Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Show & Tell: My new "toys"


Dh & I have been in this house 19 years... so that means that our stove, refrigerator, washer & dryer (all Gen.e.ral Ele.ctric brand) were also... 19 years old. A few of them were beginning to show signs of wear & tear, so while I was at home on holidays in mid-August, I finally got a repair guy in to look at them.

The stove & fridge were fairly easy fixes (he commented that they're both in mint condition ) -- but he took one look/listen to the washer (which had recently started making a horrible loud squeaking noise while agitating the clothes) & told me it wasn't worth fixing. Something about the agitator being slowly stripped, & it would eventually just stop agitating the clothes, possibly even float off & get oil on what I'm washing. He said was OK for the time being but not to leave it too long. He didn't charge me anything for looking at it.

I didn't have him look at the dryer, but one of the cycles wasn't working anymore (the dial seemed to get "stuck" without actually completing the cycle & shutting down), so I figured it was time for a new dryer too.

I mentioned that several of my friends have gotten (& love) the front-load models recently. He said he actually didn't think too much of them, that they have been known to develop a musty odour that permeates your clothes & is impossible to get out (although some of the newer models have features to try to prevent this).

This surprised me -- so I sent out a mass e-mail to a bunch of my friends, quizzed my co-workers and posted on some of my regular Internet bulletin boards to find out what they thought & to get their recommendations on brands, features, etc. I also did some Googling.

Everyone told me they loved, loved, loved their front loaders. Most of them hadn't even heard of the odour problem, but from those who had, & what I read on Google, I learned a few tips:
  • wipe the rubber gasket dry after finishing your laundry for the day.
  • leave the door open when the machine is not in use to allow it to dry out thoroughly.
  • use only the recommended detergents & fabric softeners -- i.e., ones labelled "HE" (high efficiency).
  • once a month, run a cycle (some machines have a special cleaning cycle) using hot water & bleach, or a special HE machine cleaner.
After surveying our friends, looking around & talking to a very knowledgeable saleswoman, we wound up buying a Ken.mo.re pair (manufactured in Germany by Whirl.po.ol) for a quite decent price. The saleswoman said she bought the same set for both her sons when they got married, which I figured was a pretty good recommendation. ; ) Decided to skip the platforms, which would have added an extra $400-500 to the price. I figure for $500, I can bend over, lol. Plus, as she pointed out, you can fold things on the top when they're lower down (which I often do).

They got delivered this past Saturday morning. I was having serious anxiety & could hardly sleep all Friday night -- I had it in my head that the machines were not going to fit through the laundry room door. The laundry room was built 10 years ago by my FIL around the old machines. The door is also at such an angle that I feared the machines' passage in & out of the room would be blocked by the furnace.

But all went well. The delivery guys -- scheduled to arrive "sometime between 7 a.m. & 1 p.m." arrived at 8:45 a.m. In less than half an hour, the old machines went out to the curb (where they were scooped up overnight by some treasure hunter!) & the new ones went in smoothly & were installed without a glitch.

Well, almost. The hoses that came with the washer were too short to reach the taps, so dh & I had to make a trip later that day to Home Depot & hook them up ourselves. Neither of us is very mechanically minded, but all went well, & we ran a test cycle that worked perfectly. I was amazed by how little water the washer used!

I am looking forward to doing my first full loads this weekend!




To see what others are showing & telling this week (& to check out her spiffy new digs), visit the Stirrup Queen's blog here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

One Canadian's perspective

In a recent edition of LFCA, Joy wrote:
"This is a request for non-U.S. bloggers - we need your healthcare stories! Yesterday in my gym I heard a woman tell another woman that in the U.K., once you get to be over 60, you're 'put on a list' so that you can be denied joint replacements and other health care measures for which you are now 'too old.' Please set the record straight about whether you like your health care, how long you wait, and how your older friends and loved ones have fared. The misinformation here is incredible and insulting to you, our UK / Canadian / Aussie / South African / friends. We can link to these blog entries and try to inject some real experiences into the conversation." dispel some of the myths and fear-mongering being tossed around south of the border about "socialized" medicine in other countries.

I hesitated about whether I should post anything on this subject. The debate over health care reform in the States has gotten so ridiculously (over)heated, and I am not a person who enjoys or invites conflict of any kind.

But as a Canadian, I can't believe some of the stories being tossed around south of the border about our healthcare system. It would be funny, except there are too many people who actually believe this stuff -- and too many people who are being denied basic health care because too many people believe this stuff. So I decided to share a few thoughts with you from my own perspective. Other Canadians may share my opinions or disagree with me.

First, you should probably know that my mother is American, & that I have lots of American relatives, and so I am familiar with some of their experiences with the American health care system.

Of course, we pay for our "free" universal health care in Canada through our taxes. They are somewhat higher than what Americans pay, although I've seen studies that show the difference is not all that great, depending on how you slice things. Everyone is entitled to a basic level of health care, regardless of income.

Some provinces, including the provincial government of Ontario, also charge health care premiums. Here in Ontario, the premium is calculated as part of your annual income tax payment. It's based on a sliding income scale and costs up to $900 per person. (My dh & I pay less than that.) People with incomes of $20,000 or less are exempt.

Most workplaces of any size offer employes additional medical and dental coverage. My dh & I work for the same company and co-ordinate our benefits. Our company offers "flex credits" that we can spend as we choose, & anything above & beyond a very basic level of coverage, we pay for through payroll deductions. Almost all of our medical & dental coverage is paid for through credits. Depending on the kind of plan you choose, this additional medical coverage pays for some, most or all the cost of things like prescription drugs, medical devices, ambulance services, etc. (sometimes to certain plan maximums, which are spelled out in your policy information).

Annual vision checkups at the optometrist, once free of charge, were de-listed by the provincial government a few years ago -- but our workplace medical insurance covers the cost of one standard visit every two years.

Terms like co-payments, deductibles and billing are foreign to Canadians' health care vocabularies. The only times in my life I can ever remember being billed by a doctor (outside of fertility treatments):

  • dh has a PSA exam done every year (to detect prostate cancer) which costs about $35. I would need to dig through my files to confirm this, but I believe I've had the cost reimbursed through our workplace medical plan.
  • likewise, I paid for a CA125 test suggested by my dr at my checkup two years ago -- can't remember the cost -- it was slightly more expensive than dh's PSA test.
  • and when we went to hospital to deliver Katie in 1998, the admissions clerk insisted that if I wanted a private room, I had to pay for it -- even though my dr had told me I was GETTING a private room & didn't mention anything about cost. Dh forked over the credit card & we were charged ($150 for one night, I think). I brought it up with my OB, sent him a copy of the bill & the charges were reversed. Even if they hadn't, my workplace insurance likely would have covered most if not all of the cost.
The only thing we have to do to access care is to show our provincial health card at each visit to a dr's office, clinic or hospital. There is no insurance coverage to sort out or credit cards to hand over before anyone agrees to see you, and no paperwork to deal with afterwards. The dr bills the province for each visit/procedure & is reimbursed by the government.

