Dramatic. Irrational. Crazy.

My last blog post turned out to be really cathartic to write. I expected that it would be, just not to the extent that it was.

I woke up the next morning and temporarily forgot about the post. Then I picked up my phone and saw the dozen or so alerts about it and went oh yeah.

As I laid there in bed before getting up for the day, I started to read the comments- some public, some private – and tears started streaming down my face. They were good tears. I cried several more times that day, and it was all good. It was like I had been carrying a weight around with me for months and I finally set it down, only I didn’t start to feel lighter until the morning after.

The weight isn’t completely gone, and I’m not sure it ever will be, because I’m human. But it sure feels better. I’ve had conversations and little how are yous and coffee dates with friends that I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t written that post. It broke the ice that was floating on top of my ocean of anxiety that wouldn’t have been broken otherwise.

I’m very glad I wrote it. And since it worked so well, I’m going to keep doing it. What did one of my friends say? (I went and found it.) She said, “Putting it out there seems to somehow take away a little of the power.” She’s right, it does. I’m taking the power back.

So, onto another aspect of my anxiety: health and mortality.

As many of you know, I had ovarian cancer at age 19. Initially, I was incorrectly diagnosed with IBS, because who thinks a 19-year-old with bloating and constipation has cancer? No one. I was in college and living on my own, cooking for myself for the first time (if you could call what I was doing “cooking”) and so it made sense. I was eating crap and full of stress! Not to worry.

But what happens when the worst diagnosis possible actually comes true? To be fair, it wasn’t the worst possible because my life was never threatened. However, the c-word is fucking scary, shocking, and not at all what was expected.

What resulted after surgery was several things: 1) depression because my life had been put on hold- I had had to take the semester off from college and move away from friends and back in with my parents, and 2) anxiety because I was given a recurrence rate of 30% (THIRTY. PERCENT.) where the only available treatment was more surgery.

Time passed. I had cancer checkups every three months with normal results. I volunteered, got a summer job, went back to school, moved out. My life resumed and I moved forward.

But.

The anxiety never really went away. For ten years, in the back of my mind I wondered, worried if I was going to be able to have kids. But I also worried every time I got sick.

Was it the flu? OR WAS IT PNEUMONIA?!

Was I just constipated? OR HAS MY CANCER COME BACK?!

Do I need glasses? OR DO I HAVE GLAUCOMA?!

Am I just anxious and hopped-up on coffee? OR DO I HAVE DANGEROUSLY HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE?

Am I having a panic attack? OR AM I DYING FROM A HEART ATTACK?!

All this may look super dramatic, but it’s my truth. (And anxiety is just that- DRAMATIC. Irrational. Crazy.) Of course you try not to expect the worst, and most times, it’s not the worst, but it happened to me. That one time, the worst actually happened and it has fucked me up ever since. If it happened once, who’s to say it won’t happen again?

The icing on the cake is that now that I’m a mom, this anxiety extends to my kids. I worry when they get sick. I have a hard time deciding when to freak out and when to be cool because my freak out meter is extremely warped.

Take this one step further and I worry about dying and leaving my kids. This isn’t always a conscious worry, but it’s more a general mortality fear that’s always at the back of my brain. This fear is normal. But what isn’t normal is when my anxiety takes it and runs a marathon with it.

Because I analyze everything to the point of exhaustion, I quickly realized that what led to my recent panic attack was a perfect storm of mortality triggers. Observe:

  1. Several weeks prior, a family member my age had a serious and shocking heart attack.
  2. I was reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book about her husband’s sudden, untimely death and how she was left to cope raising two young kids by herself (one of my worst nightmares).
  3. A few hours prior, I found out an old friend’s brother unexpectedly died.
  4. A few minutes prior, I was experiencing heartburn which my anxiety mistook as chest pains.

don’t panic!

Right then and there, I thought some of my worst fears were coming true, and it took me a minute to convince myself otherwise and calm the fuck down.

Writing this, unpacking it, and breaking it down really helps me. I need to understand this beast so I can kill it. (Or at least trap it and tame it?) This issue is next on the growing list of things I plan to tackle in therapy, but since therapy is only once a week, I figured I’d get a jump start.

Does anyone else out there feel this way about health/illness/motherhood/mortality?

