It Took Over Two Years to Unpack My Toiletry Bag

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I just found and unpacked my hospital bag. My twins are two and a half years old. Yep. I’m just gonna let that sink in for a minute.

Rather than being surprised that it took me two and a half years to unpack my toiletry bag, I merely thought, “So that’s where my good tweezers* have been.” I didn’t even chuckle or say “huh.”

It wasn’t until I was lying in bed a week later that I realized that most twin-less people would think two and a half years to unpack a toiletry bag was excessive.

If you are one of the many people who have said to me, “I’ve always wanted twins,” I would like you to ask yourself if you could wait two and a half years to unpack your toiletry bag.

That is all.

***

(*Also, why did I think I needed to bring tweezers to hospital for the birth of twins? I am pretty sure my mom brushed my hair on the fifth or sixth day of hospitalization, and my husband brushed my teeth after I made it out of the ICU… But shame on them for not doing my eyebrows? Being overprepared shows just how underprepared I was.)

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The Twins Destroyed My Body (No, Not Like That)

My ever-present wrist brace helps me hold this heavy flower (the first flower my kid ever gave me!)

My ever-present wrist brace helps me hold this heavy flower (the first flower my kid ever gave me!)

Everyone talks about the pain of childbirth, but what about the pain of child-rearing?

You think I’m going to talk about stretch marks? Wrong. The twins destroyed my body in a whole different way than I expected: they are breaking me. At just over a year and a half old, they weigh 32 and 34 pounds each, and apparently that’s too much.

I don’t really carry them anymore. I taught them to go up and down stairs on their own as soon as possible. I don’t even pick them up when they’re crying- I just sit down on the floor and let them come to me. (That’s a trick I learned during bedrest with a toddler!) But, when you have two fat children under the age of two, there is still a lot of lifting and hauling. Every day, there is hauling in and out high chairs (2 twins x 2 times per meal x 3 meals = like a thousand times), hauling in and out of cribs for naps and wake-ups and bedtimes, heaving them into carseats if we go anywhere (I long ago calculated that one trip to anywhere means four buckle/unbuckles per child: in at home, out at destination, in to go home, out to come inside), and heaving them off their brothers during tantrums over the empty Tylenol bottle.

Oh, and let’s not forget the heaving them onto the changing table for every diaper. Yes, yes, I know that I could change them on the floor or the couch. Yes, yes, I know that most of you don’t use changing tables. I don’t want to hear it. I have changed approximately three trillion diapers by now, and I know what works for me, and it’s the changing table. I am just not good enough to keep a poopy diaper away from the dog or the other twin if I change someone on the floor, okay? Also, I’m tall, and I don’t want to bend over more than I have to. Also, maybe I just suck at changing poops, because I can make a mess and I prefer to keep that e.coli contained to one area that I can disinfect. OKAY?

Anyway, as you see, the children are heavy and ridiculously large for their age and still need to be lifted many times per day. Also, as you can see from any of my photos, I am not large for my age. I have zero muscle tone. Well, not zero, but I think it would take some major steroids to make me even look like I have any muscle definition. With my first son, everyone said, “Don’t worry; you’ll get stronger.” Ha! Now I reply, “I don’t get stronger; I just get sorer.”

I hurt everywhere, all the time.

Do you other moms hurt this much? If so, how can anyone look at a young mother with her arms full of a baby or a toddler and not rub her neck? This kid thing HURTS. Everyone talks about the pain of childbirth, but what about the pain of child-rearing?

My neck hurts. My back hurts. My wrist hurts. My head hurts. My hips hurt. Let’s just say that everything from my hips to my skull hurts all the time. Tell me I’m not alone in this, or else I’m going to have to see a doctor.

I primarily lift babies on my left side, so my left shoulder and back are all bulked up – at least compared to my right side. I probably look like I have a disorder. My left shoulder sits so much higher than my right, and I spend all of yoga class trying to get it down again (that is, when I’m not staring at the dude in front of me who is wearing my same skin-tight women’s workout capris, but with his shirt tucked into them).