The only paperwork I ever have to deal with is the claims I submit for the "extras" that my workplace medical insurance covers. Much of that is being automated, too -- our dentist's office submits our claims electronically and we're reimbursed with a deposit to our bank account almost immediately. For prescription drugs, we have electronic swipe cards. When we first got our cards, I took them to the pharmacy where I regularly have my prescriptions filled, & they put us into their system. When I get a prescription filled there, their system automatically files the claim & calculates the discount. I most cases, I pay only a small fraction of the actual cost of the prescription. The pills I take for my thyroid condition, for example, cost me under $4 out of pocket for 100 pills. My Epi-pen has a price tag of $100, but I did not pay a cent -- the entire cost was covered.

When I was going through infertility treatment (clomid, injectable drugs & IUIs), my workplace plan covered some of the drug costs -- up to a lifetime maximum of $2,500 (it's $3,000 now). As you can imagine, it didn't take very long to blow through $2,500 in fertility drugs. All of my diagnostic tests, bloodwork, ultrasounds and the IUI itself were covered by the provincial government's plan -- but the sperm wash cost $350 (go figure). In-vitro fertilization is not covered in Ontario, except in cases where both fallopian tubes are blocked -- then the province will pay for up to three IVF attempts. Last year, the provincial government assembled an expert panel on infertility & adoption, and its recent report recommended that the province should fund up to three cycles of IVF for women under 42 years old, with single-embryo transfers mandated in most cases. Whether these recommendations will ever become policy/law is anyone's guess...

What else?

I have never, ever heard of people being deemed "too old" for a hip replacement or other such surgery. This reminds me of a few years ago, when my extremely athletic & healthy 50-something boss broke her hip while on a skiing vacation. She eventually had to have a total hip replacement. (She did have some trouble finding an orthopedic surgeon in the city to see her right away, but was able to access one outside the city, in a smaller centre where she & her partner own a second home.) She told us how happy she was one day to walk into the waiting room & see someone else around her own age waiting, because just about everybody else was a senior citizen. She got talking to this other 50-something -- & found out she was just there, waiting for her 86-year old mother, lol.

We chose our own family doctors (a friend referred us to him -- although he no longer takes new patients). The government does not choose for me, or for anyone else. Obviously, in a large urban area like Toronto, there is more choice than in a small town with few larger centres in the area. I'm sure it's the same in the States.

My family dr refers me to any specialists I need to see. If I don't like them or am not satisfied, I can ask for another referral. (I'm puzzled when I hear that Americans think universal/single-payer coverage or even a public option means the government will make decisions about their health care for them, which drs they can see, etc. First, in Canada, anyway, it's simply not true, and second, don't the insurance companies do that for you in the States anyway, under the current system -- telling you which hospitals and drs you can see within their plans and denying claims because of "pre-existing conditions," etc.?).

Being young & relatively healthy, I have not had any health problems that were too serious. Aside from having my wisdom teeth out at age 28, I have never had surgery (knock wood). But throughout my life, I've been referred to various specialists for various issues that came up. The time I've waited to see a specialist has ranged from a few days to a few months.

For example, when my ob-gyn referred me to an RE to begin fertility treatments, I had to wait six weeks for my first appointment. Another example: when I had my annual checkup with my family dr last year (in mid-September), he gave me a referral for my annual routine mammogram & my first bone density scan. I called to arrange the appointment myself, at a breast clinic at one of the city's top hospitals. The earliest I could get in was mid-December. However, had there been a reason for concern, I know I would have been seen much earlier.

Equal access to care is the goal, but unfortunately not always the reality, in both rural areas & some cities. Hospitals, especially in the cities, have bed shortages, and there are staff shortages -- of family drs in particular. Sometimes, your ability to "choose" your healthcare provider is limited by what's available -- and certainly, if you live in a small rural community, you will need to travel to a larger centre to access specialists and more acute care. I doubt the situation is much different in comparable areas of the States.

My own family dr, whom I've seen for the past 24 years, is 71 and plans to retire when he's 75. I don't know if he plans to turn the practice over to someone else, and if he doesn't, I'm not sure what dh & I will do then. He doesn't make house calls (who does, these days?) but he does have an answering service & is great about returning calls. He's even called me at home to check up on me if I've been having a hard time with something.

Besides family drs, the system in Ontario (& most other provinces) includes a free telehealth service, which you can call 24 hours a day to speak to a registered nurse or pharmacist with questions about symptoms you may be having or medications you are taking. If you don't want to wait on the line, you can leave a message & someone will call you back. I've never had to wait more than about 40 minutes for a callback. Most larger communities have walk-in urgent care clinics, and then of course, there is always the hospital emergency room -- which does tend to get overused/abused at times when the dr's offices & walk-in clinics are closed, or by people who don't have a family dr in the first place.

My family dr is in the city, close to where dh & I had our first apartment, & a 15-minute subway ride from my office. If I've been feeling crappy when I'm at work & he can't see me that day, there's a walk-in clinic a short walk from my office, where I've never waited more than an hour to see someone. I used the walk-in urgent care in the community where I live once, when I was feeling too sick to make the trip downtown to my family dr. And I've used the emergency room at the local suburban hospital several times. Naturally, incoming patients are triaged and the most urgent/serious cases get seen first. Most of my visits to the ER have been for prolonged bouts of vomiting, suspected allergic reactions &/or ailments that were eventually chalked up to anxiety attacks. I've waited as little as 10 minutes and as long as 10 hours (ugh), with about two hours being common.

Yes, some Canadians do seek treatment in the States, because they think they can get it faster, because they have a rare condition that few drs here have handled, because there's an experimental treatment available in the States that they want to try, or just because they want to consult with someone there (even if they ultimately wind up being treated at home). Sometimes the provincial government will pay; sometimes it's out of pocket. I grew up in Manitoba, in the Canadian Prairies. The world-famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, is just a day's drive away, & I know several people (particularly cancer patients) who chose to go there for consultations &/or treatment.

