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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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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.)

Fireball of Change: Twins Breach Cribs

Four weeks and three days ago, my twins showed each other how to bite their binkies in half.

Result: Storing the nipple in their cheeks for hours; near-death experiences

Four weeks and two days ago, I broke my twins of their binkies.

Result: Crying for only one hour; sleeping through the night; asking casually for binkies once in a while.

Four weeks and one day ago, my twins breached their cribs.

Result: Massive hysteria; pummeling brother; WWF moves of leaping brother’s crib and trapping and maiming brother

Four weeks exactly ago, we turned their cribs into toddler beds.

Result: No more trapping of weaker twin; mass hysteria; hyena-like antics of spinning in circles; shrieking while literally bouncing off the walls; beating each other over the head with toys and shelves; crazy twin keeping sleepy twin awake at all costs; momma sleeping with both eyes open; no more napping

Oh my gosh.

Life as I knew it ended a month ago. As a “triplet” mom, I have a stranglehold on my kids’ schedules. Like most every mom, I only survive the day because I know I have nap time to recharge – mentally and physically. However, my job is a little more physically demanding than moms of singletons. As a result, I usually collapse in a heap as soon as I throw everyone in their bed/cribs and am too tired to even lift the remote. How would I fare if my twins quit napping?!

With the twins’ trick of turning the binky into a perfectly-esophagus-shaped choking nightmare, a fireball of change was unleashed on my head.

Only now, after our resolution, can I even begin to write about this ridiculous endeavor. For four weeks and three days, I was held hostage by this fireball of change. I was sleep-deprived and sanity-deprived. (Oh, yeah, so were the kids, but let’s be honest: I am talking about myself today.) I didn’t sleep at night and I didn’t recharge at naptime.

Pool noodle = no more thumps in the night

Pool noodle = no more thumps in the night

After sleeping with my eyes open for a while, the twins finally started sleeping through the night again. It took a lot of sleep re-training, a lot of pitch-blackness, and also a couple of pool noodles. Yep.

We removed all night lights. I think the darkness scares them enough to keep them in their beds at night. Remember that, folks: night lights are NOT your friends. Living in the dark dark woods without street lights, or even any moonlight, is your friend. (Also, don’t try this in June.)

And as for the pool noodles? Well, if you can’t afford the bed rails to keep your twins from falling out of bed at night, learn from the Master: take a saw to a one dollar pool noodle, and shove them under the sheets. (Just don’t let your kids see you changing the sheets, lest they think bedtime equates with beach fun.) They haven’t rolled out since.

Once they mastered sleeping at night, momma wasn’t quite so sleep-deprived, but I was still majorly sanity-deprived. They just could not calm down enough to sleep at nap. The freedom was too intoxicating. Who cares if they don’t sleep at naptime, you might ask? Can’t they just have “quiet time”? Well, let me explain a few things:

  • They were happily sleeping a solid 2.5 hours each until the day they bit their binkies apart, so it was obvious that they still need nap. My oldest son quit napping long before he turned two and he was just fine, but I kept putting him in his room for quiet time. This ain’t my first rodeo.
  • My Hurricane Boy, Twin B, does not know the meaning of “quiet time”. Even after our major childproofing, he broke the blinds, he removed wooden shelves from the wall-anchored bookcase and used them as weapons, and he broke a childproofing lock on his dresser drawer and then broke the drawer off the hinges. He is my tiniest boy, the one from the NICU, and he acts like the Hulk (only without the anger).
  • My twins were taking turns torturing each other. The wails of pain kept me running up the stairs constantly. I would find a new bite mark, a book (or wooden shelf) to the forehead, or a sad boy sobbing, “Brother no hit! Night night all done!!!” It was horrible, and it never got better.
  • My twins were keeping each other awake, but would sleep well* if separated.

*By “sleeping well”, I mean that both twins would nap just fine for anyone but me – including Daddy, mother-in-law, and even my friend Chrysta from church. (Bless that woman: she came over a few times just to pat the Hulk on the back and lie down on the carpet next to him, so I could have a break.)

Never, and I mean never, would the Hulk sleep for me in his own bed.

How do you think this makes a momma feel?

I used everything I had. I stepped back and dug deep into my poor swiss-cheese-holed brain to access my education training, my developmental psychology training, and even my church teachings. I prayed. I sobbed. I felt like a failure. I greeted my poor husband at the door with Crazy Eyes and Crazy Hair. Nothing worked on that Twin B.

