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Posts Tagged ‘health’

Quickening

me and my mom on our festive, if slightly hallucinogenic, couch

The reproductive journey of the past year+ has not been straightforward or easy.  So, even though I used to disdain the overly cautious– even paranoid– attitude of some mothers-to-be that I have known, I have found that I now share some of their attitudes.

For the past month, Bo and I have been going back and forth and round and round on the question of whether or not to undergo genetic testing.  Amniocentesis is the accepted, tried-and-true standard for finding out whether the fetus presents such chromosomal conditions as Down syndrome or more serious, life-threatening problems like Edwards syndrome or spina bifida.  But amnio itself carries a small risk of miscarriage.  A new blood test, still in the experimental phase, offers a no-risk ability to discern Down syndrome at a fairly high certainty level, and some other chromosomal disorders with a lower level of confidence.  Ultimately, since our ultrasound sessions revealed nothing of concern to the specialists in such disorders, we decided not to order any tests.

This means that I’ve accepted that we really and truly can believe that there is a baby, and she is on her way.  No more worrying about What Can Go Wrong!  It’s time to focus on preparing to welcome this kid and contemplate what parenthood means for us.

Yesterday as I waited in line to pay for some purchases at the grocery store, I felt a little fluttering in my abdomen between my pelvic bone and my belly button.  Was that…?  Yes, a few minutes later, I felt the same thing again.  In the evening as we chatted in the living room after dinner with friends, I felt her moving repeatedly.

I guess this is a sign that she is planning to stick around, and is coming whether we’re ready or not!

LiaMary-homecoming

me on my way home from the hospital

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Anticipation

a high-altitude popover

Do you remember what it was like to bake a pie or cake for the first time?  You put it in the oven and had to wait for a certain amount of time before you could open the door and see the transformation that had happened inside.    Did the filling spill out from the pie and turn black on the oven bottom?  Did the cake rise properly?

My mom used to make popovers for breakfast sometimes.  These were eggy muffin-sized pastries that puffed up in baking so that you could melt butter and honey or jam in the hollow inside.  The thing was, you absolutely, positively COULD NOT open the oven door while they were baking!  If you did, they would fall and… well, not pop over.

My first memory of a failed project like this goes back to when I was about six years old.  My mom brought home oranges and whole cloves to make cloved oranges for Christmas gifts.  The concept was a little shaky to me, but I dutifully pushed the cloves (sharp little things! They could really hurt your fingers if you weren’t careful) into the oranges at carefully spaced intervals.  We then put them away into a dark place in the basement to dry out.  The oranges would desiccate over a period of time—a week?  Two weeks?  I don’t remember; it was a long time for me at the time. When they had dried, the oranges would have shrunk so that they would look like a mass of cloves, and you could tie a ribbon around them and hang them in your closet to make things smell nice.  At any rate, when it was time to retrieve them, we brought them upstairs and… they were all rotten and moldy.  We were supposed to have rolled them in powdery stuff called alum before setting them to cure, and for some reason we didn’t, so they spoiled.

I have been living with this feeling of anticipation lately.  I am pregnant, my third such endeavor in the last year.  Obviously, the first two didn’t pan out: no heartbeat at the 8-week prenatal exam.  At age 42, I’m apparently too old for this to go smoothly, and my egg supply is a crapshoot.  Are any of them still fresh and good?  All I need is one good one.

On learning that I was pregnant once again, I had to wait for 4 to 6 weeks before opening the metaphorical oven door to see if what was there was pleasing, or an inert mess once again.  And this time…. ahh, this time, the ultrasound showed something alive, with a heartbeat and arm- and leg- buds and a cephalic promontory (that would be a precursor to a “head”).  This happened in mid-September, so we closed the oven door to wait and see if this little life form would continue to develop.  And it did!  Last week the second, rather detailed ultrasound showed us all the features that are expected: fingers and toes on hands and feet that were waving around, ears,  nose, beating heart, vertebral column, and even a brain inside what was formerly that cephalic promontory.

We have to wait until mid to late April before we really get to retrieve our little project from its metaphorical oven.  There still are plenty of things that can go wrong in the next 22 weeks.  But we’re certain enough that there will actually be an end-product that we’re just happy and relieved to have the long wait and the anticipation it inspires.

PS: I am determined not to be one of Those People who posts photos of my naked pregnant belly or ultrasound stills online.  I have adhered to this resolution here.  We’ll see whether I persevere or if my hormone swings eventually make me do something against my better judgement.

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Health Insurance

Like other informed citizens, I’ve been following the news about the US government’s efforts to reform healthcare.  Unlike some, though, I’ve had the luxury of a more disinterested stance.  I have a job, after all, and my employer provides me with a good health insurance plan.  And, given the line of work I’m in, I probably will continue to have employment that provides health insurance for a long time.

That feeling of safety was shaken last month when I returned to campus for the beginning of the academic year and it was announced that the university system has changed health insurance companies because the previous provider was going to raise premiums by 15%.

