Thursday, July 7, 2011

Surgery sucks

"Maybe there are just alien babies in my belly????" -a text I sent to my twin last week.
I'm guessing most everyone who reads that wont get my humor. The ultrasound tech looked at me with worried eyes when I said it to her. I'm assuming the surgeon isnt much into sci-fi because he didnt even crack a smile when I said it to him. Whatever, humor is how I deal with the messiness of life. And finding three abdominal masses on my catscan, a little messy if you ask me.

It seems my saga continues. I need abdominal surgery, once again. This is my third surgery in less than three years. The first,my c-section that gave me my beautiful miracle boy. The second, a hysterectomy, should have been enough, if you ask me. But, no one is asking me. I dont have all the answers, will only have all those after the surgery and biopsy. I'm not really sure how I feel about all of it. Well, ok, in true Christina fashion, let's be honest, I'm pretty pissed off about it. I'm sick of surgery and recovery. I'm sick of scars on my belly and internal scar tissue. I'm sick of being humbled and in need of help from others. If I could drive myself home from the hospital after surgery, I would. I have been in a place of need several times in the last three years and I am over it.

I would happily take some alien babies over a malignancy. Three in fact, since there are three masses. But we seem to be leaning more toward more c-section complications than malignancy and the surgeon pretty much ruled out aliens. C-section complications. Pretty frustrating. Was the loss of my womb and fertility not enough? I'm not making light of the chance of malignancies. I've just never imagined my body would struggle with so much after my c-section.

I am fully aware that the c-section saved my son's life and mine as well. It was a life-saving, necessary, emergent surgery. So, if you feel the need to tell me to look on the bright side, save your sunshine for another day. I can be fully aware and grateful of that aspect of the surgery and still have to walk out the rest of it. Ok, I am not walking it out, pretty much stomping my feet in a tantrum.

I just spent the last year regaining and redefining myself after a life-and-body altering hysterectomy. I was finally back on the normal side of Christina. (and yes, referring to myself by name is normal for me) I'm grouchy and disheartened and feeling the most stubborn I have felt in a long time. I've yielded much in the last several years. I've bent til I was broken. I'm definetly in need of peace before my surgery.

No alien babies. No babies,nope, not anymore. I said goodbye to my fertility last winter. Sigh, surgery sucks.

