Life as Amber knows it

"An adventure in the making…"

My Painful Reality

I’m fairly open about most parts of my life. To date, I’ve written about surviving a physically and emotionally abusive adoptive mother, a first marriage that was an exercise is abuse and shame and having my self worth stripped away daily. I’ve written about my struggles with infertility, post partum depression and anxiety, the decision to have a hysterectomy at the young age of thirty-three. I’ve written about being adopted and my search for my biological mother. I’ve written about losing my father, about my loss of faith and finding it again. I’ve written about body image issues and the struggle to lose weight (I even went as far as to post before and after photos of me in a bikini). And while I’ve hinted at other things going on in my life, I haven’t been open about them.

I have Fibromyalgia and Rheumatoid Arthritis. Every single day of my life is spent in physical pain.

If you’re not familiar, the symptoms of Fibromyalgia include the following (I’m quoting the fabulous WebMd for these):

“Chronic muscle pain, muscle spasms, or tightness. Moderate or severe fatigue and decreased energy. Insomnia or waking up feeling just as tired as when you went to sleep.

Stiffness upon waking or after staying in one position for too long. Difficulty remembering, concentrating, and performing simple mental tasks (“fibro fog”). Abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, and constipation alternating with diarrhea (irritable bowel syndrome). Tension or migraine headaches. Jaw and facial tenderness

Sensitivity to one or more of the following: odors, noise, bright lights, medications, certain foods, and cold. Feeling anxious or depressed. Numbness or tingling in the face, arms, hands, legs, or feet. Increase in urinary urgency or frequency (irritable bladder).

Reduced tolerance for exercise and muscle pain after exercise. A feeling of swelling (without actual swelling) in the hands and feet. Fibromyalgia symptoms may intensify depending on the time of day — morning, late afternoon, and evening tend to be the worst times. Symptoms may also get worse with fatigue, tension, inactivity, changes in the weather, cold or drafty conditions, overexertion, hormonal fluctuations (such as just before your period or during menopause), stress, depression, or other emotional factors.”

And if you’re not familiar, here’s a break down of Rheumatoid Arthritis (again, quoting WebMD):

“Rheumatoid arthritis is the second most common type of arthritis.

RA often affects the wrists, hands, knees, ankles, and feet. Usually, it’s the same joint on both sides of the body. It can also cause problems with other organs like the eyes, skin, heart, lungs, kidneys, nervous system, and digestive tract.

When you have RA, your immune system attacks your body, especially your joints, by mistake. It’s called an auto-immune disorder.

Here’s how it happens. The white blood cells of the immune system move into the joint. They release chemicals called cytokines, which attack the lining of the joint, called the synovial membrane. Thick tissue called pannus growsinside the joint.

Over time, that tissue invades and destroys cartilage and bone inside the joint. Inflammation causes fluid buildup in the joint, making it swell. Eventually, the damage makes it hard to move the joint.

RA is a lifelong disease. But there are many treatments that relieve pain and stiffness, and also slow down or stop the damage to your joints.”

I haven’t said much about it publicly. For the simple reason that I don’t want to be thought of as sick. And people mean well, but having been through multiple illnesses in my life, once you say it, once you’re open about it, you have a label placed on you.

I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia six years ago after I fell on the stairs and cracked three ribs. The ribs healed. But four months after the injury, I was still feeling pain, and it wasn’t pain related to the injury itself. It was pain that radiated throughout my body, or would be in one area of my body with no reason for it to be there. After several doctors and several out of pocket payments, I finally got a diagnosis. I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis four years ago when I began having trouble closing my hands around various objects. I was unable to make a fist without having pain throb through my hands for hours after.

The first medical treatment for Fibromyalgia is a prescription of Lyrica, which is basically an anti depressant. At the time of my diagnosis, I was taking Zoloft to treat post partum depression, and the Zoloft had the same effect Lyrica would on a person: it seemed to help the pain I was feeling from the Fibromyalgia.

Six months after the first diagnosis, I found out I was pregnant with my son. It was never a question: I stopped taking the Zoloft, no way was I going to have medication coursing through my body and into that of my unborn child’s. And I suffered for it greatly. Daily, I was more exhausted than I’d been when pregnant with either of my daughters. Daily, my body ached. Do you know that feeling you get when your foot falls asleep and starts waking back up? Those pins and needles that stab into your waking muscles and make it almost impossible to take a step? On my worst days, I’d feel that all over my body, so much so clothing hurt my skin.

I resumed taking an anti depressant after my son was born, and added a second one into the mix after my hysterectomy brought on a similar type of anxiety and depression that I suffered through post partum. I stopped taking the medications when they began doing more harm than good: I gained one hundred pounds and my hair began falling out. And I was fine, for the most part, in terms of emotional health. And the weight loss I had after ditching the pills helped with the depression. I’d also began a healthier diet, and that plus exercise helped alleviate the pain I felt from both illnesses.

But life seems to like to kick me in the crotch. Due to personal issues (which I will not for various reasons talk about here), I began taking Zoloft again in August 2013. I made it eight days before being rushed to the emergency room and being treated for seratonin syndrome, a possible side effect of taking any type of anti depressant.

My life became a cycle of depression, trying a new anti depressant, and around the one week mark, a trip to the ER because my body was no longer reacting to anti depressants and I’d start going into seratonin syndrome.