A new health insurance company?  my first thought was “what if this one doesn’t cover alternative medical treatments like my naturopath?”  Then my worries shifted to a set of more general concerns about everything that could go wrong with a switch in companies: what is the new company’s record for responding to questions or complaints?  how quickly do they process claims?  do they have a more strict set of criteria for determining “pre-existing conditions”?  will they be more likely to “drop” customers?  A chilling fear began to pervade my mood: I could be one of the millions of Americans who are uninsured, or uninsurable!

I went to the open meeting with the state and campus benefits officers, and based on the information presented, it does seem that my employer (since I work at a public university, this would be a rather large entity– the state of Oregon) played hardball when they negotiated the deal with the new insurance company.  It sounds like they managed to get pretty much the same package that we had with the old insurers.  I will remain skeptical until after January 1st, however, when I see how the new company performs.

I consider myself to be a well-informed person, but this experience was an emotional wake-up call.  It made me think about how helpless most of us are when it comes to health insurance, and even healthcare in general, in this country.  When I signed the paperwork for this job, I agreed to the insurance provided by the university– and luckily, it was a good plan with good coverage.  It never occurred to me that in the relatively short period of time I would be in this position (about two years, most likely), this health insurance arrangement would change.

An interesting story that aired on National Public Radio a few weeks ago explained the history of how health insurance became tied to employment in the United States.  It shed light on the practice that so many of us take for granted as the historical accident that it really is (like so many things that don’t really make sense, it is tied to the tax system).  Getting health insurance coverage through one’s employer may have made sense in the 1950’s, when people tended to have longterm employment with one company and costs were more stable.  Today, when many people, like me, switch jobs or careers, or become self-employed, the system leaves many uninsured or otherwise inadequately covered.

The idea of widespread change is scary, and understandably so.  We’re programmed to stay on the safe side when possible, to go with the tried and true, which tend to feel comfortable.  In the case of those of us who grew up in the US in the past 50 years, that means employer-provided health insurance.  Now that the landscape of American employment has changed so much, we need to change healthcare and the way it’s administered.  I hope we manage overcome our fears and take advantage of the accumulated intelligence and wisdom that can help us get out of this mess.

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Doctor My Eyes*

some crazy invention from the 50s

I have been going through a frustrating, yet rather enlightening, ordeal with my eyes over the past few months.  Most of you know that I am extremely nearsighted and have worn contact lenses since I was fourteen.  I have always worn hard contact (RGPs, or rigid gas permeables in optometry lingo) because of my astigmatism.  At Christmas, I broke a lens, probably the third in about 2 years.  At $90 a pop, they aren’t cheap.  My brother, who also apparently suffers from astigmatism, asked why I didn’t switch to soft lenses, now that they make them for people like us.  I investigated, put in an order, and three weeks later was trying out my new disposable, big floppy lenses.  Everything was fine for a few weeks, and then they began to get bloodshot and irritated by the end of each day.

Long story short, I stopped the lenses, tried wearing the old hard lenses again, wore glasses for awhile to let things calm down– but the situation just kept getting worse.  Eventually it got to the point at which my glasses were not correcting my vision to 20/20, and putting in contacts made my eyes burn and water immediately.  My eyes were extremely sensitive to light, which made the bright mornings of the southwestern US almost unbearable while we were traveling.

When we returned I saw an ophthalmologist, who informed me that I have a condition called papillary conjunctivitis, which is not uncommon in longterm contact lens users.  Infection or allergies usually trigger it, and in my case it was probably something in the new lenses or solution.  I’ve been using prescription drops for the last few weeks, and my eyes are feeling back to normal.  There was a bit of drama two weeks ago when my eyes reacted badly to the initial drops he prescribed and my tear ducts closed up, causing my eyes to sting and burn, and making me look like a sad clown, always with a tear trickling down my cheek.  But I’m using different drops now, and they seem to be working much  better.  I go back to the eye doctor on Monday, and we’ll discuss what type of contact lenses I should try next.

The part of the experience that was enlightening to me was that when I experienced such blurry vision and light sensitivity, I couldn’t behave in what I consider a normal way in public.  I couldn’t see well enough to recognize people’s faces from a distance, couldn’t read signs or recognize pictures, and had to squint just to keep my eyes from watering in the harsh light.  Driving became dangerous, and even just walking around a busy area and trying to cross the street was an ordeal.  It really made me think about how people with vision impairments must experience the world.  I found myself avoiding eye contact with people and withdrawing into my own world as I tried hard to focus on one thing at a time, since my sensory input felt so limited.

It was a big relief to have the eye doctor tell me what was wrong and that it could be fixed, and that my vision had not deteriorated.  I guess I am at the age (almost 39!) when people should stop taking for granted that every part of the body will be healthy and work perfectly!

*If the title of this post sounds oddly familiar, that’s because it’s the same as a song by Jackson Browne, which you can listen to here.

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