Those Little Voices

wpid-img_20141125_065154025.jpgIt’s 7AM. I am lying here in bed, sick with liquified guts, and I am unable to get my children changed. Their Daddy took over, and I can hear their twin two-year-old voices jabbering away to him. Omgosh, their little voices are slaying me this morning.

“We brush toothbrush, Daddy?”

“This for you, Daddy.”

“Don’t fall boo boo, Daddy.”

“I go down? It dark, Daddy!”

I got a taste of what it’s like for him, hearing them from afar. He hears their voices across the phone line. He hears them for the first time every day in person at dinnertime. He gushes over their adorable voices and I can barely hear how adorable they are after twelve straight hours of whines, pleas, cries, negotiations. Why is it so different when you aren’t the primary caregiver? Why do they sound so much cuter from afar? Why do they sound so much younger and sweeter and gentler after a break? Why do they seem so much more adorable when I know I can lie here and writhe in peace?

I feel guilty and amazed every time I don’t feel the same gush of adoration that he feels. I wonder every time if it would be different for me if I worked outside the home, and I heard those voices for the first time at dinnertime.

I had to ask Mr. Okayest to stay home from work this morning, even though it is his first week at a new job. (He will have to go in for a meeting later, so I am willing my guts into submission before then.) He snuggled me as I writhed, because he knows that his touch on my back is the only thing that calms my distress or pain. I murmured instructions of how to take over preschool carpool stuff, but I know he can handle all other childcare better than I can. No need for instructions. He can do all my jobs.

He can do all my jobs better than I can, in fact. Nobody really talks about that. We give stay-at-home moms a lot of understanding and sympathy these days. There are a million blogs about what I do. But what about these amazing dads with such full plates? Modern fatherhood demands so much of these versatile men. They are expected to be just as involved and nurturing as we mothers are, which is a great thing, but they are also expected to do all the manly things of years past.

Mr. Okayest is way better than okay. I am one lucky woman. I am so thankful to him that I can stay home with our little ones. But, sometimes, I just wish I could be him and hear those little voices over the phone from a desk at work. Sometimes I just want to hear them from afar and appreciate them, without having to endure liquified guts first.

Get it together, woman!

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This article
originally appeared on Beyond Infertility, a website about how parenting after infertility is different. I am a regular contributor to their website.

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Marriage Survival Tips for Parents of Multiples

Basement date night for Mr. & Mrs. Okayest

Basement date night for Mr. & Mrs. Okayest

The divorce rate of parents of multiples is higher than the divorce rate of parents of regular kids. It is easy to imagine why! Parents of multiples are in emergency mode or exhaustion mode all the time. I don’t think my husband and I finished a sentence for a whole year after the birth of the twins. When we had one child, even though he came to us through adoption with only three days’ notice, we still felt like us, only with a baby attached. When our twins came along two years later, we felt like we were getting continuously hammered in the head while getting smacked in the face while drowning. It’s hard to put your marriage first during that.

us 2Anyone who knows us knows that we put each other first. We have known each other since we were maybe 14 years old, and we were together for 12 years (married for eight) before our first son was born. As much as we wanted children, we still aren’t used to the mayhem. Our “normal” mode is still just the two of us, since we were alone together for so long. I used to feel guilty about that, but I don’t anymore. The kids are temporary: they will grow up and move away. Mr. Okayest and I are married for eternity. (Like, for real. We were sealed in an LDS temple, which means we don’t “death do us part”.)

I am no marriage expert, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve that ensure my sanity – or at least my marriage sanity. I can’t tell you what is right for your marriage, but I can tell you what has helped us. Here are a few of my own survival tips that might help other parents of multiples- or all parents!

