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.

Twins Did Not Destroy My Body (Hope for Preggo Moms Who Can’t Stop Googling)

Author’s Note: (Hey, that’s me!) I wrote this post two years ago, but never published it. I sat on it for TWO YEARS. I have always pushed it back, deep into the drafts section of my blog. I have worried that it is inappropriate to discuss body image, or that it could sound like whining, or that it could sound like bragging, or, of course, that it could be too personal. I am still struggling. I won’t be able to be 100% open here because this is not a completely anonymous blog. I have decided, however, to post a portion of the truth. The reasons I want to do this are:

1) To help (give hope to!) other women currently pregnant with twins or recovering from twin pregnancy
2) To help (remove blame from) any women who are struggling with post-baby body crap
3) Because someone did this for me and I want to pay it forward.

I am an LDS (Mormon) woman who keeps her body covered from shoulders to knees while in public, unless swimming. My husband and I made this formal commitment during our temple marriage. So I’ll spare you the “before and after” picture nonsense. Anyway, it is extremely important to me that I convey what I have to say in a manner that adheres to the fact that I consider bodies to be sacred. It is also extremely important to me that I say what I have to say in a humble way. I hope I get this right, y’all. Here goes. 

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Twins did not destroy my body.

Well, yes they did. But not in the ways I expected. My twin boys are two years old now, their little fat bodies asleep in their cribs. It’s the middle of the night and I can’t sleep from the adrenaline of another day of keeping up with them. My handsome husband, unaffected by child-chasing adrenaline, softly snores beside me. I flip back the covers suddenly and wander into my bathroom. I look at my reflection in our huge mirror. I take off my clothes and I don’t know why.

The house is still, and for the first time in two years, I am still too. I have been in fight-or-flight mode for two years. I feel like I’m seeing my own body for the first time since the hellish pregnancy. I am having flashbacks to the way I needed my husband’s help to undress near the end of the pregnancy, and to the way both of us would gawk at my daily changes before he helped me into the shower. Sometimes my body looked like a freaking miracle in that mirror, and sometimes it reminded me of a vampire pregnancy from a popular young adult novel: grotesque and progressing too quickly. My naked body in the third trimester of a twin pregnancy was a speeding train that I couldn’t stop (despite the fact that it could barely walk or roll over). Even though six years of infertility treatments had answered all my prayers, and my twins were healthy in my huge womb, I was still enough of an ungrateful jerk to worry about stretch marks and permanent weight gain.

I snap back to the present. I focus my eyes on my current body. Two years have passed in a haze of sleep deprivation. My body has not been the focus for so very long. All I have known about my body was that it was always very tired. Now I am focusing my lens right into this mirror, right onto this body. This body that couldn’t get pregnant, and then did, and then carried twins, and then almost died during childbirth, and then came back to life, and then raised two newborns into toddlers. My body is…. fine.

The twins didn’t destroy my body. Well, yes, they did make me gain 80 pounds during the pregnancy. They did almost kill me during the birth. They did leave my belly as floppy as a waterbed. They did do some pretty wonky things to, well, some of my insides (you’re welcome for the generalities). And, we recently found out that the weight of them, both in my belly and on my hips, did give me scoliosis.

However, none of those things were the things I panicked about before they were born.

I did not get stretch marks.

I did not have trouble losing the weight.

I want to share what I have learned: genetics and circumstance are to blame or to praise for these things.  I want women to quit beating themselves up for problems that they have less control over than they think.

I did not get stretch marks because my mother did not get stretch marks. It is as simple as that. There are no secrets, no creams, no magic remedies. It is just genetics. It’s not a woman’s fault if she gets stretch marks, and it’s not to her credit if she doesn’t have stretch marks.

I lost the baby weight because my dad is thin. Yes, I mall-walked and trail-walked and ran on fumes like all mothers do, and I carried babies until my spine bent, but my metabolism is a genetic gift from my father. (Along with migraines.) I have no secrets or magic cures. It’s not a woman’s fault if she can’t lose the last of her baby weight. It’s also not to her credit if she did lose it all.

It’s just the way it is.

My body in this mirror is… fine. It’s sore and it’s tired and it can’t sleep tonight, but it’s fine. I see my mostly flat belly. I see my mostly smooth skin. I see my strong arms from carrying those fat toddlers who are asleep in their cribs right now. It’s time for me to appreciate all of this stuff and get back in my own bed beside my warm husband.

