One pissed off bi… Curmudgeon.

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One pissed off bi… Curmudgeon.
The female version of curmudgeon? It starts with “B.” You know the rest. And tonight it describes me. I’m not over it yet, and not likely to be tomorrow, so watch out.

Got home from work at 10 pm to find the hedgerow (otherwise described as “ditch and the stuff that grows in it”) along the ballpark on the drive to our house completely razed. Trees, underbrush, everything. Gone. Not to mention the animals that lived there.

I had a relationship with those trees, dammit. I appreciated the way they covered the verdammed chain link that ballparks require. With their help I didn’t have to see the bloody picnic tables that suddenly appeared because the homeowners’ ass (no, that’s not autocorrect) had an extra $300 to spend one year.

And, of course, the bunnies. Anybody who knows me knows about bunnies and my relationship with their halt and their lame.

One of the little ones human activity renders homeless. Or dead.

One of the little ones human activity renders homeless. Or dead.

And the squirrels. The Douglas squirrels our neighborhood has the privilege to house. It’s not widely known, but they’re a protected species.

That means YOU CAN’T CUT DOWN THEIR TREES, PEOPLE. You can’t shoot them with pellet guns. You can’t set your dogs on them. You leave them alone. You enjoy their antics. You’re probably not even supposed to feed them (believe it or not, squirrel feeding is a complicated exercise in getting just the right mix of stuff that won’t screw up their magnesium balance and cause seizures), but I’m not really sure about that one.

Douglas squirrels have a matriarchal society that passes a particular tree from generation to generation. In late summer they shake the pinecones onto your driveways and cars and heads so the seeds will dry in time for winter. I think it’s hilarious. My husband blasphemes and moves his truck. They’re smart little buggers and more than a match for most cats.

Another protected species we’re privileged to have are two of the largest woodpeckers available–the flicker and the pileated. They’re rare, really big, and loud. And we’ve been graced with a couple of them on our property for several years now.

By the time I got to the house I was bawling. Once that was over with I stormed down the street to the homeowner’s ass in question and proceeded to be asslike in return, figuring it was the least I could do after the fact. As is usual in these cases, I toned down my emotion and was met with maddening corporate adultspeak: “Blah-blah-blah-blah-blah.” Like in Peanuts cartoons. “The association” this, and “county regulations” that.

Into which I threw my own bomb. The one about protected species. I’m happy to say it was a stunner. And happier to say there was much backpedalling about no, there won’t be any more “work” done along the edge that borders our acre. The one we’ve been so careful to preserve by having real arborists come in and cull only the trees that are ready to fall, and never more that a few a year. You do it that way and your co-habitants can adjust. You do it in the autumn and babies of all kinds are grown and can get out of the way.

Yes, my husband puts up with me. He shakes his head and gets the work done at the appropriate time of the year. And follows the cat when we know that he knows where a bunny nest is. And prevents what harm he can. We’re not complete vegetarians. Yet. But I can feel it coming.

 Orphans being bunnies… (click to open)

Shabbat: v. 1.0

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Despite really wanting go to synagogue Friday night, I made an informed decision to stay home and try my hand at our very first Shabbat meal. Reduced in scope so as not to overwhelm the spouse. I just stuck to the candle lighting, baking my own challah, and reciting the blessing over it.

What you see below is the aftermath, on our kitchen island. It occurs to me now that I should have memorialized it when first presented on the dining room table, but there isn’t much difference, minus Mad Max, the kitty.

Instead of sweating over the big meal that’s part of making the pause after an ordinary week sacred, I spent time gathering things that might mean something to my husband—he not being particularly interested in this piece of my life. Instead of the usual silver kiddush (blessing) cup, I chose one of his mother’s tea cups. One she brought with them from England nearly 70 years ago. And used one of her tea towels as a challah cover. The business of covering the bread gave me the opportunity to amuse Brian with various stories I’ve read about preserving the bread’s dignity when wine is given pride of place. Or not frightening it with sight of the knife (even though we ended up just tearing off chunks.)

