Archive for October, 2011

Ode to Craigslist

When I was in high school, my favorite poet was Keats. I was drawn to his poetry because, well, mostly because I could understand it. And I think I thought there was something terribly romantic about being an English poet, dying in your mid-20s of tuberculosis and then being buried in Italy. Times have changed. Well, maybe not, but I’ve certainly changed. Now my go-to poet is more Yeats than Keats and I get more excited about couches than Grecian urns. And while Italy still makes me weak in the knees, being buried there is not something I like to think about.

All of this leads me (rather circuitously if, really, at all) to my love affair with Craigslist. Let’s leave aside all of the creeptacular and sinister parts of the website and concentrate, instead, on all that is good and golden about the free service for the greater good. I am talking about the “for sale” section of the site. I admit it makes me a smidge sad when I think about how much damage Craigslist has done to the classified ad revenue stream of the local paper, but the service it offers is so much better, it’s hard to feel too bad about it. It’s not like, say, the guilt I have felt when I have used Netflix over Video Station. Netflix offers convenience, but it’s hard to argue Video Station doesn’t have an excellent product – a vast selection and sometimes a very knowledgeable staff. Craigslist, however, offers things the ad section in the paper can’t. For one, it’s free. This makes it one million times more accessible and gives its consumers a million more available products than any pay service. What used to be a piece of furniture you would give away to St. Vinny’s to unload or, heaven forbid! the curb, has now become available for anyone perusing the web to purchase. For two, it’s updated constantly so there is no waiting to see what tomorrow’s edition will bring. For three, and I suppose this relates to the gratis nature of the site, the seller can put up multiple pictures of the product so that the buyer can see just what it is that is being pitched. Genius. Anyway, the site is pretty much the greatest and it has really helped me out in a couple of ways.

See, I can get a bit neurotic. I know that this is probably a shock to most of you and I probably should have suggested you sit down before unloading such a heavy revelation on you. I apologize. But it is true: I can get a little nutty. This manifests itself most regularly when it comes to organization or, my personal dread, having too much stuff. Where this really can come to a head, though, is when I insist on redoing a particular part of our condo – whether it be a closet or the basement. You see, I will decide that new things must be brought in to combat the old and that means, you guessed it, the old must go. As I have gotten older, however, I have fewer and fewer pieces of furniture that I feel comfortable just discarding. Gone are my cardboard-like end tables and mouse-eaten couches. What’s left has been mostly nice things, even if they are not necessarily my taste. So I would feel guilty if I dumped them off somewhere or tossed them in the trash, but I really can’t stand having them taking up my precious square footage. This would be a problem were it not for the bright, shiny knight of Craig and his List. See, with Craigslist, all I have to do is take a few snapshots of the whatever-it-is, upload the pics to the site, write a description, set a price and voila! I am in business.

And that’s just what happened recently. After redoing our basement, we ended up with the following ‘extra’ pieces of stuff: a treadmill, two end tables (one from Pottery Barn, one from This End Up circa 1989) and the cool mid-century sofa you may recall from this blog. The treadmill and two end tables sold within a day or two of me putting them up on the site. The sofa, however, took longer. My first attempt yielded a lot of inquiries, but no takers. I put the ad up again, a few weeks later. This time, a nice young woman came to look at it, but decided it wouldn’t fit in the space she had in mind for it. I waited a month or two and then I tried the ad again. You see, although Craigslist keeps your ad up for 45 days (if you want it to), once a few days pass, it gets buried on page 6 or 10 or 12 of the “for sale – furniture” list, so you might as well just take down the old ad and put up a new one. It’s free, after all. So that’s what I did. On Sunday afternoon. On Monday evening, a cute young couple came to look at the couch and said they were very interested. On Tuesday evening, the fella came back with his dad-in-law, gave us $100 and took the couch. Easy as pie. And it made me happy. I really loved that couch and I could tell that the couple that bought it loved it, too. They got a cool couch and we got $100 & more space in the condo. So, everyone was a winner. And now basement is clear of clutter!

Well, that’s not really true. But thanks to Craigslist, it’s one step closer to making me neuroses-free.


Elderly gravida: the amniocentesis

Ok, so where was I? Right, right. Phone call, genetic information, crying, amnio scheduling.

