Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Shift in Focus

For the past week, my body has been getting weaker and weaker. The hip pain from January's car accident has left me with one hip that will barely bear weight at all. The scar tissue in my lungs from my triple pulmonary embolism in 2009 is inflamed and makes breathing an incredibly painful struggle. This version of bed rest doesn't include the kind of sitting up time required for sewing, playing video games, or doing much of anything else.


I now face a choice: I can let the pain take me or I can fight it. I'm not the type to let something so negative win. I choose another path: I will fight.


But here's the thing, when you fight against your own pain, you must acknowledge that pain. You must accept it as it is and you must accept it's power over you. I refuse to let the pain become bigger than my will to overcome it.


Question: So how can I possibly fight?

Answer: By fighting on behalf of someone else.


Welcome to the village of Asiri, Ghana. 

Jasmine Staff is working on multiple projects with the Peace Corp in Asiri. This one in particular hit me hard. The risks I face are nothing compared to a typical delivery in Asiri. My situation is hard, but I have options. The hospital I visit a minimum of twice a week has a roof. It has windows. Doors. Electricity. I don't have to worry that they don't have sterile instruments or gloves there.


But THIS is what the only maternity clinic looks like in Asiri. It has never been finished because there simply isn't the money to do it. Instead of arriving at a clean, warm, safe place to deliver their children, the women of Asiri turn to Madame Bisa, their midwife. 


Madame Bisa (seen above, right) has been delivering the babies of Asiri for the past 20 years on the cement floor of her home. 

From Jasmine's website:

"Though this type of delivery has been going on here for as long as the village has been around and is common all over Ghana, there are many aspects of it that are potentially exceedingly damaging and life-threatening to both mother and child. Babies are often pulled out too roughly, causing life-long damage to the child’s body, and aren’t given to the mother to nurse upon delivery. Gloveless fingers inserted into the mother continuously during labour, between the midwife cooking food, caring for children and going about her daily life, readily create infection. Among countless other concerns, there is no testing for diseases, HIV or other STD’s" 

 

This is the fight I choose to take on. This is something I can help change. It's something you can help change, too. I have teamed up with Jasmine to organize a 30 day fundraiser to finish building and stocking this clinic. We are organizing donations and sponsors and will start the full fundraiser very soon.

For now, here's how you can help:

1. Donate! Click here to be taken to Jasmine's site where you will learn more about the clinic and the needs of the people of Asiri. You will also find a button there where you can make a donation through PayPal.

2. Raise funds your own way. Ask yourself what you can do to raise more money and awareness. Are you a graphic artist who could help design a logo for the project? Are you a blogger who could help spread the word? Do you have an etsy shop where you could donate 10% of one day's sales?

3. Join with us. Email me at PontiusPython@yahoo.com to be added to our mailing list for notification when the 30 day fundraiser begins. Let us know if you want information regarding sponsoring the fundraiser, too. EVERY LITTLE BIT COUNTS!


Charity and Jasmine


THANK YOU!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Silver Linings and Nursing Tank Tops


I previously wrote about the car accident I was in recently and how my clothes were cut off in the ER. This experience shook me up and I needed to find a way to cope with the anxiety and memory of what happened. I needed to find my silver lining.


First, you'll need to understand exactly how much damage was done to these clothes. They weren't simply sliced in straight lines or in just one or two places. They were mangled. Very, very mangled. The photo to the left is what was left of my fairly expensive maternity jeans - one of the only two pairs I have owned for this pregnancy. With so little time left in the pregnancy, I couldn't justify spending the money to replace them.



 In addition to the loss of the jeans, there was the loss of my only maternity/nursing bra. I've saved myself a tiny bit of dignity in choosing to include only this photo of the wreckage of the bra. While I would have loved to have figured out a way to save it or repurpose the materials left over, it just wasn't possible.




 The next two photographs show exactly what was left of my camisole. It was rather lucky that I had insisted on removing my 2012 Sundance Volunteers Jacket in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. This jacket would have been impossible to replace 
and was spared (along 
with the sweater top I had been 
wearing over the camisole 
- also removed in the ambulance).


