Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Infertility is Half Agony, Half Hope

There has been no greater struggle in my life than our struggle to start a family. One might wonder why I still give credence to that pain given that I have what I'd argue is the cutest toddler in the history of toddlers (no offense to other cute toddlers). I love my son with a fierceness I didn't know existed in the world, and I wouldn't change a single minute of my path to be his mom. But it was brutal and emotionally harrowing, and it is the hardest thing I've ever been through.

This week is National Infertility Awareness Week. Unless you've been through it I imagine it will be difficult to explain, but I'm going to try my hardest. I spent three years trying to get pregnant and then waited three years during our adoption process. Those six years were a roller coaster of emotion. Every step forward and every positive result was battered back repeatedly. It was exhausting.

I was 30 years old when we got married. I had a gut feeling given my health issues that it wouldn't be easy for me to get pregnant. We said to one another that we weren't "trying" to get pregnant exactly, but we were no longer preventing it either. Six months into our marriage I went to my OB/GYN for a checkup. She told me at my age that after six months I should've gotten pregnant. She suggested we do blood tests to make sure I was ovulating and start Clomid (an ovulation inducing drug) if I was not. It felt early on in the process, but I went with it.

Clomid is a horrible, evil beast. It made me a crazy person, and I was miserable. I lashed out at my husband for no reason. I knew my behavior was irrational, but I wasn't able to control it. Blood work revealed that the Clomid was working, and I was ovulating. After months on the devil's drug with no results we decided to reevaluate.

My husband and I were both tested to make sure everything was working properly. Given my abdominal surgeries, resulting scar tissue and my severe endometriosis, my OB recommended a Hysterosalpingography (HSG) where they run dye through the Fallopian tubes to make sure there's no blockages. The HSG and all other tests revealed no issues. We were given the tepid diagnosis of "unexplained infertility". I switched from Clomid to Femara, a breast cancer drug also used for infertility with fewer side effects

Every single month when I got my period I had a giant meltdown. I began to have the meltdowns in private because I knew my husband felt helpless and couldn't fix it. I began avoiding baby showers, and the happy announcements from friends and family that they were pregnant became daggers in my heart. I was happy for them, but I was so sad for us that I couldn't see through it. I felt like nobody, not even our closest friends or family, understood what we were going through. I felt like nobody else had ever dealt with it.

We decided to take a break for a few months from the hardcore work of trying to have a baby. It was eating away at me. I was at the OB again to discuss next steps, and she made an offhand comment that with my abdominal surgeries and the extraordinary amount of scar tissue she'd be worried about getting to a baby quickly (we already knew I'd have a C-section if we could get there). Then she said she had concerns about my ability to survive a pregnancy. She didn't say those words exactly, but that was the tenor. We knew if we could get there it'd be high risk and really hard on my body, but I really wanted to get pregnant.

She referred us to a fertility specialist where we'd discuss IVF and IUI and all the other fun acronyms. Something about it didn't feel right. I will never forget the moment I decided to stop trying to get pregnant. My husband and I were walking the dogs and he said, "I can live without a baby who is biologically ours. I can't live without you." I grieved the baby I would never carry. I knew adoption was our best option if we were going to have a family.

We decided to adopt and began the arduous process of picking an agency and deciding between domestic and international adoption. We chose Adoption Associates, and they were our guides through the tumultuous process. While it was overwhelming at first, I felt like we were finally doing something. It felt like the years of not being able to get pregnant were behind us, and we were being proactive.

I thought it would happen quickly. We finished all the paperwork and home visits in record time, and started the process of waiting. We set up a nursery. And we waited. About eighteen months into the wait we got the call: we were linked to a birth mother. We headed to the agency's Farmington Hills office and met this young woman who was already a mom to a 14 month old girl. She was having another girl in two weeks, and that little girl was going to be our daughter! I had friends buy us girl clothes. I washed and folded onesies. We bought and installed a car seat in my car. We named her. This was it. We were going to have a daughter!

The plan was that we would head to Ann Arbor when she went into labor and be there when the baby was born. We got the call on a Wednesday afternoon, and I left the office unable to concentrate. The case worker called and said labor can take a long time, so we should wait until we got the green light closer to the baby being born. I didn't sleep Wednesday night. 

On Thursday we were told the baby still hadn't arrived. My husband and I stayed home from work. We went to Home Depot. But there was a nagging sense that something was wrong. It didn't feel right. Then we got the call that she had changed her mind and decided not to do an adoption plan. It was crushing. We then did what any reasonable people would do: got insanely drunk and booked a weekend trip to Toronto.

In Toronto the weekend after a birth mom changed her mind. I look happy. Booze helps.
A year later I decided to broach the subject of IVF with my husband again. My previous proactive feeling had dissipated leaving me wondering if we were ever going to have a child. Before we could have that discussion I ended up spending a month in the hospital and having two abdominal surgeries and a blood clot. I knew definitively at that point that carrying a baby was a terrible idea for me. 

Exhibit A for why I should not have a baby biologically (summer 2014)
The wait was long - nearly three years. But we got the call again on a November afternoon. I was having lunch with a colleague and answered the phone. He knew before my husband. We were having a boy, and we had three weeks' notice. Because of our previous false start I didn't want to get my hopes up. We had everything ready to go, and on a Saturday morning in December, on our sixth wedding anniversary, we got the call. We drove an hour, and at 3:35 pm, when our son was two minutes old, they placed him in my arms.

Our first night in the hospital. So much love.
I have never and will never forget the pain of trying to have a baby both biologically and through adoption, but my nod to infertility awareness week is also a pro-adoption plea. At this point I can't imagine having created our family any other way.

