Thursday, December 26, 2013

vaccines: my personal opinion. also scientific fact. *updated*

I have felt very strongly about the issue of vaccinations,which I know it is a hot button, very polarized topic.  As a scientist, and a microbiologist in particular, I know that vaccines are good.  I get the flu shot every year and would continue to do so even if the hospital I work for didn't require it (on penalty of being fired).  What I don't understand is that a little bit of conjecture suggesting a possible link between vaccines and autism (which has never been definitively proven) is enough to make a fairly sizable subset of the population decide against vaccinating their children.

Evidently, it's been so long since Americans have seen the effects of preventable diseases such as polio, measles, and rubella that people think their kids would never get these diseases.  In the past few years we in the hospital setting have seen outbreaks of Bordetella pertussis, or whooping cough, that can, in some cases, cause death.  Haemophilus influenzae is a potentially deadly bacteria that can cause pneumonia and meningitis and children under five should be vaccinated beginning at two months.  Even measles in very young children, elderly or immunocompromised patients can be deadly.

Some people believe in "herd immunity," which can be defined as providing a measure of protection against a certain infection in unvaccinated people when a significant portion of the population has immunity to that particular infection.  This logic is faulty for many reasons, but mostly because if more and more people decide not to vaccinate, herd immunity will no longer have a modicum of effectiveness (if it ever did).

If you choose not to vaccinate yourself, that's fine.  It's not you I'm worried about.  I'm worried about the infant you held when you didn't know you were coming down with the flu or the elderly person you stood in front of in line at the grocery store.  For this population of people, the flu virus can be deadly.  How about the pregnant lady who hasn't been vaccinated for rubella?  If she's exposed her baby can suffer from serious birth defects including heart problems, hearing or vision loss, intellectual deficiencies and liver and spleen damage.

I realize that not all vaccines are 100% effective, 100% of the time because everybody's immune system is different.  But why take the chance?

22 people in North Carolina have died of influenzae including one infant in eastern NC.  19 of the deaths have been young-middle aged people considered previously in good health.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

i feel different...

I wrote less than two months ago about my miscarriages and how horrible they made me feel.  I felt defective, like a failure.  Despite the weightiness of the feelings engendered by them and the mere topic of miscarriage, I think that even at that time, I was healing.  I was able to write about it and not cry, and talk about it without being flip, which is my go to self-defense mechanism.  At one point after the second miscarriage, I made a comment to a coworker that I "just wanted to get pregnant again so I could go about the business of losing it."  The comment, even to myself later seemed unnecessarily callous and, yes, flip.

Now, two months and a lot of testing later, I feel different about the whole situation.  I realized lately that I no longer begrudge anyone's pregnancy.  I can talk about people being pregnant and talk about babies without feeling, well... jealous.  That's the only word to describe it.  Some women on the forums I've frequented will bristle at the word.  They insist that it is not jealousy, that the people who throw the word around (along with 'bitter') have no concept or understanding of what it is like to go through this, and things can get quite heated.  But if I am honest, the feelings I had during the past year did verge on jealousy and bitterness.  I defy anyone who goes through it to tell me they don't feel the same at times.  One thing I read on a forum that stuck with me is that the people having babies now are not taking any babies away from me.  It's true.  No matter how many pregnant ladies I see, none of them are taking my future babies away from me.

I have hope that we will have a child.  Hope had been fading for me, but it's returning.  I have faith that it will happen for us someday.  In the meantime, I'm learning a lot about patience.

I have other things going on right now that I'm dealing with.  I may find the courage to write about them sometime.  Until then I'm focusing on trying to be healthier overall, mind, body, and spirit.

Monday, November 25, 2013

quick update on Clomid

Due to some unforeseen circumstances, we will not be trying the Clomid this cycle.  As much as the four of you who might read this may have been waiting avidly to hear tales of my psychotic Clomid-induced hysteria, they will have to wait a while.  Stay tuned for updates on the reproductive life of Ed and Jen...

Saturday, November 23, 2013

caution - don't read if you hate cats.

I wrote about all of our animals in a previous post.  Maddie (our newest addition) is a sweet, lovable, playful eight month old cat who loves to curl up in the corner of the couch and purrs louder than a Mack truck at idle.  She also poops in the bathtub and pees in the sink.  Originally she was meant to be an outdoor cat.  I, however, was reticent about sending her outdoors, since I have never had an outdoor cat and have known a lot of people whose cats have been hit by cars.  Eddie has always had outdoor cats and sees nothing wrong with putting the cat out.  She has claws, she was outdoors for her first five and a half months, and he built her a cat house with a piece of old carpet placed inside with her pink blanket.

