Monday, August 4, 2014

A long absence...for a good reason

Oh, goodness, it's been a long time since I posted. I swear it's for a very good reason, though. I have a story to tell, and I'm going to tell it because it was thanks to hearing stories like this that I was able to get through my own experience. This is not a unique story -- plenty of people out there have been through their own version of it -- but it is a story that is often swept under the rug. Because of the almost taboo nature of the subject, I think a lot of people suffer rather unnecessarily. My hope, in telling my tale, is that anyone else out there who is struggling with this same problem will realize that they are not alone, and that a glimmer of hope is not always beyond reach. The story goes a little something like this:

Several years ago, I approached my sister-in-law, then a resident in Obstetrics and Gynecology, about the terrible time I had been having with my periods. This is something that I have suffered with my entire post-pubescent life. I have had dreadful irregularity, which has included having a period for weeks at a time, having a week off, then starting up again, as well as being in so much pain that I couldn't get out of bed. (I should mention that I am not generally much of a wuss about discomfort. I was back doing archaeological fieldwork less than a month after major abdominal surgery, just as an example.) I had been to doctors about this problem before, and most had patted me on the head and told me to take a Midol. My fabulous sister-in-law, however, said "That just isn't right," and arranged for me to see one of the doctors she studied under at the local University hospital. This doctor asked me loads of questions, ran some tests, and listened to my concerns over the fact that nothing had happened after 2 years of trying to conceive. She concluded that endometriosis was the likely culprit, and that a simple surgery would probably correct a lot of these problems, so I went ahead and scheduled the procedure.

Surgery day came, and I was wheeled off to the operating room in the hopes of waking up to a whole new comfortable world, and to the possibility of being able to get pregnant. When I woke up, however, I was given some slightly disheartening news. Years ago, I had lost an ovary and fallopian tube as the result of a cyst that caused ovarian torsion. Because of the fact that I was starting at a slight disadvantage when it comes to conceiving, the surgeons decided to check out my remaining parts in order to ensure that everything was in good working order. What they discovered was that my remaining fallopian tube was blocked. It appeared to be a blockage at the end where it enters the uterus, and so I was given a very positive prognosis. A simple procedure should have been able to open up the tube for me.

I was sent off to a reproductive endocrinology (RE) specialist who told me that, if the blockage was where the other doctors had thought it was, it would be an easy (although not permanent) fix. She said that, once the tube was opened up, I would have a good 6 months or so to try to get pregnant before it likely would close up again. In an effort to make sure that everything else was functioning before we tried opening the tube, my RE doctor put me through a battery of tests to make sure my hormones were working properly and that I had a good egg supply left to work with. Long story short: they were not, and I did not. Based on the results of my test, I was looking at an early onset of menopause. My egg quality had diminished substantially, and I did not seem to be producing eggs reliably. Any hope of becoming pregnant was beginning to fade, but was not entirely lost.

The option to open the tube was still a viable one -- there was, after all, a chance that a good egg would make it through -- so I scheduled the HSG procedure (hysterosalpingogram). This procedure involves injecting a dye (contrast material) into the uterus and then observing the path of the dye with a steady X-ray beam. (Incidentally, this procedure is NOT comfortable, no matter how much Advil they tell you to take! But it's not a long-lasting pain.) I watched the procedure on the X-ray monitor. My doctor showed me where the various structures were, and explained to me what she was seeing. In my case, there was only the very faintest trace of dye in the fallopian tube. It looked like fine, hair-like smudges in a couple of spots along the tube. This indicated that the blockage was not just at the proximal end. Instead, the tube was almost completely blocked along its entire length, making it un-fixable. My heart dropped at this news.

