Getting it out of the way…

I’d like to emphatically state a few things for the record:

1. Even though I’ve never thought of myself as disabled, it’s impossible to deny the fact that I do have a physical disability.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 3 years since my last (public) post here. Much has changed and a LOT has happened during my time away and eventually I plan on (publicly) writing about the important bits in detail. However, I’m here tonight to write about something that’s been weighing on my heart for the last couple of days.

For many of you out there (especially if you’re someone I know IRL), it’s old news that I suffer from chronic pain. It’s an issue that I’ve had to deal with since my early teens but only got to the point where it was disabling during my last pregnancy (i.e., my pregnancy with my son, Halsey, who is now four-and-a-half years old).

It began at around 18-19 weeks into this pregnancy, when I was once again forced to begin seeing a pain management doctor due to needing narcotic pain medication in order to treat the symptoms of a condition called pubic symphysis diastasis.

[I just found that if you search Google for this term, the first result is actually a resource page I wrote about this condition a few years ago when I was still a “Brain Behind the Band” and is archived by the Wayback Machine here). Ed.]

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the narcotics I was taking made me gain well over 100 pounds, mainly from fluid retention, because my liver hadn’t properly recovered from taking narcotics for approximately 20ish weeks or so with my pregnancy that had only ended a few weeks before my last pregnancy began.

Confused? Here’s a short math lesson regarding my back-to-back pregnancies:
* I got pregnant with my daughter, Coraline, in late August/early September of 2010.
* I delivered Coraline in late May of 2011.
* I learned I was pregnant again in July of 2011 (with twins no less!).
* I delivered Halsey in mid-April of 2012 (we learned at around 13 weeks that one twin had simply failed to develop).
* Hooray for having Irish twins who are only 10.5 months apart!

With a condition that made it feel like I had an ax permanently wedged into my pubic region, coupled with a massive amount of weight gained in a relatively short amount of time, plus a traumatic labour and delivery experience, and a sprinkle of postpartum depression and psychosis, I’m surprised that the only lasting effect was this TERRIBLE pain on the right side of my lower back, near my sacroiliac (SI) joint.

For this, I endured more than a handful of steroid injections into my lumbar and sacral vertebrae and quite a few “radiofrequencies” (a gentle term for what amounts to my doctor literally burning off the nerve endings in various dermatomes in order to eliminate the daily pain I suffered from). And when that stopped working, they decided that back surgery to implant a neurostimulator would be worth a shot, to see if that might finally get rid of the pain (and be the end of me having to take highly controlled, Schedule I narcotics on the daily).

It hadn’t occurred to me until now, but in just a couple of days (October 22) it’ll be two years since having that surgical procedure – the neurostimulator surgery that (only marginally) fixed the original pain issue (coming from the right side of my lower back near my SI joint).

Which brings me to the next point I’d like to make:

2. Having that surgery was one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made.

Having a neurostimulator implanted generally requires an overnight hospital stay. My hospital stay was damn near a week. For the first two days post-op, I was on morphine injections every 4 hours on. the. dot. and even then I spent the first 36 hours in so much pain that all I could do was curl up as best I could and just weep. “Two minor incisions” really turned out to be two four-inch-long gashes that required a combined total of approximately 60 metal staples – half in my mid-back (where the wired electrodes were implanted into my spinal column) and the remainder in my left hip (where the wireless battery that powers said electrodes calls home). And even though I was finally discharged after 6 nights in the hospital doesn’t mean I magically felt better. I was just tired of being away from my babies and was hell-bent on being home in time to enjoy Halloween (my favourite holiday of the year).

But that wasn’t the worst of it. Not even close. You see, in order to thread the electrodes into my spinal column, the surgeon has to do a procedure called a laminectomy, which essentially means that each side of one vertebra is removed (in order to make room to insert the wires). That’s generally all fine and good except the vertebra that the laminectomy was performed on is immediately underneath two vertebrae that are already fused together. (Remember the part where I talked about having had back pain since my teenage years? Well, it stems from this fusion a.) being located in an area of my thoracic spine which already doesn’t get much movement and therefore results in the thick muscles that support my spine constantly being in a cramped/tightened state, and b.) being congenital and not from a prior back surgery. Regardless, the end result is the same: the congenital vertebrae fusion and laminectomy essentially located in the same area means that all of the muscles that support that area constantly hurt. Muscle relaxers? I’ve tried every. single. one. my insurance will cover (which is 6 or 7) and they didn’t help in the slightest. Chiropractic care? I’ve tried it numerous times (with numerous providers) without benefit. TENS therapy? ZERO help. Ice packs and heating pads? Nope and nope. Literally, the only treatment that made my life worth continuing was continuing to take narcotic painkillers. Or lying down on a surface hard enough (i.e., not a bed) that it allows me to completely straighten my spine enough for the electrical impulses of my neurostimulator to hit the areas that hurt so that the electrical impulses mask the sensation of pain. Fun times, right?

