Five Weeks in Vermont Postpartum

I thought we were crazy. Sure it sounded good, leaving New Orleans when it’s blazing hot to be in Vermont at the B&B (as we affectionately refer to my parent’s home), but packing up a toddler and a 3 month old baby was insane right? My motto with baby #2 was ‘how can I make it easier’? Every decisions from doula to dockatot to k’tan to king sized bed was guided by this and here we were, getting ready to leave this carefully crafted nest of comfort with our two dogs and two kids. Crazy.

I wasn’t even sure we were really going to do it. Every time my aunts checked in about our plans so they could meet us there there I’d remind them that it wasn’t in stone and I had Southwest tickets and it was all depending on how BabyG was doing. She was having some stomach issues that had already led to one late night emergency room visit so I wasn’t keen on leaving our pediatrician in another time zone. But I was trying to stay open to it while really being ready to bail at the first sign of trouble.

But somehow through my anxiety and fears I found myself getting on a plane with baby, toddler, and my Dad while A. started his two day journey with a packed car and our two dogs.

I was a wreck. I think we were both wrecked. We had spent the last two months with two kids on two different disrupted sleep schedules and A. I were like two ships passing in the night, occasionally sleeping in the same bed. It was not a good scene. We were exhausted.

And here I was, on a plane, leaving behind my carefully crafted nest to uproot to my parent’s house, extremely jealous that A. was about to have a night without any kids waking him up and two driving days where he could call friends to catchup or listen to books on tape/music to his heart’s desire. It sounded like heaven.

The first days were hard. Nono wailed that the room at my parent’s “isn’t my roooooooooom” and continued with his middle of the night wake-ups that now required A. to go downstairs and comfort him instead of next door. I started work again and had my baby, toddler, husband, Mom, four dogs, three cats, and a chicken in the background, as well as my Dad, my brother, and my brother’s dog intermittently coming in and out. I hopped off one call with co-workers exclaiming “I think my dog just attacked my Mom’s chicken, I’ve got to go!” (The chicken lost some feathers, but was fine.)

The weeks were carefully scheduled to accommodate my work needs and keep Nono busy since he was out of daycare and they flew by.

Suddenly it was time for my aunts’ visit which had seemed so far away, and then that was over too. Suddenly there weren’t weeks left, but days, and then hours.

And then it was the last full day.

Things had calmed enough for me to reflect on things by the end. The time was incredibly precious because of the family time on multiple levels:

For many family members, it was the first time they got to meet BabyG

For me, it was much needed time with Nono after a tough pregnancy made A. his primary caregiver and then the first couple of months kept me very busy with BabyG. Having Nono out of daycare was exhausting, but it gave me so much time with him after not enough for so long. And he is a hilarious and crazy little kid.

The four of us got to be together so much, when Nono was born A. took a month off after my maternity leave ended and I went back full time to an office. This time I used vacation to go back part time for June and I work remotely so we got to have 5 weeks of all of us together

My parents got to experience the amazing changes that happen in one of the early months with their grandbaby, the BabyG who left was a very different baby than when we arrived and they were there for all of the little moments of progression

My parents gave us support and a safe place to be while we figured out how to become a family of four and we got out of a very difficult period, we arrived a bit of a mess and we left ready to get back to our new lives

We got to reconnect with old friends and spend quality time with new friends. There is a big piece of my heart in Vermont with the friends I have there and the friends there span from childhood to college to San Francisco to in the last couple of years of when we’ve become friends

I spent a very important anniversary there. Five years ago I turned 30 and shortly after was diagnosed with some pretty lame cancer. We’ll never know if it was caused by the rhinestone birthday tiara my Mom gave me (I’ve never worn it since and I’ve never had cancer again, so I think evidence is pretty strong), but we arrived about to embark on a new chapter in our life in New Orleans involving kids and house and careers and instead got a frequent flyer membership to the hospital (just kidding, hospitals don’t give membership perks because the American healthcare system sucks). For my specific special snowflake diagnosis, the two significant anniversaries to reach without recurrence are two years and five years. It meant something to spend my 35th birthday at my parents (I think my Mom finally threw out the tiara) and be there with the family I have now in spite of what happened five years ago.

We’re going back in three weeks for a week. But who’s counting?


They Say You Can’t Go Home Again

I’ve identified with the Thomas Wolfe quote “you can’t go home again” since my little cousin Jessie informed me during the summer after my freshman year of college that my parents were giving my room to my little brother. After I lost my room I never felt the same about being home. 11 years later I can say that this was totally fair and that Luke deserved the much bigger and better room since he’d played second fiddle to room selection his entire life. But anyways, that’s besides the point.

