Unpatterned Mama

Stitching Life Together One Piece at a TIme

life changes

What would you do with one year of paid parental leave?

motherhood, parenthood, life changesLindsyComment

What would you do with one year of paid parental leave?

Netflix made the news recently for its progressive decision to allow employees to have one year of flexible time off for the first year after having or adopting a child. And it would be paid time off.

In other countries, this is standard practice. Chile grants eighteen weeks paid, or thirty-five weeks if you live in Norway. But here in the United States, where we’re supposed to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and do everything ourselves, we have no form of paid maternity leave, even. Forget paternity leave. Out of 184 developed nations, only we and Papua New Guinea have no paid maternity leave. Check out this chart from Bloomberg to see how other nations stack up against the U.S. in providing paid time off. Read the whole article here.

So what would I have done with one year of time off after having my son? First of all, I probably would not have returned to work after twelve weeks. I’m not sure who came up with the twelve-week benchmark, but that person had obviously never given birth, nor cared for a crying infant in the middle of the night for weeks on end. At twelve weeks postpartum, I had just barely figured out how to make myself presentable and get my son ready to go out the door. Granted, my maternity leave was during the coldest winter in recorded Chicago history, so we hadn’t gotten out much.

It’s hard to say what exactly would have happened, but observing the situation from the viewpoint, this is what I would consider a great plan:

 

  1. Stay at home until at least 16 weeks postpartum - maybe 20.

  2. Return to work on a part-time schedule - as in, four-hour shifts instead of eight-hour shifts.

  3. When baby is about nine months old, return to full-time shifts. (Nine months is when I remember things becoming noticeably easier and I started to think, “I can do this!”

  4. Enjoy the fact that all of the times I needed to miss work - for his viruses, sick calls, many ear infections, and all the times I caught something from him - will not be taken out of my sick or vacation time. They will be part of the flexible “year off.” This is a big one. I calculated that  i took about ten sick days after returning to work, but before my son turned one year old. This is just what happens when your child goes to day care. After missing only three days due to illness in my six years on the job, I ended up spending an entire week out with an upper respiratory infection, and I also somehow got two ear infections. The last time I’d had one, I’m sure I was only a baby myself. (Of course, having to take sick days would not irk me so much if they didn't mean my pot of days for a future maternity leave was dwindling.)

Again, this is all speculation. Maybe if I had eased back into work, rather than diving right into the deep end, it would have been even more difficult to go back to a full-time schedule. I doubt it, though. It is an exhausting time, full of worries and learning and making mistakes. Many would agree that having a child is the biggest life adjustment you will ever make. So is taking time to readjust the rest of your life fair and reasonable? I think so.

So, what would you do with a flexible year off after having a child? I’d love to hear what you think!

7 Ways Low Vision has Affected My Everyday Life

life changesLindsyComment

Last week, I wrote about the decline of my vision and learning that I have a hereditary disease called optic atrophy. Sometimes it’s hard to explain to people what exactly is wrong with my eyesight. For most people it’s a retinal problem, whereas I have issues with my optic nerve. Most people can see well with correction, but I can’t. Since I can make my way around without glasses pretty well (as long as I’m not driving), people sometimes don’t quite understand where the problems lie. Am I nearsighted or farsighted? I think it’s all a bit more complex than that, and I’d like to tackle it in a later post. For now, though, I’ve created a list of the way my vision problems show up in everyday life.

Driving has become both a chore and a privilege.

  1. Driving has become a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I’m glad that I can still drive at all. I’ve been driving myself around since I was sixteen, and to have that taken away would be hard to grasp. On the other hand, the act of driving has changed a lot for me. I can’t drive at night. It’s hard to tell the difference between red and green lights (I look at their position instead of their color). Living is the age of GPS is something I'm incredibly grateful for, since it makes navigating unfamiliar areas so much easier. I’ve always been a cautious driver, but now I’m extra-cautious. Because what the majority of people can see from fifty feet away, I can only see from twenty feet away. Since my vision has changed gradually, this adjustment wasn’t something I noticed very much. When I think back on what driving was like for me ten years ago, though, I’m kind of amazed at how easy it seemed. However, I don’t actually recall all of that clearly, which leads us to…

  2. I don’t remember what having 20/20 vision was like. Sure, I can think back on how I used to be able to see a classroom presentation from the back of the room, or use a laptop in my actual lap (!), but I don’t remember the clarity of my vision. My husband might point to something out in the distance, and I feel surprised that he can see it, because I don’t remember what normal vision can do.

