Monday, 31 December 2007

E = Ectopic

I heard today that Sophie, Her Royal Highness the Countess of Wessex, this week gave birth to a baby boy. It seemed appropriate. I often think of Sophie in December, remembering that she had her ectopic pregnancy a few days before I found I was pregnant for the first time. Perhaps my only royal connection, I too suffered an ectopic pregnancy that year.

A year later, December 2002, I was pregnant again. But waking on Christmas Day I knew things were not quite right, and before New Year I had lost the baby. Another couple of weeks of poking and prodding, tests, scans, medical and surgical treatment, hospitalisation and suspected cancer, it was finally diagnosed as a cornual ectopic pregnancy. It took five months three surgeries five hospital stays countless blood tests and specialist appointments before I was given the all clear.

About 1 in 80 pregnancies are ectopic, which means a pregnancy outside the womb. The baby will not survive. And if left untreated, in many cases neither will the mother. Ectopics are often misdiagnosed, and every year women die as a result, even in the richest countries of the world.

About 1% of ectopic pregnancies are cornual. I was told that about 1 in 400,000 pregnancies were in the same position as mine. Suddenly I realised what it is like to be on the wrong end of the odds. When you’re the 1 in 400,000, and that is 100% of your experience, odds become meaningless.

You realise you are not infallible; things you thought would come easily do not; things which everyone assumes would be yours simply by right of existence are not.

You come face to face with your own mortality. Life seems more uncertain.

You endure invasive medical or surgical treatment, sometimes both, often on an emergency basis.

You have concerns about your future fertility – some women lose their tubes, sometimes ovaries, and cornual ectopics such as mine run the risk of losing part or your entire uterus.

Saddest of all, you lose a baby.

Pregnancy, which everyone else takes for granted, becomes something that can kill you.

So now I volunteer for a Trust that raises awareness of ectopic pregnancies, supports research into causes, treatment and prevention, and improves the diagnosis and treatment. Literally, the Trust saves lives. Just as importantly, as far as I am concerned, it saves spirits and relationships as well.

But every year at this time, I remember.

Monday, 17 December 2007

D = Duty

Yesterday we had the in-laws for lunch, as they are going to Melbourne for Christmas to see the new grandchild and we will be heading south.

My husband is always pleased when we have people over. It means I will clean the house, as he knows I am proud and hate to have people see the house as it normally is – cat hair from their sibling-style spats all over the carpet, dust which is always only obvious after the visitors have arrived and the sun hits the furniture just-so, piles of things I intend sorting when I get round to it. When we lived in Thailand we had a maid who kept the place spotless. Later, back here, we had cleaners who came once a week. There was nothing quite like coming home on a Thursday evening, greeted by a clean and tidy sweet-smelling spick-and-span house, and knowing the weekend was mine.

But then one of the cleaners left, I left fulltime employment and had a few rough years getting (or even getting to look for) work, and we decided we couldn’t justify it. Now I’m busy, earning good money, and yet we still don’t have cleaners. That is first on my New Year’s resolution list. Employ a cleaner.

Anyway, I digress.

My husband is the only offspring still in the country. His brothers are scattered around the world – California, Malaysia and Melbourne. Their leaving occurred over 20 years. We also left in that time, but were the only ones who returned. Suddenly it seemed we were the only ones here, with my rapidly aging in-laws. Now we are ready to spread our wings again. But we feel we can't move and leave them here alone, despite knowing our own old age will be just that. Alone.

Or perhaps it is because of that, that we stay.

So we do our duty. Visit them regularly. Listen to the stories of what the relatives are up to. Treat them on special days. Drive them around my father-in-law’s old haunts so he can reminisce about his childhood 70 years ago. Help them with the computer and solve their emailing problems. (Father-in-law rang early one Sunday morning and announced dramatically “Mum’s in trouble.” To my panicked “what’s wrong?” he answered, “well she was sending an email …” argh!!!)

We worry about them when they get ill, which is becoming more frequent. Try and find ways to make their lives easier. Drive them to the airport or to and from the hospital. And invite them over for a Christmas celebration before they leave. They are not very social people, and enjoy seeing us – we are a link with the modern world.

After they had gone, we returned to our lounge. The house felt clean, tidy and fresh. The Christmas tree looked fabulous, if I do say so myself. The sun streamed into the living room, and we felt relaxed. The cats reclaimed their chairs and curled up for a sleep. As did I on the couch. All was peaceful. We had leftover ham and salad sandwiches and strawberries for dinner.

