Friday, May 30, 2008

Update on recent posts

Since so many of you wished me a good lunch with my girlfriend, I thought I should let you know it's been postponed till mid-June. :( My throat was feeling soooo crappy yesterday afternoon, I called & got an appointment with my family dr for late this morning, & didn't know whether I'd be back in time.

He checked me out & said my throat looks fine (of course!!) & to finish up the amoxicillin.
I talked to him about the food allergy scare I had last weekend, & he's referring me for testing… to the same allergist I saw 20+ years ago for my seasonal allergies. The earliest appointment I could get was for in five weeks, for Friday, July 4th (which is not a holiday here in Canada). Oh well, it's an afternoon appointment, so I'll have an excuse to leave work early & then just head home afterwards. (It's also the weekend of our wedding anniversary!)

The girl in the cubicle next door to me at work has also been sick on & off all winter, & went home early today. She's been feeling more flu-ish though. Interesting, though -- maybe we should book an appointment together & see if we have common germs!!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

100 Posts, 100 Things About Me

Wow, here I am at my 100th published post! (I have a couple more in my drafts folder, but this is #100 posted!) 100 posts in 7 months (since late October); let's see, that's about 14 posts per month on average, or about one every other day. Not bad!

I've seen several bloggers post a list of 100 things about themselves for their 100th post. I did a similar list a couple of years back... and so I've cheated a little by using it as a starting point, although I've done some editing to bring it more up to date & suitable for a blogging audience. ; )


1. I think this is a great idea, & have loved reading the lists I've seen other people post on their own blogs.

2. My dad worked for two different Canadian banks over nearly 30 years (I now work for one of them!).

3. Because of that, we moved around a lot. Our family lived in 11 different houses in six different towns in two Canadian provinces (Saskatchewan & Manitoba) by the time my parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. (This doesn't count my own student dorm rooms & apartments.)

4. Dad eventually quit banking altogether & went into real estate. He sold his company last year, but still works for the new owner part-time.

5. My mom is only 20 years and 6 days older than me.

6. I always think of her as being a stay-at-home-mom, but in reality, she worked (mostly part-time, but sometimes full time) from the time I was about 7. She spent the last 25 years or so working as an educational assistant in elementary schools.

7. I have one younger sister who lives about an hour away from my parents.

8. She has been with her boyfriend (a guy I introduced her to!) longer than I have known dh.

9. We get along better when our parents aren't around (even as adults!).

10. I love my life with dh, & I love his family, but sometimes I wish I lived closer to mine.

11. I still had one complete set of grandparents until I was 37. My grandfather died three months after Katie, & my grandmother died oneyear after that.

12. I was very close to them, & I miss them so much.

13. My mother is American, from a little town in Minnesota.

14. I spent nearly every summer there with my grandparents while I was growing up.

15. My dh was born & raised here in the Toronto area.

16. We met at university in the fall of 1981. We lived in adjacent residences.

17. I lived in residence all four years of undergrad.

18. That was the most fun time of my life.

19. I have a double honours BA in English & Political Science, and an MA in Journalism.

20. From the time I was very little, I loved books & wanted to be a writer.

21. Once I realized most people don't make a living writing books, I decided to go into journalism.

22. Somehow, instead of becoming the next Woodward or Bernstein, I wound up working in corporate communications!

23. When I was in junior high, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Winnipeg Tribune (now defunct), a woman (pretty unique for the time, I think!) named Dona Harvey, asking for advice on becoming a journalist. She was kind enough to reply, & I know the letter is still somewhere in a drawer at my parents' house.

24. When I was in university, I belonged to the Progressive Conservative party campus club and, for a while, I thought I'd like to work behind the scenes in politics.

25. I changed my mind after I went to a political convention -- very disillusioning.

26. Dh & I were married in the chapel of the university where we met, & had our reception in the student union building.

27. That was almost 23 years ago, on July 6, 1985.

28. We went to Calgary, Banff, Lake Louise & Jasper for our honeymoon.

29. Our first official date was January 22, 1982. He took me to see "Altered States" with William Hurt at the student union centre. Despite the weird movie, I knew right away he was "the one."

30. I always knew I wanted children -- just not right away.

31. We were married 10 years before we started ttc.

32. We've lived in the same house for 18 years.

33. Dh's family is Italian (both sides). His mom, dad, & almost all of his aunts & uncles emigrated from Italy in the late 1950s. (Dh was born in Toronto.)

34. I'm still the only non-Italian to marry into dh's mom's side of the family.

35. When we were first married, they all called me a "mangiacake" (which means "cake eater" -- it's sort of slang for "English" Canadians).

36. I love doing research on my family tree (though I haven't had a lot of time for it in recent years).

37. The earliest ancestor I've found so far is my great-great-great-great grandfather, who served as a sergeant in British army during the War of 1812. His son, my great-great-great grandfather, was one of the original lockmasters on the Rideau Canal.

38. I sometimes wonder who I will pass along all this stuff to, with no children of my own.

39. My sister isn't interested in having children.

40. I feel incredibly guilty that I haven't been able to give myparents a living grandchild to spoil.

41. I have taken more photos over the years of our two nephews (dh's brother's boys) than their own parents have.

42. I didn't take a camera to the hospital when I delivered Katie (one of my biggest regrets in retrospect). I do have six lousy Polaroids taken by one of the nurses.

43. I've worn glasses since I was seven years old.

44. I got contact lenses when I was 17 (after many years of begging my optometrist).

45. A couple of years ago, I got an eye infection & had to stop wearing my lenses for several months until it cleared up. Around the same time, they stopped making the specific type of lens I had been wearing, & since then, I haven't been able to find another pair that suits me.

46. Last fall I had to get bifocals.

47. At least my younger sister got them before I did. ; )

48. I love playing around with makeup & skincare products (& I have far more than I'll everwear in a lifetime!). (I'm a sucker for those "gift with purchase" promotions.)

49. My favourite brands are Clinique, Estee Lauder & Prescriptives.

50. As my 40th birthday present to myself, I spent the day at a spa having a massage, facial, manicure & pedicure. I loved it so much, I've done it at least once a year since then.

51. Our biggest lifestyle indulgence is buying books & magazines.

52. We have five IKEA bookshelves in our basement overflowing with books, & more piled up in various corners of the houses.

53. My other big indulgence is scrapbooking, which I started doing about six years ago.

54. I'm a packrat, & find it very hard to throw or give things away. My husband is just the opposite.

55. We get up at 5 a.m. every morning and arrive at work just before 8.

56. We work in the same office tower, 59 stories apart.

57. We ride a commuter train into work.

58. I hate having to listen to people talking too loud on the train, either to each other or on their cellphones. I'm not sure which is worse, at 6:45 a.m., when I'm still half asleep, or at 5 o'clock after a long day at work.

59. I spend WAY too much time on the Internet.

60. I eat lunch at my desk nearly every day, because I find the foodcourts too noisy & crowded.

61. This summer, I'll have been at my job for 22 years.

62. For the most part, I still enjoy it, although all the young interns & new hires are making me feel old lately.

63. I love Starbucks lattes, gingerbread lattes at Christmastime, caramel macchiatos and mocha frappucinos.

64. Overall, though, I prefer tea to coffee.

65. After all these years living with an Italian family, I still can't drink straight espresso.

66. I played alto saxophone in my high school band.

67. I also took piano lessons (I got my Grade 6 Royal Conservatory diploma -- Canadians will probably know what that means).

68. I still have my old stereo with turntable, along with all my LPs.

69. The first album I ever got was the soundtrack from "Mary Poppins"for Christmas. For my sixth birthday shortly afterwards, I got "TheBest of Herman's Hermits, Vol. 2."

70. We didn't own a CD player until about 5 years ago, & only bought a DVD player about three years ago.

71. We still own one of the original Nintendo game systems (it came with the original Super Mario Brothers & Duck Hunt). It's still the only video game equipment we have in the house. (Can you tell we don't have kids??)

