Demanded-Out: My Messy Beautiful Submission

Touched-out? No. Demanded-out.

My brain is touched-out. Your body has probably felt touched-out, but what about your brain? That little baby’s body, attached to your body for nine months of pregnancy and a year of infancy, can leave your body feeling a tad smooshed. But, now that my babies aren’t babies, I need a new phrase to describe how my brain feels touched-out from all these motherhood demands. I need a phrase to describe how my brain feels “demanded-out”.

My brain seems to have a limit on the amount of tantrums, demands, requests, tears, pleas, hand signals, cries, speeches, and barks it can accept. After a certain point, I feel like my nerves become raw. After that point, I think my eyes go blank and I just try to survive until bedtime. My son knows that face, no matter how much I think I’m hiding it. I’m sure every mom goes through these same exact things in the same exact order.

Mr. Okayest doesn’t understand why I can’t just ignore the demands like he can. He really is amazing. He doesn’t get sweaty, like I do, when all three cry at the same time. He doesn’t get shrill, like I do, when everyone needs something at the same time. Just ignore them, he says.

He is so smart and so supportive and so observant, but I don’t think he will ever empathize with this mom feeling. Sympathize – yes. Empathize – maybe not. I try to explain to Mr. Okayest that, as a mother, I have no choice but to respond. I don’t necessarily blame hormones, because I felt this same way when we adopted our oldest. However, there is something hard-wired into our mom-brains that makes us have to respond.

I have to respond to their cries, either to shush them or to hug them. I have to respond to their sign-language requests for more milk, whether I get up right now or in a minute or never. I have to respond to the barking dog, whether I put her in her crate or put her shock collar on. I have to respond to the phone ringing, either to look at the caller ID or to decide not to answer it, even if I am feeding a baby. I have to respond to their cries in the night, even if I am a firm believer in “crying it out” (which I am), and even if “respond” simply means I wake up with them and lie there in the dark until they fall asleep again.

There is no ignoring of anything, even if my choice is not to meet that request. Every demand is catalogued in my brain. Every single cry, plea, bargain, and questionable poop noise: it’s all getting catalogued in my brain and silently prioritized. With four children under four in our house (adoption + my niece + IVF twins), every single moment is a list of needs from an army of small people. In my brain. All the time.

I don’t know how to stop it. My senses got messed up during my horrific twin pregnancy and the whole almost-dying-during-childbirth thing. I think most new moms feel this way: everything was too bright, too loud, too rough, too shrill, too painful. But my senses didn’t seem to right themselves after recovery was over. I entered a fight-or-flight feeling that went on for a year. My adrenaline never stopped pumping. Even after my twins started sleeping through the night at seven months, I couldn’t relex. Even though my job was done at 7:30 PM, and I knew they would sleep for twelve hours straight, sometimes I couldn’t stop pacing the house until my husband literally took my hand and pulled me down.

Finally, around the twins’ first birthday, my own psychology degree hanging on the wall convinced me to talk to the doctor about that feeling. I work on that feeling every day. Sometimes I have to call my husband at work to give me the “pep talk”, but I have come a long way.

No matter how far I come, though, I don’t think I will ever be able to relax all the way. Moms have to prioritize every messy moment of every messy day. I am so demanded-out. Some nights I become zombie-mommy as I go glassy-eyed at the last of the day’s cries/pleas/tantrums/barks. But I’m alive, I’m here, I’m okayest, and I’m not going to ignore this messy beautiful life.

Even though maybe sometimes I wish I could.

 

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project from the Momastery blog. To learn more, CLICK HERE. To learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir “Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life”, CLICK HERE.

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110 Decibel Lullabies: Memories of a Loud Childhood

My dad and my baby brother, circa 1989, with Jimi between them.

My dad and my baby brother, circa 1989, with Jimi between them.

This cartoon was taped into my baby book in 1979.

My mom taped this cartoon into my baby book in 1979.

My lullabies were 110 decibel Led Zeppelin songs. My dad didn’t turn it down for bedtime. I sang along to lyrics that were naughtier than I knew. (But I also changed the lyrics to fit my childhood brain.) I heard my name in “Good Times Bad Times”. I swear, from a very young age, I heard my mom and/or Robert Plant screaming my name in that one. By the age of seven or eight, I knew the difference between 1970s Rolling Stones and 1980s Rolling Stones. I could tell the difference between the Beatles and George Harrison’s solo work. I had seen Roy Orbison perform.  I knew what a Marshall half-stack was. I could tell the difference between a Les Paul and a Strat.  I inherited none of my parents’ musical talents, but I certainly have a brain full of classics and warm/odd memories.

Everyone has memories attached to music and songs. But nobody, of course, has memories like mine. Hearing “Harvest Moon” makes me feel like it’s really late and I am lying in bed and my dad has put the guitar away for the night. He’s just sitting on the couch with my mom while the vinyl spins. Hearing “Cinnamon Girl” makes me feel like it’s a Saturday afternoon band practice and I am watching the band from our basement steps. The music is so loud that my heart is vibrating, just like at a concert. Sometimes the toaster vibrated across the kitchen counter, and one time it walked right off the counter.

Sometimes band practice spilled over into Sunday morning, and my mom and I may have stepped over a sleeping band member a time or two on our way to church. (Interesting tidbit: my mom played the piano at church. Life was a beautiful dichotomy.)

music lover baby

Okayest Mom, circa 1980, loving record albums already…

My childhood was so loud. My mom and I couldn’t answer the kitchen phone, because we couldn’t hear a thing anyone said anyway. We watched a lot of TV shows on mute, because there was no point in having sound. Each TV show had a classic rock soundtrack. We didn’t mind at all – it was just the way it was. When we gave up answering the phone or watching muted TV, we would just sit in the music room and watch my dad practice. My mom and I snuggled on a chair together while he played. I remember sucking my thumb (which I stopped doing on my fourth birthday) while cuddling my mom before bed. My dad was playing guitar and the enormous sound was everywhere, in my whole body. That was relaxing to me. That was how I got sleepy for bed.

My parents never treated music as “background” to anything. Music was something that was enjoyed first-person in our house. It deserved to be the focus of our attention. It deserved to be loud. It deserved to be the featured guest. Besides, playing it quietly makes you miss some of the good stuff. Have you ever heard the beginning of “Time” by Pink Floyd really really loudly? Well, I have. Whenever my dad tested his speaker systems, he put that clock-ticking intro on to calibrate something, I think. The booming bass would shake my little skinny kid body, and I loved it.

My handmade sound system and small record collection, protected from my “quadruplets”.