Is anyone else out there fighting to keep their anxiety in check?

I see you [anxiety]. I see you and I’m onto you.

 

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Cancer, Yoga, and Becoming a Parent

I wrote this guest post on a friend’s blog in 2014 when I was pregnant with my first kiddo. It serves as a good reminder about how mindfulness and physical activity remain crucial elements of my mental health and self-care regimen.


NaBloPoMo Day 24

Crazy Good Parent

yoga

I started practicing yoga soon after I had surgery to treat ovarian cancer. The surgery was my only treatment, as my kind of cancer wouldn’t respond to chemo or radiation. The cancer had fully engulfed my left ovary, which they removed, and my right ovary remained, although my surgeon said they scraped cancerous growths off its surface.

“We can’t promise anything,” was the answer I got when I asked about my fertility status. Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be a mom, in this passive way of knowing – I didn’t have to think about it, I just knew. Well, nothing made me realize just how badly I wanted to be a mom until there was a distinct possibility that I couldn’t.

That was 11 years ago; I was 20 years old.

Now, at age 31, I am happily pregnant with my first child, and I am counting…

View original post 775 more words

Birthday Blog

I’ve made it a tradition to blog on my birthday.

Birthdays make me even more introspective than usual, and I often feel compelled to write around this time of year.  This year is no exception, except…I don’t know what to write about exactly.

(and now I sit here watching the cursor blink for about 5 minutes, give or take)

I just got a massage (another birthday tradition of mine) and now I am sitting in a Starbucks (Tradition #3) feeling my caffeinated blood ooze past my loopy muscles and greased-up skin.  I suspect my brain has been turned to mush as a result.

During my massage, I desperately tried to stay in the moment and focus on how my body felt.  Part of this is because I want to get my money’s worth.  To me, massages are expensive and I usually only get them once a year.  But I also just want to be able to quiet my mind and get my body to freaking relax, or more accurately,  to allow my body to surrender to the relaxation that is happening to it.

Because I spend most of my time with a screaming, whining, giggling toddler, my adult mind is often off in left field having some imaginary conversation with an adult – any adult – I wish were there with me.  It’s hard to stay in the present, and I feel disappointed in myself that I often seem to be wishing away the present and fantasizing about being somewhere else, some time else.  Because I feel bad about this, I try very hard to highlight the times when I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else – when I want to be right here, right now.

One example of me wanting to be here now pops up from my past life as a therapist.  I was with a client I had seen longer than any other and to whom I felt particularly dedicated.  She was chronically depressed and wouldn’t admit to having many strengths.  In my office, this client picked up a broken kids’ toy – I think it was trying to be a toy ukulele or something, but it was missing strings – and she made music with it.  It was incredible.  I remember thinking to myself, This is why I do therapy.  This, right here.

Another example from the recent past: my kid is just starting to say Mama and Dada in context and with meaning.  Oh man, how amazingly wonderful it is to hear my boy call out my name.  Recently, we’ve been playing this game where I ask Dylan what my name is.  It goes like this:

Me:  Hey Dylan, can you say Mama?

D:  …Ma-ma!

Me:  Yay!  Now what’s my name?

D:  DADA!! (we both laugh)

Me:  Noooo, Daddy’s at work!….Can you say Mama?

D:  Mama!

Me:  What’s my name?

D:  DADA!!

We collapse in giggles, and I savor the moment.  I don’t want to be anywhere else.

So, mindfulness.  I had to reel my mind back in several times during today’s massage, and I did my very best to enjoy the time, to enjoy the feeling, and to enjoy my body.

That’s the other thing, is that during the massage I found myself thinking about how in awe of my body I am.  The last time I got a massage, I was about 8 months pregnant with Dylan.  I was hot and sweaty and swollen and in pain and huge.  A lot has changed since then.  My body has morphed.  Transformed.  Been made new.  And so I found myself saying thank you to my body through the massage, as the therapist moved her hands over my body that felt like waves gently lapping on my fleshy shores.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

My mind wandered again—>  The first time I ever got a massage was after my cancer surgery.  My roommate heard me complain (a lot) about how sore and broken I felt, and she got my friends together and they all gave me a gift certificate for one.  I want to make a joke and say that she got it for me just so she wouldn’t have to hear me bitch about it anymore, but she just wanted me to feel better and I think she knew I’d never go and get one for myself.  Another thank you is in order.