Before all that I mystified him by stuffing a bunch of money in his pockets so he’d have something to put in the tzedakah (charity) box. Which in itself has a story. This box was painstakingly carved by a WWII pilot during his internment in a in a German POW camp. The pilot was a friend of my father-in-law’s who managed to make it back home to England.

Brian’s family has its own stories of awfulness during those years. Not just the bombing, or the fear of having to give their children away for safety’s sake. There were smaller things, just as gut-wrenching. His father was a well-known breeder and judge of budgerigars (parakeets) who managed to import the first English budgies when the family came to the US in 1953. During the war, with all the years of rationing, there wasn’t enough grain for people—let alone birds—prized or not. I’ve just thought of this, and will have to mention it to Brian: his dad was something of a Noah in his own right. The fact that he saved any of this special breed (and brought them over on a boat) is a small miracle in itself.

It’s a strange coincidence, but I spent my youth breeding budgies, long before Brian was ever on my radar. His dad’s deadpan delivery of how he had to “twist the necks” of most of his birds in favor of keeping the younger, stronger, “better” ones alive literally made me sick. I was able to get away before that happened, thank heavens.

My decision not to try for an entire Shabbat meal with all the blessings (in Hebrew, no less) wasn’t simply for Brian’s sake, but for my own. I’m going to have to do this bit by bit so that I’m not overwhelmed. So that I don’t screw it up and get embarrassed and discouraged in this slow creep I’m making back to the roots of my family’s religion. I don’t know how he took it, but I’m pretty sure this little bit didn’t bore him to death. That he didn’t find it a bewildering exercise in religiosity. But I’m not exactly sure what was going on behind his eyes because I wanted to include blessings just for him, as is traditionally done for each participant at the Shabbat meal. I wanted to hold his head in my hands as I said them. But my eyes were so full, I could barely even see to read:

May God instruct the Divine angels to guard you on whatever paths you take. (Psalm 91:11)

And

May Adonai guard your coming and going, now and forever.
(Psalm 121:8)

But I can’t ask him what, if anything, the whole business meant to him because sure as he’s British, the answer will be that deadpanned, “Fine. It was fine.”

EPILOGUE:
I suppose the above requires some explanation. If you’ve known me awhile you’ll be bored by yet another telling, so consider yourselves excused.

I was ridiculously young to have really bad dreams. Pediatricians today would call them night terrors. But no professional was involved as that wasn’t done back then, and I didn’t scream to wake my parents. I couldn’t, because in my dreams I was already dead. I was always running and hiding from men in grey uniforms and tall black boots only to be chased down in the end. When I awoke it was to fire and brick walls all around. I’d be sitting straight up amidst the fire and yet knew I was dead.

I somehow remember this starting when I was about two years old—the time toddlers begin to differentiate from their mothers. Or maybe the bars of the crib around me had something to do with it. I certainly didn’t know then that my grandfather was a German Jew who’d been sent to America in the late 1800’s—one of the eras during which pogroms were common in the region near Austria where he grew up. He was sent away by his forward-thinking parents sometime after turning 13—the Jewish age of majority. He met Anheuser Busch on the boat and was offered a job as the beer-meister’s apprentice. A dutiful son, he turned that opportunity down to join an uncle who owned a small mercantile in Tennessee.

None of this was a topic of conversation within the family until I turned teen-aged and dragged small bits of it out of my mother. My grandfather, Leopold, assimilated and married a nice Presbyterian spinster. They had four children in their 40’s. The first was a boy, born dead. In Tennessee. Can you imagine the talk?

I never met my grandfather. It was years after his death that I developed what my father worried was a morbid fascination with the Holocaust (correctly called the Shoah—catastrophe). I hadn’t told my dad about the dreams because he was a sensitive man, and I worried about him, too. But I read everything I could get my hands on that chronicled Jewish persecution, the camps; even Mein Kampf, Hitler’s biography. By the time I was 8 or 9, I knew what I’d been dreaming about. It wasn’t until I came upon a description of what happens when a body is burned (tendons shorten and the corpse sits upright), paired with a picture of the inside of Treblinka’s brick ovens, that the cold stone of knowledge dropped. Someone, I don’t know who, had managed to share her experience with me.