It looks like a prison, but there is a pink fluffy blanket inside.
For the last week or so we've let her outside during the day and by the time I get home from work, she runs to greet me from wherever she'd been hanging out and comes inside with me.  She stays inside at night and goes out first thing in the morning.  This would have been fine.  Until today.  We were cleaning out the "cat closet"  where the litter box and food and water are located when we made a horrifying discovery.  Maddie had been peeing on the floor behind the litter box.  The smell was horrible.  Luckily the closet is tiled and a little mopping with powerful floor cleaner took care of it.  However, this was enough for me to understand that she probably just needs to stay outside.  I don't want her peeing on our new carpet, in our new (to us) house.  I don't want the house to smell like a litter box.

Why do cats always sit on paper?
I've been spoiled with Sundrop (the best cat ever).  He has never once used the bathroom outside of the litter box.  He is a model cat.  I mean sure, if you nuzzle his face and he isn't in the mood you might get a chomp on the nose.  Never scratch him on the hind leg or the belly, but with him you only have to worry about his teeth since his front claws have been removed (something I forget about with Maddie).

Long story, super long - Maddie is outside and I think she loves it.  She plays with the leaves that fall, she climbs trees and jumps back down, curls up in the padded outdoor chair, and poor Sunny stares forlornly out at her.  I think I ruined poor Sunny's life by taking away his outdoor freedom.

PS - Just kidding about ruining Sundrop's life.  He has the cushiest life ever.  If I wasn't human, I'd want to be him.

UPDATE:  Since I cried when we had to leave her outside for the night on the coldest night of the year, she was allowed to come inside and sleep in the laundry room.  She'll be inside tonight too.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

a bit about the title of my blog

     Some might wonder at the motivation behind naming my blog after the popular children's series, The Chronicles of Narnia.  I remember reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when I was younger, possibly eight or nine years old.  It made me believe that magic was possible and that if only I could find the spot, then I, too, could enter Narnia.  In our house growing up, we lived in a one and a half story house, which meant that the "attic" or storage areas were on the same level as our bedrooms.  My sister and I each had a door at the back of our closet that led into the area where the air conditioner and/or furnace were kept.  I'm fuzzy on what was actually up there, as all I remember were the giant pliable tubes that the air was forced through because we had to climb over them.  By entering through one closet door, a person could reach the other closet door undetected.  This allowed a person (me) to jump out of the closet in the room of the other, without having to enter through the bedroom door.  In case you didn't know, "Scaring the Pants off your Younger Sister," is a great game to play when you're young.

     I don't remember if we actually pretended or looked for Narnia in these places, but I know I decided that the area behind my closet would be the perfect place to hide if our house was attacked by murderers or robbers (I blame this fear I had on the show, "Unsolved Mysteries," that my dad watched and thus I watched).

     We also had tiny doors in our bedrooms that led into additional storage.  My secret closet wasn't used for much besides storage of our Christmas ornaments and various things my dad kept from his childhood that he wouldn't allow my mom to throw out.  But my sister turned hers into a clubhouse of sorts with mattresses and blankets and some old furniture used as a wall for additional privacy (as if any adult would enter the tiny spider-ridden wedge-shaped room in which anyone over four feet tall would have to walk around folded nearly in two).  She spent a lot of time in there with her friends and I only went in there when it was just the two of us.  By this time, I was twelve or thirteen and had my own occupations and didn't have time for secret clubhouses and the like.

     I digressed a little from the title of my blog, but here it is:  Sometimes it's necessary to believe in a world that you can enter through the back of your closet, where animals talk and you can be queen, and to remember a time when you had nothing better to do than hide in your sister's closet and jump out, screaming, "RAHHHHH!"

Saturday, November 2, 2013

things you shouldn't say to a person struggling with pregnancy loss or infertility (even though you mean well)

It's a minefield, trying to figure out what to say to a person dealing with miscarriage or infertility.  You want to say the right thing, be comforting, but you don't want to set them off or dredge up terrible feelings.  Most of the people in my life were amazing and said the right thing or at least, the less bad thing.  Occasionally, however, I heard people say things that were extremely unhelpful and the following is a list of some of those things.

