When I was around 9, we moved from a small everyday normal home on a small everyday normal street to a new house.

It was only 6 miles from House A to House B, but it was in another county. In my mind, it might as well have been moving to another universe. 

How would Maki, my across-the-street friend since the first grade, walk to my house to play? I fretted. I couldn’t fathom leaving the only street I had ever known.
And for a house whose directions go something like this:

Drive east on Military Road. Continue past my elementary school. Past the house with the 20-foot Nutcracker decorations standing sentry at Christmas. Past green tire road (named such because there hung a huge green tire as the unofficial gate to said road). To this day, I still don’t know the real name of that road.

Past the farm. Past the other farm. Past the pond where they found that 12-foot alligator. Past the two-pump gas station with the fried chicken that I was told was quite tasty, for gas-station fare.

Then turn right at the small white church. You’ll know it’s the right small white church because of the red flag in the sign. That’s our road. Drive down it. Keep going past the fancy houses. It turns to gravel. Keep going past the rundown houses. And the trailers. The snake curve, named such because it made an S like a snake, not because we saw a snake there. The log cabin. The pasture dotted with cows. 

Past the county dump. Because in the boonies, there is no trash pickup.
The trees start to bend inward and graze branches, creating a thick forest tunnel as the road narrows to a little bigger than one lane. Play chicken to see who has the right of way.

Keep driving.

Then, on your left, just as you think you’re about to run out of road … is our house. It’s in a hill. Not on a hill. In it.

We were moles. City mice turned country moles.

We lived in an underground house. One that I aspired to jump off of numerous times, but never worked up the gumption. One that my brother and I trundled down the side of in our little red wagon, me at the stern, more times than we could count.

The house with just two windows.

That house, if you could call it that.

It’s the only house like that out here. Or anywhere within a 75-mile radius, as far as we knew.

And there we were, a mole family holed up in a dark cave on 4.3 untended acres. Country living at its best.

Built facing the correct way, underground houses are the models of energy efficiency. They stay cool in the summer, warm enough in the winter. This helps the utility bill immensely, which might explain some of my parents’ motivation for moving.
Built facing the not-right way, these underground houses are growth chambers for mold and disease.

Ours was built wrong.

We were city folk trying to make the most of farm life. We had the starter kit: goats, corn, apple trees, and the dumbest chickens you will ever meet. Never let it be said that chickens can’t fly. They can, but not when their lives depend on it, apparently.

Me being 9, I named all of our animals except for our first goats – those were Lucy. Ethel, and Fred, named by my parents. 

The country does have its perks, or so I was told. The near solitude. The quiet. The big sky. None of which appealed to a girl on the edge of puberty used to making silly tapes into her recorder with her friends.

My dad, in his infinite city slicker wisdom, decided to blend the suburban and bucolic by putting the basketball goal and tire swing in the back yard. Ethel the goat firmly disagreed with this decision.

My posterior paid the price as she found butting me from my tire the most enjoyable activity since ever, that is, besides eating the grape leaves instead of the grass she was originally purchased to eat.

We obviously weren’t cut out for this country living thing.

By the time I turned 15, my mother had enough of it and moved back to the city, taking me and my brother with her. My dad eventually followed.

The home fit for moles went up for auction, and the lucky buyers put – what else? – a trailer on top of the house.

Now my story could wind up being just a little slice of the South. But in this county out in the country, in this house in a hill facing east and not west, there’s a little more to the story.

Technically, we’re in the South. But not quite southern enough. Because the farther you get from the equator, the less sun you get. The less sun, the less vitamin D. The fewer windows in that house built the wrong way, and we were human-sized moles, with eyes that strained in the sun and illnesses that lasted months at a time because of the mold that colonized on our walls and in our lungs.

I didn’t think much of this house in the hill until that brutal summer nearly a decade ago.