It was like newborn days all over again. I had no control, chaos reigned, and I had no.idea.what.I.was.doing.

Kids were cranky and sleep-deprived. But momma was more cranky and sleep-deprived. I couldn’t write or blog, because naptime was gone and my early mornings were NOT spent getting up with my husband at 4:30 AM. My brain became an anxiety-ridden tangled web, where nothing went in or came out. My ideas got log-jammed. My wires got crossed. Writing helps me organize my thoughts. Without it, I was a wreck.

This weekend, we decided enough was enough. It is clear that I can’t fix this problem. I can’t make Twin B sleep without his crib, even though everyone else can. My mailman probably can. My dog probably can. I just can’t. He feeds off my anxiety that seeps out of my pores like fuel. My husband has the magic touch for both me and Twin B. Bless my husband: he never blamed me or shamed me about my inability to handle that kid. (He teased me a little bit…) We figured four weeks was enough time to know that Twin B was not going to adapt to this level of freedom – at least not in a way that I needed.

Twin B got Plan B.

He got exiled.

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We completely emptied out the guest room (which was formerly the nursery). We made a couple trips to Lowe’s and Babies R’ Us. We didn’t childproof that room: we Twin-B-proofed that room. We simply took everything out, locked it down, and left a mattress on the floor. Mr. Okayest helped him get used to his new nap room, and that’s that. The twins are separated for nap. They still sleep together at night.

This is totally a first-world problem. Woe is me! I have an extra room on hand in which to put my kid! I have noise machines to drown out the other kids! I have each child in his own room! I live in the woods, where it’s so dark! I am relaxing with a blog! I know, I know, it sounds ridiculous to any mother from any other country, or any other socio-economic status, or any other time period in history. Shut up, Okayest Mom, and be glad you’re not all sharing one little mat on the floor in one little room. I know.

And yet…

Now I can breathe. I can rest. I can relax. I can write. The world is back to normal…. At least until the next fireball of change comes.

 

***

 

PS, Yes, I am totally aware that if I had abided by the Montessori method of putting my newborns on a mattress on the floor from the start, instead of in crib jail, that this whole fireball of change would have been prevented. I made my bed, and then I had to lie in it. Only I didn’t get to lie or lay or anything… oh, you know what I mean….

 

“My Twins Sucked at Breastfeeding” was posted on the Scary Mommy Blog…

…and I have a few things to say about that.

I wrote a post for Scary Mommy about breastfeeding multiples, and they posted it last week on their home page. It has over 11,000 shares on facebook right now. I think I might have had my fifteen minutes of fame. But it’s over now. (I have been tracking my stats. Thousands of views and shares does NOT actually produce more followers or likes. The internet has a short attention span.)

I originally titled it, “My Twins Sucked at Breastfeeding”, which I thought was way more clever and accurate than the title they gave: “The Truth about Breastfeeding Twins”. I was criticized in the comments for generalizing and discouraging other twin moms, but I was simply trying to tell MY story. I think the title change is a little to blame – I was not telling anyone else’s “truth” about breastfeeding. I was only telling MY truth, hence the “my” in “My Twins Sucked at Breastfeeding.”

Most of the comments were extremely kind and loving. However, a handful said that breastfeeding twins was “easy”, and I want to kick them in the head. Annnnnd there was one woman who said, “Lots and lots and lots of women experience complications pre, during and post pregnancy. You aren’t a martyr. You aren’t the first woman to have twins. Get over yourself.” Hmmm. I think if she read my blog, she would know that I have already said the exact same thing myself. Many times. Also, I would like to challenge her to say that to my face. Ah, the internet.

To Scary Mommy, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to write for you, but chastise you for your typos. Come on, Scary Mommy, you have over half a million followers. I think you could be a little more careful (less scary?) with your editing.

To any of the new twin moms that I scared, I apologize.

Here’s my original text:

My Twins Sucked at Breastfeeding

Was it me or was it the twins who did the sucking at breastfeeding? Maybe both. After surviving one adoption, several miscarriages, fifteen rounds of fertility treatment, hellish high-risk twin pregnancy, bedrest with a toddler, and almost dying from postpartum hemorrhage, I certainly knew better than to expect breastfeeding would go smoothly. It sucked, both literally and figuratively.