I nested pretty heavily into my rooms at college. I painted one (obviously not a dorm room), and spent hours decorating and finding the right furniture to make them homey. However, I also moved constantly. There’s a point of pride at Dartmouth for those of us that move constantly. Dartmouth is on a trimester system and has summer terms so the “opportunity” to move rooms is pretty substantial. Here’s my Dartmouth/SF living history:

Dartmouth fall ’02-spring ’06
Freshmen year: Dorm all three terms
Freshmen summer: Parent’s house/football frat
Sophomore fall/winter: Dorm
Sophomore spring: Tabard room (the Closet)
Sophomore summer: Tabard room (the President’s room)
Junior fall: Panarchy room (forgot the name)
Junior winter: New Orleans (Anton’s parent’s house)
Junior Spring: Panarchy room (the Realm)
Junior Summer: off campus apartment
Senior fall: Tabard room (Social chair)
Senior winter: NYC apartment
Senior spring: Tabard room (Social Chair)
Senior summer: Parent’s house/Anton’s aunt and uncle’s in NOLA
August ’06-Spring ’07: Geary/Leavenworth apt
Spring ’07-Fall ’08: Hayes Valley apt
Winter ’08-Summer ’10: Lower Haight apt
Summer ’10-Winter ’12: Upper Haight apt
Winter ’12-Spring ’14: Buena Vista Park apt

So in the last 12 years I have had 18 homes. 11 of these have been with A. The crazy thing is I’m not one of those people that’s ambivalent about having a home, it’s actually really important to me and plays a pretty major role on my every day happiness. I love coming home to my space. I can explain the reasoning behind each move, but I never intended to make this many moves.

With so many moves and feeling totally displaced at the beginning of each one, home became where A. was. During those years we also left for two months and traveled around Europe and most recently went to Thailand for a month and then drove cross country. With the physical location being such a temporary thing, A. became my home and feeling of comfort.

The separation of home from my parent’s house and home started that summer after college, but it’s deepened with each year. I feel like a visitor staying in what I considered my brother’s room and then while he was in high school I was constantly missing being part of the family. I mean missing, like I wasn’t there, not that I was yearning to be a part of it from college. I was like most self-absorbed college kids and perfectly happy with my bubble of 18-22 year olds thinking we were all so important and cool. But when I came back to my parent’s house it was clear that I was a visitor, I wasn’t there for the regular family meals, family events, or my brother’s high school accomplishments for the most part. I also had felt like an outsider growing up in Vermont from my tiny grade school to my tiny high school (9 kids in my grade school class and 12 in my high school class) experiences. I tried like hell to fit in, but never really accomplished that and it was rough. In middle school the girl I considered my best friend from daycare wrote me a letter telling me ‘I was too weird to be friends with’. I had similar strike outs with the cool kids in high school. And yes, even with a school that small, there are still cool kids. Having briefly gone to a reasonably sized middle school (over 100 kids in my class), I think that the smaller school is actually much tougher when you don’t fit in than the large school where there’s more people to blend into. For instance, one of the cool girls who was a year older than me had a weekly South Park watching party at her house who she invited most of our soccer team to. See the word “most” and guess if I ever got to go. So every week I’d have to hear how awesome it was from my friends and teammates and because of the tiny size of our school, there wasn’t a social alternative for weirdo me. I watched South Park with my Mom.

Since then I’ve found plenty of fellow weirdos to be friends with and am very secure in my weirdness, but the reason I mention it is that not only did I have the displaced feeling from my parent’s house, but I didn’t exactly have a social world that made me feel like home when I came back to visit. Each year there grew a greater and greater divide. A lot of people I went to school with stayed in Vermont and as we grew up into adults I lost my footing in what to social situation was. I knew where we had all stood in high school, but since I wasn’t home that often in college and then only once a year or so afterwards I missed the social landscape changing as people grew up and changed and got to know each other as adults instead of hormonal teenagers. I also had a hard time letting go of dislike I had for people who had been a dick in high school because we never had any interactions to move past that unlike the people I was friends with that lived in Vermont and got to know them outside of high school. I had a couple of people I kept in touch with and would still try and see, but that could be difficult too when my one trip home was over Christmas and we got a snowstorm so we didn’t end up being able to connect. Each year I felt more and more like a stranger in my hometown even though I still think of myself as Vermonter to the core.