My dad built speaker systems from scratch. He was a carpenter by trade, and carried his skills over into his love for music. He never had any musical training, as far as I know, but he has audiophile ears and a craftsman’s hands that can build speaker systems to blow-dry your hair – and still make you hear ticking clocks like never before. He designed his music room to have optimal acoustics, and then built it. As an adult in my own home, I have custom-built speakers and a subwoofer, built as presents by my own dad. They are definitely gated off from my “quadruplets”.

The sound system shows off my vinyl record collection quite nicely, but it also shows off my iPod quite nicely. I don’t think my dad approves of me sending compressed digital files through his babies. Sorry, Dad. My dad has a record collection that gives new meaning to the word “collection.” He likes to say that his house couldn’t burn down – it could only melt down. He also told me he pities me when he dies and I inherit thousands of pounds of vinyl. Record albums are precious to audiophiles because they each sound different, depending on the weight and pressing and other things that my kid brain can’t remember. A person like my dad is going to need seven different pressings of “Sticky Fingers” because each pressing will sound unique. Much of that richness and variation is lost in our digital age. (By the way, Neil Young has been trying to solve this problem for years. He has been developing a superior digital music format to replace what we currently use.)

My husband loves my record collection and our homemade sound system. Of course, my record collection is itty-bitty, compared to my father’s. It’s just a sampling, really. I gathered it over many flea-market and thrift-store scavenges with my dad, when I was in high school in the 90s. I take great pride in my little collection. I have one problem: I don’t play it. My husband realized early on in our marriage that I had this strange habit of waiting for him to select the music. It’s a very odd habit that I seemed to have formed from being the offspring of a musician. Apparently, I wait for a man to DJ my life. Not proud of that, but, there it is.

I love vinyl. I’m no musician, but I can hear at least some of the sound quality, and I love it. However, I have no idea how to make music be the featured guest in my house of four children, ages four and under. They are always the featured guests. There is no sitting still to listen to the subtleties of music, and I miss that. However, we do have “dance party” several times a week, where we blast some compressed digital files through the homemade subwoofer (again, my apologies to Dad and Neil Young), and the kids dance with me until we fall down. They especially seem to like Black Keys and Black Sabbath right now.

My kids may not have as many musical memories as I do. They may not know the difference between a Les Paul and a Strat. They may not have 110 decibel Zeppelin lullabies. But, they do know how to headbang as soon as they can stand. They do know how to treat a guitar with respect as soon as they can walk. They do stop whatever they are doing when their father breaks out the acoustic. They probably won’t know what a CD is, but they already know what a vinyl records does. Let’s just hope they can hear the difference!

***

(Just for the “record”, all memories have been filtered through my kid brain and I am solely responsible for my errors. I am not a musician, and I’m sure my dad will have to correct me on a few things.)

Setting the Record Straight

Sometimes people misunderstand my snarky tone. I hope I can write well enough that everyone understands my intentions. My intentions are to convey the absurd in my daily life. I want to be truthful. The truth is:

1) I love my kids. This is indisputable. Everyone loves his or her kids. Every parent wants to do his or her best for  the children. If I wrote a blog about that, it would be really boring.

2) What I do is really hard: There are only 2 people on the whole planet, besides myself, who have done this job alone all day (my husband and a friend from church). Usually it takes 2-3 grandparents to replace me for a day. Having three children under three, or three children in diapers, does not occur often in nature. Number 2 does NOT NEGATE number 1.

3) What I do is really ridiculous: My daily life is absurd. It’s weird. It’s crazy. Normal people do not live this way. If I didn’t find humor in what is happening here, I would crack. I might literally crack in half from being tense. Number 3 does NOT NEGATE number 1.

My blog is trying to tell the truth about numbers 2 and 3. I have mothers all over the world messaging me about how grateful they are that I am telling the truth. I have infertile women all over the world telling me that they are sobbing while reading my story because someone finally understands them. I have friends telling me they are crying with laughter or crying with tears at something funny or sad that I wrote. How are we supposed to help others if we don’t tell the truth? How can we relate to others if we don’t show our weaknesses?

If you have read my “about me” page, you know all this already. I have overcome trials as we struggled to build our family- some of which include infertility, miscarriage, adoption, IVF, carrying twins, and almost dying. I want to tell my children what it was really like to “acquire” them.  It was hard, sad, funny, ridiculous, embarrassing, and wonderful. I also want to record what these early days were like for us. Soon enough, they will be in school, and none of us will really remember these painfully beautiful and painfully hard days. I have a bad memory, and I am seriously sleep-deprived –  both of which indicate that I will not remember the majority of what is happening here.

A friend of mine has a sign on her wall that says, “The days are long, but the years are short.”

This blog is written for my children. A question I answered in my “What Happens When You Start Blogging” post was, “Why are you writing in a public forum if the information is really for your children?” The answer is that I have discovered that I am incapable of keeping a private journal for them – I just don’t make the time. However, when I am blogging, I know I have followers who are waiting for my new posts. I currently have just shy of 1500 followers. People tell me that they eagerly anticipate the email notification that I have posted something new. That knowledge is excellent motivation to keep writing. So, yes, this information is recorded for my children, but you readers are the motivation. And I thank you for that!

With all that cemented, let me set the record straight by doing something I never do: brag about my children. Here are some amazing things about them… just so you know they are loved. wink wink.

My oldest son (R, age 4):

  • Has a very long attention span
  • is obedient, despite tantrums
  • has excellent motor skills, both fine and gross
  • can recite some scripture stories and knows how to pray
  • can talk about Jesus and Heavenly Father
  • is very thoughtful
  • has favorite foods that include salmon, blueberries, falafel, quinoa, and veggie juices
  • doesn’t know what a “Happy Meal” is (even though he loves french fries, I admit)
  • does not watch TV (but does watch a limited selection of DVDs)
  • does not know how to manipulate any sort of smart phone, computer, or device (this is my choice)
  • protects his babies from all sorts of dangers
  • has an above-average vocabulary (according to a speech therapist) and even understands a bit of Farsi

My middle son/oldest twin (E, age 16 months):

  • looks exactly like my husband’s baby photos, but with lighter eyes and hair
  • is a hugger. He will even pause to hug the stairs, the wall, or a boot
  • has a lower lip that slays me
  • rubs two fingers together when he is nervous
  • is much larger than almost all singletons his age
  • is already learning to share and take turns, because he has no choice
  • has favorite foods that include avocado (he can eat a whole one every day), eggs (he can eat 3), salmon, falafel, and plain yogurt
  • does not watch TV
  • knows a small amount of sign language and says many words

My youngest son/youngest twin (G, age 16 months):

  • looks exactly like my baby pictures, but with darker hair and eyes
  • is quick and sneaky, like a ninja – or a chess player.
  • has the most kissable head… His oldest brother calls him “baby doll head” (he made that up)
  • was in charge in the womb and is in charge now
  • is much larger than most singletons his age, but is way smaller than his twin
  • has favorite foods that include all the same healthy foods that his brothers like
  • does not watch TV
  • knows a small amount of sign language and says some words

I love my kids (duh, boring), and what I do is really hard and really ridiculous. There you have it. The record is straight.

