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Pregnancy complications – Part 2

Following on from Part 1

At 12 weeks pregnant the NT scan showed extremely low odds for our baby having Down Syndrome which was great news. The figures were presented to us with “Well done, congratulations, this is a really great result.” My husband and I are like-minded, and we left the consulting rooms mildly angry at being told “Well done” for something we had no control over. If we’d had high odds for Down Syndrome, would we have been reprimanded and made to feel guilty? Thankfully we’ll never know. At a later scan we learned that bub was a girl.

The 26-week gestational diabetes test was a sickly-sweet non-event. I continued seeing the obstetrician every 6 weeks. These visits usually consisted of getting weighed, sitting in the waiting room for an hour or so, seeing the doctor for 10 minutes, then paying another ~$300 towards his bill. During the appointment the doctor would answer any questions I had and do a quick scan with an outdated ultrasound machine. I always loved seeing bub’s little heart beating, and the occasional glimpse of a nose, hand or foot. The doctor always mentioned that she was a very active and healthy baby. I felt that I was putting on weight faster than I should, but I was within normal weight gain ranges.

At 33 weeks pregnant my job suddenly got very stressful, and not in the usual way of tight deadlines etc. There were some necessary budget cuts to be made, and two of my four team members had to be let go. I had two contractors on the team so they would be the ones to go. One contractor had just gotten married and was in the middle of purchasing a new home. The other had just been hired the previous month and had a two week old baby. Both of them were doing excellent work. They both understood and handled the situation in their stride, and aside from feeling stressed I didn’t notice any other effects immediately.

A few days later I realised that my nightly swollen ankles were still swollen in the morning, instead of returning to normal overnight. My pregnancy bible What To Expect When You’re Expecting listed this symptom under “Call your doctor if…” but it didn’t really say why, and I had no other worrying symptoms. It was after work (i.e. outside of doctor’s hours) so I called the maternity ward, and a midwife asked me to come in and get my blood pressure checked.

The hospital was only 10 minutes away so we left our half-prepared meal in the kitchen and my husband took me to the hospital. Apparently my blood pressure was quite high because I was admitted to hospital on the spot and restricted to bed rest. I was referred to a specialist for hypertension, and told not to return to work. I think this sent my blood pressure up higher, thinking that although I’d starting preparing for a handover I hadn’t actually done one yet. I sent my husband home to get my laptop, and some pyjamas and toiletries.

When he returned he said that half our street was blocked off to the public, with police cars and flashing lights everywhere. There’d been a drive-by shooting on our street. (We found out the next day that no-one was harmed.) There’s one every 2-3 days in Sydney but this was way too close to home… Not great for my blood pressure.

I logged in to work for 2 hours, wrote up hand-over notes, notified my manager and team, and tied up some loose ends. With that out of the way I was able to focus on my health and pregnancy, and I started to wonder if I’d be in hospital for the next 6 weeks. It was strange to be in the maternity ward as the only patient without a babe-in-arms, and it was very difficult to sleep at night with all the crying going on. I was sent for another ultrasound (upstairs), and this time I saw the blood flows in bub’s body appearing as blue and red on the screen. Obviously I couldn’t fathom what it all meant, but I was relieved with the report that everything was normal.

After 3 days – and some complaints about lack of sleep – I was discharged from the hospital provided I kept off my feet as much as possible. As I was leaving a midwife decided to check my blood pressure one last time, and checked my blood sugar as well for good measure. My blood glucose level was 10.8, and the acceptable maximum value was only 7.8 apparently. So I was ordered back into bed to await further testing. Another specialist came past and said that I could still be discharged that day, provided I visit the diabetes clinic next door for some education on how to manage my gestational diabetes with a strict diet. It was a relief to come home.