A non-traditional baby shower when Will was three months old.
If I had gotten pregnant right away eight years ago I know I wouldn't have appreciated it like I do now. I would not have the patience. I would not have the same appreciation for the absolute blessing that is getting to be Will's mom. Despite its pain, infertility has made me a better mother, and for that I am grateful. 

Will's fist birthday
If you know someone who is trying to conceive, please be respectful. DO NOT say things like "God has a plan" and "it'll happen for you". Those sentiments may come from a good place, but they sound trite and insensitive to the want-to-be parents who are suffering. Realize when someone can't come to a baby shower or isn't thrilled at your pregnancy announcement that it's not because they don't feel joy for others. It's because that extraordinary pain outweighs the joy. 

Even now as the mom of a healthy toddler when I hear of someone getting pregnant quickly I feel bitter. I feel resentful. It's not because I'm not happy with my life, but it's because when I least expect it the pain of that struggle rises up and grabs my heart. If you're reading this and are struggling to have a family, I hurt for you. Cry when you need to cry. Drink when you need to drink. Avoid babies if you need to because I remember that feeling of not even being able to hold a baby because it hurt so much. Deal with it however you have to deal with it, and don't let people make you feel selfish. Those who love you will try to understand, but they may fail. And someday, whether your journey ends in a pregnancy, with an adoption plan or with a decision not to pursue any additional options, know that this pain will ultimately make you stronger. 

Our monkey at six months old. Heart. Explodes.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Finding Holy Redemption

I have a complicated relationship with religion. It's not something I talk about often, but my faith occupies a difficult space in my heart and psyche that is hard to explain. I grew up in a Southern Baptist home. We went to church on Sunday mornings, Sunday nights and Wednesday nights. We had evening devotionals in our house. I remember being probably five or six and my mom calling us into the living room for devotionals. I hated it because I was a kid and wanted to be playing or doing anything instead. I've been to revivals and heard more fire and brimstone sermons than I can count. I was terrified of sinning as a kid. As a perfectionist the idea of sinning is terrifying when you've listened to your preacher talk about all the ways you can go to Hell. 

I've read the Bible cover to cover several times. I memorized dozens of Bible verses and excelled at reciting them in Sunday School often to win prizes. I'm not sure if it was my faith so much as my desire to win prizes that helped me memorize scripture and the books of the Bible, but I do really love to win.

I was baptized on Valentine's Day in 1988 when I was nine years old. I remember it vividly including having to wear earplugs for my baptism because of my chronic ear infections. Southern Baptists get submerged in water; none of this wimpy sprinkling for the wicked. My mom told me later that people commented about how much I smiled during my baptism. 

When I was in junior high we started attending a Methodist Church in my hometown. It was much less fire and brimstone, and I loved it. I thrived in that church. I taught Sunday School for a few years. I went every Sunday with my mom and often drove back to my hometown (45 minutes one way) on Sundays to go to church with my mom when I was in college.

At some point there was a shift in my faith. I can't pinpoint a moment or event, and it was subtle. I was dating a guy who was Catholic in college, and we'd go to mass together when I wasn't going to church with my mom. The Catholic church could not be more different from the church in which I grew up. It's rigid and structured. You know the sequence of events no matter where you attend church. It feels familiar, and I began to identify with it. Unlike the churches I attended growing up Catholics don't seem to study the Bible the same way. As I went through RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) I would ask questions about why certain prayers were said and asked a lot of "why". My priest was often exasperated by my questions. A lot of Catholics do things because that's merely how they are done. Even with some unanswered (or not answered to my satisfaction) questions, I still found myself identifying with Catholicism. This Easter marked 14 years since I converted.

My husband and I were married in the church. Our son was baptized as a Catholic. And yet my relationship with the Catholic Church has become complicated as well as my faith has been tested. Our wait to have a child really pushed the limits of my faith, and for the first time in my life I felt as if my conviction had abandoned me. Even the birth of my son didn't bring my faith back to that strong place where it had been much of my life. 

Maren Morris had a hit song last year with My Church. Her lyrics are that she feels the most spiritual when she's driving and listening to country music. I love that song because it's awesome but also because that's how I've felt about running the last few years. I feel more faithful and closer to God in those quiet moments on the trail than I do reciting prayers in church. Those quiet times when it's simply me and the miles I'm logging have become my church. 

It's been challenging the last few months when I haven't been able to run. I barely observed Lent this year. I've been frustrated by my health challenges, and instead of turning to faith I have ignored it. I haven't taken time to reflect, and as I get older I think that's what faith is about. It's not about what religion you practice or what building you visit on Sunday morning. It's about taking time to be mindful and pray and reflect no matter where you're doing it. It might be in your car or during a run or while you're in church saying the Lord's Prayer.

Last weekend we went to West Virginia to visit my mom for Easter weekend. Morgantown is always my happy place, and this weekend was no exception. We arrived late on Thursday, but on Friday morning I had to go for a run. I hit the Deckers Creek Trail, one of my favorite running routes anywhere.

When my dad was sick I logged lots of miles on the trail while training for the New York Marathon. Now it's where I feel closest to him and also closest to God. I actually found myself talking to my dad and praying out loud during my run. It was the best run I've had in months. It was great to tap into my faith again. 

Feeling peaceful after my run
On Sunday morning I attended church with my mom at her Methodist Church (a different church from the one I attended in high school and college). It could not possibly be more different than going to mass. It's relaxed and informal. Parishioners call out prayer requests and join the preacher at the altar for impromptu songs. At one point I found myself slightly impatient for the lack of structure.

But then we closed the service by singing some older hymns, hymns we don't sing in the Catholic church. Some of them I could sing with my eyes closed because I know them so well. As we began to sing the hymn He Lives, I felt tears come to my eyes. My mom and I sang the alto notes, and by the time we got to the chorus I struggled to keep it together. I'm not sure if it was attending church with my mom that made me emotional or some type of different divine intervention, but I'm not sure it matters. Who's to say both of those things aren't an important part of my faith?