Say It Ain’t So! When a Minivan Happens to a Volkswagen Girl…

I could not decide on a name for this blog post. So, since this topic is so incredibly painful for poor little me (First World Problems!), I’m not going to write an actual post about it. While I drown in my tears, I will just give you a bunch of alternate versions of the title of this non-blog-post post. Here are the Top 5 Alternate Titles:

1)     “How a Lifelong VW Girl Ended up in a Minivan”

On the day I was born, I came home from the hospital in a 1977 VW Rabbit. I mean, I would have, except that my mom was in labor long enough to get the Rabbit towed. Therefore, I actually came home in my Granddad’s car. (The first thing my new dad had to do was get that Rabbit out of the impound lot.) With the exception of that day, I have been in a VW for my entire life.

1977 VW Rabbit 1981 me asleep in VW

Throughout my childhood, my VW-loving parents drove me around in:
-a blue 1977 VW Rabbit,
-a black 1984 VW Rabbit (which my dad only sold this year), and
-a maroon 1994 VW Jetta (which my brother crashed).

As an adult, I have purchased:
-a blue 1987 VW Jetta (my first car, which my brother also crashed)
-a silver 2001 VW Golf,
-a red 2002 VW GTI (which my brother now owns and better not crash),
-a blue 2002 VW TDI (which we still own and Mr. Okayest drives every day. This diesel has 265,000 miles on it), and
-my silver 2003 VW Passat W8 (which kind of fit all 3 kids in the back, but not really, and also held our 100 pound dog in the back)

I never thought I would not own a VW.

2)     “From VW to… Beige.Chrysler.Minivan (to be read in the voice of the singer from the band Cake: A.White.Chrysler.LeBaron)”

Is there anything more bland than those three words put together: “Beige.Chrysler.Minivan”? I feel like I need to sprinkle some Sriracha sauce on those words to spice them up.

We, of course, started out by looking at the VW minivan, the Routan. Don’t even get me started on that. VW stuck a dagger in my heart. The Routan is actually just rebadged Chrysler Town & Country minivan with a more expensive price tag. WTHeck, VW?! That is not acting like “The People’s Car”, now is it?! How could you do that to a lifelong VW girl?

However, since the Routan debuted in 2008, it is not old enough to be affordable for the Okayest Family, so my whole rant is meaningless anyway. We don’t do car payments. Mr. Okayest is a former mechanic, and, thus, we rotate through old vehicles. He can keep them running. We have owned a dozen cars since we were married, many of which we flipped like real estate. Not a single one of them has ever been to a shop. (This hobby/skill keeps Mr. Okayest very busy. I used to call myself a “Garage Widow”.) Therefore, when we look at vehicles to buy, we usually look at vehicles that are about a decade old. This limits the choices somewhat.

3)     “ ‘I Will Never Drive a Minivan’ Said Everyone, Ever.”

I am so not reinventing the wheel here. Like most minivan owners, we tried everything to avoid this thing. We smashed all 3 in the back of the VW Passat until we could smash no more. We did spreadsheet after spreadsheet to try to fudge the numbers and make an SUV come out on top. Mr. Okayest is the best practical thinker you have ever seen, and made jaw-dropping “Decision Matrixes” (matrices?) that gave every pro and con a numerical value. It was so easy to make fun of him and his Excel skillz, but, dang, I was in awe. We simply could not argue with the numbers. No matter how we skewed the values, we could not make the SUVs or full-size vans come out as the winner.

How The Okayest  Family Buys a Car

How The Okayest Family Buys a Car (Make fun all you want. And, um, this is only a snippet of ONE of the Decision Matrices.)

I will make it up to myself by putting this sticker on the back:

IMG_0095

4)     “It’s Not the Number of Kids You Have… It’s the Number of Carseats You Have”

Anyone who makes fun of Americans for driving increasingly-larger vehicles does not have three babies in three carseats. (And I’m talking to myself here. I am the girl who once owned a Mini and a VW Golf at the same time.) We got the narrowest carseats we could find (which also happened to be the cheapest, woot woot!), and we just could not make them fit properly in the back of the VW Passat. There are only 2 LATCH anchors, so car manufacturers think it’s only necessary to save the lives of 2 of our 3 children.

all 3 asleep in vw

Our three carseats across the back row didn’t quite fit properly. They were a little wonky and crooked, because they had to overlap a little bit. Plus, when we shut the doors, the seats would jostle around. I kept picturing being in a t-bone crash with the twins’ seats smashed against the doors, and I felt like I should apologize to everyone who ever owned an SUV “for safety” that I had previously teased.

We have children closer together in age than most parents. I think that most parents who have three children have an oldest child who can buckle his own carseat buckle- or is old enough to not need a carseat. That is the natural child-spacing order. We, however, have three very small and closely-spaced children who must be buckled in by my hands. Why does this matter? BECAUSE I HAVE TO CLIMB IN THE WAY WAY BACK TO BUCKLE WHICHEVER KID ENDS UP BACK THERE. Therefore, I petitioned for a full-size van (which was sadly the major loser of the Decision Matrix) or a minivan with stow-n-go seats. I reasoned that if I could fold one seat into the floor, then I have far more room with which to maneuver. That plan was foiled when my 2-year-old niece moved in with us. We now have FOUR carseats in there and no stowing-and-going happening. (But that’s ok!)

all 4 in minivan

5)     “‘Anything But Beige,’ I Said”

Guess what? We looked at six minivans that weekend, and the last one happened to be beige. I knew as soon as I saw it. I said to him in a defeated voice, “This is the one, isn’t it?”

I’m never going to be able to find it in a parking lot. As a girl who is used to driving around in rare cars (Passat W8), race cars (my husband’s 626 hp racer), or handmade cars (an old Mitsubishi Galant sedan with race components), I now feel like I am wearing an invisibility cloak. Good thing I never leave the house, huh?

***

Postscript: Okay, okay, it’s been kinda awesome to fit all four kids in one vehicle. We have freedom to leave the house all together now. And, yes, its “utility can’t be beat”, as Mr. Okayest has said. And, okay, okay, it’s pretty cool to put regular gas in something for once, instead of premium. And, yeah, those automatic doors are really something when I have my hands full of twins. But, seriously, beige?!!

How a Good Girl Accidentally Got a Tattoo and Shaved Her Head One Time

Tattoos and shaved heads are gateway drugs to saloon life in the 1800s.