Name an anti-depressant, I’ve tried it: Prozac, Wellbutrin, Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa, Lexapro, Lyrica. With exception to Prozac (with my second dose I became suicidal), every other medication? Say hello seratonin syndrome and brushing up against death.

The reality is, I’m limited in treatment options, both for my depression and my Fibromyalgia and Rheumatoid Arthritis.

And my body is declining. Unfortunately, 10% of that is my own dumbass fault. You see, the past two years? It’s been rough. I lost my father. I lost family members. Several people I love dearly are fighting to live due to various health issues (and out of respect for them, I’m not naming names). I’ve had other emotional upheavals. And sadly, I went the route of eating shit that’s not too good for me.

But that other 90%? That’s on my body, and I can’t change it. I can go the homeopathic path, and that helps somewhat. But there are still days where it’s all I can do to get up out of bed and throw together peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for my kiddos for lunch before I’m so wiped out I have to sit down and not move for a couple of hours to recover.

Having these two illnesses is very isolating. Because I have a hard time asking for help. And I loathe repeating myself. And they don’t get the focus that Cancer or Heart Disease or even Diabetes gets, primarily because they aren’t deadly. I won’t die from either of these illnesses. But that doesn’t mean I’m not ill. That doesn’t mean that I don’t hurt, both physically and emotionally, that doesn’t mean I’m not frustrated, that doesn’t mean that I’m not angry and devastated and heartbroken and feeling betrayed by my body. Because autoimmune disorders can be summarized into a simple statement: it’s your body attacking you.

For me, something that’s hurtful is that the people who know I have these illnesses forget that I’m sick. I can’t remember the last time someone asked me how I was feeling, or what my latest test results were. And there’s the hurt that accompanies having asked someone to help me with something physical and for whatever reason, whether its understandable or not, they don’t follow through, and as a result, it takes me a week (and sadly, sometimes longer) to recover physically from what I was told I’d have help with. There’s irritation at having people crack jokes about my dietary preferences like I’m being some ironic hipster in avoiding meat and asking me if I need help getting over it by grabbing a bacon cheeseburger. There’s people who argue with me that I’m an idiot for choosing to not eat bacon. There’s the frustration of having to explain yet again that no, I do not want to try your entree, yes I know it’s delicious, yes, I’m aware that I need to live a little, no, I don’t want it because for me to have a bite of your cheeseburger, steak, or orange beef? That one bite can result in exhaustion, full body aches, what feels like swollen joints, numbness in my hands and feet, or insomnia. Or in extreme cases, all of the above. There’s the extreme anger when someone suggests eating fast food and I decline and they suggest (usually jokingly) that I think I’m too good for fast food. That’s not the case. But grabbing a burger from Burger King, or Whataburger or Jack in the Box? I’m going to be spending the next several days in severe pain. Junk food, red meat, too much sugar, processed foods? They’re toxic to me.

Would you give a diabetic a triple chocolate fudge cake? Would you ask someone who has heart trouble to race a marathon? I’m guessing no.

And I’m guessing that your friend with Diabetes, Cancer, or Heart Disease gets the benefit of you asking them how they’re doing, an offer of “Whatever you need…” and time spent with the person to remind them they’re still valid.

That’s the thing: I’ve felt invalid for quite some time. Because I don’t look sick. Because people forget that I am sick, even when they know better. And I don’t begrudge my loved ones who are fighting for their lives against various deadly illnesses the offers of help and quality time that they get, because I want them to have whatever comfort they need while they fight for their lives.

But I’m human. And I’m sick. And I could use a little comfort. I could use offers of help that actually are help. I could use friends calling me and asking me to grab coffee or dinner or a drink and just listening to me. I could use a hug, someone’s hand to hold, kind and compassionate words to be reminded that I do matter, that I am valid, that they understand that I’m hurting and I’m struggling and I’m doing the best I can with what’s a shit situation. That they know I’m trying, even if it looks like I’m not. To be told that it’s okay that I’m afraid of what my future will be like with these two illnesses, and they don’t think less of me, they don’t think I’m weak for feeling scared. To be told that I’m loved.

I wake up every day, and I wonder how bad it’s going to be. Am I going to be able to take care of my children fully? Am I going to be able to get work done? Am I going to have to spend the day in bed because it’s too hard to walk around? And the worst fear: is it going to hurt to hug my children?

This is my painful reality. And it sucks. And I’m angry. And it’s isolating, being in this. And I try to remember the serenity prayer, because I can’t change this, I can just pray for the strength to manage it and live with it.

~Amber Jerome~Norrgard

Dear World:

Dear World:

Hello, it’s me. The person you ignored. The person who you placed on the back burner until it was convenient for you to be my friend. The person you made a face at because I look different than you. I’m the classmate you made fun of because she wore long sleeve shirts on warm days to hide the welt marks on her body from her mother’s beatings. I’m the woman who overheard you say in Spanish what you’d like to do to me, with you unaware I understand the language very well. I’m the woman you and your size-two friends made fun of for being “fat”, the woman you said was a slut because I actually have curves. I’m the friend who overheard you talk repeatedly about which of my friends you’d like to fuck and which you’d like to see naked, and it minimized me and made me feel unseen. I’m the person who’s generosity you took advantage of. I’m the former employee who you passed over for a much deserved promotion because a lazy employee put out when I wouldn’t. I’m the person you made fun of for having an anxiety disorder. I’m the friend who’s birthday you forgot. I’m the friend who you blew off for the opportunity to get laid or to spend time with someone who was “cooler.”