72. I was a Bay City Rollers fan when I was a teenager.

73. They were the first band I saw live in concert, in August 1976,when I was 15 years old. The tickets were $5.50, & my mom ordered them over the phone from Eaton's.

74. I still write to two penpals from those days: one from New Zealand, one who now lives in Victoria, B.C.

75. I have kept in touch with more friends from my high school days than university.

76. Dh was & still is a huge Bruce Springsteen fan, and got me listening to his music.

77. My first (and favourite) summer job was working at the concession stand at the drive-in movies on weekends.

78. Dh & I love going to the movies, & probably see at least one movie every month.

79. We like going to the Sunday afternoon matinees. It's cheaper & less crowded than Saturday night.

80. We're usually too tired after work to go out on weeknights.

81. One of the first movies I can ever remember seeing is "Help!" with the Beatles.

82. For years afterward, I had dreams about Ringo's ring being stuck on my finger.

83. I'm a news junkie: I read three or four newspapers a day, & often check out a few more online.

84. I wish dh & I had travelled more than we have to date.

85. I have been to the west coast of Canada, & I've been to Quebec City and Halifax on business (& loved both places), but nowhere in between.

86. One of our favourite vacation spots is Cannon Beach, Oregon. We've been there three times in the last 15 years.

87. Dh & I attended a pregnancy loss support group for a year after we lost Katie.

88. We're now the (volunteer) group facilitators!

89. We visit Katie's niche at the cemetery every weekend.

90. Sometimes we'll take a long walk around the cemetery while we're there.

91. Through our group, we now know the parents of several other babies buried close by her in the same cemetery. We sometimes go to visit them, too.

92. I have spent every Christmas of my life with my family.

93. We open our presents to each other on Christmas Eve, then hang upour stockings for Santa to fill & open those in the morning.

94. I am a control freak & find it hard to delegate.

95. I make lots of to-do lists (which somehow never seem to get things crossed off them).

96. I often fantasize about early (REALLY early!) retirement, & buy lottery tickets every week.

97. I think I could stay home an entire month and still not get the whole house cleaned & reorganized the way I'd like it to be.

98. I am usually in bed by 10 p.m. most weeknights (5 a.m. comes early!).

99. I can't believe I'm finished this list.

100. Now that I've got the hang of it, I think I could probably write another 100 things!

Special news series: "Senior High"

Coming in the same week as our recent discussion on "Water for Elephants" & the question of how we envision our own later years, I found it timely that The Globe & Mail is running a major series on life in a Toronto seniors' residence, which started Monday & goes through Friday. Here's a link to the "Senior High" section of their website, which includes all the articles as they're being published, as well as a video, additional photos, a multimedia presentation, a discussion on coping with aging parents, & resources. Not sure how long they will keep it onsite. Articles are generally available free online for a week.

I found it both amusing & horrifying that life in a seniors' home can be compared to high school, with its social cliques & pecking orders (you mean I'm going to have to go through all that crap AGAIN??!). But I was somewhat comforted by a quote in yesterday's (Tuesday's) article, referring to the importance of social networks -- friends, not just family members:


An Australian study of more than 1,500 people older than 70 found that those who ranked in the top third in terms of having strong friendships were 22 per cent less likely to die over the decade than people in the lowest third. Close family relationships didn't show the same longevity benefits. (emphasis mine)

...as Ms. Smyth [Sheila Smyth, program director for the Terraces of Baycrest] says, "Kids do not a social life make."

Dh & I don't have a huge circle of friends -- guess we need to work on that! We tend to be homebodies, & a lot of our social life (such as it is) revolves around birthday parties, showers & weddings among the members of dh's extended family. As I've written before, we see a lot less of them than we used to, as everyone has gotten married, moved further afield, & started families of their own.

I've read many bloggers & board comments on the difficulty of making new friends as an adult -- especially when you don't have kids & aren't hooked into the mommy/school/activity networks -- & we're no exception. We know the neighbours on either side of us well enough to say hello to & chat with over the backyard fence, but that's about it. Cordial, but not chummy. I have "friends" at work, but we don't tend to socialize outside of office hours, aside from the occasional organized group outing to a local watering hole (although I have stayed in touch with my "office best friend," who is now retired). We have also made some good friends through our pregnancy loss support group over the past 10 years (although two couples recently moved away).

And I have two friends in the area from my "previous life" before I got married & moved here -- one a friend made through my very first job, who lives about an hour from me and meets me downtown for lunch a couple of times a year; the other, my first-year university roommate, who lives on the other side of the city but works across the street from me as a high-powered corporate lawyer at one of the country's biggest law firms. We used to get together every month or so for lunch, but she has been strangely incommunicado this past year. I can't remember the last time we had lunch or even spoke, except that it was well before Christmas. I'm not sure why, other than that she is an extremely busy person (not only professionally but personally, caught in the classic sandwich generation dilemma -- young son and aging, stubborn father). For my part, once we got past Christmas & my birthday in January, I didn't want it to seem like I was hinting for our usual birthday lunch/gift exchange.

We'll finally be getting together on Friday for lunch (unless one of us has to cancel). I was the one who finally called -- to wish HER a happy birthday last week. I'm curious whether she'll have anything to say about why the long silence. The last time I went this long without hearing from her, I found out she was getting a divorce. Hopefully nothing like that this time around.

Next: my 100th published post!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

In which I dare to make a scene...

For almost as long as I've had this blog, I've been struggling with an on-again-off-again cold/sore throat/sinus infection/earache that just doesn't seem to want to quit. (To be fair, I'm not the only person I know who has been... it's been that kind of winter around here...!!) It started last fall, in October, with the nagging sensation of food stuck in the back of my sore, scratchy throat, and a strange white pustule playing hide & seek on or near my left tonsil. Every time I went to my dr, it would disappear & he couldn't see anything. Finally, my dentist saw it at a routine visit & made an appointment for me at the oral health unit of a local hospital. By the time I got there it was gone again, but from my description, they diagnosed me with "tonsil stones" (!). I Googled it when I got home and yep, that was it!

The tonsil stones haven't made an appearance since then -- but I've continued to have scratchy/sore throats on & off, my left ear has felt congested, & for awhile there, my glands swelled up. I'm currently on my second round of antibiotics within a month, I stayed home last Thursday because I felt so crappy (& hadn't had a decent night's sleep in days). My dr even sent me for an ultrasound on my lymph nodes last week to allay my fears. It was clear, but my symptoms have continued, and now that it's late May/early June, my seasonal allergies are kicking in, & it's hard to tell what's allergy, what's cold & what's Lord knows what else.

Then, this past weekend, something new for me. I had an allergic reaction to something I ate. I was at a scrapbook store crop with a friend. For some reason, I was feeling a little stressed & unsettled all day, but I still managed to have a reasonably good time. We ordered takeout for dinner from the pub in the plaza. It arrived shortly after 7 & I was famished. It was good. I had a chicken ranch wrap, with chicken, lettuce, tomato, cheese & ranch dressing in a pita -- & I decided to be healthy & have a salad instead of fries. The salad was basically just iceberg lettuce, shredded carrots & cucumber slices (which I took off, because I hate cucumber). It came with a little plastic container full of dressing... I wasn't sure what it was, but upon tasting, it seemed to be a raspberry vinaigrette. I saved the salad for last.

Almost as soon as I finished eating, my lips started burning. I went into the washroom to wash my hands. They were all red & swollen, & the skin around my mouth was red too. Sometimes if I've eaten something spicy, my lips will sting like that, so I put some lip balm on them & went back to my table. I guess maybe I was in denial. Then I started feeling very hot & itchy, went back to the bathroom, & I was getting big red blotches on my chest & neck.

By now it was about 8, so I called dh to come get me & started packing up my stuff. I went to pay my bill, & the store owner said, "Are you having an allergic reaction?" All the girls started gathering around me & saying I looked red & puffy & how did I feel? I was already feeling stressed, & this scared the crap out of me. One girl offered to take me to the hospital, but I said my husband was on his way. As we stood there talking, I was already starting to feel better, they said they could see the redness starting to fade a little. Someone said I should get to a drugstore & get some Benadryl.

