Thursday, December 31, 2009

So long, 2009

The last day of 2009 was capped off in the usual way for us: Michael took Kevin and Joey to work with him (always a treat for the boys to get to go to work with Dad), and then to a local New Year's Eve street fair this evening. Michael contemplated taking Lilah with him and the boys to work today but I talked him out of it. It's one thing for the older boys to occupy themselves with books and video games while Dad gets some work done, but what is a three-year-old going to do with herself? I realized later, though, that I really didn't want him to take her because I'm not ready to be away from her for a whole day. She's been with me every day since she was born; I've never had a day separated from her, and I'm just not ready for it. So she and the twins and Finn stayed home with me and we baked cookies. Much more fun than going to boring old work with Dad!

I've spent the majority of 2009 wishing the year away. Michael was officially diagnosed with cancer early in February, although the likelihood of it became a real fear and possibility in January. And so that nightmare began. Back then, it felt like we were falling, falling, falling into an endless black hole. Fear. Desperation. Shock. Horror. Anger. And then resignation that this is what we were dealing with, and we just had to face it. It feels like we've spent most of the year in survival mode, just trying to get through each day, each week, each month. As recently as a couple months ago, it still felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel.

And in the midst of all that, Finn had three outpatient procedures in 2009 requiring that we hand him over to a nurse to be carried into an operating room and put under general anesthesia. That was really hard, too.

But here we are. Michael is finished with chemo, although it will take months for him to fully recuperate from it. We reached the light at the end of the tunnel. And Finn is fine, a happy, healthy, growing little boy.

Despite the challenges - the awfulness - of this past year, it hasn't been all bad. The kids have continued to grow and thrive, Michael and I have reinforced the seal of our marriage, friends - real friends - have elicited our utmost gratitude, and hey, we've managed to hold onto our house and pay our bills in the face of a terrible economy and with a sick breadwinner, to boot - when people all over the country are losing their jobs and their homes. So, we have much to be thankful for.

I'm ready for 2010, though. So long, 2009.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas 2009

Christmas was nice. Low key. Being that it was a chemo week (albeit the last one!) Michael hasn't been feeling great the last couple of days. He was asleep early on Christmas Eve while I drank eggnog and rum and cried watching It's a Wonderful Life. After the kids were all asleep, I hauled all the gifts upstairs from the basement and then went to bed. I woke up in the wee hours of the morning in a panic, realizing I forgot to: (a) ditch the Elf who was supposed to fly back to the North Pole on Christmas Eve, and (b) leave telltale cookie crumbs and milk residue in a glass courtesy of Santa. So I rushed through the house remedying those oversights and went back to bed. The kids were up bright and early, so excited to see that Santa had, in fact, decided to overlook all their transgressions that Mommy kept calling him on the phone about.

We resolved to downsize the mountain of gifts Santa usually leaves under the tree, and discovered that the kids were perfectly happy with three or four gifts each. Everyone seemed happy with their gifts. Michael got me a new video camera - who knew that the latest ones are small enough to fit in a purse? It was a nice surprise; I'm not the easiest person to buy for, as I generally don't have many wants and have a hard time coming up with ideas for things I'd like. I got Michael a mandolin and a new set of pots and pans (he's really gotten into cooking lately). The funny thing is, seven years ago I got him a video camera for Christmas (which is now outdated, apparently) and he got me a new set of pots and pans.

Anyway, after the gift opening extravaganza, we did our traditional big Christmas breakfast. The kids spent the day playing with their new things and we had an early dinner of filet mignon (ala Michael) and cheese fondue (ala moi), followed by chocolate fondue for dessert.

Next year I really want to do Christmas differently - better. I admit that I generally have a hard time getting into the spirit of things, but I'm sure it was made more difficult this year by everything Michael and we have been dealing with. Now that the holiday is over, I feel both relieved and guilty. This is my kids' one shot at childhood, and I feel like I need to do a better job at making the holidays special for them. I didn't even hang their stockings up this year! Not that that's the end of the world, but I know I cut corners all over the place just to get through it.

Next year, I resolve to get all my Christmas shopping done much earlier than I did this year. And get everything wrapped earlier. Decorate the house up. Get the work part of it out of the way as early as possible so we can actually enjoy the season. Get out and see sights and be among people and enjoy, you know?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Today was a big day for our family, and most especially for Michael. It marked the official end of chemo for him! He sat for the IV drip for the last time on Monday, went home with the pump infusing chemo drugs into his PICC line for 48 hours, and today went to his oncologist's office to have the pump disconnected for the last time, and to have his PICC line removed. We made it a family affair because this is so momentous.

This is our beloved Dr. Alexson, and his nurse, Kathie (who each, it so happens, have a child with Down syndrome!). I can't say enough good things about Dr. A and his staff. I am so grateful for how they've taken care of Michael and done everything they can to put our family at ease and give us hope and optimism.

Kathie gets things ready.

This is the PICC line Michael has lived with for the last 10 months.

The big moment; Michael wanted to pull it out himself.

Sandy, another of Dr. A's nurses, Michael, Kathie, and Dr. Alexson


It was pretty emotional. It doesn't seem very long ago that it felt like there was no end in sight, and the truth is, it's been a very difficult road to travel. But here we are, almost to the end. There are still a couple loose ends to tie up, and we are anxious but optimistic about the PET scan Michael will undergo in a few weeks to tell us the status of the cancer. We are, of course, hoping to hear that he is cancer-free.

In the meantime, we are thankful that we've made it this far.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Mother's Body

During a recent discussion among a group of women friends in which a few of us were taking pot-shots at ourselves about our post-baby bodies, one friend in the group passed along this website: The Shape of a Mother. I spent some time reading submissions posted to the site and looking at photographs, and it all just brought me to tears. First, because I think the women shown are beautiful - in body and spirit. And secondly, because it makes me feel sad that I have such a poor self-image.

I am 42 years old. I have given birth to and nursed six children. At 5 feet, 5 inches tall and 128 pounds, I am not overweight. I am actually within the healthy weight for my height and build. And yet, it's the heaviest non-pregnant I've ever been in my life. I sometimes look at photos of myself from 10 and 15 years ago and pine for what I used to look like: thin, lean and angular, flat of stomach. It's so true, that old saying, that youth is wasted on the young. I surely didn't appreciate the body I had then. I didn't even recognize that it was anything anyone might be envious of. It certainly never occurred to me that one day, several years into the future, I would look back at my younger, leaner self, and wish I still looked that way.

The truth is, though, that I spent a good part of my younger life being underweight. It wasn't anything I aspired to or put work into - it's just the way my body wanted to be. I'm probably at a healthier weight now than I was when I was 25.

But now, time and five pregnancies have changed this body forever. There are bulges and rolls where there used to be flat valleys. Certain areas are beginning to head a little southward. I have a pot belly covered with baggy skin from having been stretched out so far, so many times. My abdominal muscles are like pudding and just can't hold it all in anymore.

When I glimpse myself in the mirror, unclothed, I quickly look away. I hide in the bathroom to get dressed or undressed; even my husband doesn't get to see me in the light of day anymore. I feel embarrassed about my body, and mildly contemptuous. Sometimes I wear a Spanx under my clothes to smooth the bulges. Sometimes I fantasize about having plastic surgery - a little liposuction here, a little tuck there, a little lift here.

Why do I do this to myself? If it were a friend saying all these exact things to me, I would say to her, "You're beautiful. Look at all the amazing things your body has done. I am in awe of you." But I know that I am not alone in these feelings. So many of my friends also have poor feelings about their mother-bodies. We lament and make jokes about the stretch marks and saggy boobs and flabby bellies. Why can't we embrace who and what we've become? Why don't we see the beauty in ourselves, in those very marks of motherhood, in what our bodies have accomplished? Why do we feel embarrassed and ashamed?