Except, not really. Because apparently all some people see is me literally “lying down on the job” (i.e., lying on the dirty ass ground) when everyone else is “busting their ass.” And if that’s not what people notice, all they think is how unfair it is that they have to work a full shift (e.g., four straight hours) when I only work two or three straight hours. Because apparently all some people see is me sitting on the sidelines for 20-30 minutes and somehow think that I don’t make up that time by coming in to work for literally 20-30 minutes the next day (even if it takes me 2-3 times that length of time just to commute to work). Because apparently all some people see is me, perfectly able-bodied and just half-assing it in order to get something that they deserve and I don’t because THEY ARE working REALLY HARD and I’m just…not? Which brings me to the last point I’d like to make before I wrap this up for tonight.

3. Not all disabilities are visible. Remember that the next time you perceive certain behaviours as “lowering morale” because someone’s actions may be different than your own.

[I seriously doubt that those who need to read this will ever see it but on the off chance that they do, I’d like to say that nothing I’ve shared here is a secret and I’m more than happy to talk about any and all of this face-to-face. And I don’t mean that in a defensive or confrontational way. Seriously, just talk to me about it. Ask me about it. But whatever you do, PLEASE don’t make blind assumptions about it or about me. I’m about 99.4% as capable as you are doing any physical activity that you do – it may just take me longer or require that I make some modifications/accommodations in order to get it done. But it doesn’t mean that I won’t get it done because I will, even if that means I overdo it (which is often the case). One of my biggest fears is being thought of as weak and I will physically damage myself trying to prove that I’m not. Because I’m not. I look forward to each resale event because I genuinely love everyone else I’ve met who also takes part in them. Being pulled aside and talked to because one or more people seem to think that I’m not pulling my weight was heartbreaking to hear because of how much work I do. Yes, I’m a 20-hour volunteer and every. single. event. I’ve taken part in has seen me work more than 20 hours. And I’m not even going to mention anything about how every. single. event. has also meant my youngest son is hospitalized due to having another seizure. It’s pretty much the unfunniest running joke possible at this point. The good news? He had his seizure two days prior to this event’s set up. Hopefully we’ll make it through this one without another. (Fingers crossed.) Ed.]

Also (and completely unrelated), I’m back bebes! Just be patient and give me some time and I’ll have this place feeling like home again in no time. <3

How does she do it?

The majority of my mom friends only have one or two children. So whenever we get together and/or have a chance to talk, it’s inevitable that they remark about how much more I have to handle and deal with.

And it’s true. Having 5 children certainly does make for more chaos! I just brush these comments off though because little do they know that I have a handful of secrets to manage the stress. Most moms with less than 2 or 3 children will not understand these methods, and that’s OK. Moms of 4 (or more) will totally get this. There are numerous issues I encounter while trying to get through my day. These issues include:

    1. Idle hands spend time doing terrible toddler things (e.g., picking their nose, putting their hands in their diaper, dumping cat food into the cats’ water bowl).
    1. When toddlers step out of line, the punishment must be swift and harsh.
    1. When toddlers do good work, the reward must also be swift (and sometimes harsh).
  • The following are 4 of my secrets for getting through the day without beginning to drink at 8:45 a.m.

    Secret #1: Your 2-year-old is more capable than you think:
    Put their incessant energy to good use by making them perform the household chores that you hate. For example, let your toddler wash their own bottles. In addition, have them finish up the leftover dishes from the previous night’s dinner.

    Also, cleanliness is next to godliness, so have them wash their hands repeatedly. This is a double bonus, because they will have relatively clean hands (for a couple of minutes) and they find this exercise enjoyable.

    Secret #2: 2-year-olds are excellent at doing laundry:
    Here you can see Coraline cleaning out the lint filter. Another double bonus, because the lint problem gets taken care of and thoroughly punishes the toddler who has just spent 20 minutes washing her hands.

    Secret #3: Your 1-year-old is more capable than you think:
    For example, Halsey does an excellent job of (re)formatting his father’s Kindle.

    Also, they say a 1-year-old’s mouth is cleaner than a dog’s, so let him disinfect those germ-ridden game controllers.

    When your 1-year-old does his chores appropriately, a suitable reward is letting him play with plastic bags.

    However, when your 1-year-old tries to run from helping fold laundry…

    Suitable punishments include making him smash his own fingers in the kitchen hand towel drawer:

    Locking him in a dark bathroom:

    Making him watch TV from outside of the family room gate:

    One item of importance is making sure your 2-year-old doesn’t get lazy. You’ve got to make her sharpen her incredible gymnastic skills.

    Also, you can’t let your toddler get too comfortable. A good way to keep them in line is making them nap without their favourite blanket. Note the look of glee on my 2-year-old’s face. She clearly enjoys my creative methods for compliance.

    Secret #4: Your cat can actually be helpful:

    Here is Lieutenant Clawhugs reporting for duty.

    He helps by using his entire furry body to dust off the kitchen table.

    Cats are also excellent inspectors.

    In fact, cats are very thorough inspectors.