Dh arrived & I had to tell him what was going on. To his credit, he stayed pretty calm. We figured because it happened right after I ate, it was the food (as opposed to the amoxicillin), & I think the salad/dressing was probably the likely culprit, because I noticed my lips burning as soon as I finished my salad. (He said, "That will teach you to pass up french fries," lol.) My girlfriend, more familiar with the area than we were, drove ahead & guided us to the nearest drugstore, where I got some Benadryl & popped one as soon as we left the store, around 8:45, & that helped too.

When we got home, I called the Telehealth line. They agreed that it seemd to be food related. Since I was already feeling better, they didn't think it was necessary to go to emergency (I figured they'd probably just give me Benadryl there anyway.) I took another Benadryl (decided to skip the amoxicillin until I could speak with my dr, just in case) & went to bed, & when I woke up, the redness & swelling was completely gone. But the scratchy, sore throat was back. ARGH.

Called my family dr yesterday morning & talked to his nurse. She agreed it was something I ate & said I should carry some Benadryl with me, & if it ever happens again, take 2 & get to emergency right away, because a reaction like that often increases in severity over time. Greeeaaaaat.

I was feeling OK until late afternoon. It was a busy, stressful day, but when I went to the washroom before packing up, I noticed that my cheeks, neck & chest area were red again. Now, I often do turn red in those spots (ears too) whenever I am stressed or concentrating hard or listening intently… but of course, this sent me into a tizzy. I took a Benadryl & tried not to slide into an anxiety attack on the train ride home. Dh's patience was wearing thin by bedtime, I think.

I'm not sure why it happens, but I go through periods where I become totally paranoid about my health and get fixated on the latest thing that's bothering me. Both periods (June 2001 & March/April 2002) where I suffered bouts of anxiety & had to resort to taking Ativan were preceded by extreme stress on my part over health issues (my final, unsuccessful IUI & the lingering side effects -- I was convinced at one point that my swollen ankles were due to congestive heart failure caused by OHSS...!), and gastro-intestinal issues that were ultimately diagnosed as gallstones & mild reflux).

Dh wants to know if I was always like this. I think I always have been a bit of a hypochondriac, but these days, Dr. Google has made it far too easy to type symptoms into a search engine & come up with a worst case scenario that sends me into a tizzy.

When I was younger, I always had this image of myself as a healthy person. (And I am... really... I really do know that compared to many people, I have absolutely nothing to complain about.) But gradually, that image has eroded, been chipped away. Nothing major in itself, but one small problem or issue after another. First it was the bladder/kidney condition I was born with & was diagnosed with as child (which, as I later learned in adulthood, has a high co-relation with uterine abnormalities). Seasonal tree, pollen and grass allergies when I moved to southern Ontario. A mild heart murmur and the discovery of optic nerve head "drusen" in my eyes during my mid-20s. (The drusen interfere mildly with my peripheral vision, but have remained stable and not gotten any worse over the past 20+ years.) Hypothyroidism in my mid-30s (I will have to take thyroid medication for the rest of my life). A bicornuate uterus, stillbirth and infertility in my late 30s, followed by a mild bout of cervical dysplasia (that eventually reversed itself) and anxiety attacks. Gallstones and mild reflux in my early 40s. Most recently, borderline hypertension that I'm trying to resolve by cutting back on salt & exercising more. I also lived through the 2003 SARS outbreak in Toronto which, while blown way out of proportion by the media, was nevertheless unsettling and made those of us who lived through it hyperaware of the germs lurking everywhere -- especially working downtown, commuting on public transit, and crossing paths with thousands of people every single day. (Have I left anything out??)

It's not just what's happening to me as I age -- it's what I see happening around me to people I know and love. My husband's mother, aunt and two uncles all died of cancer between the ages of 50 and 60 (another also died of cancer, albeit one week short of his 80th birthday). My healthy-as-a-horse 85-year-old grandmother slipped, fell, complained about her knee (but not her head), and ultimately died several months later after seizures, the diagnosis of an undetected subdural hematoma, and unsuccessful brain surgery. My uncle (whom I am said by all to resemble closely, both in looks & personality) had a heart attack in his late 50s. Two male cousins, the son of family friends (listed as my first "boyfriend" in my baby book), and my high school best friend's brother, all died tragically in their very early 40s -- one in a house fire, one from a pulmonary embolism, one from a heart aneurysm and one from melanoma. A colleague, younger than I am, with a teenaged son, recently struggled with colon cancer (but happily returned to work earlier this year). A beloved friend of my mother's died of cancer.

It's what happens as you grow older. You come to realize that life is short, fragile and precious. You come to realize that you are not invincible, that nobody is. That someday, you're going to die. And that while most people do live to be a ripe old age, some lives are cut brutally, suddenly, unjustly short.

How to reconcile that knowledge, & the dread that fills you when you notice strange or unusual things happening to your body? You know that it's almost always normal -- but what if it's not? How do you know? Do those weird cramps & vague nausea indicate PMS, perimenopause or ovarian cancer? Is that another age spot on my skin, or the beginnings of melanoma? Is that pain in the side of my head a subdural hematoma like my grandmother's, leftover from the bang I took on the head last year, or is it just a headache? Is it just a really bad cold season, or lymphoma?

My family dr is a patient, stoic, unflappable man. Often he will humour me by prescribing a battery of tests to prove there's nothing wrong with me, but sometimes he will just give me a perfunctory examination & tell me I'm fine. I'm not always convinced. If I'm fine, why do I feel so crappy? Dh's patience with my anxiety ebbs & flows (along with his own health-related anxieties!) ; ) but he's made great strides lately & has been mostly supportive during this last round of angst on my part. Even so, the message to me is often clear: why am I being so silly? Why am I making such a fuss?

It's a message that women in particular are taught from a very early age -- and with both stoic Scandinavians and stiff-upper-lip Anglo-Saxons in my background, perhaps I absorbed that lesson even better than most. Little boys may be told "shh" but they are almost expected to be noisy and to draw attention to themselves.But little girls? It's not ladylike to be so loud. Suck it up. It's not that bad. Don't put up a fuss. Don't make a scene. (It must run in the family. My godmother recently crawled around the house for two days, feeling dizzy, before finally going to the hospital and being diagnosed with a mild stroke.)

When I was about 2 or 3, I was shopping with my mother and, as children sometimes do, I started whining & then making an even bigger fuss, until the whole store was watching. My mother did something that would probably get her arrested today. She promptly marched me outside to the car & spanked me soundly. "Don't you EVER do that again," she said. Don't make a scene. And I didn't. And I often still don't. Even when, maybe, I really should.

When I had all four of my wisdom teeth out at once, I took the painkillers my dentist prescribed. I started throwing up, but kept on taking the pills -- because, after all, he had told me to. Until we finally called him and he told me to stop. I almost wound up in the hospital from dehydration because I didn't want to be a bad girl and not follow instructions to the letter.

When I was ttc, and time was passing, I would go to my doctor, & he would reassure me, "It will happen." And I would leave his office, trying to believe his words, instead of insisting he send me for some tests to see why I wasn't getting pregnant. Don't make a scene.

When I was (finally) pregnant and started spotting and feared I was miscarrying, everyone told me spotting was normal. Don't make a scene. So I swallowed my concerns. And lost my baby at 26 weeks. And I did most of my crying in private. If anyone has the right to shed tears in public, it's the mother of a dead baby, but I didn't do it. Don't make a scene.

When I banged my head on a towel rack while vacuuming a few years back, it hurt like hell. I probably should have asked dh to take me to the hospital to get checked out. But he was already so upset, and -- I didn't want to make a scene. (Not to mention sit in an emergency waiting room for hours & hours.) So I took Tylenol & held an ice pack to my head and sucked it up for the next several weeks it took for the aching to subside. I did go the doctor a day or so later (& of course, he told me I'd be fine).

My first instinct when I noticed those red swollen lips & blotches on my skin on Saturday night was to hope that it would go away before anyone would notice, before dh arrived. To pretend that everything was fine. Don't draw attention to yourself. Don't make a scene.