I have long been of the opinion that pregnant women are truly beautiful. Personally, I have never felt more beautiful, more complete, than when I have been pregnant. The rounder and fuller I grew, the more fulfilled and happy in my own skin I felt. I loved wearing form-fitting clothes when I was pregnant. I was not afraid to bare my belly, and even sat for a revealing photo shoot when I was about six months pregnant with the twins. I treasure those photos, and I love the way I look in them, round and ripe.

I still remember after my first baby was born, taking a shower for the first time after giving birth, and being a little horrified at the shriveled, wrinkled little mound my belly had suddenly become. And I think ever since then I've been struggling with my body self-image - trying to make peace with what my body has become, and mostly failing. How can I love the body that is accomplishing something magical, and hate the body that is left in the wake of the magic?

My husband has told me that to him, a woman isn't really a woman until she becomes a mother. And even as I cringe and shy away when he puts his hand on my belly, he tells me that I'm beautiful. Why can't I see myself through his eyes?

Where does this notion come from, that youth and physical perfection are goals worthy of self-torment? Why do we mothers believe that firmer and harder is better, more beautiful? Can you imagine if we instilled in our children that physical perfection, that holding onto youth, rather than being healthy and happy, are what they should strive for? Wow, that's something to think about, isn't it? Kind of makes you wonder at what point in our lives our priorities change so drastically. I know that it would break my heart to see my daughters develop this sense of self-loathing someday. I want them to believe in their beauty at every age and stage of womanhood.

I am 42 years old and my body isn't what it used to be. But it's done some amazing things, and I would like to learn to take pride in that - in the physical evidence of what this body has accomplished. That is going to be my new year's resolution: to learn to love myself.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Holiday Blahs

I think I must take after my dad when it comes to the holidays. "Bah humbug!" he used to say. I know that he was kind of kidding - putting on the Scrooge persona like an old sweater - but also he probably really meant it to some degree.

That's what I feel like: Bah humbug.

What's the holiday season supposed to be about, anyway? I mean, if you're not of the religious persuasion. A season of giving, a season of goodwill, I suppose. And it would be nice to believe that people are nicer this time of year, and that I feel closer to those I'm close to. But those feelings seem to be fleeting; I glimpse moments of goodwill, and that feeling of closeness and connectedness comes in occasional waves.

But for the most part, this time of year boils down to a lot of additional stress.

There's so much pressure to feel a certain way during the holidays - to get into the spirit of the season! There's pressure to provide my kids with memories they will treasure. Oh, and gifts too. There's pressure to come up with a special gift for the hubs - and then the stress of "Will he like it?" There's a lot of guilt, too. I always feel like I'm failing, falling short of what I should be doing for my family this time of year.

I dread shopping, I procrastinate about wrapping, dealing with a tree that little ones won't be able to keep their hands off of feels like a chore, and all that holiday baking? Some years I summon up the energy and motivation to do it, some years I don't. This year I won't. I don't think. I'm still going back and forth on it in my head. If I go ahead with it, it will be one more thing to feel stressed about, and if I don't do it, it will be one more thing to feel guilty about. It's really a no-win dilemma.

It's a week till Christmas, and we have not a single decoration displayed. The holiday decs are all out in the garage and have not been brought in yet. We have lights strung across the front of the house, never having been taken down from last year, but they have yet to be lit this year.

Bah humbug.

I think the reality is that it's just never the same as when you're a kid. When you're a kid, you can just sit back and watch it all happen for you. When you're an adult - a parent - you're the one who has to make it all happen, and it's just not nearly as much fun. And, I think, the holidays tend to magnify people's feelings of loss and isolation, wherever those feelings stem from. For a lot of people, it seems to actually be kind of a sad time of year. I know that I always start feeling a little sad around Thanksgiving, because that's when my dad got sick eleven years ago, and he ended up dying shortly before Christmas that year. So, yeah. Sad.

And then there are the kids. You'd think that with the threat of Santa watching to see who's naughty or nice hanging over their heads they would be magically transformed into little angels this time of year, but it's just not so. Not in our house, anyway. I actually resort to calling Santa on the phone and tattling to him right in front of the kids. It goes something like this:

Me: "Annabelle, help clean up the playroom."
Annabelle: "But I don't WAAAAAAAANNNNNNNT to!"
Me: "Go clean up NOW."
Annabelle: "But it's BOOOOOOOORRRRRRING!"
Me: "Okay, have it your way. I'm calling Santa."

And then I walk over and pick up the phone and fake dial, to all of the kids' horror. Okay, well, not Kevin.

Me: "Umm, Santa? Yes, this is Lisa Morguess. Yes, hi, we're fine, how are you? And the reindeer? Good, glad to hear it. Listen, I'm calling about my daughter, Annabelle. Ummm, she doesn't want to help clean up the playroom. She says it's boring."

Annabelle starts freaking out at this point. It's quite entertaining, this whole cause and effect thing. I feel so powerful!

Me: "Yes. Uh huh. Oh, now she's having a tantrum. Yes. Oh, you want to hear her tantrum? Okay, hold on . . ." (and I hold the phone out to the room, at which point Annabelle is in serious danger of losing her mind.)

I know, I'm probably scarring my kids for life. But really, who am I to deprive them of a reason to seek therapy some day?

So at that point, usually the offending child will comply, but geez. It's a band-aid solution.

I also invested in one of those Elf on the Shelf deals. Have you seen it? It's this little elf doll who is supposed to be in cahoots with Santa. He comes to your house and sits on a shelf and watches the kids to see who's naughty and who's nice, and he flies back to the North Pole each night to give a report to Santa. Each night after the kids are asleep, the parents are supposed to find a new place for the elf to watch from, so when the kids get up in the morning, they have the illusion that he really left during the night and came back and found a new place to watch from. It's a cute idea, but it's so not working in my house. I forget to move the damn thing usually, for one thing. The first morning he appeared on the fireplace mantle in our living room and I explained to the kids that it's a real, honest-to-goodness elf straight from the North Pole, Annabelle ran into her room in hysterics - she was terrified of it. Geez. Anyway, the elf is doing a poor job of keeping my kids in line, and I'm considering booting him out on his duff.

Ahhh, the holidays.

So this weekend we'll get a tree and decorate it. Somehow I will get the Christmas shopping finished and the presents all wrapped between now and next Thursday.

When all is said and done, and the kids' eyes light up on Christmas morning, of course it will all feel like it was worth it, but honestly, I'm usually ready to shut it all down by the end of Christmas day.

Bah humbug.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rest in Peace

So tragic. I'm heartbroken. I didn't know him, but he was a local boy.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Missing Person

This is in my neck of the woods, which is why I am taking a special interest in this. Here's some additional information. It's scary, and until some answers come to light (hopefully, ultimately, the safe return of this guy), I am keeping my kids a little closer to me and being a little more cautious myself.

Please keep your eyes open for this young man.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Things My Kids Have Taught Me

I've been thinking about this a lot lately . . . about how naive and unenlightened I was before my children taught me so much about the world and about life. I truly was in the dark about so many things. But among the many gifts my kids have given me, one of the most significant is wisdom.

Here are some profound truths I've learned from my kids:

~ I hardly exist until I am: (a) on the phone, (b) in the bathroom, or (c) trying to put the baby to sleep. These activities result in immediate and desperate need of my attention by at least two screeching children.

~ The number of buttons children push directly correlates with the severity of my PMS.