I know there are wide-awake moms, pregnant with twins and a big dose of panic, presently Googling something morbid like “twin pregnancy belly” just because they can’t sleep. Why can’t they sleep? From the discomfort pain of an octopus of limbs in there? From anxiety about wondering how to burp one twin without detaching the other nursing twin? From just now realizing that she has TWO SETS OF GENITALIA inside her right now?!

Well, wide-awake panicked mommas staring into the bathroom mirror and/or their search engine in the middle of the night, I want to tell you something. I know it feels like you are on a careening train that won’t stop and you want to get off it sometimes. I know you think there is no hope and that only a plastic surgeon could fix what multiples have done to you. But listen to me: There’s a chance you will look the same afterwards. I do. I went from 118 pounds to 198 pounds to 117 pounds in the space of two years, and I am mostly the same as I was before.

The internet is flush with momma-pride articles, giving women with stretch marks and permanent baby bellies a voice. I celebrate with them when they take ownership of those “tiger stripes” and eschew any shame. I applaud them and even gain strength from their stories. Women should always stick together and gain strength from each other. Women should never apologize for bodies that have built and birthed human beings. I agree that it is not anyone’s “fault” when we end up with stretch marks and baby weight. It isn’t because you didn’t buy the expensive cream, you know?

But also, it isn’t to your credit if you didn’t earn those tiger stripes. Just as I wouldn’t have been the cause of stretch marks, I am not the cause of my lack of stretch marks. You see what I’m saying? It’s the genetic role of the dice. I hope that by sharing my story, I can actually further the cause of the mommas being proud of their post-baby bodies.

I am not bragging. I am trying to get you to stop Googling and go the eff to sleep.


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PS, I know there are regular pregnant moms (you know, the singletons ones, the ones with only one penis in there) who also can’t sleep and are also Googling stuff they shouldn’t. To you I want to say: My doctor said that multiple pregnancies are more challenging for the body than a multiples pregnancy. Therefore, since I had three children for the price of one mega-pregnancy (twins + adoption), I might have to eat this essay if I ever miraculously get pregnant again.

It’s Mother’s Day. I am alone. And I am so happy.

It is the opposite of when I used to be alone on Mother’s Day, and I was so sad. Many years of infertility led to many years of crying every Mother’s Day – and skipping church to hike in the woods with my momma so I wouldn’t cry when they handed flowers to each mother in the congregation.

This year, my husband has taken our three small boys – ages 6, 3, and 3 – to his mother’s house for the day. I am alone, and I love it. He made both his mother and his wife so very happy today, all in one fell swoop. Grandma got time with the grandkids (and her son), and I got time to myself –which is a very rare commodity.

My husband got up with the kids this morning. He handled all their needs and requests and fights and commotions and teeth brushings and clothing wrestling. I took a leisurely hot shower and didn’t think about anything. I wandered down the stairs when I was ready. The inside of my head felt so… clean. So empty. So relaxed.

wp-1456004293423.jpgHe had made breakfast for the kids, and they were all sitting at the table in their nice clothes, shoveling scrambled eggs into their slobbery mouths. He coached them to say “Happy Mother’s Day, Momma” in unison. They all had big smiles. Their voices sounded so sweet and beautiful – because I hadn’t yet dealt with any whining whatsoever. They were pristine little innocent voices, untouched yet (in my mind anyway) by the needs of the day. It was perfect. They were perfect.

Their little chorus of “Happy Mother’s Day, Momma” really got to me. It wasn’t just their adorable little voices. It was the memory of all the mother’s days that I had spent longing for these voices. All the years spent longing for a full breakfast table. All the years of injections or adoption paperwork or failed cycles. I was having a moment! I got so choked up that I had to turn away (after kissing each fat messy cheek first, of course).

How easy it is to forget each day, during the trials and constant demands and pure exhaustion down to my bones, that I desperately wanted these children. How easy it is to forget how very hard we worked for them. How many years it took for them arrive. How I truly almost sacrificed my life to bring them here.

In a house of twins/”triplets”, special needs, anxiety, migraines, and the regular nonstop pace that never ever slows down, it is so easy to forget how very very lucky I am.

I’m lucky to have them – and lucky to be alone today!

