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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Christmas Fail? But Charity Never Faileth

Christmas is four days away. I feel like a failure in each and every way, and yet I am so grateful for all the acts of love and service that others have given to us.

The Okayest Family has been quite ill for quite some time, and my to-do lists have been ashamed of themselves.

My Christmas tree has looked like this for over a week now:

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My Christmas decorations are still in their boxes in the basement:

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My presents are still not wrapped:

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And my dresser looks like this:

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(Okay, let’s be honest: my dresser always looks like that. It has nothing to do with sickness or Christmas, but we can just pretend, mmkay?)

I feel frustrated. I feel sad. I feel like I’m failing. I promised my oldest that he would sit on Santa’s lap at the church Christmas party, but we couldn’t go when my husband was still too ill to assist me in child-wrangling. My kids didn’t perform in the church Christmas program this Sunday for the same reason.

Things aren’t going smoothly, and I’m so tired, and I want to cry all the time. However, most every mother probably feels this way around this time of year. Besides, I’m just okayest; I know how to take things down a notch, right? (I’m no Pinterest mom, but I do want my kids to have a Christmas.)

I force myself to pick myself up and remind myself to count my blessings. It slowly is starting to work. I am so thankful that my husband has a secure job with paid sick leave. I am so grateful that we got to cut down the Christmas tree together (even if it is still outside), that we can afford presents (even if they aren’t wrapped), that we have a warm home with room for storage of luxuries like Christmas decorations (even if they aren’t hung up).

christmas cookies (2)So many people have shown me love and service lately, and it humbles me. Every time I feel like I am drowning in illness and exhaustion and undone to-do lists, someone else shows me love and service. My in-laws come to care for the children when we can’t, even if they subject themselves to heinous viruses. My mother comes to have a “Christmas craft day” with my kids, and brings her cookies to decorate and makes sure we at least get out the only decoration that matters: my great-grandma’s nativity.

imageFriends check up on me via text. Church sisters offer to put up my tree, substitute teach my Sunday School class of six-year-olds, bring dinner, and even haul my twins into the beige minivan when I can’t physically maneuver them. One friend even makes my kids some “shake it” sensory bottles when I go to her for advice about some specific behavioral problems.

My church sisters’ love makes my heart full. My Mormon friends each have more children than I do, and yet they always help. Mormon women seem extra good at serving in specific ways. They never say, “Let me know if you need anything.” Instead, they say, “I’m bringing dinner,” and, “I’m teaching your class.” Sometimes they don’t say anything, but just pick up that runaway twin. They will do things like this for people they hardly know. They have always done it for other sisters; they will continue to do it in the next town they move to. It’s not just for me. They are a great example to me. I will pay it forward someday … when the kids are in school? I know heaven smiles on these women.

A friend reminds me to think of the one thing I can do each time I get overwhelmed. Maybe today I can play some Christmas music to bring peace, and maybe tomorrow I can read to the children about the birth of Jesus. They won’t care if the door has no wreath and the presents are “wrapped” in a brown cardboard Amazon box.

Most of all, I can remember to be ever grateful for my miraculous little family that was created against all odds. We are together, and of course, that is all that really matters.

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Dear readers: I wish you and your family peace at this time of year. I hope you find it quicker than I have! I know Christmas can be hard for many of us for so many different reasons, but I hope that you have love in your life and peace in your homes. Much love to you all!

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.