Enjoying a beautiful sunset Easter weekend
It was a lovely Easter weekend, and I felt peaceful in a way I haven't in a really long time. I'm not sure my relationship with religion is less complicated than it was this time last week, but I do know it's important for me to look for holy redemption wherever it exists...and I don't always think that's the same place. 

This kid. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

I'll Mess with Texas

In my early 20s I lived in Killeen, Texas for about two years. It was the first time I'd lived away from home. I left my family and friends to move to a far away place where I knew exactly one person. It wasn't the last time I'd follow my heart to a geographically distant place, and I don't regret having done so. But it was a weird year of my life. I had recently been officially diagnosed with Crohn's Disease (after two misdiagnoses), and I was figuring it out. In fairness I'm still figuring it out, but it was brand new then. I left my law school to visit my third year at Baylor University. It was hard leaving my friends and law school support system. I was in a toxic relationship that only grew more toxic in the time I lived in Texas. Fifteen years later I look back at that time through a fog almost as if it didn't really happen. My tumultuous time in Texas, however, did result in my meeting some of my absolute best friends in the world. It's that time that led me last weekend to a girls' trip to Austin, a city I only vaguely remember as most of my time there was under the influence of alcohol.

One of my best girlfriends from my time in Texas turned 40 last week, and we headed to Austin to celebrate her birthday. I did something I haven't done in years: I did not pack running shoes. It was oddly disconcerting to not include running shoes or clothes - things that generally feel like another appendage. But running has not agreed with me lately. I'm on antibiotics, and they seem to be working (knock on wood). I don't want to jinx it.

I'll be honest: I think Austin is weird and not in the good weird way for which it wants to be known. I want to love it because everyone else seems to, but I just think it's okay. If I made a top ten list of cities in the U.S. I love, Austin certainly wouldn't be in it.* I had a really fun time, and my city evaluation of Austin isn't intended to be a knock on whether I enjoyed myself. It's simply when I think about what I love in cities, Austin doesn't do it for me.

First off there's the sprawl. It's hailed as the fastest growing city in the country, and it feels like it. I completely get that the other cities I love have sprawl, but Austin has started to feel insanely sprawly (not a real world but I'm going with it). It's downtown has really wide streets clogged with traffic. There's transit, but it feels like a half assed addition because it's something someone on city staff thinks they're supposed to have. It doesn't feel like a real transit system. I also realize these complaints apply to one of my favorite cities, Detroit (except for the existence of traffic downtown). The difference is Detroit has grit. Austin is quirky and expresses it in its slogan: Keep Austin Weird. The problem is the exponential growth makes it feel more conventional and less weird. Maybe that's why I saw so many shirts and signs that said "Make Austin Weird Again". 

If I'm being really honest I've never gotten Texas. When I lived there it felt flat and lonely, and it's never clicked with me. I love the feel of dense, tree-filled streets, and Austin feels barren (from a tree standpoint downtown and in some of the neighborhoods) and broad. 

Where I think Austin excels in its food scene, and I love food. It is a city with particularly excellent Mexican food and barbecue. If you've had either Mexican food or barbecue in Texas it ruins it for much of the rest of the world. I had melt in my mouth brisket last weekend at Terry Black's Barbecue. It was incredible.

The brisket was insane.
I had perfectly cooked duck at South Congress Cafe accompanied by delicious cocktails and wine. Austin does food well. The South Congress neighborhood is really adorable and quirky, but its wide streets are a bit of a buzzkill. 

Also I bought these on South Congress. Yee haw!
We had drinks at the beautiful, historic Driskell Hotel, and I had a perfectly balanced Boulevardier at the quirky Firehouse Lounge, a speakeasy accessed through a sliding bookcase in the lobby of hostel. We spent lots of time lounging by the pool and talking. It was a really fun weekend.

Looking fabulous after 15 years of friendship
I haven't seen or done it all in Austin,, so I reserve the right to change my mind as I visit it again (a likely prospect given that my BFF lives there). It was weird to not have my running shoes, and next time I go I definitely want to run downtown. It was a relaxing weekend with some of my favorite people, and even my cityphile pickiness can't ruin that for me. 

*Okay I had to make that top ten list of my fav U.S. cities just for fun:
1) Portland, Maine
2) Chicago
3) New York City
4) Portland, Oregon
5) Detroit
6) Boston
7) Washington, DC
8) Denver
9) Knoxville, TN
10) Pittsburgh

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

That Time I was Sent Home From Work to Change

I had a nice, happy blog I planned to write this week, and then United Airlines created a firestorm by saying no to leggings. My Facebook wall was inundated with posts and comments because my friends know I don't think leggings aren't pants. Correction: friends don't let friends wear leggings as pants. It's a public service really. In fairness I think banning children for wearing leggings is harsh even to me, but it brings to light the bigger issue of how we've stopped dressing appropriately as a society. It's not about leggings but about how people generally think of the world as their living room. It's not okay.

I've gotten a lot of push back about my extreme fashion views over the years, and that push back only makes me dig in my heels. What people wear matters. You don't wear sweatpants to an professional office. I was getting ready to write you don't wear running clothes or a baseball cap at dinner but I see lots of people doing that. It's gross. If the way we dressed didn't matter there wouldn't be an entire website devoted to cataloging the way people of Wal-Mart dress. You wouldn't go to a job interview in your pajamas would you? Or in leggings without a dress over them? I didn't think so. At some point we went from a nation where people wanted to look put together and appropriate to the world being everyone's living room. Please stop. I don't want to watch what's on your TV, and I don't want to see you in your pajamas unless we're having a sleepover.