I read every book I was supposed to read on the topic of breastfeeding twins. I underlined so many sections of my La Leche League multiples book that my husband asked me if perhaps I should consider underlining only things I didn’t want to remember. I tried to be prepared simply by adding post-it notes of information in my brain, but I knew I would have to wing it when the twins arrived.

I couldn’t have been more right. Who would win when this twin momma faced off against all the books she read?

 

The books say: Breastfeed immediately after birth, or within 60 minutes after a C-section. That should be enough time to get you all stitched up and ready to go.

Twin mom says: Breastfeeding is impossible in the ICU while you’re knocked out.

Winner: Nobody.

 

The books say: Frequent breastfeeding will teach your body to double or triple the amount of milk you need for multiples.

Twin mom says: Almost dying and getting blood transfusions messes with the body’s ability to produce milk.

Winner: Nobody.

 

The books say: Feed each twin separately at first, to teach proper latching techniques. Tandem nursing can wait.

Twin mom says: No problem. Tandem nursing can definitely wait.

Winner: Books.

 

The books say: Avoid bottles and pacifiers during the hospital stay to establish proper nursing.

Twin mom says: You don’t have a say when you’re knocked out in the ICU.

Winner: Nobody.

 

The books say: When you begin to tandem feed, the double-football hold will work the best.

Twin mom says: WHATEVER. You totally need substantial boobage to pull off the double-football hold, because you’ve got to have boobs that actually flop around. Not all of us are so endowed, even with the milk! Why didn’t any book talk about THAT?!

Winner: Nobody. Certainly not my boobs.

 

The books say: Your milk will come in within three to four days after birth.

Twin mom says: Be a rebel! Mine didn’t come in until the eleventh day after birth, which was the latest my lactation consultant had ever seen.

Winner: Twin Mom!

 

The books say: The best way to help a baby learn to nurse is skin-to-skin contact.

Twin mom says: It’s hard to do when I was so bruised, battered, and patched up from all the ways they saved my life. I wanted nothing more than to put my babies inside my hospital gown, but I was too mutilated from all the procedures they performed on me. I came home from the hospital with a walker, a lot of bandages and bruises, and a physical therapist.

Winner: Nobody. Certainly not my babies.

 

The books say: Within the first two weeks after birthing twins, be sure to pump and/or feed every 2-3 hours to teach your body to establish and double the milk supply.

Twin mom says: No problem. I will never sleep again anyway. I will never not be holding a baby again anyway.

Winner: The books.

 

The books say: Rent a hospital grade pump for multiples. You need a pro to suck out enough milk for twins.

Twin mom says: NOBODY TOLD ME HOW MUCH PUMPING SUCKS (literally and figuratively)! I had no idea how bad it would feel and how much I would hate it. I had no idea how long it would take. I had no idea how much my toddler would misbehave when he knew I was attached to those tubes and completely immobilized.

Winner: My toddler.

 

The books say: Tandem breastfeeding is harder with fraternal twins than identical twins, because they only share 50% of their DNA. They will have different hunger cues, feeding patterns, and body clocks.

Twin mom says: Ain’t that the truth. My fraternal twins were opposites in the womb, and they were opposites while breastfeeding. One was a pro; the other had feeding difficulties – including allergies, reflux, and nipple confusion.

Winner: The books. Or maybe the one twin who was good at nursing.

 

The books say: Tandem breastfeeding is the best choice for twins.

Twin mom says: Um, nobody told me how MUCH I WOULD HATE TANDEM NURSING. It was almost impossible to position the babies even with another adult present. How do I get the second baby latched on after I already had one attached to my boob? (When I was alone, I would try to position the second baby on the couch beside me, and hoist him up by his jammies with my one free arm. If he was wearing snap jammies, he would fall out of them. I quickly switched to zip-up jammies.) Nursing two at once felt overwhelming and, I hate to say, a little creepy. They finished eating at different times, so what was I supposed to do when one baby had to burp and one was still attached? And how do I care for a needy two-year-old while I am completely immobilized by two nursing babies? What do I do when the toddler gets into the knife drawer? Do I pull the babies off or do I try to stand up with two of them attached? I guarantee I would either fall down or lose the latch. What about my (adopted) son’s jealousy while I was nursing both babies? I had to deal with some major adoptive momma guilt there. I did not have the answers to these questions. I gave up and nursed them separately.

Winner: Nobody.

