Four Years to the Day After I Almost Died, I Feel Selfish and Depressed on My Twins’ Birthday

wp-1484074415461.jpgFour years to the day after I almost died, I still don’t like my twins’ birthday. I get feelings of dread that begin a month or so before their birthday. People ask me about their birthday plans, and I sputter.  I don’t understand why I have a dark cloud over me and can’t/won’t think about their presents and party. Finally, a couple of weeks before their birthday, I remember why I feel like a puddle on the floor.

Oh, yes, hello again, old feelings. I remember you. You’re not welcome here. I see you’ve come in anyway. Make yourself at home while I struggle to carry on with daily life.

The depression is heavy. The anxiety is dizzying. I look at my healthy and lighthearted sons and feel so.much.guilt. They are happy and adorable. They are wild and strong. And I am the Girl Who Lived. We lived! They thrived! I have nothing to be sad about. I want to celebrate. I want to celebrate their health and their beautiful little miraculous lives. I want to celebrate the doctors who saved me that day. It’s their BIRTHDAY. What is more joyful than the birthday of a set of four-year-old twins?! Isn’t that reason to celebrate? And it’s my survival day. Shouldn’t my survival day become a holiday, with capital letters? Survival Day.

What is wrong with me? What an ingrate. Look at those gorgeous faces and get yourself together. But I can’t. I’m not sure if the initial feelings, or the guilt about the feelings, are worse.

It’s been four years. They turn four today. Isn’t that enough time to have worked through my feelings about the way I almost lost my uterus, a twin, and even my life? Somewhere between the birth of Twin A and Twin B, I lost consciousness. Twin B wasn’t breathing and was intubated – but I didn’t know that. I came around again and held Twin A to my breast for a miraculous five minutes, but my heart was with my unknown Twin B, whisked away to the NICU, away from my body for the first time since he was in that Petri dish eight months before. It was the very first time I realized that I would never ever be able to fully focus on only one child. The moment they were taken from my body and the three of us were separated, my heart was split forever.

And then I lost my entire blood volume and came back to life two days later in the Intensive Care Unit. I didn’t know the fate of Twin B, or if I even still had my uterus. I didn’t know where Twin A was, or what day it was. It was dark and I was alone. I was intubated and tied down. I couldn’t talk or move my own arms. There were no babies in my belly or on my chest. I was more scared than I had ever been in my entire life.

And yet, my story had a happy ending. I was wheeled out of that hospital a week later with all the babies and body parts with which I had come into it. (Well, technically, I guess I lost two organs. Placentas are organs, right? Disposable organs?) I think of all the people I know and love who have had such tremendous traumas in their lives – like losing children forever – and want to slap myself for being so maudlin about a story with a happy ending.

How could I have held on to this fear for four years? Their birthday should be all about them. No matter how hard I try to celebrate, I have this black cloud hanging over my subconscious. Even when I think I’m fine, even when I think I’m not thinking about it, October brings scary memories. It’s a movie that won’t stop playing in my head. If my birth story is a movie that I can’t stop watching, then I had better move a few more rows back in the theater.

I have a happy ending to my story. I do not pity myself. Seriously. I don’t want pity. I don’t want sadness. I don’t even want understanding. I just want to be happy. But the leaves start to fall, and so does my mood.

Sadly, I am not alone in my grief. My husband witnessed more than I did that day, because, unlike me, he was conscious for all of it. He feels the weight of this day, too.

And what about my oldest son, the one who joined our family through adoption? He was only two when his momma went on bedrest, left for a while, and almost died. He lived with his grandparents for at least a week and visited me every day in the hospital – but wouldn’t touch me or come near me. My in-laws later told me that he threw up in their Cadillac every day on the way to the hospital. He was so scared. And when he finally got to go home, he came home to a sickly momma who couldn’t even walk… and she had brought two new people with her. Two very demanding people.

Adoption – even adoption at birth – is a trauma. And having your little two-year-old life change so drastically is a trauma, too, even if it had a happy ending. It’s possible that these events put our attachment to each other at a disadvantage. My guilt over what that did to him is staggering. I stagger under the weight of it. Even if it is misplaced guilt, it’s still placed there in my head. Yes, I know postpartum hemorrhage is not my fault – but I did make the decision to start IVF when he was so young and so fragile. I did make the decision to implant two eggs and put my life in danger.

In addition, soon after the twins’ birthday, I know my oldest son’s birthday is coming too. Can’t I celebrate at least his birthday with joy? But his birthday – the day of his birth – was the last time he ever saw his birthmother. My heart breaks for her on that day. And my heart breaks for him. It is a day of separation and pain for many children who were adopted. Some adopted children don’t want to celebrate the most defining and painful moment of their lives. Adoption is very complex and it involves walking with your child through his grief. He’s still young, but his conflicted feelings are present. And that’s okay. I need to put my own worries aside and focus on his needs. (Yep, that brings more guilt for taking too much time to worry about myself.)