Tattoos and shaved heads are gateway drugs to saloon life in the 1800s.

Well, my “What little-known fact about me should be made into a blog post?” blog post has backfired. The ONE AND ONLY fact that I didn’t want to write about was the one that won the poll, with a whopping 42% of the vote. Ugh. Did my subconscious throw that one into the poll at the last minute or what?! Thanks a lot to those of you who voted for it, she says with a sneer.

The winning “little-known fact” was “I shaved my head and got a tattoo after a bad breakup at 18 (not Future Mr. Okayest).”

This little incident (i.e., defining moment) happened almost half my life ago. It will be very difficult to write, mostly out of concerns about respecting The Ex, as well as his family, whom I love very much. I have only ever loved two men in my life: one was The Ex and one is Mr. Okayest.

I have to use past tense on The Ex because…. he passed away. And, if I were to tell you that he died of a drug overdose, it would necessitate the fact that I use no identifying details about him.

We were high school sweethearts in a tiny high school- yes, the same high school where Mr. Okayest also attended. The Ex and I were opposites. “She’s a good girl, loved her mama,” to quote Tom Petty. We were seriously and deeply in love, drawn together by a love of good music, and perhaps from being old souls. He had some serious issues in his life, and I was a source of strength for him.

We dated for two years, and we were going to get married. He proposed. I had a ring and everything. We were going to play Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” at our wedding. “It was a teenage wedding, and the old folks wished them well.” We didn’t feel like teenagers, though. We felt like no one understood us – although that is probably just the most mundane thing to feel, since every teenager probably feels that way. Anyway, I think we really would have gotten married if the drugs hadn’t gotten in the way. And marrying him would not have been the best thing for me, no matter how much I loved him.

I really was a good girl. (I still am, ha!) I was a strong LDS girl. I went to church class (“Seminary”) every morning at 6:00 for one hour before school. I went to the hardest high school ever invented by man and had hours of homework every night. (Seriously, college was super easy.) I did every bit of homework. I got straight A’s. I had perfect attendance most of the time. I never drank or smoked or dabbled. I didn’t even drink caffeine back then! Nonetheless, I was a paradox, possibly because I myself was raised by a Mormon Good Girl and a Musician Bad Boy.

Things were starting to fall apart for The Ex before I left for college, but, when I did leave, he spiraled out of control. (Dang, I am reading that in my head with the VH1 “Behind the Music” guy’s voice. Sorry.) I am not extrapolating here. He told me that he couldn’t handle life without me. As an 18-year-old, it’s hard to understand how unhealthy codependence really is. And it’s hard to understand addiction, and all the devastating things in a person’s life that can lead to addiction. And it’s hard to understand that addiction – more specifically, controlling someone else’s addiction – isn’t actually the responsibility of said 18-year-old. (Perhaps that explains my choice of major: Psychology.)

I won’t go into specifics about the drugs, or The Ex, or the demise, out of respect for him and his family. Some of it can be summed up in the first two lines of Tom Petty’s “Listen to Her Heart”. (Go look it up if you can’t sing it off the top of your head. And then stop being friends with me.)

Our relationship ended during my freshman year of college because HE broke up with ME. Can you believe that? The addict is the one who was the break-up-er and the Good Girl is the break-up-ee? Probably like most teen girls, I believed I could “fix” him. A Bachelor’s degree in Psychology taught me that I was wrong – although you would think that the break-up would have been the deciding factor there. In retrospect, I now believe that he meant what he said: he broke up with me because he loved me and he wanted to spare me the ride on which he was stuck. It was a kind and selfless act, because he was giving me the gift I couldn’t give myself: the chance at a happy, normal, and healthy life. I would have ridden that ride with him forever, but he didn’t want that for me. I love him for that.

But, at the time, I couldn’t see past the pain, of course. It was the worst time of my short little life. To say I was devastated is an understatement. I cried so hard for so long that I burst blood vessels in my eyes and had some seriously zombie-fied eyes (before that was a trend). His family came all the way to my college to console me. Everything seemed so dramatic and so final. Mick Jagger once said something about how it’s hard to be a teenager because they just feel everything so much harder. Seriously, growing up is about putting on some sort of emotional blunting device. As my best friend once said, “Eventually we all put on some khakis and go get a job at The Gap.” (And she once wore a Barbie doll head on a dog collar around her neck.)

I was homesick. I was heartsick. My whole future seemed blacked out. I hated myself. I hated him. I wanted to hurt myself, but seeing as how I’m not a “cutter” or a drinker or a dabbler, I decided the best course of action would be to get a tattoo.

For a Mormon Good Girl, this is not a good choice. We believe our bodies are temples to our souls. We are borrowing these bodies as vessels for our spirits. Harming them or disfiguring them is just not a good idea – it is considered disrespectful to the parents and the God who gave you that body on loan. “While it may not be a sin, it’s a mistake.” I did it anyway.

I took a good friend with me. She had graduated from that same small school that The Ex, Future Mr. Okayest, and I had attended together, and then she had gone to the same (huge) college. She understood the depths of my teenage maudlin heart. We were freshmen, so we had no cars, and our college was in a rural area. This meant that, in order to permanently disfigure our bodies, we would have to really work at it. I think we used a combination of public bus routes and large amounts of walking to get to the “downtown” area where we could find a Gruff Old Tattoo Man.

I wasn’t even scared. I picked a part of my body that could hide a tattoo in a one-piece bathing suit, and that wouldn’t stretch out during pregnancy. (Despite my heartbroken state, I still knew I would have children someday.) (Oh, and I guess I picked well, because an 80-pound twin pregnancy hasn’t marred that tattoo.) Gruff Old Tattoo Man started that needle. I was holding my friend’s hand, and it didn’t even hurt as much as I expected. Nonetheless, my body decided that that moment would be the best time to faint for the first time.

Hey, it wasn’t my fault, okay? A teenager, away from home for the first time, drowning in the depths of her sorrow, doesn’t exactly remember to eat much in the days leading up to a hike to the tattoo shop, okay?

I remember that The Doors’ “Hello, I Love You” was playing on Gruff Old Tattoo Man’s radio. She’s walking down the street, blind to every eye she meets. I felt like I was in a tunnel, and I got sweaty, and that was that. They revived me and we finished the tattoo. Her arms are wicked and her legs are long.

That tattoo got showed off a good bit in the next few years, but after I got married and became more buttoned down (buttoned up?), it’s been for Mr. Okayest’s eyes only. I should not have gotten a tattoo, that’s true, but I have made peace with marring my body. I see it as a scar. It’s a scar from a very painful time in my life. It’s a sign of what I did to survive – same as the scars on my throat, abdomen, and wrists that  saved my life during the birth of the twins. Of course we would rather not have the scars in the first place, but who gets through life completely (literally) smoothly? And who regrets scars that save one’s life? It may sound overly dramatic to compare a tattoo to a life-saving port in my carotid artery, but I didn’t cut myself, start drinking, or turn to any of The Ex’s vices. I dealt.