Dear World, please start treating one another with compassion. Please stop placing those that you say matter to you on the back burner. Start making time for those you care about, and be aware of the weight your words and your actions carry.


~Amber Jerome~Norrgard

Dear Other Dude at the Playground…

Daddy Coping in Style

Dear Other Dude at the Playground on Saturday –

Remember me? I was the dad with the son wearing a pink dress.

Before he burst onto the playground, and as I parked the car, he was positively vibrating. I asked, “Now…you’re sure you want to wear your dress?”

He shouted in response, “Yes! Because I want to show everyone how beautiful I am in this beautiful dress!”

It was a big deal for him; and for me.

He hasn’t asked to wear a dress “out,” before. I didn’t fight it. Who cares, right?

Or so we’d like to think.

As you noticed, he couldn’t contain his excitement showing off the dress to the only two kids playing…your daughter and her friend. He skipped and twirled and chased them for ten minutes shouting, “Do you like my dress? I’m wearing a dress! Can I play with you? Will you play with…

View original post 433 more words

Thirty~Nine Things I’ve Learned in Thirty~Nine Years of Living

So with my birthday looming on the horizon, it’s time for my yearly spouting off of things I’ve learned. So here you go, Dear Reader: my take on life, what’s important, and everything in between.

1.) “All you need is love.” This statement is beyond true. But it has to be real love, not Hey-I-love-you-when-you’ve-put-on-makeup-and-are-a-size-two” love. Unconditional love goes miles towards healing and miles towards joy. Try it out sometime.

2.) And if you’re experiencing the opposite of #1 with someone in your life? Show them to the nearest exit.

3.) Actions speak louder than words. If someone says they’re one thing and shows you they’re another, they’re liars.

4.) Surround yourself with people who will hold your hair back when you vomit and their only concern is you, not the fact you just puked in front of them.

5.) Don’t start fights, finish them. Being a non~asshole does not equate with being a doormat.

6.) Find your voice and use it.

7.) Avoid people who use the phrase “We’re going to do Europe this summer.” These people are idiots. You don’t do a continent, you visit it, ass~munch.

8.) Your children will only be little once, and then they’ll be off to live their own lives, as they should. So take the time to answer the play phone, watch Bubble Guppies for the umpteeth time, and rock them back to sleep. Because you never know if it’s the last time they’re going to want that from you. When those days are gone, you’re going to miss them (and you’re going to miss them even when you paid very close attention to them).

9.) Quit counting calories. Quit wondering how many extra minutes you’ll have to run on the treadmill if you get the chocolate souffle. Eat the fucking souffle and enjoy every last bite without trading the experience in later for some stupid ideal about perfect bodies.

10.) Don’t value a person based upon what’s in their bank account. Value them instead on how they treat people they have no reason to be nice to.

11.) Treat yourself how you’d want people treating the person you love most in the world.

12.) If you don’t like something about yourself, stop complaining about it and do something about it.

13.) If you’re old enough to rent a car and mom and dad are still paying your way, you’re not an adult. You’re a child with one bad ass allowance. Cut the cord and take care of your own bills you spoiled brat.

14.) Blood does not equate with the right to treat people like shit. I don’t care if they’re your brother or sister, your mom or your dad: if they’re abusive, boot them out of your life.

15.) Never be too chicken shit to say “I love you.” You might never again get the chance.

16.) Sometimes you just gotta say “fuck it” and food porn out.

17.) Contribute something positive to the world.

18.) “K” is probably one of the most annoying things I can read in response to a message. It comes across as I’m not worth the time and effort it takes to put one letter before it. I have no problem ending a conversation after I read “k.” And maybe I’m bitchy for taking that stance. Or maybe I just know what I like and don’t like after almost four decades on this planet.

19.) Life’s too short and too hard to spend with people who bring nothing but negative to your life.

20.) If you’re late for meeting someone, you’ve lost the right to be butt~hurt if they find something else to occupy their time.

21.) Stop basing your self worth on ridiculous ideals about beauty.

22.) If you find someone who accepts you as is and loves you unconditionally, treat them like gold and celebrate them for what they are: a gift.

23.) Put your damn cell phone down and be present for those in your life you love.

24.) Tell those you love how you feel before the end.

25.) No one is who they seem to be in a bar. That’s the same as someone thinking what they saw on an acid trip was actually real.

26.) Listen to what people say. If someone says they don’t want children, to change occupations, to have a serious relationship, they mean it. Arguing with them or trying to change their mind is a waste of time. Don’t waste yours on someone who isn’t willing or able to give you what you need in your life.

27.) Find your passion. Find an occupation that you’re adept at that allows you to pursue your passion. Do not allow your passion to become your occupation, because you’ll lose your love of it.

28.) Never underestimate the power of a bottle of wine and excellent conversation.

29.) Laugh loudly.

30.) Find joy in the little things.

31.) Figure out how you want the world to remember you after you’re gone. Life your life accordingly.

32.) Never underestimate the power of coloring.

33.) Learn the difference between need and want.

34.) Ladies, if your shorts are wider than their length, get rid of them. Learn to dress for your body type.

35.) There’s a reason why blue eye shadow and huge bangs went out of style folks.