 

The books say: Alternating bottle-feeding and breast-feeding is not recommended. It creates more work, and less milk production.

Twin mom says: Too bad. I never made enough milk, despite every effort. We finally established a system where I would breastfeed one twin, supported by a Boppy and one of my arms, while, with my other arm, I bottle-fed the other twin, supported beside me on the couch with a Boppy. This also enabled me to leap off the couch, if needed, to help my toddler not die.

Winner: Twin mom! And my toddler.

 

The books say: Breastfeed for at least a year.

Twin mom says: My goal was one day at a time. I made it to just under seven months. I figured that counted as a year in my Twin World! By that time, I was about to crack from having 1-2 hours of sleep from my non-synchronized, non-tandem night feedings. Also, my poor-at-nursing-twin was completely off the breast and only drinking pumped milk anyway. It was time to sleep-train them. I couldn’t let them “cry it out” while nursing. We dried it up, cried it out, and started sleeping. (PS, The last time I breastfed my last twin, I was listening to “The Last Time” by The Rolling Stones: “Well this could be the last time, This could be the last time, Maybe the last time, I don’t know, oh no, oh no.”)

Winner: Twin Mom! I did what was best for MY FAMILY! (“My family”, of course, refers to me not cracking.)

 

The books say: Any amount of breastmilk is good for the babies.

Twin mom says: Ain’t that the truth. I never made enough milk for twins, despite visiting several lactation consultants, pumping with a hospital grade pump, reading every book, and trying every home remedy. I had to supplement with formula from the very beginning. I was happy to give them immunities, even if I couldn’t make them full.

Winner: Everybody.

 

The moral of this story is that books are great, but twin mommas are better!

 

from: http://www.scarymommy.com/truth-about-breastfeeding-twins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hurt everywhere, all the time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

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

 

Surviving the NICU: Life as a Preemie Mommy

Preemie Motherhood - 2

This article is the first in a series of guest posts. I have invited a few select friends and family members to contribute to my blog. I have chosen them based on two things: 1) I personally go to them for help; and 2) I am fascinated by their unique parenting challenges, because I want to hear how they make “okayest” work for them.

Allow me to introduce you to my sister-in-law, “Dee”, who, along with her 2-year-old daughter, Em, is currently living with us. Em, my niece, was born 3 1/2 months early and survived. Em, a former micropreemie, now weighs 27 pounds and can hold her own against her three cousins (who have managed to outweigh her). We have four children under the age of four living in this house. The chaos, mess, noise, and diapers are out of control, but every time I see Em giggle, hug a cousin, or say “oops” with a lisp, my heart soars. She is the Girl Who Lived. Here is a little window into the world of preemie motherhood.

When Melissa asked me to be a guest writer for her blog, I thought about what “okayest” moments I’ve had parenting my daughter, Em. I could go on for days about different situations we’ve had, but being a mom of a 1.5 lb baby tops all of my other mommy moments. Parenting in a NICU is incredibly difficult, especially when you never saw it coming. There are no perfect moments. There are no lovely, glowing pictures of you snuggling your newborn. It is chaotic, heartbreaking, and eye-opening to watch your tiny baby struggle to live, while you struggle to keep your sanity. Each and every day is about surviving and being okay.

Em’s (glossed over) Birth Story:

At 25-weeks gestation, I noticed a small amount of spotting. I’ve heard it’s not terribly uncommon, but I had my husband take me to the hospital just to make sure. As my doctor was checking me, his expression turned from unconcerned to uncomfortable. He told me that I was 2 cm dilated, and needed to be rushed to a hospital with a level three NICU, so that they could put a stitch in my cervix.

While in the ambulance, I asked the EMT how many premature babies he had delivered. He responded with: “Two. But neither made it, since we aren’t equipped to keep smaller babies alive.” I was stunned and furious. Who says that to a patient that is 25-weeks pregnant and on a two hour trek to the hospital?!

By the time we arrived, I was 4 cm and having contractions. They were able to give me medication to keep Em in the womb for another week, which saved her nearly a month in the NICU.

On the seventh day, I woke up bleeding and contracting, and spent the next five hours begging my nurse to get my doctor to help me. She would come in every half an hour or so to tell me that I was fine, and that I was not in labor. I cried. I pleaded. It took my mother and husband yelling at nurses down the hallways to get someone to come in. By the time my doctor showed up, my daughter was having her legs crushed in the birth canal. I was told I needed a stat c-section. Then an ultrasound showed that there was no time, and she needed to be born breech, immediately. My tiny little baby was born with bruised, black legs, because of my nurse’s negligence. Had she been head first, my time as a mom would have ended that morning.