My left wrist started to give out when the babies were about three months old, so I received cortisone injections several times. Now the doctor won’t let me do any more, so my choices are surgery or hold on until we can turn the cribs into toddler beds and the high chairs into regular chairs.

Even my muscles in my throat hurt! I feel like I’ve been looking down for 4 1/2 years straight, and now I have foreshortened the muscles in front of my throat. I am always stretching my head backward to help. Is that weird? Has anyone else experienced this? Almost five years of gazing into their eyes while nursing and bottle-feeding, and then looking down at their short little toddler bodies from my great height …. seems to have put me in a permanent downward-facing position.

My neck is all kinked up. I have had migraines my entire life, but they are worse lately with all the muscle strain. I do yoga and I stretch out on a foam roller every night and I try to take care of myself, but there is really nothing more to do until I get these kids more independent.

What the heck, kids? My husband said I feed you too much, because you just poop too much and weigh too much, at least compared to the pooping frequency and weight percentiles of your little friends at the playgroup. I guess it’s my fault you’re so heavy. It has nothing to do with the fact that your father weighed almost ten pounds at birth, right? (My twins were seven and a half pounds each at birth, at 38 weeks gestation. I shudder to think how big they would have been at 40 weeks as a singleton. However, bedrest and tator tots helped them get to be that big. On purpose.)

I’m lucky: my husband has magic hands. He can find every knot and every tender spot. He can just touch my neck with his fingertips and I might start to cry with relief. He takes over most evenings and most weekends, doing all the heavy lifting to let me recover before the next round.

From now on, the only gift I will give a new mother will be a massage therapist to visit her house every day for three years, or for as long as her child needs to be lifted, whichever comes first. Just kidding. That’s what I’m giving myself. When I win the lottery.

 

***

I understand that there are other ways to maneuver children. I worked at a Montessori school for a while, so I know that an ideal situation would be to have everything at the child’s level. No lifting/hauling/heaving would be needed. In the Montessori method, crib mattresses are on the floor from birth and children’s tables and chairs take the place of high chairs. Their feet should be on the floor when eating and they shouldn’t be restrained behind buckles or bars. I saw this method in action, and I can attest that it works in a Montessori environment. I can also attest that my house is not a Montessori house, and that one of my twins is a hurricane. I chose the buckles and bars and all of that as a way to keep my sanity in the short term, so I have myopically chosen to sacrifice my body for my sanity.

 

One Year Later: In Words

First Birthday Twins

My babies had their first birthday this week. I am so proud of them, and me, and my husband, and my oldest son. We did it! Happy 1st birthday to two of my boys! I guess I can’t call them “my babies” anymore, but I don’t like saying “my twins” when they are so different from each other.

Also, happy “Survival Day” to me! While I don’t really want to think about what was happening a year ago, I do want to celebrate surviving that day and surviving the first year. I want to celebrate my boys. I want to celebrate the doctors who saved us. And most of all, I want to celebrate all the friends and family who gave us so much of themselves during the bedrest and the first year. We could not have done this without them. (Seriously, the doctor said so!) We are overcome with love for them all.

Seeing the leaves fall all around our wooded property makes me feel the way I did a year ago. I went into the hospital when it was summer. I came out of the hospital when it was fall. It was only a week, but it was the longest and scariest and bravest and happiest week of my life. Mr. Okayest and I just stood in the kitchen last night and hugged, as three children clung to our legs and cried for attention. We just needed each other for just one moment. He had looked at me and said, “A year ago today we were still in the hospital.” We don’t need to say much more than that. He was by my side for everything.

We both still have a lot of pain to process from that time. What strikes me about that fact is worrying and wondering about all the people who have had far worse stories than mine. I mean, we survived! We had a happy ending! We birthed two children, and even though one wasn’t breathing and had to be intubated and sent to the NICU, we still brought both of them home with us! How is it possible that we still have so much pain and emotion from this one week in our life that actually ended so well?