I actually had a couple of nightmares when we were on our way to Vermont to spend the summer because I was worried about how I’d feel being back but being so disconnected from my old life there. It was a weird thing to go from being independent and living in SF for almost 8 years to moving back into my old room in my parent’s house at 30, even if it was just for a couple of months. To go from having my own space to inviting friends over to hangout at my parent’s house. To go from having my own phone to people having to ask my Mom to talk to me because there’s only a landline that works there. It’s weird. It’s also kind of funny. Except for the fact that my parents are not always reliable in passing messages or answering call waiting. That’s enough to make me feel like a frustrated teenager again.

Then my world got turned upside down and two months turned into five and a half. My time in my old room was probably equal to the time I spent in there my whole senior year of high school because of all the time I spent recovering from surgery and chemo in bed. My parent’s house became home again. And leaving home when it’s your parent’s house again is really hard to do.

My room became my cocoon. I felt safe there and comfortable, two things that I sorely needed going through this. My parents and I settled into a hybrid relationship where I was an adult but they were still overprotective. It’s hard not to be overprotective when your kid had cancer, but I still only need my Mom to ask if I’m sure that I don’t want a sweater once. Or not at all. It was nice though too the moments where we all enjoyed each other’s company as adults, like going out to dinner or watching the Voice. Most of us don’t get to go home again and although I would trade it all to not have cancer (seriously, if you thought I was going to say otherwise you’ve watched too many Hallmark movies), I am glad that I got to have this. The two months I was originally going to spend there went by quickly and wasn’t enough to get comfortable. The five and a half months I had there made it home and made us not have to make the time count so much, we could get comfortable and just live. It’s hard to describe, but hopefully you’re following what I’m trying to say.

Leaving was really hard. Even when what you’re heading to is exciting and good, endings are sad. It makes it even sadder because it’s combined with two other things, it’s going to be a few months before I see either of my parents again and I’m used to being able to see them whenever I want, and I can’t imagine that I’ll ever live in Vermont/home again. It’s a big goodbye/ending that I didn’t expect and I’m going mourn it for a bit. The first day I cried in 4 out of 7 states that we drove through and I’m crying now just writing about it. I have no doubt in my mind about our living in New Orleans and i am so excited for our life here, but it doesn’t make it any easier or less sad to say goodbye to my home.

So on that note, call your Mom or Dad and tell them that you love them.


Home, Let Me Come Home

I came home Thursday afternoon. It was a rough journey. There’s a lot of road construction going on between my parent’s house and the highway so we’ve been going over the dirt roads to get to Dartmouth. This obviously wasn’t possible going home because of my fragile state. It’s seriously amazing how many road obstacles there are, like isn’t this hard enough already? Apparently not, so the 15 minute drive to the highway now takes 30-60 minutes just for kicks. Route 107 for the Vermonters out there reading this. Also Bethel, fix your goddamn roads over Lympus.

The very awesome art piece that my former co-worker Linda made for me

The very awesome art piece that my former co-worker Linda made for me

Not sure if I’ve detailed what I’ve got, so here it is to give you an idea of what moving is like for me.

They removed skin and tissue all across my stomach a couple of inches below my belly button and stitched it internally with dissolvable stitches and glued the skin together. This means that my belly is tight and I have to be careful to keep bent a bit so I’m not pulling on it. It also means there’s an incision all the way across it that I need to be careful around. There’s also the drain that goes inside that’s another inch below the incision and has a gauze pad around it to protect it. There’s also barbed wire coming out of my belly button. Ok that’s not true, but my belly button had to be detached and reattached (yeah I didn’t know that could be a thing either) so it’s looking messed up too. The belly incision doesn’t have anything over it, but I’m starting to get used to seeing it. I can’t really wear anything with a waist because I can’t have anything rubbing against it, so I’m living in the very soft robe that someone got me from my registry (thanks Maia for picking it out). The sick/hilarious part is that my stomach is the flattest it’s ever been. If you ignore the tubes coming out of me, scabs, bloody belly button, and bruising: I’m ready for Sports Illustrated.

The other surgical area is under my left arm pit. They did the mastectomy sort of underneath my left breast and all the way to the side. This is great because once I’m healed it won’t be very noticeable. It is also probably better because it it was underneath where the biopsies had been and the tumor was there would be more friction on it. The stomach area is the more sore area because it gets moved any time I move (just like Ludacris said in Stand Up), most of the time the mastectomy area isn’t painful. I also can’t really see it without a mirror. I also have a drain in that area. There’s a lot of bruising and swelling right now so after one look in the mirror, I’m going to pass on doing that for now. The word “frankenboob” comes to mind. Just a little too much for me to take in. However just looking down it looks mostly normal and I’m glad that I decided to do reconstruction with the surgery. I think it would be really hard for me to deal with if I’d decided to wait or not move forward with it. It’s good to have at least one thing that I feel sure about making the right decision on. Also there’s apparently been a little confusion around this so to clarify, they did save my nipple so no tattoos in my future there. That’s all for your nipple updates.