Remember when people used to wear their "Sunday best"? People used to have play/work clothes and then nice clothes. My two year old wears comfy pants to school all the time. If we go out to dinner he changes into real pants, either jeans or khakis. I don't care that he's two years old. We dress appropriately for dinner. Period. I should note that he is obsessed with his dinosaur rain boots and takes them off in the restaurant, but I can't pick every battle. Dressing appropriately is part of general appropriate behavior. I expect him to say please and thank you. I expect him to be kind. I expect him to dress appropriately for the occasion. Also if you think I don't know this means he'll likely rebel at some point and dress like a slob you're wrong. I imagine that will happen. I dread the day.

Just lounging around, eating his snack in khakis and a sweater.
I work from home four days a week, and some days I don't have a lot of meetings. I'll admit I've struggled with getting super dressed up when I'm walking downtown for one meeting. I wear workout clothes to drop off my son at 7:30 am. Then I work out and dress for the day. If I don't have a lot of meetings it's usually jeans. If I have one meeting that's the hardest situation. What's the point of getting dressed up for one meeting? The point is that I work in a professional world. The men wear suits, and the women wear suits or dresses. Even if it's only for an hour, I put on professional clothes. It's appropriate.

Early in my career I had three instances of being chastised for my professional attire. My third year of law school I worked as a family law paralegal in a law firm. I had a black dress with a purple plaid jacket that I loved. It was my favorite. I'd had it since college and often wore it for debate tournaments. I went to college in the 90s, so my "professional" clothes were often too short and accompanied by horrible chunky shoes. (Think Jennie Garth on Beverly Hills 9020). I wore my favorite dress to work one day, and my two supervising attorneys pulled me into one of their offices and told me my dress was too short. They were very kind, and I was very mortified. I never wore it again.

I found a picture of the dress! This is from the U.S. Naval Academy my senior year in college with my debate partner. It's *slightly* short.
A year or so later post law school I was working for a sole practitioner attorney. It was a small office, just the two of us, and we would often go out to lunch or he'd take me with him to meetings out of the office. I was a sassy 25-year-old, and one day I wore panty hose with a seam up the back of each leg. They were from Victoria's Secret, and they were pretty sexy. He told me in no uncertain terms that I shouldn't wear them to work, and I never wore them to the office again.

I often plan my clothes weeks in advance, and that has been the case for years. When I was working for the Mayor of Norfolk, Virginia I had a really cute outfit to wear for St. Patrick's Day. It included super cute green cropped pants that had a scarf-like belt, an orange blouse that matched the flowers in the belt and a white jacket. I wore it with open-toed slingbacks, and I loved that outfit. It was also professional. The problem is that on this particular St. Patrick's Day the temperature happened to be in the 20s and snowing, very unusual weather for Virginia in March. I insisted on wearing it, and the Mayor was not amused. We had a meeting at NATO that afternoon (yes that NATO - its only North American post is in Norfolk) and he made me go home and change. I changed into my favorite tweed suit, perfect for a wintry day. I was irritated by not being able to wear the outfit I'd painstakingly chosen, but it was not appropriate for that weather.

I haven't always gotten it right, and I won't pretend like I always do. Style is relative, and what works for one person doesn't have to (and shouldn't) work for another. But the impression you give in the world is real. It doesn't mean you have to wear a ball gown every day (although I'd love to wear a ball gown every day), but it's important to dress appropriately for the occasion. Those who think it doesn't matter how they dress are the ones whose attire is holding them back. Trust me. And trust me on the fact that leggings alone, without a tunic or dress over them, are still seriously not pants.  

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Little Victories

In the last few years I've had lofty fitness goals. I completed my first triathlon a few years ago. I've run 19 half marathons and three marathons in the last five years. I've challenged myself and gotten faster. This last year has changed my perspective and the number of miles I'm logging. My focus right now is getting healthy (which is a work in progress) and being consistent with running and cross training. Even a 5k that isn't close to my PR can feel like a victory.

Last fall I decided I wanted to run a half marathon every month. That was my lofty 2017 goal. Then I had an abscess drained and have been fighting infection for the last five months. I wanted to run a half marathon in April, but there's no way I can train for a half right now. I went to my doctor a few weeks ago, and I still have the infection that caused the abscess. They can't figure it out. Yesterday I had a MRI to see if they can determine the cause. Until that's figured out I've got to limit myself to shorter distances. I want to run for the rest of my life, and to do that I have to be patient. If I push too hard now and wreck my body, I won't be able to run. That means appreciating 5ks for right now.

Last weekend I ran the Run for the House, a local 5k benefiting the Ronald McDonald House. A good friend of mine (I affectionately refer to her as my little sister) was part of the race organizing team, so I wanted to run it to support her hard work. I originally registered for the 10k and realized that wasn't a good idea. I haven't been logging a lot of miles, and any time I pick up the speed my body isn't happy. 

The race takes place in Okemos, a Lansing suburb. Race morning was foggy with a chilly rain/snow mix. I'll admit that when I looked outside I really wasn't excited about going for a run in that weather, but by the time the race started late morning the weather had mostly cleared.

I felt sluggish at the start but pretty quickly found some motivation. When you run a lot of local races you start to see familiar faces. A few years ago when I was more competitive in the 5k there was a woman I'd see at different races. She and I would go back and forth winning our age group. At a 5k a few years ago on a sweltering May morning she sprinted up from behind me and beat me at the line. She made some kind of snarky comment about beating me, and after that she become my running rival without even knowing it. About a mile into the Run for the House I saw her ahead of me and kept her relatively close - about 10-15 yards ahead.

