Archive for January, 2008

I was hoping to ease my way into the unfamiliar US healthcare/insurance system next month when M’s very generous work-based insurance coverage kicks in, but no such luck. Yesterday, we spent eight hours in the Emergency Room. As our temporary insurance was supposed to be only a last line of defense for a short amount of time, we have a high deductible, so I expect this will be a quick and rude crash course in healthcare costs, US-style.

I have had sharp pains while breastfeeding for weeks now… or possibly months — it’s hard to recall. To put it plainly, when I feed E2 on my right side, I get a pain that feels as if someone is putting a long needle in through my nipple and then jabbing it about in the breast tissue. Sometimes it is painful, sometimes just uncomfortable, but had never been debilitating. At first, it only occurred for the first few minutes after I’d finished feeding. I didn’t think too much of it — there are a lot of various aches and pains associated with pregnancy and the first year of motherhood and I was used to them coming and going. After a while, the pain started coming during the feed as well, but I was used it by then and hardly noticed the change. Silly me — I should have noticed. I should have seen a doctor about it while I could for free on the NHS.

Four nights ago, the pain changed dramatically. I fed E2 in the middle of the night and then put her down to sleep. I felt the pain come and waited for it to pass. But it didn’t. It came… and came… and came again, and got more intense with every wave. Within minutes, it was more painful than I’d ever known it. It made my skin break out in bumps, it made my hands shake. I sat in the bed and rocked in pain, and eventually went into the living room so I could writhe on the floor, clutching at my chest, without waking M and the baby. It went on like this for nearly three hours before it finally, mercifully subsided and I could get a few hours’ sleep.

The following two nights were exactly the same. I got only 3 or 4 four hours’ of sleep each night, and spent most of the time on the living room floor, shaking and moaning in pain. It started happening in the day as well — nearly every time I fed from the right. If I’d been in the UK, I’d have gone to the doctor immediately, but I was hoping to wait this out, hoping it would go back to how it had been, so it wouldn’t count as a pre-existing condition when M’s work insurance starts.

I’d assumed it was a pinched nerve, but on Sunday night, I suddenly had a brain-wave and thought it could be thrush (a yeast infection). I pulled myself off the floor, over to the computer, and looked thrush up. The symptoms seemed to match perfectly, and I was convinced. One website suggested that garlic combated thrush… and I recalled someone once saying that a clove of garlic placed directly in the ear will cure an ear infection… So, in my pain-induced senslessness, I put two and two together: I went into the kitchen, cut open a clove of garlic and put the raw cut side against my nipple. The pain that shot through me was like nothing I’d felt before and I promptly wet myself. But I was desperate for relief and thought it might be doing some good, so I stood that pain as long as I could — about 15 minutes — before dashing to the bathroom and desperately trying to wash the garlic-sting away under a stream of hot water. It really did seem to have done some good — the pain seemed so much less — but I suspect now that it was just that the same pre-garlic pain now paled by comparison.

I finally got to sleep at 8am. The baby needed feeding around 1pm and the pain returned — with more intensity than ever. I couldn’t face it anymore, and rang my mom to ask what you do if you need a doctor on a Sunday. Thrush is easy to treat — I just needed to see a doctor to get the right prescription which would be safe for me and for the baby. My mom said our only real option was to go the Emergency Room and that she’d come over right away to pick me up.

We were admitted the to ER around 3.45pm, and my mother and E2 and I sat down to wait. And we waited. And waited. E2, by the mercy of God, was an angel — so incredibly patient and well-behaved — as her naptime and then her dinnertime and then her bedtime passed. After seven hours — at 10.45pm — we were finally seen by a doctor.

I explained about the pain and that I thought it was thrush. She examined me, and looked perplexed for a minute. Then she asked me to lie down, and proceeded to give me a good old-fashioned breast examination, like I haven’t had from any medical professional in 15 years of living in the UK.

I sat up. She said it wasn’t an infection and it wasn’t thrush. Instead, she’d found a cyst and an “irregular object”. She asked if I’d ever had a mammogram (no) and said she wanted to refer me to a breast surgeon for either a mammogram or an ultra-sound. I explained that we are on temporary insurance and I’d thought maybe I should wait until the real insurance kicks in in March. She paused, and said, “Um… from what I felt… I don’t want you to wait that long. I want you to get this examined as quickly as possible.”