  • "Just relax.  It'll happen."  Anyone who's ever heard this when trying to reproduce, knows how supremely unhelpful it is.  An ordinary woman who is trying to have a baby and has never had issues with miscarriage or infertility is likely already wound up tighter than a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.  Throw some infertility or pregnancy loss into the mix and you have a volatile combination of emotions and telling her to, "Just relax," might get you a filthy look at best, and at worst a telling off.  (Unless she's particularly combative; then you might get punched.)
  • "If you stop trying, you'll get pregnant."  This is a subset of, "Just relax."  For a woman who has a modicum of awareness for how her cycle works, not trying is not an option.  It's like telling someone to not think about something.  Suddenly it's all you can think about.  Or forget about spring.  Spring is going to happen, whether you think about it or not and before you know it you're planting flowers and vegetable gardens, watching baseball and having cookouts.  
  • "It's not God's plan for you."  This is extremely unsettling for people to hear.  Maybe it's true, but we don't want to think that God doesn't have our hopes in mind.  Everyone knows that God's plan for us and our own plan for ourselves doesn't always converge, but when you say this to a person, all they hear is, "God thinks you'll be a crappy mom."
  • "You can always just adopt."  This is always said with the nonchalance of someone saying, "You can always just order pizza," when you don't feel up to cooking.  "Just adopting" is not as simple as one would think.  It involves unreal amounts of paperwork, time, energy and money.  Not to mention, strength, patience, and courage.
  • "You wouldn't be so eager for a kid if you knew how hard being a parent really is."  Don't say this.  We're not stupid.  We don't think that the hard work ends when we get to hold our baby for the first time.  If anything, we have more time to think about the realities of parenthood than our counterparts who spent one month trying to conceive.  Plus, we hear you when you tell us about your kid that doesn't sleep, eat vegetables, stop pooping every nine minutes.  We don't have an idealized vision of parenthood, where we're super parents and our kid is perfect.  We might have fantasies, but we're still realistic.
  • "At least you can get pregnant."  This is obviously directed at those dealing with repeat loss and not infertility.  It may sound like a positive point, but honestly, we don't live to see those positive pee sticks.  The whole point is to have a baby, not just get pregnant.  We want to experience the whole thing, from the positive test, to the anatomy scan, to the huge baby bump, to the actual, live baby.
This list is, by no means, complete, and some of the things might not bother every person.  Basically, you should be sympathetic and understanding, and strive to not be condescending or unrealistic.  It won't happen every time.  You'll say the wrong thing at some point, everyone does.  But knowing how some of the things you say could be received by a person dealing with these issues should help you navigate the minefield.

Friday, November 1, 2013

five reasons that cats are awesome

     Cats are the absolute coolest.  From their aloofness and heightened sense of their own importance, to their magical ninja skills, they delight us, befriend us and then leave us wanting more whenever they deign.   These are some of the reasons that cats are amaze-balls. 

1.)  Cats can jump insanely high.

     Cats can jump anywhere from 5-7 times their own height.  If humans could jump 5-7 times their own height, they could jump an average of 30 feet in the air, which is about the height of a two story building.  Imagine the implications for the NBA alone.  They would have to raise the goals by more than 30 feet!  If the average human could jump 30 feet, basketball players could jump 35-40 feet.  Lets face it, they're already freaks.  This would just be further proof.

2.)  Cats get to sleep any time they want.

     I can't overstate how important sleep is to me.  I love to do it.  I love to think about doing it.  I'm jealous when my cats get to do it.  They can fall asleep anywhere, including but not limited to televisions, tables, flip flops, potted plants, and once, inside the washing machine.  (It was not on.)

3.)  Cats have hidden weapons.

     Cats have retractable knives on their feet.  I'm going to say this again.  Cats have retractable knives on their feet.  This is insane.  They can catch food, deter foes, and sink their foot-knives into your leg when they almost fall off your lap.  Think about the ramifications for the airline business.  Their foot-knives are not made of metal, so cats could fly with their weapons completely unmolested.  Think how many cat terrorists there would be.

4.)  Cats have very high self-esteem.

     Despite the fact that they depend on us for food and shelter, cats can really take us or leave us.  They mostly choose to leave us.  They tease us with their fluffiness, rub their whiskered countenance on our ankles and then flit away on a whim.  