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Okayest Mom and Okayest Mom’s Mom on Mother’s Day

I’m not letting myself worry about any of my chores and messes. Just think of what I could accomplish today without all the pitter-pattering (i.e., stomping and running and crashing) of little feet! But no. Today is mine. Maybe to see my own Momma for a little bit. To write. To reflect. To remember how precious and treasured my children are to me. The distance is clearing my head.

This kind of alone is so much better than the other kind of alone. During infertility, I was alone against my will. During motherhood, I am alone out of choice. Just for today.

I am so happy.

 

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To those of you who are still fighting and still in the trenches, I haven’t forgotten about you. I will never forget about you. I love you all! Here are some posts just for you …

Mother’s Day Can Sometimes Feel Like a Bruise

To My Readers Who Are Struggling With Infertility

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

 

 

 

I Sold My Triple Stroller Today

first walk

Our first walk

I sold my triple stroller today. I’m not gonna lie: I cried a little bit.

I hated that thing. I hated how much it cost. If I had bought it new, it would have cost more than our old pickup truck did! The market for triple strollers is extremely limited. At the time, there were only three triple strollers on the market. I was stuck buying a four-wheeled vehicle without a motor that retailed for more than one of our four-wheeled vehicles with a motor.

I hated that thing. I hated how much it weighed. It was 37 pounds *without* children in it. All I can think about when I look at it is how it broke my back to get it in and out of the van, and how it weighed more than I did with all my kids in it, and how it felt to push it uphill. I think of the friends who had to help me lift it or push it.

And now it’s gone… And so are my babies. They are three years old now.

I remember buying that stroller from another twin mom when I was pregnant with the twins. (Before the bedrest, obviously!) Her twins were three at the time. I was already huge and lugging a very unhappy two-year-old with me. I was scared – not scared of this rich lady I found on Craigslist, though. I was scared of the twins in my belly. I was scared to see if that triple stroller would fit in my VW. I was scared I wouldn’t be able to lift it. I was scared I wouldn’t remember how to unfold it. I was scared to pay the amount I would have to pay (which, at half the retail price, was still a staggering amount).  I was scared that my hyper-sensitive toddler would flip out with the commotion of her twins that day (he did) – and his twins in the future (he would).

Most of all, I was scared that I would never survive until my twins were three. I would never make it as far as she had.

I almost didn’t.

And then I did. I survived. My house isn’t as nice trendy clean as hers. I probably suck at twin-momming way more than she did. But I’m here. I did it.

And now I’m selling the triple stroller to another mom.

triple strollerI loved that stroller. It was my only freedom. It was my only way to leave my house to get fresh air, even for something as simple as a walk down the street. I was not physically able to maneuver three children under three with my own body.

I loved that stroller. without it, my only options would have been drive-thru fast food and drive-thru pharmacies. It was my only freedom.

My babies are gone. In their place, I now have strong, hearty three-year-old twins and a strong, hearty (and still hyper-sensitive) six-year-old son. They are beautiful and boogery and filthy. They are angelic and horrid. They smell like dirt. They smell like Burt’s Bees soap. They smell like snot. They smell like coconut oil. They smell like engine grease and sawdust like their father. They smell like rosewater and saffron ice cream.

cleaning triple stroller

The triple stroller was my albatross and my only freedom. Now my kids are cleaning it for me instead of being dead weight!

They don’t have wheels like that triple stroller. They don’t have an engine like the old truck that cost less than that fancy stroller. But, somehow, they have become completely self-propelled. They are fast and wild. They are slow and meandering. They sometimes hold my hand, but I never carry them. If they have a tantrum in public, I can’t carry them out: I have to wait them out while the whole world hears. If they get hurt and cry, I can’t heave them onto my hips: I have to sit on the floor/gravel/pavement/dirt and let them climb into my lap for comfort. They each now weigh more than that triple stroller ever did: 45 pounds, 40 pounds, and 38 pounds.

It’s another mom’s turn to have a turn with that monstrosity. I wonder if she is scared. Probably not, because she is having her sixth child. She will be fine.

So why did I cry? Of course it wasn’t really for the stroller. It wasn’t really even for the memories of my tiny babies in the seats. It really wasn’t even for my non-babies who are now so self-propelled.

It was for the future babies that I can’t have. As I drove away and left that stroller behind, I knew I would never have another baby to put in it.

And if by some miracle, I did have another baby, it would only be one baby… so obviously I would only need a single regular stroller anyway.

