A Few Charms (Banner)

A Few Charms (Banner)

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Bellies and babies and "girlie parts"

My Treasured Hearts bracelet with the genesis dangle
There’s this thing that sometimes happens with women during peri-menopause (the years leading up to menopause). This “thing” is something I’d never heard of… until it happened to me. Why don’t we talk about this? Why don’t women talk about these things? Well, I’m about to share the gory details.

In 2009, at the age of 44, I started to experience uterine hemorrhaging. This is not something women talk about. We talk with our daughters about their periods. We joke with our peers about hot flashes. But we don’t talk about this - severe blood loss. It makes me wonder if the medical profession even talks about it.

I had to go to the Emergency Room a few times and the resident would ask me, “So how many sanitary pads would you go through in a day?” I was like, “Seriously? I have handfuls of huge clots coming out of me in a BIG gush. No sanitary pad is going to stop that.” The other question was, “How many days a month do you menstruate?” Ha! I told them, “There are 3-4 days a month when I’m NOT menstruating!” Every once in a while I would meet a nurse who truly understood what I was experiencing, but it was rare. The female resident I saw at our family practice actually talked to me about my “girlie parts.”

The back of the genesis dangle next to the baseball charm
(photo from a Father's Day post about the baseball)
My kids were accustomed to seeing a trail of blood to the bathroom! I couldn’t go more than 10 feet from a washroom. Because of that it was very isolating. And I was not able to exercise or go outside. Unfortunately, isolation and lack of exercise both wreak havoc with depression.  This went on for two years. Two years! I was practically bed-ridden for two years.

My iron got lower and lower. I got weaker and weaker. I was more and more tired. I could barely walk up even the most gentle of slopes. I was unable to do anything around the house. My poor husband had to take over laundry and meals, leaving me feeling pretty incapable, adding to my depression. And it also left our home to get more and more cluttered, while my fitness level and mood kept falling.

After two years of procedures, ultrasounds and biopsies – including intra-uterine and cervical biopsies - it was discovered that I had developed a condition, similar to endometriosis, where the lining of the uterus grows into the wall of the uterus, causing pain and severe bleeding. I was on a medicine to control the bleeding and a double dose of the pill to provide progesterone. Once we had a diagnosis they were then able to control the bleeding with an IUD that provided localized progesterone.

My "belly" the day of delivery
At the same time that all this was happening I developed a DVT (deep vein thrombosis) – a blood clot – and had to immediately go on blood thinners. When this was first discovered I had to give myself injections of heparin in my belly. And every time I had an invasive procedure I had to go off oral medication and back on the heparin shots to the belly. Having a DVT was pretty scary because a blood clot can travel to your lungs, heart or brain, causing severe complications, even death.  And the reason people get blood clots – usually – is bed-rest, surgery, a broken bone, or cancer. Although I’d had a lot of bed-rest, I hadn’t had a broken bone, or had surgery, so they had to investigate cancer.  And of course, being on blood thinners was having an impact on the hemorrhaging.

It turns out that the DVT was due to an autoimmune condition, similar to Lupus, which increases the risk of blood clots in both veins and arteries (usually blood clots are in the veins). So I will be on blood thinners for the rest of my life; thank goodness with an oral medication. This condition is one of the causes of multiple miscarriages in some women, and with it I would not be able to have children.  Luckily I already had boy-girl twins and I was quite content to stop there.

When I first came across this retired “genesis” dangle in a local store, I thought it looked like a womb with a growing fetus. I assume that was the intention of the designers, because the word “genesis” can be defined as origin, creation, or beginning, coming from the Latin word for birth. I also thought that the back of the charm looked like a pregnant belly – I’m not sure that was intentional.

For me, this genesis charm, and its meaning, are very significant. This charm, with the grape rhodolite stone, was the beginning of my “Treasured Hearts” bracelet, a bracelet about the three people that I “treasure” the most, my husband and two children. So this genesis dangle represents my gratitude for my “girlie parts”! Gratitude for coming through these health challenges with all my "parts" intact - even if I am done with them, thank you very much. And gratitude for this “belly,” which allowed me to carry my two “treasured hearts” for 38 weeks!

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Before Pandora there were angels

Yesterday was the eighth anniversary of my mother's death. But the truth is, it has only been during this last year that I've even begun to dip my toes into the ocean of pain and sadness of losing her. Last year at this time, I shared this photo on my personal Facebook page, but I didn't put it here on the blog because it wasn't a story about a specific charm. However, the main reason I started this blog was to have all my "stories" in one place, and share them with others. So this story is a prelude to creating "My Unforgettable Mom" bracelet. Before I had Pandora, I collected these angels.