There has to be a balance somewhere between making a scene & being a doormat. I hope I find it some day soon. (Does hitting the "publish" button on this whine, er, post, constitute making a scene in public??)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Barren B*tches Book Brigade: "Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen

Time once again for another tour of the Barren B*tches Book Brigade, organized by Melissa at Stirrup Queens & Sperm Palace Jesters. This is an online book club where bloggers sign up, read the book (usually, but not always, related to infertility and pregnancy loss), & submit a question. The questions are distributed among the participants, and we pick at least three to answer in our blog, then visit each other's blogs to comment.

One of the great pleasures of participating in a book club (in real life or in cyberspace) is reading a book that you might not otherwise have picked up, maybe even thought you wouldn't really like, & being happily surprised. "Water for Elephants" was one of those books for me. I saw it every time I went to a bookstore over the past year or so. (At Chapters-Indigo bookstores here in Canada, it's a "Heather's Pick," meaning it's "guaranteed" by CEO Heather Reisman as a great read, & your money back if you don't agree.) I may have read the back cover & paged through it a few times, but for some reason, I never picked it up, until Mel announced it as a future book tour selection. Perhaps because of the sad-faced, lonely-looking clown on the cover (at least, on the cover of the edition being sold here in Canada), I wasn't sure it was a book I'd like.

Well, I'm happy to say I was wrong. I loved this book & gobbled it up over a weekend. It's a vivid portrait of life in a third-rate Depression-era circus. There was a cinematic quality to this book (aided by the great period photos scattered throughout). It played like a movie in my head as I read it. I mulled over who I would cast in the movie version -- Shia LaBouef or maybe Jake Gyllenhall (too old?) as the young Jacob? Verne Troyer or the guy from the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies as Walter Kinko? Scarlett Johannson or Reese Witherspoon as the beauteous blond Marlena?

Oh -- and, like Jacob, I totally fell in love with Rosie the elephant. ; )

On to some of the questions:

What is your favorite circus related memory?

When I was about 12 or 13 years old, my parents took my sister & I to the Shrine Circus. I'm not sure why they decided to do this -- they probably wanted to give us the circus experience & figured this was as good as chance as we were going to get, living in small, isolated Prairie towns as we did. Even so, it was a good 2 or 2.5 hour drive to the larger town where it was being held, & then 2-2.5 hours back again, and we did it all in one day. It seems to me we did it on a school night too. I don't remember a lot about it, except that we were very tired, but had a lot of fun & ate a lot of popcorn. It was held in an arena, not under a big tent (are there any circuses like that any more?), & it was probably the biggest gathering of people I'd ever been to thus far in my life (a few thousand people, I would guess). I also remember going to see the Moscow Circus at the old Winnipeg Arena (now torn down) when I was in high school, & marvelling at the exotic acrobatic acts.

The passages in the book about the luscious Barbara & the hoochie tent (!!) made me think of the annual county fair in northwestern Minnesota where my grandparents lived. It was a small town, with just a small midway, but my sister & I loved it. The carny people always seemed rough & dirty & vaguely exotic, & our parents warned us to watch our money when we went off on our own (we had soooo much more freedom than kids today...!). One year (& only one year that I can remember), there was an attraction along the lines of a "hoochie tent." My sister, cousins & I watched open mouthed (along with dozens of men & boys) as some a group of scantily clad & heavily made up "dancers" paraded outside before the next show (which, of course, you had to pay to see, & be of legal age). But I really can't imagine anything too illicit going on in there in this whitebread little town full of the descendants of upstanding Swedish & Norwegian settlers, where there was probably one church for every 100 people. (Then again...!! )

On page 109, old Jacob complains about how his family keeps secrets from him: "And those are just the things I know about. There are a host of others they don't mention because they don't want to upset me. I've caught wind of several, but when I ask questions, they clam right up. Mustn't upset Grandpa, you know... Why? That's what I want to know. I hate this bizarre policy of protective exclusion, because it effectively writes me off the page. If I don't know about what's going on in their lives, how am I supposed to insert myself in the conversation?... I've decided it's not about me at all. It's a protective mechanism for them, a way of buffering themselves against my future death..." Reading this, I could see myself in both Jacob & in his family members, both in respect to our infertility situation and other matters. Whose viewpoint do you relate to most in this passage and why?

Full disclosure: this was the question that I submitted. I was thinking about all the secrecy surrounding infertility in families in particular and a post I wrote in response to Mel's question, "to tell or not to tell?"

All families have secrets, & I can relate to both Jacob & to his children in this passage. There are secrets that I'm keeping right now from my parents. Nothing huge, but I don't tell them everything that happens in my life. Sometimes I don't feel like I have all the information yet & don't want to worry them unnecessarily. At the same time, I know there are some secrets they've kept from me, & sometimes when I find out, it pisses me off that I've been shut out of the loop (especially if my sister knows something that I don't). The fact that we live such a distance away from each other makes it easier to maintain secrecy. As I wrote in a previous post about deciding to tell my parents that I was pregnant immediately after I found out myself, I have a guilty face. One look at me & you know something's up.

Jacob says "it's a protective mechanism." Sometimes you have to wonder just who is protecting whom.

(From the discussion questions at the end of the book) Looking at himself in the mirror, the old Jacob tries "to see beyond the sagging flesh." But he claims, "It's no good....I can't find myself anymore. When did I stop being me?" How would you answer that question for Jacob or for yourself?

This was another passage I had marked in the book. I'm nowhere near as old as Jacob (!)(yet!!), but I've caught myself thinking the same thing sometimes in recent years. I often look at photos of myself as a teenager, at university, when I first met dh. Such fresh-faced innocence. There was a sparkle in my eyes back then that I think is missing from most photos of me these days. I think about how I used to agonize over my weight back then... oh, to be 120 lbs again!! Deep down inside, though, I think I still feel like the same me -- a little sadder & wiser for all the life experiences I've been through since those photos were taken. Loss & infertility have certainly played a role in that, & taken their toll.

It was right about the time that I got pregnant that we hosted our first intern at the office & I realized, with a shock, that there was a yawning gap between myself & the next generation rising up through the ranks. Of course, that gap has only gotten wider over the past 10 years. I've written posts before about aging, & the 20-something singles who seem to dominate my office these days. I'm sure I seem positively ancient to them. I know I'm almost the same age as their parents (I'm just one year younger than one girl's mother!!). And if I feel like this now, when I'm still a few years away from (gulp) 50, what's it going to be like when I'm 60? 70? 80?

My only comfort is the certainty that someday (much as they can't envision it -- just as I once couldn't...!), these pretty young things at my office will also have wrinkles & sunspots & grey hairs & a few too many pounds stretching out those tattoos & pert belly button rings. ; )

Something that struck me about this book in particular was the rich, descriptive way the author handled Jacob as an elderly man. His frustration was so apparent, his physical manifestation so perfectly described, that of all of the elements of this book Jacob the Elderly is what stays with me. You had the sense that Jacob didn't foresee his latter years being the way they were, and his almost "ride off into the sunset" ending perhaps what he had envisaged for his end. Do you think about what's at the end of the road someday? When you think about it, what do you see for yourself?

Of course I think about it. (Although the option of running away with the circus when I'm in my 90s hadn't occurred to me...!) Being childless/free as we are. I HAVE to think about it. I can't count on anyone else being around to take care of me & dh when we get old(er??). I know that having children is absolutely no guarantee that they are going to take care of you -- there are plenty of lonely old people in nursing homes whose children never or rarely visit them. But your odds are certainly better than people with no children at all, aren't they?

Not that I think I'd want to live with one of my children, if I had any. But it's nice to have someone looking in on you & making sure that your needs are being met. Or at least trying, lol. I think of my grandparents, & how my mother spent the last 10 years of their lives running back & forth every week or so to see them. They lived about a 1.5 hour drive away from my parents. As my grandmother slipped into dementia, her housecleaning & hygiene started slipping too. My mother tried to arrange for a homemaker service from the county to come once a week to do the cleaning & laundry, help my grandparents with baths. My grandmother (still showing flashes of independence) refused to let the woman into the apartment. It drove my poor mother to distraction.

