curve ball

The Day Before

A notion on my mind in recent months has been the feeling of that moment when your entire universe changes, particularly those occasions when it happens with no warning.  I also can't stop thinking about the hours and days right before that moment...the time when you had no idea what was about to happen to you.  Unfortunately, many of those moments involve something terrifying or otherwise negative, but sometimes they are also created by events that are wildly positive.  Maybe you find out something shocking about someone you love, or maybe a beloved pet is harmed unexpectedly.  Maybe marriage was proposed when you did not expect it.  Perhaps there is bad news about your health, or you are victimized by one of the many severe weather events that seem to come more frequently now.  Maybe, just maybe, your baby arrives a month early, but still completely healthy.  Suddenly, your entire point of view has been altered, and other problems which loomed prior to said event become minor; correctly repositioned in the grand scheme of things.

For my husband and I, the unexpected early termination of a work contract which we understood to be much longer-term was a time like that earlier this year.  What I sometimes thought about in the weeks after it happened were the hours and days before he came home with that news.  One minute I was having a normal day, and the next minute we were discussing a new contract which would likely take him overseas for four weeks at a time.  Certainly a new work contract was not a tragedy, and in fact an overseas rotation lifestyle was something about which we had already been curious, but coming hot on the heels of the slightly surprising pregnancy and the purchase of a new house, it was a monumental moment.  And still, my mind goes back to those moments before he came home...those moments when the biggest challenge I was facing that week was a little bit of morning sickness.

Also recently I was thinking of Calgary; a place where we lived for a year and a half and a place where those who know me well know that I was not happy.  However, I am aware that my unhappiness was (mostly) not the fault of Calgary, and regardless of how I felt when I was there, I would never wish on a place what they must be going through now in light of the recent floods.  Our old neighborhood, along with the entire downtown, was evacuated.  We even saw the home that we rented on one of the photos of the local newspaper website.  The street was underwater up to our front step, which means our parking garage was most certainly underwater and it is likely that all of the items in our storage unit would have been ruined, not to mention possibly our car.

Most recently another curve ball had me reflecting on the day before everything changed.  Thirteen days ago, our son was born.  Four weeks early, and with no warning.  One day I was having lunch with my girlfriend, very uncomfortable physically, but not understanding that I was sick, and the next day I was going straight from a routine doctor appointment to the hospital to have labor induced and deliver our baby.  My blood pressure had skyrocketed, a condition known as pregnancy-induced hypertension, or preeclampsia.  My body was treating the baby as a foreign invader to be attacked and the only way to treat that condition is to deliver the baby.  We were lucky in more than one way: my husband was home from Indonesia; he had arrived two days prior after a six-week absence.  Also lucky was the hearty condition of our little preemie; while only thirty-five and half weeks, at six and a half pounds, he was large and developed enough to pass all of the tests and avoid the need for any medical support for his new life outside the womb.  As it turned out, I was the one in need of support.  The first week of his life, the three of us lived in the hospital, learning from doctors and nurses how to care for our baby and becoming intimately familiar with what happens if your blood pressure is not behaving as it should.

The day before he came, I knew that I did not feel well, but I had no idea what it was going to feel like to be a mom.  I'm still learning about that feeling, but the funny thing about the way you feel the day before is that it becomes foggy and hard to remember.  The new reality of your next day: scary, wonderful, dangerous, exhilarating; will remain a part of your story forever.  You won't go back to before and you will only understand your life in its new and more vivid context.  I can't imagine not yet knowing our son even though we were not supposed to have met him for another two weeks.  I can barely remember the fears and concerns that I used to have about parenting; we have already been so lucky so many times that it seems the only thing to do is to notice each day as it unfolds and to be grateful for the simple day-before moments.

Curve Ball Trifecta

I'm pregnant.  Finally, I'm saying out loud what's really on my mind and what has been on my mind for six weeks now.  Technically, we should wait even longer to spill the beans, but since this situation colors my thoughts on most other situations lately, it's been very hard to keep quiet.  Also, often things do not feel real to me until I put them in writing (possibly the result of a liberal arts education?), and while my body gives me significant clues that this is real, it still seems murky and far-fetched.