I feel a depression on these anniversaries that smothers me. It feels like a heavy suit. A suit that is depressing me into the ground. Leaving a depression. I look around at other people and wonder how they are able to do things.

wp-1462743015156.jpgIt’s time to stand up, blow up the balloons, frost the cake, and put a smile on my face. “Forget yourself and go to work,” I keep repeating on a loop inside my head. I schedule a therapy appointment. I write and write and write some more to work through the feelings. I draw my babies close to me and sniff their heads. Focus on the unique scent of each strong boy. I pretend it is fuel and I keep going.

 

 

 

 

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The order in which I publish my blog posts is not the order in which I write them. I actually wrote this over six months ago. So, before you feel too sorry for me, remember that I more recently wrote that one where I learned how to treat my feelings like visitors. Or a train. Or something. Read it here, so I can prove that I’m not too much of a mess.

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“Adoption, Infertility, Miscarriage, IVF, Twins, Oh My” was published on BabyCenter.com!

BabyCenter.com calls itself “The #1 Parenting Resource” with over 40 million visitors per month. Recently, THEY contacted ME and asked me to write a post for them for RESOLVE’s National Infertility Awareness Week. I  was so honored and flattered, but realized I am not used to writing with deadlines, assigned topics, and word counts. I hope I did all right by you all, my loyal readers! They published my post on April 21, 2015 here. I have reprinted the entire post below with their permission.

Adoption, Infertility, Miscarriage, IVF, Twins, Oh My

Have you struggled with infertility? I understand. Have you had miscarriages? I empathize. Have you wanted to run over the “Expectant Mother Parking” signs in parking lots? Me too. Have you gone through IVF? The adoption process? I get it.

After having been infertile for almost a decade, I now finally have three small children, none of whom were created in my own body (one is adopted from someone else’s body; two are from petri dishes).

I can empathize with those of you who are begging for children, and also those of you who are begging for five minutes away from your children (even if you have to hide in the bathroom with that jar of Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter and an US Weekly). I know what it’s like to cry at a poster of a baby in Walmart because you desperately want one yourself, and I know what it’s like to cry because your children won’t stop crying.

After having finally had success with adoption and with IVF (twins!) within the space of two years, I can totally identify with the adoptive moms and the moms of multiples.

I know what it’s like to have black and white children as my three boys are of various races and genetic makeup.

wpid-wp-1430331810741.jpegI know what it’s like to wait years for a baby. I also know what it’s like to bring a baby home all of a sudden, after a birthmother picked me only three days prior. I also know what it’s like to suffer through the endless nine months of torturous twin pregnancy and bed rest, feeling like it will never end.

I know what it feels like to be fingerprinted for an adoption home study, to suffer through painful fertility procedures, and to try to go to sleep one night knowing that the baby inside you has died.

But I also know what it feels like to sniff that newborn’s head and want to eat him. I know what it feels like to get an hour or two of sleep a night for seven months. I know that surge in my heart when my children giggle, or run to me, or hug each other, or turn a single-syllable word into four syllables.

wpid-img_20150426_185249.jpgI understand the pain and the joy of so many of you moms out there. By the bad luck of my own biology, and by the miracles of adoption and modern science, I am all of you.

You know what I don’t know?

I don’t know what it feels like to hold any of my babies on the first day of each of their lives. (Due to adoption paperwork and a near-death childbirth experience, I still have weird misplaced guilt about missing those first days with all three of my children.)

I don’t know what it feels like to go into labor and give birth. (I had a Cesarean section with the twins.)

I don’t know what it feels like to have two children. We went from one to three instantly.

I don’t know what it feels like to have a pregnancy without fear.

I don’t know what it feels like to make a baby for free, or to make a baby in my husband’s arms, or in my own bed.

I don’t know what it feels like to worry about birth control choices, costs, or side effects.

I don’t know what it feels like to carry a single baby to term.

I don’t know why our birthmother chose us.

I don’t know how to teach my black and white sons about race.

You know what? None of it matters. What I know, what I don’t know – maybe it doesn’t really matter. If I could go back to my childless and hurting self, what would I want myself to know? What do I want you to know?

I want you and I to know that we are mothers long before our children arrive. We become mothers the moment we decide we want to be mothers.

I want us to know that it doesn’t matter in what body our children arrive. If their souls are meant to be in our family, they will come.

I want us to know that the pain is only temporary.

I want us to know that someday, although the acute pain of infertility will fade, we will refuse to forget. We are going to remember the hurt, on purpose, so that we might strengthen others who are forced to follow us.