~ It is against the rules for me to say "No." Ever.

~ Children, on the other hand, are allowed to let "No!" fly around willy-nilly.

~ Twelve-year-olds know everything. I know this because my twelve-year-old's response to everything I say is "I know."

~ Twleve year-olds have attitude. So do three-year olds. Actually, so do five-year olds and seven-year olds. One-year olds are still very sweet and pliant, however.

~ The surest path to complete annihilation of one's self-esteem is to allow one's young children to witness one in a state of undress. They like to point. And laugh. And say things like, "Mommy, you have a BIIIIIIG butt!"

~ Vegetables are to children what kryptonite is to Super Man.

~ Terrible two's? Haa! Three is when it really goes downhill.

~ There is no sound more piercing than the screams of a child thwarted from getting his or her way.

~ Energy knows no bounds when the task at hand is to drag every single toy and book across the house and scatter them across the living room. Cleaning up, however, is far too taxing on a young mind and body.

~ I am here merely to amuse and serve my children. Any goals outside of those pursuits are simply unacceptable.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A little holiday cheer, anyone?

I admit it: I have not felt even the slightest twinge of the proverbial holiday spirit. Too bogged down by everything else going on and really just kind of hoping that if I pretend Christmas isn't just around the corner, maybe it won't actually get here.

But last night was my book club's annual holiday dinner/celebration. Throughout the year, we read and meet to discuss a book a month. But in December, we skip the reading and get together for dinner, drinks, and a book-gift exchange instead. In the past, we've had our little shindig at a local fondue restaurant, but this year, Angela graciously offered (was tricked into?) hosting at her lovely house.

I was very late in arriving, due to bad night vision, which resulted in my not being able to make out any of the addresses on her street, which resulted in my driving up and down the street looking for her house, and then parking my truck and walking up and down the street looking for her house, and finally, getting back in my truck and driving home feeling like a complete L-O-S-E-R. Which resulted in my fab hubby insisting on driving me back over there to find the right house, which he did with no problem, and dropping me off. Sad, huh?

But all's well that ends well. I made it, and the food and company were wonderful, as usual. And I left feeling positively festive! Can I just say that I LOVE my book club? It's been going strong for over six years now, and what a great group of women.

My contribution to the potluck was a batch of these Chocolate Peppermint kisses, which were a big hit. They're meringue cookies and actually a vestige of my childhood; my mother used to make these every Christmas and passed the recipe to me at some point.

Chocolate Peppermint Kisses

2 egg whites
dash salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup chocolate chips
2 tbsp finely crushed candy cane
chocolate chips for topping

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Beat egg whites and salt at high speed until stiff. Gradually add sugar and continue beating until very stiff. Fold in vanilla, chocolate chips, and crushed candy cane. Drop teaspoonfuls on greased cookie sheets and top each with a chocolate chip. Bake at 250 for 45 minutes.

Makes 3 - 4 dozen

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Piano Man

Today Joey performed in his first recital. He was one of about a dozen kids who performed various musical talents at a local cafe. I'm so proud of my little guy!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Floss Nazi

How many people actually floss every day? I'd like to know, I really would. I'd also like to know how many people, like me, lie to their dentist about their flossing habits.

I had a dentist appointment yesterday afternoon. Just a regular cleaning, plus x-rays.

I don't like going to the dentist. Not because I've ever had a traumatic experience, or had to have any major dental work done. I have pretty good teeth. I've had a few cavities in my life, but that's pretty much it.

What makes it so unpleasant for me is the lecturing. And really, it's not even the dentist, it's the hygienist. This one particular hygienist, to be specific, who for some reason has assigned herself my personal hygienist whenever I have an appointment. When I went in yesterday (after rescheduling the appointment a couple of times, hoping, I think, that maybe they would just forget about me and I wouldn't have to go in), I kept thinking to myself, "Please don't let it be so-and-so, please don't let it be her . . ." I don't even know her name, but she's this BIG Hawaiian woman. She takes her job very seriously, and is forever on my case about good flossing habits.

Okay, here's the truth: I do floss every day! Ummmm, every day when I know I have a dental appointment coming up in two or three days, that is. I know you're supposed to floss every single day of your life. Not only that, but I'm apparently supposed to be flossing my kids' teeth too! (Teeth-brushing time at our house is, to put it mildly, nobody's favorite time of day. I cannot imagine attempting to add the torture of flossing their teeth to the already hellish routine.) Anyhow, I digress. I know I'm supposed to floss my teeth every day. But I don't. I'm a good brusher - that I don't skimp on. But flossing? Oh, the tedium. And really, what's it all for? I mean, realistically? Because, let me tell you, the hygienist yesterday was convinced that I have actually been doing a much better job flossing one particular quadrant of my mouth! "Oh, I can tell you've been flossing really well over here!" she exclaimed. (In truth, I haven't flossed any of the quadrants in my mouth until yesterday right before my appointment, so she's totally lost credibility with me.)

She went over my teeth and gums with a fine-toothed comb, all the while lecturing me about the need to floss better, every day. I lied and told her that I do floss every day. She quizzed me on what kind of floss I use, and my flossing technique (was she trying to catch me in a lie?).

Like I said, I've had a few cavities in my life, but that's it. None of the cavities I've ever had have been between my teeth. I don't have gum disease. I've never had a root canal or anything like that. So what's her beef?

She goes into this whole thing about how we have to keep our gums healthy because studies have shown that they are ports of entry for bacteria which can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, and a host of other ailments. She talked to me about "whole body health."

Okay, here's the thing. Did I mention that this woman is BIG? I'm not being mean here, but the truth is, she is easily 100 pounds overweight. And she's lecturing me about heart disease and whole body health? Really?


No cavities yesterday. When the dentist came in to look me over, all he said was, "Everything looks good, we'll see you next time."

The hygienist handed me the usual parting gift: a bag with a new toothbrush and not one, but two, boxes of floss.

I tossed the floss when I got home. Just to spite her.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009

Feels like I should bend over and say, "Yeah, give it to me right here."

Let me tell you about my hellish morning. I'm really doing this as a public service. If I can save one person from being screwed the way we're being screwed, it will make my frustration worth it. Okay, it really won't make it worth it, but still.

First, some background:

Per our HMO (through Anthem/Blue Cross, apparently the best of the best, for whatever that's worth to you), we have annual out-of-pocket maximums as follows: individual - $2,250, and family - $4,500. We have met our out-of-pocket maximums this year; in fact, we've far exceeded them, and as such, the insurance company now owes us money in reimbursements. We have been going round and round with both the insurance company and our medical group for several weeks now, trying to get this straightened out. The problem is that neither entity has its records up-to-date. Also, there appears to be a complete and utter breakdown in communication between the medical group (which all of our doctors belong to and through which all the billing for office visits, procedures, surgeries, etc. comes) and the insurance company. I don't even know what's going on. The insurance company's records show that we have not met either maximum.

Now, let me stop right there. Let's do a little simple math. We have shelled out $3,000 this year in surgery co-pays - $1,500 for Michael and $1,500 for Finnian. There have been four ER co-pays at $100 a pop. Michael has shelled out over $900 in office visit co-pays just to his oncologist (and his oncologist has a record of this). That brings us, conservatively, to $4,400, $2,700 of that for Michael alone. This isn't even counting co-pays for all the radiation treatments Michael had, any of the other doctors he's seen and made co-pays to (and there have been plenty), pediatrician co-pays, and specialists that Finn has seen throughout the year. I would conservatively tack another $1,000 onto that $4,400.