This is the day Em was born, at 26 weeks gestation, when her eyes were still fused shut like a kitten's.

This is the day Em was born, at 26 weeks gestation, when her eyes were still fused shut like a kitten’s.

Em went through nine weeks of crazy ups and downs. We went through more than I can even write, but here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way.

Being a preemie mommy means:

-…you were (more than likely) unaware that your little one was going to come into this world so soon, and are BEYOND unprepared. And it’s okay that you are! You will learn by watching your baby change each hour of each day (and from the occasional google search that turns out to be helpful, and then is just down-right terrifying).

-…mourning a pregnancy that ended too soon. You will feel gypped. You may have to go to your baby shower while your baby is in the NICU. You don’t get to look super pregnant and take fun maternity pictures. If you’re like me and waited until the second trimester to tell anyone, you’re going to feel like you’ve been pregnant for five minutes.

-…not getting to touch or hold your own baby for days or even weeks.

This is the first time Dee was able to hold her own baby. She had to wait two agonizing weeks for this touch.

This is the first time Dee was able to hold her own baby. She had to wait two agonizing weeks for this touch.

-…being discharged and having to go home without your baby. This was one of the worst nights of my life. The guilt, the pain, the uncontrollable need to just be with your baby…. As hard as the first night is, it gets less painful as visits become routine. Eventually, you will be able to walk out of the hospital with your sweet little preemie and it’ll be a day you’ll never forget.

-…having to decide different courses of action, whether they are invasive, risky, or down right experimental. Em was part of the NEWNO study, which is a double-blind study to test whether or not giving a particular gas to preemies helps them breathe on their own faster. It was a scary decision to make, but to us, everything that was being done to save Em was first tested on preemies that were part of studies like this one. She can know that she made a difference to future preemies.

-…realizing that you and your child are capable of more strength, endurance, and hope than you can imagine. It may not seem like it, now, but trust me. You will see.

The Unique Positives:

-You will get to know your baby sooner than most parents do. You will see their personality shine through from day one, and (let’s be honest) it is interesting to watch a baby develop before your very eyes. When Em was born, her eyes were still fused shut, like a kitten. When she was about two weeks old, we walked up to her incubator to find these odd paper sunglasses on her, and her nurse told us that early in the morning, her eyes opened. I wish we could have seen it, but we put pictures of us in her incubator, so at least she still saw us.

-You will see that your preemie is a warrior. They will go through things that adults can’t handle, and their strength will amaze you. One of Em’s scariest NICU experiences was when a PICC line (an intravenous catheter that is threaded from the arm/leg/head to the heart for prolonged medication) site became infected. For several days I watched the slightly concerning bump on her foot turn into a black, marble-sized wound, that the nurses just would not take seriously. It wasn’t until she started running a fever of 103 degrees with her heart rate at 220 bpm, that they took action. They took off my 2.5 lb infants clothes and made her stay in an open bassinet for hours just to bring her temperature down. Once her fever was under control (days later), they told us that they needed to do a spinal tap to check for a deeper infection. After they performed it (and we cried harder than she did), we went home, for the night. At 3 am, I received a call from the doctor that they didn’t get enough fluid to test, and that she needed consent right now to perform a SECOND spinal tap, while she was all alone. As you can imagine, spinal taps are PAINFUL, and she was only given a small amount of Tylenol to ease the pain. These tests bring grown men to their knees, and yet these preemies often go through some of the scariest things alone. By the time we got there, she was bundled back up and sleeping soundly. It was if she hadn’t just had two giant needles jabbed into her frail back, just hours earlier. I don’t think I would have been in her position.

-You have more milestones to celebrate! Daily weight-checks to see if they’ve gained a few grams, being able to finally put some cute little clothes on your tiny baby, graduating to an open bassinet, and for some preemies, getting to take an ambulance ride to go from a level three NICU to a hospital with a level two!

Life at Home:

Here is the joyful day of Em's homecoming, after almost 3 months in the NICU.

Here is the joyful but intimidating day of Em’s homecoming, after almost 3 months in the NICU.