But for the most part, care in Canada is on par with that offered anywhere else in the world. And you just don't hear of people in Canada being bankrupted and losing their homes because they got sick and couldn't afford the huge medical bills. It just doesn't happen.

I know that American members of my own extended family have been touched by the lack of affordable health care south of the border. In my own family, I know of:
  • one retired couple, who were paying $1,100 a month for health insurance -- & that was several years ago (I'm sure it's more now).
  • a couple in their 40s who recently lost their house, staggering under the debt of medical bills.
  • someone who needs surgery but whose insurance company will not authorize it because money is still owed from a previous surgery.
  • a woman in her 40s with a chronic medical condition who is covered by her husband's workplace insurance, but even so cannot afford to take all the medications she needs as regularly as she needs them.
  • several relatives who are well over 65 but continue to work, because they fear losing their medical benefits.
Few if any of these scenarios would ever exist in Canada. The closest situation I can think of is I have heard that some expensive, relatively new cancer treatment drugs are not covered under provincial or private drug plans -- but people are fighting back and, in some cases, winning a significant reduction in the cost of the drugs they need for their treatment. These cases make the news precisely because they are exceptional -- they are not the norm.


When my American grandparents were still alive, Medicare paid for most of the care they needed, but the paperwork involved just about drove my mother around the bend. My mother has lived in Canada since her marriage almost 50 years ago; she is a proud, flag-waving Republican, but even she thinks the U.S. healthcare system is insane & ours much preferable.

I am not saying the Canadian system is perfect. Every system has its pros & cons.

I'm not saying the Canadian system should necessarily be adopted wholesale in the U.S. If you don't want our system, fine. There are many different ways that different countries deliver & pay for their citizens' health care. You have lots of models to look at.

But I am saying that the status quo in the U.S. is completely unfathomable to those of us who live in countries where some form of universal healthcare is available to all. It's hard for us to believe that so many people lack basic healthcare -- and, because of it, get sick, go deeply into debt, lose their homes, line up by the tens of thousands outside of sports arenas to be seen by teams that normally deliver health care to Third World countries (I saw a story on "60 Minutes" along these lines that had me in tears), and, yes, die -- all in the richest and most powerful nation on the face of the earth.

And I am saying that I'd never trade what we have for the U.S. system, and the vast majority Canadians wouldn't either.

As I stated early on, I don't care for conflict. I will be happy to answer any thoughtful questions about my/my family's healthcare experiences, but I will delete any comments that are less than civil.

For some further perspectives on Canadian vs U.S. health care systems, from Canadians as well as Americans who are now living in Canada, here are some links I've found recently that I thought were interesting:

The New York Times has an ongoing series in its Economix blog about regulation in Canada, including several articles explaining various aspects of our health care system, which provides a pretty good overview. There are many Canadians commenting on each article as well. I would recommend these if you're really interested in learning more about how Canada's health care system works.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

"The Referendum"

The New York Times has an entire blog, called Happy Days, devoted to questions surrounding "the pursuit of happiness." Earlier this week, it pondered the topic of "The Referendum" (emphasis mine):
"...a phenomenon typical of (but not limited to) midlife, whereby people, increasingly aware of the finiteness of their time in the world, the limitations placed on them by their choices so far, and the narrowing options remaining to them, start judging their peers’ differing choices with reactions ranging from envy to contempt. The Referendum can subtly poison formerly close and uncomplicated relationships, creating tensions between the married and the single, the childless and parents, careerists and the stay-at-home. It’s exacerbated by the far greater diversity of options available to us now than a few decades ago, when everyone had to follow the same drill. We’re all anxiously sizing up how everyone else’s decisions have worked out to reassure ourselves that our own are vindicated — that we are, in some sense, winning."

The tension between the childless/free and those with children is one of the threads explored in the post:
"I may be exceptionally conscious of the Referendum because my life is so different from most of my cohort’s; at 42 I’ve never been married and don’t want kids. I recently had dinner with some old friends, a couple with two small children, and when I told them about my typical Saturday in New York City — doing the Times crossword, stopping off at a local flea market, maybe biking across the Brooklyn Bridge — they looked at me like I was describing my battles with the fierce and elusive Squid-Men among the moons of Neptune. The obscene wealth of free time at my command must’ve seemed unimaginably exotic to them, since their next thousand Saturdays are already booked.

"What they also can’t imagine is having too much time on your hands, being unable to fill the hours, having to just sit and stare at the emptiness at the center of your life. But I’m sure that to them this problem seems as pitiable as morbid obesity would to the victims of famine."

I particularly liked these observations, towards the end:
"Yes: the Referendum gets unattractively self-righteous and judgmental. Quite a lot of what passes itself off as a dialogue about our society consists of people trying to justify their own choices as the only right or natural ones by denouncing others’ as selfish or pathological or wrong. So it’s easy to overlook that hidden beneath all this smug certainty is a poignant insecurity, and the naked 3 A.M. terror of regret.

"The problem is, we only get one chance at this, with no do-overs. Life is, in effect, a non-repeatable experiment with no control.... One of the hardest things to look at in this life is the lives we didn’t lead, the path not taken, potential left unfulfilled..."

I loved this post. It made me think of Deathstar's recent post, asking, a la the Talking Heads, "How did I get here?" It's so true that, as you get older, you start to sense that narrowing of options, the feeling of being on a downward slide, that time is, already, starting to run out to do all the things you wanted to do with your life. The possibilities that once seemed so endless suddenly don't seem quite so plentiful or possible anymore. You may find yourself painted into a corner -- and, what's more, you realize with some horror that you're the one holding the paintbrush. Eeeek.

Reading this, I thought about all the many recent articles & blog posts I've read on the subject of infertility and childless/free living -- &, especially, the inevitable tug of war in the comments section between those, like me, who just want some understanding (&, dare I say, validation) of our situation and what led us to this point in our lives, and those who clearly don't have a clue what we're talking about and think we should just adopt & get over ourselves already. It made me think of all the other tensions that are so prevalent in our society right now -- for example, between working mothers and stay at home moms, those in the U.S. who want healthcare reform desperately and those who want the government to butt out, and so on.

I have a horrible time making choices -- both momentous & minor. I dither, whether it's about fertility treatments or what to have for dinner. I research my options endlessly. (I drive dh nuts in the process.) And I can't help but second-guess myself afterwards about the road not taken.

I think it's only human. Who among us has not, at least once, cast our eyes at the neighbours' yard & wondered whether the grass really is greener over there -- and then tried to brush off our uneasy feelings by talking about why it's so much healthier for the lawn to be left in a natural state anyway (lol). It's human to want to be "right," and to be seen as doing the right thing in the eyes of our peers, particularly the people we love.