With about a half mile to go I had nearly resigned myself to the fact that she would beat me. I just wasn't feeling it. But with a quarter mile left I saw the finish and kicked it into high gear. I sprinted past her and smiled all the way to the finish to win our age group. I ran 25:20, more than two minutes slower than my PR, but sprinting past her to that finish was my little victory. 

I could barely breathe, but I always have a smile for the camera.
My euphoria was short lived when I spent the rest of the day in pain because of this f&*king infection. It reinforced the fact that I need to be more judicious about running until this is under control. Hopefully the MRI reveals an answer to the problem so we can clear it up and I can start logging some serious miles again. Until then I'll take my little victories where I can find them. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Keep Parenting Cool

Last week I came across a blog titled "The Suburbs Don't Suck After All".  As a rabid cityphile I found myself cringing at most of it, and I was irritated that it was filled with excuses. Despite my fervent city advocacy, I get the appeal of the suburbs. I really do. There are a lot of kids around, and the schools are better. There's a lot to be said for what the suburbs have to offer. So if you live in the suburbs and love it, wonderful. Excellent. I'm thrilled that it's what works for your family. I say this with zero sarcasm even if you're reading sarcasm into it. I promise. 

Living in the suburbs does not work for me. The biggest sticking point for me is having a commute or having to drive everywhere. The idea of living where I have to drive everywhere makes me want to gouge my own eyes out, and it's not the life I want.  I can't imagine it. But the aforementioned blog post instead of focusing on some positives of the suburbs mostly feels like a defensive attempt to justify why this woman feels like she sold out. Kids change our lives, and it's okay to make the decision to move once you have kids. But you can still have an ideal neighborhood for your kids in the city. Moving to the suburbs is merely an option. It's not the only one. 

Also there are different types of suburban communities. There are still suburban communities with a downtown that are walkable and have lots of amenities. Those are different. My deal breakers is the cul-de-sac with nothing around but houses. The worst is if I can see a brand new subdivision from the freeway. Ouch.

Her reasons the suburbs don't suck are below followed by my response:

Reason: "There's plenty of room for all the stuff."

Why it's BS: I live in a 3500 square foot house half a mile from downtown. I once made fun of a friend who lives in the suburbs for her bonus room, and she made fun of me for having a bonus floor. Touche. Before this house we lived in a large 4-bedroom, 1800 square foot house in an urban neighborhood. There's room for the stuff. Terrible excuse.

Reason: "Kids can experience the freedoms we did as kids."

Why it's BS: You can do that in a city neighborhood. There's no reason why you can't. I know lots of friends whose kids run around city neighborhoods. Also our freedom is called walking. We walk to my son's daycare. We walk to dinner and to play. I would argue the confines of a car to get everywhere is the worst prison of all.

I did this work project when my son was six months old. This is a temporary park in a parking lane. Looks pretty free to me!
Reason: "A sense of community is truly felt."

Why it's BS: We have some of the best neighbors we've ever had. We clear one another's sidewalks, we talk by the fence, we all look out for one another. They watch our cats when we're gone. They bring me food when I'm sick. Saying a sense of community only exists in the suburbs leads me to believe this person just had crappy neighbors.

Reason: "You will not be shamed for your gas guzzling mini-van or SUV."

Why it's BS: I have a gas-guzzling SUV. Granted I don't drive it much, and we got it because we have huge dogs. But I love the space in my car. Nobody has ever shamed me for it.  But I love it more because I'm not in it 10 hours a day shuttling my kids TO THE CITY TO DO THINGS.

Reason: "The schools. Let me repeat, the schools!"

Why it's BS: Yes, suburban schools are almost always better than inner city schools. That point is accurate. But it's because historically we built the suburbs to escape racial and poverty issues and let our urban schools decay. So my son may go to private school. It's a decision we have not yet made. I'd rather him go to public school, and it's a tough decision. But hailing suburban schools like this is ignorant. We've all decided to let inner city schools go to pot by abandoning them. At least be less gleeful about it.

Reason: "Life feels easier."

Why it's BS: Oh stop it. Come on. You're not "obligated" to attend every urban event or gathering. We attend some, and we don't attend some. The important point is that we are close enough to enjoy them in walking distance. Our downtown neighborhood is quiet and peaceful. Life couldn't get easier.

My front porch on a summer afternoon. She's right - life is clearly not easy.
Reason: "Our forgotten cool lives are just a short drive away."

Why it's BS: Again with the driving. Add this to the tally of hours spent driving from the suburbs to the city. Also being a parent doesn't mean you can't be cool. It simply takes more work. My son has been to dozens of cool downtown restaurants and bars. At the age of two he's traveled to 18 states. Living in the city isn't what makes someone cool. It's a nebulous property that is different for everyone. For me feeling cool and living a life that I find exciting takes more work, but don't blame it on the city. If you don't want to live an urban life that's totally fine. I know cool people who live in suburbs and lame people who live in cities. I find making excuses lame. 

Reason: "Matcha lattes are gross."

Well obviously. She's totally right on this one. 

When we had our son people kept asking when we were going to move to the suburbs. The answer is never. Not because there are not benefits, but because that's not the life we want for our family. I want my son to be a proud part of our downtown community. I want him to know walking is just a part of what we do. I want him to see people who are poor and look different than him and know that we aren't living in some homogeneous society of upper middle class white people. Those things are important. 

There are a lot of vibrant and beautiful neighborhoods in my city, and this blog makes me defensive on their behalf. I am an advocate for cities. Lord willing my son will be too. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Running NOLA (post sponsored by oysters and Sauvignon Blanc)

The first time I visited New Orleans was in the spring of 2005, a few months before Hurricane Katrina. I don't remember much about the trip other than thinking the city was filthy. When my husband suggested my son and I join him for a conference there last weekend, I thought it was time to give NOLA another shot. This time would be different: I would see the city through the eyes of a mom and a runner, a very different perspective.