My doctor presented me with one last option: I could try injectable fertility drugs (hCG), which force the ovary to produce many eggs per cycle, in the hopes that one might find its way through the tube. After my first cycle, my RE performed an ultrasound and discovered that I had produced a small handful of eggs -- about four, if I remember correctly. This was not terribly encouraging. When women are injected during IVF cycles, doctors like to see more on the order of ten eggs. We had no luck with that first cycle of injections, so we tried again the next month, with a much higher dosage of the hormone. At the end of this second cycle, despite my dosage having been increased to the maximum, I produced even fewer eggs. This was not good news. My ovary appeared to be shutting down. My doctor sat down with us to discuss our options. Because of my lack of response to the fertility drugs, I was not a good candidate for IVF, nor was there much point in continuing the injections in the hopes of conceiving the "good ol' fashioned way." I was given a less-than-2% chance of ever being able to conceive naturally and the doctor said that, if I ever did manage it, the blockage in the fallopian tube would almost certainly cause an ectopic pregnancy that would have to be terminated. Our remaining options: embryo adoption, egg donation, or traditional adoption. Being a starving student, all of these options were, at least for the moment, out of our reach.

My husband and I grieved for a time, and then decided that we had done all we could do. We began to study adoption procedures, and we looked into taking classes so that, if we were eventually in a financial position to do so, we could pursue adoption. This was at the end of 2012.

In mid-February, 2013, friends of ours asked us out to dinner to announce their pregnancy. I was very happy for them, but our sad news from a few months before was still a bit raw, so the evening was rather bittersweet. I mentioned to the mommy-to-be that I was excited to eat some real food again, as I had been feeling really nauseated for about a week-and-a-half. I had no appetite, and nothing was sitting right. Perhaps I was just overly aware after news of our friends' pregnancy, but I started to think: I had been nauseated for most of two weeks, and I had been feeling very tired. I decided, on a whim, to take a pregnancy test....

...and there was a line! I was in complete shock, so I called my sister-in-law (the OBGYN). She told me to call my RE right away. If I was, in fact, pregnant, I would have to be checked out immediately, in case the pregnancy was ectopic. After what seemed like an interminable wait, my doctor called me with the results: I was pregnant! Based on the date of my last period, I was just barely pregnant -- around 4 weeks or so. My hCG levels were very high, though, for being so early in the pregnancy, so either my calculations were off, or I was pregnant with twins. (Spoiler alert: it was not twins. Phew!)

I went in for an ultrasound, to see if the embryo was in the right place, and it was. This little "bean" had made it through the tube, and had attached itself perfectly. I was measuring at 6 weeks, which was odd, considering that the date of my last period meant that I should be 4 weeks along. Regardless, I was PREGNANT!!! My elation was short-lived, though, as the doctor became concerned that she saw no movement or heartbeat. It turned out that my last "period" was actually the scary kind of bleeding that indicates a problem with the pregnancy. I was actually 8 weeks along, and had lost the pregnancy at 6 weeks. People who hear this story are always very sympathetic and sad over the loss of this pregnancy. I remind them, though, that, while it was a little heartbreaking in the moment, it was actually really good news. Contrary to all the medical opinions I had received, it was possible for me to get pregnant. And now that we knew that, my RE could help us with our baby-making schedule, and could provide the appropriate hormonal support.

So, after having to take Misoprostol to deal with the missed miscarriage, we started trying to conceive, with the help of my fabulous doctor. I'll skip past all the remaining gory details and just tell you that, on June 19, 2013, this happened:



and then, over time, this happened:



with a little of this along the way:






 and then, finally, THIS happened:




We welcomed our beautiful, healthy little boy on February 27 of this year. He is now a beautiful, healthy, active, sweet, and hilarious little boy of 5 months. I was sick as a dog the whole pregnancy, gave them a couple of scares at the end, and had a long and somewhat difficult delivery...and I would do it all over again to get to meet this little fellow! I am still completely stunned by how things worked out. I thank my lucky stars every day, and I thank that first little "bean" who didn't make it. Whoever he or she was did a wonderful thing, I think, and got my "oven" all ready to bake an amazing little boy.

I am so grateful for the help and support of my doctors, family, and friends throughout this whole ordeal. It has been a definite test of my mettle, and of mine and my husband's strength as a couple. I couldn't have survived the last several years without my husband's constant love and support. Even when things were at their darkest, he was able to lift me up, and to remind me that not all was lost and that things have a way of working out.

So, to any of you out there who are struggling with similar issues, I encourage you not to give up. I know this same story won't happen for everyone, but if you can manage to cling to a little glimmer of hope, you never know what might happen. I think, for me, relaxing after accepting that pregnancy was not in the cards, as well as the effects of what we thought was an unsuccessful medical procedure, were the keys to our success. To all you ladies who are struggling, I wish you all the best of luck and encourage you to remember that you're not alone. We're all cheering for you (including Baby O)!