So, on the anniversary of my body becoming my own, here’s to loving my body and thanking it for the places it’s taken me and all it’s given to me.

And here’s to celebrating the here-and-nows that make the time in between well worth it.

 

My Six Books

I was challenged by a friend – well, I begged her for a blog post idea and she came through like…someone who’s really dependable – to come up with three books that are “a snapshot of me.”

I already failed, since I came up with six and couldn’t whittle the list down any further.  They are listed in the order in which they were read…because that’s the order in which I grew.

  1. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – JK Rowling

This book captures my whimsical childhood imagination.  If I had three wishes, I’d wish to go to Hogwarts for a year.  I’d date Ron and be besties with Hermione and go on adventures with Harry.  And I would steal some lemon drops from Dumbledore.  Why this HP book specifically?  Because they form The Order!  The kids become more rebellious and independent and help each other out and fall in love…sigh.  Deep down, I really do believe in magic.

2. Letters to a Young Therapist – Mary Pipher

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I read this book in my Master’s program when I had no idea how to help my clients and I had a shitty supervisor who wouldn’t help me.  This book became my virtual supervisor and gave me space me to begin to figure out what kind of therapist I wanted to be.

3. The Gift of Therapy – Irvin Yalom

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Like the previous book, this one gently taught me to figure out what therapy was and how I could use time, space, and words to help people help themselves.  Most of all, Yalom urged me to use myself- that, through authentic relationships between therapist and client, meaningful change could happen.  Such a simple, powerful message that has stayed with me.

4. Quiet – Susan Cain

quiet

THIS.  I never fully understood my introvertism, or that all those weird things I do even had a name, until I read this book.  I am drained and exhausted after interviews.  In college, I avoided small talk with drunk dudes in bars by asking a real question, like When you die, what do you want to be remembered for?  I can be alone and happy, reading for hours.  One time in grad school, I wanted to go home and get in jammies but my friends wanted to stay out.  While we were discussing it, the last bus of the night drove by.  I left mid-sentence and RAN to that bus stop.  I didn’t look back.  Reading this book felt beyond validating.  Having the additional insight into my personality and disposition will prove invaluable as I navigate interpersonal relationships (including the one I have with myself).

5. All Joy and No Fun – Jennifer Senior

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This non-fiction book is about how children affect their parents, and woo-boy, it describes my first year of being a parent like SHE’S IN MY HEAD.  I spend a good chunk of my days doing work, a lot of thankless work, to keep my child alive and healthy.  It’s no fun.  And every once in a while, I get a moment, one moment of sheer, complete divine JOY when my boy belly-laughs or snuggles with me.  Aaah, that’s why people birth small humans.

6. In the Body of the World – Eve Ensler

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Eve is best known for writing The Vagina Monologues, and recently she fought and won her battle with uterine cancer and wrote about it in this book.  While no cancer story will ever be the same as my own, there were many times where her experiences mirrored mine, and her ability to eloquently wade through grief and words and symbolism brought out all my feels.  We’ve both worked to help women survive violence, we lost parts of our female reproductive systems, and struggled not to feel like less of a woman because of it.  I was honored to meet her in 2008.  This book spoke to me on a level that few books can.


nanopoblano2015lightNaBloPoMo Day 16

October in Purple

Today is October 1st, and everyone on daytime TV wore pink, and we all know why.

It’s breast cancer awareness month.

At the risk of pitting one great cause against another (because they’ve already been pitted against each other by being assigned the same month) – it’s also domestic violence awareness month, but very few people know that.

Why?

Personally, if we had to choose (and I don’t think we should have to choose, but for the sake of argument) I think we should be choosing domestic violence awareness, but I get why breast cancer gets center stage.

It’s easy to get behind fighting a disease.  A disease is a logical enemy.  It’s an other.  It’s not human, and no one is to blame for getting cancer.

But with DV – that’s perpetrated by our neighbors.  Our sons and daughters.  Our brothers and sisters.  Our moms and dads and grandparents.  It’s hard to rally people against DV when so many people out there are perpetrators or silent bystanders.

But we have to.  We need to.

Yes, 1 in 8 women are affected by breast cancer.  That’s huge.  But more than twice that are affected by domestic violence.  MORE THAN TWICE.  And that’s people hurting people – which means it’s 100% preventable.