Some guy with whom Michael has repeatedly been in touch with in the billing department of our medical group seems to finally be acknowledging that yes, it appears that we've exceeded both maximums, but 854 hoops need to be cleared before we can get reimbursed for the overpayment. In the meantime, we are still being asked for co-pays each time one of us has to see a doctor. So that total, that overpayment? It's just supposed to keep growing, and apparently that seems fair to the powers that be.

Which brings me to this morning.

Finn is scheduled to have a minor outpatient procedure tomorrow morning. He has a cyst on the back of his ear that needs to come off. It will require that he be briefly put under general anesthesia, which means it has to be done at the outpatient surgery center. This morning he had a pre-op appointment with the ENT who will be doing the procedure tomorrow morning.

So I get there with Finn and Lilah in tow this morning, I sign Finn in, and the receptionist asks for my $20 co-pay. I explain to her, as nicely as possible, that we have exceeded our out-of-pocket maximum and that I, therefore, will not be shelling any more money out in co-pays. Well, that obviously through a monkey wrench into her morning. She looked a little befuddled for a moment (what to do with this crazy lady?). I just smiled and sat back down. A few minutes later someone else on the staff comes to the front window and beckons me. "Yes?" I ask, sweetly, innocently (see, the truth is, I knew that this was going to become adversarial). "Umm, is this about your co-pay?" she asks. Now I act confused. "Is what about my co-pay?" I ask her. "Well, she" she says, pointing to the receptionist, "says that you don't want to pay your co-pay." So I explain to her again that we have exceeded our out-of-pocket maximum and therefore I should not be required to pay any more co-pays this year. "Well, the thing is, that means that I would have to verify that with your insurance company . . ." she says, seriously coming across as put out. "Umm, okay then," I say, and sit back down.

It's now been about 20 minutes since we first arrived. When we first got there, there was nobody else in the waiting room. Now other patients are coming in, and they're being called back before we are. Now I'm getting mad. I go back up to the front desk and say, "Our appointment was at 9:45. It's now after 10:00, and you're calling people back who arrived after we did. Is my son not going to be seen because of a $20 co-pay? Because he's scheduled for surgery tomorrow morning." She tells me that they're trying to straighten it out with the insurance company, and that, yes, I have to wait.

I'm fuming now.

A few minutes later, the other girl comes back to the front desk and she has some figures written down on a piece of paper. "Your insurance company says that you have not met either out-of-pocket maximum," she tells me. "They're wrong," I say. "We're actually in the process of trying to get it straightened out with them, but I can tell you that my husband was diagnosed with cancer in February and has seen at least one doctor every single week since then, so you can imagine how many co-pays we've made." She wasn't budging. I told her, "Fine, bill me for the co-pay then, because I'm not paying it today, I'm just not."

All the while, I'm texting Michael and telling him what's going on. Finally, he calls this doctor's office himself and somehow sweet talks them into . . . I don't know what. Letting the issue of the co-pay go for today, I guess. Because finally a few minutes later, Finn gets called back.

The doctor looks him over, gives me pre-op instructions for tonight and tomorrow morning, and then I'm told I have to go pre-register him at the hospital. Ugh. Which I should have known since we've been through this drill before.

So I haul Finn and Lilah over to the surgery center to pre-register him. There are about 30 people ahead of me - no kidding - and everyone is being required to take a number. I ask how long the wait is and am told cheerfully, "Oh, about 20 minutes, I'd say." Okay, fine. I take a number and have a seat. We wait. And wait. And wait. For about 40 minutes. I finally go back to the front desk and ask how much longer it's going to be. "Ohhh, it's going to be a while," she says (a much different story than the one I got 40 minutes earlier!). I told her I had kids to pick up from school and that I would have to come back later. And we were on our way.

As a final insult, I had to pay $2.50 for parking when we left - and for what? Nobody even saw us, and I got nothing accomplished. Screwed again.

And now I have to go back there later today!

I am so absolutely frustrated and angry - especially about the insurance part. Everyone wants their money - the doctors do, the medical group does, the insurance company does, that's for sure. But who is looking out for us, the patients? Not the doctors. Not the medical group. Not the insurance company. How many people have been reamed this way - by overpaying their annual out-of-pocket max - and don't even realize it? This smells like bad faith to me. There is something very, very flawed with how the whole system is set up.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Nothing ventured, nothing gained

One weekend morning a couple weeks ago I got a surprise phone call from a friend. Her best friend writes a monthly column for a local parenting magazine, only she's ready to call it quits after writing the column for a number of years. Guess who they both think would be "perfect" to take over the column? Apparently moi.

Well, I just about died on the spot from feeling both flattered and humbled. Little old me? Who am I but a mom with a laptop?

The current columnist promised to pass my information as well as some kind words about me to the magazine's publisher. Over the last couple of weeks, there has been no news, so she has now suggested that I contact the publisher myself.


Well, I put it off for a few days, telling myself I would wait until after the Thanksgiving weekend, yada yada yada. But the truth is, I'm chicken. It was one thing when the possible opportunity fell into my lap, but to pursue it myself? That means selling myself. Trying to convince someone that I'm a worthy writer for their magazine. And again, who do I think I am? Just some chick with a couple of blogs, that's all.

But ahhh, the dream of actually writing. Writing for real, you know? To inflict myself on a larger audience (heh heh heh). To think it could actually be a possibility . . .

So I mustered up a little gumption tonight and I sent the publisher a note via email telling him what an amazing contribution I could make to his magazine. Okay, I didn't really say that, it was actually much more humble than that.

So on the chance he turns to my blog to see what I'm all about, feel free to share your thoughts on my future writing career :)

Saturday, November 28, 2009


'Tis the season to count your blessings . . . and all that crap.

It's not that I don't recognize all the many things I have to be thankful for - I do. But sometimes you just have to acknowledge the shit sandwiches and move on, right?

Thanksgiving passed at our house as mostly a non-event this year. The hooligans became very vocal the day before Thanksgiving about what they would not be eating for Thanksgiving dinner. Thank goodness the biggest effort on my part was to wait in line at Marie Callender's to pick up my pre-prepared Thanksgiving feast. Those kids have a way of knocking the wind from my sails sometimes, I tell ya. This being a chemo week, Michael spent a lot of time in bed this week, including on TG. Somehow the food didn't taste as good as in years past . . . maybe it was the general funk permeating the house. Anyway, I was glad to have an obligatory holiday behind us.

The week was capped off by Michael developing a fever yesterday and landing in the hospital. That's the short version. The longer version is that he developed a fever, and not thinking it would be wise to mess around with or ignore it, I made him call his oncologist yesterday evening. The on-call doc told him to go to the ER (groans and sighs ensued from Michael, who I think just wanted to take a couple Advil and climb into bed). Kevin was at a sleepover at a friend's, so I couldn't have him stay with the other kids, so M drove himself to the ER and called me a while later to tell me that they were admitting him. He's got some kind of infection, likely his PICC line, and it might have to come out temporarily. Ahhhhh, setbacks. And we're finally soooooo close to the end of all this - he's only got two more cycles of chemo to go. But he's got to get better, and right now that means relaxing (haa!) in the hospital for some unspecified length of time. Maybe they'll release him later today, maybe not until tomorrow.

Could be worse. Especially if I didn't have such a tremendous sense of humor about all of this, right? (I kid, I kid.)

Don't bother praying for us - if there is a God, I'm convinced that we're on his shit list.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tales of Incompetence

I will give fair warning: this is a bitching post. So if you're not in the mood for bitching, pissing, moaning, bellyaching, bad attitude, or the putting down of doctors and their staff, take a powder.