I really hated that triple stroller.

 

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This isn’t an affiliate link or anything, but since so many people have asked me, you can buy this Valco Baby stroller here. It is a twin stroller with an additional third seat called a “Joey” attached. And, since this isn’t an affiliate link, I’m allowed to say, buy that thing on Craigslist!

“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.

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.)

Genes Are a Funny Thing

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wpid-wp-1425383125280.jpegOne of my two-year-old twins, Twin B, still has that baby smell wafting from the top of his head. The other twin, Twin A, lost it when he was still a baby. I catch my husband inhaling that baby-scented toddler skull when he gets home from work. He breathes it in like a drug – I can tell. He catches my eye with a sheepish grin. I, too, find myself inhaling that kid’s head when I am stressed out, or when he wakes up from nap with tremendous sweaty baby-fine bedhead. He’s always clammy, like me. When I take off his winter hat after he has been playing in the snow, the humid smell from the last hour got all trapped inside and it’s a rush of baby scent. I wish I could trap it for my husband while he’s at work.

wpid-wp-1425383049220.jpegTwin B’s hair is still baby-fine and wispy. Twin A’s hair is the exact same shade, but long ago lost the baby smell. Also, Twin A has a manly head of hair that needs haircuts twice as often as his twin. Coincidence? Perhaps not. We have called him “The Toupee” since he was very small. Twin A isn’t clammy at all. Like his father, he is always dry and warm. He feels like a heavy blanket straight out of the dryer. His head is never humid!

I watched my twins grow from the time they were each an 8-celled embryo in a Petri dish, outside of my body. How many of you can say that? I know that they were equally 50% of each my husband’s and my DNA… but when they came out of my body, I was astounded by the fact that I made them. Me. Alone. Like any mother, I was just in awe of the fact that I built every hair on their heads, every bone in their bodies, every eyelash and organ. No wonder I was so sick: I built them. I made them from scratch. At the same time! After being infertile. It was amazing.

When I was three years old, I suddenly declared to my mother that I would stop sucking my thumb when I turned four. I used to rub the tip of her thumbnail with one hand, while simultaneously sucking my thumb on the other hand. While I was trying to quit the thumb-sucking, my mother gently told me that I could pick thumb-sucking or rubbing her thumbnail, but I couldn’t do both at the same time anymore. I guess this was her baby-steps plan for me. I remember thinking that her idea was both incredibly sensible and frustrating. I indeed quit sucking my thumb precisely on my fourth birthday. My mom said she checked on me often that night while I was sleeping, and I had an iron will, even in my sleep. My thumb would automatically raise to my mouth, and I would drop it while sleeping. However, I am fairly certain I kept rubbing her thumbnail for a while.

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Fast-forward thirty years. One day while nursing, Twin A began to rub the tip of my thumbnail with his fat little baby finger that has those inverted little knuckles. I burst into tears. Of three children, he was the only one to have “inherited” that particular trait. Even at two years old, he continues to do it when he is sick or just watching TV in my lap. How can that be a coincidence? But how could that be inherited? Our bodies are so awe-inspiring. He never saw me do it, so was it possibly picked up via “nature”?

My oldest son, who came to us through adoption, never rubbed my thumbnail or had that baby smell past the infancy stage. He has, sadly, inherited my absolutely worst trait: picking his cuticles. When I am nervous or anxious (all the time?), I pick at the skin on my fingers. It is gross, and Mr. Okayest absolutely hates it. I am certain that this is the only thing about me that he actually hates. If we were ever on a game show and the host asked me what my husband hates about me, this cuticle picking would be the answer. We would both win all the money because we would both answer the same thing. (In my defense, I have cut waaaay back. And I am constantly trying to stop.) My oldest son started doing this at eighteen months. I am absolutely ashamed that he picked this trait from me to “inherit”. He picked up that bad habit 100% from the “nurture” category. He sees me do it, and he does it.

Why have his twin brothers – who are biologically from my genes/ my body/ my nature- not picked up this nasty cuticle-picking trait? They have also seen me do it. Neither the nature nor the nurture has inclined them to harm themselves. My only guess is that they are just not anxious or nervous people. My oldest son must be more like me in that way, and this habit “works” for us. (Dr. Phil says people do it because it works. The pain actually releases the endorphins or dopamine or whatever to relieve your anxiety. That is why it is so hard to stop.) Let’s hope he picks up a good trait or two from me as well.

