My Transgender Daughter’s Real Name

Most of you know the story of our amazing daughter and how bravely she walks through the world being true to herself. You know how she uses her voice (and taught us about using ours) to make it safer for everyone to be their authentic selves. She has taught us about what is real and what actually matters.

She’s been telling us for about 9 months now that she wished she had a prettier name, and that grew into some anxiety this month with having a boy in her class named Lincoln.

This weekend she asked us to remind her about the other names we had chosen for her when she was in my belly. We had chosen Savannah as a girl name six years ago, but after that first ultrasound, we thought we wouldn’t need it. This is the kid that keeps us on our toes, though.

She spent the rest of this past weekend asking us to call her Savannah, making a tally sheet to give us gold checks for using the name and blue X’s for forgetting. She practiced writing her new name over and over and asked us to explain it to her teachers and friends. She told me when she went to bed that she couldn’t wait to see her “real name,” on her locker and mailbox at school.

There will probably be haters who think Savannah is too young to make choice about who she is. They’ll say she may change her mind (she might, but I don’t see that as a big deal. I think we all change our minds in learning who we are.) The truth is anyone who chooses to get hateful or indignant about honoring trans kids have clearly never done any real research on the staggeringly high self-harm and suicide rates in transgender children. If they had, they would understand that making sure our child is supported is not just kind and respectful, it’s a matter of life and death.

I hope you’ll all help us welcome our little girl with her new name of Savannah Madison. She will light up like a Christmas tree if you use her name. And as always, thanks for honoring our child by respecting who she is and how she likes to be referred to.

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If It Costs More Than I Have

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We live in divisive and trying times. We all know it and we all feel it, no matter how much we try to “stay out of it” or avoid confrontation. The toxicity of these days has seeped into the air, the water, every pore of our skin and our relationships. We can’t escape it because it’s everywhere.

This can make it feel impossible to decide what battles to pick, which fights to take on and which to let go of. What incident needs defending and what situation needs cooling off. Who we can help and when we need to step back for our own self-preservation.

It’s a tightrope that very few of us were taught to walk on, even when the world was friendlier and less outright hateful.

We were not taught to calmly talk out difficult conversations with people we don’t agree with. We were taught to ignore and avoid conversations and people we disagree with.

This means that if we’re trying to break this cycle and talk about the hard things, we are going to have some trial and error. Because the human animal, by default, looks for the easy route.

What we can handle and how much we can shoulder is going to be different for all of us, and different every day or time in our lives. It’s a personal choice that rotates like the sun.

For me, it comes down to what I can afford.

Some situations, people, and even friends and family, are energy suckers. They will hog your emotional couch so you can’t relax, keep you up all night with their drama and drain your battery. You have to decide how much to give them. Because some people will literally take all you have.

If it costs more than you have, it’s not worth it. Regardless of how cute they are, what they say, or how long you’ve known them.  No matter what their title or category in your life. If they leave you feeling beat up, blinking red at four percent battery life after every encounter, they cost too much!

We have limited time. Limited energy. Limited waking hours to invest in other humans.

Choose the ones who do not suck you dry. Choose the ones who help fill you up.

The Septum Piercing Litmus Test

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Back to School From a Mother’s Heart

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Lincoln- age 4

Today is my daughter Lincoln’s last day home with me before starting 4k. I’m feeling so conflicted about it. She’s so independent, loves to socialize and she’s very excited so this is the next right step. But she’s also my baby and the child who needs the most protection in an increasingly agitated world so letting her go even a little bit feels scary.

On the other hand, she’s found a train whistle to blow incessantly for our last morning together and that’s probably a helpful reminder to me about needing some peace.

Brice and Lincoln

For the vast majority of my adult life, my time- in both moments and years- has been spent caring for others. Taking care of my girls and my mom, and then just when the girls got somewhat self-sufficient, Brice came along. When Brice finally got old enough to leave every morning for 4K, Lincoln was a newborn. It’s been more than 8 years since I’ve had mornings to myself. And it’s been 22+ years that I’ve been the primary caregiver for many people that I love.

Georgia’s first day of kindergarten. Holly’s first day of 3k. Grand Lake, Colorado 2001

The truth is, I need some time for me. For all these years, my days have been spent picking up and dropping off kids and groceries and toys and messes. Doctors and dentists and orthodontists and appointments. Because someone needs to do it. There is always a long to-do list and the one consistent thing that drops off that list is me and my needs. My work, my writing and my photography. My chance at a social life. Everyone else’s needs seem greater, or they are louder and more adamant. My needs are a silent priority so my moments for peace and quiet disappear until its far too late to do anything except head to bed so there will be energy to do it all again tomorrow.