So I called my doctor's office this morning and told the receptionist that I've been sick for a week and don't seem to be getting better. I was told they were all booked up, would I be willing to see the physician's assistant? "No," I replied, and went on to explain how last time I was in, I saw the PA and she completely screwed things up (in a nutshell, I went in for a UTI a couple months back, and the PA prescribed an antibiotic for me not compatible with breast feeding despite the fact that I was very clear in emphasizing to her that I was breast feeding; however, she did reiterate a number of times that with that particular antibiotic I should not drink alcohol, which I thought was odd; when I went home and did my own research, I could not find a single thing about any contraindication of drinking alcohol with this antibiotic; also, she sent me downstairs to the lab to have blood work done that day without telling me that I needed to fast for 12 hours before said blood work). I told the receptionist that I had spoken to Dr. O on the phone last week and she said that she would squeeze me in if I wasn't feeling better in a couple of days. So the receptionist told me to come in at noon today. She said the doctor would be seeing patients through the lunch hour and I should expect to wait for a while, but they would squeeze me in.

I put Finn down for an early nap and left Kevin in charge and headed to the doctor. I get there right at noon, sign in and have a seat in the waiting room, where about half a dozen other people waited. A few minutes later, the receptionist (apparently not the same person who made my appointment this morning) says, "Lisa?" "Yes?" I answer from my seat, thinking she's going to ask for my co-pay now. Then she says, "We have you down for next Monday at 11:45." "What?!" I say. "I didn't make an appointment for next Monday at 11:45. I called this morning and was told to come in at noon today." "Who did you talk to on the phone this morning?" she asks me. I don't know! Suddenly, I'm on the defensive - as though, if I can't provide a name to back myself up, then my case doesn't hold water. I asked her, "Just out of curiosity, what's this appointment for that you have me scheduled for next Monday?" She says, "Flu symptoms." "Oh, that's great!" I say. "Why would I schedule an appointment for a week down the line if I'm sick now?"

After a few minutes, she tells me that they can't possibly see me until later this afternoon, and that I am free to wait if I want or come back later. I was so livid by this time that I was blinking back angry tears. I gathered my stuff and said, "You know what? Just forget it. I'm sick. I've been sick for a week. I made arrangements for my kids [okay, kind of a lie . . .], I drove all the way over here, and you've been no help. Thanks. Thanks for everything." And I stormed out.

So here I am, back at home, still sick, and mad as hell.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

To the doctor

Well, it's been a week, and I'm still sick. Not feverish anymore, but still very achey and weak and fatigued and my chest hurts. Every day I think, "Okay, tomorrow I'll surely feel better," and every day I wake up feeling like crap still. Last night when I went to bed I resolved to go to an urgent-care walk-in clinic today . . . but I spent the better part of the day in bed instead. So that's it - tomorrow morning I'm calling my doctor. I have to get better. The kids are all off school this week for Thanksgiving, and Michael has chemo, so I need to get my shit together and deal.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Being Twelve

Last night I sat down with Kevin for a highly anticipated event: I allowed him to watch his first ever rated R movie.

My Netflix account has become solely devoted to Kevin and Joey, as I seem to have lost all interest in sitting in front of the television, even to watch a good movie. So the two of them keep a queu of movies, and once in a while a movie comes to mind that I'll suggest they add to their list. Stand By Me, the '80s Rob Reiner movie based on the Stephen King Novella, The Body, was one such movie that I suggested for Kevin.

When I suggested it, I honestly didn't realize it was a rated R movie. Although it's been several years since I've seen it, I'd still put it on my list of favorites, and I figured it's a movie about a bunch of twelve-year-old boys, and Kevin is a twelve-year-old boy, sooo . . . I was surprised when he informed me, "Mom! It's rated R!" "Seriously?" I asked. "Seriously!" he said. "Well, it's a good movie. I think you'd like it. I'll watch it with you supply parental guidance, okay?" He was all fired up. His mom was going to let him watch a rated R movie! This is probably the baddest thing Kevin's ever done in his young life. That, I suppose, should have been my first clue as to how innocent and unwordly he is.

So last night was the big night. We got all the littles tucked in for the night, Michael took Joey out to the bookstore, and Kevin and I settled down with bowls of ice cream to watch Stand By Me.

Stand By Me is a coming of age movie. Which means, in essence, that it's about that moment in time when innocence and true childhood are left behind, self-discovery is made, and the burdens of growing up transform a person. What I figured out last night, watching this movie with my twelve-year-old son, is that unless you've already come of age, you're just not going to get a coming of age story. It's something, I guess, that you can only really understand and appreciate after you've gone through it yourself and have some distance from it.

Kevin enjoyed the movie, the adventure of it. But he truly missed a lot of the deeper messages, and the nuances. And I was shown, once again, how innocent, naive, and unwordly my boy is. A lot of the sophomoric humor that had me snorting with laughter, went totally over his head.

Case in point: this exchange takes place between the boys at the beginning of the train track scene:

Teddy: "Look, you guys can go around if you want to. I'm crossing here, and while you guys are dragging your candy asses halfway across the state and back, I'll be waiting for you on the other side, relaxing with my thoughts."

Gordie: "Do you use your left hand or right hand for that?"

Kevin looked at me quizzically and said, "I don't get it." To which I replied, "Umm, yeah, I'm not going to explain that one to you."

This movie showcases preteen boys smoking, trespassing, swearing up a storm, and insulting each other's mothers. Kevin was horrified at a lot of this. And he said more than once how they were "bad kids." How did I spawn such a sheltered kid? Sometimes it boggles my mind. I tried to explain to him that they weren't bad kids, that they were actually pretty decent kids, but they were all products of troubled homes, and boys will be boys (I also included the caveat "Don't go getting any ideas!"). I stopped short at telling him that I, his own mother, was cussing and drinking and smoking when I was his age . . . and I still maintain that I was not a bad kid. Not that I would take it in stride by any means if he ended up doing half the stuff I did as a teen.

And I think that's something else I realized last night: Kevin innocence and naivete could come to a screeching halt one of these days, and probably will. He's young and sheltered and unwordly and offended by swear words and anti-drug/alcohol/smoking . . . but that's not likely to last forever. One day, he's going to change. And I feel like I should be savoring his youth and innocence while I can.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Day 4 of . . . H1N1 . . . ???

Well, I assume that's what it is, anyway.

The kids are all pretty much over it. There is some lingering coughing going on, especially Finn, who was the last of them to get it.

Me? I still feel pretty much like shit. Monday and Tuesday I was feverish and oh so achey, and I could hardly drag myself from bed. Yesterday I was out of bed all day and although I still felt like crap, I was no longer feverish and felt a smidge better than I had the day before. Today I think I feel a little worse than I did yesterday, probably because Finn decided that last night would be a good night to get me out of bed to sit with him a few times (oh, and I twisted my left ankle not once, but twice, last night after standing up and not realizing my foot had fallen asleep along with the rest of me in the rocking chair as I sat with Finn - so now on top of everything else, I have a sore/tweaked ankle . . . wahhh). Oh, and Michael's been home taking care of everything all week, thank goodness, but today he had to go in to the office, so here I am, on my own, feeling a wee bit sorry for myself.

I'll survive. It stinks to be sick, but there are worse things.

Oh, and Michael seems to have caught the bug too. His oncologist got him on some Tamiflu as soon as he started having symptoms, and wow, it seems to have made a world of difference, because he has yet to go into full-blown flu mode. I also got some Tamiflu, but I'm thinking I started it a little too late for it to make a big difference. I'm glad Michael's hanging in there. His oncologist - have I mentioned how much I love that guy? - does not seem to be overly concerned about M being exposed to this. I love me a doctor who's not an alarmist. He said, "Yeah, I believe H1N1 exists, but I also believe there's a lot of hype about it. It's the flu."