My son and I left late Thursday afternoon from Detroit. We booked our flights relatively last minute, and my husband's flight was from Lansing. I've traveled with our little dude solo quite a bit, so I didn't mind taking him alone to have a direct flight and an earlier arrival. For the first time my son carried his own suitcase, and in his usual fashion he charmed everyone with whom he came into contact.

Kid is a traveling boss.
Thursday night was uneventful. I ordered takeout and my son went to bed later than he should've. Hotel rooms with toddlers are always a challenge, but I was grateful we had a suite so we had a little more room. By the time my husband arrived our son was asleep, and I wasn't far behind him. I was okay with it though when our son woke up at five am on Friday (he usually wakes up between 6-6:30 eastern time). Mornings are long in a hotel room with a small human.

I took advantage of the sunshine to go for a run on Friday morning. It was my first run since my hospital stay a few weeks ago. We were staying in the Warehouse District about a mile from the French Quarter, and I ran to Jackson Square in the beautiful early morning light. I felt strong and fast which surprised me. Running in a new city always makes me feel energized, and this was no exception. I've been walking a lot the last few weeks, and even walking I've been short of breath and getting side stitches. On that run I felt weightless and amazing. I ran through the heart of this beautiful old city and felt like myself again.

Beautiful morning for a run!
I consumed an absurd amount of seafood (particularly oysters) in a short, three-day trip. It all started that first morning when we headed to breakfast at Creole House. I had the Louisiana Benedict topped with fried oysters and washed it down with a mimosa. If one can't have a cocktail at 10 am in New Orleans then what's the point? We walked around for a bit, and my exhausted son fell asleep earlier. I headed back to the hotel while my husband went to his conference. My son took an epic four hour nap, and I joined him for several of those hours (thanks champagne!)

After our nap we went to around the corner to the New Orleans Coffee & Beignet Company. My son and I split some beignet bites and I had a cappuccino to help wakeme up. Then we went to ride the streetcar because my son was obsessed with "Trolley". We rode for maybe two stops before he wanted to get off. Toddlers have a short attention span. We walked down Bourbon Street and ran around Jackson Square. It was a flawless day as my son sat on the steps in front of the iconic St. Louis Cathedral and watched street performers.



My husband joined us for an early dinner at Legacy Kitchen. I had the redfish and Gouda grits, the best food I had over the weekend (which is saying a lot because we had amazing food). My husband had a dinner, so my son and I headed to the hotel to watch PBS and snuggle. 

NOLA with a toddler
Saturday was an early morning too, so we headed off early for breakfast at Willa Jean's. The food was delicious, and the atmosphere was great. It was fun to stay in the Warehouse District and get a different feel for the city. We walked back slowly checking out different city parks and buildings. 

Traveling with a toddler means scheduling naps, and with an epic napper it turns out to be a nice break in the middle of the day. We had a late lunch at the St. James Cheese Company. This place was fantastic. I decided to start drinking Sauvignon Blanc, a summer favorite. The New Orleans sunshine and delicious wine made it feel like summer, and my heart was happy. We walked back to the French Quarter and explored again. 

We were there the weekend after Mardi Gras. Love the beads in trees everywhere!
We had cocktails and then dinner at Red Fish Grill on Bourbon Street. Bourbon Street is actually my least favorite part of New Orleans, but I thought since we were there we should have at least one meal there. I had oysters and gumbo, and we topped it off with bread pudding. I was happy for the mile walk back to the hotel because we consumed an absurd amount of Cajun calories.

Dinner on our last night
After another early night we were up early on Sunday too. We ate breakfast at Stanley in Jackson Square, and then my son sprinted up and down the the nearly vacant square in front of the cathedral. As a mom and a runner I fell in love with the New Orleans I met early in the day. We had the public spaces to ourselves, and it was quiet and beautiful. 

My son refused to nap on Sunday making our final lunch at Mulate's a challenging experience. I had my final oyster treat - a fried oyster po boy. We walked around as our son slept in the stroller soaking in the warm weather of the south before heading to the airport. 

It was exactly the weekend getaway I needed. Traveling with a small human means earlier nights, but I've discovered the beauty of early mornings. It turns out I prefer it. Our son visited his 18th U.S. state at the age of two. He's a rock star little traveler, and I'm grateful every minute of every day that I get to be his mom.  It was the perfect trifecta of things I love: time with my boys, feeling strong when I run and exploring a new city. Thanks for the memories NOLA!

Monday, February 27, 2017

In the Middle Years

There have been several times in the nearly six(!) years I've been writing this blog where I've considered changing the name. Maybe something like 'I Brunch These Towns' or 'I Have Crohn's and Sometimes Run These Towns'. My love for running and cities has not waned even a little, but I've been sidelined by some life distractions that have made traveling and running more challenging. I feel like I haven't explored a new city in months (because I haven't.) I'm definitely in need of my urban explorer fix. And I am definitely ready to get back into a running training schedule. 

At the beginning of the year I was super excited to do less traveling for a few months and get more rest. I was looking forward to slowing down. Here we are knocking on the door of March, and I've been gone for one weekend this entire year to visit my family in Virginia. It turns out one weekend isn't enough. I'm losing my mind.

We're remedying that this weekend with a quick trip to New Orleans. I'm heading to Austin the first weekend in April to celebrate a good friend's birthday. We're going to Richmond, Virginia (one of my favs) in June for our cousin's wedding. Currently those are the only trips solidly on the calendar, and it makes me antsy.  

I have two races on the calendar: a 10k and a 5k in March. I want to do a half marathon in April, but I want to give myself a few more weeks to heal before making a decision to register for anything. The level of restlessness I feel by not having tangible running and travel goals is palpable.