I’m well aware that I need this time if I ever want to finish the book I keep picking at yet never give my full attention to. I need this time to pitch articles and answer emails and take pictures and read a book or even an article without interruption.

But for every door that opens, another closes. The price for the peace and silence feels like ending of an era. Because it is. Lincoln will go into school and then she’ll be gone, at least partially. Five mornings a week she will no longer be mine. She will be her own person, separate from me completely in those hours. And in another blink of an eye, she will be in kindergarten and then she’ll be gone all day. The concentric circles that make up our lives as parents will keep widening farther and farther. After 22 years of parenting, I find this a much scarier thought than I used to. After 22 years of parenting, I’m so very much defined by this role of mom. I couldn’t separate myself from it if I tried. It’s built in like rings within the tree, counting the years and generations.

Georgia, senior. Holly, sophomore. Brice, age 3.

And now I know that I’m going to blink and these long days of constant demands and noise and “Hey Mama!” will be replaced with the silence of their absence as the circles widen even further until eventually they have lives all their own. I know this all too well. Twenty years goes by while you are picking up and dropping off and making appointments until suddenly you are the one left behind. You- the one who sacrificed your whole life so they could have theirs.

The baby who will make me a Grammie.

In truth, it all feels like it’s all coming to a head. Twenty-two years ago my oldest child was born. Now she’s having a baby of her own, as my own baby picks out her clothes for her first day of school. Even my sweet “little” Brice is suddenly looking like a big 8-year-old this year. And my husband’s vasectomy looms in the shadows of later this month, like the final tipping of the scales from one part of my life to the next.

Brice, 4k

And I’m not even saying any of it is wrong or shouldn’t be this way or that its not for the best. I’m just saying it’s really hard after all these years to let it go. To move on into the phase of big kids and grandkids and more time for me and my dreams and career and maybe even a little quiet. Sometimes even the thing you want and need so badly can be so hard to face.

But for this morning, there is a loud train whistle and a little girl singing along with Frozen. And I will take it while I have it.

Georgia, age 5. Holly, age 3. Where do the years go? ❤️

A Year of Plant-Based Life

A year ago yesterday, my husband and I embarked on a new and exciting adventure with food. We dropped meat and dairy from our diets in an attempt to become as healthy as we could.

Saying it like this makes it sound like it was some big leap of a decision that we made overnight. But for a year before that, we were already dropping foods from our diets and researching how to eat healthy. Because despite there being a thousand weight loss and exercise programs out there, it seems to me that very very few of us really know what it takes to truly be healthy.

I struggled with my weight and my health for most of my life. I would always claim “I eat pretty healthy,” or admit that I just needed to exercise more. By even when I did “eat healthy,” I didn’t see real results. And I sure as heck didn’t feel great. I mostly lost weight from extremely stressful times when I could barely eat anything at all. Or from illness. Even the year of my life that I ran 20-25 miles a week didn’t help me get the results I was looking for. Weight loss and “being healthy” always seemed to be some big secret that I wasn’t privy to.

My husband struggled with obesity most of his life as well. After becoming ill and finding out he had diabetes, he lost a lot of weight thanks to a strict regime of egg white omelettes, white meat chicken, very low calorie counts and grueling daily workouts with a trainer. His diabetes became at least decent and his blood pressure became manageable. He still required cholesterol meds. But a bland diet of only a handful of foods and a strict, intensive exercise program rarely lasts long for even the most strong-willed among us. And once kids and family commitments came along, exercising for hours each day became impossible. And eating habits reverted back to foods that were quick and readily available. Of course, the weight came back on.

This was where we were about two years ago. At the same time, I was unable to lose the weight I’d gained being pregnant and nursing our daughter, Lincoln. I was having lots of stomach problems, allergy problems, hormonal imbalances, sleeping problems, breathing issues, joint and muscle pain and mood swings. My husband needed to go back on all his meds and was having his own fair share of medical scares. We both had parents who got seriously ill and died young, and we knew we were heading in the same direction. But where do you even start? Especially if you’ve already tried it all.

This is why I often say that this has been a journey. It wasn’t one big change but a series of them. For us, it started with eliminating red meat, and then trying to get rid of more processed foods. Then it became clear that my body couldn’t handle gluten so we dropped that. We food journaled. We researched. We whittled away at our diets, trying to eliminate all foods that didn’t serve us. The true goal was not to be thin. The goal was health and wellness. The goal was to NOT die young.