But, to get back to 1997, I wasn’t quite finished with my breakup transformation. I marched my long-blonde-haired head to the nearest cheapo hair cutter, and chopped that beautiful stuff off. I think I can actually  say that I shaved my head. I probably had about an inch of non-flattering hair left. Since I am 5’9” and slender now, we can safely assume that I was 5’9” and skinny back then….so that is probably why my uncle told me I looked like a Q-Tip after that little haircut.

I couldn’t have explained it then, but now I understand that I did it because I felt unattractive. I wanted to be unattractive. I wanted to keep guys away. I wanted to wallow in my sorrow. However, having a shaved head and a tattoo eventually backfired: I cultivated quite a confident attitude that seemed to attract some (yucky) guys. No matter, though. I could just use my army-surplus boots to kick them away.

Anyway, after the tattoo and the haircut and the fainting and the zombie-eyes, I wasn’t doing too well. I eventually asked my grandparents pick me up and take me to their home in the mountains. They lived an hour from the nearest grocery store or hospital, so it seemed like the ideal place to hole up and heal. Their house in the woods had no air conditioning or cable, and this was before the age of internet and cell phones, so no one would bother me there. I was a good student, and college was easy for me, so missing a week or more of school didn’t hurt me. My grandparents let me sleep for days. It was a shocking act of compassion for the hardworking grandfather who yelled at vacationing grandkids for being lazy if they slept past 7AM. I guess they took one look at my broken skinny Q-Tip self and knew that I needed to hide for long while. I don’t remember what they said or did or fed to me, but they must have gotten me on my feet. I do remember that my grandma let me read her binders of old love letters from the 1940s, and I loved that. They fattened me up and took me back to school when I was ready.

I somewhat righted myself, and, while still getting good grades, I befriended some (yucky) boyfriends and probably kicked some other (yucky) boyfriends with my boots. My college roommate got sick of me and traded me. I don’t think that I was her type. (I mean, come on, she wore real eyeliner every day. I, on the other hand, didn’t shave and brought my record player to college. Yep.) Getting traded, however, was the best thing that ever happened to me. My New Roomie had also gotten traded, probably because she also was blonde, skinny, and a Chucks-wearer – but I do think she shaved.

New Roomie helped me feel not so bad about my hair-growing-out phase.

New Roomie helped me feel not so bad about my hair-growing-out phase.

New Roomie and I were a match made in heaven. She is still one of my very closest friends and favorite people in the whole world. I think God gave her to me to save me that year. She taught me to have fun again. She taught me to see beauty again, and I don’t care how cheesy that sounds! She would open the tiny window of our 8×10 cinderblock cell, and say, “Just look at that beautiful lake. Hear the ducks?” Also, she would type a paper with a gummy bear stuck to her forehead for no reason, other than to make me smile. I had found a kindred spirit. She helped me heal.

Then I got mono. This time, my mother picked me up and took me home to heal. I was home for a looooong time. I remember very little from this time, but I do remember being tired enough to have to rest my cheek on the sink counter every time I peed. I couldn’t even sit up long enough to pee.

Then, somehow, miraculously, it was finally spring. My mother took me back to college, and I would weakly walk to class with New Roomie, and I felt the warm sun on my shoulders. It felt like the first spring I had ever seen. Those daffodils were the first daffodils I had ever really seen. I felt like I could breathe again. I felt like I had finally finally survived the breakup. The Ex and I had finally made the breakup “stick” and we were no longer communicating. I could see my future, and it was sunny.

Springtime. Mono is ending, my hair is growing out, and I feel like a new woman!

Springtime. Mono is ending, my hair is growing out, and I feel like a new woman!

I went home that summer as a new woman. I had a best friend: New Roomie. I had righted myself emotionally and spiritually. I was back to church. I was taking charge of my spiritual life and feeling stronger than ever. I finally understood that The Ex had done me a kindness by letting me go. I had kicked the last of the (yucky) guys to the curb. I was ready to wait for my future husband, whomever that would be.

Enter Mr. Okayest. He deserves his own blog post. I will simply say here, in this blog post about someone else, that I fell in love with Mr. Okayest that summer I turned 19 – the summer that I was my strongest, truest self. He had been there all along, waiting.

Mr. Okayest and I had been married for seven years when The Ex found me online. I immediately told Mr. Okayest about the contact, and told him that I would be writing back. He was “okayest” with it. I was completely transparent with him: I promised to show him all the correspondence, but I needed closure with The Ex. I needed to know he was okay. I still cared about him. We wrote to each other just a handful of times. His last ten years had been filled with so much pain and addiction. It hurt to hear. But he was genuinely happy for me, and that I had married one of his friends from our tiny school. I am so thankful we got to apologize to each other and share what we had meant to each other.

Two months later, I got the call that he had died. He overdosed while in rehab. That last contact with him had been a gift from above. Mr. Okayest and my parents went to the funeral services with me. My tattoo scar was in attendance, and so was my regrown very long hair. My mom held one hand and my husband held my other hand as pictures of me and The Ex flashed on the slideshow. Even ten years later, I knew that he had loved me. He had set me free and given me a normal life. I will always love him for that.

Thus, the story about shaving my head and getting a tattoo is really the story of a remarkable man who lost his life to addiction. He was my first love.

***

(This blog post is brought to you by Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy album.)

What Happens When You Start Blogging

So, I guess blogging is like having a reality show: you are supposed to pretend the audience and cameras aren’t there, right? Like a Teen Mom who was struggling to repair her crappy car in the first season, but in the second season she has a brand new Jeep?  Except we aren’t supposed to know that she knows that she is famous now.

So I am supposed to pretend that I don’t notice that I have 199 followers now and almost 5000 views in the space of just two weeks? Well, screw that, I noticed. I started this blog for my kids. I have a bad memory, and something about twins and sleep deprivation compounds that problem. (Go figure.) I knew a couple people who were interested in reading what I had to say. Then WordPress hand-picked one of my blog posts to be featured on their Freshly Pressed homepage. They even sent me a non-form email about why they picked me! It was flattering.

The next day, my blog had blown up. Well, I don’t really know what a blog is supposed to do, because mine is the first one that I have read. But it seemed to me that going from 17 views a day to 741 views a day was a big deal.

I feel like a band who had a good first record and now has all this pressure to create an amazing “Sophomore Album”. Talk about writer’s block.