At the age of 38 I am firmly ensconced in what my therapist calls "the middle years". In your twenties there are so many firsts to look forward to: graduating from college, first jobs, falling in grown up love, getting married, buying a house, getting a dog, having children. The firsts pile up, and there are so many things to anticipate. Then in your late 30s and early 40s life hits you. The firsts are gone, and life can be hard. Honestly sometimes life can be boring. I hate saying that because I love my life, but it's true. I've discovered after several months of weekends stretched out looking for things to do that sometimes it's boring. Toddlers are hard work, and sometimes days feel interminable. Occupying a small human becomes its own task.

Love this photo of my toddler wishing he was an old man.
I love being busy, and a trip to Target after nap is only good for one or two weekends before I'm losing my mind. We've had great dinners with friends and I feel entirely caught up on house projects and shows on our DVR. Life is wonderful, but I feel antsy. One of the reasons we travel so often and I run so much is to break up the monotony of grocery shopping, laundry and work.

I make a conscious effort to appreciate all of the joy in my life, and I feel guilty admitting that sometimes the day to day is monotonous. I love snuggling with my son on the couch while we watch a movie. I love sharing cocktails with my husband after our son goes to bed while we talk about our days. I love having dinner with our friends or meeting a girlfriend for coffee. I love (usually) slugging out a run on the Lansing River Trail. These every day tasks are filled with joy, but sometimes I need a little change of scenery. Sometimes I need a little public transit, a new park to explore, different restaurants and a museum if I'm lucky. Sometimes I need to lace up my running shoes and check out an entirely unfamiliar city with fresh eyes.

Even if one appreciates them the middle years can be tough. I'm raising a little cityphile who loves traveling. He's obsessed with any mode of transportation, so it's easy to get him psyched about airplanes, buses and trains. I'm looking forward to exploring NOLA with my little dude while his dad is at a conference. In the middle years I remind myself that days may be long, but years are short. We get this small amount of time where we're young, healthy(ish in my case), and have the joy of a young child. I will take the potential (and real) monotony of the middle years and turn it on its head. Here's to the middle years!

A virtual toast with my girlfriends. When did I get crow's feet?!?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Only the Lonely

I'm an extrovert who enjoys having people around. Sure I need alone time to recharge, but I like being social and busy. My husband and I fill our calendar with friends, travel and fun events, and we love it that way. But there is one secret about living with a chronic illness I'd like to share with you: at times I feel completely alone. It doesn't matter how many text messages I receive, visitors at the hospital, flowers, cards or notes. I feel utterly alone in a sea full of people I love and well wishers.

Back in October I wrote a blog proclaiming that women don't have the luxury of being sick. I stand by that premise. After my last hospitalization I'd even go a step further and say the chronically ill don't have the luxury of being sick. I don't have a disease where I look sick. When you look at me you see healthy, and that's what I want you to see. Even on my sickest days I can still pull it off like I feel well. Should I stop pretending? Is that the answer? I don't think so because I also don't want to be seen as a sick person. But is there a middle ground, some sort of modicum of understanding where people can look at me and think, "Damn she looks amazing but I know she's not 100 percent". That's what I want. Is that too much to ask?

It's been a week since I got out of the hospital. I'm feeling relatively normal. I've made it through two days without a nap, but I'm falling asleep by 9 pm. The swelling in my stomach has pretty much gone away, and my decreased food intake has led to losing ten pounds in a week (the upside of Crohn's!) But it's not a strong ten pound weight loss. I feel weak. I feel exhausted. I went back to work on Monday, four days after I was released from the hospital, because that's what I'm supposed to do. I left my house at 6:15 am to make an 8 am breakfast meeting. The two attorneys with whom I was meeting did not know about my hospital stay. The one gentlemen, who I haven't seen in a few years, hugged me and said, "You look great. You look so successful." I beamed with pride because that's how I want to look. He didn't know that my new pants that I love and last week fit like a glove were hanging off because of my rapid weight loss. I can dress my body like a champ despite weigh gain or loss. It's one of my Crohn's super powers.

Three days out of the hospital. Visiting the zoo on a beautiful day. Like you do.
But a few hours later when someone who knew about my hospitalization also said I looked great and then we discussed a giant list of things for me to work on this week, it felt different. I felt like I don't have the luxury of being sick. It's well established that I'll push myself way beyond my limits, but maybe, just maybe I'd like to have a little slack. 

This morning as I was rushing around to get ready for a morning meeting my husband said, "Please slow down." I looked at him and earnestly said, "You know I don't get that option". For the first time he nodded and said, "I know", and I didn't feel as alone. As much as people in the professional world want to and pretend to understand, they will only tolerate chronic illness to a certain point. I've encountered this my entire career, and I doubt it will change. To my face I get "please relax and get better" immediately followed by "but also do this, this and this". And I want to do these tasks. I've worked the entire time during every hospital stay I've had in the last three years. I've let nothing slip through the cracks. But I constantly have to overcome the perception that I'm sick. 

My husband is the most amazing, understanding and supportive human in the world. I cannot even find the words to describe how incredible he is. He's constantly on me to relax, and he will take everything he can off my plate. But we have a two-year-old son who wants Mommy. We had a toddler who has been insanely needy ever since I got home from the hospital, and I don't want him to feel like I'm not around and present. Even with my husband carrying the entire load of our family on his back while I'm out, I still feel pressure. It's not pressure from him but pressure to still be healthy. I don't want to be a sick mom or sick wife. 