  • Never keep score. We agreed early on that we would never say, “Your turn” or “I did it last time” or anything like that. Sometimes it’s easier to remember that with multiples than with singletons, because all hands are on deck with multiples! Each of us always had a baby. It’s deadly poison to tally up how many poops you have changed or how much trash you have taken out. We each just do our best, all the time, until we can’t do our best – and then we say we need a break. Scorekeeping is a marriage enemy.
  • No sarcasm AT the other spouse. Dr. Phil says this is one of his top predictors of divorce! Of course, we have plenty of snark when we are making fun of something (someone?) else, together. Heehee. We just don’t eye roll or use sarcasm when we are disagreeing, arguing, or even being super sleep-deprived. (The first six months after twins saw a super sharp increase in snippiness, though. Sorry, honey.)
  • Eat after the kids go to bed on the weekends. Sometimes it’s cold cereal and sometimes it’s carryout. Either way, we know it’s our time for each other. At least I can eat one meal a week where my husband doesn’t have to see all my partially-chewed food as I yell to toddlers to eat with their mouths closed. We are all about family dinners, but five or six times per week is good enough.
  • Reserve nap time for each other on the weekends. We do as many of the chores and errands as can during the kids’ waking hours, and then we are off-duty, together, while the kids nap. The whole house shuts down. Consider yourself Italian/Spanish and worthy of a siesta.
  • Keep the bedroom a kid-less sanctuary. This suggestion is not for everyone. It works for us, though. We don’t allow children in our bed, and I don’t even have pictures of the kids in our bedroom. It is just for us. Simple.
  • Organize a “Date Night Co-op” (free babysitting swaps) with other parents. I do the super simple version: I give my friends from 8 PM- midnight. I won’t put your kids to bed, but I will leave my husband at home with our kids, come to your house after your little ones are tucked in, and I will channel-surf on your couch and make sure the house doesn’t burn down. I don’t care if you go to a movie or make out in a parking lot. Just come home happy and give me a turn the next week or the next month. Simple, free, easy. (I’ve also seen more complicated versions, where an entire neighborhood or entire church will work together to earn points or hours with each other. Large groups of older kids can have movie nights at one person’s house while the other sets of parents go out.)
  • Remember that your spouse is doing his/her best and needs breaks. We hear a lot about wives trying to convince their “clueless” husbands that what they do is hard. But you know what? Husbands work hard too. They don’t get enough credit. I don’t envy my husband’s tasks of vehicle maintenance, home repair, and taxes. I can’t do his jobs, but he can sure do mine. Sometimes he needs breaks. He likes to relax in ways that I don’t, and vice versa. He never judges me for how I might need to decompress. (Watching the Kardashians? Eating a whole bag of Doritos?) He never sighs when I ask if I can leave him to do bedtime while I go to a movie with a friend. I’m not sure I can say the same, but I’m working on it. He’s a good example to me.

These sanity tips have kept us best friends while having three kids in diapers. What tips do you have for stressed-out and sleep-deprived parents?

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This article was originally written for Beyond Infertility, a website about parenting after infertility. I am a regular contributor to their website. You can find the original here.

I Hit “Advanced Maternal Age” at Midnight

Omgosh. As the clock struck midnight on my birthday, I was officially “advanced maternal age”. Or, I would be, if I were pregnant.

&*!$)%!

Thirty-five.

I have been infertile. I have been in “spontaneous abortion”. I have adopted. I have been in a high-risk pregnancy. I have been pregnant with twins. I have been bedrest-ed. I have been C-section-ed. I have been on death’s door. But I’ve never been advanced maternal age before.

We hope for more children. We have been married for twelve years. We have three children, but none of them were created in my body. (One was created in someone else’s body; two were simultaneously created in Petri dishes.) All three of them belong in our home and in our arms.

Facing many of those issues when I was still in my 20s was … well, difficult. And important. It shines a light on the fact that I am now thirty-freaking-five. I don’t mind the number. I don’t mind the laugh lines. I don’t mind the squishy belly. But I do mind the fertility consequences of being 35.

We don’t know if we will be blessed with more children. We do know that I now would be in a completely different category if we were to attempt any more fertility treatments. We probably won’t, though, since 15 rounds is probably more than enough for a lifetime. We do know that egg quality goes down in a straight line from the age of 21 in a healthy female. We do know that endometriosis gets worse with time. We do know that the chances of conceiving a baby in any 35-year-old body decrease sharply.

If I couldn’t get pregnant in my twenties, the likelihood of getting pregnant when I am of “advanced maternal age” is ridiculous.

all three at sink

I am happy with my three boys. I am (finally) no longer sad each month when I realize I am not pregnant. However, I have the nagging feeling that someone is missing. I don’t know if that is from our miscarriage(s), or if there is really a soul out there who is trying to come to our family.

I can live contently with my three boys, even though I once wanted eight children! I am not always the best mother. I get terrible headaches. I am not always patient. I am stretched very thin. I am sometimes anxious and I am always tired and my neck always hurts. Nevertheless, I feel another soul out there.

Does she know I am of “advanced maternal age”?

 

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This post was originally written as members-only content for Beyond Infertility, a website about parenting after infertility. I am regular contributor to their website.

Bedtime Will Be Your Favorite Part of the Day: Parenting after Infertility Doesn’t Make You Special

You worked really hard for your children, right? You had to do mountains of adoption paperwork, or hundreds of IVF injections, right? You put in more hours and effort – and, yes, money – than anybody should have to do to bring a child into this world, right? Well, here’s the thing: that doesn’t make you special.