We saw some successes that year. We improved but also knew there was more work to do and that we needed help. So we started to watch documentaries and read books, keeping an open mind and enlisting critical thinking and logic. We specifically wanted to know how the healthiest people on earth eat.

This is when Forks Over Knives and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn came in and changed our lives. This is when we found the answers we’d been seeking forever. And this is when we made the most difficult jump and stopped looking back. One year ago. I’m so very very thankful for that day.

Without ever being hungry, we both lost weight and immediately began to feel so much better. Without having to eat bland boring diets (or dangerous fad diets) we both got thinner than we’ve ever been. And unlike all the other times in our lives that we’d lost weight, we did all of this without exercise. And without ever feeling deprived or bored or hungry, because we eat a huge variety of nutrient-rich and filling foods. Real foods. Fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils. Whole foods.

Unlike so many fad diets out there, this way of eating and living drastically improved not just how we look but also how we feel. And most importantly, it improved our actual health. Our cholesterol and blood pressure numbers are better than your average 10 year old. Better than either or us have ever been on record in our lives. This is quite the accomplishment at 44 and 49 years old. Without meds or anything except plants as fuel, we have turned back the clocks in our arteries and our immune systems. Like some magical fountain of youth, made out of bananas and lentil soups.

The most common comment I get is, “But I could never eat that way! I couldn’t give up cheese/burgers/pizza/donuts.” But I am not some superhero and neither is my husband. We have no magical powers. We ate the standard American diet for most of our lives and we were just as addicted to it as the rest of America. We feel no superiority or self-righteousness because we’ve had all the same struggles and battles with food as most people do.

We wouldn’t be able to eat this way (for a whole year now, without exception) if it wasn’t satisfying and incredibly tasty. The biggest challenge was some patience with the learning curve of looking at food in a new way. It took a willingness to give it a little time, as well as an open mind to the possibility of a better life.

I often say that I wouldn’t go back to the standard American diet if you paid me millions. And I mean it. My allergies are gone. My stomach problems are gone. My joint pain and muscle aches and stiffness are gone. My body feels better than it did in childhood. And more than anything, the fear and dread of dying young like our parents has left the forefront of our worries.

We can’t protect ourselves against all of the pitfalls in this fragile life, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look both ways and learn to cross the street safely. That doesn’t mean we don’t buckle up when we get into our minivans. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn to eat for our health.

My mom had a heart attack just before she turned 54. It almost killed her, and I watched her (and cared for her) through another dozen years of health crisis after crisis. I think of this whenever I’m told my diet is “crazy.” As well as this quote form a doctor I’ve come to think of as a mentor.

“Some people think a plant-based diet, whole foods diet is extreme. Half a million people a year will have their chests opened up and a vein taken from their leg and sewn onto their coronary artery. Some people would call that extreme.”

-Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn

What I know most certainly of all is that if my husband and I can navigate and learn this lifestyle, so can you.

The Baby-Making Shop

I’m being chased and tempted by newborns. Or at least that’s how it feels. Pictures of my babies keep popping up on my Facebook memories. And everywhere I look, someone has a round pregnant belly or a tiny baby. Like a constant reminder of something I’m trying to forget.

I’m feeling so stuck in between, as my own body begins to close down it’s baby-making shop, and my oldest daughter is presently growing me my first grandchild.

And my husband has a vasectomy scheduled for August.

All of this plays a part in these feelings. But mostly, it’s about to be so final. And I want it to be final. I begged and fought to make this vasectomy happen. But it’s still closing the door on something that’s taken up 22 years of my life. It’s hard to let go of so much in one quick snip.

I keep thinking about bringing my first baby home. Georgia was so tiny and I was scared I couldn’t take care of her since I couldn’t even keep houseplants alive. I remember learning to nurse her and comfort her and how to become a mother inside our log house in the mountains. There is inevitably so much fear and success with our first babies.

And the days after Holly was born, sitting in the hot hospital room in Denver, amazed how love multiples with each baby, like magic. Bringing my sweet, quiet dark-haired baby home to the cool mountains, to our little family comprised of her sister and me and my mom. How she completed us and made us whole.

And our tiny apartment on Park Avenue here in Beaver Dam with Brice as a newborn. The god awful heat that summer, and Brice’s little bird mouth, constantly nursing. The girls and I watching episodes of DeGrassi and passing his sweet, jaundiced little body between us. Those were some of the sweetest times of my life.