But I also think our world would be a much better place if we stopped trying so hard to justify our own choices, and started listening with more sympathy about what led others to make the choices that they did. It would be much better if we could learn to accept that we made the best choices we could with the information that we had at the time, and that others's circumstances may have led them to make different choices than we might have made for ourselves.

It's a brilliant piece & worth a full read (I've just spotlighted a few of the highlights here). Go read it, and then tell me what you think. (I started reading some of the comments too, but there are more than 500 of them!)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Odds & ends

An assortment of recent thoughts, observations, articles, etc. that I haven't had time to turn into full blog posts or might not be worthy of one, but that I nevertheless wanted to get off my chest:

; )

  • Seen on a plaque in a Hallmark store at the mall last weekend: "Great moms get promoted to GRANDMAS." So what does that say about MY mom?? I happen to think she's pretty great too. That one stuck in my craw.
  • Number of times I've been asked, by (newer) co-workers & salespeople this month (so far) whether I have children: 5 (that I can think of offhand).
  • Number of pages in Raising Expectations, the long-awaited Aug. 26th report of Ontario's Expert Panel on Infertility & Adoption: 229 (!!). (You can download the press release, full report &/or a much shorter executive summary, HERE.)
  • Likelihood that any of the recommendations will ever become policy/law anytime soon: ????
  • Some of the publications that ran articles about the report (along with pages of stomach-churning comments): The Globe & Mail, The Toronto Star and The Ottawa Citizen.
  • Headline in Tuesday's Toronto Star: "The new mommy track: Have a kid, win the match." Kim Clijster's comeback win at the U.S. Open has prompted a spate of articles about the "advantage" of motherhood, both on & off the sports field. I appreciate that being a mother doesn't mean that women have to be considered has-beens or second-best. I never believed that before, don't believe it now. But all I can think of when you put it like this is, "Great, something else I'm supposedly disadvantaged at because I'm a childless woman." :p

  • Lynn Crosbie recent went on a rant in the Globe & Mail titled "Beasts of prey & oopsy moms," in which she takes the premise of a new Jenna Elfman sitcom, "Accidentally on Purpose" (as well as "Cougar Town" with Courteney Cox) to task:

    "a culture so obsessed with babies lately that this year's fall collections will
    likely feature damp-nursing bras and gigantic, sphagnum-moss-filled underpants.

    "Margaret Atwood's out there promoting her new dystopian nightmare, The Year of the Flood, which features warring mutants in the end of days, and the
    frank admission that “We're using up the Earth. It's almost gone.” Since it is
    almost gone, the new baby maniacs seem to be saying, why not fill what remains with plastic, fully loaded diapers?

    "But that's okay, because we will need armies of Madisons, Connors and Jaydens to fill the Terrordomes of the future. Baby insanity is why NBC is airing, again! a decade later!, a version of the film Parenthood , and why Elfman is back, furthering the getting-popular idea that getting pregnant can be, as the show's coy title suggests, a way of being a rad, independent woman and biologically compelled mama."
  • In the Toronto news recently: a fatal accident in which a cyclist (who had been drinking & was picked up by the cops earlier in the evening) was killed after an altercation with a car -- driven by the former attorney general of the province, once touted as a possible future premier. Of all the many words written on this subject over the past few weeks, I most appreciated the last two paragraphs of a column by Jim Coyle of The Toronto Star, who wrote:

"Those who've had a multitude of blessings might think their well-being and sunny expectations are the natural order of things. Then something happens.

"It's then we learn the most inescapable of truths. You get what life throws at you. And the worst of it usually comes straight out of the blue."

The name game

Between Mel & Cassandra, I've commented on quite a few naming-related posts recently… & it occurred to me that I should share some of those thoughts in my own blog. I've strung together & edited my comments, so if you've been reading their blogs, this might sound familiar.

I've been fascinated with names ever since I was a little girl. My grandfather was a crossword puzzle aficionado, & he kept a massive dictionary that was (no kidding) about six inches thick (from Readers Digest, I think) sitting beside his easy chair for easy reference. The dictionary included small sections for basic English-French and English-German dictionaries, and a section on names -- male & female, their meanings & derivatives. I used to pore over this section & make lists of the names I liked best.

When I was about 10 & visiting a Coles in the city, I found one of those baby naming books & bought myself a copy. I eventually decided I would need to have 10 or 12 children in order to use all the names I liked -- half boys, half girls. (Oh, innocence!! Oh, irony!!)(I still like to peek at the latest edition of "Beyond Jennifer & Jason, Madison & Montana" in the bookstore.) Over the years, I managed to downsize my future family to a more realistic level (or so I thought) of at least 2 and possibly as many as 3 or 4, & my list of preferred names accordingly.

Katie was always Katie -- many, many years before I finally tossed away my bcp. It was just a name we both liked that seemed nice for a little girl (which we always knew we wanted), & it was also the name of my paternal grandmother, who died when I was 14. Whenever we talked about having kids, we'd always refer to "Katie," & the name just stuck.

So when I finally WAS pregnant & we were considering names, Katie was our automatic choice for a girl. Dh wanted her proper name to be Caitlin -- but that was like the #1 name for girls at the time, & I knew she’d probably be one of a dozen on the school playground, so I nixxed that idea. Katherine seemed a little “old” for a little girl -- so I suggested Kathleen, which is a family name on my maternal grandfather’s side — I thought he would get a kick out of that.

Dh is Italian and, traditionally, Italians name their first girl after the father’s mother & their first boy after the father’s father, the second girl after the mother's mother, etc. etc. Not as many younger Italian-Canadians follow this tradition anymore, but I told dh we could name her Maria -- I liked the name, & I knew his dad would be absolutely tickled if we did. But he said no, her name was Katie -- so we decided to use Maria as her middle name.

The result of the Italian naming tradition is (or has been in the past) that many cousins in the same family bear the exact same names. Dh has two other cousins with the exact same name as him (first & last); fortunately, they don’t live very near each other & all go by different everyday/nicknames, which makes it easier to distinguish them. (He also shares his name with a well-known local Catholic priest, & when we lived in the city, we used to get calls all the time asking for “Father B.” Dh said he had to bite his tongue not to answer, “Yes, my son?” lol)

He also has three cousins who share another family name. Two of them were in our wedding party, & a lot of people thought it was a typo on the program.

(At one point, early in our marriage, four of his female cousins were married -- every one of them to a guy named Tony. Eventually, that pattern was broken. I joked to my mother that if I couldn't remember a relative's name, I could just try Joe, Frank or Tony, and I'd stand a pretty good chance of being right.)