36.) Don’t be afraid to employ your middle finger. For added effect, use both.

37.) Life’s hard. Best to enjoy the moments that get us through the rough times.

38.) If you’re afraid of people seeing you without your makeup, you’re wearing too much.

39.) I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.


~Amber Jerome~Norrgard

Re~Post: “A Good~Bye To My Father.”

It’s been one year since we lost my father. On the anniversary of his death, I’ve chosen to repost the eulogy I gave at his funeral to honor him. 

On July 21, 2014, just one week after his seventy-second birthday, my father, Donald E. Jerome, “Paw-Paw”, “Uncle Gene” passed away peacefully in his sleep.

My brother and I spent the last few days of our father’s life with him, hoping he’d bounce back as he so easily did in the past. But after many years of physical pain, many years of his body struggling, he went home to heaven.

I met with a friend this week to talk about my father’s death. And while dad and I have had our share of arguments and disagreements over the years, still, at the end, everything was at peace between us. Any words needing to be said were said. And Dad, despite being so weak he could hardly speak, true to his nature of making sure his loved ones were taken care of, ordered me to make sure I ate something. And I, his daughter in every way and true to my nature told him I’d eat when he’d finally rest and get much needed sleep. Naturally, Dad countered that he’d sleep when I’d go get myself something to eat.

And so, like we’d done so many times in my adult life, my final conversation with my father was a spirited debate with a twinkle in his eyes and his lips curved into that gentle smile I’ll miss terribly.

He passed away peacefully in his sleep eight hours later.

In the coming months, I’m sure I’ll recount stories of my father. For now, I’m writing this the day before his funeral, in a rare quiet moment after having put the final touches on his Eulogy. This post is being scheduled to release an hour after his funeral tomorrow. I don’t know how you write an Eulogy, all I know is how I felt about my father and what he taught me about life, and I wanted to honor him as best as I could. It’s near impossible to truly sum up such a generous and compassionate individual with mere words.

I love you Dad. Thank you for all you taught me about life, either with your words or your actions. Thank you for all the times you put what was best for me above your feelings. Thank you for teaching me how to be a parent, for teaching me how to work for what I want, for teaching me that there is no greater gift than that of unconditional love, and that what truly matters in this world has no monetary value. I was blessed on the day God saw fit to place me in your family as your daughter when I was given up for adoption.

I found myself struggling to write this. And that’s comical considering what I do for a living. At one point this week, it made sense to my grief stricken mind that maybe there’s someone more qualified than I to write my father’s eulogy; maybe there’s someone who can find the right words to define a man who has meant so much to so many people. So I thought of not writing the eulogy. I thought of asking someone else to do it for me. And certainly, no one would blame me, because I’ve just lost my father. I wanted to just not do it, to just give up.

And then my mind drifted to when I was a child, particularly to Saturday mornings. I’d get up, get a bowl of cereal, and if Dad was going to his office, he’d ask me if I wanted to go with him. And of course I did. They had a break room with cookies in it, and I could always sneak down and get a few. And Dad’s office had this photo cube that was a radio as well. And even better, devoid of people as it was on Saturday mornings, it echoed. To a child, making noise, especially echoey noise, was almost as awesome as being told breakfast was going to be cake and lunch was going to be ice cream.

And in my father’s office there was a plaque. And on that plaque there was a very famous quote: “Never, never, never give up” by Sir Winston Churchill, a distant relative.

Dad lived his life by those words. Dad taught his daughter the very meaning of those words by his every action in his life. And so, I sent an email to my editor whining about  not being able to do it, took a deep breath, and began to just write.

I could stand here today and tell you when Dad was born and when he died. I can tell you where he went to college, and what he did as a career. But those few little facts? They in no way encompass who he was as a person. They in no way tell the story of a man who defined himself not by the amount of his bank account but by the wealth of his soul.

Dad always helped those in need: he was a big supporter of several charities, he gave his time as a Eucharistic minister visiting those unable to receive the Eucharist as well as helping those less fortunate through his work through Love Truck and the Samaritan Inn, or the gift of his kind and thoughtful words for those who needed them.

Dad was also stubborn, and while that word sometimes comes with a negative association, for Donald Eugene Jerome, his headstrong and determined personality is what led him to achieve more than most people. He always believed you could achieve whatever it was you wanted to achieve, and what mattered was not where you came from or what you have done before, but where you would go and what you would do. And he never gave up. Rather than let obstacles in his way stop him from what he wanted, he simply found a way to work through them. He grew up in poverty, yet put himself through college to receive his degree. Rather than let infertility rob him of fatherhood, he adopted two children. He refused to allow health issues and physical disabilities prevent him from living a full life. By my age, he had lived in South America, all throughout the United States, and traveled to Mexico and Canada. In his retirement years, he fulfilled a long lived dream of seeing Rome and the Vatican.

Dad was happiest when he was with his family, and his greatest joys in his life were his seven grandchildren: Amethyst, Luke, Tyler, Autumn, Cody, Benjamin and Sawyer.

But if I had to choose one word to define my father, it would be faith. Not once, despite losing siblings and both his parents, despite having physical handicaps and declining health, did my father ever ask God “why?”  He simply would take a deep breath and ask God for the strength to make it through whatever he was faced with. When I would face my own struggles, Dad would remind me of the Serenity Prayer and tell me that if God brings us to it, He’ll bring us through it.