So perhaps it’s inevitable I’ve spent the last years seeking a spiritual tradition that means something to me, especially as I’ve met mortality in the deaths of my parents, Brian’s parents, and in my own dealings with breast cancer. My father gave me a first understanding of what we call God. I’ve a clear memory of my six-year-old legs beside his long ones, climbing the steps to our Catholic church. Struggling upwards while I asked, “what is God?” All my life I’ve fallen back on his answer: “God is in everything. He is all around us.” I took that literally. And I’ve learned since that the Catholic church considers that view (monism) a heresy.

Well the heck with that. God, our existence, and what happens in death remain mysteries to which none of us have the key. I may not like the not knowing part, but I’m more comfortable believing there’s a power greater than myself that has something to do with our amazing universe than with the nihilism that marked my grief after my parents’ deaths. If a Greater Power is the Big Bang (and even that’s being called into question lately), then so be it. A Big Bang is certainly greater than I.

But I need something personal, something that relates to my inner and outer life. I’ve compared, contrasted, and participated in various Christian sects. Not feeling I belonged even in the Catholic tradition I was born to, I finally contacted a rabbi who’s part of Reconstructionist Judaism–a step to the left of even Reform Judaism. I’m in the midst of my second Judaism 101 class, and beginning to learn Hebrew. There is so much we don’t know, but I know this woman and this community wouldn’t refuse to break bread with non-congregants as did the priest who warned non-Catholics away from Communion at my dad’s funeral. (This guy wasn’t a Jesuit, by the way—they’re smarter than that).

I haven’t completed my conversion yet. I’m frustrated by the length of time that’s required to get there. But it makes a larger sense as my life as a midwife necessarily interrupts the process as one is required to participate in at least a year of Jewish life (festivals, holidays, and community within and without the synagogue), in order to make an informed and complete conversion.

One of the rabbi’s questions to our class is: “How do you feel about joining a persecuted people?” To that my answer is: I’ve been one all my life. First as my mother’s daughter, then as a midwife. What’s a little Judaism? ;-)

Whathaveyou…

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Tra la la.

It’s Christmas.

Solstice.

Hanukkah.

Or whathaveyou, and I’m up at dawn using the few hours before my husband wakes to assemble The Garment That Shall Not Be Named.

This is more difficult than it sounds. My consultants (Joey the Hun and Mama Kitty) find  it necessary to sit on either the fabric or the instructions. You know–instructions. Paper that makes a great crackling noise without really telling you whether to pin things right side together or the other way ‘round. Certainly not before being shredded.

The consultants are assisted by my mother (of blessed memory) who taught me to sew and won’t get out of my head. Hence the basting. And cats tearing off to swat the odd pin under the refrigerator. Mom never did approve of pins.

Nor does she approve of my fabric choice. The newer stuff is of low moral character. She thumbs her cremated nose at my plan to make a warm thing out of fleece and flannel. (Acrylic. Cotton. Mixed media. Read all about it in Leviticus.) With the spouse, emphasis is on warmth. With Mom, and now me (both of us in perpetual menopause), emphasis is on opening windows in the dead of winter.

The only thing in my favor is that the consultants approve of fleece. I bought enough of it to put great folded swaths at either end of the kitchen island where, if they heed my intent, they’ll observe the work in sartorial comfort. This hasn’t yet come to pass, but it’s Advent, and in that season we wait.

Tomorrow the real sewing begins. I get to find out if closing the French doors keeps the sound of the machine from bringing the giftee downstairs at a run. You see, he’s a professional sewing machine fixer and ever alert for the subtle shift in timing that signals stitching disasters yet to come.

Kinda like Superman wielding a bobbin.

Until then, friends…

The new normal? Maybe.

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OK, Colin (you know who you are). I’m back on the midwifery soapbox. Sort of. I got asked to write a blog about water birth for a hospital site. I kept the property rights, so it’s posted below in all its restrained glory.