It has been a season of surprises, pretty big ones.  We shouldn't have been completely surprised by the pregnancy, since we are people who paid attention in health class back in the day, but still.  I just never thought that I would be one of those people who would basically think about pregnancy and then become pregnant five seconds later.  So that was our first surprise, just before Christmas.

The second surprise was not so positive, but realistically, we also should have been more prepared for it.  My husband's consulting contract was cut short sooner than planned, due to a drop in business volume for his projects.  While we always knew about this aspect of consulting, it was disconcerting to have it happen just now, with only a few mortgage payments made and a baby brewing.  We will be fine, but it definitely feels like a slap on the wrist for getting too comfortable.  This bit of news has again raised the possibility of my husband working an overseas rotation, which is something we originally considered when he took up consulting.  So that definitely adds a new flavor both to life in Houston, to married life in general, and to parenthood.  Nonetheless, the shock of all of this is wearing off and we are noticed that we are fine and still standing.  We have re-organized life and made some plans B and C, as humans do.  Who knows, maybe things will become even better than before.  That's the cool part about curve balls.

The surprise trifecta was completed for me this week, with a more positive curve ball.  I was unexpectedly contacted, subsequently interviewed and then even hired, in rapid succession, for a position to which I applied to last spring.  At the time, there were no openings, but now it seems there are.  The position is called relocation consultant.  I will be a person who helps people and their families get settled once they are transferred here for work.  The hours will vary, from quiet to busy, and not always be predictable.  I think that aspect will be hard, but it also suits me.  I find my adult life a bit unpredictable, particularly since my marriage, which is something that I fought for a long time, but also is something which I am working to embrace now.  So maybe this will help me continue to build that capacity.  

I still want to leave space for the exploration of a sewing and design future, but have been hoping to find a way to earn money by using my other skills in the meantime.  I love sewing and craft, but I am unsure if it represents my professional future.  I have been worried about being out of the work force, both on a personal, skill-building level and on a life-security level (see surprise two, above).  All in all, this seems like something I should try, and I'm ready for it.  The main downside, trivial but real, is that I suddenly need a business-casual maternity wardrobe, exactly when my regular clothes are becoming impossible to wear.  My brief exploration of what is available has already indicated a huge discrepancy between sustainable clothing creation and the maternity clothing market.  But more on that later.

So, just like that, in the span of a few packed months, my universe is again rearranged.  

New Skirt and New Life

Many people close to me have heard me go on and on about my love for the work of Alabama Chanin, a company which not only creates beautiful couture garments using earth and people-friendly methodology, but also open sources their methods so that people who enjoy the making process, or want to get the look without the price tag, can still wear their uniquely Southern and feminine styles.

I recently completed my third Alabama Chanin garment, and I have been very happy with it so far.  It is longer than I expected, and also a little bit roomier than I expected.  This turns out to be a fabulous for me, since I also recently learned that I am pregnant.  The comfy, stretchy waistband is turning out to be exactly what I need, since slowly, one pair at a time, my pants no longer comfortably fasten.  More on that later, but in the meantime, here's the skirt:


Barn + Moon

Every twelve to sixteen months, I experience a period of extreme intermittent head pain, in the form of cluster headaches.  The period lasts four to six weeks, and during that time I generally experience between one and three attacks a day.  Normally they strike about an hour after going to sleep and/or in the wee early hours of morning.  Another dangerous time is the late afternoon.

Attacks strike with little warning.  In the space of minutes, I shift from feeling and looking normal, to being unable to comfortably talk, eat, drive or focus on anything in particular.  My face goes pale, and my right eye gets watery and puffy.  It feels as though an ice pick is going through the right side of the front of my head.  Most cluster periods pass with me only missing a day or two of school or work, but many other areas of life are affected.

My husband experiences the greatest fallout from this month of unrest.  Almost every night, there is me getting up from bed, taking medicine, wincing, and fetching an ice pack.  The medicine often works within fifteen to thirty minutes, but sometimes, especially after two or three weeks, the pain does not respond to the medicine, or the attack does not completely subside.  During these times, I try to go elsewhere in the house so as to not wake him with my whimpering and rocking.  I have never heard him complain about any of this.