People often say how they wish they’ll pass on. Dad got his wish: his two children with him during his final days. He was right with God. He had said the words he’d wished to say to those he loved. And as he’d wished for, he went home to heaven peacefully in his sleep.

My father achieved much in his time on earth: A successful career, a family, service to those less unfortunate. But above everything else, he died a man wealthy in what was the most important gift and blessing he’d ever wanted: The love of his family.

Amber Jerome~Norrgard

Forty Balloons

It was sunny on July 14, 1982. That I remember clearly. And what I always remember, what I’ll never forget, is that on that on that eve, my father’s fortieth birthday, he came home with forty black balloons from work.

My father hated balloons.

And when I say hate, that’s an understatement. The screech they made when you ran your finger over them. The squeak they emitted when they moved against one another. How if you expanded them too much with your breath (or helium), you risked the chance of them exploding. And the annoyance that if you barely let your grip go at the wrong moment, all the expelled breath you had put into them would be wasted as they zerberted their way into the sky, only to fall to the ground deflated.

But on that day, my father’s coworkers threw an over the hill party for my father.

The fact that he came home with all forty balloons rather than letting them go or leaving them in his office at Fleming Corporation in Oklahoma City until they deflated and could be tossed out spoke volumes about who he was as a person. What he did after he parked his car in our drive way and stepped out, his gait hitched from an artificial hip, said even more.

I greeted my father with open arms and excitement, because it was his birthday, and I’d decorated a cake to celebrate and I was excited. And after he hugged me and asked about my day, he stepped to the trunk of his car and inserted his key (remember cars that actually needed a key inserted into the lock???). And like magic, forty black balloons popped out. A friend from down the street had been up to play, and she and I watched with wide eyes in pure amazement as balloon after balloon appeared.

Dad closed the trunk of his car, and counted twenty balloons out carefully, which he handed to my friend. The other twenty, he handed to me and warned us both with a wink about being carried off by the helium.

Dad hated balloons, yet he brought them home to his five year old daughter. And upon seeing her friend, he divided them in half so she wouldn’t feel left out.

It was just one of many times he put himself on the back burner for the sake of others. It was just one of many examples of which I have to draw on what it means to give to others.

I’ve felt a strong absence since my father’s passing last July. And certainly, his birthday is a date I’ll always remember, most especially his last birthday, the day he took the fall that ultimately led to the end of his life on this earth.

A few months ago, a new friend and I got into a conversation about my father, and he asked how old I was when he passed. When I said thirty-seven, my friend told me he was only twenty-two when he lost his father, and thank God I got the time I had with my father. And like many other people, he warned me the loss would crop up when I expected it and when I least expected it. And he was right: there’s an ache when my children do something I’d normally call my father to tell him about, there’s an ache when I achieve something I’d share with him, there’s an ache I can no longer call him to annoy him about how he’s feeling or drop into his room to sit with him. There’s an ache that the house I hated is no longer a house I can go into. There’s an ache he won’t get a seventy-third birthday. That there won’t be seventy-three black balloons, a bacon cheese burger from sonic to share, a mock cupcake made out of meatloaf and mashed potatoes I’ll trick him into eating thinking its cake and he’ll bitch about it. There’s no more expired food to tease him about, no more debates about the philosophy of life, no more eye rolling about my latest tattoo and my newest hair color. I’ll never again watch him pull my oldest into his arms while he asks her to tell him about life.

There’s an ache instead.

And I don’t want the ache gone. Because if the ache were gone? That would mean that the parent I had who fought tooth and nail for my life, who put me first, who loved me unconditionally, who taught me right from wrong, who taught me that the true gift is in the giving, who taught me to go after what I want balls to the wall didn’t exist. If it didn’t hurt, it would mean I had been less loved, less cared for in my formative years. It would mean I hadn’t had the experience of a father who had no problem telling my softball coach he was full of shit and hadn’t had the gift of a father who would well up with tears when I would play “Memories” on the piano. It would mean I never would have had the experience of being told repeatedly that someone always had it worse. It would mean I wouldn’t have had the blessing of a father who worked late into the night and went in before the sun rose to work to sit with me in the hospital at age fifteen to keep me from feeling less isolated. It would mean I wouldn’t have had the knowledge that money doesn’t matter but your heart does.

And as much as this ache hurts, as much as I wish it were a year ago when my father still drew breath enough to ride my ass about getting back into college, I’m grateful for it. And as much as I would give my own life to avoid my own childrens’ pain in any way shape or form, I hope one day my children experience this type of loss and this type of ache.

Because I’ll have been the right type of parent.

Happy Birthday Daddy. I love you.

Amber Maria.

No Expiration Date

Years ago, someone once said to me something that has long stuck with me: “There is no expiration date on grief.”

And while I thought I had a grasp on what they meant, it wasn’t until recently I truly understood the meaning behind those seven words.

You see, my life has been tumultuous. There’s been loved ones lost to cancer, heart disease, depression. I’ve lost loved ones due to changes in our lives. I’ve lost loved ones due to one of the genres I write. The always present end of relationships due to waning interest. Relationships and experiences draw to a close, either abruptly or naturally.

And despite the times when loss equated me wondering how I’d draw my next breath, the strangest thing happened: the sun rose and set each day. Friends went on with their lives. Strangers laughed over whatever had hit their tickle bone. All those things continued on, despite my shattered heart.