Anyway -- when we found out Katie was stillborn, we thought about using a different name & “saving” Katie for a possible future child, but we realized in about two seconds that we couldn’t do that, that she was & always would be Katie to us, so that’s what we named her.

However, she WAS originally going to have three names: Kathleen Maria Amanda, which was my great-grandmother’s name. We decided to save Amanda for a future daughter (which never happened). She would have been Amanda Claire.

A boy would have been Michael Vincent Neill — Michael because I like the name. The other two are family names (both dh's family & mine).

As for my own name -- I have made peace with it as I've gotten older. I went through a phase when I was about 10, wishing that I was named Laura instead (like Laura Ingalls in the little house books), or at the very least, spelled Laurie. I actually signed myself that way for awhile until one of my teachers made a comment & I got embarrassed.

Lori is such a '60s name, like Cathy or Debbie or Terry or Sandy. You just don't see parents naming their kids those names anymore. I was one of three Loris, two Lauras & one Laura-Ann in Grade 8. And when I was in high school, there was a girl in the next grade up whose name was Laura, middle initial also B., last name the exact same as mine (no relation, so far as we knew). The principal would call one of us to the office & we'd both show up because it often wasn't clear which one of us he meant, lol.

And of course, when I was in jr high/high school in the mid/late 1970s, "Happy Days" was a huge hit on TV -- & here was Ritchie's girlfriend named Lori Beth. I always used to tell people that I had the name first. ; )

My mother wanted to name me Julie Lynn & my grandmother wanted to name me Emily Pearl (!). My dad is apparently the one who came up with Lori; not sure where the Beth came from. If I was a boy, I would have been Brian.

What names do you like? Dislike? What do you think of your own name?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

News/blog article on living childfree after infertility (how did I miss this one?? )

Catching up on my blog reader tonight & stumbled onto a post from Lisa Belkin's Motherlode blog on the New York Times site last week: Life After Infertility Treatments Fail. It's actually a guest post by a woman named Shelagh Little, who is now living childfree after infertility.

But it's a post that I could have written. Honestly, I started reading & found myself nodding & muttering, "Oh my God, it's ME." It's a fabulous post. Go & read it.

Caveat: I've barely started reading the comments yet, but there are more than 350 of them. Read those at your own risk, lol.

ETA: I've only gotten through the first page of comments, & out of 25 comments there are at least half a dozen along the lines of "why don't you adopt?" (even though the author clearly stated "it is not for me"). Another more or less says she will darn will talk about her kids whenever & wherever she wants to. Beware...!!

25 Firsts

Nancy & Jenny both answered this meme on their blogs, & I couldn't resist trying it myself!

1. Who was your first prom date?

We never had proms in the small Canadian Prairietown where I grew up in the late 1970s, at least not as you would think of them in the States. And I hardly had a date of any kind all through high school.

We did have a grad cruise -- just my graduating classmates & dates, on the River Rouge cruise ship on the Red River in Winnipeg. I didn’t have a date & neither did my girlfriend Terry, & we wound up table hopping. Ended up sitting with a bunch of Jeff Spicoli types, and one of them told us, "Hey, you guys are a lot of fun when you're drunk." lol

2. Do you still talk to your first love?

No.

3. What was your first alcoholic drink?

Cheap wine at the cast party for my first high school drama club production when I was in Grade 10. ; ) Either that, or the rum punch my aunt made for Christmas (& my sister, cousins & I got into) the year we celebrated with them in Minneapolis -- both around the same time, when I was about 15.

4. What was your first job?

Summer weekends behind the concession counter at the local drive-in theatre. I was only the alternate/extra, but I worked more weekends than not, for minimum wage, which was $2.65/hour at the time. Two of my friends from school were the regulars, & we had a blast working together, especially the dawn-to-dusk extravaganzas on long weekends. The drive-in was owned by a family from the city who would come out on weekends in the summer to run the place -- and they had two good looking sons who were around the same age as we were. They were great to work for, & the dad gave us all a little bonus at the end of the season. And every night before I left, I would set aside a tub of freshly popped popcorn, topped with real butter to bring home to my mom. Yum!

5. What was your first car?

I've never owned a car myself because I don't drive. Dh's dad gave us his old VW Rabbit when we were first married. The first car we bought on our own (after that one got totalled in an accident) was a 1993 Nissan Sentra Classic. We drove it for 10 years & then got our current car, a 2003 Toyota Camry.

6. Who was the first person to text you today?

I don't text.

7. Who was the first person you thought of this morning?

Probably dh, since he was there beside me. ; )

8. Who was your first grade teacher?

I don't normally name full names in this blog, but I can't resist sharing this one: her name was Miss Melody Middlemiss. (You can't make stuff like that up.) She got married that June after school ended & changed her name (this was 40+ years ago, eek). We helped make Kleenex flowers to decorate her wedding car in art class.

9. Where did you go on your first flight in a plane?

I went for a short ride in a small plane with my mom, sister & a family friend (the pilot) when I was about 14, in Saskatchewan. My first actual trip in a jet was from Winnipeg to Ottawa when I was 18 & in Grade 12.

10. Who was your first best friend and do you still talk?

Adele, & sadly, no, although my mom & dad recently visited the town we lived in then, & ran into her older sister.

11. Where was your first sleepover?

I think it was at my friend Jill's -- she lived down the back alley from my grandmother in Smalltown Minnesota. We used to play with our Barbie dolls together. I still see her occasionally when I go there to visit.

12. Who was the first person you talked to today?

Dh. Besides him, the girl at the coffee shop downstairs, en route up to my office.

13. Whose wedding were you in for the first time?

The first & only wedding party I've been in (besides my own) was dh's brother's. Dh & I were the matron of honour & best man.

14. What was the first thing you did this morning?

Got out of bed & had a shower.

15. What was the first concert you went to?

Bay City Rollers, August 15, 1976, Winnipeg Arena. Tickets were $5.50. I was 15. Yes, I wore tartan, lol. : )

16. First tattoo?

I don't have any.

17. First piercing?

My ears. My sister got her ears pierced when she was 13, shortly after we moved to a much larger (albeit still small, lol) town. In our old town, only the really slutty girls had their ears pierced, so I was horrified -- the big town was corrupting my baby sister!! Of course, within a few months, EVERYONE was getting their ears pierced... and after awhile, I thought it might not be so bad, lol. But after the fuss I'd made, I absolutely refused to ask my mom if I could have mine done, because I knew she'd laugh at me & tell everyone the story. So I waited until we went into the city shortly after my 18th birthday, & I didn't need her permission to do it anymore, lol. ; ) I got them done at Eatons Polo Park. They're still my only piercings.

