Friday, July 31, 2009

Go Here.

I'm going to take a break from sorting through my stack of medical bills to tell you I really loved Steamboat Springs, Colorado. So much so that, when we were there, I found myself perusing real estate listings, a habit of mine when I find a place where I *could* imagine myself living. I have no plans to move anywhere anytime soon, but this is a sweet place to visit.

Reasons to go (summer version):

#1: They have aspen trees. My favorite.

#2: Hot air balloon rodeo. I believe that's actually two separate things that just happen together, not that anyone's up in the air leaning out of a swinging basket to try to rope himself a giant flaming balloon.

Early-morning balloon sighting.

#3: Who can resist pretty nature?

#4: They have brother-in-laws who feed you lots of yummy food and wine. Well, I suppose you have to bring your own. 

#5: Lots of hot springs. The main springs in town have been made into a gorgeous rec center with a lap pool, several kiddo play areas, warm and hot pools, and a water slide. Since Elan is also a fan of water-therapy (it both tires him out and relaxes him - a wonderful combination as any parent of a 2.5-year-old will attest), we visited several times. They also have Strawberry Hot Springs in a more natural setting out in a beautiful river gorge. Elan wasn't so sure about these, but we adults loved them, and he eventually got comfortable with the hint-of-sulphur water and the mossy rocks.

#6: Hanging out and being a family. My parents rented a great condo (found by Jason & Laura) where we all stayed so we got to do things like play marathon games of Settlers of Catan (anyone in Berkeley want to come over for a game?) while bubs was napping. And there was a hot tub on the deck, for more water therapy.

Kickin' it family style at Strawberry Hot Springs.

Thank you Nana & Babu!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

From The Thick Of It

What, you think a writer's blog should include WORDS? Picky, picky.

I haven't been writing publicly much because what to say? The question I've mostly had from friends and family members is How are you doing? And the answer is it's complicated.

Elan has a book that I love reading him called My Many-Colored Days. It's all about moods, very appropriate for a toddler. Some days we feel "happy pink. It's great to jump and just not think." But then there are the brown days, the purple days, and, of course, the black days: "I howl, I growl, at every cloud." Lately my days encompass a rich variety of colors, tending more than I'd like toward the gray, brown, and black spectrum. The bright end of the rainbow is not so well represented, though I do have times where I feel quite fine, relatively energetic and able to deal with the little and big mishaps of life. And then there are the other times, when I feel like I'm barely holding it together, whatever *it* is.

We writers hope to write about a specific experience an essay that teases out the details, gleans the essence of the experience, and then knits it back together with some kind of universal truth or lesson at the end. In order to write this kind of essay, one needs some psychic distance from the experience. 

My blog posts are clearly NOT this kind of essay. I have no distance, emotional or physical, from the events that have recently turned my life upside-down. I am still dealing with the sometimes startling physical effects of the miscarriage and partial molar pregnancy. I am still going to the doctor for ultrasounds (tomorrow) and getting blood draws to check my hormone level (sometime this week). I am still in the thick of it, and it's difficult from this vantage point to even understand my own reactions and feelings, much less try to impart them to others. If you talk to me on the phone, depending on the moment, I either sound completely normal or like a total mess. Rarely am I somewhere in between, though sometimes I try to hold off the mess part until I get off the phone, or Elan goes to bed. It's just not always an appropriate time or place to break down into tears.

Writing that last sentence makes me laugh though, because I have been pushing the boundaries that my previous self would have respected when it comes to appropriate places to cry. On Saturday, it was at the gym: locker room, sauna, steam room, and most impressive of all - in the pool while doing laps. And yes, it was difficult to breathe. My goggles got all fogged up, but I figured no one could hear a sob underwater. I was subtle about it; no one seemed to notice, or at least they didn't look twice if they did. This is Berkeley, after all. But what choice do I have? Some days, thankfully not the majority, I just can't stop crying. But life has to go on. I have to get my exercise. There's a tiger inside me, and he has to be walked. When he doesn't get his walk, he starts clawing at his cage, and it's not pretty. (When I shared this thought with Mikhail, he wondered why the tiger was male. It just is.)

And so, I write to you from the thick of it. These blog posts will not be prettily finished-off. They will likely not impart universal truths or little jewels of wisdom. They will be ragged and raw, seams showing, hems with pins still sticking out of them. Just like my days. I move carefully, trying not to prick myself.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Still Shaggy

From the most recent pre-haircut days.

I swear we don't try to get him to look so serious for pictures. He's just not one of those kids who generally breaks into a big grin for the camera. He will sometimes pose for pictures now when he's in the mood. But it's more fashion-model moody than "Say Cheese!"

What can I say? My kid is deep.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Blast from the Past

A picture I just rediscovered. 

May 2008. Elan at 17 months, rockin' at his aunties' house.