Ok, ok, it’s not writer’s block. I have plenty to say. The problem is that I think a lot harder about what to share about my kids when I have 199 followers and lots of strangers wandering in and out of my virtual life. My oldest son is just three years old. For every single thing I post, I have to ask myself if this will be okay for him at 13 years old, or 23 years old. I want to tell my story about being a mom, without compromising my sons’ stories. Their stories belong to them.

Why, then, would I even blog about my children if this is a problem? I guess I have discovered the reason people blog at all. It’s because knowing that so many people are out there, ready to read whatever drivel pours out of my head when they get an email notification that something poured out of my head, is a serious motivational push to keep writing. Yes, I am writing for my kids to read in the future… but who would ensure that it gets written in this Okayest Mom life? You. You would. If I know you are out there, waiting, and telling me that I have something worthwhile to say and a good style in which to say it, then maybe my thoughts will actually get recorded.

In other words, thanks. Thanks for pushing me to ignore my laundry and my floors and giving me a reason to record some dang family history for my kids before I forget it.

Why I Hate My La Leche League Group… And Why I Stay

breasfeeding portrait

(what I wished breastfeeding looked like every day)

I joined a La Leche League for Multiples support group when I was pregnant with my twins. I hate it. And yet I continue to stay. Why? I stay because I seem to be the only one who says, “Don’t worry. Just do what works for you and your family!” to the poor new moms who are consumed with worry and guilt and stress. The rest of the members seem to piledrive them into ground with the “Crying-It-Out Makes You the Devil” and “Not-Tandem-Nursing Makes you a Terrorist”.

Breastfeeding can have some weird challenges. My mom says, “I don’t know what the big deal is. You stick them on the boob and they eat.” But there are a thousand things that complicate nursing – latching problems, NICU stays, tongue-ties, engorgement, mastitis, plugged ducts, low milk production. In my case, what happened to get in the way of nursing was almost dying. I needed two blood transfusions , which messed with my pituitary glands, and, therefore, my milk production.  My milk finally came in on the tenth or eleventh day, which is later than any lactation consultant ever heard. To complicate matters, I was sedated in the ICU for the first 48 hours after the birth and had one baby in the NICU. I spent a week total in the hospital, and was mostly unable to care for my babies during that time. (You can read more about my birth story here.)

Multiples further complicate the breastfeeding. How do you feed two babies at once? How do you make enough milk for two? How do you physically maneuver in the middle of the night alone? I read a lot of books about all that during my pregnancy and kind of just adopted a wait-and-see approach. I joined an online La Leche League for Multiples support group, to get ideas and friends in place before I had any problems.

If I had given birth in my twenties, I might have been one of these LLL know-it-alls. I saw the world as a little more black and white back then. I assumed I would get pregnant when I wanted and nurse how I wanted. Ha! I had a more one-size-fits-all approach to the world. Now that I am well into my thirties, and have made God laugh with all my plans, I know that everyone deals with problems we can’t see. I would never assume that I can predict my future or my reaction to problems in my future. I especially would never assume that I know what is best for another nursing mother and her family.

So where the heck do these LLL members get off?!

I would like to point out that I am not including the leaders of the LLL in my rant. The leaders – professional lactation consultants – have all been well-trained and reasonable. They have supported any of my questions, problems, and solutions. I am specifically complaining about when a member posts a question for the group and the members all leap on top of her.

I absolutely, 100%, completely, wholly, wholeheartedly HATED tandem nursing. I most certainly had to supplement my twins’ breastmilk with formula. I most certainly had to give them bottles. I most certainly had them cry-it-out when the twins were ready – and when I was about to stab someone with a fork or get really really sick from not sleeping. (Apparently, two or three hours of sleep for seven months was my limit.) I most certainly was happy to stop nursing at seven months. I had a challenging (and sometimes very sad) two-year-old who seemed to know instinctively that breastfeeding was more intimate than bottles – and hated it. I also dealt with the sorrow of not nursing him, since he came to me through adoption.

All of these things, apparently, have made me a complete rebel in my LLL group. However, I have NO GUILT for feeling or doing any of these things. (Thank goodness for my church sisters and my friends!) Only me and Mr. Okayest know what is best for our family.

Today, a worried mom posted on my LLL group that her pediatrician, who is also a twin mom, suggested that she stop feeding her 6-month-old twins in the middle of the night. Although she said she loved the idea of more sleep, she was unsure of what to do. Many members immediately posted things about  how crying-it-out should never, ever, be done under any circumstances and that it raises babies’ cortisol levels. First of all, these women are not doctors. They are just moms! How dare they contradict a doctor before they have all the facts? Second of all, this mom was truly hurting and struggling with her decision, and, if she were to choose to cry-it-out, now she would have more guilt piled on top of her guilt. I simply added to the commotion that we cried it out, it worked for us, and to just do what works for her and her family.

A few day ago, a worried mom asked the LLL group what she could do to increase her supply. She was exclusively pumping, not putting the babies to breast, because her babies had had an extended NICU stay. The members immediately criticized her for not putting the babies to the breast because, in their opinion, it was the only way to increase your milk. She eventually replied to all the comments that people might look down on her because she is a nurse and has to pump to get through her 12-hour shifts at work. How horrible is that?! A new mom is already struggling with the guilt of pumping, babies in the NICU, low milk production, and going back to work – and these women made it worse! She was apologizing for having to pump! WTHeck?! I chimed in to say that taking fenugreek worked for me, and that no one should ever make her feel badly about her decisions and that she should do what is right for her and her family.

I could go on and on with stories like this. Mr. Okayest is used to saying, “Why don’t you just leave that group?” after every time I exclaim with frustration at the comments. It’s because someone has to tell a mom to just do what is right for her and her family.

Dang.

breastfeeding(what breastfeeding really looked like every day)

My Birth Story: How I Almost Lost My Uterus, My Life, and a Twin

I originally began writing this in December 2012, when the twins were two months old. I didn’t finish it until August 2013, when they were ten months old. It took me that long to address some of the hard memories.

*CAUTION: Medical grossness ahead. This post includes the phrase “torrent of blood” somewhere, as well as the word “uterus” eight times. *

preg belly and r photoshopped

(I had many months to go here!)

My Birth Story: How I Almost Lost My Uterus, My Life, and a Twin

It was scary. It’s true that I almost died, and most certainly came close to having a hysterectomy. More than a couple doctors and nurses  said that if I had been at any other hospital, my outcome would not have been good. I had postpartum hemorrhage and uterine atony (i.e., when the uterus can’t contract again after losing so many placentas, babies, and blood). I lost 5 LITERS of blood – enough to kill me. They worked quickly and ended up doing three other procedures after my c-section, that same day, to save me. I only remember one of them- the most pain I’ve ever experienced (and I would like to think I’ve had my fair share of pain)- and then 2 other procedures while sedated (thank goodness). I woke up with my hands tied down and a breathing tube in my throat and I didn’t know if I still had my uterus or if G had even made it. I never met him until his third day of life.