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He isn’t warm and dry like Twin A and Daddy. He isn’t clammy and cold like Twin B and Momma. He’s just him. He’s cool and dry, like none of us – or like all of us put together.

I look at his beautiful brown body, cool and dry, and I am in awe of his birthmother. Was she cool and dry? She made him. She built him from scratch. She carried him for 8 months and made every hair on his head and every bone in his body. She also gave him many of his traits, but I will probably never know which ones. I did not give him a single fingernail, but I gave him cuticle picking. And everything I have. And all my love.

Why am I telling you about these things? One son’s baby-head smell, one son’s rubbing his mother’s thumb, and one son picking up a bad trait? I’m not sure. Genes are a funny thing.

Nothing Like Having Your Head Slammed in the Door by a Toddler

Why do they hate me so much? Sometimes I feel like an indentured servant ruled by three tiny people who hate me. There is nothing quite like being screamed at while wiping butts.

…Except for maybe getting your head slammed in a French door by a freakishly strong 2-year-old.

….Except for maybe getting your head slammed in a closet door the very next day by the same freakishly stong two-year-old. (It’s weird: he’s not angry. He is like the Hulk without the anger.)

Seriously, moms have to do all these seriously nasty chores – on repeat – while little people yell at us about it. That feeling is magnified when there are three little people.

Why are you so mad when you have to let someone clean your bottom? Why are you so mad when you have to let someone fix you a delicious and nutritious meal? Wash your cellulite? Console your sadnesses and rock you to sleep and kiss your boo-boos? Sometimes it feels like pure hell to do all these things while they yell at me, or scream at me, or cry at me. Times three.

jumping on bedI know, I know, I know – they are growing up so fast and one day I will regret complaining about any of it. One day, soon, they won’t need me to wipe their butts. One day, soon, my snuggles and my kisses aren’t going to fix their bigger boo-boos. I know I will miss their innocence and their fat chubby toddler arms.

I know, I know, I know – I waited eight years for these babies. I survived adoption and 15 rounds of fertility drugs and bedrest and miscarriage and hemorrhage to get these three precious souls into my arms. How could I possibly complain about a single thing?

Because. Because none of that means it’s FUN to be kicked at when I’m trying to change their poops. It’s not sweet to get yelled at while fixing lunch not fast enough. It’s not adorable to get pummeled while trying to hug an upset child. Moms get beat up and knocked around more than they ever thought they would.

My kids are good kids. They are sweet and considerate and mostly obedient. They are also two years old, and two years old, and four years old. Sometimes, being two and being four isn’t pretty. Sometimes it isn’t sweet. They get frustrated. They get overwhelmed. It’s hard to be a toddler. And have you ever heard of a “mean drunk”? Well, some kids are a “mean sick” or a “mean injured”. (And some kids are just The Hulk without the anger. There’s a lot of testosterone in this house.)

I just wanted you to know that I feel like the ugly stepsister sometimes, just in case you do too.

***

This post was originally published on Beyond Infertility, a website about parenting after infertility. I am a regular contributor to their website.

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.

 

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”?

 

***

 

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.

100th Post! … Or 105th or 107th? Anyway, Let’s Reflect!

One hundredth post?! Really? Well, actually, my 100th post was about tampons, but that seemed like an inappropriate time to bring up my milestone. This is my 107th post or something. I’m just okayest, remember? Anyway, how have I possibly had that much come out of my head?

It’s time to reflect… and/ or just give you a bunch of leftover thoughts (and way too many copious links):

I’m pretty sure blogging is dead. I’m also sure that the market is saturated. Have you seen how many of me there are? And yet…

… I have 2500+ followers here and almost 200 on my Facebook page. (Oh yeah, and I started a Facebook page.) I started blogging just a year and a half ago, when my twins were not even a year old, and not even walking yet. My oldest was just three and still in diapers. I had three children, three and under, in diapers. Then my niece moved in, and I had four children in diapers. Four children under four. It was a wild time.

My favorite post so far (if you care) is “110 Decibel Lullabies: Memories of  a Loud Childhood”. It was not popular at all, but it was a love letter to my parents that I worked on for years in my head. I am so proud of it. I hope I created a saturated portrait for my sons of what my own childhood was like.