The next few weeks were uneventful. I was relaxing with my feet up watching lots of TV, reading books and doing crossword puzzles. It was frustrating to be home all day while unable to help out much with the housework, but my husband had it all under control. I followed the diabetes diet and pricked my fingertips 6 times a day for blood glucose tests at home. I bought a blood pressure monitor for home as well, and I checked my BP twice daily. Twice weekly I drove to the hospital for monitoring. This involved sitting in a room with around 10 other pregnant women, waiting for my turn on the baby heartbeat and activity monitor, eating hospital sandwiches with toppings that pregnant women aren’t supposed to eat, and waiting to see the doctor and nurse who were rostered on that day.

The medical staff measured my blood pressure and blood sugar, and reviewed the results I’d taken at home along with the readout from the baby monitor. The good news was that I wasn’t going to need insulin, but my blood pressure remained high. One nurse commented that bub’s activity rate was on the lower side of normal, but still within normal range. The results were all forwarded to my obstetrician after each visit. It did occur to me that my once very active baby was becoming less active, but I figured that space was getting tight in there by that stage. She was a big bub!

At 35 weeks my obstetrician said that he’d be inducing labour at 38 weeks. My high blood pressure could be a problem for a full-term delivery, and the risks to bub from being born early would be minimal because she weighed more than average. I had carpal tunnel sydnrome in both wrists, back pain, cramps, etc. and I liked the thought of an early delivery. We made final preparations at home, and arranged to donate the umbilical cord blood to the Sydney Cord Blood Bank.

At 38 weeks I was induced, and for 16 hours of labour bub was monitored constantly on the heartbeat and activity monitor. At that point bub still wasn’t engaged (i.e. ready to come out on her own) and I was taken down to theatre for a caesarean section delivery. Thankfully no-one used the word ’emergency’ at any time, but they did move quickly and efficiently.

My operation went smoothly and I felt that I was in great hands with my own obstetrician. I had a chance to quickly hold bub before she left with my husband, while the doctors continued operating. What I didn’t know as I was laying impatiently in Recovery, is that the midwives had quietly debated whether there was even enough time for me to cuddle bub before they rushed her up to the Special Care Nursery…

Back in the maternity ward the paediatrician on duty started explaining to us that there’d been a foetal-maternal haemorrhage in utero, and that our daughter had low oxygen levels in her blood and needed a blood transfusion. Bear in mind that I was high on morphine at this point and I was asking the same questions multiple times… Through my confusion I was able to understand that there was a problem with our baby girl, that she needed some more blood, and that a blood transfusion would solve the problem and she’d be healthy. She also had low blood sugar, which they would fix with some glucose. She was a 4kg baby, and she made the premature babies in Special Care look positively tiny.

P1060577It took less than 100ml of donated blood to save our daughter’s life. Over the next 3 days she fully recovered. Apparently it can take babies up to a week to recover from a transfusion, so perhaps her size helped her to recover faster.  We sat by her bed watching the oxygen percentage on her monitor and willed the number to climb from 85%-88% to up above 97%. We learned that somehow the barrier in the placenta wasn’t working properly, and she’d been losing blood into my body. A blood test confirmed that my blood contained foetal blood cells, which should never happen. The cord blood bank representative checked in on us, because her team had also noticed the low level of oxygen in our baby’s blood.

As for me, my diabetes disappeared almost immediately after giving birth and my blood pressure was back to normal within the week.

During my next pregnancy the diabetes returned and this time I needed insulin. At the Diabetes Clinic the topic of my daughter’s birth came up, and the nurse recognised my daughter’s case immediately. She used to be in charge of the Special Care Nursery. She remembered where she was that night when her staff called to explain the situation. Our local hospital normally wouldn’t perform blood transfusions, they’d transfer the babies to the Sydney Children’s Hospital which is less than 30 minutes away. But our daughter’s case was so urgent that there wasn’t enough time for an emergency transfer. I was finding this out 2 years after the event, and the news still gave me chills. I didn’t realise how close we’d come to losing our baby.

My daughter is 4 years old now. She’s in perfect health, tall for her age, caring and clever. She’s also a wonderful big sister to her little brother.

Do you wish you could remember people’s names?

I’m one of those people who’s just hopeless at remembering people’s names.