Sure, it makes you special for a little while. But, now that your child (children) is (are) here, you are just like every other parent in the world. And that is just how you want it.

Bedtime will be your favorite part of the day.

You will catch your kid’s vomit in your hands (or, maybe, even in your mouth, like I did recently).

You will have sleep-deprivation so deep that you search the dryer for the frozen pizza and search the freezer for the clean blankie.

You will have to throw away that poopy underwear or cut off that poopy onesie after some horrific accident that isn’t even worth cleaning up properly.

You will sometimes only eat string cheese and animal crackers for dinner, and then you will proudly post a food-porn photo of it on social media to compete with all your non-parenting friends’ fancy dinners.

You will get a letter from the public library threatening to send you to a collections agency for those really really late books that “must be around here somewhere”.

Your kid’s whining will make you want to jump out of your skin – or at least out of your window.

You will one day think, “I would take a bullet for this kid.” And, then, one night when you think you can’t possibly get up one more time, you will realize that you are taking a bullet for this kid.

You aren’t special.

You are just a parent. You are like every other parent throughout all of human history, throughout the entire world, because you love that child. And that is just how it should be.

 

***

 

Would you care to add to my list? What else makes bedtime your favorite part of the day?

 

This article originally appeared on Beyond Infertility, a website about how parenting after infertility is different. I am a regular contributor to their website. You can find the original article here.

 

I Have A Dirty Little Secret About Adoption

Worrying about what should happen during bonding wastes too much precious time that could be spent actually bonding.

I have a dirty secret about adopting my infant son: I didn’t bond with him right away. I felt like I was babysitting him for the first few months. I had read all these warm and fuzzy stories about adoptive mothers’ “love at first sight” moments with their newborns… and it didn’t happen for me. The worst part is that I had expected it to happen, and felt guilty when it didn’t.

Son, I apologize to you for not bonding with you right away. I still hold some misplaced guilt about that, despite the fact that we soon bonded as much as if you had come from my womb. I am telling our story so that other mothers can know they are not alone and perhaps not be guilted and distracted by what it is “supposed to” feel like.

Some friends and family members have told me that even their biological children felt like strangers when they held them for the first time. Despite carrying them for nine months, some biological mothers are brave enough to admit that they still needed time to bond with those little strange people who are suddenly in their arms. It is finally time that adoptive mothers are also allowed to admit that a new baby in their arms can feel like a stranger – and that doesn’t make us less of anything!

I personally believe that adoption should not be a “last resort” or a “plan B”, so I can tell you that my husband and I worked very hard to gain a testimony of adoption before beginning that process. However, in fairness, I can also admit that I would not have worked hard to gain that testimony of adoption had I not had to endure the hardships that I did.

Many adoptive mothers – at least ones like me – are already facing so many slams to their self-worth. The adoption process can be cruel and unusual punishment, especially for someone who may have already lost choices, dreams, or even babies. We have to get fingerprinted, prove that we put childlocks on all the cabinets years before children arrive, and watch close friends and drugged-out celebrities on TV accidentally get pregnant over and over again. Some of us may feel less than whole as our lives are scrutinized by caseworkers and uncertain extended family.

So, upon arriving at the hospital the day after my son was born, I was already knocked down a few notches. I couldn’t carry a pregnancy, I hadn’t had much choice in anything, and I had to constantly prove I was a fit mother even though I had no children. My husband and I were beyond nervous – but my nervousness was not about bonding. I assumed I would bond with him. I had read many books about adoption, and I was so excited to meet the child who would automatically feel like mine. I was only nervous that the birthmother would change her mind.

As our birthmother had chosen not to meet us, the kind hospital staff put us in our own private room in the maternity ward, just down the hall from her. They shut the door and told us to wait there, and they would wheel Baby Boy into our room in his bassinette.

My heart was racing. I just knew that one look into his eyes would seal us together forever. I just knew that we would instantly be one. I just knew that it would be love at first sight.

It didn’t happen.

It hurts my heart to admit this to myself, much less to him, but I think it’s so important for other adoptive mothers to hear: my son was a stranger.

At the moment, there in the hospital room, when the nurse closed the door and left my husband and I staring at the stranger in the bassinette, I was mortified. I thought something was wrong with me. How could I not feel like this perfect newborn was mine? His birthmother had chosen us for him. She had hand-picked us. I had spiritual confirmation that this child was meant to be in our family. She had spiritual confirmation that he was meant to be in our family. Why didn’t I feel love at first sight?