Friday, January 28, 2011

My Survival Guide for Menopause

Surviving Early Onset Surgical Menopause
Menopause is a part of every woman’s life as she matures into the later years. Menopause is usually a natural process occurring over a period of time with the symptoms worsening as time goes on. This gradual progression gives a woman adequate time physically, mentally and emotionally to prepare for the finality of her fertility. However, if menopause occurs suddenly after a surgery, the results can be devastating in their intensity of symptoms. You can adjust to the effects of surgical menopause if you become informed about the symptoms, are proactive in your health, and take time to nurture your spirit. A survival guide of basic information needed to ready oneself for the onset of surgical menopause can be a vital tool in helping you adjust to the new stage of your life. I, being in the throes of early onset surgical menopause myself, have prepared for you a handy little survival guide to get you through the basic issues.
Recovering from your surgical procedure will take time; use this time to prepare your mind and spirit for what the body is about to bring upon it. My first piece of advice is to make friends with old ladies, or make peace with your mamma; older women can provide a wealth of information on symptoms and coping mechanisms. Also, when you go to your post surgical gynecological visits sit with the late in life ladies and avoid the lush, pregnant women if you can. Their huge baby bumps and their glowing skin are a reminder of what your body can no longer do, reproduce, and this reminder can be painfully sad at first. The old saying, “Misery loves company,” is applicable in this situation. Talk with the older ladies, gain valuable advice and commiserate on hot flashes and mood swings. You might gain some valuable advice on the best skin cream for your soon- to -be losing-elasticity skin or a tip on the best tasting calcium chew; you’re going to need those, soon by the way, to avoid the bone loss that comes along with menopause.
When going through ‘the change’ known as menopause, it is important to remember to take care of yourself. Fatigue and insomnia and a drop in metabolism are all common to woman experiencing menopause. Combat these issues by exercising regularly, staying hydrated with water, eating healthy, and taking vitamins necessary for your body’s changing needs. You will probably experience the punishing experience known as hot flashes and also night sweats. Dressing in layers and sleeping with a fan will help you cop, but be prepared; these symptoms are especially severe in surgical menopause. Hormonal and herbal supplements have been known to help, so ask your doctor what she would recommend for you. Being aware of what you can experience helps take away some of the unknown of your situation and can help you feel more in control of this life-altering condition known as surgical menopause.
Women who experience menopause at a much younger age than expected often face other daunting side effects of menopause. Many times they lose self confidence and face depression as they say goodbye to their childbearing fertile years early. My advice is practical and fun. First, form a support network of friends, or even medical professionals who you can talk with about your feelings of loss or sadness. Purchasing a pretty journal to write all of your thoughts and frustrations as you deal with the blow of early menopause can also be helpful. Also, I say, embrace the sexy and the beautiful in you. Pamper yourself with manicures, pedicures, or even new underwear or lingerie; anything to remind you of your womanly self is great. I chose a theme song for myself that I played in the lowest points of recovery after my surgery, usually playing full blast after I left the gynecologist’s office, or attended one of the many baby showers of my young, beautiful, fertile friends. It is important in this shifting time that you not lose sight of the inner beauty of you, the part of you that nothing can rob or change, not even a scalpel or the absence of hormones.
My last piece of advice centers on the idea of mothering. I experienced my surgical menopause at a time in my life when I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to the idea of motherhood or fertility. My reproductive organs were surgically and necessarily removed from my body, and I felt the loss most significantly in my heart. I found it helpful to find something else to focus my attention upon; I needed something else to nurture and labor. If you also struggle with the loss of fertility in a personal, longing sort of way, I encourage you to find something else to baby. A pet, a project, a charity, a hobby- any of these can help you move on to a place of acceptance.
Surgical menopause is life changing. The symptoms of raging hormones, crashing moods, and memory loss can be difficult to deal with if you are not prepared. The loss of your fertility before you would naturally lose it can be daunting; however, avoiding the reality of it is not helpful. Embracing this extreme change is not expected, but preparing for it can help immensely. Arm yourself with tips and tools, equip yourself with proper nutrition and fitness, pamper yourself with fun and friendship, and you just might make it through surgical menopause with grace, dignity, and laughter.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

In an attempt to avoid fluff, more menopause talk...

...Thinking tonight-of writing.
of writing about my hysterectomy
of the state of my body almost a year after the surgery,
of menopause.

I did write about it, an assignment for class, a rushed, last minute, just get it done paper. I will probably post on here soon. I got an A on the paper, was proud of it for a minute. But then I reread it and it just felt like fluff. Because I cant wrap up the last year in five paragraphs. I cant wrap up in a neat, little bow the heartache and loss I felt after losing my fertility from a scalpel. I cant explain away the year of wondering in the darkness, of trying to find my way back to the woman I once was with a few quick words of advice. I haven't recaptured the self confidence I lost. Sometimes I cant identify my new self- more quiet, more uncertain,withdrawn shifting, shuffling my feet almost in this life, not wanting to be recognized or noticed yet.

"Don't look at me, I don't feel youthful anymore. Don't notice me, I don't feel sexy anymore. I lost that. Don't look at me, you might see envy in my eyes or recognize the weariness of my soul."

I miss my period. It's been over a year. I have a hard time realizing that I will never have one again. I know, how ridiculous, how often it was an inconvenience or an interruption into my life but the absence of one makes me cry.

My body has changed in crazy ways I wont share on here. I find myself looking for age spots or wrinkles, as if I am really aging that fast. I'm not. I'm just in premature menopause.

More this year than ever before. I have played with makeup, I have invested in beauty supplies. I've curled my hair, I've painted my nails. I've worn more dresses and high heels. I have played in boots, black stripper boots, brown cowboy boots; anything that goes "clickety clack" in the hopes that the echo will make me feel sexy. I've bought more lingerie this year than I brought on my honeymoon. All of it is a fake out.