I feel like I missed a lot with Lincoln. I’d lost a lot of blood during labor and was exhausted for weeks after the birth. I broke my foot 3 weeks postpartum. Both Brice and I picked up a bad stomach flu that first month. We had lots of photo jobs with deadlines and we were in the midst of buying a house. And I was caring for my mom and was so worried about her because I knew she was not going to be with us much longer. I didn’t watch my last baby slip away into not being a baby anymore because I had so much to do. And I was too busy watching my mother leave this world.

It haunts me now, as my uterus and it’s baby-making shop shuts down and my husbands vasectomy looms closer. The minutes click by and I keep thinking that if I don’t rush out right now and make it happen, there will be no more babies.

And that’s okay. In reality, I don’t want more babies. I don’t need any more babies.

But it’s still so very hard to let that go.

$1300 For a New Patient Visit ?!?

In April, I made an appointment as a new patient to see a physician’s assistant here in town. My appointment was with Mary Ann Chambers, a PA affiliated with Beaver Dam Community Hospital Medical Clinics in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. The hospital has outlying clinics in many areas throughout the state.

I hadn’t been to a doctor in years because my primary care provider had moved out of the area, but mostly because I’d been generally healthy and not ill. But in January, I had a bad bout of Influenza. I was improving steadily, but still feeling fatigued if I did too much. A friend (who is a nurse) recommended that I get checked, specifically for my thyroid function, since I have a family history and the flu can trigger thyroid problems.

I went online, found a physician through our insurance who was in network and also local, as I try to support locally for everything I can. I made an appointment for the following week, which was the soonest regular appointment they had available.

The Beaver Dam Community Hospitals and Clinics website states: “Our mission: Deliver excellence across a continuum of services. Our vision: Be the regional destination for health care by cultivating an engaging work environment in which our care team delivers unprecedented quality, safety and service at a competitive price.”

Since they put it in writing, I suppose I expected that to be true.

When I arrived,  Chambers asked me why I was there, as well as a detailed list of potential problems I might be having, in addition to getting a family history. When she asked about diet, I explained that we are whole food, plant-based, meaning that we eat no meat, no dairy, no eggs, no processed foods and no oil. We eat fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains as close to their original form as possible.

At this point, she stopped me and informed me that no diet was “a magic bubble,” and that I was just as likely to have a heart attack at young age like my mother had, even if I was “skinny right now.” She told me that I would most likely be walking out of that office with blood pressure and cholesterol medications, no matter, “how special” I thought I was. She went on to tell me numerous horror stories of “vegans,” she knew who had heart attacks and cancers at young ages. When I tried to explain that vegan is not the same way of eating as plant-based, she refused to let me explain the differences and told me she had, “heard enough about what you eat because it’s not actually important to your health.”

She did feel my thyroid, informing me that “Your thyroid is fine so you were wrong about that,” as if coming in with a specific concern was not only discouraged but reason for shaming. She did not feel any of my lymph nodes, despite knowing I had recently had Influenza. She did not have me undress or check over any part of my body except the thyroid. She did listen to my heart and lungs through both of my thick shirts for a total of 3 breaths in and out.

Then she proceeded to show me her gnarled arthritic fingers, then grabbed her large belly with them and told me that these were signs of aging and I should “wake up to the reality” they would happen to me too. She told me that when menopause hit, I would gain weight and have health problems like everyone else. Again, she told me that I wasn’t “special” just because I didn’t eat meat.

In the end, she didn’t want to draw any blood work, telling me that for now I was the picture of health and didn’t even need to exercise. She told me I needed to get more rest and should consider eating meat. I told her that based on my mother having a heart attack at 53 years old, I had to insist on some basic labs. I hadn’t been seen by a doctor since my last child was born 4 years earlier, and at 44 years old, I felt that a check of my cholesterol was important. She reluctantly agreed after I reminded her of her comment that I was most likely going to walk out of the office on at least blood pressure and cholesterol medications.

A nurse came in and drew some blood and then I left, feeling no more reassured than when I had come in. But very sure that I needed to find a better doctor. Not only did she constantly contradict herself, but she had a lot of obvious animosity about my chosen way of eating, as well as making snide comments about me being thin and healthy. And at 5’3 and 130 pounds, I am not skinny or fat but healthy in both appearance and BMI. I honestly felt discriminated against for my good health, an odd experience to have with a medical professional.

I got a letter (as in, an actual in the mailbox letter) over a week later, stating that I was very slightly anemic, and very, very slightly low on vitamin D. Chambers insisted in the letter that this was due to my diet, and that I should take iron pills and vitamin D and come back to see her in 3 months to re-draw labs. That was it. No conversation, no call, no follow up. Just a letter.