My most-googled/ popular posts have been “My Birth Story: How I Almost Lost My Life, My Uterus, and a Twin”, and “So What is IVF Really Like? (A Thesis)”. Proceed with caution, though, since those two are pretty gory – and pretty dang long. But my all-time most widely-read post was “Benign Neglect: A Case Against Preschool”. It was chosen as a “Freshly Pressed” blog post that was featured on the WordPress Homepage. It had hundreds of comments and daily views. For a minute.

I had never read a blog before I started writing one. I’m sure I’ve made mistakes because of that, but I also hope it added some freshness to my blog.

My super private husband was the one to suggest I start blogging. He knows how verbal I am and how much I needed this outlet for anxious feelings. I figure out a lot out as I write, and even as I plan to write. I was a copious journal-keeper in my pre-kid life, but somehow that hasn’t… conveyed. Now, I blog. But one thing hasn’t changed: planning what I will write is my way to survive.

When times are bad, and there isn’t enough time or energy to actually write for an extended period of time, I get anxious. Too much builds up inside my head and it wants out. Also, when I don’t record something fairly quickly, or scribble a little note, it’s gone forever these days. Taking care of these little ones doesn’t leave much time for reflection or memory.

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It’s so important to me to record at least part of this crazy life for my kids (who probably will never care). I want my kid to know I dragged him along to vote recently, even though he thought I said “boat” instead of “vote”. I want my kids to know that I read one of them a book on the bathroom floor this morning, while one of them sat on the potty, and while the other soaked his diaper-rashed bum in the tub. I want them to know that their dad is working late again tonight and I have a terrific fear of the next three hours. Paralyzing, really. (I also want them to know that, as a result of that, they watched way too much Sesame Street today.)

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I want my kids to know that we stay busy each morning. We have a regular schedule of grandparents, play dates, and trail walking. Rain or shine, tantrums or smiles, poop or no poop, we are doing at least one thing each day. They don’t have normal lives: we don’t go to restaurants (my oldest almost made it to age five without a Happy Meal), and they don’t grocery shop with me. But once in a while they get to ride in a Target cart. (Don’t get me started on carts.)

I want my twins to know that the day I took away their binkies was the end of my life – for an entire month anyway. Okay, it was just the end of my sanity – oh, and the end of my stranglehold on our rigid schedule. You can probably find my mental black hole on this blog that corresponds with that month of hell.

Other than being mentally helpful, my blog has been good to me in other ways. It has generated a little income. I have several interviews coming out soon (you can read one of them here). I officially write for a website as a regular contributor. (They call me a “parenting expert”! Ha!!!) One of my posts, “My Twins Sucked at Breastfeeding”, was even featured on a popular mommy blog and had 11.2K shares at last check.

My blog has also been good to some strangers out there. Women from all over the world have contacted me with messages that are full of gratitude, and tears of sorrow or joy or laughter or relief. They are so grateful to me that I am telling it like it really is. And “it” can be the daily struggles of being a stay-at-home mom (sometimes I feel like a slave that everyone hates), or what IVF feels like, or the not-so-pretty parts of adoption or twins or transracial families. I am in a unique position to understand the infertile women, the parents of multiples, the white parents of black children, the adoptive mommies, and the stay-at-home moms. I try to write honestly about all those things when  I cover all of those experiences.

I have privacy concerns constantly. I try to balance the introversion of my husband and the privacy of my children with my own need to vent. I never know if I’m doing the right thing. While I can identify with many different parents and non-parents, I don’t ever want to throw any of my family members under this public internet bus when writing.

[Wait , someone’s crying. Be right back.]

I am trying to tell my own mothering story without sacrificing my family or my dignity. I give my husband veto power over my articles, and more than a few will stay on the cutting room floor that is my laptop. I hope my children will read all of this someday, so I am careful only to write things that I would say to their face in ten years or twenty years. I am as honest with my readers as I am going to be with my children. That means that there are some things that will never get written. I wish I could talk about body image issues, or the developmental delays of one of my sons, or hilarious things my husband says. I wish I could show you their adorable fat naked bums and cellulite (the kids’, not the husband’s*).

There are just some things that remain whispers between spouses, stuck forever in your bedsheets, even when you’re a public blogger.

But, hey, thanks for reading!

 

***

* If you are reading this reference to my husband’s bum, then it survived his veto power. Woot!

 

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.

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.

 

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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.