Almost Dying Made Me Appreciate Muscles and Chores

Did you think I would say that almost dying made me appreciate sunrises, my kids’ smiles, and my husband’s love? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Obviously that stuff. But almost dying has actually made me appreciate my muscles (however scant) and my ability to do chores. Really. Every single day.

Anyone who has had to completely rely on others must feel the same.

The birth of my twins almost killed me. I had postpartum hemorrhage and spent two days mostly unconscious in the ICU and a week in the hospital. Before the birth, I had been on modified bedrest for the last trimester, and I had to gain 75 pounds. (Tator tots at 3 AM helped me get to 80.) After the birth, I had to relearn how to walk with a walker and a physical therapist. I didn’t change the twins’ diapers until they were three weeks old. It was a sad time with a joyful ending.

What does bedrest and then that recovery do to your muscles? When the swelling went down and the weight came off, I was shocked to see that my calves and ankles looked like a coma patient’s. I looked freakishly, cartoonishly atrophied in some places (and obviously, freakishly, cartoonishly stretched out in other places!)

During bedrest, I had become so frustrated by my inability to walk the stairs of my own home. I didn’t see the basement of my own home for months. My husband would rearrange furniture and bring me the digital camera to show me and ask me how I liked it. I would cry when I couldn’t find something, or, more accurately, when I couldn’t explain to my husband where he should maybe try to look for that something.

[Recently, there has been some questioning of the efficacy of bedrest. My doctors – and my body – have a few things to say. First, any time you use major muscle groups – especially the thighs or glutes, like on stairs – you are shunting blood away from the uterus and into those muscles. That explains why stairs gave me contractions from 18 weeks onward. Second, being vertical when you have 15 pounds of babies pushing down on your cervix can cause the cervix to dilate. Being horizontal relieves some of that pressure, and thus, keeps the babies in there longer. The cervix was not designed to hold 15 pounds of baby inside, okay?]

The washing machine was in the basement, two floors below my bedroom, so I couldn’t do laundry. I wouldn’t have been able to bend over the machine anyway. My husband and my mother took over laundry duty, which is fine for the kids’ laundry… but is a little embarrassing for adult laundry.

Vacuuming was out of the question for months. I couldn’t stand long enough to wash dishes. I would look at certain dirty places in my home and just cry. (Okay, that was probably the hormones, because I don’t cry when I look at the mess that three toddlers have inflicted on my house these days.) I would watch my husband vacuum around me and I would literally sob because I felt guilty and worthless. (Okay, that was probably the hormones too. I definitely don’t sob when he shares the load these days.)

My husband was in grad school. He would work full days and then go to school some nights. He had homework and projects and exams. He gave love to our neglected toddler. He kept up with the house repairs. (We bought a short-sale, almost in foreclosure, that needed more love than our neglected toddler.) He continued all maintenance on our fleet of used vehicles AND then he took over all of my household chores as well.

The army that stepped in to help him was amazing. I have already praised the in-laws who built fences and painted walls and cooked and cleaned and cared for my son, the church sisters who set up rotations to bring meals and care for my son every day, and the mothers and aunts and grandmas and cousins who spent sleepless nights in our guest room… and took away from their jobs and their paychecks and their own families. They saved us. The doctor agreed!

BUT…

But… taking back each of those chores, tasks, and work, little by little, gave me the greatest joy in the world.

Imagine walking down your stairs for the first time. Seeing your own washing machine for the first time in six months. Imagine the joy at bending over your own load of dirty laundry.

Imagine walking to your mailbox for the first time in months. Imagine the joy of getting your own bills with your own hands.

Imagine pushing that vacuum around your own filthy floor, and eliminating all that fur and funk with your own strong arms and legs that can push that vacuum again.

Imagine actually enjoying being down on your knees and cleaning the base of the toilet with your own hands.

Imagine the joy and the gratitude.

I felt like a toddler, gaining pride in my independence. I enjoyed the basic chores that were once drudgery.

Of course, these days, it’s mostly drudgery again. But every once in a while, as I am racing down the stairs with an armload of messy laundry while all three children cry upstairs, I have to smile. I throw the emergency load in the washer with the speed of lightning. I slam the lid shut and race up the stairs on strong legs. I scoop up one or two or three enormous children in my strong arms. (Well, my arms are like toothpicks, but still…) I can shush them with my strong heartbeat and my strong voice that is full of song.

It’s good. You know what I mean?

 

***

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 post here.

 

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Grad School Is Over (I Can’t Think of a Better Title Because Grad School Made Me So Tired.)

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We did it. Grad school. It’s over. I have no idea what Mr. Okayest’s degree is in, and I’m not sure I even care. I’m proud of him, but more importantly, I’m proud of us.

Mr. Okayest is the one who gets the degree, but he says it belongs to both of us. For every credit hour he spent in class, I spent one here with three babies. For every exam, paper, and project, I handled the children on my own. Weekends were never restful. We both earned this degree.

We can’t believe it’s over. We’re still in shock, waiting for the next assignment to drown us again. Four years of hell is OVER!