I had been on modified bedrest for the last trimester of a high-risk twin pregnancy, with a demanding and often quite sad 2-year-old. The women from my LDS church set up a rotating schedule for R during my last month, where a different sister picked him up each morning, and returned him each afternoon. They took him to their houses, or to the playground. For a major introvert like R, this was pure hell. Besides being pure hell, it was also a major contributing factor to the success of my pregnancy, according to my doctors. It was all I could do each morning to get him dressed and fed. I would hide my tears of pain from him as I got up off the floor. I had been having contractions since 18 weeks along. I had very carefully gained my recommended 75 pounds, and then 5 to 10 more of water weight – or tator tots. (I had been in the “underweight” BMI category.) By some miracle, I made it to 38 weeks, which is the very earliest the hospital would schedule a c-section. My pain was so great by the end that I was on narcotics for the last month. Don’t judge. Every ultrasound tech sucked in their breath and clucked with sympathy when they saw my babies’ head positions – dropped and locked. Together.

The day of the birth came. It was October 2012. I was so relieved.

DCIM100GOPRO

I hadn’t slept or sat or eaten properly for weeks. Twin pregnancy is a living hell that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. (Anyone who says otherwise is probably the kind of person who says they can climax during labor.) Thirty-eight weeks is considered full-term for twins. I was doing good, technically. The last ultrasound showed that the babies were only 5 ½ pounds each, which is respectable enough for twins. I had been 2 centimeters dilated for a few weeks, and having irregular, disorganized contractions. Everything looked good on paper. I was technically fine.But I knew something was wrong – or I just knew something was going to be wrong. I am not a pessimist. I just had this foreshadowing kind of a feeling.

The c-section started out normal enough. As they pulled E out, I literally (obviously) felt a huge weight lift – I cannot express the relief of taking a full breath. I saw him, and I could hear my husband exclaim, “He looks like my Dad!” I remember thinking, why is that baby so pink? I had almost imagined him as an African-American, like our first son. And then I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I was going dark. I was in and out of consciousness as they pulled G out. I never saw him. He wasn’t breathing. I wasn’t breathing. Things were going wrong, but no one seemed super concerned. I could hear the various professionals around me commenting on upping my this and my that, but they weren’t rushing and they weren’t nervous. I wondered why no one thought things were that bad. At some point, my husband tried to take a family photo of us with E, just as I had asked him to do. I don’t remember him taking the photo and didn’t see it until much later. My eyes are closed- BECAUSE I AM UNCONSCIOUS! –  and I look gray. It is not the kind of photo you put in your album.

My husband told me later that G first responded to his voice. The doctors and nurses were working on him, somewhere behind me, and it wasn’t until his Daddy whispered to him that he took his first breath.  Many, many months went by before I read all the detailed paperwork and realized G did not take a breath until he was 4 ½ minutes old. He was intubated and whisked off to the NICU.

The babies were huge for twins – or huge for a momma with an underweight BMI. They were 7 ½ pounds each. Well, maybe- they had weighed G with his intubation tube in, so they told me we don’t have an actual weight for him. My husband said to the doctor, “Why can’t you just subtract the weight of the tube from the birthweight?” She replied, “It doesn’t work like that.” He said, “Um, yes, it does.” In any case, the babies were far from the predicted size of 5 ½ pounds each.

As I lolled around, only halfway understanding anything, they wheeled us into the recovery room. I remember thinking, this is weird. I am not okay. Why are we moving ahead here? They gave E to me and my husband put him to my breast. We had a perfectly normal, yet out-of-this-world five minutes together as a family. E began to suckle. I couldn’t sit up and I couldn’t hold him, but E edged his way to his first meal. As a mom who previously did not give birth or breastfeed my “firstborn”, this was a heavy moment.

DCIM100GOPRO

(our five minues of heaven with E)

My heart was elsewhere, though, as I fretted for my unknown baby in the NICU. And then said heart started to feel very weak. I sensed the nurses beginning to rush. I wouldn’t say I heard or saw them, because I was getting fuzzy again, but I sensed things changing. It might sound weird, but my true thoughts were, “Finally. Someone knows that this isn’t right. Someone finally knows something is wrong with me.”

My husband took the baby and stood in the corner of this small cubicle as the nurses shoved him aside. They began to poke and prod me. I could understand that I should have been bleeding, and I wasn’t. I was only leaking water. While this sounds like the opposite of hemorrhaging, it is indeed hemorrhaging. I was bleeding on the inside. Two huge placentas and two huge babies detaching from my uterus so quickly can make hemorrhage and atony more likely. My uterus couldn’t adapt. Or maybe I have some sort of bleeding problem. We will never know. The blood is supposed to come out, and it didn’t. The uterus is supposed to contract, and it wouldn’t.

The surgeon rushed in. She began “uterine massage.” This phrase is perhaps the most poorly named phrase in the history of the world. She worked quickly and she worked HARD. She pressed from the top and from the inside at the same time to stop the bleeding. I don’t want to make anyone faint or anything, but I will just say that this is the most painful thing I have ever experienced in my life- AND I WAS STILL A LITTLE NUMB FROM THE SPINAL BLOCK!  Please remember that she was pressing down on an area that had just been cut open and sewn back up.  This procedure left me bruised for weeks, so much so that I couldn’t burp my babies for three weeks because I couldn’t bear the pressure of their tiny feet on my belly.

I was levitating off the table. I was screaming. All I could think of, when I was screaming with blinding pain, was poor little E, there in my husband’s arms, three feet away. I prayed that my husband could read my mind, and he did. He covered E’s ears. What does that do to a child – to hear nothing but misery as he arrives? My husband later said that what he saw was a torrent of blood. His eyes and brain were scarred and I don’t think he has ever  told me the extent of the gore that he saw. He felt completely torn in half. He wanted to hold me, and he wanted to get E the heck out of there.

It didn’t work. I endured that pain for nothing. They whisked me away. I watched my husband and baby get smaller and smaller. I didn’t know what they were going to do to me. I didn’t know if I would hold E. I didn’t know if I would lose my uterus. And, worst of all, I had never even seen G with my own eyes and didn’t know if he was okay.

They mercifully put me to sleep. I don’t remember anything for a while. I woke up two days later, in the ICU, with a tube down my throat. It was dark. I was in terrible pain. I didn’t know where my husband was. I didn’t know if I had had a hysterectomy. I didn’t know if G had survived. It was the lowest point of my life.