I forget what a funny little munchkin he used to be.

And yes, that is a raccoon on his head.

Monday, July 20, 2009

In Bloom

My sister Laura, 29 weeks pregnant, looking awesome.

When I first saw her, I was shocked. I had this feeling like what happened to my little sister? I had seen pictures, but I hadn't seen her in person since December, and in person the belly just looks so different. So three-dimensional. But now I'm used to seeing her pregnant, and it's been fabulous getting to feel the baby move around and kick her with these tiny, bony little limbs.

Is it a little bittersweet, being with my in-bloom sister so soon after losing a pregnancy myself? I would be lying if I said it wasn't. Of course I am so happy for her and Jason, and I love getting to be around her while she's pregnant. My own sadness doesn't diminish or even really change my feelings about Laura's pregnancy. She looks so beautiful.

I do wish we were still going to have babies only a few months apart. Though there would have been no way for me to keep up with her on the trail if I were still pregnant.

My sister's and Jason's last name is Mann, and Mikhail came up with our nickname for the baby: Mann Cub. This is what comes from watching too much of your child's Jungle Book video.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Despite the turmoil of the last month, we had a great time on vacation in Colorado. It was an extended family trip with my parents, my sister & her husband, and the three of us. I've got some favorite pictures to post, but right now I need to pack for our next trip: camping with Mikhail's family this weekend. We leave early tomorrow morning. So for now, here's a preview of our time in Colorado:

I think Mikhail looks especially fetching with that flower tucked behind his ear, don't you?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

And The Number Is...


I haven't spoken to my doctor yet, but I know that's good news. As Mikhail says, 4 is only 4 above 0, which is where I want to be as soon as possible. And it shows the hormones are definitely still decreasing from two weeks ago, when I was at 49.7.

This time the anticipation of waiting for the number wasn't as bad as last time, but it's still mighty unpleasant. I try not to be anxious, but this afternoon waiting for the return call, I was. I did some yoga and that helped for a little bit. Then as soon as I was done with the yoga, the anxiety came back. Maybe that's part of why Elan was Mr. SuperFuss this afternoon.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Crossing My Fingers

We just got home last night from nearly three weeks away, and I'm on my way to get my blood drawn for my next hormone level check. I am nervous, but I figure better to get it over with fast rather than just worry. I did a good job of not over-worrying while in Colorado, except for when prompted by a few unexpected symptoms (which seem to be turning out to be fine).

After I get the draw, I'm going to go for a swim at the Y and try to ignore the butterflies in my stomach. Yup, there they go. Yikes.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Complications Part II

At the beginning of last week, I got a call from the doctor who did my D&C. She had received my results from pathology. This was a surprise. I didn't know they had sent a tissue sample to pathology - they don't tell you if they do since it rarely turns out to be anything worrisome. But my results were abnormal. She told me that I had had a partial molar pregnancy. In a nutshell, this is a "genetic accident" that occurs when two sperm fertilize one egg. The result is a placenta that behaves more like a benign tumor than a pregnancy. The treatment is D&C, which I had already had when I found out my diagnosis, and monitoring of hormone levels afterwards to make sure that all of the tissue has been removed.

The partial molar diagnosis explains why my body behaved like it did - why I felt so sick and exhausted despite a non-viable pregnancy and why I didn't start miscarrying on my own earlier. Partial molar pregnancies often result in higher levels of HCG, the hormone measured by pregnancy tests, resulting in more nausea and other unpleasant first-trimester symptoms. My body was responding appropriately to the high hormone levels, which might have been abnormally high, though my levels were never tested while I was still pregnant so I don't know for sure.

The main danger is that partial molar pregnancy can be persistent, and if some tissue or even a few cells remain in the uterus, you need to be treated with low doses of a chemotherapy drug to make sure that it doesn't turn into cancer. This is why my HCG hormone levels need to be tested (a blood test) once a week until they drop to zero and then once a month after that to make sure they stay there. A rise would indicate remaining tissue or cells.

I'm finding it difficult to explain this condition in a way that doesn't either underplay or over-dramatize it. I'm also noticing that information provided by my doctor and the Internet all vary wildly, and there's some very scary information online (even from reputable sources), so I'm going to provide this link from the Cleveland Clinic for those who want to know more. It's a concise and, from what I can tell, fairly accurate explanation, except that it makes it sound like HCG levels are lower in women with partial molar pregnancies whereas everything else I've read and heard indicates they are higher than in normal pregnancies.

My situation is different from the Cleveland Clinic's description because I was not diagnosed via ultrasound. In fact, I had two ultrasounds before my D&C, and no one seemed to suspect molar pregnancy. It was only because my doctor sent tissue to pathology that we knew. This makes me think this kind of pregnancy is under-reported, and plenty of women miscarry on their own, go on to get pregnant in the next 1-3 months after their miscarriage, and never know they were at risk for the scary stuff described in detail on the Internet but downplayed greatly by my doctor.