A surgery cannot rob me of my inner beauty. The scalpel cant cut that away. My hormones may fluctuate and wreak havoc on my body and my mind, but they are just a part of me, not the full picture. Some days I do have this self awareness, this logic pulls me out of my sadness. Most days I still sense a challenge and embrace it, bring it world, that girl is still inside me. But there are days when I am flat, when my emotions are flat, my hormones fluctuate, my body responds, but my spirit is flat. I am not sure I can describe or explain it to a woman who hasn't been there. And maybe others are different than I.

I feel like I had to redefine myself in some ways after my surgery. I identified so much with being a mother, with being a nurturer, with being a lush and fertile woman in the prime of her life. Suddenly, all I knew changed. I feel like I have had to fight my way back and at times find other things to embrace about myself.

My article wasn't fluff. The advice is helpful, but I know my tone was light. Perhaps it shouldn't be. I wasn't prepared. I didn't know how heartbreaking this last year would be for me as I said goodbye to what I defined as feminine and beautiful. I didn't know how disconcerting it could be to age prematurely, suddenly. I found I wasn't quite ready to grow up so soon.

I remember in the span of one day having a conversation with my twin about her period and my mother about our menopausal symptoms. That night I sobbed because what was happening to me wasn't normal and wasn't natural. How do you come to terms with that? It doesn't happen over night. I still have days when I struggle to deal with the physical symptoms of menopause and more so struggle with the acceptance that this is my life now. But I think each day that goes by, I feel stronger, more confident.

The days and weeks right after my surgery were very dark, bleak days. I don't ever want to go back there. I felt adrift, in a sea of pain and then oblivion as my pain medicines kicked in. I felt alone, lost, forgotten, and unrelatable. My friends could not understand; they were still having periods, making babies, having babies,or trying to avoid making a baby. I was realizing that babies were no longer in my future.

Last spring was not about rebirth and newness to me; it felt more like a long, dark winter. Then came all the other issues that led to the realization that my body wasn't going to recover like expected and that I was experiencing surgical menopause. A final blow for me; it sent me lower than I have ever been. There were days I didn't want to get out of bed. Days I didn't want to talk to anyone. Days I cried, nights I did as well. I pulled the covers up over my head on life for a while.

When that did not work, I tried diversionary tactics; busyness, road trips, shenanigans. Along the way, I found parts of myself. It's still a journey for me. There is no magic pill, no fast and sure way out of the flatness, out of the sadness. There is more than fluff though to my story, to the last year of my life. It has been hard, so very hard, but it has also had it's moments of beauty and of rediscovery...

I found peace in the mountains. I've been several times this year to WV. It always calls me home. My home among the hills, how very true.

I found joy again. On the fourth of July, my daughters chasing fireflies as I sat and talked with my best friend on the back patio. All was not lost because of my surgery, things were shifted and change happened, but the beauty of my life still remains. My children. My family, My friends. I felt blessed beyond measure that night, I felt ready to embrace life and laughter and simplicity again.

I found solace in my writing and in my openness with friends who read my words, my emotions poured out in emails; beautiful, loving friends who allowed me to just be me.

I found passion for old dreams I had set aside. I found parts of myself I had shelved and denied.

There is more, I am sure. But I don't want to do a disservice to my struggle. Not many people talk about this subject, hysterectomies, surgical menopause, early onset menopause. How about periods, most people don't even talk about them and I will never take them for granted again. And so I am beginning to open up, to examine this past year and find out what I can take from it, what I can gain from it, instead of just focusing on what I have lost.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Passing of A Decade

I didn't think I was old enough to give a "back in my day" speech. You know one of those talks that your parents and the older generations give on how things were SO different in their day and usually much harder. After all, I'm 33, my experiences cant be much different than most of those in my speech class, right?

This return to college after at least a decade of being out of formal education has surprised me in some ways. I've been reminiscing, comparing and contrasting.

Just eleven days ago, we started a new decade and this event, this turning of time has sparked some thought in me.