Friday, April 5, 2013

Meat

A couple of days ago, CW and I did something we haven't done for a while: we went to his uncle's place to butcher some hogs and make sausage. Last time we did this (and the first time I had ever done it) was just a few months before we were married. It turned out to be the best investment ever -- the purchase of a pig, plus a solid day's work, and we had pork for the year!

The last time we did it we reserved a fair bit of the meat for cooking as-is -- i.e., we saved pork shoulders and hams, and made only the leftover scraps into Italian and Polish sausage. We ended up loving the sausage so much that we vowed to make almost everything, save the loins, tenderloins, and ribs, into sausage.

Thank you, lovely piggies!

We met our pigs in the morning. They had been raised as show pigs, but didn't quite make the cut, so the farmer sold them off. They were lovely animals that obviously had been very well cared for. The time they spent at Uncle D's place seemed quite enjoyable for them, as they had the run of a huge pen, and seemed to have a whole lot of fun playing with the dog. I am very thankful to them (especially the one on the right, who was our pig) for providing us with food for probably the next year or so.

After we got them butchered, we trimmed up the pieces of meat, kept a few pieces for cooking as-is, and ground up the rest for sausage. I made a batch of Italian sausage, as well as two different Kielbasa recipes. We left the Italian sausage fresh, but smoked the two batches of Polish sausage. We put the sausages into the smoker at about 7:30 p.m., waited for the temperature to reach a certain point, then checked the smoker every hour until the internal temperature of the sausage reached the "golden point." That took us until 2:30 in the morning. We got started at 8:00 a.m., and a mere 17.5 hours later we ended up with about 65 pounds of sausage, 25 lbs of loins (pork chops!), two tenderloins, and two racks of ribs.

Piles of sausage, all smoked and ready for packaging.
We got home the next day and had to start packing up all our meat. We now have a freezer full of packets of pork!

Our chest freezer, half way full, and waiting for the rest that was freezing in the upright chest freezer.
We have company staying with us for the weekend, so we decided it would be an appropriate occasion for grilling up a rack of ribs.

Ribs, all ready to steam.
We got instructions, from one of CW's co-workers who used to be a chef, for cooking up a batch of ribs. We used a method that involved steaming them in the oven on a broiler rack, then finishing them on the grill.

All rubbed and ready to grill.
We decided to try a Memphis-style dry rub on these. I whipped up a batch that had brown sugar, paprika, garlic powder, cumin, oregano, cayenne, salt and pepper. It smelled fantastic and tasted even better!

Our "let's make some ribs" idea quickly turned into a "let's make a Southern feast" scheme. So, we cooked up some turnip greens and baked beans, along with baked potatoes and a salad. It was AMAZING, if I may say so myself! Everyone at the table was very quiet through the whole dinner, and ended up covered in barbecue (I had dry rub on my elbows at the end of it all). I took that as a good sign!

A feast!
I have no idea how my skinny husband can eat like this and stay so skinny. For me, it's a very good thing that this is a once-in-a-blue-moon kind of meal! It was incredible, though, and I look forward to trying the next selection from the pork smorgasbord!

CW's plate. That's a lotta ribs!


Monday, April 1, 2013

Wrasslin' with MS Word

Oh, what a morning that has been. Thanks to a simple idea and the good ol' internet, I learned something new in MS Word today. I have been polishing up my "Materials" chapter in preparation for submission, and I decided I wanted to include a nice graphical display of my Dust Cave chipped stone typological scheme. I have never done anything before that I felt required the use of the Smart Art Graphics function, but today I had the chance to learn it. I found a hierarchical scheme that worked beautifully for what I wanted. My only criticism is that there does not seem to be a way to get rid of the fancy little shadows behind the text boxes. I picked the most toned-down variation I could find, so that the "doodads" didn't overwhelm the information. Just a word to the wise, software developers: sometimes all we consumers want is SIMPLICITY!