5.)  Cats are magical or maybe ninjas and will always land on their feet if they fall.

    It's some kind of ninja magic, the way they always land on their feet.  You can drop a cat from six feet or six inches and they will twist their boneless frames around and land with all four knife-feet on the ground.  They must be master yogis in order to contort themselves in this way in the seconds it takes for gravity to accelerate their furry bodies to the ground.

So in summation, cats are conceited, narcoleptic, would-be terrorist ninjas with secret weapons who can jump ridiculously high.  They are probably going to take over the world.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

who are we?

It occurred to me that perhaps I should introduce myself, since you already know the functionality of my thyroid gland and pancreas.  My name is Jen and as I've previously stated, I work in a microbiology laboratory in a busy hospital.  And before you say anything, bacteria is cool and you know it.

My face looks like this:

See the glasses?  It means I'm smart.  Just kidding.  The glasses mean I can see things that are far away.  I like to read and write.  My favorite show is and possibly always will be, Friends.  I'm married to a guy named Eddie who also wears glasses to see things that are far away.

His face looks like this:

He doesn't have his glasses on in this picture, probably because he has his contacts in.  Or possibly he just can't see the things that are far away right now.  Neither can I.  Eddie has a degree in history from UNC, where I also attended college.  His favorite show is not Friends.  He likes basketball in any variety, but most especially in the form of the New York Knicks and UNC Tarheels.

We just recently bought a house in Greensboro, North Carolina.  It looks like this:

I love having a house.  It's great to be able to let the dog out without a leash and not worry about cars, people and other dogs like at an apartment.  Being able to plant flowers and herbs and tomato plants that never, ever actually give us tomatoes is awesome.  There is a nifty planter behind those bushes in which I planted impatiens and caladium.  Ed pulled the bushes out of the ground so we can actually see the planter now.

Bailey is our five year old goldendoodle.  She ate two entire loaves of bread last week because, although she is a known counter surfer, Eddie consistently forgets to put the bread on top of or inside of the refrigerator.

Here she is spying on the neighbors at our old apartment.  She's very nosy.

Sundrop is an eleven year old cat... His hobbies include sleeping, eating and occasionally accosting Bailey and biting her in the jugular.

They are avidly watching me eat a snack in this photo.  They don't know it, but they won't get any.

Maddie is our newest addition.  She is a six month old kitten who enjoys stealing my hair rubber bands and pooping in the bathtub.  She's a brat.

This is her in her king-sized bed.  It's also Bailey's regular sized bed.

Our feathered family member is Poppy, a ten month old Quaker parrot.  She is a very sweet bird and says things like, "Pretty bird!", "Hi!", and "Hello!"  Sometimes she shouts, "Doin?!" which is the end of the phrase, "Whatchu doing?" that I have been trying to teach her.  She's also an experienced whistler, much better at it than I am.

It gets a little crowded in here now that we have four animals.

So that's us!  We're messy, loud (at least the bird is), fun, fun-loving and mostly, happy.

testing, testing... 1, 2, 3...