Many foods do not appeal to me during this time. Exercise is dicey, and can either abort or provoke an attack, although mostly it provokes.  Alcohol is off limits, and only very controlled caffeine feels ok for me.  Bright lights and sounds can be painful (similar to to a migraine experience, I'm told), so I can't really watch movies and even restaurants, malls, or bars can be uncomfortable.   Friends have driven me home, or held my hand during an attack.  Once, during my second year of teaching, my mom had to pick me up from work, because I could not finish teaching or drive myself home.

I try not to look for special favors from anyone, but it is necessary to warn employers, professors and co-workers.  Once I had an attack during a team-taught ESL math course at a high school.  My co-teacher took over, and I hid behind a lab table on the floor in the back of the room and waited for the medicine to work.  She was such a fantastic teacher that the students hardly noticed.  Another time, a professor went on the hunt for ice, so that I could remain at school and not miss the several hours of workshop time ahead of us.

In the effort to reduce the frequency of the cluster periods, the number of cluster attacks, and the intensity of the attack pain, I have tried every thing I could think of or learn about.  I once went a year and a half without sugar, caffeine and chocolate.  I have altered my sleeping habits.  I have applied water mixed with cayenne powder to my nostril.  I have had cocktails during a bout, knowing full well an attack would come immediately, and then just taken the medicine and carried on with the party (that was during university, when it seemed a huge tragedy to have to abstain during a fun event).  I have crept into the freezer in the home of my friend, looking for an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables because I was caught on a trip without my medicine.

Once an attack came while we were eating at a restaurant to which we had walked, and I couldn't make the walk home, so my husband had to run ten blocks to get the car in order to pick me up, while I sat on the grass on the side of the road, and rocked in pain.  I have applied lidocaine to the inside of my nose with a Q-tip, and I have tried natural supplements, including melatonin, magnesium and feverfew (magnesium has been most impressive so far).  I have changed my hairstyle to alter the weight of my hair and sometimes have stopped wearing certain shoes for a time when they become too jarring.  Carrying a heavy purse can also cause trouble during this time.

Cluster has come upon me again; it started over the weekend.  It will be a long month, and hard.  Since I was diagnosed with cluster in my late teens, I've learned a lot.  I've learned that my head could prevent me from being covered on a health "care" plan, and I've learned that cluster will likely never go away.  I've learned that it normally impacts middle-aged men, and that it likely has something to do with my hypothalamus and circadian rhthyms (body clock regulation).  One study I read said that they affect 69 out of 100,000 people; in my life so far I have met two other sufferers.

However, in spite of all of that, it could worse.  Some people have this condition all the time, with no year off in-between bouts.  This is called chronic cluster, and if you meet someone like this, and they are out in the world, doing normal every day things, you should be amazed by them.  They are in a constant battle with excruciating pain, and I don't know how they survive.  Which means I am lucky.  So far, in almost twenty years of this, I have never had a bout longer than five or six weeks.

I am lucky in so many ways.  My month of pain reminds me to appreciate my many months of no pain. It reminds me that you never know what someone has going on privately. It reminds me that sometimes people are crabby or mean not because they are bad people but because maybe they are just getting by at that moment.  Maybe they are in pain right now.

I am lucky right now because I have plenty of medicine.  When I have enough medicine, I am nicer, less irritable, and more able to handle this condition.  Having medicine makes me more productive and more able to participate in the world around me, and this needs to be considered when our culture decides how to organize health care.  Anyone could be me, one day healthy and the next day possibly experiencing excruciating, debilitating, unpredictable pain.

Cluster headaches caused me to start examining how to take better care of myself way before I even finished university, when I was still boozing too much and eating crap and not sleeping enough.  If those habits had continued unchecked, maybe I would have experienced other ramifications down the road which could also have become uncomfortable, expensive and hard to fix...which is also why our nation needs to look at health care through a preventative lens, and not limit what it is willing to treat.

While cluster is my burden, sometimes I imagine that it also helps me.  It would be hard to go so far as to say that I'm grateful for it, but as with most things, I have learned from its enormous challenges, and in my heart, I know it could be much much worse.  So today, I'm grateful.

[special thanks is extended to

, a resource that improves every year, and has provided me with more help than any other person or experience since I was diagnosed with cluster]