    Once your cat is done inspecting your toddler’s work, he’ll likely want to take a break by laying on a clean kitchen towel. (This is because cats are notoriously lazy.)

    At least he makes up for his laziness by voicing his complaints. (Cats hate the paparazzi.)

    This Is Love ♥

    (From left to right: the Middle, a Little, and a Biggle)

    Better late than never.

    My oldest boy turned 12 years old (born on the 4th of July!), the other day. Rather than just slapping on a normal gift tag, I decided to create one, specially for him. I went through hundreds of pictures in order to add a picture from every single birthiversary he’s had so far.

    Sadly, I realized that I have zero pictures from his 4th birthday (because his 4th birthiversary just so happened to be celebrated while he lived in England with his father, so naturally, I never received any pictures – if there even were any). Sidenote: Additionally, I found that for his 5th birthiversary celebration (also, while he lived with his father in England), I received a total of 3 pictures of his celebration, and (again), zero pictures of this 6th birthiversary. (If you guessed it was because he was still living with his father, you’d be absolutely correct.) /sidenote.

    Regardless of this, I still managed to create this, something that I, myself, was proud of. I’m happy to report that Todd really enjoyed it too. So much so, that he wants me to reprint it so I can frame it and hang it in his room.

    Happy 12th Birthiversary, Todd. I love you more than you will ever be able to measure. ♥

    Overheard in the Household – Volume 4

    From several weeks ago:
    Logan: Julie, you’re pulling my leg off!

    Another “conversation” later that same day:
    Logan: Julie, you knocked my shirt off.
    Me: Do you mean, you knocked my socks off?
    Logan: (Muttering under his breath as he walked away.) Yeah, you knocked my sock off.

    An Open Letter to Coraline “Jones” Dukes

    Today, you turned 2 years old. I am both astounded and horrified that you’re already another year older.

    Maybe it’s because it’s been so long since I’ve had a 2 year old that I wholeheartedly believe that you are an absolute genius. (Or, it may just be because I’m your mother.) Let me list the ways:

    • You know and regularly use close to 200 “signs” (in American Sign Language).
    • You know your colours (although you still get pink and purple confused sometimes) and can sign them all.
    • You can count to 10, both out loud and with sign language.
    • You recognize all of the letters of the alphabet, along with their respective signs.
    • You are already an amazing gymnast. You regularly climb on top of your little car all the way up to the handlebars, then proceed to balance yourself on the handlebars on the tiptoes of ONE FOOT, just to reach things we intentionally try to keep out of your reach. (Like the television remote, wet wipes, vodka, whatever.)
    • You idolize your big brothers. You always walk around the house asking (i.e., yelling) for Todd while he is at school during the day. You get so happy when you see him walk through the door because you know that means it’s time to play. You do the same thing with Logan.
    • You are an incredible climber! More than once I’ve caught you sitting in the middle of the kitchen table because you’ve climbed up onto a dining room chair to reach the table’s surface. (Our kitchen table approximately 4.5 feet tall.)
  • At your party today, you single-handedly astounded Great Papa by counting to 10 out loud. You shocked Papa and Gramom by naming all of the coloured polka dots on the wrapping paper your gift was in. You made Great Grandmama laugh at the way you are so particular sometimes (OK, all the time).

    But here’s the news of today’s heartbreak: When I came to scoop you up out of bed first thing this morning, instead of allowing me to do so, you threw your leg over the bar of your crib and shimmied down to the floor, all on your own. It was gut-wrenching to witness this, but it was also incredible to see how confident you are in all of your amazing, glorious, precocious, 2-year-old self.

    I couldn’t be any prouder or more awestruck at how lucky we are to have you as our daughter.

    I love you fiercely, Coraline Grayson Dukes. Happy 2nd Birthiversary.

    Overheard in the Household – Volume 3

    This little nugget is also from several months ago.

    Me: Now that she’s done napping, Cora is currently in her crib dancing and making out with Eeyore.
    Derek: I always feared that my daughter would end up dating a jackass.

    Overheard in the Household – Volume 2

    This installment of OHH is brought to you by a child named Logan:

    A while back, Logan ran into our front room where Derek and I were sitting in order to ramble off some completely random fact he felt important enough to share with us. (Because it’s been several months now, I can’t remember what it was exactly.) Before he sprinted back into the family room, we had the following conversation.

    Logan: (Insert random knowledge trivia here.)
    Me: Wait, wait, wait! What made you think of that?
    Logan: My brain just thought of it. I had a brainstorm!

    From this past weekend…

    Logan: Guess what? We have a new student in our class!
    Me: That’s exciting! Are they nice?
    Logan: Her name is Amelia. I introduced her to myself!

    There is no cure for curiosity.

    Benjamin Franklin, in a 1773 letter, expressed regret that he lived “in a century too little advanced, and too near the infancy of science” that he could not be preserved and revived to fulfill his “very ardent desire to see and observe the state of America a hundred years hence.”

    You have NO idea…

    How much I want her to marry this boy. (Once they are both in their mid-thirties or so.)