What about all those who have not had happy endings to their hospital stories? I think about friends of mine who have lost both newborn twins. I think about close family members who had a micro-preemie who spent over three months in the NICU and almost didn’t survive. I think about a family member who has died from cancer. I think about a family member who had to face the decision of whether to terminate a baby who was fatally ill. What kind of grief and pain and loss faces them each morning? How do they process it all? How do they feel when they look at a hospital bed on TV? What kind of hugs do they give their loved ones in the kitchen?

One year later, we are so grateful for everything. We know we could have lost everything that day. No matter how much I complain, I am even grateful for little things, like being able to vacuum or unload the dishwasher, or even change a diaper. There was a long period of time where I couldn’t do any of those things for my family. I have conquered so much, with the help of a small army. I still have a long way to go.

What I’ve conquered:

What I am still dealing with:

Healing physically – After bedrest and three procedures after the birth, then recovering at home with some physical therapy, I am 100% healed, albeit scarred. Healing emotionally- Both my husband and I, as well as my 3-year-old, are still wrestling with some of the emotional scars we bear from that time.
Weight loss- I’ve lost about 75 of my 8o pounds. I have no secrets. Yes, I breastfed, and I mall-walked all winter (and trail-walked all spring) while pushing two kids and carrying another. However, I think anyone who brags about postpartum weight loss should be kicked in the face, because I think my Dad’s genes are probably to thank for the weight loss. I have many friends who have worked a lot harder than me, but still struggle with the weight.  I am just not sure we have as much control as we think we do. Muscle Mass- My body feel soft and wobbly. My belly is still a waterbed. Most of all, I just do not have the muscle I need to carry and lift these tanks I have created. My back and neck hurt all the time. I carry them primarily on one side, so I am all bulked up on one shoulder and not the other. It’s gross and it’s painful. I have no core strength and no arm strength. Mr. Okayest says my arms are like little q-tips, with cotton ball hands. Ha! I usually say, “I didn’t get stronger. I just got sorer.”
Keeping them alive for one year  Making sure they get enough attention and love
Sleeping- I have taught the babies to sleep through the night and nap on a rigorous schedule. We cried it out and it was an excellent decision. All 3 of my kids sleep from 7:30PM to 7AM. Having too much adrenaline – I cannot seem to relax at any point during the day. I am constantly in fight-or-flight mode and I don’t know how to stop.
Starting potty-training my oldest Finishing potty-training my oldest
Learning how to put all 3 to bed by myself- This is possible simply because they are older now. They have learned how to wait. As newborns, they were incapable of that! Really supporting my husband through grad school- Putting the kids to bed myself on school nights is still torture. (I usually have help from my wonderful in-laws, though!)
Childproofing horizontally Childproofing vertically – Umm, my oldest was not a climber. I’m getting schooled by one of my twins.
Learning to plan and execute healthy meals while three kids cry during the witching hour (a.k.a., “the arsenic hour”) Learning to plan and execute healthy meals while three kids cry during the witching hour WITHOUT LOSING MY COOL.
Having a family via adoption and biological means Understanding how to raise each of them to be okay with that

First Haircut

This photo captures the passage of time to me. The leaves are changing again. My babies survived, and grew big enough to need haircuts! Here is E’s hair on the ground, with the attachment to the clippers and some proof of autumn. Last year at this time, there were only the leaves.

19 Things That Help a New Mom (And I Should Know!)

Clueless about how to help? Here you go.

After months on “modified bedrest” with a high-risk twin pregnancy and a 2-year-old, then almost dying during birth, and then spending a month learning to walk again and get my strength back, I learned a thing or two about service. Other people took over my life for me. They cared for my bodily needs, the needs of my toddler, the needs of my home, and the needs of my new babies. My husband cared for me with the strength of an army, but it wasn’t enough, between working full-time and going to grad school. So another army came. Several people have asked me for a list of things that would be helpful for a new mom, and, dang, I should know!