Well, I was… until I realised that it’s a skill which I can practise and improve on. I used to think this was an actual limitation with the way my brain is wired. I believed that some people are good at remembering names, others not so much, and that’s just how we’re born. But unless you’re one of the handful of people in the world with no short-term memory, your hippocampus is functional and you can improve at remembering people’s names as well. Next time you’re meeting one or more people, try some of the following techniques.

 Listen, clarify if necessary, then say their name

Pay attention to the person’s name and pronunciation. If you haven’t heard the name properly, now is the best time to clarify rather than waiting an hour into the conversation. Repeat the name back if you can, “Hi Andrew, nice to meet you”.

Make eye contact

When introducing yourself, take a few seconds to notice the person’s eyes and face to help you commit the details to memory. This may feel awkward at first, but you can fill those seconds easily by saying, “Nice to meet you Rachel” or something similar. Responding on auto-pilot like this is acceptable in many situations, and won’t take brain-power away from remembering that person’s name. Sometimes I also repeat the person’s name in my head, “Rachel, Rachel, Rachel”. It doesn’t take long, and it seems to help.


Smile and recognise that this person is a complex human being, with a multi-faceted personality and life experience. This creates a brief humanist connection, and subconsciously predisposes you to want to remember this person’s name.

Don’t rely on name tags

In conferences I meet many people at once, and they’re often wearing name tags. Name tags are great for clarifying that you’ve heard someone’s name right, or for quickly checking that you’ve remembered someone’s name correctly. But don’t rely too heavily on name tags and then expect to remember people’s names beyond the end of the event, unless you conciously use other techniques to remember people’s faces as well. Otherwise next time you run into that person at a function you may barely recognise them.

Word association

It can help to think of a mnemonic device to remember people’s names, e.g. Max like my neighbour, or Kirsten like Kirsten Dunst. These mnemonic devices are probably only needed until you’ve had a conversation with the person, and are usually best kept to yourself! They might make no sense to others.

It’s not about the clothes

Conciously try not use people’s clothes to remember them by. Even if they’re wearing a distinctive orange jacket or a bright red bow tie! People have a tendency to change their clothes, and this can be akin to removing their name tag when it comes to you trying to remember their name.

Prepare in advance

Sometimes when I’m attending a function or joining a phone conference with people I haven’t met before, it helps to prepare in advance. I do this by looking at the list of people who’ve accepted the invitation and scanning their names. This way I’ll be quicker to associate their name with their face\voice.


When all else fails and you’ve forgotten someone’s name, admit it and ask again. This time don’t forget what it is! You might be surprised how often the person has forgotten your name as well…

Say goodbye

Repeat the person’s namewhen saying goodbye. For example, “It was great talking with you Erin, thanks for the interview tips”. Even if this sounds a little awkward to your own ears, recognise that you’re using this technique with the best of intentions, and it will become natural with practise. You’d genuinely like to remember this person’s name when you see them again, and hopefully remember the topic of discussion as well.


Ever since I started reading about neuroscience a year ago I’ve conciously decided to improve my memory. I’ve borrowed some of these techniques and developed the others, and I’ve been using them constantly. They’re especially useful when I’m starting work with a new team or attending conferences, and my memory of people’s names has dramatically improved over this past year. I’ve noticed that I’m still terrible at remembering author’s names unless I’ve interacted with the author in person or on twitter, or if I’ve read many books by the same author. For me it comes back to making a concious effort to find a photo of the author, read a bit about their background, and then  associate the author with the title of the book, and also the themes and key concepts in the book. This is a work in progress for me.

I’m interested to hear whether these techniques work for you. Please share your experiences and any additional techniques which you use in the Comments section below.

Tickets are booked, I’ll be there :)

After what feels like a roller-coaster ride, I’m attending the Let’s Test Oz conference this month.

  • An impressive number of people have shown support for me in my struggle with anxiety.
  • A surprising number of you are going through your own personal battles. It’s that support, friendship and the coping strategies you’ve shared with me that helped make this decision an easy one.
  • There were some changes at work and the conference dates now line up perfectly.
  • I’ve pulled back from some extra commitments and will be attending the conference with no strings attached.

