3.31.2011

Untitled

Well I must say it’s been quite a week.

I’d been feeling…well, off, I guess. Just strange. Even for someone with as many issues as I do. Lots of little things that all added up to one big one. After two years without a period, I had several days of menstrual-like cramping mid-January, followed by nothing, no period, not even spotting. Usually a night owl, I found myself tired enough to go to bed at ten o’clock in the evening. The skin on my face, usually clear of acne despite the telangectasia that marks it with tiny red dots, had started breaking out. My breasts were sore like they’d never been. I’d thrown up two nights in a row.

It took me two months to add all of these things together and reach a conclusion greater than the usual “I’m sick.” And still, as I peed on that pink and white stick, I thought that there was no chance that I was going to see that second little pink line. And then, there they were, two parallel pink lines, sure as day.

I can’t even start to relate the sheer number of emotions that ran through my head. I kept looking at myself in the mirror and telling myself that I should really wipe the grin off of my face because this was not good news. Scleroderma and pregnancy do not mix well. Pulmonary hypertension and pregnancy is frequently a killer cocktail – frequently being one-third to one-half of the time. The probability of this pregnancy ending in my death, the baby’s death, or both was astronomical, but there I was, grinning like an idiot in my bathroom mirror.

After I got over my initial reaction, I was just freaked out. I spent the day and the rest of the week reading everything that I could find about pulmonary hypertension and pregnancy: studies, statistics, other women’s stories. BF and I talked about it. Though there wasn’t really a lot to talk about, we talked anyway. About what a huge risk it would be to try to carry out the pregnancy. About how really truly sick I would get. About how poorly I had responded to these same hormones when we had done IVF and I ended up on a ventilator with acute respiratory distress syndrome. About how hard it would be to terminate. About how hard it would be to deal with the death of the baby, of me. It was an incredibly hard decision, but after talking it over, reading all of the literature, speaking to my doctors, we were resolved that the best decision for us was to terminate. This would not be our only shot at having a child that is biologically ours; our six frozen embryos are just waiting for the time to be right. It was going to be hard, but I really felt like this was the best option.

Let me say now that I thought long and hard about writing these words here, and I almost didn’t, but I feel like it’s important for people to hear stories like mine, and important for me to have a place to tell my story. Maybe it’ll help someone to understand a bit better how real decisions like these are, how hard they are, but how necessary it is for women to have the option to make them. I’ve always been pro-choice on the issue of abortion, but I had resolved that I would do all that I could to never have to make that choice. Now, I’m glad that I had the choice, that I wasn’t forced to carry out a pregnancy that could’ve killed or crippled me, that’s could’ve devastated my family. I feel the need to tell this story because though I believe my reasons to be valid there are those who don’t, and there are those that believe that these may be valid reasons, but that women with other reasons, things at stake that are less than death, ought not be afforded the same choice. Honestly, I think that’s bullshit, choice is choice and anything less than choice for every woman is unacceptable. I think my favorite singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco put it beautifully:

"… if you don't like abortion
don't have an abortion
teach your children
how they can avoid them
but don't treat all women
like they are your children

compassion has many faces
many names
and if men can kill
and be decorated instead of blamed
when a woman called upon to mother
can choose to refrain

and contrary to eons
of oldtime religion
your body is your only true cominion
nature is not here to serve you
or at any cost to preserve you
that's just some preacherman's oldtime opinion

life is sacred
life is all so profane
a woman's life
it must be hers to name
let an amendment
put this brutal game to rest
trust women will still take you to their breast
trust women will always do their best
trust that our differences make us stronger, not less"


I’ll stop ranting now. It’s just the first time I’ve had a connection this close to this particular issue and it gets to me that there are actually people out there fighting for me to not have this right.

Once I was sure, though melancholy, about my decision, it ended up being made for me. I went for and ultrasound this morning to determine how far along I was. After searching for it for what seemed like an eternity, they determined that I was about ten weeks along, but they were unable to detect the fetal heartbeat. My body, it seems, had made it’s own decision about how safe this pregnancy was and ended it. I feel only relief and validation. This was not meant to be and that’s okay. We’ll have babies when the time is right. In the next nine months, instead of dealing with what would surely have been a difficult pregnancy and, if I beat all the odds, recovery, I will be completing student teaching and finally become a certified teacher. I will have accomplished a major goal and will go on to new motherhood satisfied with my personal and professional accomplishments. I will be ready and healthy (hoping and praying). I will be all the more grateful for my life and for that of my child given what I’ve gone through and given up to get there.

3.24.2011

Best Vacation Ever

I just had the best vacation ever and fell in love with Puerto Rico.

