Transitions

Today is officially the longest day of the year, the start of summer…and it’s 60 degrees, grey and scattered rain showers. Last Friday was nearly 80 and sunny and glorious – go figure.

At the beginning of next month, my new boss officially starts in the office. My boss of the last 15 years is retiring, but not officially until the beginning of August. So it’s a new season starting in our office as well.

It’s been 10 months since my back surgery, and I’m in the midst of my beginning of summer annual medical checkups. Made all the appointments, showed up for my mammogram last week. Next week is fasting blood work, and then my physical the following week. I feel good and have no great concerns to discuss with my primary care doctor, so hopefully this will be a smooth slide into the summer without more tests and appointments to think about.

How’s my back? Well, “good” or “better” are the easy answers. It’s different than before surgery obviously, since I have hardware holding me together, but it’s also been a long recovery process (well documented here on the blog). Today I don’t have chronic low back pain. I don’t have constant sciatic and muscle cramping in my back, hip, butt, or thigh. I don’t have the constant ache, and grabbing my low back when I twist or move funny. I don’t have to take over the counter or prescription medications to allow me to get through a day or night. I don’t have to have my heating pad waiting on the couch for me to come and sit for a few minutes and ease my muscles out of a cramp. But I’ve worked my butt off in physical therapy to both recover from the trauma of the surgery I had, but also to strengthen the muscles I haven’t used for years to support my spine. It’s an ongoing process of listening to my body while also pushing myself to improve.

I still have some lingering nerve issues, and recognize that I probably always will to some extent. Some of it is damage done before the surgery from my spine being unstable and pinching the nerves (sciatic)- some surface numbness on my right leg in several places that was present before the surgery….is still there. But the cramping that was an everyday thing before surgery is gone on the right side. Some of it is also from the surgery itself – I had a lot of sciatic cramping on the left side after surgery (I whined about it for weeks), and while the cramping has resolved – I still have some residual nerve pain in the top of my left foot. I whined about that quite a bit and worked on it during physical therapy – and while it’s vastly improved – it’s still there. But I’ll take a little bit of surface numbness and a touchy left foot over debilitating daily pain and muscle cramps any day!

I no longer have to get up 20 minutes early just to go through a series of stretches to wake up my muscles. I still do a series of range of motion stretches each morning just to get the blood flowing a little before my shower – and work off the sleep haze – but it’s not 3 sets of 10 repetitions of this one exercise, and then 3×10 of the next one, etc. During the week, I do yoga on my lunch break – specifically targeting my core strength, my hips, glutes, and hamstrings, and actually working on my upper body strength too. I have several dynamic flows that I work through to strengthen my body overall – not just focus on spine surgery rehab. Throughout the week I still end up doing all the same kinds of exercises that my PT taught me to do, and I’m seeing great progress in my strength.

I have tried and tried to like the exercise bike I bought (used) last year for cardio – but I just don’t. It caused me more body mechanic issues throughout my recovery because it’s basically just one movement in the same position over and over again – primarily focused on my hips and IT band. So I stopped using it at the suggestion of my PT when my IT band kept flaring. Instead I walk as much as I can. On the weekends I walk in the morning before a shower. During the week, I make it a point to get up and walk at work as often as I can…and then walk in the evening when I get home. Walking was the thing my surgeon had me doing immediately after surgery – like the same day….with a walker and a catheter in…I was walking the hallways every couple of hours. On day 2 they took the catheter out and I had to get up to use the bathroom….and walk the hallways every couple of hours. I have continued that pattern throughout my recovery. During my PT, I would start out on the treadmill for 10 minutes before seeing my PT for the rest of my appointment. As my rehab continued, I came to love my time on the treadmill, and as weather permitted I walked my driveway at home too. When I was allowed back on my exercise bike, and started having trouble with my IT band, I started thinking about selling the exercise bike and getting a treadmill. That’s still a discussion at our house – but I haven’t been on the bike for months now….and my IT band hasn’t flared in the least.

In January I made a concerted effort to start eating better, and tracking my food each day. I haven’t been perfect, but I’ve been much more aware. I’m down about 14 pounds, and the yoga has helped me trim off over 6 inches overall. I’ve been able to recognize what foods I can eat and continue to lose weight slowly – and I know what foods stall me out completely. My goal isn’t a number on a scale or a clothing tag – my goal is a healthy mind and body combined. My current routine is getting me closer and closer to that point.