Everything was okay. I had not had a hysterectomy, although I had come close, and the doctors told me that I most certainly would have if I had been at a smaller hospital. G was doing very well in the NICU, and was breathing on his own. My tube would come out.

My husband tried to piece things together for me. I was under a lot of narcotics, and this time is very hazy to me. He said that I had actually been conversing with them a little bit during my ICU stay. I didn’t believe him, so he showed me the papers where I had tried to scribble my questions when I couldn’t talk while intubated. He told me that my mother and father had been there too and he had pictures to prove it. I couldn’t remember any of it. Anyone who has ever been in the hospital for an extended stay would understand. I had been sedated into some sort of twilight phase. Sometimes, he would tell me something and these weird, underwater memories would seep back to me. I would cry from pain and confusion.

He told me, several times until I could remember, what had happened to me. When they put me to sleep, they immediately did a D&C to stop the bleeding. It did not work. Then they tried one last procedure, where they inserted a “balloon” into my uterus  to stop the bleeding. They left it in for a couple of days, and slowly decreased the size of it to help my uterus contract. It had a tube to let all the blood out. The balloon works by applying pressure to the uterus from the inside. Like an internal tourniquet. It was this balloon procedure that had saved me.

On the third day, I was wheeled into the maternity ward to learn some things, like how to pee and how to walk. It was an extremely painful week. I remember sleepless nights, although they were sadly from my pain and not from my babies. I remember having the catheter for far too long for anyone’s comfort. I remember tremendous amounts of narcotics – so much that I would get the shakes and the chills and flu feelings an hour before my next dose. My husband was by my side for the whole thing. He brushed my hair and my teeth. He brought back pictures and reports from the NICU, where G was, and the nursery, where E was.

They finally wheeled me down to meet G in the NICU as soon as I could possibly sit in a wheelchair. It was a momentous occasion, but meeting him was almost more than I could bear, physically. Sitting up made me sick and weak. I couldn’t hold my neck up and I didn’t know why. I later learned it was because I had had six ports SEWN into my neck for two blood transfusions. My neck was now bandaged into an unmovable position. I tried to hold G and feed him, but I started to cry and had to be taken back. Just getting back into the bed was more than I could bear. I was hooked up to all sorts of machines and had bandages all over my body for reasons I didn’t know.

IMG_4060

(the first time I met G, in the NICU, 3 days old)

There were some nights when I thought I would never get out of there. There were some moments when I thought I did not have the strength to ever walk to the bathroom again. (Even my throat and neck were searing from the pain of the intubation tube. I was hoarse for weeks. ) What I did felt like it took superhuman strength and willpower. I am not the first person to be hospitalized. I am not the first person to almost die after birth. I am not the first person to recover. I know that. But when it is happening to YOU, suddenly the world is a very cruel place. I can’t even look at hospital beds on TV shows without feeling sick these days.

The worst  pain is that, when I look back on my one piddly little week in the hospital, I don’t remember much about the babies. I didn’t hold them. I didn’t nurse them, although we put them to the breast for comfort. I didn’t burp them. I certainly didn’t change them. I missed their first bath in the nursery. I missed G graduating from the NICU to the nursery. I missed out on a lot, which made me so angry after having missed out on the very beginning of R’s life as well (from the adoption). It wasn’t fair to any of them.

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My husband’s parents kept R for that entire week. They brought him to see me every day at the same time. It was the best and worst part of each day. He was so scared of me. He was so sad. He was so confused. He wouldn’t sit on the bed with me or hug me. He was not exactly an adaptable or happy kid anyway, so this major life event had thrown him. I tried so hard not to cry or show my pain when he was in the room. My husband would always take him down to the cafeteria and try to not let him overwhelm me. My mommy guilt was sky-high. I found out months later that he had thrown up in my in-laws’ Cadillac on the way to the hospital because he was so scared.

no last name

(the first time R would go near me… please know that my kind husband heavily photoshopped this photo to make me look healthier or something)

That first day had been hard on everyone. We had four grandparents, two aunts, two cousins, and our firstborn son waiting in the waiting room for that joyous moment when my husband would come down and shout, “They’re here! Our two boys are here!” That moment never came. Little by little, they began to realize that things were going wrong and they would have to go home. Over time, I heard from each of them about what that day had been like for them, from their perspective, and it breaks my heart. One aunt described it the best. She began to sob as she said, “The whole day can be summed up in one moment: watching your mother-in-law walk out of the hospital with the balloons and flowers she had brought for you.” The joy left the hospital that day.

It was all so scary for me, but I feel the worst for my husband. He saw some major gore, had to deal with all our family’s questions, and had to go home alone that first night. He said that was the worst part: not knowing if I would make it, and having to go home anyway (there is nowhere to stay when someone is in the ICU), and realizing that all 5 of us were in different places. I was in the ICU, G was in the NICU, E  was  in the nursery, R was with grandparents, and even the dog was at the kennel! He wrote me a love letter that first night and sent it to my email…. and I got it a week later when I finally checked my email. Bless him. That was probably the most romantic, yet sad, gesture I can remember. It is too sacred to me to ever share.

I have recovered. I am probably 90% back. It was so slow- I had to learn to walk again. I came home  with a physical therapist and a walker. The whole thing was brutal. As the weight started to come off and the swelling went down, my ankles looked like cartoonishly skinny. My calves looked like a coma patient’s calves. Also, because of the blood transfusions, I almost didn’t make any milk. The doctors told me that transfusions messed with my pituitary gland, and that I might never make any milk. I surprised even the lactation consultants, when it came in later than they had ever seen – somewhere around the eleventh day. I am grateful that I can give my babies a little immunity even if I can’t make them full.

Nobody really likes us to talk about what happened. Only he and I knew how bad it really got. The days and weeks after were filled with sleeplessness, painkillers, a rotation of grandmas/aunts/cousins who never left us alone at night, meals provided by the church sisters,  two tiny babies who needed constant love, and a disgruntled 2-year-old who also needed constant love. He seemed to be dealing with his own PTSD symptoms after having his mother go into the hospital and stay there. Despite all that, my husband and I would catch a quiet moment together now and then, and he would tell me another little piece of my story from that week. He would show me the scribbled notes I had tried to write him when I couldn’t speak- and his translations beside them. He would show me another picture from the ICU. I don’t think I found the pictures of G in the NICU and his oxygen tent until months later, and I burst into tears because I still had no idea what had happened to him during those days when I was sedated. The mommy guilt was crushing. We also had practical concerns to address –  like what would happen if I were to leave him with three little ones!  We leaned on each other and cried, both from relief, and from fear. We had a lot to process together.

I sit here with G strapped to my chest in a carrier, R “fixing” his cars with his tools at my feet, while my husband does the dishes with E in a front pack. Life is good. I’m glad to be here.

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