I feel healthier and stronger now than I did a month ago. I’m deeply grateful for the support of the testing community.

So if you see me at the conference, come up and say hi (tip: I’ll be handing out name tags at the front door).
And please don’t be offended if I walk out during your session for a 5 minute break and a cup of tea 🙂


Why I won’t be attending Let’s Test Oz – 2014

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My husband and I seperately came to the same unfortunate conclusion last night:

I shouldn’t go to Let’s Test Oz this year.

Out of respect and gratitude for everyone who participated in my campaign to get to this conference, I’d like to explain. I’m explaining in detail so this may seem long-winded. My target audience is the 50+ people who generously donated and supported me.

As I explained, initially it was my anxiety keeping me from attending the conference, being away from home and family for a week. After a change in meds, I thought I could handle it with the support of some friends who are also attending. Then there was still the hurdle of not being able to afford it at the moment. And that’s where my campaign started.

Most people reading this will be aware of the public side of that campaign from my blog posts and Colin Cherry’s blog. That was all true and exhilirating, but it was only half of the story.

Behind the Scenes
I started my first contract role mid-way through the fundraising activity. I hadn’t mentioned the conference to my new client, until my 2nd day on the project when it became obvious that I might actually meet my goal! I wasn’t aware yet of the expectations of contractors to not disappear for 1 week during a short-term 3 month contract. Which does make sense. There was a niggling thought that I could check with the client just in case, but I partly didn’t want to give them the opportunity to say no, because I didn’t want anything to stand in my way. That may sound unprofessional because it is, which I’m not proud of.

To further drop the costs, I accepted an offer from the Let’s Test Oz organisers to submit a proposal for running their Test Lab in exchange for a discount. A discount made the goal of reaching the conference more achievable, and I was keen to assist in any way I could for what I’m sure will be an excellent conference. As I tend to do I said yes first, and asked questions later. Important questions like “What is a test lab”, and “What will I need to do?”. James Bach talked me through the process and offered his support for coaching testers in the lab. Andrew Prentice already had some plans underway for the lab, and Martin Jansson’s blog posts were very helpful. I was excited to say the least, at the opportunities for challenging and coaching people who are keen to learn.

With only $390 left to raise, I received an offer from OZ Tester magazine (via Colin, as it turns out) to write a 2-3 page article about Lets Test Oz in return for a donation of more than the balance remaining. It was a very generous offer, and I’d have an opportunity to write about the conference from my CDT perspective to an audience that is quite a mix but predominately fans of ISTQB. I thought that could be interesting. Knowing how much James Bach had helped me already, and knowing that James would probably rather cover my costs himself than for me to write for this particular magazine, I accepted Geoff’s offer anyway. That’s what I do best, accept offers for more work. (Have many of you approached someone hat-in-hand and asked for $400? Not an easy thing for me to consider doing, I preferred the idea of earning the money myself.)

So what happened?
Having reached my goal I started to dig into the practical details of getting to the conference.

To help cut down my costs by taking less days off work I decided to travel Sat-Thurs, instead of Sat-Sun (6 days down from 9 days). Given that I’d being flying international, and making my way from Sydney out to the Blue Mountains, that meant I’d have 1.5 days at best to catch up with family and friends instead of 4.5 days.

It seemed to me that a typical article for Geoff’s magazine would be more focused on a summary of each talk and key takeaways ( I don’t know, I haven’t gotten around to reading an edition yet with everything else that’s always going on). Whereas I’d been planning to spend most of my time in the lab, and learn about the talks during discussions with others who’d presented or attended. For me personally, this approach seemed like a great way to learn, coach and meet others and was very appealing. But where would that leave the article I’d already been paid to write? Would it be acceptable to write about the test lab only? I didn’t ask, even though it was weighing on me somewhat.