She then explained that she suspected the pain was from the cyst or the irregular shape pressing against a nerve. And, oh, did I want some really strong painkillers? I’ve never said “YES!” so earnestly or quickly in all my life.

By some small miracle, I had no pain at all last night. I still took ages to fall asleep — it had been a stressful day and my mind was racing. I couldn’t stop my mind from thinking about the worst. I finally fell asleep at 2.30am. My mother came round this morning and took care of the girls so I could sleep in. I got up at 1pm — disorientated, but it nearly made up for three nights of no sleep, and I felt human again. I fed E2 when I got up and the pain came back, but my mom stayed, so I could just sit in the corner and rock without having to worry about the girls. I know I could have taken the painkillers, but whatever drugs I take will filter their way into the baby as well, so I don’t want to use them until I absolutely have to. I knew I could ride the pain, and I did.

I rang the breast surgeon’s office today, and they offered me an appointment on 13th February. By the time I realised how far away that is and tried to ring back, the office was closed. I will ring tomorrow and see if I can get anything sooner. I don’t want to deal with this for another two weeks if I can help it.

It was a very unsettling day. I am certain it’s a nerve, but I can’t help but worry a little that this irregular object is something more sinister. And, that if it is, whether the insurance coverage will travel smoothly from our current temporary cover to M’s work cover. Part of me is kicking myself for not realising and getting it looked at sooner, while we were still on the NHS. Part of me is saying that the timing has been a blessing, because I have my mother here to take care of the children while I am in pain.

And, deep down, I think that’s true. I think it will be alright, and the timing is a blessing. And this is just another stressful and expensive thing that, like the pain, we will just have to ride. We’ve ridden so many things already — just add this one to the list.


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As if to welcome me back specially, tonight is the Miss America pageant. I hadn’t given this particular piece of Americana a second thought in more than a decade but, when I saw it trailed on the telly, I suddenly remembered that it was one of the things that I really missed in those first few years in the UK. It has a fabulous, pure-fluffball entertainment quality that I love. Like the Eurovision Song Contest which I embraced in the same way, the Miss America pageant is an event — an evening to be celebrated, preferably with friends, beer, wine, popcorn, and a combination of self-depreciation, knowingness, and true enthusiasm.

It is exactly what M and I need right now — bouncy, cheesy, and smothered in American pride. I just heard him crack open a beer. I’m off to find some popcorn. Then we’ll settle down on the couch together and enjoy!

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I’ve been sat here with my fingers hovering over the keyboard for the last five minutes, not knowing what to type. The first post of our new life in the US… I feel it should be deeply significant — monumental, even — but I can’t seem to bring forward anything much to say at all. I have had internet access for a full 24 hours and I have been putting off contacting anyone because I don’t want to disappoint anyone with the great gaping nothingness where my brain used to be. All I can think to say is: we are here. Beyond that, I am almost too shattered to be of any use to anyone.

But I know many of you have been thinking of me (us), so I am happy to try to sum up the crazy, whirlwind, foggy, unsettling, exciting last seven days. Why, I believe I just did! It has been a crazy whirlwind, deeply unsettling, strangely exciting, and — as I try to look back to recall it for you here — all gone a bit foggy. Here are the few things that stand out:

The week of packing was harrowing. Although we had my mother and the girls safely ensconced in a holiday cottage so we could get to work unfettered, the scale of the job was just more than we had ever realised. I had rather hoped that we could just tip the house up and let everything fall out onto the front garden, but apparently you can’t do that with terraced houses, so we had to sort through everything and carry it out by hand. It took forever. It’s hard enough to move house when you’re just packing it all up, but trying to pare everything down and get rid of stuff is a whole different kettle of fish. We were there early every morning and stayed late every night, with me dashing back and forth several times a day to feed the baby (holding her strategically so she didn’t come away covered in dust and cobwebs, as I was). We simply never would have finished on time if it hadn’t been for our dear and wonderful friends who came round to help us after work for all of the last three nights. Their physical help was invaluable, and their moral support was just about the only thing that kept us going. The empty house — freezing cold with all the furnishings gone — and the scattered remnants of our lives strewn in chaotic piles on the floor made us both want to crumple, but our friends chivied us up and organised us, and kept us going. Wonderful friends.