We had done our duty. And it felt really good.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

C=Christmas

Christmas has arrived early this year in Wellington. Not because the stores have been playing Christmas carols uncharacteristically early, not because there seem to be an unusually large number of buskers on Lambton Quay singing Christmas carols, not because the pohutakawa is flowering early (it isn't), and not even because I finished my Christmas shopping today.

No, Christmas has arrived early this year in Wellington because summer is here. Winter clothes have been stashed away, the windows are open, the tui are singing, barbecues are being fired up, and bare flesh is being exposed.

In New Zealand (and oft-starved-of-summer Wellington especially) Christmas is simply a gigantic party heralding the arrival of summer, the beginning of our long summer break, when school is out until February, the good weather really begins, the cities empty out and everyone heads to the beach or the lakes or sounds until mid or even late January if they are really lucky. Christmas is the smell of new cut grass and the feel of that cool grass between your bare toes, the mingled scent of Christmas lilies and pine trees in the house, picnics and burnt meat from the first barbecues of the season, long light evenings, the pop of corks from chilled champagne, new potatoes and fresh strawberries for Christmas dinner.

So all my senses are telling me it is time to relax, slow down, drink champagne, turn off the laptop, and read a good book. The trouble is, I’ve started listening to them, even though I still have to complete an assignment for a client this week.

So I hope the rest of New Zealand forgives me for this, but if the weather gods are listening, I really need a couple of days cold miserable weather – letting me knuckle down and finish my work – before Christmas and summer really begins.

So, having stated this publicly, I should go start working on that assignment right now.

No ...

... wait ...

it's time to grill the pork chops and open some sauvignon blanc on the deck.

Bon appetite. I'll work tomorrow.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

B = Baking and Brownies

When I was a child growing up, baking was a way of life in New Zealand – or rural NZ at least. Everyone’s mother baked. Cake and biscuit tins were always full. Girls learned to bake when they were still young, starting with pikelets (with cream and raspberry jam) and scones (date scones were my favourites) before being let loose on real cakes and biscuits. 
 
Community functions usually concluded with a big spread of baking. Lamingtons, pikelets, scones, brandy snaps, sponge cakes, citrus slices, Neenish tarts and meringues. Everything laden with butter and topped or filled with whipped cream. On the bottom of any invitation or event notice were the now infamous words : Ladies, A Plate. My mother’s specialty – and my favourite - was a chocolate fudge slice. Occasionally someone’s mother would bring bought biscuits. The shame.

So it was a mystery to me when I first heard an American talk about “baking from scratch.” What did they mean? What was the alternative? 
Of course, in the 21st century we don’t have the time to bake, buying ready-made is quicker, easier and often cheaper. Not having children means I don’t have to bake muffins for school lunches or afternoon teas either.

But … every so often I get the urge to bake. Usually once or twice a year, and often my childhood favourite, chocolate fudge. But a while ago I heard an American chef on the radio, giving a recipe for Fudgy Chocolate Brownies. 

I have a weakness for chocolate.
I have a weakness for fudge.
I have a weakness particularly for American-style fudgy brownies.

I downloaded the recipe.
I waited a week.
Feeling quite proud of myself, I waited another week. 

Then ... I made them.
Ate them.
Rolled my eyes in ecstasy.

But now I worry that I will seek any and every opportunity to make these again. 

I made them two weeks ago, just to cheer myself up.

Then my sister visited on Sunday. Guess what we had for dessert - with fresh strawberries to try to assuage the guilt. 

I am so thankful for this recipe for perfect fudgy chocolate brownies. But I am fearful for my thighs.





Translation note for North Americans:
Biscuits = cookies
Pikelets = small drop pancakes
Scones = biscuits

Sunday, 2 December 2007

A = AFS

The first foreigner I ever met was Jane Nelson, AFS exchange student, from Minnesota, USA. I was 10, she was 18.

My older sister brought her home to stay for the weekend. She had a book with photographs of Lake Superior. When she left, I declared “I’m going to go to America on AFS when I’m 17.”

My family humoured me for a few years.

Then at 16, I asked to apply. Went through the interview process. Then one day I came home to find the house strangely silent, my parents uncharacteristically sitting in the front lounge in the middle of the afternoon. I remember the sun streaming through.

The letter on the kitchen table was from AFS. Told me I would be going to live in Thailand for a year. Told me I would be leaving in 3 weeks.

And so, in the wink of an eye, the direction of my life changed forever.