Monday, September 12, 2011. The genetic counselor told us our odds were not on the awesome side of where we wanted to be, so she had gone ahead and scheduled the amniocentesis. Now, this is where I began to get a little annoyed with the universe. You see, we had the first trimester screening when we thought I was just under 13 weeks along. A CVS procedure, which gives you results that are similar to an amnio (but not nearly as comprehensive), can be done up until a woman hits week 14. We had thought there would still be time to do the CVS if the results from the screening test came back not-so-great. We were wrong. Because the ultrasound portion of the screening test changed our due date, I was now just a few days past the 14-week marker, so a CVS was off the table. Although the amnio can give more answers, it cannot be done until after 16 weeks of gestation. So, as I said last week, now we were in for a wait. Two weeks felt like two years. I must have googled ‘amniocentesis,’ ‘1/87’ and ‘does my baby have Down’s Syndrome?’ every day. Almost immediately upon learning I was pregnant, I was bombarded with information about the tests available and suggested (or, it sometimes seems, mandated) for a woman of my advanced maternal age. When I had read about amnios earlier, I got nervous. The procedure itself didn’t sound awesome — a needle through my belly into my uterus to extract amniotic fluid — but it was the risk of miscarriage that scared me. As we approached the date for my amnio, though, I really held almost zero fear about the actual procedure or the risk. I had read that although the risk of a miscarriage is often cited at about 1/300, the actual risk is really much lower, particularly in a hospital in which the procedure is done frequently. So, when we finally went in for the test, I was nervous only about the results.

Monday, September 26, 2011. The cool thing about the amnio is that you get to see your baby again. After 45 minutes of genetic ‘counseling,’ at which we saw the breakdown of the first trimester screening numbers and were shown a diagram of what the amnio would look like (Aaron nearly passed out at the sight of the cartoon needle), we were ushered back into an ultrasound room and the warm jelly was again applied to my belly. And poof! There was baby again! The baby definitely looked bigger than the last time we had a viewing and, to me, the baby looked healthy and content. Only a few minutes went by before the ultrasound tech asked us if we had wanted to know the baby’s gender. We indicated yessirree and the woman gave us the most wonderful news: we were staring right at the baby’s girl parts! That’s what she told us the scientific name is: girl parts. We were, and are, so thrilled. After many more minutes of the tech taking a million measurements and poking at the baby through my belly, two doctors came in to meet us, a man and a woman. The man must have been some sort of resident or something, though I did not catch his role, because he was clearly taking instructions from the others. The woman was nice enough, though she seemed as though she may have done this one million times before and did not find the procedure nearly as significant as we did. After some pen marks were made on my stomach, the man poked me with a needle a fraction the size of the cartoon needle that had made Aaron woozy minutes earlier. The man had also given me a poke with something that was to numb the area, but he admitted he wasn’t sure it would help much. This is because, I assume, most of the discomfort comes from when the needle hits the uterus, not when it goes through the stomach. I had read people describe the sensation as akin to menstrual cramps, but I’m not sure I’d call it that. It wasn’t exactly painful, but it didn’t feel great, either. I would say it felt uncomfortable and tight and prolonged. Three different vials had to be filled with amniotic fluid; I think two were for the full chromosomal testing and one was for the FISH test (see below). After the vials were filled, the doctor took the needle out and we were done. Simple as that! Well, and then we had to wait. Again.

In the weeks after receiving the first trimester screening results, I had read that people have to wait a week or two for the full results from the amniocentesis are available. But I also read that there is a special test, called FISH, that can be done in some areas and which gives a couple their results much faster. The FISH test takes the cells from the amnio and injects some sort of illuminator into them, which illuminates chromosomes 13, 18 & 21. If the test shows that those three chromosomes are present in their normal form — just two of each — then presto! There goes your risk for Down’s Syndrome (Down’s Syndrome is diagnosed by an extra chromosome 21; an extra chromosome 13 and 18 represent different, far less common, disorders)! I didn’t know if Meriter offered the FISH test, but I was hopeful. About halfway through the counseling session that immediately preceded the amnio, I asked how long the wait for results would be. Our counselor then told us that the FISH test was, indeed, an option. She said that we could have it done, but she could not guarantee that insurance would pay for it and it could cost us about $1000. Now, we don’t exactly have an extra 1k sitting around gathering dust, but if there was anything we could do to speed this process along, I was all for it. Sign us up, we said! We were told the amnio results would be ready in seven days (not business days, but seven actual days — I made sure to clarify this) and the FISH results would be ready in 48 hours.

