of
spirituality during his treating of my colon cancer
and subsequent surgeries. I feel as though I can talk
to him about anything. I've had nothing but confidence
and respect for him and what he does. He took the time
to talk to me at length while I was in the hospital
recovering from my surgeries. It made a big difference
when he pulled up a chair and sat next to my bed when
I asked him why he became a doctor. He gave me the
whole story, and that meant a lot to me.

The first oncologist I met with totally missed the
mark when she didn't look me in the eye and acted as
though telling people that they need to go through
chemo is a ten times a day occurrence (which it
probably is). She totally ignored the fact that I
would hopefully only hear that once in my life, and
that it needed to be discussed with grace and dignity.
That's why I had only one appointment with her.

I'm a rather inquisitive person, so I do not like to
feel rushed during an appointment or when a doctor
sees me while I'm a patient in the hospital. I usually
have questions and will keep going with them until I
understand things completely. I do NOT appreciate
being talked down to. I'm an intelligent woman and
expect to be treated as such.

Becoming a physician is quite an undertaking. It will
require you to be selfless with your time and energy,
and occasionally it's a thankless profession. However,
without a doubt, the rewards can be worth it.

I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors!


Letter #28 (or who really knows, since I apparently put #20 down twice and I think I might have skipped some other numbers, too)

Dear Future Physician,

Truthfully, no one every WANTS to visit a doctor. But we sure are grateful for the wonderful men and women who put up with us when we are at our weakest, grouchiest, and most vulnerable. And that’s just it… When we are at that low point and have to seek medical attention, we need you to be understanding. We don’t WANT to be there, but we NEED to be. And we need you to treat us as more than just our illness.

I’ve encountered a lot of doctors in my 31 years of life. I was born with congenital heart defects and have been poked and prodded ever since. My blood vessels are so tired of being stuck, they run and hide at the mere mention of needles! I’ve built up a tolerance to all of the drugs that used to work wonders, and I am an anomaly even to the “experts” of the field. But I’m still a person. A person with hopes, dreams, family, and a LIFE. I’m not JUST my disease.

What I’ve found through the years is that the doctors I trust the most are the ones who take care of all of me. Not just my aches and pains, but also my emotions. The ones who ask me how I’m doing, not just how I’m feeling physically. I currently have the best cardiologist in the world. Any time I talk to her, I feel human. She asks how work is going, what my husband is up to, etc. She doesn’t launch directly into the “What can I do for you today” speech I’ve gotten from many other doctors. And she really listens. When I bring something up at one visit, she remembers it for the next time. She’s a friend, and I love her for it. She lets me ask every question I have and never makes me feel like I am silly or stupid for asking. She may not always know the answers. But she cares enough to admit that, and then goes out and talks to others in the field to find out!

I’ve also encountered some doctors who were insensitive and unkind. Doctors who didn’t accept that my thoughts and feelings were valid. When faced with emergency surgery to stop the bleeding from an ovarian cyst, an insensitive surgeon was called in. I had never met the man in my life, but he presumed to know more about me than I did. He was confident he could “save my ovary.” When I told him I didn’t care if he saved it, since I can’t use it anyway he told me I was “Too young to make that kind of decision.” Excuse me? I did not make that decision. It was made for me. And that one sentence from him told me all I needed to know… I did NOT want to see him ever again.

Always read a patient’s chart before stepping into the room. I realize this takes up precious time, but it can help in the long run. When a patient has a complicated history, you need to be aware of the pieces that may effect your course of action. Take your time before you make a decision. Research if you have to. If I were not a well-informed patient, I could have had procedures that were dangerous to me because of my pacemaker and a doctor who did not read my chart and the procedure information very carefully. Luckily, I did. I did not return to that doctor ever again.

Remember, you are not God. It’s okay to make a mistake, but please admit it when you do. Don’t presume you know it all, or even that you know more than your patient. In my case, I have 31 years of experience with ME. I’m different from all of the other patients you’ve ever had, and I shouldn’t be lumped in with them. Treat me as an individual and explore every concern I have. Don’t dismiss me or what I have to say. Let me be a partner in my care. After all, I’m this for the long haul. You may only be in it for today.

Thank you for caring enough to read about the patient’s point of view. That is the first step in making sure you are a good physician. If you continue in this fashion, I know you will be a wonderful asset to the medical community.

Nicole H
Patient and Human

Easier This Time

I confess, it was much easier this week not to be swept up in the cute little smooch-y faces of the dogs at the shelter when we went to volunteer. Probably because one of them was an over-enthusiastic nipping freak, who only wanted to play, but must have bit my ankles a dozen times, and yeah, he was all cute and sociable and friendly and everything, but even baby teeth can be really, really sharp, is all I’m saying. And one of the dogs Kendrie took was totally adorable in the cage, then she got him outside and he completely shut down and wouldn’t walk or move or anything. Just sat, paralyzed, frozen like a statue on the sidewalk, and refused to budge. So she had to carry him all over the place, and continually whined about how heavy he was, but I couldn’t help her because I was too busy avoiding the canine Jaws at the end of my leash.

But still, despite those things, we had a blast, like always.

And then, just as I thought my shriveled up raisen of a heart was impervious to puppy eyes, *this* guy showed up.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Scrapbooking 101, for those of you who might be interested

As you probably know by now, my hobby of choice is scrapbooking. Actually, if I were being truthful, my hobby of choice would be cigarette smoking. But since it’s smelly and expensive and I don’t want to wind up in an iron lung, or lugging an oxygen tank around with me (you guys KNOW how I feel about having tubes in my nose or anything obstructing my airway) then I guess I’ll just stick with scrapbooking to fill my free time. Probably just as expensive as smoking, but it won’t turn my teeth yellow or lead to emphysema.

As far back as junior high, I scotch-taped newspaper clippings and pictures and concert ticket stubs (and all other kinds of various and sundry crap) into construction-paper albums. As a young adult, I was faithful about putting my newly developed pictures immediately into flip-sleeve photo albums. I used peel-and-stick albums for things like napkins and newspaper clippings that were unusually-sized. Eventually, I even bought those photo albums with the little strip of paper that ran horizontally between the pictures so I could write a brief description of what the pictures entailed. But the act of actually “scrapbooking” my photos, combining the pictures and the memorabilia and the stories into one album, wasn’t introduced to me until I moved to Ohio and joined my mother’s club.

A large number of the moms in my mother’s group did it --- I guess the act of wanting to document their babies’ births and first years and childhoods and all the special moments in between got a lot of them into scrapbooking. I thought it looked like a neat hobby, but to be honest, I wasn’t willing to put the sort of time and commitment into it, like some of my new friends did.

So for a while, I just watched, and observed, and made comments out loud about how I wasn’t willing to do that much work. But secretly wished I had such neat albums from when Brayden and Kellen were first born. And then I had to admit that their albums, not just the baby albums, but all their albums, were pretty awesome, so I started putting a few stickers on my own pictures. You know, just sort of dipping my toe in the water.

Then, I had to acknowledge that preserving the memories and the stories behind the photos was the most important part, and I just didn’t have room to do that on the tiny strip of paper in the traditional photo albums I was using. And so one thing led to another, and to another, and my best girlfriend Kim took me to my first-ever scrapbook store (gasp!) and before I knew quite what had happened, I had ripped all my old albums apart, taken the photos out, and starting putting together new albums, that were much cooler and more creative and way more special-er, and then all of a sudden one day I looked up and viola! I was a bona-fide, hooked, dyed-in-the-wool, true-blue scrapbooker.

It’s been nine years and I haven’t stopped yet, although my style has, er, “evolved”, thank goodness. My early layouts had no sense of design or technique or color scheme or, or, or ANYTHING, and it looked like the sticker aisle from Michael’s had thrown up on the pages. As I started paying closer attention to idea books, and other (better!) scrapbookers, I began to embrace the theory that “less is more”, at least for me, and toned down my style quite a bit.

But here’s the thing to remember, if you’re just getting started, or thinking about getting started: There is no right or wrong way to scrapbook. It’s about arranging your pictures and memorabilia in a way that is pleasing to YOUR eye, and sharing the stories behind the photos. That’s it. Accomplish those two things and you can consider yourself a successful scrapbooker.

Here’s one rule you must follow: Make sure you are using archival-quality, photo-safe products. The old construction paper albums, like those I used in junior high, are loaded with lignin which will eventually turn yellow (think newspapers). Make sure the plastic sleeves in your albums are PVC (poly-vinyl chloride)-free because PVC contains softening agents (or something chemically ... ermmmm... BAD) that will discolor your photographs over time. All products should be acid free, so as not to damage your photos and memorabilia. Basically, make sure before you buy any albums or papers or embellishments that they say “photo safe” on them. No sense in going to all this work, and spending this kind of time and money on a hobby if you don’t do it properly.

But other than that, pretty much anything goes!

If you’re just getting started, buy a few basic, must-have products ….. and then S.T.O.P.!

There are about a squillion products on the market, maybe even a squillion and one, as far as decorations go, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed if you think you need one of everything right now. Otherwise, you’ll buy all this crap that you never use and it will rot in a drawer because you either forget you even have it, or by the time you get around to using it, your tastes have changed and you’re left wondering why on earth you bought that awesome metallic glittery Mardi Gras page topper when you’ve never even been to Bourbon Street, for goodness sake, just what did you think you were doing?? (ahem, not that I would know about that). So just buy a few things to get started --- you can always go back for more!

You’ll need some basic tools -- a paper trimmer, a good pair of scissors, some adhesive. You don’t need every cool new tool on the market and half of the ones you buy you won’t use near as much as you think you will. So start slow, and make your way. (See: same theory as above for decorative items.)

Think about what it is you want to accomplish --- a baby album? School album? Vacation album? Anniversary album? Christmas album? Family album? And then select only the photos you want to use for that project. I’ve heard time and again that people don’t know where to start, so they don’t start at all. So, to avoid that, make a decision about selecting a project, pick your photos, and work on just that project until you finish it. At the beginning, I think that gives people the best sense of accomplishment and makes it easier to see your progress. Then, as you get more comfortable and decide this really is something you enjoy doing, you can branch out into other scrapbooks.

Decide on an album size for your particular project --- standard sizes are 4x6, 6x6, 5x7, 8x10, 8x11.5, and 12x12. Smaller albums work better for “theme” albums, and I prefer the larger 12x12 for our chronological family stuff. The kinds of layouts you’re going to create, and the kinds of papers and embellishments you will use, depends on this decision. It’s frustrating to buy a bunch of stuff that you love, only to realize none of it really works for the size album you are using.

So, to summarize, buy some basic tools, decide on a project, pick your photos, then your album size, then your papers and embellishments, and you’re ready to get started.

It’s great if you can find a friend who already scrapbooks, so they can give you some guidance and help you begin. You might want to consider finding a local scrapbook store, or Michaels or Hobby Lobby and taking a class. There are some great home-based scrapbook companies (Creative Memories comes to mind) that work like Tupperware, where you can find a consultant and get help from them. Buy a few idea magazines --- I prefer Simple Scrapbooks, or anything by Cathy Zleiske. There are companies that sell layout kits, with matching papers and embellishments, so some of the decisions are made for you. Try to find and attend a “crop”, which is a group of scrapbookers getting together to work on their albums for several hours at once. It’s a great way to see what everyone does, look at different styles, and get a feel for what appeals to you. Plus, there’s usually food there, so you can’t go wrong. (Hey, works for me!) Really, there are lots of options out there to help you if you’re just starting.

Basically, make sure you don’t get too overwhelmed at the beginning (ie, “I have seventy-five boxes of photos in my closet and I can’t jump in because I don’t know where to start!”) That’s the number one reason I’ve heard that people don’t attempt scrapbooking --- they just don’t know how without feeling snowed under. Remember, there’s no right or wrong way, so just do it. And if you do it and decide later that you did it wrong, no biggie --- you can re-do it (see: Everything Kristie did before 2004, when she *finally* figured out what she liked) I’ve re-done my first few albums because they were so awful ….. and I’m thinking about re-doing them AGAIN. Styles change, tastes change, there’s no harm in that, so don’t worry that you’re making irreversible decisions. (Although, that could spark an entire ‘nother post about making sure you always, always, always ALWAYSALWAYSALWAYS save your film negatives, and back up your digital prints on cd ….. )

Just remember this – pictures IN an album, for you to share with your family and friends, even if it’s not done as well as the professionals, is still a heck of a lot better than “shoved in a closet, still in the photo sleeves from Wal-Mart.” So grab those photos and just have fun with it!

Visiting Friends

The most disturbing things I've seen this weekend, in no particular order:

1. Disposable antimicrobial walking pads on the floor through security at the airport, not because those are disturbing, no, just the opposite, but because when I asked the metal-detector-lady how often they actually changed them, she rolled her eyes and said she had no idea. Scale: moderately disturbing. Feet germs = gag.

2. A lady at the airport with a real fox stole, or mink, or chipmunk, or something, with two dead furry animals wrapped around her neck, each one chomping down on the other one's tail. Scale: mildly disturbing. While I'm no huge PETA advocate, I didn't need to see the freeze-dried feet. The chipmunks, OR my fellow passengers.

3. A lady brushing her teeth in the airport bathroom. Scale: Greatly disturbing. Just like the chipmunk feet, I also don't need to watch a complete stranger drool into a sink, ok?

4. The line of traffic waiting to enter the Lincoln Tunnel. Scale: Moderately disturbing to realize people drive in that kind of nightmare on a daily basis. Would have been "Greatly" disturbing, but thankfully, I did not need to use the restroom.

5. The movie "Babel". Scale: WTF? Have any of you actually *seen* it? And if so, can you explain it to me? Because I watched the entire thing, and am still not sure any of it made sense. Why didn't he just put her back on the damn bus? Why were the other tourists such wankers? Why did they just start shooting at those mountain boys? Why did I have to see the school girl's nekkidness so many times? Why did Satiago run the border? Why were the border police such assholes? And most of all, why, why, why, was the conversation that Amelia had on the phone with the dad the first time not the same conversation she had on the phone with the dad the second time, and for heaven's sakes, did she or didn't she take the kids to the wedding in Mexico and then wind up in the desert and were they ok or was she deported or was it all a dream??? Aaaagggghhhh! (This is why I will never be a movie critic --- I am obviously too dense and need a very clear-cut happily ever after, preferably wrapped up with a shiny bow.)

6. Scariest of all: That I made it through security at the airport with a screwdriver in my purse (unknowingly, I might add .... damn rental property hell, oh will I ever escape you?) and NO ONE CAUGHT IT. I flew not one, but two major airlines with that thing and only found it when I was digging in my purse for change. Scale: Very, very disturbing, especially if you are in charge of transit security.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Happy Anniversary Sam, from AD and DW

Wow, Sam, happy anniversary to you! Who would have ever thought, twenty years ago, that I would be writing to you on such a momentous occasion? Twenty years ago TODAY, you, me, and Blaine embarked on quite the little adventure, didn’t we? Twenty years of ups and downs (mainly ups, thank goodness) and excitement and challenges and joy and wonder and stress and fulfillment. Sort of our own little patriotic ménage a trois, know what I mean? (Not that LIKE, you people need to get your minds out of the gutter.)

I knew from the moment I said my “for better or worse” bit that you would play a large part in our lives. I wasn’t sure exactly what that would entail, but I was eager (for the most part) and willing. I’m so thankful that it’s been almost all “better”.

Twenty years ago today, you accepted my husband into your fold. A bright-eyed, eager, college graduate, who had known from the time he was 12-years old that he wanted to be an Air Force officer “when he grew up”. I still remember seeing him in his uniforms for the first time ….. feeling so proud, sensing his excitement, nervous about what the future might hold …. Calling him Gomer Pyle behind his back because the uniforms were so unflattering, especially that green one, man, that’s hideous.