Grief is unlike surgery. A surgeon can perform an operation and state the range of time it should take to heal, the range of time until you feel normal. Grief? Grief is something we can’t determine the length of time on. It’s over and eased and we look back in gratitude that its over. And then something happens: you see a type of flower, you hear something, you come across a photo, and it’s back, just as fresh as it was when it first happened. There’s no way to ease it, erase it, or speed up the process. You simply have to grit your teeth and endure.

The largest mistakes of my life have been healing on other people’s time lines, of putting their ideas of when I should be healed and over something above my need to experience my own grief process. And finally, at age thirty-eight, I’ve learned an exceptionally important lesson that I should have learned a long time before: my heart break is my heart break, and the healing process is mine. However I go about it, it’s a process I need to experience for myself. Because healing on other’s timelines and for other’s comfort isn’t healing for myself.

I own my hurt and heartbreak for my losses in this life. And I demand of others the respect to do so on my terms.

Love and life,

Amber Jerome~Norrgard

Happy Birthday Man~Cub!

It was probably the most ironic moment of my life.

In October of 2009, I was thirty-two, mother to two beautiful girls ages four and nine months old, and I was sitting on the exam table of the emergency room at the local hospital, trying not to throw up. I’d been very sick to my stomach the past three days, and with no end in sight to the round the clock vomiting, I’d gone to the hospital in the hopes of getting something to calm my stomach.

The doctor came in, and said something to me that had never been said to me before: “Do you know you’re pregnant?”

Before that moment? I’d always known if it was a possibility. For a woman who’d been hit with the double diagnosis of Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome and Endometriosis in her early twenties, pregnancy was not a guarantee. What was a guarantee was months of ovulation kits, failed pregnancy tests, surgeries, doctors visits, failed fertility treatments. Pregnancy was the hardest won battle of my life, and after having been gifted with two daughters who were healthy and happy, I counted myself beyond fortunate that I’d beaten the odds.

I was on the Cadillac of all birth control pills in an effort to control my Endometriosis and PCOS symptoms. Two months before that ironic day, I’d had laporospic surgery to treat my Endometriosis for the third time. I was still battling post partum depression from having had my daughter Autumn not even a year before.

“Do you know you’re pregnant?”  No. I didn’t know. And my mind flashed to the week before, when I’d said to my therapist, “If I were to have a third baby, I’d hope for a boy. Not because I wouldn’t love a girl as much, but because I’d like to know what its like to raise a son.”

God sometimes watches us and listens to our wishes and grants them, even if we’re not aware we’re wishing for what he gives us.

28977_455751821240_4241576_nBenjamin Alexander Roland Norrgard was born after twenty hours of labor. My epidural wore off when it was time to push, and out of my three children, he was the only birth that require multiple stitches to repair tearing. The doctor handed him to me immediately after he was born, and I looked down at a pure miracle: against the odds of a body that had betrayed me with a faulty reproductive system, against medications designed to treat not just illness but prevent pregnancy, against timing and financial worries, this little boy, this perfect angel, this incredible gift I wanted desperately but was afraid to wish for, my son was in the world. Eight pounds, ten ounces and twenty inches of blessings, albeit a gift that urinated so much, the nurse took him away to be weighed in and diapered.


he most certainly is….

Two under two with a five year old starting kindergarten wasn’t easy. I quickly fell back into post partum depression and anxiety, and every day was a battle. But when my demons got to be too much, I’d look into the face of my son and I’d remember. I’d remember all the failed pregnancy tests and fertility treatments. When I was trying to change two diapers at once and give attention and love to three children and find time to take a shower that lasted more than thirty seconds and help my oldest with homework and pack her lunch, I’d remember the baby I lost at six weeks pregnant in the summer of 2007. When I lost my uterus when Benjamin was only four months old, I’d hold him and thank God for the final gift of motherhood before I truly became infertile.

Benjamin came into this world, loud and in a manner that demanded my full attention. At five, he still grabs the attention of those around him. He’s got a wicked sense of humor (the first five 15664_10152215828301241_1722574116_nminutes of my father’s funeral were spent with me trying to not laugh at him making faces at me in an effort to cheer me up), and loves everyone he meets, most especially my friends: “Can we go to Canada Mommy? I miss my girlfriend Julie” was a recent conversation we had, along with “Hey, can we take Terri out to dinner again?” (Terri is a bit more accessible since she only lives about forty five minutes north of us, as opposed to Julie living in a whole other country).

Benjamin is thoughtful, sweet, and compassionate. He’s the first one to comfort one of his older sisters when they’re upset, and when he asks for a snack he always asks for a second for my middle child (and the second snack remains untouched until his sisters gets it). He’s loving. He’s passionate about everything from the Orioles (that’s ma boy!) to cookies to coloring to hugs and kisses.


Future Orioles player…

With the blue eyes he inherited from his father, and the curly red hair he inherited from me, Benjamin resembles an angel, and he’s not shy about wooing members of the fairer sex, from infants to his sisters, to elderly women at the bank to my female friends (I’m still laughing over his flirting when he met my friend Julie last October on a trip to the zoo). He’s got a gigantic, golden heart, and is known for being angry if he doesn’t get to hug and kiss goodbye those he loves.