The final transition I’ll talk about today is menopause. Last year about this time, my doctor confirmed/agreed with me that I was likely peri-menopausal based on what I had been noticing in the preceding year. Menopause is a tricky thing to nail down in women like me with MRKH. Most women experience a change in their monthly menstrual cycle – and they notice the change because their pattern of bleeding (their period) changes. But I don’t have the benefit of being able to track differences in menstrual flow. Over the years I came to recognize subtle changes in my body during certain times of the month…and asking very pointed questions of my close girlfriends. I learned to notice not just pre-menstrual symptoms of emotional changes, bloating, tender breasts, and acne breakouts, but also the more subtle changes that came with ovulation. I actually had a pretty regular cycle that once I understood what I was experiencing, I could work to manage a little more effectively. But without the “period” to mark the date on the calendar, and obviously no worries of an unplanned pregnancy ever – it was just interesting to note what my body was doing. In the last 2 years I began being more aware of the fact that my “pms” symptoms were happening less frequently, and not near the end of the month as they used to be. Add in a whole lot of tossing off covers in the middle of the night, and some changes with vaginal moisture and elasticity – and my doctor marked my chart as peri-menopausal. We had a brief discussion last year about hormone replacement and options available – but I declined any formal treatment. I had a baseline bone density test last year which was totally normal, and I read a couple of hand-me-down books on menopause. Knowing this is a natural progression, and understanding that everyone’s experience varies greatly, I’ve opted to be preventative, but minimalist in my journey. I’ve added a women’s multi vitamin, vitamin E, and collagen for joint health, and made sure that I am eating a balanced diet that includes lots of variety in both vegetables and proteins, and a moderate amount of (mostly) whole grains. Thus far I have not been overly bothered by crazy mood swings, hot flashes, excess fatigue, thinning hair (it gets grayer each year, but it’s still thick and crazy curls), and I’m still able to effectively manage my weight. All in all…I think I’m doing just fine on this journey.

As I think about all the transitions going on with and around me lately, I try and remember to just put my trust in God. He has a plan, and my part in this plan requires me to act with compassion and humility, to trust Him completely, and to practice patience with His timing.

The Day That Changed My Life

We all have defining moments in our lives; ones that shape us into who we are at the very core. Experiences that drive change – sometimes good change, sometimes regrettable change – but change nonetheless. Over the course of my life I’ve had several such moments, and I’ve weighed in my heart and mind which are the ones that have changed me the most. Unquestionably, the day I accepted Jesus as my Savior at the age of 10 was a turning point in my life. When I was baptized two years ago, it was another moment of remarkable change in choosing who I wanted to be and what direction I wanted my life to take. But those were conscious choices to change – rooted in what has developed into an incredible faith-life that is spent fulfilling my purpose to glorify God.

Today, I’d like to take you back 30 years – to a day that changed my life, and I had no choice in the matter.

May 16, 1989 – my good friend Janine picked me up in the early morning and drove me to the hospital for a scheduled out-patient surgery. We arrived at the hospital and checked in for my diagnostic laparoscopy. When I woke up in the recovery room, I was given the news that I did not have a uterus. This is the day that MRKH entered my life.

I probably sum it up best on my Courageous page –
On that day I was told that I was born without a uterus, cervix, and the upper 2/3 of my vaginal canal – I had a birth defect that no one could see, and I would never be able to carry a child. On that day, my world quietly shattered. My hopes, my dreams, my plans, everything I thought I would or could do with my life…shattered. Yet, somehow my life continued. As I look back on my young life, the things I did and didn’t do…I look back at a young woman who learned to be Courageous.

In so many ways MRKH has shaped my life. I have grieved deeply over a life changed by MRKH. I have faced off with clinical depression. I have lived through abusive relationships. I have conquered fears. I have learned that not only does MRKH mean I won’t have a period or carry a child, but for me it also means I have kidney abnormalities and joint and skeletal issues as well. Over the course 30 years I’ve had 7 additional surgeries because my body wears out joints very quickly. When I was 23 the sports medicine doctor who operated on my shoulders said that I had the shoulder joints of a 60 year old. (um…thanks???) When I was 41 the podiatrist had to fuse my toe because the joint was so damaged there was no saving it. Last year (9 months ago actually) I had my spine fused because of degenerative disk disease and spondylolithesis.

But this post is not about the details of my entire medical history (there are plenty of posts about that in the archives) – this post is about looking back and reflecting on the day I was diagnosed with MRKH and how over time, I’ve made the best with what God has given me.

For starters, I’m still blessed to call Janine one of my best friends, all these years later. Turns out she struggled with infertility too, and ultimately adopted 2 beautiful children. She has been a solid rock in my world for some of the most trying times, and even when we go years without visiting in person, we still pick up right where we left off. She encourages me, prays with me, and reminds me that God puts the right people in our lives exactly when we need them.

While I ultimately never became a mother for all variety of reasons, I have spent my life working with youth and young adults in a wide range of rolls. I’ve been a mentor and not a mother. I’ve been a 4-H leader. I’ve worked with our teen-girls youth group. I’m blessed to be an aunt to 3 awesome nephews, and 2 beautiful nieces, one of which gave me a great-nephew too! I’ve worked for the last 15 years in a university setting where I work with students training to be teachers. This past spring one of my students said this to me, ” I love how you’ve developed your life story into one in which your career ultimately focuses so heavily on flowering integral intellectual fertility within the minds of countless kids, both within Washington and beyond. ” That one got me right in the feels. All of these experiences have given me the chance to influence many more lives in my lifetime. And I love that I can watch these folks grow and prosper in their own lives. I celebrate their victories, watch them graduate, get married, and I pray with them when things get rough.