Leaving home was hard. Looking back and seeing the Vale for the last time was so strange — I kept forgetting that we wouldn’t be coming back anytime soon and had to keep reminding myself — and it should have been a significant moment… except that we had the chattiest taxi driver on the face of the planet, and he steamrolled all over my private sentimentality with his constant nattering. I wanted to retreat into my thoughts, to say my mental goodbyes to each familiar place, to gaze reverently at Stonehenge as we went by, to fasten these memories firmly in my mind, but I never got the chance. He chatted and chatted, I listened and answered — and before I knew it, it was all gone and we were into unfamiliar territory which had no pull on my heart. Perhaps… it was a blessing.

The girls were amazingly good on the journey. Incredibly, amazingly good. In 16 hours of travel — two flights, endless queues, security searches, crowded waiting areas, grouchy adults — they cried only twice each! I fully expected wails of discomfort as we took off and landed, but the baby fed happily and E1 did exactly as I told her and yawned every time her ears hurt. I expected tiredness and tantrums, but they gave us quiet cooperation. I am still amazed, a week later.

The first night was awful. I cried myself to sleep, convinced I had made the mistake of my lifetime. We came straight from the airport to the house we are staying in — big and unfurnished. And that first night, after such an emotionally draining day, it just felt empty, dark, and cold. No television to bring us out of ourselves, no radio for background noise, no internet, no phone, no car, no furniture… it was not the best of welcomes. But the world looks different in the warm light of morning: the next day brought bright sunshine, a cup of tea, a cheerful winter snowfall, and three deer meandering through the back garden. Things began to look up.

We have a bit of furniture now — not much, but enough — and, more importantly, our bearings. It’s a nice house where we can be comfortable for a few months while we find something more permanent. It is, literally, 3 or 4 times as big as where we lived before. E1 spends most of her days running from one end of it to the other, screaming with joy at the top of her lungs (“Running!!! Ruuuuuunning!!!! Mummy, running!“) and E2 tries desperately to follow her. We have a borrowed stereo and a television, a phone, and (as you can see) internet access. It’s all beginning to feel civilised again.

E2 came down with a bug a few days after we got here. She ran a fever of 103F for about 24 hours. I had to ask a pharmacist for something equivalent to Calpol (she told me she’d never heard of paracetamol!) to bring the fever down. She has come out in spots a couple of times since (they appear and then go again), but is much better now. Back to herself, I think, which is a massive relief. There’s no panic quite the one you get when you’re in unfamiliar territory and your child is ill.

The deer have been back once. The snow has returned daily. The temperatures have not risen above freezing all week and it’s been entertaining to watch my soft Southern Englishman as he realises that what he used to think was “cold” was never really cold at all! We’ve had cardinals and blue jays and a red-tailed hawk in the garden.

The washer takes just 30 minutes. The dryer can dry an entire load including towels in the same amount of time. I am in domestic heaven. Coming from the rural backwaters to the inner suburbs is a bit of a shock — there are so many buildings and people and cars. The unfamiliarity of everything is a bit overwhelming — it takes forever to do anything because I don’t know what shops sell what I want, where they are located, what they are called. And when we do get to the right shop and the right aisle, we still can’t find anything because the boxes are all different shapes and colours to what our minds are programmed to look for: milk comes in cardboard cartons, pasta comes in boxes, labels are blue when I’m looking for red, cotton pleat can’t be found for love nor money… It all got too much for me at one point and I had to leave the store, just take a breather from all the thinking required to get even the simplest thing done.

M spectacularly failed his driving learner’s permit test today (I’d forgotten to tell him there was a test — he thought it was just an application form… oops), but he succeeded at getting himself a bank account opened — and free checking at that! Progress in small steps. Good moments and bad.

Tonight, we had pumpkin pie after dinner — bought from a shop, normal as anything. That alone makes everything look positive.

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The house doesn’t look like itself anymore. Half the furniture is gone, the walls are bare without their paintings, piles of stuff are strewn everywhere, and there is more mud and muck on the carpets than I would have ever stood for before. It certainly doesn’t look like my home anymore.

I never intended to live in this house for so long but somehow, either because of personal turmoil, or possibilities of moving back to the US, or gloomy financial predictions, it never seemed the right time to buy. Now the average houseprice in the UK has reached ten times the average salary, and it’s impossible for us to afford a house here anyway. When I tally up what ten years of rental payments comes to, I feel a bit sick, but the rent was really very cheap for the area — and this house did serve us well.

It’s always been a pet peeve of mine: the interchanging of the words “house” and “home.” Americans tend to do this especially, and I blame the real estate (estate agency) industry. For marketing purposes, they switched from selling houses to selling “homes” because it sounds that much warmer and more appealing to their target market. But it is simply incorrect — you can’t buy a home, you make one. You can only buy a house — whether it ends up being a home depends on the way you live in it, how much of your life happens in it.