Yes, I looked for a picture of lemmings leaping to their deaths, but never once mentioned that women in their thousands do not jump into the Bering Sea in the throes of active labor.

Except for those really staunch Russian women who do so in their threes (they were featured on a website years ago). They can probably be  seen across the Bering Strait by that gal who knows how to field dress a moose. She has a bunch of kids–wonder if she’s got “giving birth in the Bering Sea” on her resume.

I’ve been known to remind people (especially people with a medical reason for not being able to have one) that water birth ain’t natural. We haven’t done it for thousands of years and we’re not going back to our roots when we do them. An epidural can be more natural than water birth. (Especially those where they let the baby float around under water for minutes and minutes and hours. Forgive me. I’m just not that groovy.)

But boy oh boy, a tub full of warm water is a great thing for relieving pain if you’re not having an epidural, and when a baby comes out without much fuss (either way) there’s nothing better. Housekeeping thinks so too, as they wash the evidence down the drain. Epidural births happen on the bed, so housekeeping hopes the midwife’s good at mopping up all that stuff.

I’ll never forget the first days of trying to provide a “birth pool” in any of the hospital rooms where women wanted them. A doula (bless her long-suffering heart) would bring in this huge, inflatable tub and start it filling. Hopefully before the baby came or the water heater gave up.

There were plenty of times the water wasn’t ready, or the woman wasn’t ready, or the fitted top didn’t fit and the water got cold. And I’ll never forget the time a woman had a death grip on my hands, her feet braced against the tub, and super-human strength that was going to pull me head-first to my death. Yep, just like a lemming.

To save myself, I sat my butt on the floor, braced my feet against hers through the side of that squishy, ridiculous tub, and congratulated myself on cheating death. Next thing I knew, my pull exceeded her pull, and she and all those hundreds of gallons of water landed in my lap. Nobody drowned, and we were laughing SO hard that the baby flew out. Also into my lap.

I don’t have any kids, but am considered a mother many times over in the Biblical sense because of events like these. If you don’t believe me, just see Genesis 30:3. In the Tanakh Translation the barren Rachel says: “…that she may bear on my knees and that through her I too may have children.” Lovely.

And neither Rachel, her maidservant Bilhah, nor the benighted Leah were concerned with whether or not their babies were born in water. They just wanted them. And wanted them safe. Which is what my blog for the hospital tries to get across in “Waterbirth and Plan C“:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/htjui7t4ue1zkv7/Waterbirthand….pdf

If the stoopid link doesn’t work, go down to the Blogroll at the bottom. It does. Sometimes.

After the sky falls…

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Sooo, after returning to work early-ish following the exchange from skin expanders to implants, I’ve had quite the eventful run of complications. That means I’m sitting here at home again, recovering. Not really feeling inspired to write, but bored to death with feeling bad.

I felt so nearly normal so soon after the implants were placed that I thought I was home free. But one night, I noticed the left breast seemed to be sitting a lot lower than the right. No discomfort, but weird. I got an appointment with the plastic surgeon for the next day, and in the meantime amused myself by writing about Henny Penny and the sky falling, absolutely never suspecting there was a real problem.

OK, so the sky did fall.

While driving myself to Dr. N’s office, the left implant’s pocket started filling with blood & didn’t stop. I could tell something was happening because I felt like I couldn’t breathe on that side. In the rearview mirror I could see a really big bulge over the top of my shirt, near my clavicle. Thank heavens for this fancy hands-free car phone stuff–it let me call home and leave a message for my husband: “Keep your cell phone on–I may need you!”

It’s a blur, but I did get to the office. Dr. N inserted a drain to relieve the pressure and hopefully save the reconstruction on that side. A friend who wasn’t supposed to be at work that day (but heeded the little bird who told her to show up) was available to drive me to the hospital faster than if we’d waited for an ambulance.

After the requisite 8 minutes of chaos, the ER figured out who I was and what to do with me. I was just grateful my friend was willing to stay & hold my hand while I writhed and cursed in and out of consciousness. I cannot adequately describe how it feels when over a liter of blood tries to burst through your skin, so I’ll leave it at that.