In the beginning, the vision in my left eye started to go away, like a vignette in an old-timey picture show slowly closing on a scene. The eye doctor didn’t have a firm diagnosis – but we settled on optic neuritis. My eyesight came back around the time my right leg started dragging.

I wound up being dragged to the ER.

There, the attending neurologist was foreign, with a thick accent. He ran a battery of tests, left, and came back. He then explained the next course of action, which included more poking and prodding. He left the room again to begin my admittance paperwork for a five-day stay.

At that point, I lost it, my carefully constructed composure crumbling as I tried to decode all he had said.

“Steel rods,” I cried. “Why put steel rods in me when I’m only going to be in the hospital for five days?”

My husband looked at me bemused, then amused.

“Steroids, Jennifer. He’s going to put on you on a five-day regimen of steroids.”

A month later, after my hospital stay, the steroids, the MRIs, the spinal tap, the learning to walk again, the uncertainty, I received my official diagnosis: Multiple sclerosis.

Researchers don’t know what causes people to get MS – most agree that genetics plus environment must play some role. Many think that a Vitamin D deficiency is also a factor. 

Postscript / I think back to those six years we spent underground, and how the country shaped us more than we shaped it. How we can be connected to a place event though we resist it. How tire swings and mold spores manifest into mood swings and closed doors.

I now live in a small everyday normal home on a small everyday normal street. There are no gravel roads, no gardens to tend, no grass-averse grumpy goats to fend off. 

And the total number of windows equals 12.


The small losses

Miscarriage is thought to happen in at least one in five pregnancies. That number might be a conservative estimate because some women never realize they were pregnant in the first place. Heartbreakingly common, yet rarely do we talk about pregnancy loss except in hushed whispers and tearful conversations with family and close friends.

It’s too sensitive a topic, this type of loss and grief. Part of it is the mystery surrounding it. As many scientific advances as we’ve seen in the past century, from moon landings to DNA sequencing, there is still so much we don’t understand about the human body, the female reproductive system in particular. Or rather, we do know about it, but are helpless to prevent the cause of most miscarriages before 13 weeks, chromosomal abnormalities that make a viable pregnancy not so.

The other is societal. We seek out what’s happy, and run far and fast from the sad. Because it’s all too much to process. And if you’re like me and have experienced recurrent pregnancy loss, it is overwhelming to the point of paralysis, devastating to a degree that makes you desperate beyond measure and largely inconsolable.

Miscarriage may have happened to you, your loved one, or someone you know. This is my story. I want to share it to help erase some of the stigma attached to recurrent pregnancy loss, show solidarity with those who have been there, and bring to light this all too common situation.

I know that in the world today, there are far larger tragedies and issues confronting many of us. Everyone has a mountain that is too steep, a darkness that goes too long, a struggle that persists. Mine began several years ago.


I was 33. Married for 10 years, we waited until we felt “ready” for to try for a baby. Our careers were in a good place, we thought, and financially we were OK. And friends our age were all starting to have kids. It seemed like the right time. I had been diagnosed the year prior with MS, but that was under control, with a Class C medication. Still, we became pregnant, and were ecstatic. But at 8 weeks, my first ultrasound, we discovered the beginning and the end – a fetus with no heartbeat.

It wouldn’t be the last time we’d hear the phrase “You’re still young. There’s still time.” Which is to say that the medical advice we were given was try, try again. How many have been told that same refrain?

But we weren’t satisfied with that answer, from an ob/gyn who wasn’t callous but wasn’t all that caring, either. We got a second opinion from a fertility specialist.

A hysteroscopy revealed a congenital uterine abnormality. A septate uterus, which was removed. The embroyo had implanted in that septum, unable to get any nutrients needed to sustain growth.

After a months-long recovery, we were going to try again, but my MS was not having any of it. Once I was feeling better, we began Letrozole to jumpstart my system to see if that helped. It didn’t.

We took a break, focused on other things, tried to live as though nothing was the matter. But it was always there, this nagging feeling of emptiness. Our friends’ babies were now toddlers. Life goes on.