As I’ve journeyed through my 40s, I’ve felt the impact of MRKH in a variety of ways. I’ve probably experienced the most change and healing during this time. I’ve accepted that I’m a mentor and not a mother. I’ve focused my life on physical and emotional healing. I’ve had 4 surgeries (both feet and my back) that have tested my resilience. I’ve fought through depression and grieved the death of some incredible people and beloved pets. I got a full sleeve MRKH tattoo. I’ve come to rely on the grace of Jesus to get through everything life throws at me. I found other MRKH sisters just like me, and ultimately partnered with the Beautiful You MRKH Foundation to create the Courageous Project. I can’t begin to tell you difference in my life that has made. Sharing my story. Raising awareness. Meeting some incredible women – Amy, Kay, Christina, Dawn, Hailee, Ang, Britt, Erin, Jaclyn, Kristen, Jen, Barb, Chrissy, Allison, MaryBetsy, Kristen, Lizzie, Ayala, Hanah, Krystina, Elyce, Christie, Lyndsay, Lindsey, Julie, and so many others. The love that we share, the way we support each other, the hugs, the laughs, the tears…it has been, and continues to, inspire and change me.

And when I truly embraced who I was – that is when I surrendered it all to God. I’ve grown as a woman and sought to serve God’s Kingdom. I’ve launched a women’s ministry through a Facebook group of MRKH sisters – MRKH Journey through Faith and started a women’s ministry group at our church we call Ladies’ Night In. I’ve been ordained and serve as Head of the Board of Deacons for our church. I’ve completed training and been commissioned as a Stephens Minister. I’ve never been as complete and fulfilled as I am today.

30 years after learning that I had Meyer Rokitanksy Kuster Houser Syndrome, today I’m living my best life.

Spring??

According to the calendar, it is officially still winter for another week. But we did change the clocks for daylight savings time, and the sky is actually blue today, so maybe…

This has been a heck of a winter here in the Pacific North West. We got most of our snow in February – but so far March has done it’s fair share of adding to the difficult morning commutes. I’m honestly not sure which is worse, a morning commute after a foot of snow, or a morning commute after 4 inches of snow. I’m grateful for the highway department who provides snow plows and ice melt, and generally makes it possible for me to get to and from work each day. I’m also grateful for 40 degree days and 20 degree nights with blue skies. This allows the snow to melt during the day, but slows it back down overnight – which ultimately helps me not be quite so nervous about spring run-off and the potential for flooding! We currently have about 2 feet of snow on the level, but mountains of snow banks where it’s been plowed off the driveway. While we often have some snowbanks left still thawing in April, I’m thinking it may very well be May before they all melt this year.

Speaking of spring…I’ve been spending my weekends preparing for spring craft shows. This past weekend (which I extended to a 4-day weekend!) I did quite a bit of production. 144 bars of soap, 120 tubes of lip balm, and an assortment of lotions, creams and salves. I still need to do a couple more varieties of lotions, but I’m feeling much more comfortable with what I have on hand preparing for the spring craft shows. Over the next couple of weekends I will spend some time actually packing up my craft show bins and getting things organized. My craft show trailer is currently surrounded by snow all the way around past the tops of the fenders, I am hopeful that most of that will melt off on it’s own and I won’t have to do too much to get it pulled out and loaded up. Just under a month, so I’ve got my fingers crossed!

It’s been 7 months now since my back surgery. I’m fairly well settled into a routine and feeling pretty normal. I’m increasing my activity level slowly, trying not to aggravate anything – and paying particular attention to my body mechanics and alignment. I’m able to do more yoga and more walking, and making sure I’m doing my stretches and exercises for my back and core regularly. In general I feel really good, and I’m looking at what I can be doing long term to keep myself healthy. I’m hopeful that as the driveway thaws out I will be able to walk at home more regularly – Bella sure enjoys it when we go for a walk, since it usually involves a ball!

I’m still eating cleanly and well – tracking my food daily and noticing/correcting patterns as necessary. The scale is still working itself down slowly and I’m trying to be disciplined about making a weekly meal plan and sticking to it. This helps me to not cook the same old thing over and over again, but also makes me think about what is in the freezer that needs to be eaten. A couple months back I went online and ordered a binder for organizing my recipes. It came with an assortment of page protectors, scrapbook style pages, and pages to fit recipe cards. After about 3 marathon sessions, I managed to get most of my recipes into the binder with some semblance of order. I often cruise around recipe blogs looking for inspiration, and print off recipes that entice me. I rarely follow them to the letter, but it at least gives me a good place to start….and if I like my modifications, I generally make notes about what I did. So now I have a binder that has all my recipes in mostly one spot. I of course, still have my cookbook collection – but all the family recipes that have been handed down, and all the magazine clippings and internet printed recipes now all live together in the binder.

For Lent this year I’m reading a book called 40 days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole. Each day has a scripture reading and mini lesson, a passage about Lent, and a focus on something to fast for the day: Regrets, Tidy Faith, Rationalism, Isolation, etc. It’s been an interesting read so far, and a good reminder of love, self-care, discipline, and sacrifice. It’s a great way to focus my daily devotional and bible study time, and to get a fresh outlook on scripture passages and stories I already know well. The more I immerse myself in God’s word, the stronger my faith becomes, and the more I see the relevance in my own life – as God planned it of course.

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