I look forward to the day when everyone proudly wears purple in October to take a stance against domestic violence – and not just when there is a current scandal happening in the NFL.

How I Combat The Crazy

Heyo, Psychos!

I wrote a fabulous guest post on Crazy Good Parent!!  Please go check it out here.

Thanks so much to Janice for allowing me to share my story about how cancer, yoga, and impending parenthood are all intertwined for me.

Lost In Transition

I’m feeling all the feelings, you guys.

I had a mommy friend ask me if I wanted advice.  She had written a list of things she wished she had known before giving birth.  I said yes, and I read it.

Then I cried.

This thing really has to come out of me.  And it’s going to hurt.  Like, a lot.  Breastfeeding might be hard.  And painful.  Projectile poop really does exist.  All this responsibility…

Even though I’m the type of person who always wants to know all the good and the bad stuff, it was still pretty overwhelming.

I asked myself, how am I going to handle all this?

That voice inside me shrugged and said, one day at a time.

I’m also having some feelings around body image.

My body hasn’t changed much throughout my life, with the exception of cancer and the resulting surgery.  This week marks the highest weight I have ever been.  I knew it was coming, of course, and I know it’s healthy and it’s supposed to happen.  And I’m cool with it; it means that Little Duck is growing and my body is growing with fe.  At the same time, I felt a pang when I saw the number on the scale.  I’ve never been one to weigh myself, like ever, because I’ve never seen the point.  But with the pregnancy, I’ve wanted to track my changes and so I’ve been weighing myself once a week.

It’s not just the number on the scale, but a combination of that plus how I look and how I feel.  I’ve always been fairly petite, and sometimes it’s tough for me to see my waistline disappear.  Honestly, it depends on the day.  When I first started showing, I was so happy and excited.  This is real!  Look at me, how cute I look!  I feel so special!  And sometimes, a lot of the time, I still feel like that.  But on the days when I feel achy and bloated, I wonder how big I’m going to get.  Where is my limit?  What will my body do?  It’s the not knowing that can be unsettling.

What I’ve concluded is that my body is changing faster than my thoughts and emotions can catch up.  And I have to keep telling myself what I already know to be true – that my body knows what it’s doing.  Trust it.

Even when cancer invaded my body and I felt like it [my body] had betrayed me, it still let me know what was going on.  And when I stop to think about my progress during this pregnancy so far, I realize that my body has done all the work unaided.  All the medical procedures I’ve had have been purely for screening purposes.  Of course, if my body needs medical help along the way, that’s all well and good, but overall, my body’s in charge.  And she knows what she’s doing.

Lastly, I’ve been feeling all pent up.  I really need a project (besides growing life) and what I’d really like to be doing is decorating and organizing a house, but we’re just not there yet.  Not only are we not there, but we’re crammed into a one bedroom apartment with boxes stacked everywhere.  I feel closed in, it feels cluttered in here, and I have no idea how we’re going to fit a baby in here, let alone all the baby crap.

I know this situation is only temporary, and our next move, if it’s not a house, will definitely be someplace bigger and quieter.  We’ll only have to have the baby here for one month max, if at all.

It also doesn’t help that I am not currently working, or otherwise have something to do with my time.  I’ve been looking for work half-assedly, mostly because, while I do want to be productive and useful, I don’t want the added stress of having to learn a new job, and I certainly don’t want to have to sell my soul to any job – and that’s even if anyone offers this 5 month pregnant lady a position in the first place.

I hate how the American work force – and the social service professions specifically – expect you to bend over backwords just to work.  The job openings I’ve seen aren’t only full time, but the descriptions are peppered with lines like: must be able to work evenings and Saturdays, shifts subject to change with little notice, must be able to drive to multiple locations, may be exposed to clients with violent tendencies, must give up first born child to Satan, etc.  I’d be hesitant to take jobs like this even if I wasn’t pregnant, and forget it now.  I’m not even sure I’d want to keep a full time job after I have the baby, anyway, so that adds to my lack of enthusiasm.  Don’t employers want healthy, happy, well-rounded workers who have lives outside of work?  Sheesh.  Jobs are just jobs, and I want one that I don’t have to be married to.