I remember thinking they’re just going to let me lay here and die and I’ll never see Brian again. But he’d been called, and soon after the thought, he was there with me, scared to death, too.

All was resolved with a timely return to surgery. Dr. N was suitably impressed by how much blood I’d lost (about 1.5 liters), and happy to have seen the cause of it–one of the little blood vessels that forms during reconstruction was torn & could be seen merrily pumping away. So, that got fixed, a new implant was placed, and I went home the next day with–yes–yet another drain. Not to mention tearful, weak, and pitiful from sudden blood loss.

So relieved to have a husband willing to help with the care and feeding of a PICC line.

So relieved to have a husband willing to help with the care and feeding of a PICC line.

A week goes by uneventfully, tho’ I’m secretly terrified of a repeat. It happened once– who’s to say getting in the shower and washing my hair (as I’d done the morning of my appointment), won’t spring another leak? I’m Catholic. It’s gotta be my fault, right?

So it’s back to Dr. N’s for inspection and to have the drain removed. All seems well until about 5 hours later, when I start feeling achy and warm. That progresses to joints screaming and hot. My temp goes from 101 to 104 within about an hour, and Brian’s making frantic calls to the on-call doc, then Dr. N, then I’m in the car and being carried back to the hospital where I stay for the next few days getting IV antibiotics.

Thank heavens for modern medicine & modern antibiotics. Infection after trauma–surgical or not–is the kind of stuff that killed people when we didn’t have what we’ve got today.

I’m home now getting the antibiotics here, as there’s no oral equivalent of what they need to give me to be sure there won’t be a recurrence. I’ve got what’s called a PICC line–an intravenous catheter that starts in my upper arm and dumps into one of the really big veins near the heart.

So far, each day is a bit better, and I’ve woven for myself an explanatory fiction that makes me less afraid I’ll have another bleed. I can think of the infection as old-fashioned sclerotherapy (therapy that scars) inside that pocket, sealing off any potential little bleeders that might lurk there.

And there’s Dr. N’s assurance that “this never happens.”

Except in one case he had where a woman’s stove electrocuted her.

And me ;-)

Henny Penny’s Got Nothing on Me

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I guess it’s a friend who’s “girls” give us eggs every year that brings to mind a little red hen running in circles, kicking up puffs of dust, as I look at my own girls today. The sky hasn’t fallen, but my left boob certainly has.

Maybe you can kinda see the lowerage of the left breast. The ace wrap between them is certainly evident. This "process" is NOT fun.

Maybe you can kinda see the lowerage of the left breast. The ace wrap between them is certainly evident. This “process” is NOT fun.

I wouldn’t say it’s quite an inch lower than the right, or that the world’s going to end, but I could be convinced.

In medical parlance, the lowerage is maybe a centimeter and a half. Or two. Almost an inch.

The spouse, who has eyed the “new” boobs waay more frequently than the old ones, actually agrees. And my dear friend Peggy who has walked me through the whole process, kindly says “well, maybe the one IS a bit bigger than the other.”

I don’t think it’s bigger, it’s just lower. So (feeling like the world’s worst patient yet again), I call the doc’s office. There’s not a nurse around, but one of the other lovely ladies says, “We want them to relax into their pockets. Does it feel like that’s what’s happening?”

Relax into their pockets? Gloriosky! Whoda thought? And why wasn’t this mentioned before? And why isn’t the right one doing the same thing? Or is it only a matter of time?

The next thing she says is, “Let’s have you come in (like TOMORROW) to make sure nothing odd is going on.” Nothing odd? This is odd in my book. The sky falling is odd too, but I doubt that’s what’s happening. The next thing she says is, “We don’t want the other side to be retracting and pulling up.” OK, the sky IS falling.

“Pulling up” is exactly what the right side feels like it’s doing. The one’s going down (and feels kinda nice), the other’s pulling up, and doesn’t.

So I’ve got specially constructed evening wear (see pic). It consists of a bra I’ve worn for weeks now, a roll of ace wrap in the middle that keeps the implants from cutting into the muscles attached to my sternum, and a pain patch on my skin that maybe works, maybe doesn’t.