FYI: There is a Search function at the end of the blog (web version) and a list of labels from all of the posts on the blog. You can search for the name of the bracelet or charm, or click on the label "My Unforgettable Mom" and see all the related stories. There are just a few stories on the blog; many more yet to write.
When my mother was in her seventies she didn't like shopping anymore, so she would give me money to buy myself something for Christmas.

One year I decided to buy one of these Jim Shore carved angels with the Christmas money, something I wouldn't typically get for myself. Shortly afterwards, the Geriatrics Unit at the hospital diagnosed my mom with Alzheimer Disease. When we heard the news, we were in a conference room with the doctor, pharmacist, social worker, etc. The first thing my mother said was, "How long until I'm completely ga-ga?" That was just SO typical of my mom - face it head-on!

Of course they wouldn't speculate on the prognosis, and they responded with comments like, "Every case is different," or "We try not to focus on those things." After that meeting my brother spoke to the doctor, because we really did need to know what to expect. All she would tell him is that people live, on average, nine years after diagnosis. So I decided I would buy myself one of these angels every year I was blessed with still having her in my life, every year that my children were blessed with having her as their grandmother. There are seven in total.
Waiting for a visit from Santa
Our last Christmas together.
As an aside, these angels used to have pride of place on shelves in our living room, but since bringing cats into our home, these are now displayed in our (cat-free) bedroom, as in the photo above.

Here are the names of these Angels by Jim Shore (left to right) and how they help me memorialize my unforgettable mom.

Guardian of the Gardens and Flowers
I don't know how she had the time, but my mother had a huge vegetable garden and a not-so-successful flower garden. We helped her plant that vegetable garden on the side of the house, and it was frequently our job to go out and pick beans, peas, or carrots for dinner. I think my mom would have liked a beautiful English cottage garden but she made do with throwing a few plants and bulbs in the rock-infested ground.
New Beginnings
After living in my hometown of Halifax for over 50 years, my mother moved to Ottawa, the city where my husband and I now live, with our two children. (My brother and his family are only two hours away in Montreal) Essentially she started over - a new beginning. I told her that I was worried she'd miss her friends and activities in Halifax. She said, "I've decided I'm going to be happy!" Of course spending time with her children and grandchildren was her top priority at that age.
Mom having a picnic with us at the arboretum
Taylor on the left, Mitchell on the right
Bless this Kitchen
Aside from work, my mother probably spent the majority of her time in the kitchen. She made dinner of course, but so much more. There were always cookies in the house, and she baked fresh bread every weekend. She made her own jams and jellies. She even had a yoghurt maker! Once again, I don't know how she had time.

Angel of Gratefulness
Mom was always grateful for what she had, and didn't focus on what she didn't have. One day she told me she felt so sorry for this friend of hers in the retirement home because she had diabetes, and she didn't have family to visit her like Mom did. Of course this woman could walk on her own to buy something at the liquor store. Mom was blind. She had severe osteoporosis and many broken bones. She had arthritis in her back, feet and hands; she even had a few joints in her fingers replaced. She wore a hearing aid in each ear. And she had lost mobility and independence. She was using a walker and eventually a wheelchair. But she insisted that she "had it so much better" than her friend. Always grateful.
Stitched with Love
My mother learned to knit when she was five and took sewing lessons before she was a teenager. For most of her life she made her own clothes, and much of mine, saving all the extras and scraps of material. When I was in university we worked together on a red and white quilt; I can still remember which material was used for which outfit. And she made us a "bear paw" quilt for our wedding. She was blind, and did the sewing herself, but she had someone else do the actual quilting. She also knit a sweater for Mike and had someone make a label that said "Made with Love by The Blind Lady" - Mike was the one who gave her that nickname.

Summer Restores the Soul
Mom was a teacher at a Community College and made the best of her summers off. Of course there was gardening, canning, and baking to do. But she also made time for travelling and camping with my brother and I, reading lots of books, and visiting family at the cottage - all of which I believe restored her soul.
At the family cottage: back row, my mom, third from the left
front row, me second from the left; my brother far right 
To Garden is Heavenly
Despite how busy and stressful my mom's life was, she always grew and cared for plants in our home. She truly knew how to "stop and smell the roses." In fact one year, she not only smelled the roses but picked the berries when the roses were gone. Someone told me they had seen my mom (she was blind, remember) walking up and down the median of the highway. There were wild rose bushes growing up and down that median. She had crossed that busy highway so she could pick the rose hips and make rose hip jelly.
She was unforgettable.