That said, I do feel incredibly fortunate that I am being supported by my husband right now.  I have the privilege of having the choice to work or not, and for that I am very thankful.  I also feel a bit guilty about not contributing financially to the household, and a part of me really does want to get out there and do the profession I love, but Brian totally understands my priorities and he’s supportive.  I’ll keep looking for work, and if I find something that fits our needs, then awesome.  If not, we’ll adjust and get by together.

So.  It seems as though my theme for the moment is transition.

But, now that I think about it, am I ever really not transitioning?

Week 16 checkup

I’ve never been excited to go to the doctor before, and it’s a very welcome change.  Before, my yearly exams were preceded by dread and anxiety, hoping that I didn’t get any bad news.  And then I’d always have relief afterwards that would last for most of the year…rinse and repeat.

But now…everything’s different.  I couldn’t wait to get back there and get more information about my little developing fetus.  Not only that, but I’ve never had a partner to experience these medical procedures with me before.  Having Brian there with me is incredibly comforting and a fun bonding experience.  For instance, I’ve had tons of ultrasounds and blood draws and pelvic exams, but Brian’s never seen any of that.  He’s never had the opportunity to really know what it’s like, to be able to support me and distract me and joke with me and celebrate with me.  I guess I never realized just how lonely it was walking through my cancer checkups by myself until my whole medical experience was turned upside down.

First up for this appointment – a blood draw.  Ug.  I asked Brian to come in with me, for all the above reasons and because why not?  I mean, he did this to me, so he might as well feel my pain vicariously.

Fortunately, I got the same lovely phlebotomist I had had for my previous blood draws.  She recognized me, and I could tell she was trying to place me.  When we got into the room, she said, “Now I feel like you were…different somehow…?”  And I reminded her about the horror we shared during my last blood draw, where she ran into scar tissue from all my previous blood draws and had to stick me three times.  Together, we figured out that it’s best when she uses the kid-sized needle on my dainty little scar-riddled veins, and then I get juice and Goldfish crackers afterwards and everyone’s happy.

Thankfully, this blood draw went perfectly with one clean stick.  Boo-yah.

As Brian and I sat in the waiting room, sharing our celebratory juice and crackers and getting jealous looks from the two year old across the way, I couldn’t help but wonder if she treated all her patients that way, or if she babied me as the only adult who got the kid snacks.  Then I realized I didn’t care because yum.

Then we got to go see the midwife and we got to hear the baby’s heartbeat for the first time.  I think that strong little whoosh, whoosh sound is one of the most amazing sounds in the whole world.  Incredible.

She asked if we had any questions or concerns, and just like I thought, the responses were all, yup, that’s normal, nothing we can do, just gotta power through it.

Awesome.

Then she felt my uterus, and everything felt good.  I like having more information about my body, so I asked her to show me how to find it on my own.  So start down here, and work your way up…oop, and there’s your full bladder, so your uterus is….here, off to the side because of all that pee.

The phlebotomist gave me juice, what do you expect?!  But thanks for the extra info, really.  At least we’re all friends here.

In conclusion, it was a successful and fun week 16 checkup!  Thankfully, I got to pee again before we left.  And by ‘got to,’ I mean I insisted on it.

I’m looking forward to the next one when we get to have the big 20 week ultrasound.  Squee!

Amazingly Wonderful Worries

Eleven years ago today, I had my cancer surgery.

Today’s anniversary feels very different from the rest, in a good way.

Is it because the farther away I get from it, the less it hurts?  Partially.

It mostly has to do with the fact that I’m pregnant.  The cloud of fear and uncertainty that has been lurking for so long has mostly lifted, and it feels wonderful.  I feel like I can more fully leave my cancer behind, stop worrying about what my body can’t do, and look forward to what my body can do, what it is doing, and what that means for my future and the future of my family.  I am so blessed, and I just didn’t know how much until recently.

I say the cloud has ‘mostly lifted’ because I do find myself still worrying about how after-effects of my cancer and surgery could affect my pregnancy.  I suppose there’s a part of me that feels like this is too good to be true and that I shouldn’t get my hopes up, that my cancer could still rear up and kick me in the ass.  I suppose it’s normal that a small amount of fear like that will never go away.  And sometimes it’s hard for me to balance these continued fears and still make ample room for the joy and excitement I know that I also deserve to experience.  It does help that my doctor doesn’t seem too concerned about affects from surgery affecting my pregnancy.