This all because of a questionable condition called thoracic outlet syndrome on the right side. Which means the muscles there are overdeveloped, the nerves are compressed, and everything hurts. On that side only. Unless a miracle happens and the implant “falls into its pocket”. Like tomorrow.

I don’t care if my extremely patient doctor thinks I’m a nut when the miracle happens and he sees two perfectly level boobs at my appointment. Just my luck. He’s probably got that little bubble level app on his iPhone to check things out. Or something from his garage. Like the stud finder mentioned in a previous post.

I’ll let y’all know what happens. Henny Penny, too. Maybe she can stop her frantic circling and I can get some rest.

I’m gonna live, so why am I crying…again?

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So I’ve had this marvelous breast reconstruction thanks to a very skilled plastic surgeon (which means despite bruising and surgical tape and drain holes, I’m fine with what I see in the mirror), I don’t have to do chemo or radiation, I’m walking around alive, and yet here I sit in the bathtub, in the grips of yet another crying jag.

Either I’m one ungrateful sod or it’s something else.

A good friend, who also happens to be a psychiatric nurse practitioner with lots of experience in wimmen’s stuff, tells me it’s something else. A panic attack, actually.

How embarrassing.

Which means we’re not just talking about one panic attack. I’ve been having them every time I turn around. Friends have assured me all this crying is normal. I’ve had my breasts cut out, for Pete’s sake. Which sounded right at the beginning of it all–back when illness and survival and a decent reconstruction were still uppermost in my mind.

Well, I’ve admittedly won the lottery as far as all the the above is concerned, but here I sit in my lavender bubble bath, crying my eyes out. Again. For hours. Yes, really, hours. Thank heavens I have a sensible husband who isn’t prone to panic. He just holds me and understands there’s nothing he can fix. At least not this minute.

Given to us by a dear friend and worth reading daily.

Given to us by a dear friend and worth reading daily.

The latest crying jag happened when I got convinced we’d all be homeless because of a $3,500 vet bill–payable right now, before we left the surgeon’s office or it was just a matter of hours before our doggie would be permanently disabled.

On top of a bazillion dollars not covered by own medical insurance. On top of me being off work long enough to run my disability down to zero and put an end to FMLA “protection.” Not to mention the taxes that would be due if we took money out of retirement.

And did I mention the IRS audit? The one that’s turned into two audits? Yeah, I think I mentioned the first one in a previous post.

I’m usually pretty good at ignoring unpleasantness. Even where the IRS is concerned. A trait that drove my mother crazy. She was into unpleasantness in a big way. So another thing fueling the crying jag was my certainty I was morphing into Mom.

Apparently not. My nurse practitioner friend said I needed an antidepressant. Like now. Been there, done that, but never for this particular symptom. And never had it work as quickly as it did it this time. Thanks to whatever powers that be, I haven’t had another crying jag (panic attack?) since.

What upsets me now is the realization that my mom, famous for the aforementioned unpleasantness, never had access to (and would never have accepted), the kind of help available today. It’s unfortunate the term “mental illness” was ever coined. Perhaps just unfortunate it’s used so freely for the kind of help many of us need when life becomes suffering.

Certainly some entities need to be thought of as true illness of the mind. If only so their sufferers can access state aid, have livable housing, and their medical needs met.

But should those of us fortunate enough to recover normal life with therapy and medication be thrown into a pot so discriminatory as to create fear about getting some help? I think not. To do so is irresponsible. And sad.

So I am sad for my poor mother. I think she could have been helped just as I have been. And I am sad for the women I see in clinic who are afraid to accept drugs or therapy when emotions get so awfully out of control.

I can be sad, but even so am feeling daily more able to enjoy the miracle that is life. Come to that, I’m downright happy about having a chest my husband’s not afraid to look at. And I’m not planning more crying jags any time soon, thank you very much.

At least not until the IRS checks in again.