So, after the amnio, we went home and I laid on the couch. What else is new, you’re thinking. I know, I know: not much. Anyway, I took the next day off from work just to make sure that there weren’t any side effects from the test (some women experience cramping, bleeding or loss of amniotic fluid but I experienced nada, really) and, frankly, to relax since the last two weeks had been filled with nothing but anxiety and panic. I had been hoping the FISH results would come back early, but no dice. Tuesday came and went and we still did not know if our baby had Down’s Syndrome.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011. We went to work and tried to go about our day. I became really busy in the morning — drafting some sort of unexpected motion, returning a couple of phone calls to a judge’s chambers, etc — but then things turned back to my normal course of work-life, which entails writing and thinking and researching and reading and thinking and writing and thinking. Too much time for thinking and my mind inevitably wandered. Aaron & I walked out to the farmers’ market and took a couple of loops around. I gripped my phone the entire time, willing it to ring. It didn’t. Finally, at about 2:45 pm, rapidly approaching the 48-hour anniversary of the fluid-taking, I called the perinatal center. Well! From her voicemail message, I quickly learned our genetic counselor does not work on Wednesdays! You’d think she could have mentioned this when she said, “If you have any questions, call me” and “Your test results revealing a large part of your baby’s future will be available in 48 hours.” Anyway, I finally reached the “on call” counselor and she was extremely nice; her voice instantly calmed me. She told me FISH results are not reported until the end of the day, but she would make sure to call me as soon as they came in. I breathed a sigh of relief. Although we still had waiting to do, I was pretty sure we were in the home stretch. Of course at this time, there was a knock on my unusually-closed office door. It was my secretary, asking me to sign a motion or something that I had given her earlier. She asked me to remind her what test I had done and what the results I was waiting for would tell us. I relayed the information, to which she oh-so-helpfully told me, “Oh, I would never do that test. I mean, what difference would it make? It’s not like you can do something about it.” I gritted my teeth, tried to remain calm and tried with all of my physical and mental will not to stand up and hurl myself at her throat. I succeeded. Instead I smiled curtly and said, “Well, I need to know.” There was another interruption at this time when a colleague, seeing my open door, started to rant about something so ridiculous that I cannot even bring myself to print it here. Suffice it to say, it was along the lines of complaining about the color of the elevator buttons in an elevator she has never had to ride in. I mean, it was nothing. And it was driving me crazy. My baby might have a chromosomal disorder! I have real problems here, people! Stop talking to me and let me go back and hide behind my “I should close it more often” office door. Soon – though let me emphasize not soon enough — the counselor called me and said, “Kate, I have great news.” And I then became so happy I thought I would burst. After telling me the baby’s chromosomes looked great, she said, “Now, did you want to know the gender?” I said we did want to know, and the ultrasound tech had told us what she thought the baby was. The counselor said, “Would you like me to confirm or deny that information?” I said, “I would really like you to confirm it!” And confirm it she did: two X chromosomes on Baby! I was elated. After I hung up the phone, I immediately went into Aaron’s office smiling, hugged him, told him the news and burst into tears. What a relief.

We had to wait longer than seven days for the full results, though. In fact, we did not get the full results back until Wednesday, October 5. The full results also came back normal, which was another great weight off of our shoulders. While the waiting on that information wasn’t fun, it was nothing compared to the two weeks we waited for the amnio, and the 48 hours that followed that. I know many people would, and do, decline these tests and I know that they do so for a variety of reasons. And while I do not wish the stress of what we went through on anyone, the knowledge we have gained — and at least our momentary peace of mind — is invaluable to me. Right now, I am actually enjoying being elderly gravida. My baby girl is growing and breathing and moving (though I can’t feel her yet) and has all her chromosomes in all the right places. The worry button has been reset to DefCon 3.

I’m sure I’ll ratchet it up again as we go into the 20-week ultrasound.

Elderly gravida

Well, by now I have circulated word that yours truly is with child. Note: new parent category above! Baby stuff! I waited some time before outing myself completely because I’ve been extremely nervous that things wouldn’t work out. While this has been our first attempt at a pregnancy, so I can’t say I have had any ‘bad experiences’ previously, I just feel all too aware of the million and one things that can go wrong that I wanted to be further along before publicly exposing myself. So, at over 18 weeks of gestation, here I am, telling you: I’m preggers! Hooray! And, if that news isn’t good enough for you, here’s something even better: she’s a girl! Yes, ma’am, it has been scientifically, amniocentesis-y verified that the little mango inside of me has two X chromosomes. I am just delighted. And AO is, too.