-The first night at home, you will be thinking: “WAIT. No monitors?! How will I know what her sats are? What if she has bradies (bradycardic episodes)?! How will I know?!?!” The idea of going from medical care 24/7 to being totally on your own is terrifying. Chances are, there will be a lot of unnecessary phone calls to the NICU because you think something is wrong, but DO NOT stop calling just because you think you’re being overly concerned. Had we given in to the many doctors that told us we were just young parents, and were still having some PTSD from Em’s prematurity, she would have never been diagnosed with epilepsy when she was, and she very well may not be here today, had we not followed our parental instincts.

-As time goes on, you start seeing your baby as a normal, healthy baby. No wires, no needles, no bandages, just your wonderful munchkin. Other people, however, don’t always know how to treat you and your preemie, now that you’re home. Which brings me to my next thought.

What NOT to Say to a Preemie Mommy:

1. “At least you’re not 40 weeks! Being this pregnant sucks!”

Say this to a preemie mommy, and she’ll want to punch you in the left ovary. We would give ANYTHING just to have been pregnant long enough to deliver a healthy baby. Bite your tongue!

2. “I wish I didn’t have to breastfeed!” or “You DON’T breastfeed?”

Preemie mommies can’t always lactate, which makes us feel inadequate and guilty for robbing our sickly babies of something that is so good for them. Even if you don’t want to breastfeed, it stinks not to have a choice.

3. “How is your baby having a GOOD day?! It’s so sick!”

Preemies can have good days. Even if it’s just gaining ten grams or coming down on their oxygen levels, it’s progress and that leads to hope. If you aren’t going to be positive/sympathetic, don’t say anything! We could use someone to just listen to us.

4. “Don’t worry, she’ll be fine.”

Yeah? Where did you get your doctorate of neonatology? Not only is this infuriating because no one knows if your baby will be fine or not, but it makes you sound passive about a very upsetting situation.

5. “Yeah, my kid was in the hospital with the flu for a few days. It’s tough!”

There are many parents out there that have had kids in the hospital, and many for reasons far worse than prematurity. But if your kid is in the hospital for poison ivy, don’t compare.

6. “At least you didn’t have to deliver a big baby!”

(Insert the hundreds of “at least you”’s that preemie parents can throw back at you.)

7. “She looks awful!”

She may not look well, because she is small and sick, but come on, now.

8. “She’s a preemie and you took her outside in this weather?!”

I’ve got more doctors numbers in my phone than I have friends/family. If I need medical advice on my kid, I won’t be asking you.

9. When your GYN nurse asks (without looking at your chart) “Did you feel the baby move, today?”

And cue sobbing. Running into people that don’t know you delivered early is tough. I have no advice for this one. It’s just awkward and sad.

10. “I’ve heard that the odds of a preemie doing ____ are ____%”

I’ve heard that the odds of being killed from falling out of bed are 1 in 2 million, so I’d start sleeping on the floor, if I was you. I hear statistics from every doctor and nurse that crosses my path. Don’t be negative, or try to be “realistic” about it. Just be supportive.

A Few Things to Remember:

-It’s okay to have fun outside of the NICU. I’ve had my share of guilt about going grocery shopping, seeing a movie, or just getting some dang sleep, but it’s necessary! You really do have to take care of yourself! Your baby has plenty of people taking care of him/her, so get take a little time each day to do something for you, even if it’s only for five minutes.

-Don’t take people’s crap in the NICU! I had a good share of family members that needed to just get the boot, either from being upsetting or negative. Your baby wants a happy mommy, and he/she won’t get that if mom is stressed out by a visitor that isn’t being supportive. Don’t be afraid to ask them to give you some space!

-The NICU stay will end eventually. It will seem like you will never escape the monitors, doctors and the sickening smell of Purell, but in a few weeks/months, you will hopefully be home with your little one.

There is no such thing as a perfect parent, but it seems like an even more unattainable status when you’re the mommy of a preemie. You don’t have to have it all together. You don’t have to pretend like you didn’t just cry in Target because a woman was pushing around her newborn, and you can’t even find a preemie shirt that will fit your baby (which, by the way, you’ll want ones with snaps that go down the front!). If you follow your instincts, get some sleep every once in a while, and just do your best, you will be okay.

Here is Em on her second birthday. Look how strong and big she is! Photo courtesy Mr. Okayest (Em's uncle)

Here is Em on her second birthday. Look how strong and big she is! Photo courtesy Mr. Okayest (Em’s uncle)

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.