  3. Overhead menus are my worst enemy. Note to coffee shops, cafes and the like: Please always have a paper menu prominently displayed in your establishment. Panera Bread succeeds at this, Starbucks does not. I can’t read those overhead menus. I’m guessing I’m not the only one, either. If I’m with someone, I can ask, but that is really tedious, and it makes my skin prickle that I have to stand there and listen to my mother or friend recite soup and sandwich options. I have also been known to pull up the menu on my smartphone so I can place my order, but it’s not a perfect strategy. So please, stick some paper menus in a stand. I know they’re not earth-friendly, but most people just put them back after looking anyway, so it all works out.

I use the Magnifier when working on the computer these days.

 

4. Using the computer is literally a pain. A few months ago I was prescribed eight weeks of physical therapy because of neck pain. I’d been dealing with a shooting pain from neck to elbow and one day it peaked to the point of near-immobility. While I might be able to place some of the blame on picking up a toddler multiple times a day, the real reason was that I was straining forward to read my computer screen. After that, I finally faced the facts and got real about my needs. I started using the Magnifier (docked at the top of my screen), asked for a wider monitor at work, and I do my best to keep my posture in check. This was another situation where my vision changed slowly and I didn’t realize what I needed to work better. I do have to add that technology is my friend. I can zoom in on my mobile devices and customize the size of the text when reading ebooks. These features make my life easier.

5. If I’m in a big crowded area, I might lose sight of my companions. Taking note of what Stephen is wearing is routine now, because it’s the easiest way to spot him later. My blurry distance vision just can’t distinguish faces that well. This also means I’ll need to be extra vigilant when watching Hunter at the playground, and if he ever plays sports, I probably won’t be able to follow him on the field/court/rink.

6. Big screen TVs are the only way to go. Not that I would advocate for watching a lot of television, but when I do, a big screen is always better. I’m used to our gigantic 54-inch tv by now, and when I encounter say, a 19-inch, I’m appalled at how little of the show I can actually make out. It’s Blurrytown for sure. I used to love watching French movies, something I did often when Stephen and I first started dating eight years ago. Now subtitles make my stomach turn a bit at the amount of work involved, for something that should be a relaxing activity. The same goes for watching a presentation or reading song lyrics off the screen at church. Unless I sit up front (which I do a lot more of now), I can’t make out the words or images.

 Lucky for me, colored pencils are labeled with their names.

Lucky for me, colored pencils are labeled with their names.

7. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to teach my own kid about colors. In fact, I’ve even thought about putting labels inside some of my clothes so I know I’m grabbing the navy shirt and not the black one. Shopping online is often easier than shopping in a store if I’m trying to color-coordinate fabrics, because the color is listed in the description (not to mention the convenience of keyword searches). Standing in HomeGoods, trying to decide if the rug I’m looking at is  pale pink or gray? Not fun. I take solace in the fact that many things in life are always the same color: red stop signs, blue skies, yellow daffodils. These are things I can share with my son. (The human mind is so interesting. Once I know what color something is, I can clearly see it as that color. I need to learn more about this.)

How Low Vision Changed My LIfe

adulthood, life changesLindsyComment

It's one of those things that we often take for granted; the simple ability to see clearly. Most people with blurry vision can bring things into focus with the right pair of eyeglasses. I am not one of those people. Growing up with 20/20 vision, I never thought I would be. I prided myself on how well I could see. Several years ago, however, my eyesight began to change, and I learned that I have a hereditary eye disease called optic atrophy. 

Most people get glasses because there is something irregular about their retina. The doctor would tell you my retinas are "perfect." What is not perfect is my optic nerve. Basically, when my retinas take in all the visual goodies and send them down the information highway to my brain, half of the report gets stuck on a dead end. Since about half of my optic nerve has atrophied, only half of the info my retinas take in is processed. Glasses help a bit, but since there is no way (yet!) to repair an optic nerve, I'm kinda stuck. Here's the story of how my life, and perspective, changed.

how low vision changed my life

 

December 2008: i visited a Sears Optical location for an eye exam. I remember this as being a strangely grown-up endeavor, somewhat exciting. This was just a few months after beginning my first professional job, and I was learning the ways of health insurance and in-network providers and the like. It seemed like a very adult thing to notice that maybe I needed glasses and hey, I could handle this on my own. There were no nerves, just a healthy sense of optimism.


At the exam, though, things took a strange turn. For my entire life, I had passed any eye exam with ease. Even just a year and half before, I had gone for one when my mom noticed I was squinting a lot, and there was no apparent problem. Now, though, I couldn’t seem to focus. First one corrective lense seemed better, and then the other did. The optometrist asked me to come back and have my eyes dilated; they appeared to be over-strained and we needed to relax my eyes to get a proper reading.


The dilation only helped a bit, because we still couldn’t get a 20/20 reading with any of the correction options. “Talk to your family,” she said. “See if you have any history of vision problems.” As Stephen and I drove home, I called my parents and told them about the whole situation with some puzzlement, but no worry.