18. First foreign country you went to?

Outside of Canada, the United States. Which seems weird to say, since I was born in a border town, & my mother is from Minnesota. I still haven't visited anywhere outside of our two countries, sadly. Hoping to remedy that over the next few years…!

19. First movie you remember seeing?

"Help!" starring the Beatles, with my mom, when I was about 4 or 5. I had dreams for years afterward about falling through trapdoors into cellars with prowling tigers, and having Ringo's ring stuck on my finger.

20. What state (province) did you first live in?

Manitoba.

21. Who was your first room mate?

Aside from sharing a bedroom with my sister when we were younger -- my first-year roommate at university residence, Anna. (If you're talking opposite sex roomies, never had one until dh & I got married.)

22. When was your first detention?

I don't remember -- I think it was in high school. It didn’t happen very often, but I did get detention a few times for not having assignments finished.

23. (Nancy didn't have a #23, but Jenny added this one:) When was your first kiss?

His name was Jeff & I was 15. It was after a dance at a student council conference in Winnipeg in the fall of 1976. He was also the first guy I slow-danced with (song: "Make it With You" by Bread).

24. What is one thing you would learn, given the chance?

How to take photos with a digital SLR camera on a mode other than automatic. And how to use Photoshop.

25. Who will be the next person to post this?

I don't know, but be my guest…!! And let me know if you do -- I would love to read your answers!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Article: "My scattered grandchildren"

Interesting article from Monday's Globe & Mail. Beware the comments.

*** *** ***

My scattered grandchildren

Their children may consider it a personal decision, but parents of egg and sperm donors rarely see it that way. Many struggle with longing for branches of the family tree they may never meet

Alison Motluk
The Globe & Mail
Sunday, Sep. 13, 2009 07:53PM EDT

When Kathie Harris spotted a newspaper ad a few years back recruiting egg donors, she passed it on to her daughter. “I was kind of joking,” she says.

But her daughter, Melissa Braden, ended up donating six times. Now Ms. Harris, 53, has mixed feelings about it all.

“It's kind of hard,” she says. There are grandchildren out there that the family will never meet, she says. “They're a part of you. Because they're Melissa's eggs, they're a part of everybody in Melissa's family.”

It's estimated that about one million donor offspring worldwide have been born, most of them through anonymous donations. But when people choose to donate their sperm or eggs, they think of it as a purely personal decision. They forget that their DNA is a family asset, not a private one, experts say.

“The practice has grown up in a consumer context,” says Juliet Guichon, a bioethicist at the University of Calgary. “You think you're purchasing a factor of reproduction, but you're not – you're receiving the genetic heritage of a family.”

And grandparents, often the oldest surviving progenitors, can feel quite differently about trading away the family code.

This feeling recently intensified for Ms. Harris when one of Ms. Braden's recipient couples sent her daughter a photo of the new baby. At first, Ms. Harris didn't want to see it. Her daughter has two boys of her own, but this couple had had a girl. When Ms. Harris did finally look, she was overwhelmed. “That little girl looks exactly – I mean exactly – like Melissa,” she says.

Ms. Braden, 30, insists that she has no maternal feelings for the little girl and that the recipient mom is the only mom. But her own mother feels differently. “In my heart,
I think of her as my granddaughter,” Ms. Harris says. “I carry her picture in my purse.”

Shana Harter, 31, had a similar difference of opinion with her mother. She donated eggs twice when she was in her early 20s. But her mother was not happy with the choice. “I caught a lot of flack,” the Atlanta resident says.

Almost a decade later, her mother still thinks about them. “I wonder all the time what they look like, if they look like her, what they're doing, where they live,” says her mother, Lynn Corcoran, 52. “It's just that feeling of knowing that I have other grandchildren out there. I'll never see them. I'll never know them. I hope they went to good homes.”

For a long time the two women stopped talking about it altogether. But when Ms. Harter got married and had trouble conceiving herself, it was the elephant in the room. What if the only genetically related children she ever produced were born to other people?

In the end, after IVF, Ms. Harter gave birth to a little boy in January. Her own struggle with infertility made her even more understanding of couples who long to have children. “I have a new appreciation myself,” she says. “I'm very happy to know I helped make that happen for one or two other couples out there.” Ms. Corcoran admits it gave her some insight into the plight of childless couples too.

Kirk Maxey, 53, who donated sperm for almost 10 years, says he now sees that grandparents are an overlooked piece of the donor puzzle. “There's a set of fully legitimate grandparents out there, who've missed seeing grandchildren, usually all the way through teenage years,” he says.

His own parents were delighted when two teenage donor daughters surfaced a few years ago. “It impacts grandparents in ways that people didn't really imagine it would,” he says.

For some, the relationships are surprisingly warm. Florida resident Christine Striegl has discovered that she's closer to her donor granddaughter than to any of the grandkids born through her son's marriage. She met her son's teenage donor daughter, Virginia, about 18 months ago and they immediately hit it off. “She calls me her grandmother,” Ms. Striegl says.

For others, it stirs feelings of regret. Diane Wilkins, 53, of Ottawa, will probably never have the chance to meet any children born through her daughter's egg donation, though she'd love to.

“Even if I just got to see them, just to see what they look like,” she says. But shortly after the donation, the relationship with the recipient couple soured.

(Since 2004, it has been illegal to pay donors for eggs or sperm in Canada, and though women can still import commercial U.S. sperm, that's not true for eggs, so many women leave the country for such procedures.)

“Grandparents are vulnerable, on the sidelines, waiting to be invited in,” Dr. Guichon says. But she also turns the issue around: A recipient couple, she believes, has a moral obligation to consider whether a child would benefit from knowing their grandparents. It could be important to their identity, she says.

Perhaps no one feels the bond more intensely than grandparents whose own children have died unexpectedly.

Marjorie Smith's daughter died before she'd had kids of her own – but she had donated eggs three times, and Ms. Smith (not her real name) knew children had been born. She was ecstatic when a recipient family got in touch. “When I heard from that family, it was like a gift from heaven,” she says.

They are hoping to meet soon. “These kids are part of my daughter. They look like my daughter. I hope to become a real grandma to them.”

NYT Well: "Does cancer make you strong?"

The New York Times's Well blog had a great piece a few days ago about a new book called “Everything Changes: An Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s” by Kairol Rosenthal.