So, since I have waited so long to write about this, I am very behind on sharing my thoughts on being pregnant in general and, specifically, being a geriatric (36 years old) and expecting. As you may remember from a previous post, I was conflicted on the idea of bringing a baby into this world. In many ways, I am still conflicted, but my own wishes (along with AO’s) have won out over reason and fear. I say ‘reason’ because I maintain this world is a pretty crazy place and the future is so unknown (will there be an economic meltdown? will there be an environmental meltdown? will I have a meltdown?). In addition, I am not sure we can afford a child — there’s day care, diapers, food, clothing, summer camps, sports, activities, all of the stuff, college and more. And, unlike many people, I believe that if we are going to bring another person into this world that our job will be to support that person — financially and emotionally — for as long as she needs it from us. Although of course I believe that one of the most important jobs of a parent is to prepare your little one for a satisfying and happy independent life, I do not believe that the checkbook is closed at age 18. Or 22. Or 25. I mean, I hope to raise my little girl to cure cancer and win the lottery so that she can support us and many others, but should that fail to materialize, I consider myself on the financial hook for the foreseeable future. And, let’s face it, if we keep getting a pay cut every year, we may not be able to give her the childhood I hope to. Anyway, I say our own wishes triumphed over ‘fear’ because good God, what is there not to fear? In addition to all of the reasons not to have a child is the fear of having a child — which includes the reasons and adds to them the following plus a million more things I am sure I will think of in the coming seconds/days/weeks/months/years: what if I’m a terrible mother, what if the kid has no face, what if the placenta detaches, what if the kid is blind, what if the kid develops a horrible disease, what if the kid is hit by a car, what if the kid never learns to talk, what if she suffers from depression/schizophrenia/bipolar disorder, what if she doesn’t like dogs, what if she doesn’t like sports, what if she likes sour cream, what if she just doesn’t like me? The list goes on. And on. And on. And every time I calm myself down about say, lupus, up pops another concern like, say, autism. I think I have boarded the fear train and it doesn’t appear to be reaching the station any time soon.

Anyway, ok, so despite all of the above, we decided to go ahead and try anyway. And then, on Wednesday July 6, two pink lines appeared on the stick and I started shaking – with joy, with fear, with trepidation…And then I had no idea what to do. AO, ever the sage, suggested I call the doctor’s office. Interesting, I thought. Why hadn’t I thought of that? So, I called my doctor’s office — a general practitioner — and was directed to call an actual ob/gyn office. Genius. These people really had it together. Anyway, to make a long story short, I went into the doctor’s office about three times over the next week to have blood taken to assess my levels of HCG, a hormone produced by pregnant ladies. The numbers immediately indicated that I was preggers, but they monitor these things to make sure the numbers continue to rise and, once they reach a certain level, we were invited in for an ultrasound so they could attempt to date how old the little sac was (I had not had my period for several months before I actually came up positive for pregnancy — I think this had to do with having recently gone off of the pill — so dating by my last cycle was not helpful). Well, they did not have to ask us twice! In we went, and in the probe went, and out we came with a date of about 4-5 weeks. Our due date has changed a few times in the past months, but we seem to be consistently staring at mid-March.

So, I was pregnant. We released the news slowly. First, we told a few of my closest friends and then I told my mom (whose first words were, “On purpose?”) and then we pretty much waited. Tick tock. This is a really hard thing to do because (a) I like to drink so abstaining during happy hours took covert action or declining invites and (b) who doesn’t want to share this news (when it is, indeed, on purpose)? But we did wait. We waited until about 8 weeks along before we put the news in wider release: to my close family and to AO’s close family. It felt much better to be out of the closet about it! And then we waited until about 12 weeks to go public, which included telling our boss and other friends. During this whole time, I must tell you that I felt completely fine. I really had no nausea or any other symptoms other than serious sleepiness. I felt like I could fall asleep at almost any given time. I am already a pretty damn good sleeper, but I was really outdoing myself during this time. I still am, if I’m going to be perfectly honest with you.