So I’m fragile right now and for the next few weeks at least. The ride home was extra long because we had to go mostly a non highway route to avoid dirt roads which would have really hurt. As it was, all Vermont roads have a fair amount of bumps due to the frost heaves up here. Of course all the big bumps were in the last 15-20min of the trip so I was nice and sore (get it together Pittsfield!). The worst part about all of this was my poor Dad was driving so it was like he was causing me pain (for him, not for me of course). It wasn’t an easy trip for anyone. He also thought I would be excited to be going home, but really I was scared, which deflated the happy mood a bit. Going from having professionals to take care of my every need 24-hours to being an hour away from the hospital is scary. I’m good now though, after I got through the first 24 hours without anything happening things got easier.

My and my bouquet of pirate unicorns from Jeanne

My and my bouquet of pirate unicorns from Jeanne

I managed to get up the stairs without a lot of issue and have been set up in my bedroom since then. I did go downstairs for a bit yesterday because it got too warm up in our room. I also had a solid meltdown yesterday too that had everyone good and freaked out, A. got to come home from being out for a bit to me sobbing in the living room. I am a joy to be around.

Most of the time I have my pain managed, but every now and then it gets bad and it’s hard for me and everyone here. I don’t have anything fast acting so we have to treat it and then just hang in there until things get better which isn’t easy. I also have bad mood swings which I think is a combo of pain, drugs, and the overall situation. I wouldn’t say that I’m dealing with the big picture, I just try and deal with each day so that’s kind of on the back burner. I’m making plans to see a counselor once I’m physically up for the trip back and forth and then I’m hoping they can help me work through things and figure out how to control the mood swings through treatment. Most of the time I’m kind of neutral, but randomly I’ll get really sad or really upset (like sobbing in the living room), then at other times I’ll feel really really good and energetic. I haven’t found any correlation to the drugs or anything else, it would be easier if we knew that at like 6pm I was going to be emo or at 4pm that I was going to be really happy, but no patterns. Just another thing keeping us all on our toes. When I’m feeling good I try to call people because it’s much easier for me to talk to people at these times, when I’m feeling bad I don’t answer the phone, trust me it’s better for both ends. I also try and be really verbal about how much I appreciate and love my Mom, Dad, and Anton when I’m in one of the good cycles. I hope it helps offset the times that are hard on all of us.

A. has been amazing. It’s a lot for him to be taking care of me without the aid of nurses. For example, he gave me a washcloth bath this morning in a chair that probably took a half hour and was super stressful for both of us and painful for me at some points. So about that thing about sponge baths being sexy, when you actually need them they are so not sexy at all, they’re awkward and stressful. It’s a lot of responsibility to take on all this for someone you love and I feel incredibly lucky I have him. I still have anxiety issues of being left alone (thanks again recovery room nurses) so it’s hard for him to be able to take some space even with my Mom and Dad around right now. I can’t imagine doing this without him and in some of the tough times he’s my motivation to do this at all.

One of the questions I have the hardest time is “how are you feeling?” It’s such a complicated question for me and how I’m feeling at that time isn’t really a great insight into how I’m feeling overall. I am feeling in very small ways, better each day. I have more mobility and less pain overall, but at the same time I may have serious pain at some point that’s as bad as it was when I first got home. So I am getting better, but there’s not really an adjective that I can use to describe how I’m doing. I also know it’s hard to talk to someone in my situation without asking it so no harm no foul. Another thing I wanted to address is that I am not going to get better soon. It’s not going to happen. Chemo is going to last for months and then I’ll have another surgery to fix things up after that so I totally appreciate that “get better” sentiment, but getting better soon is just not going to happen. Another tough one for all of us, it’s hard to tell someone to get better next year, but realistically that’s a better time frame for me. Otherwise you’ll have to be more specific like “I hope your belly incision gets better soon” “I hope your belly button doesn’t look like it belongs on Walking Dead soon” “I hope your drains get removed soon”, fun stuff like that.