The blog entry focused on a particular aspect of the cancer experience explored in the book (and in a recent post on Rosenthal's own blog): what to say to someone who has cancer, & (especially) what not to say. In particular, the article focused on the tendency for well-meaning family & friends to tell the cancer patient about how "strong" & "brave" they are. Writes Rosenthal:
"I think it is great to honor cancer patients and recognize the challenges we face. But don’t call me strong when I have no other choice. It discounts the many nights that I sobbed alone into my pillow and felt cowardice in every inch of my body."

I don't want to discount the very real & awful & unique challenges faced by cancer patients. But I honestly think you could go through the article & substitute "infertility" or "pregnancy loss" for "cancer," and the words would be just as true -- so much of what I read sounded soooooo familiar...!!

I know that personally, whenever anyone told me how "strong" I was, I would find myself muttering, "I don't FEEL very strong." Or when people would say, "I just can't imagine..." I would think, "You don't WANT to imagine." I realize people mean well, but, uttering such trite cliches tends to discount & gloss over the way that those of us facing difficult situations REALLY feel.

Read the piece here -- and read the comments, too! -- and tell me what you think! (The first comment is a tad snarky, but the vast majority that I read agree with the author.)

Patrick Swayze


Patrick Swayze died yesterday at the far too young age of 57. :( Aside from being a charismatic onscreen presence & a wonderful dancer, I think what I admired most about Swayze was that he was very happily married -- for something like 34 years! -- to the same woman, Lisa Niemi, whom he met at his mother's dance studio when he was 18 & she was just 14.

They had no children, and not entirely by choice: Lisa had two miscarriages, including one on Valentine's Day, 1990.

"We just missed our window; we got so focused on our world and our careers that we missed the boat," he told People magazine in 2007.

My heart goes out to her. : (

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Show & Tell: Back to school time


When you are childless-not-by-choice, there are certain times of the year that can be more painful than others. Holidays, certainly. Christmas. Easter. Halloween.

Labour Day is not a holiday that, at first glance, you'd associate with children. Until you remember that, in Ontario, at least, Labour Day marks the end of summer and the last day before the kids head back to school.

Since 2002, for us, Labour Day weekend has meant dh's cousins' annual barbecue. When dh was a kid, all his aunts, uncles & cousins lived within a quick walk or bike ride of each other, and we saw them often when we were first married & living in the city. Over the past 20+ years, of course, almost everyone has gotten married, bought houses, spread out across the metropolitan area, & gotten busy with their kids.

To ensure we all get to see each other at least once a year for a good visit, aside from the occasional wedding, funeral or first birthday party, the annual cousins' barbecue was instituted. Everyone takes turns hosting. This year, we all chipped in & had the food catered; in previous years, everyone was assigned to bring something (which usually wound up being way too much food, no matter how much we tried to pare the food list down) & the hosts provided the setup & drinks.

In general, it's a good time. Some years have been better or worse than others, depending on what's going on with me and with others (how many new babies make an appearance, etc.). Almost every year, we gather together the kids -- the next generation -- for a group photo. And of course, every year, as I look through my camera lens, I think about the little girl who's missing -- right between one cousin who is exactly six months older than she would have been, and another who is exactly six months younger. (Fortunately for me, both are boys.)

And of course, every year, "back to school" is a major subject of conversation. Not just because everyone's kids are going back to school, either: two of dh's cousins are teachers, one works at a school for the school board, and one works part-time at her daughters' old grade school. As I have joked in the past to my childless friends, not only do I get to hear about their kids, I get to hear about everyone else's too.

I had a hard time the year I realized Katie would have been starting junior kindergarten (they call it "nursery school" where I come from). Somehow, though, the hardest year was September 2004, when she would have been starting Grade 1. I was having a tough time facing all the back-to-school shopping flyers and signs at the mall. Six Months Older was also starting Grade 1, & at the family BBQ that year, everyone was fussing over him, asking him whether he was excited & saying what a big boy he was now, etc. (while I stared at my plate & wished for a hole to open up & drop me through). That was pretty brutal.

One day on my lunch hour, I was at a card shop at the Eaton Centre. I was looking at the Boyds Bears display, as I collect Boyds Bears figurines -- not obsessively, but dh & I have given figurines to each other as presents over the years on special occasions. He gave me a Boyds Bears statue of a pregnant Mama Bear for the Mother's Day when I was pregnant, which I used to illustrate a blog post about Mother's Day.

And there in the display case was the perfect way for me to mark this milestone occasion.




This figurine is called "Bailey: Off to School." Fighting back tears, I hailed a sales clerk & asked her to unlock the case & box it up for me.

It now sits on top of my armoire in the bedroom, along with two Classic Pooh music boxes (one of which I posted about before), a framed photo of me, dh & my mother with Katie, and a couple of other Katie-related mementos.

Katie would be going into Grade 6 this year. Grade 6!!! She'd be 11 years old in November. She'd be starting junior high next year, for crying out loud. How could that be possible??

To see what others are showing & telling this week, visit the master list at Stirrup Queens.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Cousin Florence


Tash had a recent post in which she talked about her grandmother's funeral and her fascination with cemeteries, particularly, these days, the graves of children.

Which reminded me of a story.

When dh & I were first married, we lived in a lowrise, NYC-style brownstone apartment building in midtown Toronto that backed onto Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

Mount Pleasant is one of the oldest, largest and most famous cemeteries in Toronto, if not all of Canada. It is huge, spanning both sides of a major thoroughfare (Mount Pleasant Road), full of big old trees, ornate monuments, and mausoleums for some of the city's most famous familes (the Masseys, the Eatons) that are as big as houses.

We lived very close to the monument to the Empress of Ireland, a ship which sank in the St. Lawrence River on May 29, 1914, two years after the Titanic sank off the coast of Newfoundland. 1,012 lives were lost, including 167 Canadian members of the Salvation Army who were travelling to London, England for a conference. A monument was erected in their memory, and every year on or around May 29, the Salvation Army holds a memorial service at the monument, which is not too far from the main gates on Yonge Street. We could hear the band playing "Abide With Me" through our open windows.

It is the perfect place to go for a long walk or bike ride, especially in the fall , when the leaves are turning colour, and dh & I loved to go walking there.

As an avid genealogist, I'm always keeping my eyes open for family names, and just off the side of the road one day, I spotted a tall white monument, inscribed with a name that's on my family tree -- the name of my great-grandmother's family, as well as the name of two men who married her husband's sisters (my grandfather's aunts). The story goes that the three were cousins, although we have yet to determine exactly how they're related. We do know that Hugh, the husband of my great-grandfather's oldest sister Elizabeth, was born & raised in Toronto, & from references in family letters we had copies of, we know that he had returned there to visit at least once if not more often.