I was 37. It was February 2016, and I was driving to work when a pain so intense and immediate hit me that I could barely walk. My co-workers helped me out of the office, and an emergency visit to my doctor led to my first ever ambulance ride to the hospital. We had no idea what was wrong, other than this incredible pain shooting up my right side.

Test upon test finally found that I was bleeding internally, from a ruptured tubal pregnancy. A surprise pregnancy.

I was rushed into emergency surgery, where live-saving measures had to be taken. My left fallopian tube was among the casualties that day. I was about 8 weeks along, but the embryo never made it to my uterus. It embedded in that tube, leading to a pregnancy that was not just unviable but dangerous. And women who have one ectopic pregnancy have greater odds of having another.


I was 38. We weren’t sure what was next for us, but we knew we wanted a baby. We started looking into adoption and IVF, both expensive and intensive measures. In October 2016, we began the regimen for IVF, which is full of cycles and shots to manipulate a woman’s reproductive system to control the timing of ovulation.

I didn’t have many eggs. Women who endure this can tell you that after age 35, things start going south. One egg was viable. One is what we worked with.

One wasn’t enough.


5.4 centimeters. Or, as the pregnancy app liked to measure it, bigger than a kumquat and about the size of a small lime.

My dad had texted me earlier in the week, saying he was looking forward to when it was the size of a jicama. What does that even look like, we joked.

I am 39. I was 12 weeks into what would be my fifth pregnancy, the longest of any thus far.

Early in the pregnancy, at six weeks, I began bleeding. We went to the ER, certain that was a bad sign. An ultrasound discovered a subchorionic hemorrhage, which is a tear in the lining. But there was also a heartbeat.

We were astounded. We hadn’t been trying trying, after being told by doctors that there was not much of a chance. But this news buoyed us, gave us hope that we hadn’t had in what felt like forever.

At our first official checkup at eight weeks, we heard the most beautiful of sounds—a galloping heartbeat, 155 beats per minute. We were starting to believe that we had beaten the odds. That we did, as the doctor said, have a miracle.

My symptoms were typical, which made me excited and nervous all at once. We started talking about baby names, and how to announce the pregnancy. Still, we couldn’t escape the nagging feeling that it was too good to be true.

And it wasn’t. Little Bean didn’t survive. Somewhere between 11 and 12 weeks, the heart stopped.

Our world has, too.






Multiple sclerosis, Uncategorized

Sea legs

Gimme a beat!
If there was one true thing in this world, it was that I could always beat Nick at leg wrestling. I came about this accomplishment quite naturally – through my genes, mostly. I’m from pretty hearty stock, in case you haven’t noticed. That, and the 20 years of dance probably didn’t hurt either.

I got the nickname quadzilla for obvious reasons. Twinkletoes was another moniker. My muscles were defined fairly early; at 5, I was pretty ripped in the leg area. They were, as Natalie’s legs were described to Hugh Grant the prime minister in Love, Actually, like tree trunks.

I used to be pretty self-conscious about them – they felt out of proportion with the rest of my body. But then it dawned on me just how much I could do with them, how far they could carry me. I could do toe touches and high kicks and run and run and run. They never gave out.

Ain’t it grand, just how fucking amazing our bodies are? How this clump of cells and water and tissue work in unison to let us do things like walk and dance and bike? Of course, we take that for granted. I certainly did. I stayed in serious denial until I had to be dragged to the ER because I couldn’t use my right leg anymore. It took a few months before walking felt close to normal again, where I didn’t have to actually think about my muscles going through each stage of the walking process.

When Nick began biking and I began MSing, the paradigm shifted in our wrestling matches. My lower body strength became no match for his. These days, my legs still have much of that definition from my dancing days, but they operate quite differently. It’s like I have a  case of sea legs I can’t shake.

Walking is slower, a little unsteady. Running, ha! Dancing, we’ll see.