“We do have a history of vision problems,” my dad said. “Cone dystrophy.” This was news to me. Here I was, twenty-three years old, and I had never heard a word about it. My dad went on to tell me that not only did he have this condition, but also my grandpa and my father’s cousin. They all began to notice a decline in their vision in their 30s or 40s, and while it couldn’t be corrected to 20/20,  it had never been a big problem for them. Well, okay then. This was not a problem.


I called my optometrist and gave her the information, and we set up another appointment to find the best correction and choose some glasses. She referred me to some local ophthalmologists to get a better idea of what I was dealing with. Life went on.


February 2011: Two years later, I decided to visit one of the ophthalmologists. It seemed like my vision may have declined a bit more. It seemed like the right thing to do.


At the checkup, I failed the color vision test. I had a terrible time taking the exam, feeling frustrated that there were so many lines I couldn’t read. The very patient and sympathetic doctor referred me to a specialist in the field, a doctor affiliated with the University of Illinois-Chicago. I took the number, but didn’t call right away.


April 2011: A couple of months later, my twenty-sixth birthday was on the horizon. I needed to renew my driver’s license. Although I had received an offer to renew it by  mail, because of my safe driving record, I went in person because the letter said that was what you were supposed to do if you had gotten glasses since your last license renewal.


I was a little nervous about this, but I consoled myself that if my vision were that bad, surely the doctor would have pointed it out at my exam a couple of months ago.


I failed. Peering into the little viewfinder goggles at the DMV, every line of letters looked like an ant colony. Nothing seemed to form a coherent shape that I could read or even guess at. The clerk seemed unsympathetic, but gave me a form to take to my eye doctor. I left feeling humiliated and shattered, holding it together just long enough to make it home, and then I cried.


Sobbing, I called my parents. I called Stephen. “What am I going to do if I can’t drive? How will I get to work?” The worst thought, the one that I didn’t say out loud, was that I was losing my vision. That I might actually go blind.


I went back to the eye doctor a few days later and told her the story. “Call Dr. Fishman,” she reminded me. We completed my eye exam. It wasn’t the best-case scenario, but it wasn’t the worst, either. My vision clocked out at 20/50, meaning that I could still drive...but only in daylight.


At work, I told my boss with a strained voice. This would mean my weekly evening shift was no more; instead, I would only work during the day. The following November, when the days began to shorten, my hours would be 8-4 instead of 9-5. This small change was actually a problem since we would need extra coverage at the desk on some days, and I felt slightly ashamed of the disruption I was causing.


June 2011: Stephen and I went to see Dr. Fishman in the city, at the Chicago LIghthouse for People Who Are Blind or VIsually Impaired. Visually impaired, that was me. I wasn’t particularly happy about this whole trip. For one, I was growing to hate eye exams and the way they made me feel. For another, I felt like there wasn’t anything they could do to help, so what was the point?


It proved to be a great step forward, though. They were used to people who couldn’t see well, so the exams were playful and encouraging. I didn’t feel like a loser. After spending a lot of time with a resident, we heard him consulting with Dr. Fishman in the hall. And sight unseen, Dr. Fishman diagnosed me not with cone dystrophy, but with optic atrophy.


As it turned out, there were some key indicators of cone dystrophy that I just didn’t have. The two diseases could easily be mistaken for each other, when looked at broadly, but it was obvious that I didn’t have it. And the dead giveaway, apparently, was my very pale optic nerve. The paler the nerve, the more cells that have gone dead.


We concluded that my relatives had likely been misdiagnosed, and traced out the family tree. It was hypothesized that even though the onset of my atrophy occurred earlier than other family members, it had likely plateaued and would not worsen. I took lots of tests: field-of-vision tests, color vision tests; x-rays that scanned my eyeball. Since this was a teaching hospital, about eight different residents took a look inside my eyes, shining the tiny light and bringing their faces close to mine. I was there for four exhausting hours. At home, I took a nap.


Since then, I have visited Dr. Fishman and his team once a year. My vision has worsened only marginally since then. We’ve talked about my son, since there is a 50 percent chance that he has inherited the disease. I hold out hope for something to make it better. One of my Google Alerts is for search results on “stem cell optic atrophy”; there is speculation and very-early-days testing on the ability of stem cells to regenerate optic nerve cells.


Mostly, I’m happy to have my vision at all. As Dr. Fishman likes to remind me, what I do have is still pretty good. Just now, reading over this post, I noticed the word failed more than once. Even though it is true in the literal sense, and I most certainly felt like a failure at the time of those tests, I think I'll stop using that word when I think about my vision. What I should do is succeed. I should succeed at being grateful every day. It's so easy to get sucked into a land of sadness and pity and what-ifs. Together, let's be grateful for what we have.


Gratitude, gratitude, every day.