So, thankfully, we can now say that our whole family is immune to this.


I wanted to write about Michael's 40-minute altercation with the girls yesterday morning, trying to get them to eat fruit with their breakfast. See, my kids all seem to have decided that produce is poisonous. And in all honesty, I've pretty much given up. Every veggie or fruit I serve to them they refuse to touch and it ends up in the trash. So why bother? (I know this doesn't score me points on the Good Mother list, but whaddyagonnado?)

But yesterday, with my being sick and all, Michael was handling breakfast. I mostly sat back and watched. I warned him that he might be able to put fruit on their plates, but he couldn't actually force them to eat it. He was determined, however. The girls all flat-out refused to accept the fruit (which happened to be banana). "No," they all said. "I won't eat it," they all said. Michael tried coaxing them patiently. Nope. He offered them a different fruit - apple perhaps? Nope. Annabelle, ever the wily one, slyly suggested to Daddy that he pack fruit in her school lunch. I informed him that she was on to him and she wouldn't eat any fruit at school either. Threats ensued. "If you don't eat the fruit," Michael told them, "then you don't get breakfast." He added, "And make sure when you get to school you tell you teacher that I offered you breakfast, but you refused it." (This because we used to deal with this same exact issue with Kevin when he was little, and he would actually go to school and tell his teacher that we wouldn't feed him breakfast!) Daisy got snotty, as she is wont to do lately. Michael unceremoniously dumped her out of her chair onto the floor, where she proceeded to howl in anger and righteous indignation. Secretly, I felt a sick sense of satisfaction seeing him be the mean parent for a change.

Anyway, this went on for a full 40 minutes. And truth be told, I don't even know at this point who won. Did they finally eat their fruit? I have no idea. It was fun to watch that whole scene as an observer, though. And the apples that were packed in their lunch boxes? They came back home uneaten in the afternoon.


Monday, November 16, 2009

My better half

Guess who the flu finally caught up to. Moi. I guess it was inevitable with all six kids being down with it all last week. Who was I kidding, thinking I had super-powers enough to avoid getting sick? I am currently sitting here taking in sustenance in the form of a chicken pot pie, but all in all I feel like one achey ball of crappola. Fever, sore throat, my chest hurts, body aches, a headache that won't let up despite having taken both Advil and Tylenol . . . even my skin hurts.

But enough of that.

What I really wanted to say is that sadly, sometimes it takes something like this to make one realize their good fortune. Specifically for me, what a wonderful husband I really have.

I suddenly feel ashamed of all the complaining and falling apart I've done while Michael has undergone chemo. I suddenly have a sense of appreciation for what it's like for him, 'cuz man do I feel like I've been hit by a truck, and I'm sure it's only a fraction of what he must feel like every other week.

This past weekend, he got up with the kids both Saturday and Sunday morning and let me sleep in. When I rolled out of bed around 8:00, he had breakfast going and my coffee sitting on the counter. And that was before I even felt like I was coming down with something. He's been doing just about all the cooking on the weekends lately, too. Fortunately, he enjoys it, which I do not, and he's very good at it too. We've been enjoying some delicious new dishes as he tries out new recipes.

Today he's home from work. He rescheduled a doctor appointment so he could stay here and deal with the kids. He let me languish in bed for most of the morning without a word of complaint. He went to the store and bought me cough medicine and OJ and ice cream.

I am counting my lucky stars right now.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Home Sweet Home

Finally, after 4.5+ years of living in this house, we've fixed up the master bedroom.

Permanence is somewhat of a foreign concept to me. The record for the longest I've ever lived in one home is 5 years. We moved a lot when I was growing up - sometimes every year. No, we weren't a military family, and we always stayed in the same general area, but I can say that between kindergarten and high school, I attended 12 different schools.

I think there's a touch of nomad in me stemming from all that moving around as a kid. Even as an adult, I've moved around a lot, always waiting for the place that would feel like my permanent home. When Michael and I bought this house, I did finally feel like this is where I would like to be for the rest of my days. But after a couple of years, Michael and I started fantasizing out loud about getting out of the rat race here and moving someplace a little more slow-paced. And with that expectation that we might pull up stakes and move away at some point, there's been a part of me that has resisted making this the home it could be. Do you know in 4.5 years, we've never hung a single picture on the wall in the living room? And although we fixed up all the kids' rooms as soon as we moved in, we've never really done anything with our room. The most I did was, impulsively one Thanksgiving weekend a few years ago, paint the walls a color something akin to vomit (it didn't look like vomit on the color card!).

But lately, I suddenly find myself thinking that this could be our permanent home. And maybe it should be. We're in a great neighborhood, the kids are happy here, and the truth is, we have the perfect setup for Finn later on if circumstances warrant it: a full apartment downstairs, which would allow him to live semi-independently. Anyway, who are we kidding - yanking everyone up and moving to Oregon? I don't think it's going to happen, and it probably wouldn't be everything we've fantasized about anyway. A friend of mine said something very wise, and it's stuck with me: no matter where you go, there you are.

It also has something to do with Michael's cancer . . . I find myself needing to invest in and commit to having a future. I need to believe that we have a whole life to live together still.

So, as part of putting down some permanent roots here, I made the executive decision to finally fix up our bedroom this last week. Without further ado:

Before -

After -

I love the way it all turned out. It's very cozy feeling now and has an almost log-cabin feel to it. The only thing missing is a fireplace!

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I don't know what's come over me, but today I've been feeling extraordinarily sad. I think it's the buildup of a lot of things . . .

. . . like the kids all being sick all week. Kevin is doing much better and went back to school today although he's still got a cough and is congested. All five of the younger ones still had fevers today, though (yes, Finn and Lilah both have it now too).

. . . like feeling lately like so much of my life is behind me rather than in front of me now. It's that mortality thing, I guess. And feeling like my kids are growing up soooo fast, and it hurts. If I close my eyes, I can still see Kevin as a baby and a toddler and a little kid, clear as day. It feels so close that I can almost touch it . . . and yet, it's gone. I open my eyes and look at him and see that he's on the cusp of teendom, and we'll never get those days back, and did I make the most of them? And even Joey suddenly seems so much older and less and less like my little guy anymore. Ahhhh, the passing of time, you just can't stop it.

. . . like being faced with the reality, suddenly, through a friend, that people actually reject babies like Finn at birth. That in certain parts of the world, vast numbers of babies like Finn end up in orphanages, and then, if they're not adopted within a certain time, in institutions, and that's that. Man, this just tears my heart out. I look at Finn and think, my god. How could someone not want him? How could anyone just throw him away like so much garbage?

. . . like feeling the distance that's grown between me and old friends, whether because of a breakdown in the relationship or the mere fact of our lives just traveling down completely different paths. Yeah, that makes me sad.
. . . like reading today about Ethan Zohn, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease, apparently the most curable form of cancer, and about how he had every reason to be optimistic about his prognosis, and how he underwent the recommended three months of chemo and then discovered that not only had the chemo not worked, but that his cancer had spread. Shit like this hits me like a ton of bricks. All this time, we've focused all of our energy and emotion on just getting through the treatment. Now that we are finally nearing the end (sort of . . .), we have to start thinking about the aftermath. About the fact that Michael still faces a final CT-PET scan to make sure that all the cancer is gone. And I'm suddenly scared. What if . . . what if . . . what if . . .


Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Kevin seems to be on the mend. He was really sick yesterday - just miserable with congestion, coughing and fever. Still coughing and congested today, but no fever and seems to be feeling a little better.