Eventually, Grandma also simply stopped cooking (which was a huge pity from a culinary viewpoint, totally aside from the nutritional aspect -- she was a fabulous cook in her time). My mother would come for the weekend & cook up a storm, packaging up leftover roast beef and frozen lasagnas with instruction labels on how to reheat it -- & the next time she'd come, it would still be there in the refrigerator, untouched & growing mould. Thank God for the Meals on Wheels program, which delivered hot lunches several times a week -- I think that's what kept my grandparents going. Eventually, lacking a proper diet, my grandfather became ill, & they had to move into the local nursing home. (My sister said he looked like something out of a POW camp by that point.) It wasn't a bad place, and they lucked into getting a room together, so they didn't have to be separated for the first time in nearly 60 years of marriage. It was full of people (& staffed with people) they'd known all their lives. My mother said she knew they'd be reasonably well treated, because in such a small town, where everybody knew everybody and had for years & years, it would get around if they weren't, lol. Even so, my mother kept their apartment until they were both gone -- subsidized it with her own money, & would come on weekends & bring them "home" and cook for them. (From a practical perspective, in a town with just two rather ancient barebones motels, & only two of mother's cousins left as kin, it also gave us all a place to stay when we went there to visit.)

I hope that our two nephews (dh's brother's sons) will think fondly enough of us to check in on us now & then... but I know I can't count on that. I'm hoping that, unlike my grandmother, I won't be too proud or stubborn to realize when I need some help, and will have enough money saved (since I won't have diapers & college educations to worry about) to afford it. I'm hoping for some sort of assisted living arrangement as opposed to a nursing home, for as long as I can manage. And I'm hoping that I can manage for awhile. (My other grandfather lived, with my deaf-mute uncle, by himself on a farm and cooked his own breakfast porridge every morning until he was felled by a stroke at the age of 96. He didn't get around too well towards the end, but until he had his stroke, his mind & memory were crystal clear.) I'm also hoping that the older baby boomers who retire ahead of me will make enough of a fuss about conditions in the retirement homes that they wind up in (just as they've had an impact on every other institution that they've touched!) that they'll be better places to live by the time I move in.

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at http://stirrup-queens.blogspot.com/. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: The Empty Picture Frame by Jenna Nadeau (with author participation because she's a blogger!)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Show and Tell: In My Life, I've always loved these guys...


For some reason, try as I might, I can't get this image to show up any larger. But I think you can see enough of it to realize that it's the Beatles. I decided to write about them for Show & Tell today.
I was born in 1961, around the time the Beatles were playing the clubs in Hamburg, before they hit it big, first in Britain & then the rest of the world. So I was too young to experience Beatlemania first hand, but I honestly can't remember a time when they weren't part of my life. My mother says we saw them in their famous first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show (we watched Ed faithfully, along with a big bowl of popcorn -- having only one TV channel at the time -- something that I'm sure is incomprehensible to kids today!! -- there was nothing else to do on Sunday nights). I don't remember that, but I do remember seeing clips of their 1965 concert at Shea Stadium on the Sullivan show -- my most vivid memory is not of the Beatles themselves but of girls dashing out onto the turf to pull up the blades of grass the Fab Four had walked on.
I remember watching The Beatles cartoon show on Saturday morning at my grandmother's house, & afterwards jumping up & down on the bed with my cousin, singing "YEAH YEAH YEAH!!" at the top of our lungs.
I remember my mother (who is actually younger than Ringo & John) taking me to see "Help!" at the movies when I was still a preschooler. This made a huge impression on my young psyche. For years afterward, I had dreams about Ringo's ring stuck on my finger, and falling through trap doors into cellars with tigers pacing around.
I remember watching couples in the gym at my junior high school, slowdancing to "Hey Jude," always the last song at our school dances. (In high school, we graduated to Led Zeppelin & "Stairway to Heaven," lol. What song is always played as the last dance at high school dances these days??)
I remember the awful day, when I was at university, hearing that John Lennon had been murdered. I watched a montage of clips set to "In My Life" on the news that night, & sobbed uncontrollably. It's so hard to pick a favourite Beatles song, but I think that might be it. I've told dh I want it played at my funeral.
I remember seeing the movies "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" & "Backbeat," & wishing I had been just a little older, so that I could have tried sneaking into the Beatles hotel room like Nancy Allen did. (Recently, we saw "Across the Universe," and I wondered how many younger moviegoers "got" the in-joke about the Cavern Club & the leather-clad group that was onstage near the movie's beginning??)
I remember watching "The Beatles Anthology" when it was first shown on TV, & the thrill of seeing Paul, George & Ringo, together again, talking about old times. And sitting in appreciative silence all the way through the credits of the very last episode, set to "Blackbird."
Every night as we drive home from the commuter train station, we flip the car radio to the local classic rock radio station & listen to their nightly "Beatle Break" -- two Beatles songs played back to back. The cares of the day slide away & I sing along, sometimes singing lead with John or Paul, sometimes harmonizing along with George. There is nothing in the world like a Beatles song to put a smile on my face, if only for the two & a half minutes it takes to play it.
What music never fails to put a smile on your face?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Infertility in the news

Today's National Post had a special four-page section on Infertility Awareness Week in Canada and the IAAC. I'm not sure how long the link I'm posting will work, but there were some good stories in there. I was particularly tickled by "Choices that will bear fruit," which features one couple who decided to adopt -- and another who made the choice to live childfree. I remember that this particular couple was also featured in a Chatelaine magazine article that covered various aspects of infertility in the May 2007 (Mother's Day!! -- I was impressed!) issue. So nice to see the childfree option being given some consideration in the media.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A rose by any name sure smells sweet...

...especially when it's handed to you by a blogger you admire & love to read, like Deathstar at A Woman My Age.

Deathstar has graciously given me a Pink Rose Award -- my very first blogging "award!" I love pink roses. I had pink & white roses for my wedding bouquet, & I take pink roses to Katie's niche every year on August 7th.

I take great pleasure in passing the Pink Rose on to a couple of other deserving bloggers who haven't yet received one:


  • JuliaS, a longtime Internet friend who continues to inspire me (& now others) with her wisdom, wit & tenacity in the face of recurrent loss;
  • Ellen K., who is now happily pregnant with twins, but hasn't forgotten what it's like on the other side of the coin;
  • Mrs. Spit, a fellow Canuck & babyloss mom whose posts alternately make me laugh & cry; and
  • Sharah, whose recent post about leaving Infertility Island was the perfect analogy for those of us who are living childfree after infertility &/or loss, or considering making the leap into those unknown waters.
The rules are as follows:
1. On your blog, copy and paste the award, these rules, a link back to the person who selected you, and a link to this post. You will find the story behind the Pink Rose Award and other graphics to choose from there.
2. Select as many award recipients as you would like, link to their blogs (if they have one), and explain why you have chosen them.
3. Let them know that you have selected them for an award by commenting on one of their posts.
4. If you are selected, pass it on by giving the Pink Rose Award to others.
5. If you find that someone you want to nominate has already been selected by someone else, you can still honor them by posting a comment on their award post stating your reasons for wishing to grant them the award.
6. You do not have to wait until someone nominates you to nominate someone else.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

All hail Queen Victoria...

Thanks to her, we have a long weekend here in Canada. Victoria Day is traditionally celebrated among Canadians as (among other things):

  • the weekend when cottagers head north to open up the cottage & see what damage the mice & squirrels have wrought over the winter;
  • the kickoff to gardening season (assuming you've actually had some frost-free overnights);
  • a good excuse to party & drink beer (Victoria Day was traditionally on the Queen's actual birthday, May 24th -- hence the nickname "May 2-4");
  • a good excuse to set off fireworks in your yard & scare the cr@p out of your neighbours, who fear having a Roman candle come whizzing through their front door (this is not as funny or unrealistic as it might sound, particularly in suburbia, where the frontage of most lots is about 30-50 feet max). This is, I think, something peculiar to Ontario (at any rate, it's not something I recall being a big deal, growing up in small towns on the Prairies). Ontarians seem to set off as many if not more fireworks on the Victoria Day weekend as they do on Canada Day.