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Things that go soft in the night…

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I can’t stop looking at them. Or touching them. I’d best not go out in public right now for fear of getting arrested for indecent something or other. I can’t believe the difference between my new “real” breasts and the tissue expanders. They’re absolutely beautiful. Even with the bruising. And the surgical tape. And the drains. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Dr. N.

One of his lovely nurses told me they don’t want the implants moving around much just yet, so I have to use this gawdawful mastectomy bra for a couple of weeks. It looks like a girdle. From the 1940s. For breasts.

"Mastectomy Foundation Garment," or:  The Bra From Hell

“Mastectomy Foundation Garment,” or: The Bra From Hell

Well, I negotiated that down to an ace wrap. Much better. Until I noticed it was flattening things out. Back to the mastectomy bra, this time with some spouse assisted modifications–ribbons that tie in the front to keep the velcro from hell closed and off my hypersensitive skin.

And at night? I can sleep on my sides. Well, not just yet. The instructions say a 30° rise should be maintained for awhile, so I’ve got a bed wedge. But I’ve rolled to my sides a few times to test things out. Instead of looking down to see two tangerines poking out from the front of me (separated by a good two inches), I’ve got breasts squishy enough to meet in the middle.

Touch them (which just about everybody in my all-female office has done), and they’re soft. They feel real. They’re actual breasts (or quite the facsimile thereof). Halleluja!.

At least that’s how I feel right now. Hope it lasts.

I’ll letcha know.

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Girl Talk!

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Let’s go back for a moment to my 6th grade class. It’s in one of those bungalows set high above the asphalt so no one but the principal can see inside. If he’s riding a horse.

Thirty six sweaty kids hurry to finish their spelling assignments so the boys can go out for a rousing game of basketball. The girls will stay inside for “Girl Talk!”

When the teacher got her brainstorm and started Girl Talk!, everybody had to get permission slips signed. The boys so they could have an extra hour of PE every week, the girls so they could discuss the mysteries of poo-ber-tee. That’s what Mrs. Forrest called it, anyway. With her face screwed up like she’d got lemons in her mouth.

When she makes the announcement that Tuesday will be Girl Talk! day, the class explodes–boys guffaw, arms flail, they fall off their chairs, and girls giggle themselves to tears.

From This...

From this…

The whole thing was sparked by the observation that some girls were wearing heels far too high for health (it was the go-go boot era), and some had gotten bras. Whether they needed them or not.

This did not describe most of us. Or me. The worst of it was that the girls who talked to the cutest boys (the ones with Donny Osmond hair), were the ones already beginning to “develop.” Like Polaroid film, I guessed. The kind my dad used to shoot pictures of naked ladies before he painted them. I knew all about that. They had breasts, but then they weren’t in sixth grade. The rest of us were. Goofy. With braces and headgear.

The boys elbow and snicker their way through the door as the teacher’s pet, a little thing not four feet tall (she didn’t have go-go boots), stands on a chair and reaches high to write our topic on the blackboard in big, embarrassing letters: Girl Talk! Every third boy in line bends over as he passes, miming a look under her skirt. Thankfully, she had no idea.

The permission slips were bad enough. Everybody saw those, from old Mrs. Ross in the office where they got mimeographed, to the hippie janitor, Fred. And I just knew Mom would tell my dad about “Girl Talk!” No mother-daughter secrets here. No implicit understanding that some things are simply too embarrassing to be borne. And what if she said puberty? To my father?

I was mortified. But utterly fascinated, if truth be told.

What was this business about seeing whether or not a No. 7 pencil would stick under your breast to prove you deserved a bra? What the heck was a cup size? Why, in this upside down world, was it suddenly better to have a “C” than an “A” in anything? And when would I get a waist? I sometimes fiddled with a tape measure, but it just slid down my seat when I followed the directions on a sewing pattern to get a “high hip” measurement.