Overall, my worries have definitely shifted, and I am grateful for the direction in which they have shifted.  After acknowledging my ever-present cancer worries and then placing them back in their box at the back of my mind, I get to worry about “normal” things now – am I taking good enough care of myself?  Is the baby developing ok?  Will delivery go ok?  Will fe be healthy? How the heck am I going to manage to be a good parent?  Etc…

I am thankful for these worries.  They mean I have something amazingly wonderful to worry about.

Which reminds me about something I’ve said before – that my experience with cancer and the resulting fertility uncertainty means that I get to be even more joyful than I would have been otherwise.

Eleven years ago I experienced one of the worst days of my life, and that’s ok.  It doesn’t define me, and I have allowed it to change me for the better.

Now get back in your box.  You’re distracting me from my joy.

It’s Alive!

Alright, Psychos.  It’s about to get a little crazier up in here.

I can barely believe it myself, but…I’m going to be a mother.

Even typing those words and then reading them back to myself was weird.  A mom?!  ME?!

I am incredibly thankful and blessed and in awe that my body is able to sustain a pregnancy, especially considering my medical history.  When we first found out, I wanted to call up my surgeon from 11 years ago to thank him for what an amazing job he did.  Not only did he make me healthy again, but he left my bits and pieces intact and working!  The Little Ovary That Could.  It’s because of my cancer history that I am especially not taking this for granted…except for the fact that this is all still very hard to believe for me.

I’ve pretty much always known I’ve wanted to be a mom.  I kind of grew up knowing it without really realizing it, and it wasn’t until that dream was threatened that I realized how desperately I wanted it.

For the past 11 years since my surgery and the prognosis from my doctors being, and I quote, “We can’t promise anything,” I’ve stared longingly at babies in the grocery store, making faces at them as they gaze at me over their parent’s shoulder.  I slowed to gawk at maternity store display windows, only to be pulled along past, wondering if I’d ever get to shop there.

We started trying for a baby quite soon after getting married because we knew we wanted to be parents and we anticipated having fertility issues.  We wanted to try and not get our hopes up so that we could start fertility treatments as soon as we needed to/could because we’re not getting any younger and I was told to expect to start menopause early and my egg count was cut in half and holy crap was any of this going to work?!

Imagine our surprise and complete shock when three months in, it worked!  We couldn’t believe it.  I’m actually tearing up just remembering the moment.  First there was pure joy (OH MY GOD!!!), then disbelief (oh…my…god…), and then sheer terror (omg…what have we done?!).  Brian had just accepted a kickass new job in Oregon, and we had signed a 9 month lease on a tiny apartment, to begin in January.  Doing that math means that we might have to squeeze a baby in amongst our boxes of wedding gifts we still haven’t opened.  Maybe fe can sleep in the salad bowl, or perhaps the new mixer.  Plus, I had just quit my job and didn’t have another lined up, and I’d need to figure out how to get relicensed in Oregon, effectively increasing our expenses while decreasing our income.  Our sense of timing is just peachy sometimes.  Of course, I know this will all work out in one way or another, it’s just tough standing at the bottom of a mountain and not knowing how the hell you’re going to climb to the top.

Another huge stressor for me/us was getting mysteriously dropped from Brian’s health insurance, having our coverage expire at the end of the year, and then having to scramble to get new coverage since his new job’s coverage won’t kick in until after a 90 day probationary period.  Those few weeks were incredibly depressing for me, as I was unable to see a doctor to even confirm the pregnancy, let alone reassure me that everything was going well.  Pair this with my relatively mild first trimester symptoms (meaning that I could hardly believe that I was actually, indeed pregnant), and I just felt like a tired, depressed wreck who cried on the phone to health insurance companies after being put on hold for 45 minutes or more.

I am happy to report that we slogged through our first month in Oregon fairly well, all considering.  We now have health insurance, we had our first ultrasound, and holy crap there’s a somersaulting little guppy in there!  I’m even starting to show a tiny bit, and I’m pretty sure it’s not just gas.

In conclusion, we’re still pretty shell-shocked.

We’re excited and terrified.  We’re excified!

…Territed?

All of the above.