A lot of my life happened in this house. It is the house I was married from. It is the house we were living in when our babies were born. I have gone through heartaches and joys and worries and surprises here. It has no real heating to speak of, and draughty windows, and steep stairs, and wiring that probably wouldn’t pass inspection, but this house has borne witness to more of my life than any other place I’ve ever lived.

It has been my home.

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I have never tried to move out of a house I have lived in for so many years. I have never tried to move with small children. I have never tried to move while breastfeeding so I have to keep stopping and feeding the baby.

I am in full-blown panic mode. The movers will be here in 3 days. M is off seeing his kids (quite right too, but he somehow needs to be here at the same time). My mother has the kids at the holiday cottage. I am here on my own sorting through all this stuff. When did I acquire so much stuff?!?!?!?!?!? There’s mountains of it. Mountains! And I know I’m going to have drop it all again any minute and tear up the road to feed that baby before she screams her lungs out.

I absolutely do not know how we will ever get it all done in time. I am trying to be calm and methodical, but I am actually bricking it, in a big way.

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We are officially in the homestretch. My mother arrived today, which means she can watch the girls so M and I have a chance to really start sorting and packing as if we mean it. Then, at the end of this week, we all move into a holiday cottage in the next village, so we have free run of the house while we get rid of all the furniture and large appliances next week.

Needless to say, I won’t have much time to think — let alone blog. But I will be trying to get my hands on the keyboard to post whenever I can — more for my sanity than for your entertainment!

I haven’t set up my internet access in the US yet, but it will be the first thing I do when we arrive. And so, with the wind at our backs, I hope to be be back to normal programming within a fortnight or so — from the other side of the world.

Keep us in your thoughts, please.

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I’ve had long hair all my life and, like everyone with long hair, I’ve always toyed with the idea of cutting it all off. I stand in front of the mirror and sweep it up tight behind my head — catching every last wisp so as not to break the illusion — and then fling my ponytail over the top of my head so ends of my hair framed my face like a super-short pixie-cut. I squint my eyes and try to make my mind believe what it was sort-of seeing, and ask myself if I liked it.

No, I knew I liked it — I was trying to decide if I had the nerve to go through with it. Going short is not a thing to be done lightly. Cutting all your hair off is not easily reversible, and so it requires commitment… and a leap of faith. For all the squinting and pretending and posing, there’s no real way to know if it’s going to work until you do it. You might chop it all off and then suddenly find that you’ve made a horrible mistake — your nose looks twice as big as before, your jawline was best left hidden, your ears are sticking out like the open doors on a Ford Cortina. You might like it at first, but then come to regret the lack of options — when your hair is only 2 inches long, it will always look much the same whether you’re going to work or going to a black-tie dinner. You might look in the mirror as your hard-won locks fall on the hairdresser’s floor and realise instantly — too late — that you simply hate it.

But there’s no way to know until you do it. So, you have a choice — either you stay in safety with your long hair, or you take that blind leap into the unknown and cut it all off. If you never do it, will you always wonder if you should have? Will you always wonder if it would have been the right thing to do? If you do hate it, can you bear the long painful wait for your hair to grow back again?

I hadn’t had my hair cut in a year and it was far too long and driving me nuts so, last night, I snuck away from the packing and sorting and stress for a quick trim. I’d have it taken to just below my shoulders, I thought. Easy to manage, nice and safe, familiar. But when the stylist asked me what I wanted, I joked about taking it all off — that same joke, every time I go — and she started playing with it. She flipped it up over my head in that familiar way… and I suddenly felt brave. I told her to do it. She asked if I was sure, I thought for a moment, heard myself say a very confident “yes!”, and she took out her scissors and… cut.

It’s two-and-a-half inches at its longest, and feathered forward around my face — very pixie. My eyes have grown bigger and cheekbones are standing out. My ears, thankfully, remained tight to my skull and my nose looks fine. Cutting my hair this short was something I always thought I’d do one day. I knew I wouldn’t be able to reverse it for a long time if I didn’t like it. It was a leap of faith, and a commitment to something unknown. …And in so many ways, it mirrors the situation we face in moving to the States.

And, so far, I love it — I know I made the right decision. Perhaps that bodes well for more than just my hairstyle…

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