I'm listening to the fireworks exploding outside as I type. It's actually stopped raining long enough for people to set them off. It has been mostly cold, wet & miserable so far this weekend, although things might improve somewhat tomorrow (we hope). Despite a round of amoxicillin (not to mention Monistat), I've had a bit of a relapse of my sore throat/plugged up ear. Grrr. I could feel it coming on Friday morning, but couldn't get in to see my dr until Tuesday. I've held it at bay with some Tylenol, decongestant & good old-fashioned saltwater gargles. Sometimes the old ways really are the best. Unfortunately, I couldn't hold off AF. Sometimes it doesn't just rain but it pours. Sigh.

For dh & me, this May long weekend marks 18 years since we moved into our house. We thought we'd be here maybe five years tops, then move onto something larger to accommodate our expanding family. Well, it's still just the two of us, and we're still here (although at least the mortgage isn't, yay us!). With the weather being so lousy & me not feeling 100%, we put off doing any yard work (plus I wouldn't go near a garden centre this weekend if you paid me...!), & have stuck to doing what we know & love best: sleeping in, & visiting two different local Chapters bookstores, lol.

Last night we went to FIL's. StepBIL & his pg wife were there, & SIL & I were handed our invitations to the shower, which is June 29th. There is no way that I can get out of going, so I will just have to bite the bullet & visit Babies R Us one of these weekends (soon, before the registry gets too picked over).

*** *** ***

Yesterday's Globe & Mail had an interview with Cherie Blair, the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and an excerpt from her new memoir. The passage describes how Blair discovered -- at age 47, the age I am now -- that she was once again pregnant, only to learn at an ultrasound that the baby had no heartbeat.

With four other children, including Leo, born when she was already in her 40s, this woman obviously had no fertility problems. But it's still heartbreaking to read about her loss -- & especially how her husband & his advisors, without consulting her, decided to announce it to the world for political reasons. Thank God most of us have never had that particular angle to worry about in the middle of grieving a lost baby.

*** *** ***

I've added a new icon in the top right-hand corner. Mel at Stirrup Queens is sponsoring NaCommLeavMo, a new initiative to promote dialogue among bloggers (IF-related & otherwise), beginning next Sunday, May 25th, and running for one month until June 25th. Those of us who have signed up -- 165 at last count (!!) -- have pledged to leave 5 comments a day on other people's blogs & return at least one comment a day left on our own blogs. If you're interested in taking part, click on the link here or the one just below the icon to find out more.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Weekend followup/fallout

I found an link to the Macleans article on international adoption that I mentioned in one of yesterday's posts. Let me know what you think, if you read it.

After I wrote about my cousin's pg 21-year-old daughter last night, my mom called back to say she'd heard from my uncle, & the baby arrived two weeks ago (!)(and yes, she has another outlandish sort of name with a weird spelling).

On this morning's train commute (40 minutes), we had to endure the conversation of two idiotic young girls yapping to each other (loudly) across the aisle from us. I said to dh that I would peg them as high schoolers, except they were obviously going to work (the one in particular is a regular, although we've had to endure similar conversations between the two of them before) & the one girl was talking about her toddler son. They both had that "like, you knoooowww" cadence to their voices, were chewing gum (with their mouths open!!) & the one girl was playing with her hair the entire trip -- I could see her doing it out of the corner of my eye, & it was driving me nuts.

Yep, people like that get to have kids...!!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Oops, I must eat my words...

...(well, some of them, anyway). The Star actually did have one really good article in its motherhood section yesterday. They interviewed Lesley Parrott, mother of Alison Parrott, an 11-year-old girl who was brutally murdered in the summer of 1986, when I had only been married & living in this city for about a year. The Parrott family home was about one subway stop south of ours, & the posters asking "Did you see Alison?" were everywhere for a long time after the girl's disappearance.

Although our situations are very different, Parrott is still a bereaved parent, & talks about grief in a way that had me nodding my head all through the article.

In other noteworthy reading, this week's issue of Maclean's (Canada's version of Time or Newsweek) had a great feature story about how difficult it is becoming to adopt from China (or anywhere else internationally, for that matter). It doesn't appear to be online yet (I guess because the issue is still on newsstands), but I thought it gave a good picture of the hurdles that prospective adoptive parents face. "Just adopt," indeed....

TGIAO (i.e., Thank God It's Almost Over)

I've been offline all weekend & am just catching up on my Google Reader. A lot of people have been posting about today. Lori at Weebles Wobblog had a great alternate title for it: "Drothers Day" (as well as a very kind shoutout for me). I think I'm going to retitle today on all my calendars after I go back downstairs, lol.

The hype has been building steadily to a crescendo, to the point where I thought I was going to scream. Friday morning, listening to the radio while getting ready for work, I noticed no less than three commercials in a row blaring about The Day That Shall Not Be Named (But Will Soon, Thank God, Be Over With For Another Year). There may have even been one or more others before I noticed & started counting. I never thought I'd be looking forward to Monday on a Friday afternoon, but if ever there was a reason, this is it...!

Yesterday's Toronto Star had an entire SECTION devoted to motherhood -- on top of several other motherhood-related stories in its Life section, & several more today (!!). There was one token reference to fertility treatment, & not so much in the "infertility is painful" sense, but "science is doing amazing things" vein. And two adoption-related stories. That was about it, insofar as acknowledging that this could be a difficult day for many people for many different reasons.

And the lead story on tonight's local newscast? Why, mothers who had their first baby on Mother's Day, of course. Gag.

At any rate, it's almost over, & I've survived for another year. Dh has spoiled me thoroughly all weekend long. He had to go into the office for awhile yesterday morning, & I cleaned & did laundry, but in the evening, he took me out for a steak & to the local megabookstore. It was still light outside, so we decided to stop at the cemetery where our daughter's ashes are interred in a niche. I figured it would be less busy than it would be today, & I was right.

We visit the cemetery just about every week, & I rarely cry these days, but I still do on days like this one. Thinking about how happy & excited we were 10 years ago, looking forward to a baby and a new family life together. And 10 years later, the reality: dh & me, alone, standing together in front of a niche in the cemetery. He likes to trace the letters of her name, while I always tickle the belly of the teddy bear that's engraved on the plaque with my finger.

Today he took me to a few of the scrapbook stores in the area. All the clerks remarked to me how quiet the day had been (I kind of figured it would be). We stopped at Tim Hortons for bagels & coffee/tea for lunch, & then came home, where he made me spaghetti (one of my favourites) for dinner.

And I called my mom.

Today would have been my Grandma's 94th birthday. She passed away in October 1989 at age 85. I still miss her & my Grandpa so much. Another reason why today is sad for me.

My mom said my cousin's daughter (who is in her very early 20s) is expecting her second baby any day now (they know it's a girl). In fact, she tried calling both my cousin's & my uncle's houses today (the baby's grandparents' & great-grandparents ) & got no answer. "Wouldn't that be something if she was born on Grandma's birthday," she said. (Oh sure...!) Both my cousin's daughter & her first daughter (who is now about 2.5) look eerily like my sister & I did as children. I seem to remember writing about the first baby in a previous post, although I can't find it at the moment. That side of the family seems to be overflowing with fertility genes -- lots of "oops" pregnancies & young marriages (although my cousin's daughter isn't married to the father of her children, yet). Where was I when those genes were being passed out??

Had I had a second daughter, she was going to be named Amanda Claire -- Amanda for my great-grandmother, & Claire for my grandmother (whose name was Clara). I'm praying that this new baby doesn't get either of those names. Although they are probably too old fashioned for the parents anyway. ; ) Her older sister has a made-up name that is partly the mother's & partly the father's.

Here's to Monday...!!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Differing perspectives...