Joey had a low-grade fever (99+) all day yesterday, but no other symptoms. Last night it was up to 100. I put him to bed with Motrin, and he woke up crying very early this morning saying he had a headache. Temp was up to 101+.

Annabelle had a low-grade fever all day yesterday. She woke up crying at 4 a.m. and was burning up to the touch. I didn't take her temp, but gave her Motrin and sat up with her for a while.

Daisy laid on the couch for most of the day yesterday. Her temp got as high as 104.2!! It was down to 100+ this morning and she's congested and coughing, but seems to be feeling better than she did yesterday.

Lilah and Finn just seem to have colds.

Everyone is on Tylenol or Motrin at the moment, and it seems to be working since they're all (including Kevin) playing hide and seek in the house.

Based on symptoms, I suspect this may be the dreaded H1N1. Or maybe not. Who knows. The upside would be that they would be immune to it after this. Which would explain, perhaps, why Finn and Lilah seem to be quite a bit less sick than the others - they both had this same bug (whatever it is) a couple weeks ago. I wouldn't say that I'm overly worried. The high fevers scare me a little, but they seem easily brought down by Tylenol and Motrin.

The fact that I haven't gotten sick is beyond amazing, seeing that I'm constantly wiping noses and being coughed and sneezed on.

What is also amazing is that Michael hasn't gotten sick. That scares me. If he gets sick, it could be really, really bad. But given that his wbc has remained in the acceptable range, apparently the chemo has not completely wiped out his immune system. This is thanks, in part, to some home remedies we've been pretty diligent about. And that's all I have to say about that.

And in the midst of all this, we're having our bedroom painted tomorrow. The timing isn't the best, but it's when the painters are available, and it should only take a day. So, yayy.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I Spy

Not all that long ago, a friend mentioned that she reads her 10-year-old daughter's diary. "Really?!" I asked her. "Of course," she answered, rather nonchalantly. I was, frankly, a little horrified. Isn't this wrong? Out of all the ways I am surely screwing my kids up, violating their privacy wasn't going to be one of the ways. That's a line I wasn't going to cross.

Until Kevin, age 12-soon-to-be-13 started using email recently. And really, I wrestled with it for a day or two. Do I just let him have an email account and let him loose with it? Or do I monitor it? I decided to monitor it.

So, I read his email. There, I confess. Really, I just skim it. Nothing titillating or worrisome so far - mostly stuff from his grandma, and more and more stuff from a handful of friends. And you know what? I don't feel bad about it like I thought I would. It's not that I'm trying to catch him at something - he's a good kid. But how can I protect him and guide him if I don't keep close tabs on him?

Here's something though:

I wrote a couple years ago about how, upon entering his classroom with him and then hanging back and just observing, how bittersweet it was to realize how much of a bystander I have become in his life. To see that he really has a whole life apart from me - that he functions and interacts with the world all on his own with no help or input from me - it's both painful to feel that growing separation, and at the same time makes me feel so full of pride towards him for being so adept at just being him. Does that even make sense?

Anyway, today I came across an email exchange between him and a friend at school, and I got that same feeling. Kevin is growing up. He has a life apart from me. He is well-liked. And on some level, it makes me feel like maybe I'm not doing such a bad job at this parenting gig after all.

Hospital Birth vs. Home Birth

My friend sent me a link to this article from the L.A. Times this morning.

Look, I know that home birth isn't for everyone. There are women who wouldn't dream of giving birth anywhere except in a hospital where the most advanced technology and pain relief is at their fingertips. Fine. I get it, only to the extent that there was a time, long, long ago, when I was one of those women. But knowing what I know now, and having experienced births on both sides of the technology spectrum, I want to make these points in response to the article:

  • "Many doctors are, to put it mildly, not supportive of this approach. Calling home delivery unsafe, they say that women who choose it are placing personal preferences about the birth process ahead of the health of their child.

    "Last year, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology issued a formal statement -- one supported by the American Medical Assn. -- detailing its opposition to home births. The organization acknowledged a woman's right to make her own decisions about delivery, but it drew the line at delivering at home."
Of course doctors aren't supportive of home births! Every home birth that occurs equals thousands of dollars that don't go to the doctors or hospitals. My understanding is that maternity units in hospitals are the number one revenue makers for hospitals. It all comes down to competition. Obstetricians have been resentful of home birth midwives since obstetricians took over Western maternity care early in the 20th century. Really. Go research it. This is nothing new.

Some other food for thought: the average uncomplicated vaginal hospital birth in the U.S. costs between $8,000 - $10,000 nowadays. The average c-section (which, don't forget, is occurring at the rate of approximately one in every three births in the U.S.) costs $10,000 - $15,000. Now, even if the mother and her family are not paying these amounts out-of-pocket, someone is: the insurance companies. And you know who really foots the bill for insurance premiums - all of us. The average home birth, on the other hand, costs between $3,000 - $5,000. Interesting, then, that insurance companies are generally loathe to cover home births.

  • "Most women who have home deliveries don't realize what can go wrong and how quickly it can go wrong," says Dr. Erin Tracy, an attending physician of obstetrics and gynecology at Massachusetts General Hospital."
See, this kind of statement just pisses me off. What a load of hooey. The truth is, women who choose home birth are generally extremely conscientious about risks and how to preserve the well-being of themselves, their babies, and their families. These are women who are much more likely to actually research all of their options, all the associated risks, and make a truly informed decision. These are women who actually take responsibility for their maternity care instead of just handing it over to the professionals.

  • "Babies can become trapped in the birth canal, for instance, or their oxygen supply can drop dangerously low, leading to brain damage. Women can experience life-threatening bleeding during labor or contractions so forceful that they rupture the uterus.

    "When these types of complications arise, immediate lifesaving interventions are required -- interventions that can be delivered only by a physician in a hospital or medical center. If a home birth takes an unexpected turn for the worse, both mother and baby must be transported to the hospital for treatment. Even under ideal circumstances -- when the problem is detected quickly, the ambulance arrives promptly and the transport time is short -- those inherent delays in treatment can have tragic consequences."
Midwives are trained to deal with complications such as dystocia (the baby becoming trapped in the birth canal). Dystocia, by the way, is almost always caused by malpositioning of the baby, and midwives are extremely knowledgeable about how to remedy dystocia by using various non-surgical methods to release the baby, such as having the mother assume certain positions during labor. In a hospital setting, dystocia will almost always result in a c-section.

Midwives are trained in life-saving techniques and carry drugs to stop excessive bleeding as well as oxygen and other emergency equipment. I think people have this image of a home birth midwife showing up with a pot of boiling water and some clean towels (which, truly, in most cases probably would be more than sufficient), and nothing more, but that's just not the case. My midwife brings a whole rolling suitcase full of instruments, medicines, and equipment, plus a big oxygen tank - just in case. Midwives are capable and qualified to perform just about every emergency procedure necessary during a birth except a c-section. And the truth is, the vast majority of c-sections performed in hospitals are not truly necessary (go ahead, get mad at me for saying that. It's the truth, and I stand by it).

  • The article repeatedly refers to nurse-midwives, as if that's the only kind of midwife. The truth is, there are a number of different kinds of midwives, and most home birth midwives, as far as I know, are not nurse midwives. Nurse midwives tend to work in hospitals (they are trained and licensed nurses with additional study and training in midwifery) with their obstetrician colleagues. Some people refer to them as "med-wives."
There are also:

~ Certified Professional Midwives - these midwives have passed rigorous competency testing by the North American Registry of Midwives (NARM) and is awarded a CPM certificate.
~ Direct Entry Midwives - these midwives learn midwifery through study, apprenticeship with experienced midwives, and attendance at midwifery school.
~ Licensed Midwives - licences by the state in which they practice; the requirements for licensing vary by state.