I never feel like I am the most computer-savvy person on the planet (I can handle Office and all its applications, some statistical software packages, photo editing software, and I am well-versed in the use of the ol' "interweb"), so I was quite proud of myself that this turned out so nicely...although I can only claim so much credit. I think it looks quite professional -- much better than having to cobble something together with the "draw line" function like I used to do! So here it is, for your viewing (and archaeological education) pleasure:

Dust Cave Chipped Stone Typology

(I have no idea if the resolution is good enough in this little picture to actually be able to see what's printed in those boxes, but I still think it looks pretty! Well, just checked it out and, NOPE, can't see any of those words. Ah well, you get the idea. If you're desperate to know how I divided up the collection, you'll just have to read my tome when I'm finished with it. Bet you can't wait -- haha!)

This scheme is adapted from Andrefsky (2005), Odell (2003), and Driskell et al.'s (in press) typology for the Townsend Archaeological Project.

References
Andrefsky, William Jr. (2005) Lithics: Macroscopic Approaches to Analysis (Cambridge Manuals in Archaeology). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Odell, George H. (2003) Lithic Analysis (Manuals in Archaeological Method, Theory and Technique). Springer, New York.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Proper "Lady Scientist"

Well, it has happened: the ol' dissertation has pushed my eyeballs past their limit. I had an eye appointment and the doctor suggested I invest in a pair of those over-the-counter reading glasses you can buy to give my eyes a little break. CW is excited because, as he has  told me on many occasions, he thinks I would "look adorable in glasses." I'm excited because my head is already starting to hurt less from the eye strain, and everything I read is a whole lot clearer!

So, here I am in my new specs, doing my very best "I'm a scientist" impression. Note the tell-tale characteristics: hair up in a bun; expression of deep contemplation; and the absolutely defining characteristic of the elusive North American Lady Scientist Grad Student -- the (Halloween) pencil in the hair! (That's how you know I'm bona fide!)


Hope CW likes them!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Garden Therapy

Hello again! I know it's been a while since I've written anything, but we have had....well, let's just say we've had a whirlwind few weeks at our house. Things have settled down, at least a bit, and I feel like I am easing back into my comfortable routine.

Somehow, in the middle of all the craziness, I have managed to keep writing up a storm. I submitted a gigantic (60 page) chapter all about my theoretical perspectives, and am now putting the finishing touches on my "Materials" chapter. I have spent the last few days reviewing my typological scheme and my artifact descriptions, and am currently writing up projectile point descriptions. This will certainly clinch my position as Queen of the Nerds to admit this, but I really like working on and studying artifact descriptions. It makes me feel like a much less jock-like version of one of those people who can rhyme off baseball stats. "Benton Stemmed: 5500-3000 BP; bifacial stem beveling; flattened hexagonal stem cross-section; parallel-oblique flaking." Yeah, I didn't make myself sound any cooler there, did I?

I don't normally mind putting my nose to the grindstone and writing hard on a Saturday, but when that Saturday is the first warm and sunny one in a long, long while, it becomes very difficult to remain focused and motivated! I had a peek at the garden yesterday, and saw that things were beginning to sprout...including the weeds. Well, I finally couldn't take it any more today. I decided, once I had gotten a certain amount of work finished, that I would reward myself with a wee putter in the garden.

Rather than tackle the monstrous amount of work that the flower beds are guaranteed to be, I decided to tackle a much smaller project: the raised vegetable beds at the side of our house. We put a couple in last year to see if we would have any luck with them. They were brilliant, and we're thinking of constructing a couple more for this season.

The raised beds still had the remains of tomato and pepper plants in them from the fall, so I pulled up the tomato cages and yanked all the veggie skeletons out. I cleared out around the strawberry plants (which were unscathed after the winter), and cleaned up the oregano. I think I may need to move that oregano out of the bed, into its own pot, as it seems poised to take over the entire veggie garden! It did quite well for itself last year.


Martin Scorsese, to whom the furry backside in the above photo belongs, was in heaven today while I was out in the garden! I don't think he quite understood the activities in which I was engaging, but he seemed quite convinced that, whatever I was doing, I was doing it purely for his entertainment. He is always a very big "help" when I garden.