I added more foods with iron to my diet and tried to forget the whole thing, other than asking around to some friends to find a new doctor.

Had Chambers taken the time to speak with me, or look at old labs in the system, she would’ve learned that I have always tested slightly anemic. And any doctor or PA worth their salt knows that literally everyone is low in vitamin D in Wisconsin in April, and that a little spring sunshine would resolve it easily. But the rest of my labs were stellar, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone healthier on paper than I am. I desire a physician who is willing to support that, and work with me and have a real conversation about my health. It was obvious that Ms. Chambers either had too much personal bias about my particular diet, or simply was not capable of learning about something new.

Either way, by the time a month had gone by, I was feeling back to my normal self. The medical visit faded out into a bad memory.

Until last month, on my birthday no less, two months after my appointment, when I received a bill for $1300. Our insurance paid $450, the (very reasonable) maximum they will pay for a regular doctor visit with labs, leaving me with a bill for $850. This was for a regular office visit, with labs drawn right there in the office. No tests, scans or even taking off my clothes. I was in office less than 25 minutes and they felt their “care” of me justified $1300.

I initially thought it was a mistake and called billing. But they assured me that it “sounded pretty standard” and said they’d send me an itemized bill. The itemized bill shows nothing more than a routine visit and that she ordered every blood test she could possibly order, although since I am not overweight or even ill, and since she didn’t feel I even needed a full examination or blood work to begin with, I have no idea why she felt every single lab was necessary.

We had to call numerous times to Beaver Dam Community Clinics and Hospital to get answers and they finally informed us that their billing is based on a “point system.” They have been unwilling to release any explanation or written information about how their point system works, but they told us it was based on how involved a visit was and how much needed to be done and thus each patient would be charged accordingly. Apparently, my visit -where I was not even examined- was categorized as the “highest points,” they can bill a patient. Again, they are unwilling to provide me with the paperwork to try to understand why, although I can’t understand how someone as healthy as I am given such a lackadaisical exam would be considered such a high-risk, high-points patient.

Here are my labs, showing clearly in scientific proof that I am healthy and hardly a high-needs patient.

I try very hard to give everyone the benefit of the doubt but I have to wonder if Mary Ann Chambers was either simply discriminating against me because of her animosity towards my chosen way of eating, or if she simply over-tests all of her patients as some sort of scam in an already very crooked, for-profit medical system in America. I suppose it’s also possible that she may simply not know what she is doing and thus always tests for everything. I’d like to say that billing helped answer my questions but they have not.

You would think a $1300 bill would flag the billing department of the BDCH as unreasonable, but they have had this case “in review” for over a month and get more tight-lipped by the day. At the time of this writing, they completely and totally stand by their outrageous bill, and their PA Chambers.

I try, as a general rule, not to gossip or spread negative reviews about any of my experiences in life because I prefer to deal with the offending party directly. In this case, I have contacted the Beave Dam Hospital and Clinics billing department over a dozen times, and only have been allowed to talk to various billing employees. Despite repeatedly asking, I have not been given answers about my bill or who else I could contact to receive clarification. I alerted the billing department that I would be making all of this information public and would like to be sure they received the same information that I am sharing with the world. I was finally given the name James McComas, director of quality control, as well as a physical address, as I was informed that they DO NOT HAVE have email addresses for administrators. Umm, how is that possible? They told me that I am free to write him a letter and mail it if I want to.

Despite of all my efforts to remedy this or gain information, it appears that the only way that I can protect friends/potential future customers (or get the attention of the BDCH at this juncture) is to spread the word about this experience with whomever I can. I do not want any of my friends or anyone else in our area to be taken advantage of the way that I was. And no person should be charged $1300 for a well-visit, even if they are feeling slightly fatigued. Can you imagine what they may feel entitled to charge for that visit if someone were truly sick?

Such a bill is preposterous to begin with, but it is downright insulting when it comes from a biased, rude and incompetent medical professional.  I am writing this in hopes it finds those that are in search of or need a doctor, so they may seek out more affordable and proficient medical professionals. Professionals who will put patients over profits and will not take advantage of those who come in for help, let leave with nothing and get charged 4 times the average cost of a well-visit.

I am attaching the detailed itemized costs analysis I requested from the hospital, to show exactly what Beaver Dam Community Hospital and Clinics charges as well as the labs this particular PA felt necessary to run.

Hopefully anyone who finds this information will shop around at other clinics before choosing BDCH and being charged the same exorbitant prices. From even my initial investigating of the other providers my family has seen, BDCH Clinics prices are three to four times any other clinic in the area.