I want us to know that so many women out there understand what we are enduring. I want us to open our hearts to each other and embrace our shared pains and joys and hopes. It’s going to be okay.

I know this because I’m an Okayest Mom!

Something Haunts Me About Successful IVF

IMG_4072Sometimes successful in vitro fertilization has haunted me. Yes, you read that right. Successful. What could I possibly worry about? I am beyond grateful for my two-year-old IVF twin boys, but I can now see why some people may not feel comfortable with such extreme measures to create children.

The idea of “playing God” didn’t really worry me. After all, isn’t that what normal fertile people do when they create a baby in the bedroom? We had already done seven rounds of fertility pills, and six rounds of IUI (Intrauterine Insemination). We had had miscarriages and we had adopted. Wouldn’t all that also be playing with creation? We couldn’t see what we were doing, because it was happening inside my body, or inside our birthmother’s body, but we were still rolling the genetic dice.

The difference with IVF is that we were about to take the eggs out of my body and actually see – with our own eyes – what we were doing with them. We would subject them to microscopic scrutiny. We would sign legally binding documents to determine how they would be handled before, during, and after fertilization.

Those eggs, and later, those embryos, would be our property, but they would not yet be in my body. They would be our genetic offspring, but not yet our children. Some of those embryos would be dismissed for growing too slowly or too badly. A scientist or a doctor – and not my body – would decide which embryos were strong and which ones were weak. The weak embryos would be left to “stop progressing” and… discarded.

I think about the six embryos that didn’t grow during our second (and only successful) round of IVF. The ones that were… discarded. I often wonder what they would have looked like, had they progressed and finally grown into children. Would three of them have looked like my husband and Twin A? Would the other three have looked like me and Twin B? Would they have each have looked completely unique? Would they all have been boys? Would they have inherited my migraines or my husband’s allergies? Each of those things was written into those tiny eight-celled organisms.

I’m not sure I really know (believe?) that eight-celled embryos have a soul. Even my conservative church has stated that we don’t know when a soul enters the body. And yet, my heart hurts for the six that never grew. They weren’t my children, because I wasn’t pregnant, but what were they? Maybe they are our children. Will we raise them in the afterlife? They didn’t die, really, but weren’t they alive?

And the most haunting part of all is my two embryos that did live to be implanted in my uterus. As I have written before, we made the decision to implant both with a shrug at the Roy Rogers when my doctor called with her recommendation. “We have two clear frontrunners, but they are growing more slowly that I would like. Therefore, I change my recommendation to two embryos, as long as you understand that your risk of twins is 40% at your age.” She told us that they were not strong enough to make it to freezing, so it was now or never.

Shrug. Okay. It’s not going to work anyway, so we might as well.

I am haunted by that moment. I will be haunted for the rest of my life at my shrug, at my casual decision. Yes, it’s true that carrying those twins and birthing them nearly killed me. You might think that I regret my casual decision to implant two embryos because it put my life in danger. No. I would have happily died to give them life, although it hurts me to know how much that sentence must hurt my husband.

What haunts me about that moment is how casually we could have just decided to implant one embryo. What if we had just as casually shrugged and said, “Nah. Let’s just do one.” We would have had every right to do that, legally, ethically, and otherwise. We would have even perhaps been considered wise to do that. It would have been a more sound financial decision, and my life probably would not have been in danger.

What if?

Which one would it have been? The idea that one of my precious two-year-old twins could have been left to “stop growing” in that Petri dish makes me feel like I can’t breathe. Like I’m going to be sick. Faint. I can barely go there in my mind. It even hurts to type it.

My precious Twin A, with his big Charlie Brown head and his big pouty lips and his horrible siren-like cry, and his big feelings and his crooked toes and his perfect hugs? My precious Twin B, with his long eyelashes and his fiery temper and his shrieks of joy and the smell of his baby-head that never seems to go away?

What if?

How could I have been casual about any of that? How could I have made that decision in the Roy Rogers? (Granted, we had one hour before the procedure and had to decide.) What other decisions have I made that have had such far-reaching consequences, both good and bad?

What if one of them wasn’t here? …Discarded.

It haunts me.

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.

Reblog: Please Educate Your Kids About Adoption So Mine Don’t Have To

Dang it, I wish I had written this one myself. But, since I didn’t, and this woman says it so well, you get to read from someone else today. This mom has two brown (and adopted) sons and two white (and birthed) daughters. I think she knows a thing or two. Here is Kristen, from the Rage Against the Minivan blog:

Please Educate Your Kids About Adoption So Mine Don’t Have To

As my son gets closer to school-age, these kind of peer conversations are.going.to.happen. Help him out by teaching your children about all the different kinds of parents in this world.

(PS, Her selection of books is wonderful. My son and I just had a special moment over “A Mother For Choco”… but it’s too precious to write down here. Sorry.)