Finally I read Martin’s blog posts again about running Let’s Test labs in Sweden. I’d need to stay in the Blue Mountains for most of Sunday, and probably Wednesday night, to make sure that everything would go smoothly. If I’m going to do something, I want to do it well.

There’s something not right about taking a week off work mid-project at a critical time, to coach others on how to be better testers. Planning the test lab, in my enthusiasm, has already led to late nights where I’ve then made some minor mistakes on my project due to exhaustion. Again, unprofessional.

While my husband and I were thinking about this yesterday we reached the same conclusions. I had arrived at plans for a rushed trip overseas filled with late nights discussing testing and very little sleep, and about 3 hours on arrival to catch up with family and friends. Very similar conditions broke me in Sydney not so long ago, and that was even while I was staying with family.. I’ve improved slightly since then anxiety-wise, it’s a huge ask to be away from my young family for almost a week, while not seeing loved ones nearby in Sydney, not getting enough sleep, dropping the ball on my project, and leaving my husband to take care of everything alone on the home front for the third time in a few months.

Once again, I accepted responsibility for a few too many things at once. A lesson I seem destined to keep learning the hard way is “Don’t spread yourself too thin”. I’ve also regrettably stepped away from organising the Auckland Testers Meetup; potentially presenting at WeTest Wellington workshop; helping the Testing Trapeze team (which I hadn’t managed to do yet despite agreeing to help them a month ago); etc, etc. I will continue to attend events and coach testers, but take a less active part in organising for now.

Nothing from this story should detract from the way the test community came together for a friend in need. That’s something we should be proud of (I’m assuming that only testers are still reading at this point!).

What about the money?
All $2,050 raised will be donated to Per Scholas by 25 August. As soon as the Givealittle website passes the funds to me I will forward them on. They do excellent work, and I proposed all along that if there was a shortfall or excess of funds raised the money would be donated to Per Scholas. Payment for the article has been refunded. Please contact me on skype Kim_Engel, twitter, LinkedIn or email if you have an alternative request for your donation, prior to 25th August.

Thank you, and sorry. I’m sure that a few of you can relate.

I’m going to Let’s Test Oz!!!

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Wow, just wow.
I’m stuck on that word for tonight, there’ll be more words to come once it has sunk in that


Thank you!

Crowd Funding update

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We have almost reached 60% already in less than one week – this is amazing!

Some additional very generous people have pledged to donate money in August. As a result I’ve reduced the total goal/amount for now, so that I don’t raise more money than I need in the meantime.

For those who have already helped so much, current efforts are re-focussing on asking for anyone to donate $10 if they can spare it.
I’m also auctioning off random objects from our house on TradeMe (NZ version of eBay) – every little bit helps! 🙂

Better yet, I’m trying to ask the @AirNZFairy to fly me there for free! Your help on this would be much appreciated Twitter folks 🙂 Some of you have been submitting website feedback and defects to @FlyAirNZ today via twitter, that’s got to be worth something to the AirNZFairy!

I started working at Air New Zealand as a contractor today. I’m hoping to be eligible for some large staff discount on flights in case the fairy doesn’t grant my wish and I don’t raise the target amount of money. I’m still looking into it – I was a bit busy getting up to speed on my new project today… Fingers crossed!

I heart the Testing Community – Day 3

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Last night I realised that I had a choice to make.

Option 1. I could choose to keep feeling overwhelmed with gratitude, literally^ floored by everyone’s generosity. I could choose to feel unworthy and guilty, like some sort of fraud who’s diverting funds from charities.


Option 2. I could choose to feel inspired, motivated, called to action, driven to prove myself worthy and make all of you proud of your contribution to my cause, and be buoyed* by gratitude.

Anxiety is a mofo**, and when seen that way, this won’t be the first time I’ve faced a mofo head-on and won.

I chose Option 2.

^ I know what “literally” means, and I’m using the term correctly
* That’s pronounced “boid like void” downunder where I’m from, not “boo-ied like no-other-word-I-can-think-of” 🙂 #RST
** There must be a better word I could’ve used here, but I’m late for work already.

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