You beckoned, and we followed, packing up our possessions (not that there were many of THOSE back then, that’s for sure!) and our lives, leaving our friends and family behind, and driving clear across the country to start our life with you. Thanks to you, right off the bat, we saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time, experienced a different culture of sorts, attended a taping of The Price is Right, realized we *could* survive far from home, and discovered that none of the southern California beaches we visited were anything like Baywatch, that’s for sure.

In return, you took this young, willing, enthusiastic young man and began to mold him into the kind of officer you wanted him to be. Introduced him to a world that was foreign to him, one of policies and procedures and security clearances and missile codes, but one where he felt comfortable, and enjoyed learning all the new things you had to teach him. You gave him opportunities for advancement, and additional schooling, both military and traditional. You introduced him to people with the same core values as himself, and allowed him to flourish in an environment so very well-suited to his personality and work ethic. It takes a huge amount of self-discipline to thrive in such a structured environment, and not many people can do it effectively, let alone for twenty years. I’m so proud he was able to meet the challenge head on and succeed.

Throughout the next nineteen and a half years, we made a lot of sacrifices for you. Moving every eighteen months or so (sometimes more, sometimes less) meant leaving many houses, friends, communities, and jobs behind. It also meant we had more opportunity than most to meet new people, make new friends, discover new things, and explore new places. Sam, you took us from the west coast, to the east cost, to fifty miles from the Canadian border. We’ve lived in places with twelve feet of snow and a wind chill of a hundred below zero, and in places where the heat and humidity were so high we thought we were going to melt into little puddles on the sidewalk.

We’ve seen Ohio in the fall, and Georgia in the spring; both absolutely beautiful. We lived in Oklahoma in April of 1995 and experienced the Oklahoma City bombing with our neighbors and friends; we lived in Alabama in the fall of 2001 and experienced 9-11 with no friends or family nearby. We almost moved to Amsterdam for you, and would have too, had a personal family crisis not kept us stateside. We’ve spent months apart from one another for advanced training, but haven’t endured the hardship of war deployment like so many others have.

In return, we’ve been very blessed by your constant presence in our life. A few times throughout the years we’ve been faced, like all servicemen and women, with budget concerns and the uncertainty of military reductions --- fortunately, we escaped unscathed, although many peers did not. 1992 was an especially stressful year for our career group, with many of Blaine’s fellow missile officers being let go. There is no price that can be put on job security. You took care of us during not one, but two extremely grave personal family health emergencies. Without you, I have no doubt we would have had to file bankruptcy --- or at the least, spent years digging ourselves out of financial-medical debt. No, we haven’t gotten rich at your doorstep, but slow and steady wins the race, right?

Even better, for twenty years, you have provided my husband with a career he loves. A calling of which he can be proud, and have the satisfaction that comes from knowing he is serving others. No, he hasn’t been to Iraq; no, he doesn’t fly a jet; no, he hasn’t taken a bullet for the President --- but like he says, there are many ways to serve your country. The fact he has done exactly that, quietly, consistently, and with pride, for the past twenty years, says a lot to me about his character.

Sam, I know a lot of people rant and rave about you, your boss, and all the things they don’t like about you. It’s a fine line our military members have to walk ---- working, fighting, and sometimes dying to defend the rights of the people who denounce the very system that protects them and enables them. I am amazed by the military personnel who can continue in the face of criticism, from those who have no business criticizing. I am buoyed by the support and caring of the many, many, more who thankfully recognize the sacrifices that are made on their behalf.

Mainly, I just can’t believe we’ve been at this gig for twenty years. From butter-bar to Lt. Colonel .... I am so stinking proud of him.

I know it won’t last a whole lot longer. As much as we love you, and would stay another twenty if you would have us, I know you have criterion that we are no longer willing or able to meet. Blaine’s health issues have effectively stalled his career, and while he continues to serve with pride, and serve well, we both know the end is in sight. Our children are getting older and we are no longer willing to pull up stakes and uproot them every few years. It is definitely bittersweet to contemplate the fact we might only have a few anniversaries left with you, Sam.

You have served us well. I hope you can say the same about us.

Best wishes and heartfelt care, on this, our 20th anniversary,

Blaine (AD = Active Duty) and
Kristie (DW = Dependent Wife)