He was extra "helpful" as I was trying to take a picture of one of my happy little crocuses. It took a few tries, and a lot of nudging Mr. Helpful out of the way, before I got a shot that was actually in focus! These little beauties make me so happy!


The next job will be to tackle the flower beds. I have some plants (hostas, heucheras, and a black-eyed Susan) that all need to be split this year. And I believe a little reorganization/redesign might be in order. All in good time...

In the meantime, I am (im)patiently awaiting the arrival of spring. That veggie garden needs to get filled up, the porch needs cleaning/pressure washing/painting, the planters need filling, and the garden needs some TLC.

The sun is setting, so back to the artifact descriptions I go.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful Valentine's Day! We don't tend to be terribly invested in Valentine's Day around our house -- I'm not the kind of lady who wants expensive bouquets of flowers or fine jewels. But we do often take the opportunity to spend a nice day together if our schedules allow, and to make a yummy dinner. This year, though, I got inspired and had a lot of fun putting together a very fun Valentine's gift for my sweetie! As part of this gift, I decided to make CW a really nerdy card (sometimes I just overflow with nerdiness! Also, it felt appropriate, seeing as Tuesday was Darwin's birthday.)


We also made a really yummy breakfast -- Ranchero Breakfast Tostadas with black bean mash, egg, and avocado. I found the recipe on the Bon App├ętit website, via Pinterest. It comes Sara Forte's "The Sprouted Kitchen" cookbook (http://www.bonappetit.com/blogsandforums/blogs/badaily/2012/09/breakfast-tostadas-sprouted-ki.html). It is a delicious concoction -- a blend of fabulous flavors! And, to top it all off, it was incredibly simple to put together.


It's been a good day so far -- and it's not over yet! On tonight's menu: restaurant-style top sirloin steaks, pan-seared brussels sprouts...and, for dessert, dark chocolate mousse! All of this means that tomorrow's menu will consist of: coffee, with a side of celery; celery sandwich; and grilled celery!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Acculturation

Yesterday was a big day around here. My father-in-law's 60th birthday is coming up, so we held a celebration, which involved lots of family and lots of pie! He's a big fan of pie, so we baked up a variety of kinds and had a nice little get-together with the whole crew. (I made a key lime pie and a mixed berry crumble pie -- delicious, if I may say so myself!) Having gotten up bright and early to start baking, and having been in party mode all day, I was exhausted last night. CW and I had a nice lie-in this morning, and when I finally rolled myself out of bed, I was determined to keep today a low-key day. So, I put the makings for a vegetable soup into the Crock Pot (or, what I like to call "My Personal Chef") and just let it stew for the day.

When it got to be supper time, I decided that we needed some cornbread to eat with the soup, so I whipped up a batch in my well-loved, kind of ancient cast iron skillet. While it was cooking, I brewed a batch of "sweet tea" (AKA "iced tea"). I realized that I have been down here in the South long enough that I am beginning to "acculturate." Making tea and cornbread seemed like a perfectly natural accompaniment for the soup -- there was no question in my mind that meal demanded it. Cornbread was a rarity to me growing up, especially the kind that they make here in the South. I am fairly sure I had some version of it as a kid, but mostly when I used to think of cornbread I thought of a kind of round loaf we used to buy that happened to contain some cornmeal. It was bubbly and chewy, but more like loaf of artisan sandwich bread than the soft, crumbly skillet bread that is made down here.

I was plenty familiar with tea growing up, but to me "tea" is hot tea, served with milk and sugar. If you ask for tea down here, you will be given a tall glass of incredibly saccharine clear black tea served over ice. I'm still not quite Southern enough to drink proper "sweet tea," which is sweet enough that it sets my teeth on edge! But a tall glass of not-too-sweet tea is an incredibly refreshing drink, and I have developed quite a liking for it.

The whole point of this story is that it is amazing to me how quickly you can reorder your "world view" and become used to a different way of doing things and a new sense of "normal". I'm still a Canuck at heart, but after nearly 8 years, and many batches of cornbread and glasses of sweet tea (oh, and the best barbecue I've ever tasted), I feel like I can begin to call myself a Southerner-in-the-making. This dual sense of identity is a nice feeling -- the anthropologist in me loves it!