We were childless for the first eight years of our marriage. We also did not go to grad school during the first eight years of our marriage. When our first son came along in 2010, my husband decided that would be a great time to start grad school. Seriously, honey? You couldn’t have done that a little earlier?

Two years later, when I ended up in a high-risk twin pregnancy and bedrest, I said, “Surely, honey, you will take some time off school now?” Nope. He kept it up. He managed to take care of me, my son, the house, the cooking, the cleaning, and his homework. I thought he was crazy, but he got an “A” that semester.

When the twins were born in 2012, and I almost died, and spent a month learning how to, you know, live again, and we never slept, I said, “Surely, honey, you can take some time off school now?” Nope. He kept trucking. That was the hardest course of all, too, and it happened to fall during the hardest months of our lives. He got an “A” that semester, too, by some miracle. (And by “some miracle”, I am referring to our moms and aunts and grandmas and cousins and church sisters who helped care for me and my family!)

During the early days of the twins’ life, I simply could not care for them on my own. Newborns and a very needy two-year-old cannot wait for anything. Every need is immediate, and my battered body could not keep up with their needs.

I remember distinctly the first time my husband went back to class after my recovery. It was maybe the third week after the birth. My health was shaky, at best. I had not been apart from him for even one minute during the past month. He helped me go to the bathroom. He showered me. I hadn’t been able to walk or stand without his assistance for some time. I had not been away from him at all. My body and my heart depended on him.

He asked my aunt to come over just while he went to class. He hadn’t even gone back to work yet, but he headed to class at 5PM that day. My aunt and I were sitting on the couch, and he was tying his shoes, but he was watching my face. Tears were rolling down my cheeks. I was terrified. I trusted my aunt to care for me and my three babies under three years old, but I was terrified to be away from my husband. He kissed me goodbye and he went to school. My aunt asked what was wrong. I couldn’t put it into words, but I think she understood.

Eventually, I got stronger. I hired a mother’s helper, an 11-year-old from church with lots of siblings, to help me after school. I remember us each feeding a baby a bottle on the couch.

Eventually, my oldest son got, well, older. He was able to (kind of) put on his own jammies. He was able to (kind of) wait his turn. However, he was simply not the same when Daddy was having a late class night. He usually didn’t see his father from Monday night until Wednesday night. That’s an eternity when you’re two or three years old! He wasn’t the same when his father had to do homework in the basement with the door shut. He wanted to be near his dad at all times. His tantrums were worse on school days and homework days.

Eventually the babies, too, became more independent. Daddy kept going to school, and they outgrew those bottles. They grew into toddlers who could just be put into their cribs while awake. Each one could wait a little bit when his brother needed me.

On the days that I was alone from 5AM to 9PM, my sweet in-laws would come every week. For years, they have been relieving me. I have used their visits to get my shower, or collapse in a heap of a nap, or to take my oldest son on a date, or to do the weekly shopping. I have used their visits to sneak in six months of swim lessons for my son while the babies napped at home with the grandparents. I have used their visits to schedule a multitude of doctor appointments for both me and my son. They gave me time off from the twins during the day, so that I could survive until 9PM when my husband came home. And, sometimes, when I was sick or my husband was out of town, they would even stay through bedtime. They say that it isn’t a selfless act; they say that they just love the time with the grandchildren! I still say it’s a selfless act, because this circus isn’t easy.

There were some really bad times. There were many times that I cried with exhaustion after all the kids were in bed. There were times that I didn’t want to wake up on his school days, because I knew what the next 16 hours would hold. There were times that one or two or all three were sick and I cared for them alone. There was vomit, diarrhea, countless nose wipings… There was even one time that I was vomiting while making them their dinner and while putting them to bed. (The kids were, of course, recovered from their stomach bug by the time they had given it to me.)

Grad school gave me a new respect for single parents. I have no idea how they do it. I almost felt incapable of handling my own life.

At dinner last week, while I fed the children while their Daddy was in his last class, I excitedly said to the children, “Guess what?! Daddy isn’t going to go to school any more! He will always be home for dinner and bedtime now!” All three just stared at me blankly while chewing their meatballs. This four-year-old and those two two-year-olds will probably have no memory of all the hard work and tears that was grad school. Their whole lives were this way, but they won’t remember a thing. (Oh, and the next night, he had to work late and missed dinner.)

It’s really over. I can’t believe it. Now we can get on to other things, like house repair. Oh my goodness, I’m still never going to see my husband, am I?

 

 

Taking a Bullet

tired with e

When I look at any of my kids and think:

-I would take a bullet for you
-I would chew through steel to get to you
-I would crawl on my hands and knees for days to get to you
-I would step in front of moving traffic to save you
-I would step right out this nursery window if God asked me to

…. then I realize that I AM doing the equivalent of all that, every single day and night when I feel like I can’t go one more step. I AM doing all that every time I get up in the middle of the night for the fourth time, after only 30 minutes of sleep. I AM doing all that every time I hear all three cry at once. I AM doing all that when my husband goes to work and grad school and I am alone from 5AM until 9PM. I AM doing all that every time I breastfeed one while the other two cry.

I am taking a bullet for them. And I love it. Most of the time. And not in the middle of the night.

so tired

(help me)