So far as periods went (I refused to even think men-stroo-a-shun), the idea was frightening. Tentative explorations down there hadn’t yet yielded a vagina. Oh god. Maybe I didn’t have one. Could I ask when we talked about tampons? Would we talk about tampons? And what if I didn’t have one? That would be fine with me, but would Mrs. Forrest send my mother one of her famous notes? Only this time it’s not about refusing to play tetherball, but: “Mrs. Boyle, I’m sorry to say your daughter has no vagina. She is dismissed from class until she gets one.” It’s no surprise we all awaited puberty with angst. Especially me. My mom was going to tell my dad I had no vagina. I suffered agonies.

But waited breathlessly for breasts and bras. Mom insisted I didn’t need a brassiere, and that was the end of that. Of course I didn’t. I was twelve years old and built for speed. And for awhile I was on a swim team. Which only enhanced my metabolism to the point I’d probably never need one. If I’d known then what I know now about the dampening effect of athletics on female development I’d have quit in a minute. I was so desperate I wouldn’t even have minded one of those goofy training bras. They were kind of pretty, though universally sneered at because their cups weren’t sized A through C, but were simple flat discs of stretchy lace.

To this in one semester.

To this in one semester.

I learned later my best friend (whom my mother chose because she got straight A’s and would be a good influence), found the whole discussion so distasteful she decided to divorce herself from it. She stopped eating to get rid of her breasts (Mom was right–my friend was a helluva lot smarter than me). No bras for her, thank you very much. And none of the misery of modeling one in front of her mother. She’d just reverse the process and not be bothered. I saw her years later when she was little more than a shadow, having reversed herself right back to 72 lbs.

I was thirteen when my grandmother came to the rescue. We were shopping and passed a rack of training bras. The flat, cup-less, lacy kind. I couldn’t help but look. Mom didn’t notice, but Nana pulled me back and started thumbing through them. “What about this one?” she asked. “So dainty. And much more modest than being all bare under a shirt.” In a single moment my mother became a convert. Without realizing it–or maybe she did, being a teacher (one of the good ones) from way back–Nana helped the two of us breach a wall that had existed for years.

I don’t know what happened to the friend who was so put off by puberty that she figured a way around it, but her specter haunts me. While I was anxious but enthralled, she was utterly disgusted. A deadly brew when combined with control issues and shame. It’s something I try, try, try, to keep in mind when dealing with women. The younger ones, the ones in the middle, and the ones after that. Each one is a unique individual with her own fears and anxieties, realistic or not.

So I get new breasts (today, September 11, yay!) And when I’m all healed up, I’ll get new bras. Doctor’s orders. And I don’t have to do chemo. I won’t wear underwires ever again. I am one lucky gal. As a fellow blogger said: “See you on the other side!”

(Love and kisses to all of you.)

Empowered Blogger

9/11. Glass half full?

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So I went to the doctor to pick out new breasts. At least I hope they’ll be breasts. Or like breasts. Breast-like will do in a pinch. The things my chest has been hosting are definitely not. And I’ve found some other blogs where women are talking frankly about their breast building “process” (note how I avoid the word “journey”). Damn, they’re brave. I’m just worried. Really, really worried. Some journeys take a lifetime.

Surgery is on 9/11. Anybody got a glass-half-full line for that one?

Ok, beat you to it. I still don’t have to do chemo. This is a very good thing.

So from the get-go I knew saline implants were out of the question. I’ve examined enough women who had those placed during the 90’s moratorium on silicone to know you CAN hear them slosh. And thank G-d silicone is supposed to be lighter, as these saline tissue expanders are heavier than I could have imagined. I’ve lost weight just lugging them around. I even chickened out and had them reduced.

What a world. They’ve got “gummy bear” implants now. Feel like candy, look like pears, but are textured like expanders and scare the heck out of me because they’ve got to be bigger than those are to prevent flippage. You know, that embarrassing condition when your breast turns upside down at dinner. Maybe while serving the spaghetti.

So, I’m gonna go with the old tried & true, half-round, slick model. These are meant to slip and slide and smoosh. Kinda like breasts. As a friend said, “my mind breathes a sigh of relief at the soft ones settling into the space that’s already there. Like real breasts after menopause.”

There is sense in that. It resonates. I can do resonate. I just can’t do journey. At least not the whole thing. At least not right now.