It’s hard to wrap my head around, but this fall will be four years since my MS diagnosis. Aside from the occasional stumble (literally) and needle fatigue (yes, I’m still doing that), my disease path has taken a turn for the better. No true exacerbations for two years, which makes me want to do a happy jig.

Of course, let’s not have delusions of grandeur here – it’s still a struggle. I’m still hitting that wall of fatigue more often than I’d like. The hand numbness never quite goes away. My left leg … well, it has a mind of its own most of the time.

It’s interesting that my focus turned to my legs, but my physical health has been on my mind lately as I consider returning to my first love, dance.

It was quite unintentional, I promise, but it is a good  segue for Walk MS: Central Arkansas.

We’ll be getting together April 12 in Little Rock for the event, which is the rallying point for MS awareness in Arkansas each year. Please join us, or donate to our team, the Word Herders.

I will try to write more – this feels very rusty. It’s been a long absence, and I told myself it was because I was feeling better so I had nothing to bitch about anymore. But there’s always something I can say, or share. I hope you stick around.

Multiple sclerosis, Uncategorized

‘Mine is not a unique situation’

So said David Rakoff in the months before he died.

“Everyone loses ability. If you’re lucky, this happens over the course of a few decades. If you’re not, (meh). But the story is essentially the same.”

And he dances. A few sweeping, sentimental gestures. A rueful smile.

His grace is beyond words, although he does those quite well, too.

For those who have 15 minutes to observe a life well-lived, despite circumstances:

Multiple sclerosis, Uncategorized

Why hello, stranger

Yes, I went dormant for a couple of months.

No, I’m not falling apart.

Yes, the triple-digit heat is a tad miserable.

No, “they” won’t install misting tents every 50 feet for my convenience.

Yes, I heard about Jack Osbourne.

No, I didn’t watch his mom cry about it on The Talk. OK, maybe once.

Yes, I’ll keep blogging.

No, I can’t wait for the last Batman, either.

Yes, I got the new Fiona Apple.

No, I haven’t decided about the new Smashing Pumpkins yet.

Multiple sclerosis, Uncategorized

Strength in numbers

I have been very fortunate to have a close group of friends to see me through the rough spots with kinds words, encouragement, food and, when needed, margaritas.

I have been equally fortunate to have other friends and co-workers and erstwhile acquaintances step up to help in whatever way they can.

We may not see each other or talk every day, but I know they have my back.

Just as I know many of you will this year with the MS Walk, which incidentally falls the day before my birthday.

So, my friends, do what you can. You know I love you for it!


Multiple sclerosis, Uncategorized

Off the merry-go-round

At what age do you start thinking about being older?

At 6 when I blew out my birthday candles, I wished to be 10.

At 10, I couldn’t wait to be 12 and get pointe shoes.

At 12, all I wanted to be was 18.

At 18, I longed to be 21, of course.

But by 30, when you feel like you know yourself and are a bit more grounded, you aren’t thinking about getting older. If you’re like me, you were wrapped up in moment after fleeting moment, on a dizzying merry-go-round as all of the events blur by, some muted, but the big stuff bursting in Technicolor. You live for the present. Or at least I did, being the proverbial grasshopper.

At 30, I felt that I had hit my stride and that all the pieces were falling into place. I was enjoying the spinning world, and didn’t give a passing thought to growing old.

Retirement? Pssh. I have plenty of time to plan for that. Having a family? We’ll get around to it. The most planning I did was where to go for a weekend getaway.

Oh, how foolish I was. Three years later, and the future is nearly all-consuming. Now that I’m “grown up,” the thought of aging terrifies me. Not for the typical reasons. Or maybe it’s those and more.

When do you start thinking about getting old?

In some ways, I feel like I’ve aged 16 years in these 16 quick months. Incidentally, Google thinks I am a 55- to 64- year-old woman.

We should be in our prime, Nick says.

Thirty-three, and my body is fighting but frail. Where is that elusive fountain to keep me young?

Having MS has made me confront age a lot faster than I had imagined I would.

Off the merry-go-round and onto the porch swing. Maybe it’s not such a bad trade.

Multiple sclerosis, Uncategorized

The good kind of pain

I empathize, little kids of the world – shots are no fun. They make me want to cry, too.

For the past 16 months, I’ve had a regimen of injections. I’ve been hooked up to IVs, shoved into scary tubes, endured post-shot reactions that are said to feel like a heart attack.

And yet … I’m most terrified by this latest treatment. The needle is HUGE. And there is no auto injector that takes care of the hardest part, the actual getting the needle in the body.

But I’ve already paid for the treatment, and this flare-up has dug in its heels – going on Week 4.

So scary shot it is. Two weeks of it. Waaaaaaaah!

On a much happier note, there are big things on the horizon – a conference (more on that later), a trip to DC, and the MS Walk, which I will be doing this year with a dear friend.

Also, I’ve started a blog at work on health and fitness, the idea being that a lot of people out there are in a similar boat as me, ie, not really in shape but motivated to lead a healthier lifestyle. Visit it at getfit.arkansasonline.com.

There is another big thing in the works, something I’m very excited about. It’s in the nascent stage, just a germ of an idea that I hope gets fleshed out soon.

So if I had to choose a theme word for this month, it would be endure. Because life as we know it is challenging, beautiful, frustrating, and sublime, and I want to plow through the tough while still enjoying the good.

And there is so much good (except for shots).

Multiple sclerosis, Uncategorized

Feeling pretty

I got a haircut the other day for almost the sole purpose of having someone else wash and blow dry my hair.

It’s been awhile for that type of pampering. Yes, the simple act of fixing my hair has become so frustratingly tedious that I haven’t really bothered.

Same goes for makeup. The ragmuffin look is in, though, right? Because I am street urchin all the way. Well, half the way. I bathe and eat regularly.

Used to be when I was sick I would make the extra effort to at least look well. Otherwise, you get the pitying looks.

But lately, vanity has taken a back seat. Just normal maintenance is overwhelming enough, why try to pretty it up?

I could jab an eye out with the mascara wand. Or worse.

Multiple sclerosis, Uncategorized

Enough about me

I’m sure I’ve complained enough on here about this recent relapse. Long story short: Yep, still having it. Yep, still bad. Very bad. Yep, still using my right hand for everything (use your imagination there). Because the steroids were a bust this time, it looks like I will be trying another drug, whose name almost certainly came from a Tolkien story.

Unless you are some mean-spirited hater who derives immense, sicko satisfaction out of my current condition, I’m guessing it’s safe to say you are as tired about reading about my flare-up as I am tired of having it.

Which all seems like a rather self-serving introduction to get to the marrow of this post: Dan and Jennifer Digmann.

They were among the first to reach out to after my diagnosis. Nevermind that they are hundreds of miles north of me — we’re all a click away nowadays.

They are a married couple living with MS. Both. of. them.

Let that sink in for a bit. I had to.

Together they write a terrific blog, and recently, they published a book of essays called Despite MS, to Spite MS. I love to read, especially non-fiction. I’ve had gotten into MS autobiographies, which left me saddened in many ways. So when I got the Digmanns’ book, I was a little hesitant to start it, if only because I had MS fatigue (the abstract one,  not the real kind).

I shouldn’t have worried.

Dan and Jennifer elevate the everyday essay into something more. They have risen to challenge of life with MS with uncommon grace. Whether coming to the realization that she’s “more than kind of disabled” or figuring out the fine art of “shooting himself,” the Digmanns relate the story of their MS journey through clear eyes that never dwell in self-pity land.

For their advocacy, support and inspiration, I am grateful.

Here’s wishing them all the more strength for the road ahead as they lead the charge. And here’s hoping for our shared future of a world free of MS!