     A month ago I initiated a boat-load of testing to find out why I kept miscarrying.  I met with an infertility specialist and she explained all of the myriad reasons why this possibly kept happening.  For those of you who don't know, I am a microbiologist and in general a science geek, so the doctor and I spent a happy half hour discussing genetics and coagulation and thyroid issues.  She told me the tests she was going to order - genetic screening for me and Eddie (determining whether or not we are cousins - just kidding), a coagulation screening panel, thyroid testing and diabetes testing.  She also wanted to test my anti-mullerian hormone level, which would tell the approximate age of my eggs, which apparently, might not be 31 as I had thought.  This was news to me - I'd been taught in middle school sex ed that females are born with all the eggs they will ever have.  Since I'd been born 31 years ago, it stands to reason that my eggs were also born 31 years ago.  Apparently this might not be the case.  She also wanted to do a saline sonohysterogram to check the integrity of the lining of my uterus and the overall shape to see if there are any abnormalities that would cause improper implantation.
     The doctor went on to explain that 50-70% of couples who undergo this type of testing will never get an actual diagnosis or reason as to why this is happening.  I did not like these odds, but felt that we had to have the testing done because what if the issue was something we could fix?
     Eddie and I went to get our blood drawn after my doctor's appointment.  The vampire-disguised-as-a-phlebotomist drew a staggering twelve tubes of blood in a rainbow of colors from me and a single green top tube from Ed.  She actually told Eddie that he would be fine but, "I'm going to drain your wife!"
     Two weeks later we had our answer.  Or rather our lack of answer.  Our genetic screen came back normal (as my brother-in-law said, "It's a good thing you guys are genetically normal as you are certainly not normal in any other way).  My thyroid gland works like a well oiled machine.  So does my pancreas.  My coagulation system is something to be proud of, clotting my blood at the perfect rate - neither too fast, nor too slow.  My eggs are as youthful as the month of May, my uterus the perfect basket in which to house them (or at least the embryo).
     This news was met with mixed reactions from me.  On one hand, it's good to know that I have nothing really wrong with me.  On the other hand, something HAS to be wrong with me!  It is not normal to have three miscarriages inside one year.
     According to my doctor we had a few options.  Option 1.) Keep trying.  It will likely happen eventually.  (I did not like this option.  It was the reproductive equivalent of Whack-a-Mole.)  Option 2.) Use of a low dose fertility drug to make me ovulate multiple eggs, with the hope that at least one would survive.  (I was more interested in this option.)  Option 3.) IVF with pre-implantation genetic screening.  (This is the fall-back, safety net of options - expensive and hard on the body.)
     I decided to go with the low dose fertility drug.  I will start Clomid with my next cycle and by all accounts will turn into a hot flashing, exposed hormone with pseudo-homicidal tendencies.  Good luck, Eddie!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

it was supposed to be easy...

     All my life, I've operated under the impression that having kids is quite simple.  (Not the actual act of childbirth, mind you.  I'm not quite that naive.)  Step 1.) Find husband.  Step 2.) Have sex with husband.  Step 3.) Nine months later, pop out a beautiful baby.
     For me, step one was only marginally easy.  I may have had a minor panicky thought around age 26 or 27 that I might never get married.  That I might end up the one all my friends' kids would call Aunt Jen, and who had a lot of cats.  Or worse - birds.  But I did find a guy who, quite surprisingly, really, wanted to marry me.
     Not surprisingly, step two was also easy.  Step two, subcategory A - actually orchestrating a meeting between husband's spermatozoa and my ovum, could have presented a far greater challenge, but the meeting went off without a hitch and Presto!  Pregnant.
      I was enthralled with the idea that my uterus had a function, other than every 29 days causing me untold pain and suffering and generally behaving as if it was in the throes of end-stage Ebola virus.  It was incubating a human, one that would ostensibly grow into said beautiful baby.
     At almost ten weeks, after we'd announced to everyone and their uncle's step-cousin that we were expecting, I started cramping and bleeding, went to the hospital and was told, in no uncertain terms, that this was a miscarriage.  I was completely devastated and felt (perhaps unnecessarily) embarrassed that we had announced to all and sundry about the baby not three days before, and now we were left with nothing.  It was all erased, like a roll of film you'd accidentally exposed to light.
     As of now, this has happened two more times.  I, perspicaciously, didn't announce to one and all either of the following times and only told a few close friends and our families about my pregnancies.  This way I didn't have to untell quite as many people.  It has been difficult and trying and quite nearly soul-destroying.  
     When I see women who have been impregnated when their husbands have barely sneezed lightly in their direction, and then nine months later they pop out their own beautiful baby, it becomes maddening to me.  I've feared greatly for the safety of our computer because when I see a six week old embryo on an ultrasound picture, proudly displayed on my newsfeed, I want to shriek with the unfairness of it all.  I also want to tell the uninformed woman that six weeks is way too early to announce and that you might be setting yourself up for a terrible disappointment.
     As I have experienced these miscarriages and the trials and tribulations of reproduction, people come out of the woodwork with similar stories.  Suddenly people everywhere have had miscarriages and now that I was part of the club, they made this known to me, whereas before they never mentioned it.  It seems as though infertility and repeat pregnancy loss are taboo subjects that shouldn't be discussed in polite company.  I don't think this should be.  One out of every five pregnancies ends in miscarriage.  It's not anyone's fault that they have fertility issues.  Things happen and life is hard, but no one brings these things on themselves.  Part of the reason I'm writing this, aside from the act of writing being therapeutic to me, is to bring this issue to light.  Granted, probably only five people will ever read this, but maybe one of the five (one in five, remember?) will benefit from my experience and not feel so alone.