I remember searching his little body for parts that resembled my husband or me. Why would I do that? It almost seems like a subconscious thing. I am not proud of it, but it happened, and I want other adoptive mothers to know. I remember specifically looking at his ten perfect toes and realizing how they were in a perfect descending order, and knowing he didn’t come from my or my husband’s gene pool. My husband and I have toes that are all crazy different lengths. When I think back to that hospital day, I think about my son’s perfect brown toes and I wonder why in the world would I have expected them to look like our imperfectly-shaped, pasty-white toes?

After four years of pondering this topic, I have an idea of a few things that may have contributed to feeling like he was a stranger. His birthmother had only chosen us three days before, so we were still reeling from being selected after eight childless years. We had been through miscarriage(s), and our hearts were still healing. He is a different race than we are, and, thus, looked nothing like us. (Don’t judge: it’s hard to feel like a mother at first when people constantly ask, “Is he yours?”) He was sickly and small, so we had a very difficult newborn phase that was filled with no sleep and constant crying. And, most importantly, we were subconsciously trying to protect ourselves in case the birthmother changed her mind. I know that wouldn’t actually make it hurt any less, but we had 22 days to endure before the phrase “automatic return” was off the table.

The next 22 days were scary for us. We had been through loss before, and we couldn’t bear the thought of going through it again with this newborn who was already in our house. There was a paperwork problem that extended our state’s ten-day “automatic return” to the birthmother if she were to change her mind. My heart was trying to protect myself from more pain, even though my head knew I would be devastated if she changed her mind, no matter how much we bonded or didn’t bond.

newborn adoption 1So I did all the right things: we did as much skin-to-skin contact as we could. I wrapped him inside my homemade wrap. Skin-to-skin contact releases oxytocin, “the bonding hormone”. I carried him this way for most of every day, because he had to be upright at all times from stomach problems. I sang songs to him that my mother sang to me. I cried for him and for his birthmother, for the losses that they were both experiencing. He didn’t know my voice. He didn’t know my smell. But I was all that he had, and his birthmother had picked me to raise her son.

I was scared that I was a “fraud” mother. I felt (perfectly normal) feelings of grief and guilt. Adoptive mothers experience a wide range of emotions that nobody really talks about, but they are important. Not only was this child a stranger to me, but I was a stranger to him. Theories of “newborn grief” and “adoption trauma” (sadly) propose that newborns can feel loss if they don’t experience the smells and sounds that they had experienced in utero. I felt guilt because I felt like I had stolen this child from the only environment that he had ever known. I had to remind myself on a daily basis that his birthmother loved him enough to make the impossibly hard decision to place him with us. I had to remind myself that each song I sang and each rise and fall of my chest and each beat of my heart inside that homemade wrap was the best I could do for him. And for me. And for her. I was beginning that bond.

It wasn’t love at first sight. It happened one song, one breath, and one heartbeat at a time.

After a few months had passed, and he was healthy, and I had kissed those beautiful brown toes a thousand times, I realized that I would lay down and die if someone took him from me. I no longer felt like I was babysitting. He was just mine. People still asked, “Is he yours?”, but I no longer bristled at the question, because I was secure in the knowledge that he was mine. He knew my heart , and my breath, and my songs – and now he knew my face as well.

Two years later, I gave birth to twin boys, thanks to the miracle of modern medicine. When they came out of my body, and I saw their toes for the first time, my first thought was, “Why are those boys so pink?!” I had expected them to come out brown, just like my firstborn son.

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I would love to hear from other adoptive mothers and soon-to-be adoptive mothers. What did you expect upon meeting your child for the first time? Did it go just as you expected? Was your child a stranger too, or did you feel an instant bond? Let’s start talking about this and stop feeling so guilty!

This post was originally posted on Beyond Infertility as members-only content.

Contributing to “Beyond Infertility” (My First Official Writing Job!)

Beyond intertility logoI am so excited to announce that I am an official contributor to Beyond Infertility, the new expert info & community support site for families expecting or parenting after infertility. They get that parenting after infertility is different. There seems to be a wealth of resources for those currently experiencing infertility, but not much information for parents like me who are now raising children AFTER the adoption or treatments are over. My favorite line of theirs is, “Having a baby does not cure infertility.” Now I’m not the only one out there saying that – I will be a regular parent writer/ “expert blogger” (!) for them!

http://www.beyondinfertility.com

(I’ve been sitting on this announcement for a while, but the site just went live! I’m right on the homepage!)