I sat in class last week feeling as though things were surreal and a little like the technological and electronic age has come at me and society at warp speed. Our professor spoke of the rules and how we should keep texting to a minimum. We spoke of not having Internet in the classroom.
"No Wifii, that's unheard of," one of my younger classmates remarked. I pretended like I could relate but really I couldnt. I can't remember a time I was in a classroom that had internet available to me.

I was completely ok with the thought of keeping texting to a minimum because well back in my day, there was no texting in class, we either passed notes in class or waited until after class to talk. I'm not sure any of us even had cell phones.

I feel like we are often bombarded with information and have become an instant gratification society nowadays. I am sure there is nothing so important that I need to hear it right away, it can all wait until after my class, this was my baseline thought as our professor went over the rules. Then my phone started buzzing, my friends were texting me in class, one after the other. It seems that while I was in class my favorite performer (yes Darius Rucker)was singing the National Anthem at the Sugar Bowl. Friends didn't want me to miss out on the performance. I texted back and forth, during breaks of course, about my triumphant return to school, my fears and insecurities, and what was going on outside the classroom.

After class I came home and within the hour was on Facebook, checking and returning emails, instant messaging with friends, commenting in real time with others. And it made me think of how different things are this time around as opposed to last time I was in college,a little over a decade ago.

As I was thinking about this, reminiscing,I began to Google things, wanting to compare my thoughts to the experts thoughts on how much technology has advanced in the last decade. My googling led me to an article by the Huffington Post entitled "You're out, 20 things that became obsolete this decade" I thought I would mention a few to you:

Video tapes have been replaced by DVDs and movies streaming through your computer or electronic device. We even watch Netflix through our Wii. How cool!

Encyclopedias and time researching in a library have been replaced by sites such as Google,and Wikipedia. Most anything can be researched online nowadays.

Cassette tapes and CD's are being replaced by MP3's, instant downloadable songs.

Handwritten love letters are quickly becoming a novelty or rare treat, as more and more people express themselves electronically through email and instant messaging.

A single friend of mine recently sent me a forwarded email from a man she was dating, wanting to brag a little on his romanticm. In the email he wrote a quick poem and then sent her a link to a youtube video of a love song. It made me smile and made me think of how far the love letter has evolved in the electronic age and what is yet to come. No more midnight serenades with the boom box outside your window, Say Anything style or long conversations late into the night on your landline phone, it's more like a 100 short quick texts in one night or possibly hours instantly chatting on IM. Quick, short bursts of conversation, with abbreviations like LOL and BRB and emoticons, the new way to express your feelings, who knew a smiley face could say so much.

Paper Maps and people stopping for directions are also becoming a thing of the past as more and more people turn to GPS units (global positioning systems) and Mapquest or Google Maps to get their directions from point a to point b.

During my sophomore year at college in 1996, a friend and I went on a road trip one winter weekend and became quite lost in nowhere WV. The snow was coming down, it was late at night and we were two young college girls afraid to stop for directions but we did stop, at a creepy gas station and ask. The men were very nice and gave us landmark directions, turn at the little church up ahead, go five miles and then turn by the old railroad bridge or something like that. We got turned around a few more times but eventually made it home. I imagine our trip would have been a lot easier had we smart phones equipped with MapQuest or a GPS. But the trip was comical and adventurous.

Speaking of traveling, travel agents are also quickly diminishing as more people use sights like Orbitz, or Priceline or Travelocity to plan and book their trips.

Information is available instantly and in many forms.

Social medias sites allow us to be involved in each others lives 24/7.

Texting is replacing most other forms of communication. According to a study by The University of Michigan the frequency with which teens text has overtaken every other form of interaction, including instant messaging and talking face-to-face. Teens would rather text than talk face to face, amazing.

I have no formal opinion about all of these advancements. My life is enhanced by technology. 2011 marks the start of a new decade. I'm excited to see how we grow and advance this decade and a little nervous about what we may lose out on. But only time will tell.