It has been a stressful time.

I have been trying to process this new information and understand this condition and what it will mean for me and for our future as a family. The Cleveland Clinic says that women need to wait a year before trying to conceive, but six months is also a standard wait time, and that is the number my doctor told me, adding that the amount of time could be revised either way. So for now, we are hoping for six months at the longest.

The first bit of good news happened later in the week, when, after much waiting and anxiety, I got the result from my first HCG hormone level blood test. My doctor had told me that we were hoping for a number under 1,000 (hormone levels in a healthy pregnancy can get up to 20,000 or even 250,000 in the first trimester). Given the huge reduction in my pregnancy symptoms, I was hoping for a low number. In my heart of hearts, I was hoping for a number that seemed impossibly low, like 50. And I got it - my number was 49.7! My relief was palpable.

The past month has been so emotionally exhausting. Sometimes I feel emotionally battered, like I've been run over by a truck, which then backs up and runs me over again. Every time I feel like I'm almost adjusting to the news I've received, I get another surprise, and - bam! - the rug is pulled out from under my feet and I've landed squarely on my butt again. In terms of the partial molar pregnancy, most likely everything will work out without any further intervention, but in my sad and tired moments, I feel the fear of having something hanging over me. The idea of waiting at least an extra four months beyond what we thought we'd wait before trying to get pregnant again has been a big adjustment for me. Six months might not sound like a lot, but to me, right now, it is. I am quite aware there's no guarantee on the timing of trying, of getting pregnant, or of having a healthy pregnancy. It's a difficult mental shift to go from thinking you're going to have a baby by the end of the year to having to go back on birth control because you can't get pregnant until your doctor gives you the okay.

At this point, a month after we found out the pregnancy wasn't progressing, I am up and down emotionally. Some days I feel relatively normal, relieved that the miserable physical symptoms I endured for that first trimester are over. Other days I feel like there's a cloud of sadness hanging over me, tinging the world, if only slightly. And occasionally (less frequently than I might have imagined), the grief erupts and I sob until my eyes can't produce any more moisture. The surprises I keep getting seem to bring up waves of grief, fear and overwhelm.

I am aware of the silver lining to my situation. In fact, I thought about making a list of them, to remind myself. The biggest one is that I live in an age when ultrasounds, tests and procedures can diagnose and effectively treat this condition. I have an ob-gyn who I really like and trust. She is the doctor who performed my D&C, an Assistant Professor at UCSF, a personable and non-alarmist woman who answers her pages quickly. Not to mention one of her colleagues is a world expert in molar pregnancies. I have my dear friend Sophia, an ob-gyn in Seattle, who I can call for second opinions and a more emotional brand of comfort. And I have an incredibly supportive husband, family and network of friends. There are other silver linings too, like being able to soak as long as I want in the gorgeous hot springs here in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

But what I have learned through this process is that grief is a very individual process. I am feeling my way through a maze of thoughts and emotions and physical sensations. The journey is called healing. It's not a straight line.

Summertime Favorite

Back when I was still pregnant, I was at the Berkeley farmer's market, and there was an ice cream stand. This wasn't just any old ice cream - it was pure Berkeley - hand-made ice cream using only the purest ingredients, including organic cream made from cows who really love their lives. Powered by people riding stationary bikes. Just kidding about that last part. Anyway, they were offering free samples on tiny silverware spoons that they then washed in a little sink in back. I offered a spoonful of vanilla to Elan. He let out a scream like I had just offered him a spoonful of sulphuric acid. This from the kid who really likes Rescue Remedy, especially a nice fresh bottle where the brandy is super-strong. He takes it straight from the dropper and then asks for more.

He won't even try ice cream (probably because it's offered to him on a spoon), but he loves popsicles. He gets them as a treat at nursery school, and he asks for them now and then, especially if he sees another kid eating one.

Last week we went to Quail Botanical Gardens in Encinitas (north county San Diego), and he saw kids eating Italian ice.

He was thrilled.

And I had that amusing parental experience of seeing some trait of yours mirrored in your child. Jessica, Evan and I had all finished our ices and Elan was still only about one-third of the way through his. It reminded me of how I used to torture my sister by eating our designated 2-Oreo-dessert so slowly that she would drool watching me lick the icing out of my second Oreo a half-hour after hers were history. The difference is that Elan often loses interest in his popsicles before he manages to finish them, while I kept track of every crumb.

The first time I saw him eat a popsicle, though, he finished the entire thing. It was a big one, and he ate it sitting naked in his Aunt Sara's lap. By the time he was through, we had to hose him down, and Auntie Ra had to take a shower to de-stickify herself.

That's love.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Sandy Sleepyhead

With trusty old doggie at his side, Elan sleeps off the excitement of beach and aquarium.