The underwear I wore was cut up into such small pieces that the pieces never even made it home. Thus ends my explanation of why I found the destruction of these clothing items so mentally scarring. This leads us to the big question:

What could I possibly do to carve out my own silver lining here and cope with the stress and anxiety caused by having my clothing cut off? 

It's simple: Salvage what you can, re-purpose what you can't salvage, and learn to accept what you can't re-purpose. I started by acknowledging that the bra was done. It would need to be replaced. I squished myself into a pre-preg bra and (with my loving mother's help) waddled into the nearest maternity shop to buy another maternity & nursing bra.

  
 I accepted that I couldn't salvage my maternity jeans - but I could re-purpose that denim. 

I cut out the back pockets and set them aside for future use in some kind of quiet time or busy book. 


 


After that, I made 5" x 5" and 4" x 4" Quilt Block templates. I also built templates for "pee pee tee pees" and nursing pads. 

I cut out pieces of denim for the tipis and the quilt blocks. 





 Turning my attention to my camisole, I realized that there was a slim chance that I could salvage it. I laid it out and cut off the back portion of the straps. 





 I intentionally left the stubs of the straps intact in the front of the camisole. 


 


  If the cami had fit this far into my pregnancy, I had to assume that it would have been stretched to much too large a size for it to have been worn after pregnancy. This meant I could remove some of the fabric without making the top too small.
I trimmed off the rough edges where the top had been cut in the emergency room. 

 I discarded the scraps and laid out the top so that I could see exactly how much had been removed from the side that was cut all the way through.

I did this by setting the cami out on the intact side and folding it inward, using the back tag and the front strap-stubs as guidelines.
 


After identifying how much fabric had been removed from the opposite side, I used my rotary cutter to remove the same amount of fabric from the remaining side. 


I then set about using my serger to reassemble the sides of the top. 

In order to do this, I placed the two pieces together with the outsides facing one another and stitched down the sides that had been cut. 

The straps would have to be sewn by hand. 



I folded the front stubs leftover from the straps into a loop and handstitched them together. Below is a photo of how the inside of the tank should look after the loop is sewn shut.


The loop should look like THIS: 
 
 ...from the front when it's finished.

All that was left was to put it on like a tube top and pop those little loops over each side of any nursing bra. 

I wasn't sure it would work, but it did! 



 

And just like that, I salvaged my horribly "destroyed" camisole into a flexible nursing tank top that will fit much better than the camisole would have after my delivery

 
 I had been concerned that the back would hang poorly, 
but because I had taken the whole thing in on the sides, 
it doesn't have enough slack to, well, slack.

I washed it thoroughly to make sure that all of the stitching was strong enough to last. Everything held together fine. 

Considering that I originally paid about $18 for this top 
(that was years ago)  
and a good nursing tank top can cost around $30,
I feel really good about this project.   

All in all, I do feel that taking a negative experience and working to come up with a positive solution has helped me to move forward from the car accident. I'm still shaky in cars and it's probably a good thing that I've been instructed not to drive until after I deliver because I'm just too shaky to do it right now, but I'm okay. I don't harbor any ill-will against the driver that hit me. I'm still having some difficulty with trying to think positively about the trauma team that ignored my pleas, but I think that will improve with time. The nursing tank project turned out well enough that I think I may actually adapt more of my camisoles the same way. It's certainly cheaper than running out to buy all new nursing tank tops. It also gives me a good post-nursing excuse to go shop for new camis that will fit my post-baby body shape better. 

If any part of the nursing tank tutorial didn't make sense to you, or if you simply have questions, please do not hesitate to ask in the comments section below! I do check and reply as often as possible to comments left on my blog.   

Thursday, February 14, 2013

What do you mean, "High Risk"?

It's a common question among the bold and a silent glance often held by the timid;

"How exactly is a high risk pregnancy any 
different from any other pregnancy?" 

For one thing, you get used to this.

There are various answers. The various risks are similar to stars - too vast to count. I know what my risks are. I am familiar with the risks of some of my friends and the members of the high risk message boards I frequent online. This does not mean that I can define what risk your friend is referring to when they say their pregnancy is high risk. I can only elaborate on what it means to me.

I was high risk before my son was conceived. After my second daughter was born, I was told that I could not survive another pregnancy. I had come close to a catastrophic uterine rupture and with more scar tissue there would be an even higher chance that future pregnancies would end in my death.