(This was an assignment for my speech class but several of my friends are mentioned in it, I had to blog it.)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Like a Snow Globe Turned Upside Down

I write for Caleb...
Today, I am chasing a busy two year old with a bag of Halloween candy in each arm around the house. He is a bundle of energy, feisty, all smiles and giggles and sweet, sticky kisses. He is my delight, my precious baby boy who changed my life two years ago in ways I am still seeing unfold.

Today I sit for a minute and I remember how far we have come in two years; he as a determined, tenacious fighter, and us as his family, his support system, his prayer warriors and his cheerleaders.

Today I write for him, my baby boy, my fourth child, my only son, who came so early into this world; born at 28 weeks weighing 1lb and 11 oz and less than 13 inches long. My baby boy is now a toddler, and we are out of the life-and-death mode of his early months. He no longer struggles just to breathe or hold his temperature. He is no longer fed through a tube, or given platelets and blood transfusions. We haven't seen an operating room in quite a few months. We attend more well-child visits than sick. He is finally on a growth chart for both height and weight. I celebrate all of these accomplishments.

As he continues to grow and develop, I feel myself exhaling, letting out a collected breath held for so long. He took us on quite a journey, this little miracle child; ups and downs and an endless cycle of good days and then bad days, and then very scary, we might lose him days.

Those first few months in the hospital were the worst days of my life and also the most precious days of my life.

My mother's heart was torn between wanting to spend every minute with my new son, and also wanting to be present for my three beautiful daughters.

It was hard to adjust from my anticipated, expected birth to a rushed delivery and a baby hooked to tubes and monitors that kept him alive. I didn't meet my son for 18 hours after his birth. I didn't hold him until he was five weeks old. I was never able to nurse him but did spend hours upon hours pumping breast milk for him.

I wanted a healthy happy baby, a calm birth, a joyful welcome into our family. Instead, we had a very sickly baby, a scary, troubling,emergency birth, and a chaotic introduction of siblings.

My girls spent months shuffled between family members and only infrequent visits with their much anticipated baby brother. I missed the first day of first grade and fourth grade, actually the first nine weeks of school for them. I missed evening dinner conversations, talks about teachers and friends and school events; so much of everyday life was tabled, put on hold as we spent time, energy, and money to will our son to fight and live.

We brought our son home from the NICU three months after his birth on Halloween weekend. My husband and I once again adjusted to having a newborn in the house, the lack of sleep, the endless laundry, the dirty diapers, lullabies, tiny, infant sleepers, and nights spent in a rocking chair.

Just days after he was home we headed back to the hospital for an emergency surgery and spent two more long weeks in the hospital.

Our daughters struggled with separation anxiety and some anger and jealousy issues. But I also saw how much this family crisis shaped each of them in remarkable new ways.

Our family is more understanding and encouraging, more patient and also more in the moments of life now. My daughters are their brother's biggest cheerleaders. Each milestone Caleb has reached has required much work and determination and each one is not just noticed but celebrated. My girls spent months on the floor with him for tummy time, months learning physical therapy assignments to enjoy with him. They have endured countless schedule adjustments as Caleb's needs for therapies have grown (speech, occupational, and physical therapy.)

Our family life has changed. We have grieved for time and dreams lost. We have adjusted to meet Caleb's needs. We have had to provide grace to each other as we each face the way prematurity has affected us. It isn't always easy to provide grace when you are hurting or confused or angry.

None of us are happy about how our life was changed by prematurity. We wish Caleb had not been born early, but healthy and full term. It saddens me to see him still struggle years after his birth. He still faces unknowns in his development.

I've adjusted to a new role, that of a special needs mother. I haven't always been accepting of this title, I haven't always worn it well. I didn't want to be a preemie mom. I didn't want to be a special needs mom. I just wanted to be a mom; a mom to three amazing daughters and one prayed for, much anticipated son. I think in the last two years as I watch my hopes and my dreams get shuffled, displaced, changed, rearranged, that I have realized it is enough for me to be a mom, the rest of the label doesn't matter as much.
My heart is full of love and pride for my sweet children, for how far we have come in spite of the obstacles we have faced.