So I was at my desk this morning & I noticed that my pregnant co-worker hadn't shown up yet. Someone else said, "Where is she?" & one of the 20-somethings squealed, "Oh yes -- she's finding out the sex today!!" -- i.e., having an ultrasound.

I bowed my head at my desk & prayed that would be all she found out today.

She came in around 11 & headed straight for our boss's office (near mine) & proceeded to spill the beans -- the baby wasn't co-operating (again), but the technician is 60% sure it's a girl, blah blah. Everyone was giggling & chattering excitedly.

I stayed at my desk, struggling to focus on my work -- wishing with all my heart that I could return to the days when an ultrasound only meant finding out the baby's gender & getting a keepsake photo.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

May 1998: First appointments, first decisions

Friday, May 1st, was the last day of work for one of my colleagues (from another area of our department) before mat leave. (She had a girl a few days later.) I don't recall the celebration, but we usually have a sendoff with cake & the collective group gift. I'm sure I was thinking that my turn would be next!

Saturday, May 2nd, BIL called to let us know that their cousin's FIL had passed away suddenly. This is the cousin who had just had a baby boy less than two weeks earlier. Dh went to the funeral home visitation that evening. His family tends to be superstitious & would probably have thought it bad luck for me to be there. I was tired anyway & so was happy to stay home. I remember sitting on the couch, eating crackers & cheese & watching "Apollo 13" (the true story of a doomed space mission, albeit with an ultimately happy ending) on TV, & waiting for him to come home.

I continued to receive congratulations from colleagues at work. On May 6th, I received an enveloped containing a congratulatory note & some information on my company's maternity leave policies from our office administrator, and I called to thank her. That same day, one of the girls in another area of the department stopped by to ask whether I'd like her to lend me some maternity clothes. Of course I said yes. A few days later, she dropped by my desk again with a shopping bag containing a half-dozen blouses. One was a long-sleeved knit shirt that I set aside for the fall. Another pink, floral & frilly, I wore once but decided it was not my style. But there were two or three others that I wore often.

Sunday, May 3rd was my beloved grandfather's 86th birthday, & Monday, May 11th was my grandmother's 84th. Sunday, May 10th was Mother's Day. We didn't go to church, but we went to a movie ("As Good as it Gets," with Jack Nicholson & Helen Hunt, who won the Oscar). Dh gave me a card & (after much hinting from me), the Boyds Bears teddy bear figurine that I mentioned in a previous post. I can remember thinking how much fun it would be next year, when there were three of us, & I really was a mother to a baby, who would be about six months old by then. What fun that would be!!

Friday morning, May 15th (day 97 of my pregnancy, or about 12 weeks) was our genetic counselling appointment. I thought it was strange that I was going for genetic counselling before I even got to see my OB (& even stranger that it was at the hospital across the street from the one where my OB practices), but when I called for my OB appointment, I was told to call for counselling ASAP, & this is how it all worked out. I received an advance package in the mail, including a yellow booklet that explained about genetic testing, amnio & CVS. I think there was also a booklet about maternal serum screening (the triple screen test) -- I acquired one of those somewhere along the way. And there were forms in the mail to be filled out & brought to the appointment, including a detailed questionnaire about our families' medical & reproductive history. I had to call my mother to get help answering some of the questions.

The walls of the waiting room of the Prenatal Diagnosis unit were lined with photos of babies conceived through the hospital's IVF program. At the appointment, they showed us a movie about genetic testing (amnio & CVS). I was told they might do an ultrasound to date the pregnancy, but I don't remember that they did one. And we had a chat with a genetic counsellor, who asked us questions & drew up a chart, telling us, in a European accent, "I like this chart, very much." This was very reassuring.

We were asked whether we wanted to book an amniocentisis or CVS. I wasn't sure I wanted to do any testing at all -- and I was certainly very reluctant to do anything before I'd even seen my ob-gyn! -- but was encouraged to book an appointment anyway, to ensure I could get in around the appropriate time (the 16th week). "You can always cancel," they said, so I booked an amniocentisis for Friday, June 5th.

That Monday was the Victoria Day holiday in Canada. My mom called to tell my one of my best friends from childhood, a girl about three years younger than me, had had her baby -- a boy, weighing almost 9 lbs! His mother, my friend, had a twin sister who died at birth, & she herself had cerebral palsy, & had battled medical challenges all her life. She was a thin, rather frail girl, & all of us around her felt very protective of her. Still, she'd done amazingly well, much more so than I think anyone had ever dreamed. She'd attended university, gotten her degree, gotten married, and now had a baby. Whenever my own pregnancy & fertility problems threatened to get me down, I always had this friend in the back of my mind as a source of inspiration: "If she could do it, & wind up with a healthy baby, I most certainly can too." (Can't I?)

Tuesday, May 19th, right after the long weekend, was (finally!!) my first ob-gyn appointment. Dh came with me. I remember giving a urine sample, having my blood pressure checked, being weighed. Patients lined the crowded hallway outside the tiny office. It was like an assembly line.

Eventually, we were sent into an examination room & I was told to put on a gown. The dr finally came in, shook our hands, asked how I was feeling. I mentioned the spotting I had experienced, & he said it was normal. I also asked him about the bicornuate uterus, & he was also unflapped by that. And I asked him some questions about the amnio. I also asked him whether there would be any restrictions on me travelling that summer (thinking ahead to a visit home to see my parents and my grandparents, & show off my pregnant belly to the extended family) -- nope, "enjoy your vacation," he said.

Then he went to examine me. Dh started looking a little green around the gills & said, "I'll just wait outside" (lol). "Oh no, I'm going to listen to the heartbeat next, & you don't want to miss that," the dr said, & he was right -- even though we'd heard it already, during our emergency room visit a few weeks earlier, it was an unforgettable moment.

After weighing all the information I could gather, on Wednesday, May 27th, I called the hospital to cancel the amniocentisis appointment. I called my ob-gyn's office to let them know. I'd decided that we'd do the maternal serum screening. I'd already had enough worry about miscarriage -- I figured I would get a clear result from the bloodwork, plus the usual ultrasound, & that would provide reassurance enough, without getting too invasive.

At least, that was the plan...

Monday, May 5, 2008

Article: "Canada's U.S. baby boom"

This story was on the front page of this morning's Globe & Mail. Scary stuff, & scarier still when you realize many of the couples facing this scenario have already been through the wringer with infertility & high-risk pregnancies.

Follow the link & have a gander at the comments (it will be active for about a week). Of course there are posters saying it's all the fault of women waiting too long to have babies, grrr....!!

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Canada's U.S. baby boom
With neonatal resources stretched thin, more and more high-risk infants are sent south to find a bed
LISA PRIEST
From Monday's Globe and Mail
May 5, 2008 at 3:49 AM EDT

More than 100 Canadian women with high-risk pregnancies have been sent to United States hospitals over the past year – in what a doctors' group attributes to the lack of a national birthing plan.

The problem has peaked, with British Columbia and Ontario each sending a record number of women to U.S. neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). Specifically, 80 B.C. women have been sent to U.S. hospitals since April 1, 2007; in Ontario, 28 have been sent since January of 2007, according to figures from the respective health ministries.

André Lalonde, executive vice-president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, said the problem is due to bed closings that took place almost a decade ago, the absence of a national birthing initiative and too few staff.

“Neonatologists are very stretched right now,” Dr. Lalonde said in a telephone interview from Ottawa. “We're so stretched, it's kind of dangerous.”

A national birthing initiative, he said, is urgently required to ensure services are planned, guidelines on the best way to care for these patients are implemented, and a stronger focus is placed on maternity patient safety.

Canada, once able to boast about its high rank in the world for low infant-mortality rate – sixth place in 1990 – saw its rank plummet to 25th place in 2005, according to figures published this year by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Specifically, Canada's infant mortality rate of 5.4 deaths per 1,000 live births is tied with Estonia's and more than double Sweden's rate of 2.4.

The inability for Canada to care for all of its sick and premature babies has caught the attention of renowned pediatrics professor Shoo Lee, who is studying the health outcomes of infants sent abroad, in addition to those who remain here, often under stretched staffing conditions.