Several years later, in 2009, I had lost a significant amount of weight (around 80 lbs) through diet and exercise and I wanted to have my excess skin removed. I had a Reverse T Abdominoplasty. 4 days later, my husband brought me into the E.R. By the time we arrived, my oxygen saturation was at 10% and falling. Three blood clots were found in my lungs. The medical term: Triple Pulmonary Embolism. Not something many people survive. My recovery took 13 months. This signaled another round of "You cannot survive another pregnancy" discussions with physicians.

My body went through some kind of healing anomaly in Spring of 2011. I can't explain it fully and I can't replicate it. I do know this: After March 2011, the same doctors that had been telling me I could never have another baby started telling me that I could have another child. I saw a specialist and went through a gauntlet of tests. The specialist agreed that I could have another baby.

Several miscarriages and failed fertility treatments dotted the latter half of 2011 and the first half of 2012. Each failure raised the risk for any future pregnancies. When I did conceive, my ultrasound confirmed there was an embryo - and four uterine cysts. If the cysts did not clear on their own, they would have to be surgically removed as soon as I made it to the second trimester. Luckily, the cysts dissolved and surgery was avoided.

Additionally, once my pregnancy was confirmed, so was a mutation in my blood. This mutation is what led to the triple pulmonary embolism in 2009. In order for myself and my baby to survive this pregnancy, at home injections of blood thinners would be needed daily. 

In September 2012, my morning sickness should have started to fade. It didn't. It was determined that while I clearly had Hyperemesis Gravidarum, there was no point in making a note of it because it would not change my treatment in any way. I ended up in the emergency room again where it was found that not only was I dangerously dehydrated, but that I am allergic to Zofran - the most prescribed anti-nausea drug for pregnant women. I would have to manage this extreme dehydration with sports drinks and bed rest.

Despite all of this, fate decided that I needed to be able to understand how much more risky things could get. In January 2013, I spent almost every weekend in the OB/ER. First: Chest pain. Never explained. Second: Car accident. Third: RSV. Fourth: Complications from RSV. I was also diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes.

February came along and I gratefully bid farewell to January. We started the month with a beautiful Open House (Baby Shower). The following week I went into latent labor. As of this moment, I've been having consistent contractions for a little over 10 days. Though these contractions won't stop, they are not advancing my body toward delivery. Basically, I get to tough it out for as long as possible.


Daily Life in a High Risk Pregnancy


Step 1: Take a fasting blood sugar with the monitor seen above. I get up and go to the bathroom, making sure to clean my hands very well. If there's something on my skin when I draw the blood for the meter, it can mess up the results. This is the first part of my day that could lead to an unplanned visit to the hospital. If any one of my daily readings is extremely high or low, I know I'll have to go up to the hospital so they can straighten things out. Assuming that my numbers are okay, I move on to Step 2


Step 2: Heparin injection. I sit up in bed, make sure I've got enough light to read the markings along the side of a syringe, and prep my space. I take out a small glass vial of Heparin, an alcohol swab, and an insulin syringe. I use the alcohol swab to sterilize the top of the Heparin vial and then to clean my hip where the injection will go. I draw 75 cc of air into the syringe and inject that into the Heparin vial. I then draw up 75 cc of Heparin into the syringe. I carefully place the vial back on the bookshelf beside my bed and I find the newly sterilized, relatively unbruised area on my hip. I take a small breath in and exhale as I inject myself with the needle. I count to 15 as I depress the plunger so that I don't do the whole thing too fast. The photo above has been edited slightly so you don't have to see my surgical scars or the many, many bruises caused by twice daily injections of Heparin. I remove the syringe and carefully add it to the thick plastic Sharps container next to my bed.


Step 3: Morning Medications. Using my blood sugar reading as a guide, I figure out what to eat for breakfast. With breakfast, I take a prenatal vitamin and my gestational diabetes medication, Metformin. I do not require insulin, but Metformin has become a part of my morning and evening meals. If I'm having a particularly painful morning, some Tylenol or prescription pain medication may be taken along with the other medicines. I mark the time for a couple of reasons: It's good to know when I've taken my medicine and I'll need to check my blood sugar again in two hours.


Step 4: Take Blood Sugar again 2 hours after breakfast. See Step 1.