There were about a dozen names inscribed on the monument -- including this one. The dates weren't very clear, but it seemed to be for a child:

FLORENCE MAUD (LASTNAME)
Daughter of
Hugh and Elizabeth
(LASTNAME)
Born Jan. (dates illegible)
Died Jan. (dates illegible)
(4 lines of poetry)

I pulled pen & paper out of my purse & copied down the inscriptions on the monument, thinking, "Well, you never know..."

Fast-forward to about two years ago when, thanks to the power of the Internet, I connected with a distant cousin, who is the great-granddaughter of my great-grandfather's sister Elizabeth & her husband Hugh (i.e., we share the same great-great grandparents). She had all kinds of information & photos we did not, including the first photos I had ever seen of my great-great grandparents. In fact, she had been in Toronto a few years earlier, researching Hugh's family. She told me that most of the members of his family were buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery --plot with a big tall white marker.

Yep -- the marker I had noticed & copied the information from, "just in case," turned out to be the family of my great-grandfather's sister's husband (my grandfather's uncle by marriage).

AND, she told me -- Hugh & Elizabeth's daughter, Florence, was buried there, too. She died when she was a toddler, during a family visit to Toronto. When I met my cousin last summer in Minnesota, she showed me a funeral photo of little Florence, laid out on a couch in a white dress. She looked as if she were sleeping.

I had never heard of a daughter named Florence. My grandfather (bless him) had started off my family tree research by giving me the names of all his aunts, uncles & cousins (including where they had lived as adults, who they had married & what they did for a living -- and just about everything he told me has turned out to be accurate) -- but he had never mentioned a Florence who had died. Perhaps he did not know -- she died at the turn of the last century, 10 years before he was born in 1912.

I couldn't believe it. Here I had been living for the first five years of my marriage only a few hundred yards from the resting place of my grandfather's first cousin. I wished he were still alive so that I could tell him that. He would have been tickled.

I need to go back there someday & take some photos.
(Mount Pleasant is also the site of our support group's annual Walk to Remember every October -- albeit in the section on the other side of Mount Pleasant Road from Florence's grave. I took the photo above of the historical plaque outside the administration building just prior to last year's walk. I remembered blogging about the walk & went to look for the post. I found it here and realized I wrote about this same story then too. Oh well... if you missed it the first time around, here it is again!)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

News article: Placenta size linked to stillbirth

(This is post #100 so far this year! -- not bad...!)

A slightly belated news item that I wanted to share:

*** *** ***

Placenta size linked to stillbirth

Dave McGinn
From Thursday's Globe and Mail

Last updated on Friday, Aug. 28, 2009 03:39AM EDT

The size of a pregnant woman's placenta can determine whether a fetus is at a high risk of stillbirth, according to a new study conducted by a clinician-researcher at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto.

"A lot of problems are being solved in pregnancy relating to healthy babies, but the huge area that's unsolved and getting worse is placental problems," says John Kingdom, principal researcher of the study, published yesterday online in the journal Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology.

This research is "a big piece of the puzzle in the right direction," he adds.

The study looked at 90 women with both low levels of pregnancy-associated plasma protein-A, or PAPP-A (which is routinely tested to screen for Down syndrome) and elevated levels of alpha-fetoprotein, or AFP (which is tested to screen for Down Syndrome and spina bifida).

Researchers found that those with both conditions as well as a small placenta were at an increased risk of stillbirth and extreme pre-term delivery.

The results suggest that placenta screening, which determines size and shape through an ultrasound, should be done alongside tests for Down syndrome and spina bifida to guard against the possibility of stillbirth."Any one single test alone doesn't have enough positive predictive value," says Dr. Kingdom, a maternal fetal-medicine specialist.

Placenta screening is not as prominent as other prenatal tests despite the important role played by the placenta during pregnancy.

"Up until now, we've diagnosed placental insufficiency after the baby is born," Dr. Kingdom says. "We can diagnose placental insufficiency at week 18 to 20 when the baby is still healthy, then we can test interventions to keep the baby healthy."

Stillbirths are on the rise in Canada. In 2005, the number of stillbirths reached 2,209, an increase of 6.9 per cent from 2004, according to Statistics Canada. Such numbers show the importance of placenta screening, Dr. Kingdom says.

"The baby's growth and well-being are entirely dependant upon the placenta working normally," Dr. Kingdom says. "It's the placenta that actually transfer the nutrients and oxygen to the baby."

The study found that among women with low PAPP-A, elevated AFP and a small placenta, at least 25 per cent can expect to see their pregnancy end in stillbirth.

In greatest danger are women with additional risk factors, including those with a previous history of stillbirth, those more than 40 years of age, or those with chronic hypertension or Type 1 diabetes. Their pregnancies are practically guaranteed to end in stillbirth.

There are options available for pregnant women with small placentas, however, from dietary measures to ultrasound monitoring.

"There's a broad range of ways to help people," Dr. Kingdom says. "For example, a program of careful ultrasound surveillance will save the lives of babies that would otherwise die unnecessarily." Performing emergency cesarean sections in cases where fetuses have not reached full term, however, is an extreme treatment option, he adds.The Placenta Clinic at Mount Sinai now routinely screens all pregnant women with a low PAPP-A level and a high AFP level using a placental ultrasound as a result of Dr. Kingdom's research.

More hospitals need to follow suit, he says, but encouraging pregnant women to undergo placenta screening may require a change in the way prenatal test options are offered.

Women often decline to undergo tests for Down syndrome and spina bifida for fear of receiving false-positive results, he explains. "In Ontario, four women out of 10 decline these tests. My guess is, if you asked those four women, 'However, would you like to have the test done for a good reason, like to promote better placental health?' I bet you three out of four would say yes."

*** *** ***

Dr. K. was the doctor on call that my dh spoke with when I had a horrific migraine on our 13th (!) wedding anniversary during my pregnancy, and also the doctor who came by my hospital room the morning after I delivered Katie while making his rounds as the dr on call. He seemed very interested when I mentioned Katie's IUGR & my placenta, and said he'd like to examine it. Not sure whether he ever did, or what he could have done for me 11 years ago. I always intended to ask for a consultation with him during my next pregnancy (which, of course, never happened).

It's too late for me now -- but I'm so glad that progress is being made that may help other women & save them from the heartbreak that we & so many other families have been through.