My husband took this photo four days after I got out of the hospital. I look exhausted.
All this pressure and pushing, both personally and professionally, makes me feel lonely. It makes me feel like there's nobody in the world who gets how I'm feeling. When people ask how I'm feeling I don't want to say, "I'm f*cking exhausted and it hurts to digest food." I want to say, "I'm great" and mean it. But trying to walk that line of being honest without being whiny or negative is a hard one. 

My bowel obstruction has made me entirely rethink my diet and caffeine drinking habits. I'm actually feeling more positive and energized than I have in a while. Dodging the surgery bullet has me feeling hopeful and like I was given a second chance. I am so grateful for my family and friends and colleagues. While recovery can be a frustrating and lonely process, I know that I have an incredible amount of support. Bear with me while I'm feeling crabby and figuring it out. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

When Good Snacks go Bad

As a Crohn's patient without a colon a diet for me that is "healthy" is different than the average person's healthy diet. Most Crohn's nutritionists suggest avoiding multi-grain or wheat bread or brown rice, and I imagine most healthy eaters don't eat white bread or rice. 

I can't really eat a lot of raw fruits and vegetables. Things that are healthy for most people - strawberries, broccoli, carrots, blueberries, apples, nuts, leafy greens - are all things that make me sick. Don't get me wrong: I'm often seen eating those things and think screw it because they're delicious, and I really want some broccoli! Apples are one of the hardest to avoid. I really love apples, and eating them is pretty much like eating tiny knives. It's not the best plan. 

When people tell me they're giving up carbs I realize that would be impossible for me. Giving up meat would also be very challenging because of my intolerance for beans or other proteins in large quantities. In the last decade or so I've gotten very complacent and pretty much eat whatever I want. I know a yogurt parfait with blueberries and granola will make me sick, but I'll chance it because it sounds delicious. I should not eat broccoli with Chinese food and yet often do because broccoli is amazing. I love chili but eating a lot of beans rarely goes well. Despite knowing all of these things I've largely ignored the discomfort over the history of my disease. Sometimes I'll cut back and eat less of things that make me sick, but other than seeds (the devil) I don't outwardly avoid anything. My Crohn's has not been concentrated in my small intestine, so the stomach upset is often minor. I've justified eating these things quite well.

My husband and I have oddly not been traveling this winter, so we've been able to spend lots of quality time with friends and time at home simply being together. On Thursday last week we had two of our best friends over. We ordered in barbeque and had drinks and lots of laughs. When they left I was thinking of how lucky we are to have such great friends.

The next evening I threw a three-bean chili in the crockpot and had another friend over. We sipped from our fanciest bourbons and ate too much chili (which was, if I do say so myself, delicious). We had another great evening with a good friend, and I was marveling at how nice it is to stay home and catch up with our friends.

Saturday started as a great day. It's been really warm for Michigan in February (thanks climate change!), so we went for a family walk (our dog really needs some help in the waistline department). Afterward I went for a steady three mile run that felt great. I then decided to eat some baby carrots because 1) carrots are delicious and 2) they're a healthy snack. I didn't eat much for lunch - just some chips and salsa. Lunch of champions!

As the day wore on I was having some stomach discomfort, but that happens sometimes when I eat raw veggies. We went to the grocery store and did things around the house, and I began feeling progressively worse. We had dinner plans at 6:15, and canceling them was never an option. Around 5 pm I told my husband I needed to lie down for a few minutes because my stomach was really hurting. I pushed myself to get dressed and go to dinner where I ate a lot of my food because food is delicious. By the time dinner was over I recognized my pain from having it twice before: bowel obstruction.

We stopped by the store and bought Milk of Magnesia on the way home. I thought maybe that would be a catalyst to move things along. I took it at 9 pm. Nothing happened. By midnight I was in so much pain and was so nauseous I knew it wouldn't get better. I got dressed, woke my husband and told him I was going to the ER (about a mile and a half from our house). He wanted to come with me but there was no way we were waking our toddler to go to the ER in the middle of the night. I walked into my son's room and sobbed while I watched his precious face sleeping. I don't want him to have a sick mom. I don't want this to be a recurring situation. 

As soon as I checked into the ER I began vomiting and didn't stop until my IV was inserted and they gave me anti-nausea mediation. A CT scan showed a small bowel obstruction. The challenge with patients who've had as many surgeries as I have is that every time they do surgery they create more scar tissue and more possibilities of an obstruction. It's got to be the last resort.

They decided to insert a nasogastric (NG) tube into my nose. This tube goes through your nose, down your throat and into your stomach. The idea is that it will suck out whatever isn't moving and hopefully clear the obstruction that way. I've woken up from four of my surgeries with a NG tube, and they're not comfortable. Do you want to know what's worse? Having one inserted when you're awake. It's awful. 

NG tube insertion = the worst
With NG tube inserted and morphine and Zofran (anti-nausea) on rotation they admitted me to the hospital Sunday morning to wait. I threw up twice on Sunday with the NG tube in, something that's not supposed to happen. And I was throwing up those f*cking baby carrots so I knew the culprit. Sunday was a rough day, and I was convinced I was heading toward surgery.

In the bowel obstruction world pooping is huge, so every time anyone walked in that's the question they asked. Finally on Monday I had some movement, and on Tuesday they advanced me to clear liquids and then a soft food diet.

Today we see how I tolerate soft foods. Nobody has said the word "home" even once, so I have no idea when that might happen. I do know they want to be extra cautious and make sure the obstruction is entirely cleared before sending me out of here.

Celebrating Valentine's Day with my fam at the hospital. My little dude is used to room service, so he liked eating his dinner on my hospital tray.
Now I wait. I've been sleeping an insane amount and just being still. I never do that, so it's nice to have a quiet room with no distractions. Fingers crossed that I'm avoiding surgery, but I won't believe it until the doctor says it for certain. And from now on all of my snacks will be fattening ones full of carbs. Doctor's orders.