“If you have insufficient resources in the province, what does that mean for those kept in the system?” Dr. Lee, director of the Canadian Neonatal Network, said from Edmonton. “Are they being admitted to the NICU only when they are very sick? Are they being pushed out too early to make room for others?”

Philippe Chessex, division head of neonatology for B.C. Women's Hospital & Health Centre, said every effort is made to avoid out-of-province transfers. Even sick babies who aren't sent to the U.S. can still face several moves while at home.

“We're transferring babies across the province, in all directions, to try to find an extra bed for the next potential birth or for any baby already born,” Dr. Chessex said in a telephone interview from Vancouver. “We now have babies who have been transferred up to six times after leaving here before reaching home.”

For parents, the devastating news that their baby is sick due to a malformation, illness or being born prematurely is compounded by the reality that there simply is not a bed available for their infant close to home.

“Whenever a sick baby is born, it's really a disaster for these families because it was unexpected. And it just puts a terrible stress on them,” Dr. Chessex said. “If they are sent out of country at that moment, it is just unbelievable the kind of pressure that they must go under.”

No one knows that better than Jade Pascoe, of Cranbrook, B.C., who went into labour 15 weeks earlier than her due date. She gave birth on March 29, to Nevin James William Moore, who came into this world weighing 1 pound 10 ounces. “They tried to get me somewhere in Canada,” said Ms. Pascoe, 19. “But there was nowhere to send me.” The hospital where she gave birth does not have a NICU. And when no NICU bed could be located in B.C. or Alberta, her son was sent to a hospital in Spokane, located in eastern Washington.

During that time, doctors, nurses and others took turns using a manual respirator for six hours on the boy, until he arrived by air ambulance at Deaconess Medical Center. He is expected to stay there until July.

Of her son, born at 25 weeks gestation, Ms. Pascoe said: “I didn't know they came that small.” Though he is not yet stable enough for her to kiss or cuddle, she can touch him. Patrice Sweeny, assistant neonatal intensive-care unit manager at Deaconess Medical Center, said Nevin is on a ventilator and requires a lot of support but he is improving.

“Jade comes in every day and is very devoted and does everything that she can,” Ms. Sweeny said in a telephone interview. “She takes his temperature, changes the diaper. She is as involved with her baby as possible.”

Ms. Pascoe's grandmother, Sydenia Cumming, said while the B.C. government pays for all the care costs in the U.S., there are other expenses the family must absorb, such as food, lodging and transportation.

“There are a lot of expenses; it's pretty hard,” said Ms. Cumming, 70, who was visiting Nevin in Spokane. “The hospital is wonderful, the staff is wonderful. Nothing could be better that way; it would just be more convenient to be home.”

In a telephone interview, B.C. Health Minister George Abbott said the province experienced “quite an extraordinary spike” in the number of premature and sick infants who required transfer in fiscal 2007-08. In 2007, 3,269 babies were born prematurely, up from 3,137 in 2006, according to the B.C. Vital Statistics Agency. By comparison, he said in fiscal 2004-05, no high-risk pregnancies in that province were sent to the U.S.

Though the province is adding NICU beds, he said that in itself is not the answer. For example, when extra NICU beds were added in Victoria, it took about a year before they were operational due to the difficulty in recruiting a neonatologist.

“You need a highly skilled nurse and you need a neonatologist to help manage the ward and that's proven challenging,” said Mr. Abbott. He said the province is working with others to find a solution.

Further east, Ontario is planning to add more NICU beds, said Laurel Ostfield, press secretary to Health Minister George Smitherman.

Since January of 2006, 39 women with high-risk pregnancies in Ontario have been sent to U.S. hospitals. Ms. Ostfield stressed that figure represents a tiny fraction of cases; there were 36,525 high-risk pregnancies in 2006 alone, the most recent year for which there are figures.
The bottom line, Ms. Ostfield said, is that the mothers and babies are “getting the care that they need … It's important that Ontarians know the province is still going to take care of them, which is why we do pay to send [them] out of country.”

But the key to looking after future mothers and babies, according to Dr. Lalonde, of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, is having a plan, in the form of a national birthing initiative.

A 28-page report, released in January by SOGC, said such a plan is estimated to cost about $43.5-million from April, 2007, to March 31, 2012, including $24-million for an aboriginal birthing initiative.

That report, called A National Birthing Initiative for Canada, recommends federal leadership in seven key areas, including a mechanism to accurately gather data, implementation of national standardized practice guidelines, a focus on maternity patient safety, and a coalition that would create a model of sustainable maternity and newborn care.

“The reality is that maternity care disparities and deficiencies in this country have been obscured [by] dedicated doctors, midwives and nurses who deliver miracles every day,” said the report, which is the work of obstetricians, family physicians, midwives, neonatal nurses and rural physicians. “However, these dedicated professionals are telling us that cracks in the system are reaching a breaking point and that the current situation is potentially dangerous and cannot be sustained.”

The Public Health Agency of Canada said in a prepared statement that it has reviewed the initiative and it has been co-operating on key elements of federal interest, such as the promotion of healthy pregnancies.

“We continue to discuss further opportunities for collaboration within federal jurisdiction,” according to the statement, provided Sunday by spokeswoman Patti Robson.

BY THE NUMBERS
$11.6-million: Amount, in U.S. dollars, British Columbia has spent on prenatal care in the States since April, 2006

$1,700: Average cost per day for a Level III neonatal intensive care bed in B.C.

$5,400: Average cost, in U.S. dollars, for a Level III bed in the States

39: Number of high-risk pregnancy cases Ontario has sent to the States since January, 2006

26.6 days: Average out-of-country stay for a high-risk pregnancy case

$170,000: Average out-of-country cost for a high-risk pregnancy case

Sources: British Columbia Ministry of Health, Ontario Ministry of Health

6 by 6

Check out this great new blog for "babylost mamas," called Glow in the Woods. Some of the writers may be familiar to you, some may be new voices, but it's a great site. In the 6 by 6 section, they've asked readers to answer six questions on their own blogs & then post a link. Here are my Q&As:

1 In a word, how would you characterize yourself before your loss, and then after?

Before: naive. I knew bad things sometimes happened to pregnant women, but not to me -- not in the late 1990s, not when you'd passed that first trimester mark. Even when we realized there were problems with the pregnancy, I thought the doctors could fix anything. Isn't that what the NICU was for?

After: weary.

2 How do you feel around pregnant women?

Sad. Nostalgic. Inadequate. Jealous/envious -- not only of the fact that they are pregnant, but of their excitement and optimism when they talk about the pregnancy & their plans for their baby. It's like how I think Eve must have felt after eating the apple from the Tree of Knowledge in the Bible. You can never un-know what you know after you've lost a baby -- that innocence is gone forever.

And afraid. Even if they don't seem aware of what can & might happen, I sure am, & I am afraid for them. Even if they're a totally annoying Ms Perfect Pregnancy, you don't wish this sort of pain on your worst enemy.

3 How do you answer the 'how many children' question?

"None," or "I don't have any children." I've (mostly) stopped feeling (too) guilty about saying that. I just don't have the energy to deal with the questions, with the pity, the uneasiness. Should I get to know the person better, I might eventually tell the full story.

4 How did you explain what happened to your lost baby to your living children? Or, if this was your first pregnancy, will you tell future children about your first?

I don't have any other living children, & at 47, I am not likely to. We had most certainly intended to let any subsequent children know they had an older sister who died before birth, & involve them in our pregnancy loss support group's memorial events.

5 What would another pregnancy mean to you, and how would you get through it—or are you done with babymaking?

At 47, I am resigned to living childless/free. I had hoped to have more children, but it was not to be. Had I achieved a subsequent pregnancy, I'm sure I would have been a basket case, & at the dr's office at least once a week to hear the heartbeat.

6 Imagine being able to step back in time and whisper into the ear of your past self the day after your baby died. What would you say?

You will survive this. You will never "get over it" but you will get through it.