19 Things That Help a New Mom – Don’t ask! Just do!

1)      Come over, but call first. Call the husband if you have to. Ask them to tell you honestly if they are overwhelmed with visitors.

2)      If they are too tired for visitors, ask if you can take the older child away for a lunch date or a playground date for an hour or two.  I guarantee he hasn’t had enough attention or exercise lately.

3)      Arrive in your jammies, with no makeup, and your hair in a scrunchi, so momma won’t feel like such a slob.

4)      Bring food. Preferably:

  1.  Fresh veggies or fruit that are already washed and cut, or
  2. A dinner that can go in the freezer if someone already brought dinner

5)      If there is an older child, pay attention to him first. Maybe bring him a trinket. Nothing fancy. A crazy straw. A cool leaf. A matchbox car.

6)      Take out the trash.

7)      Take the baby in your arms and insist that mom go upstairs and take a nap. Insist again.

8)      Take the baby in your arms and insist that mom go upstairs and take a shower. Insist again.

9)      Ask her how her pain is. Let her cry.

10)   If she’s feeling down, or doesn’t want to talk, just sit with her. Maybe just watch TV together.

11)   Load or unload the dishwasher. Wash the dishes. Don’t ask. Just do it.

12)   ASK if you can throw in a load of laundry. Unlike dishes, laundry is a little personal and momma may not want you to wash her afterbirth-y undies.

13)   Fold any laundry you can possibly find.

14)   Vacuum.

15)   Quietly wipe down the bathroom counter and toilet seat when you’re in there. Use a baby wipe if you have to.  Don’t ask. Don’t tell. Just do it.

16)   Bring in the trash can and the mail.

17)   If they have a (nice) dog, ask if you can take her for a walk. I guarantee she hasn’t had enough exercise lately.

18)   If the mom has recovered enough, ask if she’d like you to help take her and the baby on a walk. I can guarantee that she and the baby haven’t had enough fresh air. The sunshine will help her mood improve and help the baby sleep better at night.

19)   Don’t ask  “Do you need anything?”   Instead, when you are on your way to the grocery store or Target, call and say, “I am on my way to the grocery store or Target. What can I bring you? Diapers? Wipes? Dog food? Hemorrhoid cream?” Ask again. Insist that you are going anyway. Be specific.

Someone did each of these things for me at some point. No one has to do ALL these things- just pick something! Each person has her own strengths. My mother-in-law always brought fresh fruit – and washed and cut it and fed it to my toddler. She always sent me upstairs for a nap. My mother always did my dishes and my laundry. She would bring ingredients for a meal, and then make it here, while enlisting the help of my son. My father-in-law always took my son to the playground or out to lunch. He also always brought in the trash can and the mail and fixed anything he could find. My church friends always brought dinner – in an orderly fashion, on a schedule, for five weeks. When nursing was slow-going at first, they poked and prodded my boobs, checked my latch, and brought fenugreek pills and tea. (Also, during the bedrest, my church sisters made a schedule of who cared for my son each day.) My cousin Emily redirected my toddler’s tantrums with fun and laughter. She also cut all 60 of my childrens’ nails while I was in the shower once! My Aunt Susan cleaned all my bathrooms, vacuumed, mopped, and even washed my kitchen trash can! My Aunt Cindi provided me the valuable service of letting me cry. She also just sat and watched TV with me while we held babies and laughed until my stitches almost burst. Each of those things was exactly what I needed at that time.

I never expected (or wanted) any one person to act like any other person when providing service to me. All together, they covered everything. The list of people who helped me is enormous, and I can’t name them all. I am indebted to every one of them. They volunteered their time – including, in some cases, time off work without pay, time away from a dying husband, and time away from their own children – to help me literally get on my feet again. I cannot express the love I have for them all. They have taught me how to help others in the future.

blessing day(the babies’ blessing day, 2 months old, with just a fraction of the people who helped us…)

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.

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(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.

IMG_4072

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.

mcrae (3)