One in 8 babies in the US are born prematurely. This statistic is heart-rending to me. One in 8 families will go on a heartbreaking, life-changing, breath-stealing roller coaster ride of prematurity. A ride that often times has lingering and long term affects. Families are forever altered by prematurity. The strain is felt physically, emotionally, spiritually, and financially.

Before Caleb I was unaware of how troubling having a preemie could be. Two years after his birth, I feel as though our family was in a snow globe turned upside down and we are still waiting for everything to settle. The acceptance, the moving forward, the hope it all comes in stages.

Christina Craven

Monday, November 1, 2010

1 in 8

It's Prematurity Awareness month and I hope to be blogging more this month to do just that: raise awareness for prematurity. It's a cause that has forever impacted my heart, my family, my life. I sometimes feel like I have written the last two years to death, whined my way through them if you will. I write to share updates, to process, to vent, and to celebrate. Even though I dont write anonymously, and sometimes wish I did, I often feel as I write that I'm more open than I would be in an actual "how are you doing" conversation.
As I write this I can barely think. Caleb is pushing every loud button on his toy firetruck, the girls are vocal about the delay of dinner, and I am just anxious to make a difference, to make a statement, to grow and to share. Two years seems like such a long time in some ways but in other ways I still feel in the thick of things. I've become busy in the day to day of life and I have craftily avoided major issues that linger and/or have developed. I've decided to quit being so crafty. and so my heart will be more open and vulnerable this month.
Most of you reading this were personally impacted by the premature birth of my son. You prayed for him, you cheered for him, you watched our girls, you provided financially for us, you eagerly looked for updates and celebrated every milestone along the way with us. Others of you have had your own stories of prematurity. I encourage you to take time this month, share your stories. Become educated about prematurity, educate others. Give to the March of Dimes, pray for a preemie family, donate your energy and money to The Ronald Mcdonald House. Read other blogs on the March of Dime website from other preemie parents.
1 in 8 babies will be born premature. This shocks and saddens me. Sit with it and see if it shocks you as well. In America. 1 in 8.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Summer of Fun Tour

I am so excited. Cowboy Jason (aka my little brother) is flying in from Kansas tomorrow. I am spending the weekend with 3 of my best friends, my siblings. The chatter this morning at the Craven house was so fun, full of excitement for tomorrow. The girls have not seen their uncle since January and tomorrow starts the kickoff of a weekend with cousins as well. Savannah calls Jason her favorite buddy, it's the cutest thing. I love the bond they have formed and we miss having him close by although we fully support his eventual move to Florida. If not close to home, why not somewhere warm and beautiful, and not flat, cold, far away Kansas.

We are having a big family party tomorrow. My mom, filled with- my baby boy is coming home excitement, has cooked all of his favorites, probably in overabundance. My father is already planning the drive to Columbus in his own way, which back road are we taking this time Dad? My dad loves his scenic routes. After a big family party tomorrow, my two brothers, my sister and I will be heading to Wild and Wonderful West Virginia. I feel like I should be playing Country Roads already. We have tickets to the Wvu-Syracuse game Saturday and plans to just enjoy the weekend. Mountains, fall trees in all of their beauty, crisp air and sunshine, blue and gold Mountaineers everywhere, I can hardly wait.
I'm so charged to go I think because I have needed this. I've been fortunate to have traveled much this past year. I have labeled it "Christina's Summer of Fun Tour" and extended it into fall. It all started a month or two after my surgery with a promise or a pact with one of my closest friends. Both of us realizing we needed change in our lives, she needing more of a work/family balance and me needing more time investing in myself again. And so a pact was formed to check in, to hold each other accountable and to encourage one another to be the change we need in our own life. I think I stole that quote from somebody but it sounds good. And so in small and large ways I have set out to nurture Christina again. I've been running, writing, traveling, making more time for friends,incorporating my kids in my passions and activities,saying yes to things that excite me and no to things that bog me down. And this weekend will probably be one of the highlights of my year, a year of struggle and loss but punctuated with happy exclamation point moments. And so the Summer of Fun tour continues with much giggling and shenanigans anticipated for this weekend.