Step 5: Lunch. Having gestational diabetes means that I have to consider how many carbs are in my meals. I also need to make certain that I'm pairing my carbohydrates with protein. When I finish this meal, I need to note the time again. That's right; in two hours, I'll be checking my blood sugar again.


Step 6: Take Blood Sugar again 2 hours after lunch. See Step 1. Again.


Step 7: Dinner. See Step 5: Lunch. It's pretty similar, except that this will be my evening meal, so I must also add two Metformin. I try to time dinner to happen around 6:30 or 7 pm.



Step 8: Blood Sugar and Heparin. This is why I try to time dinner. It's a tiny bit more convenient to sit down and do both my Heparin injection (which must be done 12 hours after the morning injection) at the same time as my last blood sugar test for the day (which must be done 2 hours after consuming dinner and my Metformin). 


These 8 steps do not change from day to day. They must be consistent. The Metformin and blood sugar testing didn't have to be added until my third trimester, but the Heparin has been part of my routine since my pregnancy was confirmed.

I must remember to call in my refills for medicines and supplies to the pharmacy early enough (generally about a week before I need them) so that they have a chance to get them in stock. If I have to leave town or be away from home for even the shortest amount of time, it means I will be bringing all the necessary medicines, needles, and other supplies in order to continue this care. Abraham and I ran a couple of events at Anime Banzai this past fall. None of our participants realized that before I entered the first event, I had discreetly given myself an injection in my hotel room. Abe and I wanted to have a "babymoon" in December. We were only gone overnight, but I had to do 3 injections while we were away. Furthermore, we couldn't travel more than a very short distance because I couldn't go too far from the specialty hospital where my son will be born.

Some days include additional steps. On Tuesdays and Fridays, I have non-stress tests. Between steps 3 and 4, I add "Go to Hospital and be monitored for up to an hour" and "try very hard not to throw up breakfast while in the car". Almost every Tuesday includes a visit with my high risk OB/GYN, too. Some of those Tuesday include follow up ultrasounds.

Other things not included in the list above: Having a life outside of pregnancy. I still have my 2 dogs, my 2 daughters, my husband, and my extended circle of friends and family. I don't simply pretend that nothing else exists. If I have to go grocery shopping or to the pharmacy, I have to plan that out and make sure that I can do it safely. How many people have to consider a trip to the grocery store as a "risk"? With my blood as thin as it is, I must be careful that nobody bumps a cart into me by mistake. When I'm out in a crowd, I have to watch out for peoples' elbows and purses. A decent bump could cause internal bleeding and yet another hospital visit. I have to remember that I cannot sample that chocolate treat while shopping - I have gestational diabetes. I also must do my best to make sure that the stress of these added risks does not cause further risk or damage. I nap daily - but not by choice. Living this life is exhausting.

It's been said that being pregnant, building a baby, is like having your body run a marathon every day that nobody else ever sees. If that's true, then a high risk pregnancy is kind of like running that daily marathon while trying to keep the pavement from falling out from under your feet. Nonetheless, those of us slated to have such risks generally choose optimism. My son is a miracle that I do not (and cannot) take for granted. I remember being asked by a friend early on in this pregnancy if I would be having an amniocentesis. Without hesitation, I replied that I would not. My friend's eyes opened wide and she came back with, "But with being so high risk... what if the baby has Downs or something like that?" My mind and heart remained where they have been throughout my fertility and pregnancy experience; "If my baby is born with Downs Syndrome or any other genetic disorder, I will thank God every morning that my child was born at all. I will be grateful every day that this baby wakes up with a beating heart." I meant it then and it holds true now. Every kick, every wiggle - I find it a miracle. Sometimes miracles are painful. Sometimes they're hard. That doesn't change the fact that they are miracles.

My high risk pregnancy is still a pregnancy. It's still a miracle. It's my opportunity to bring my son into the world. It is harder than other pregnancies and I do find that I'm often misunderstood, but all in all, it's worth every moment.

"You're worth the trouble 
and you're worth the pain. 
You're worth the worry.
I would do the same 
if we all went back to another time. 
I would love you over. 
I would love you over. 
I would love you." 

- from "Like Dylan in the Movies"
by Belle & Sebastian