BF and I had been looking to take a Caribbean vacation. Winter was beating down on us and we were both in need of a world without snow – this winter has been especially irritating on the snow front, with the white stuff covering the ground pretty universally since the first big snowstorm of the season in December that dropped something like two feet on us. We had considered several options, but they were all just too costly to be justifiable.

I happened to mention our predicament to my mom in passing when she alerted me to the fact that my uncle (technically my second cousin, but I’ve always called him my uncle) and his family own a home in Rincón, a surf town on the westernmost part of the island. I was really surprised and understandably overjoyed. What had once been an unattainable $3k vacation had just shrunk to $350 plane tickets and a rental car.

So I got in touch with my second cousin, who said he’d be down there until the 13th of March and that we were welcome anytime before then. So we got our tickets, made all of the necessary arrangements and waited anxiously to leave on February 23rd. We got a great set of flights that allowed us to take full advantage of all eight days we stayed. We left Philadelphia at 7:00 am and got in to San Juan around 10:30 am then drove the two and a half hours across the island to Rincón, getting to the house at just about 2 in the afternoon. On day seven of our trip we left Rincón and drove back to San Juan, stayed there overnight and got a plane back home at 7 in the evening on day eight.

Rincón was beautiful. The barrio we were staying in, Stella, was a nice quiet little town. Not very touristy at all and everything that we wanted to see was within a few minutes of the place we were staying, the beach was a block from the house, the lighthouse was five minutes away, there was a coral reef that we snorkeled out to right near the lighthouse. On the whole it was just a great place to be, and very tourist-friendly despite not being very tourist-oriented. There are US based chain stores all over the place – Walgreen’s, Burger King, Kmart, Costco – and nearly everyone has at least a workable hold on English for those of us who speak all of ten words of Spanish. A couple of days we just hung out at the beach and snorkeled right there. One day we went out to the reef and got to check that out. I was wowed by all of the sea life that was right there, we didn’t have to take a boat out or anything, but I saw all different kinds of fish of different shapes, sizes and vibrant colors and I even saw a conch-like snail thing swimming around outside of its shell. Another day we took a trip up into the mountains, through the jungle. From the top there was an old castle that we climbed up into where you got a panoramic view of the coast, about 30 miles away. It was breathtaking.

The first day in San Juan, we got some lunch at Señor Frogs, which I suppose might be entertaining on a Friday night when everyone’s drinking, but for a Tuesday afternoon is just obnoxious and over-priced, and then we took a walk around the harbor area and checked out all of the little street vendors that pop-up whenever there are cruise ships in port. We had a nice time that day, but we were really in need of some down time, so we spent most of that evening hanging out at the hotel, watching movies, swimming in the oh-so-chilly rooftop pool, and eating junk food.

The next day we took a taxi up the hill to El Morro, a Spanish fort that was first constructed in the 1500’s. After wandering around the fort for the better part of an hour, we made our way down the hill, stopping at various little historic sites – the governor’s mansion, the Catedral San Juan Bautista – and the little shops that dot the city until we finally made our way to the second fort in Old San Juan, Castillo San Cristobal. San Cristobal was a challenge to get to. Well really, the whole vacation was a challenge. I’ve been having a terrible pain in my ankle for about a month now, we’re thinking that it’s a torn ligament at this point. So walking everywhere was pretty painful. It’s swollen and just generally miserable – great way to spend a vacation! Anyway, San Cristobal is at the top of a great big, very steep hill, but it was worth it. It was beautiful and the views were just amazing. We wrapped up our day with coconut ice that was pretty freaking awesome; I could’ve eaten a dozen, and then headed back to our car and on to the airport.

We planned to get to the airport early, have a late lunch/early dinner, and jump right on our flight. Didn’t happen quite that easily. The process of returning the car and getting through security went by far quicker than we anticipated and then we found out that our flight had been delayed by an hour, so the two hours we thought we had to kill had just become more like three and a half. To make matters worse, once through the security gates we discovered that there wasn’t really anywhere to sit down and order a meal, there were a couple of sports bars with a selection of appetizers and an express Dominos. So we got pizza and settled in to read our books. It was a relatively uneventful flight. They screwed up the in-flight movie, so instead of watching The King’s Speech, we got to watch Wallstreet: Money Never Sleeps, which was just bad. I also had my first experience sitting next to a nervous flyer, well, not so much nervous as scared. I first became aware of this as she clutched my sun burnt arm and buried her face in her sweatshirt as we took off. Of course this was repeated when we hit turbulence off the New Jersey coast, and as we landed in Philadelphia, I just said screw it and held her hand. I felt bad. I can’t imagine being that legitimately afraid of flying that I would grab a hold of whatever person was closest to me for comfort.

So that was the end of our adventure. BF says that he could spend every vacation there for the rest of his life and I tend to agree. It was an amazing vacation and I can’t wait to go back.