  • "Women may be surprised to learn that individual doctors and midwives are often willing to compromise, even collaborate, in a way that they are unwilling to do collectively.

    "Midwives can be asked to perform in-hospital births, and doctors can be asked to temper their use of technology. Some midwives and physicians willingly work together: The midwife assumes primary responsibility for providing prenatal care and attending to the delivery, while the physician provides backup and support should it become necessary."
Sadly, it's really not that easy to come by this type of scenario. No kind of midwife except a CNM (certified nurse midwife) can ever obtain hospital privileges - so even if a midwife is highly capable and qualified, if she isn't licensed as a nurse, she can't deliver in a hospital setting. And the truth is, most women who want a home birth, want a home birth - period. They don't want to "compromise."

  • "For women yearning for a homier birth experience, there's often no reason that the hospital can't be dressed to fit the part."
This is a joke. You can disguise a hospital room any way you want to - with cute, frilly curtains, a television, soft music, whatever. It's still a hospital room, and the procedures and protocols that will take place within those walls will still be those of a hospital. The bacteria one will be exposed to will still be foreign (as opposed to the bacteria in one's home which one has already built up a natural immunity to), exposing the mother and baby to risks of infection they would not be exposed to in their own home. My doula said something a long time ago that made sense and has stuck with me all these years: "If you want a home birth, don't go to a hospital looking for one."

Bottom line: home birth for low-risk mothers is extremely safe and usually far more satisfying. Midwives are very knowledgeable about screening out high-risk women and have no qualms about insisting those women give birth in a hospital setting. Even the World Health Organization endorses the midwifery model of care and out-of-hospital births, as opposed to the medical model of care.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Bunch o' Sickos

Here's the rundown:

Kevin: has been sick since Thursday night. Fever on and off. A couple bouts of vomiting Friday. Lots of congestion and coughing. I kept him home from school Friday and he was sick for most of the weekend but seemed to be doing better by last night so I sent him to school today. This afternoon his fever is back and he's all sneezy and coughy.

Joey: has a low-grade fever as of this afternoon. So far no other symptoms, but our experience with this bug is that the fever is just the opening act.

Daisy: Woke up at about 3 a.m. screaming and crying that she couldn't sleep. Fever up to 102.3 today. A couple bouts of vomiting this morning. Congested. Kept her home from school today.

Annabelle: went to school today but as of this afternoon has a low-grade fever.

Lilah: No fever but lots of congestion.

Finn: No fever but lots of congestion and some coughing.

I don't think anyone is going to school tomorrow.

Oh, and Michael's on chemo this week.

Good times, good times.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Periods: A Punctuating Event

Okay, this post isn't actually about periods, per se, but I thought that would be a cute title. This post is actually about . . . ahem . . . feminine products.

So, before I go any further, again, this post is about FEMININE PRODUCTS. Various associated words and possible graphic descriptions will be mentioned, so if you're squeamish about this sort of thing, now's your chance to take a hike.

Further disclaimer: this isn't a product review. It's just plain old commentary.

Last chance . . .

Still here? Okay.

So, I'm thumbing through my latest issue of People magazine and I come across this ad:

First I laughed. Like, really laughed out loud. I mean, the whole magician's theme and all. And Always's tagline, "Have a Happy Period . . . Always." Who are they kidding? Is there such a thing as a happy period? Well, maybe for the woman who finds herself heaving a huge sigh a relief that her little indiscretion didn't lead to the making of el bambino - maybe that would be a happy period. But in general? Yeah, happy period, my ass. Even with the very best, state of the art feminine products, I'm still going to be crabby. Clean and tidy, maybe, but crabby all the same.

Anyhoo, this ad is touting yet another revolutionary sanitary product for that time of the month. And it struck me how vast is the landscape of feminine products these days, and how far it's all come.

In the olden days (think Laura Ingalls, not the olden days when I was a kid, like my kids think), I believe women just used old rags stuffed into their undergarments. Which, of course, had to be washed out and re-used. Yuck.

Eventually, the disposable sanitary napkin was invented. It had to be worn with a cumbersome belt. I'm sure this seemed very modern at the time. Can you imagine? This is what was available when my mother was growing up.

It was years before someone came up with the brilliant idea of creating a pad with sticky stuff on the back to hold it in place instead of that awful belt.

I got my first period a week before my thirteenth birthday. I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was honestly thrilled. I knew all about what it was (to my mother's credit, she had informed me well in advance so it wouldn't be a frightening shock). I remember my older brother somehow finding out and going around for days chanting, "Lisa's on the rag . . . Lisa's on the rag . . . Lisa's on the rag . . ." Nice. I also remember my mother having me sit down to tell my father the news! I shit you not. God. What was she thinking? Like any 13-year-old girl wants to tell her dad that!

But I digress. What I especially remember was the mondo maxi-pads my mother provided me with. There was nothing subtle about those puppies. (And they were, roughly, the size of labrador retriever puppies.) They were about a foot long, a couple inches thick, and they had plastic backing which made them crinkle when you moved. So even if you could hide them by wearing a dress, there was always that telltale sound to give you away.

Pads have come a looooong way, baby. Now they're ultra-thin, super absorbent, and come in all shapes and sizes. Some have wings, some don't.

There are pads for daytime, and pads for nighttime.

There are the standard issue hospital grade postpartum sanitary pads which is a nice way of saying "adult diaper." And lemme tell you, there's nothing sanitary about these. Mess-ssy. But at least in the hospital you have nurses cleaning up after you.

Now this magazine ad informs me that they have magic pads that make the . . . errr, mess . . . disappear! Wow.

And for the crunchy woman, there are cloth, reusable pads. Just like in the olden days! Aren't they cute?

Who knew.

(I'm all for cloth diapers, for the record . . . but cloth menstrual pads? Uh, no thanks.)

Then there are panty liners (or is it pantiliners?). Which are for super light days. I guess. Or, in the case of a woman who has borne, say . . . six babies, for occasional (okay, frequent) bladder control issues. Not that I would know about this personally.

These, too, come in a variety of . . . varieties. Personally, when the thong panty liner was introduced a few years back, I was one of many who shouted, "It's about time!"

Now, Always has introduced a new panty liner to fit everyone's needs.

Sometimes you just gotta say, wow.

It's funny - I have found, among my women friends, that most women are either pad women or tampon women (yes, we really do discuss these things). Personally, I think tampons are one of the greatest inventions of all time. When I was a teenager, my mother would not allow me to use tampons. Now, on some level, I understand not wanting the goods to become damaged, but we're talking quality of life here. Tampons = freedom, period. (Haaah!) My step-sister, who was a year and a half younger than me but about ten times more wordly than I was, taught me how to use a tampon when I was 15, and it changed my life.

Tampons, too, come in a vast array. There are cardboard applicators:

Plastic applicators:

(Not sure what the diff is . . . I suspect it's touted as a matter of comfort? If that's the case, I call bullshit; like ribbed condoms, it's nothing but a gimmick.)

And no applicators.

Hmmm. Not sure what the point of that is.

And there's the tampon with the little braid in the string for extra protection! Huh! Seriously, who do they think they're kidding? Like that little braid is going to hold back the horror flick that someone of my childbearing caliber experiences?

And then, again for my granola sisters, there is the Diva Cup. It's, uhhhh, insertable. And reusable. Never tried it, never had a hankering to, but I know several women who swear by it.

Really, though, I have found that this is the best protection for any kind of period:

Guaranteed to make everyone's life a little easier during those times.