And then came week 13 and the first trimester screening. The screening combines a blood draw and an ultrasound; the results from both are synthesized to give you the odds that your baby has Down’s Syndrome, Trisomy-13 or Trisomy-18, all of which are chromosomal disorders. The test was done on a Thursday afternoon.  At this same appointment, due to my advanced age, I was also instructed to drink a bunch of orange-drink-type substance in the span of a minute and, again, another sample of blood would be taken from me. After drinking the kool-aid (almost literally), we got to have the ultrasound and were able to see the first pictures of our little girl now that she was no longer a sac! Of course we didn’t know she was a girl at this point, but we could certainly tell she looked perfect. A wonderfully normal looking nuchal fold, we were told, and arms and legs and a head and fingers and a stomach to boot. Her heartbeat was great: 159 beats per minute. We. Were. Stoked.

And then we went away for the weekend and gleefully showed off our black-and-white, glossy pics of our little one. All was bliss. And then on Monday morning I got a call from the genetic counselor who told me that I had been “flagged” as having a baby with an elevated risk for Down’s Syndrome. I started to cry. I listened to her words — “You’ve come up with a 1/87 chance of having a baby with Down’s; at 36 years old, you started with a risk of 1/200, so this is higher than that” — but there was a pit in my stomach and, while I tried to control my tears, she could certainly tell I was shaken and devastated. She tried to be reassuring, “I like to think of this in a different way,” she said, “1/87 is about a 1% chance, so there’s a 99% chance your baby is just fine.” I said, not too snappishly, I hope, “It’s a greater than 1% chance.” “What?” she asked. “It’s more than a 1% chance that the baby has Down’s,” I replied. “Yes, she said. That’s true. It’s a 1.149% chance.” I nodded into the phone. Because the ultrasound revealed the baby was about a week further along than we had thought, we were now past the 14-week mark of gestation so a CVS would not longer be an option. Instead, we would have to wait two weeks to have an amniocentesis performed in order to find out whether the baby had Down’s Syndrome. We knew we wanted to do this invasive test – we could not make it 26 more weeks waiting to find out something so important when the knowledge could be made available to us within 3 weeks — but the waiting was going to be torture. But wait we did.

Next up: My Experience with an Amniocentesis and Other Stories from an Elderly Gravida

And she’s free!

Yowsers! Like millions, I have been anxiously awaiting today’s announcement of the appellate verdict in the Amanda Knox case. Although I wrote about the case only one time, I have been following it off and on since the crime. And now, just now, the court has announced that Knox and Raffaele Sollecito will be freed, clearing them of the horrible murder charges on which they have been imprisoned for years.

Although I obviously do not know what happened that terrible night in 2007, I believe the prosecution’s theory of the case was so incredibly bizzare and convulted that it strained plausibility from the start. The evidence against Knox and Sollecito was so slim that I hesitate to call it ‘evidence.’ I know that my understanding of the case is limited by all the usual obstacles, but increased by a language barrier and a large ocean. Still, the case seemed so strange that I really did not understand how she was found guilty in the first place. I make no claim to being able to grasp the Italian criminal justice system, which seems hopelessly intertwined with its civil system, so I feel uncomfortable commenting on either the trial or the appeal. That said, if I took what I know of the case, or what I think I know, I would not have been able to find her guilty beyond a reasonable doubt at a trial. And taking that same knowledge, or what I think is knowledge, and applying it to the US’s appellate system, I could not have found sufficient evidence to sustain the jury’s verdict.

The thing that can be so frustrating about many wrongful conviction cases is not really present in this case. Often, when a person is exonerated it is the result of physical evidence that shows the accused could not have committed the crime or, maybe even more often, that an unknown person clearly participated in the crime. This is frustrating because although we know someone committed the crime, there is no one in prison to “pay” for it. Take, for instance, the recently freed West Memphis Three. Although they have been released because they entered Alford pleas for the murders, it is generally believed that they did not kill the three little boys whose bodies were found in the river all those years ago. This means, of course, that there is still a murderer or murderers out there somewhere that have never been arrested or tried, much less convicted, of the atrocious crime of child-killing.

Here, though, we do not seem to have that problem. While Knox and Sollecito have been freed, Rudy Guede continues to sit in prison for the murder of Meredith Kercher. Guede admitted he was at the scene the night of the crime, his bloody handprint was found on a pillow, his alibi is that he was in the bathroom while an Italian man killed Kercher, he claimed he came out of the bathroom to find blood everywhere, he ran out of the apartment and then fled to Germany.

I am generally a ‘lone gunman’ believer or, rather, I am much more apt to believe the simplest theory of a crime. Here, it seems to me, the most plausible explanation for the murder, which is the one supported by significant evidence, is that Guede acted alone in killing Kercher.

What do you think?

October 2011

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