Today was a good day mentally. There were a couple of tough moments, but overall I’ve been pretty up mentally and not a lot of pain. I also had a few visitors come through which was really great. Seeing people is pretty awesome.

The crayons and coloring books we could use if you come visit me (also from Jeanne)

The crayons and coloring books we could use if you come visit me (also from Jeanne)

Over and out…

Hello 2012

Last year I didn’t make any resolutions. I was wrapping my head around getting married and planning a wedding and felt like setting up any personal goals would be unneeded stress. However, I did manage to get some things done:

  • I started doing yoga and loved it. I’m still struggling with making a commitment to do it often, but it’s something I want to make a more regular part of my life. It’s one of the few things I do where I truly feel like I’m doing something really positive for myself. It makes me feel spiritually lighter and physically better. The week and morning of my wedding I used it to keep calm and carry on.
  • I finally got promoted from account coordinator. After starting at a job that took advantage of me and broke promises and then struggling to break into the industry I wanted to be in, this was the year where I made progress. I have a new goal of where I want to be in the near future, but it felt really good to finally be moving up instead of working to get into the industry.
  • I spent a lot of time with my friends. Not nearly enough, but with my bachelorette party, our wedding, and my college reunion it was really great. I’ve also finally hit that age where my friends are traveling for work or have enough money for a visit and I’m getting to see more people. It’s been really great.
  • I married A. After over 6 years together we promised to spend our lives together in front of our friends and family. It was an amazing day that I really don’t have the words to describe all it meant to me.
  • I went through something really scary with hurricane Irene attacking my hometown and came out of it with a lot of Vermont pride and respect for my family. I’ve never been more proud of my Dad than I have for all he did helping people. It helped me realize what a part of my heart belongs to Vermont and it always will.
  • I spent my first Christmas with A. Normally we spend it with our respective families, but since we spent a lot of time in Vermont for wedding prep and the wedding itself, we spent this Christmas together in New Orleans. I thought I might feel sad and bit left out not spending it with my family, but I felt really good spending it with A. and his family made me feel like a part of their’s.

I am really enjoying not planning a wedding and with my free time I want to work on some things this year:

  • Find a regular way to exercise . Figure out what I like, what I can afford, and commit to it.
  • Be a better friend. Last year was really great seeing everyone and this year I want to spend more time on my friends. Especially without a wedding to distract me.
  • Grow my career. I’m taking an editing class this spring and really working to challenge myself and grow in experience and title.
  • Breathe Easy. I want to let more things go and spend less time being upset or worrying about things.
  • Be happy. I want to spend as much time as I can enjoying my life with A.

(Nichole Drgan Photography 2011)

Happy 2012

DIY Wedding Venues: Pros & Cons

When we decided to get married in Vermont, I really wanted to have our wedding at a DIY location — somewhere we’d bring everything in. My hope was that we’d be able to save money through having it on someone’s land, where they’d let us have the location for free. Vermont is such a beautiful location, where you can get married in the middle of nowhere pretty easily and have all the decoration you need.

A. and I visited over Thanksgiving and were shown a few locations we could use for the wedding. We settled on this one, which was right up the road from my parent’s house, so it was really convenient, as well as beautiful.

Photos Courtesy of Susan Pelletier

There was a perfect place to set up a tent next to the pond, and the driveway was fairly long, so the road wasn’t visible. I was so excited to have such a major decision made, and such a gorgeous location to tie the knot in.

Then came the reality check. Having your wedding at a DIY location means you really have to Do It Yourself, all of it. As I said in a previous blog, I wasn’t able to get a wedding coordinator, so it’s all me. The costs and tasks started to really add up.

You need to bring in bathrooms if you’re having a wedding of more than just a few people (we’re planning on around 100 guests). You probably don’t want the standard blue port-a-pottys  for your event, and the nice ones were about 1k. Then you need a tent (in case it rains, is windy, etc.), tables, chairs (for ceremony and reception), tablecloths, silverware, glasses, plates, lighting, power, etc. With so many pieces that need to come together, it felt like it was going to be as expensive as going to an actual place that does weddings, and also, we’d need someone to coordinate the day before and the day of to make sure everything was set up.

With the majority of our guests coming in from out of town, I wanted to make sure they weren’t being asked to do too much to help the wedding take place. I wanted to be appreciative that they have to spend time and money coming to the wedding by keeping our requests for help to the minimum. I also didn’t want my Dad or Mom stuck with coordinating setup and takedown.  Looking at all the logistics and cost, I realized that while a DIY Vermont wedding would have been beautiful, it just wasn’t practical for us.