I watch my son as he makes his way through this world: he’s confident, full of joy and passionate about anything and everything that catches his eye. I brace myself when he barrels towards me for a hug and wince while laughing when he bruises me from impacting me with his small but strong body. And my stomach clenches when I remember asking my doctor to perform a hysterectomy in the summer of 2009. Had my doctor performed the surgery then, this beautiful boy who brings joy to those he encounters wouldn’t be in this world. And that’s a thought that haunts me to this day, and a reaffirmation of my belief that all things happen for a greater purpose, even if we don’t get the answer as to why for some time after asking.

He’s been in this world for five years. And yet, my mind can’t wrap around and remember a time when he wasn’t in my life, making me laugh with his opinions on baseball and pancakes and chicken nuggets. I cherish his sweet self and am daily grateful that God saw fit to laugh at my plans to only have two children. That God looked down and decided my life needed an additional blessing of a third child, one that has made my life as a mother that much fuller and joyful.

He’s had about a hundred nicknames since he was born: “little dude”, “man~cub”, “thing two”, and “bubs” among many others. The multiple nicknames are just my cheap attempt in finding another, grander way of saying “I love you”, because those three little words, those eight little letters in no way are enough to convey what he means to me.

Happy Birthday Benjamin. Thank you for completing my heart and making me whole.


The Conclusion of the Be Better Project

My body’s had its ass kicked.

To date, I’ve survived cervical cancer, Graves disease, endometriosis, infertility, PCOS, and I’ve kicked post partum depression and anxiety in the ass three times, along with a similar version of depression and anxiety that came after my hysterectomy in 2010.


January 2012

But there was a price to be paid for beating all that: the medication that saved my life (I don’t lie, and I’m not going to start now — I was suicidal during my battle with post partum depression) combined with a hysterectomy in my early thirties caused me to gain 100 pounds. I weighed 150 pounds (a healthy weight for my body type) on the morning I had my hysterectomy. One year later, I weighed 250 pounds.

Did I always make the best dietary choices? No, not always, but mostly. But six months after my hysterectomy, my anti depressant stopped working, and my doctor added wellbutrin into the mix of xanax xr and zoloft I was already taking.


January 2012

My weight kept climbing, and my depression just deepened. It had taken me close to a year to lose the weight after I had my oldest child. After my middle child was born, it took me six months (I was smarter in my food choices with my second daughter). After my son was born in June of 2010, I lost the baby weight within three weeks. But the exhaustion of my body recovering from such a major surgery in the fall of 2010, right on the heels of giving birth for the second time in eighteen months, combined with all those medications? I didn’t stand a chance.

I hated the way I looked. I hated the way I felt. Watching what I ate alone didn’t help, exercising did little except make me more exhausted. From Halloween 2011 until New Years Day in 2012, I struggled, and damn near gave up when despite eating nothing but a healthy diet and walking two miles a day (god bless the treadmill) yielded a two pound weight loss. I made an appointment with my doctor.

“Your body has been through a lot. Its not unusual for women to have their metabolism bottom out after they have a hysterectomy due to the huge fluctuation of hormones. You’re also on several medications that aren’t going to help your  metabolism either.”

I went home, tossed my anti depressants (they weren’t doing any good at that point, and I’d gotten the okay from my doctor to discontinue their use), and gave up the only vice I’d held onto after switching to a healthier diet: my daily trip to Starbucks.

It’s been three years. And in those three years, I’ve learned more about myself and the world at large than I ever thought possible.

When I started the Be Better Project in January of 2012, I had a goal of getting my body bikini ready.

I was very wrong to set that as my goal. What I needed to be doing is getting my soul life ready.

The world isn’t kind to those who don’t fit into some skewed ideal of beauty. If you’re not a size two, with blonde hair, tanned, and fit under the heading of “perfect”, very few people are interested. It’s a bullshit ideal. And it’s a painful ideal to be a victim of.


April 2015

Me? I let other people’s ideals, right or wrong, impact the way I saw myself. I let myself get mind fucked into believing I wasn’t beautiful because I didn’t fit a bullshit idea. It wasn’t until I accepted that I’d never been a size two, that I’d never be perfect, that my abdomen would never be scar free (five plus abdominal surgeries in my quest for motherhood and health), that I truly began changing for the better.

I started this with the want to look physically beautiful, to fit those fucked up ideas.

I ended it embracing myself as I am, and seeing those scars as trophies from hard won battles against life, health, and my sanity.

Three years, three months and one hundred and five pounds after starting the Be Better Project, I am a different woman. Is my body perfect? Nope. Will I ever grace the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition? Nope. Do I still have abdominal scars and stretch marks and a poochy belly? Yep. Do I give a shit? Fuck NO. My body isn’t perfect. But it is MINE. With my body, I have given birth to three beautiful souls. I’ve beaten illnesses. I’ve fought for my sanity and WON.


April 2015

I’ve posted these photos in this blog for a couple of reasons: the first is in the hopes that someone with a similar story to mine will read it and feel less alone in their own struggles with their body image. The second is because I always keep my word, and three years ago, I promised the listeners of TweepNation that I’d post photos in “the bikini” at the end of the Be Better Project. And the third? Honesty. And lack of fear of people’s opinions on my body. Anyone who will judge my imperfections in a hateful manner is not a person who is actually going to see me as ME.

And ME is pretty damn awesome. Me is a woman who after years of hating herself has finally opened up  my arms wide to hug myself and say “I love you. You’re beautiful.”

Back in January, I was scheduled for a tummy tuck to remove those abdominal scars and have my separated abdominal muscles reattached. A slight infection caused the surgery to be cancelled and rescheduled at a later date. A few days before the scheduled surgery, I’d emailed a friend a list of daily gratitudes, one of which was the following: “I’ve learned to love my body as is and I will miss its flaws…” I won’t be having the surgery until its necessary. And I don’t want it to be necessary.

“Better” started out as me losing weight. But I ended this in a truly “Better” way: I love ME. Who I am as a person is defined in those scars on my abdomen: flawed, but for good reason.

Love yourself as is folks. Embrace your flaws for what they are: markers on a life well lived.

I’d stay and chat, but my bikini is too loose… I’m off to buy a new one.

~Amber Jerome~Norrgard

Passing the Placenta

I recently heard through a friend a reaction to one of my more wilder hair color experiments that a young woman we both know stated she’d considered doing a wild shade of hair, but being a mom was a reason not to.

I felt a multitude of emotions upon hearing this, everything from annoyance (at being judged) to pity to anger to sadness. I even felt humor. Annoyance because I was judged by someone (again) based on my looks, pity that this twenty-something child was so closed minded, anger and sadness that they fell back on that ideal as a reason to not do something for themselves, and humor because I’d let a twenty year old kid I actually dislike intensely get to me.

The fact is, and those of you who know me can attest to this, I don’t give a shit what your opinion is on how I look. I’ve often been judged on my appearance: I’ve surprised people by my level of intelligence: “What? You actually have a brain?” and “Just stand there and look pretty.” are two comments I’ve received far too frequently in my thirty-eight years on this earth. I’ve heard comments that can be summed up by two words: “Fat bitch” and “Skinny bitch” have been two frequent comments, along with “Bet she stuffs” and very hilariously, someone asking me who my plastic surgeon was, because they sooooo wanted him to give her my boobs (said boobs were actually grown naturally and are credited to my biological parents’ DNA, thank you for that Ellen and Charlie).

Mainly, I felt offended.

Motherhood doesn’t erase who we are.

Sadly, I’ve seen this happen far too often: snakeskin pants are packed up, piercings removed, tattoo cover kits are purchased. Lace underwear sets are tossed in the trash for boring cotton numbers. Hair is chopped off into a standard bob, and mini-vans become the choice vehicle to have.

Back in 2005, I was shopping with a family member. When I picked up a lace thong and bra set, she freaked out and reminded me I was a mother. I reminded her that life post-placenta did not erase the fact I was still a woman.

I thrive on my life as a mother: for me, raising my three children is the reason I was put on this earth. I love spending time with my three children, whether its one-on-one with them or as a group. I love hearing their thoughts on everything from art to life to pancakes. I’d rather not hear them whine, but even that has the benefit of knowing they’re growing exactly as they should be. I don’t even mind doing their laundry. They are the very breath that I breathe, and their faces are my heart and soul. My life would not be worth living if they were not in this world.

I’ll admit my naval ring was removed during my pregnancy with Amethyst. When faced with the realization that if I grew any more the ring would rip out due to my expanding belly, I took the smart (and pain free option) of removing it. And those snakeskin pants I placed on the high shelf in my closet went there because I was no longer a size two.

But Amethyst taking her first breath in our world didn’t erase who I am at my core: a woman who is creative and slightly crazy and full of life and passion. My need to be out there in the world and create with my mind and decorate my body with piercings and art work never changed. In many ways, motherhood reaffirmed the necessity to remain true to myself: how better else is there to teach my children honesty than by being who I truly am?

In many ways, the world we live in is based on a set of ideals that only works for a small bit of the people inhabiting it: we’re told from a young age that we need to be “normal” except we’re not given a say in the matter. And women sadly add to this load of shit by giving into the idea that motherhood means you need to put yourself on the back burner and subscribe to khaki pants and bobbed hair cuts and drive mini vans and wear pearl stud earrings. If you like the khakis and pearls, by all means wear them. But don’t hide your past away from your present and future self. Don’t give up those things that so define you because you’ve passed a placenta. Lying to yourself is the worst type of lie there is, because you’re killing your spirit and letting yourself go.

And using motherhood as an excuse to hide behind as to why you’re not dying your hair a bright color or getting a tattoo or a piercing or returning to finish your education or finding a half hour every week as a space of time for yourself is a fat load of bullshit. The reality is, you’re using it as an excuse to hide behind your own cowardice at not being accepted.

Whether or not the person who made the comment that they weren’t dying their hair because they’re a mother was taking a dig at the fact that I’m a mother to three children and should know better (bite me please), or whether they were just trying to excuse away their lack of freedom, it doesn’t matter. If its the first one? Well, feel free to pass this along: Fuck you. I know myself. My children are healthy, happy, compassionate, and are going to bring some wonderful to the world we live in. If its the second: please pull your head out of your ass and do what you need to do for you and stop giving up yourself for some set ideals you’ve never questioned.

I’ve passed three placentas in my life. And I might not always do the right thing. In fact, I might fuck it up royally. But at the end of the day, I can look in the mirror and honestly state I’ve been true to myself. And that my hair is fuckin’ awesome.

Amber Jerome~Norrgard

%d bloggers like this: