Expectations vs. Reality

It hit me today, between stress about money and trying to keep Sam’s excitement to a dull roar, that we’re coming up on five months with the twins; they’re three months adjusted as of last Wednesday. That’s nearly half a year, comfortably out of the “fourth trimester” and rapidly moving towards the baby stage I like the best, which is the 6-12 month stage (when they’re independent enough to play by themselves and sometimes hold a bottle, but still small and cute).

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(this is Sam in that bracket, and my GOD, what a cute kid)

Twin-wise, things are good. They’re healthy babies, they’re happy babies. Isaac is needing all sorts of interventions and what-have-you, but it’s nothing that’s going to affect him long term, at least not as far as anyone has guessed yet. They both smile and laugh, they both eat heartily and sleep through the night.

So I found myself thinking, in retrospect, how is early twin parenthood different from what I expected? And thus I give you:

EXPECTATIONS VS. REALITY: THE FOURTH TRIMESTER WITH TWINS EDITION

EXPECTATION: Feeding them will be a nightmare. I’ll have to get bottles that allow for hands-free feeding because otherwise, things will be utter chaos, always.

REALITY: Well, I mean. Things are utter chaos…

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…but the better strategy here is to just stagger feedings by about half an hour or so.

It also helps that being in the NICU kind of got them prepared for a feeding schedule right from the get-go. With Sam, we were just reaching a feeding schedule around the three month mark, but these two have been strictly on a schedule since they came home, and it’s made things significantly easier. We know exactly when they need to eat and how much, and as a result, we’re almost never baffled by their crying for any reason. It’s always either, “I am hungry and my mealtime is fast approaching” or “I have pooped and you can smell it three counties away” or “I am falling asleep and keep dropping my pacifier, please replace it for me.”

The hardest part of it all is deciding who eats first. On some level, I like to take a “squeaky wheel gets the grease” approach, but that inevitably ends with the one who wasn’t loud before suddenly being inconsolable not thirty seconds after I start feeding the first. And there’s nothing I can do! That’s the weirdest part: when you have twins, you have to get used to one of them screaming their head off and not doing anything about it because a lot of times, you CAN’T do anything about it. If the bottle is in Carrie’s mouth and Isaac starts yelling because he accidentally batted his Wubbanub away, welp, tough titties, Isaac. And even when it’s a legitimate need, you sometimes just have to shrug and say, “I want to help you, but I’m in the middle of helping your sibling.”

Speaking of…

EXPECTATION: The twins, being newborns, will be really hard. Sam will be a helper and/or self-entertaining.

REALITY: HAHAHAHAHAHA!

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Oh, that’s a good one.

The twins are, comparatively, easy. They’re not wholly self-entertaining, obviously–tummy time is a thing, and they get bored with their dangly toys–but for the most part, I can plop them somewhere if I have to do something and then go do it and not worry about being interrupted.

Sam, on the other hand, is understandably more needy since acquiring siblings. Oh, he loves them, don’t get me wrong. He thinks they’re great, and they think he’s great. Both twins laughed for the first time at something Sam did, which is just going to go down in family lore forever.

But Sam is, of course, jealous and desperately in need of assurance that Kyle and I still love him at all times, but specifically when we are attending to the babies’ needs.

The scene usually plays out like this: Kyle or I are feeding one baby; the other is fussing or screaming, maybe both. Sam approaches, leans on our legs, starts shoving toys in our face and begging us to play with him. Or Sam backflips over the arm of the couch, we yell at him not to do that (unable to take him to his room, as we typically would have, because we’re feeding a baby), and then he says he wants Tostitos or pretzels or Frosted Mini Wheats (my son’s diet is 99% beige, and it should be better, but I’m barely treading water here, folks). Or we hear a yell from the bathroom that he’s done pooping and needs his butt wiped or that he’s still pooping and needs his Kindle.

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It’s understandable, of course. It’s a difficult adjustment, and even before the twins arrived, he’s never been much of an independent kid. Capable of independence, absolutely, but he vastly prefers to play with us or other kids rather than playing by himself.

And, well, it’s hard. I find myself relieved that he starts kindergarten next fall, so he’ll be in school full time and around other kids his age who can play with him during the day, relieved both for his sake and mine. In the meantime, there’s still a year to go, and we can’t really afford preschool that’s more than the two days a week he has right now (and even that’s stretching our budget really thin).

SPEAKING OF!

EXPECTATION: We will be totally broke all the time.

REALITY: Yeah, basically.

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This was sort of the case with Sam as well, mostly after we moved from our apartment to our house. The mortgage, though a good $300 less than it would’ve been to get an apartment the size we needed, was $300 more than we were paying for the apartment we were in. Sam was a formula baby (as are these two), and we added things like water bills and garbage collection to our monthly debits. As a result, when Sam was about 13 months old, I got a job, and a year later, I got a better job. Even with the cost of his daycare tuition, Kyle and I made enough between us that money was almost never an issue, and we were able to live comfortably, with dinners out on weekends and even the odd trip to Disney World.

And now we’re back here again. I knew I’d have to leave my job when I had the twins, simply because daycare for a baby is just too expensive, never mind for two babies, and even with discounts. We did the math, and even if we’d pulled Sam out of the daycare he attends (and loves) and went to one of the least expensive places in the state, we’d still be out $400 a week more than I’d be making, so the idea of me working any time before the twins are in school is just not feasible.

The trouble is that now, we’re down my income, and the bills haven’t gone away. Kyle makes more than he did back in 2015, but most pay periods feel like we’re racing against an invisible enemy to make ends meet. Unexpected expenses have us panicking and using credit cards in the last days of the pay period, and he and I are sure Sam’s picked up on our stress over the whole thing (we haven’t hidden it very well).

We both know it will get better in about a year. Next May, we finish with the more expensive car payments, and the twins will switch to cows’ milk. Next September, Sam starts kindergarten in our local school district. All told, that will free up about $1100/month for us.

BUT in the meantime, we rely on the kindness of our families and friends and shop for nonperishables at Walmart.

And shopping-wise…

EXPECTATION: Until the twins are old enough to dress themselves and choose their own clothes, I’m just going to dress them alike ALL THE TIME. They will be adorable in boy-girl matching outfits, maybe even adorable enough for an Instagram channel that’s ONLY ABOUT THEM.

REALITY: Listen, do you know how rare it is to find outfits that match for baby girls and baby boys?

I’m serious! It’s ridiculous. I’m not even talking about outfits that look like clones of each other, only one is pink and the other is blue or something. I just mean things that are thematically similar, because I guess baby girls can’t love sharks and baby boys can’t love birds?

I have occasional good luck with Carter’s; usually about once a season, they have a couple of outfits that match enough for me to want them very badly. The most recent set were in the three month size, and they had dinosaurs on them, because I guess dinosaurs transcend gender. But other than that, matching outfits are so ridiculously rare, and the ones you do find end up being so expensive that you wonder if the person selling them has ever met a real parent, one who recognizes that her twins may very well grow out of these clothes in a week.

Like they did for the three month clothes.

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(I guess that’s why they call it growing like a weed)

VERY fortunately, I’ve been blessed with dear friends and grandmas who heard the call of the “I can’t afford clothes for my babies” bird and delivered in BOXES with adorable clothes, some of them matching nicely! And I do find the occasional matching outfits, even if they just match thematically.

BUT. I wish there were more, or even just that I could afford the ridiculously pricey ones.

(though I’ll admit that if I could afford the pricey ones, I’d probably use that money on a crib or an exersaucer instead and just keep the babies in their generic white onesies)

But then there’s this weird point…

EXPECTATION: After having two babies, I’m so done. No more babies for me. Nope. Never again.

REALITY: Well…….

I’m not pregnant. Thank GOD for that, because I couldn’t handle one-year-olds and a baby and Sam all at once. But the doneness I felt when I was pregnant has kind of faded, at least partly because even as twins, these two are just such easy babies. They love being held, but it doesn’t ruin things if they’re put down. They eat well, and aside from some reflux issues and constipation issues, are good with that. They smile readily and learn fast. They’re ridiculously cute.

And I love the baby stage. I really do. And what’s more, I don’t feel done. I feel like I’d be okay with being done, but if I had my druthers, I’d ruther eventually do PGS testing on our remaining embryos and transfer another girl to give us a round four kids. I’ll be fine, I think, if that never happens, but…

Well. It’s very different having babies when you’re not dealing with postpartum depression than otherwise. I’m a whole new level of exhausted, but I’m loving it, and I feel like I could do it again, someday.

Just, yanno. Not any SOON someday.

Evaluation

When I was a kid, I mean really young, my younger sister got to have occupational therapy. I say “got to have” because her therapy seemed so cool to me as it helped her work through the tactile defensiveness that would later prove to be a symptom of autism. She’d do things like play with shaving cream and eat popsicles and all the stuff that, to a five-year-old like tiny me, seems like the best thing ever. Now, of course, because she was tactile defensive, she hated all of that, but I was so jealous that she got to do these things and it was called “school.”

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(I think I did this once? in school? It must’ve been third grade because my third grade teacher was amazing)

And it all came through Early Intervention, a program for infants and toddlers who either have developmental delays or are at risk for having developmental delays, with the aim to reduce or remove those delays. And I’m thinking about it quite a lot because Isaac has officially qualified for Early Intervention, as of today.

He is developmentally delayed, meaning that he’s failing to hit a handful of milestones, all thanks to his torticollis. Apparently the doctor we saw about a month ago, who seemed entirely useless, actually referred us to Early Intervention, and after some telephone tag, I scheduled an evaluation for Isaac for this afternoon. The idea was to see if he qualified to receive their services and, if so, what services he should receive. And, as it turns out, he does.

His delays aren’t cognitive or social, which is a huge relief to me–not that motor delays are fantastic, but at least we know that whatever caused his torticollis hasn’t negatively impacted his cognitive and social development much. The ladies who came to evaluate him–all some version of a Platonic Form of “mom”–all fell in love with him the second he smiled (and I can’t really blame them; he’s got the best gummy little grin. They both do, really).

The evaluation was mostly playing with him to see how much he could turn his head, if he would move and interact with stimuli, if he’d interact with people, things like that. Like Sam before him, he’s infinitely more interested in people’s faces than in objects, no matter the object in question. One of the evaluators and I had to hide our faces during some of the testing because he kept ignoring the toy he was supposed to focus on to smile at us.

His trouble comes entirely in his movement, and that’s what we expected to hear. His torticollis isn’t absolutely impossible to fix–he’s able to get his head to turn to face forward briefly, at least, which is good–but it’s bad enough that we definitely qualify for assistance in that regard. In the meantime, we have exercises we’re supposed to do with him to stretch out his neck. With any luck, between those and the helmet, he’ll be doing well enough in a few months that this–like the NICU–will all be backstory.

The helmets are pretty much a given for both twins, even though Carrie doesn’t have the torticollis as obviously or as badly as Isaac (the EI people said that they’d do a free evaluation of her if we wanted, which I may take them up on, but not until we’re in a more settled pattern with them–probably next month). I’m trying to keep reminding myself not to feel guilty about the things they’re delayed on and the flatness because those delays and the flatness are both byproducts of their prematurity and their twin gestation. Still, it’s hard when you read “your four-month-old should be able to roll over” and your four-month-old is mostly just doing mini-pushups when you give them tummy time.

Still, their social development helps me to focus on the good, even when the physical development lags behind. They’re both absolutely delightful. Isaac has developed a fantastic giggle that comes out whenever we change his shirt for the day for some reason, and I may have changed his shirt multiple times a day just to catch that giggle in action. Carrie is still just a sunshiney girl overall, and they’re progressing well. Both on the curve, both hopefully ready to graduate to real people formula and save us some dollars in the process.

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(how to buy formula when you have twins, illustrated)

The dollars are a stressful thing because our budget right now leaves us basically no wiggle room, even with as many things cut out as we can (i.e., in the year of our Lord 2018, it is not practical to cut out internet or wireless, and while I’d love to downgrade our cable, we’re in the middle of a contract, and doing so would cost more immediately than it’s really worth). This particular pay period is tight because we had a surprise antivirus autorenewal (Kyle had been talking to me about when we could renew that subscription, only to find out that it had renewed itself! Surprise!), the cat needed a trip to the vet that cost more than the $75 I usually expect (because she’d inexplicably grown troll claws that embedded themselves in her paw pads and so we needed to have her claws clipped while we were there, which seems simple enough, until you factor in the antibiotics she got afterwards), and our water bill was due. Without these unexpected expenses, we can do our budget really well and get along with slightly tightened belts. With the surprises, things get… tense.

I remind myself constantly that we’ll be in a much better place by this time next year. We’ll have paid off the car with the larger payments, and the twins will be off formula and onto cows’ milk. Our tax return should look really good: we’ve added two dependents, and I quit my job, which is a significant decrease in income since last year. In September (or August, school years are weird now), Sam will be starting kindergarten, which means no more preschool tuition (I love his preschool, but I’ll be glad to stop paying that every week). When all is said and done, we’ll have an extra $800/month by next summer and an extra $1100/month by next December.

Which is very comforting, but it doesn’t help right now, when I’m more than a little on edge because the twins went through a growth spurt, and now the 3 month clothes I expected to last them the summer are all too small.

Sigh. Money is dumb. But we’ll make it, I’m sure. We’ll be stressed out and poor and exhausted, but we’ll make it.

And in the meantime, early intervention is free, no copays even, so that’s pretty nice.

But it’s not all bad news

I realized after I made my last post that I probably give off the impression that I either hate being a mom or hate having twins or both or am just living in a special circle of hell designed for those of us whose thought process when applying for college was “which school will get me married off the fastest?”

(if anyone was wondering, my alma mater was NOT that school… at least not for me, though not for lack of trying)

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(and trying… and trying… )

But either way, that’s not true. There’s this weird thing that happens when you’re truly doing something you love, where it drives you crazy, where you’re at your wits’ end, where you reach the end of every day and just want to collapse like someone has stolen all of your bones…

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…but you love it.

And I do love it. I love the weight of the babies in my arms and the weight of Sam leaning against me. I love how they have their unique ways of sitting: Carrie like a little ball of squishy love, Isaac resisting all comfort but reaching for it at the same time, Sam luxuriating like a pampered cat. All unique ways of cuddling with me, which is something they all seek at various times: me. Just me. Warts and thorns and all.

(I don’t have any warts or thorns, but I do have a cyst named Clarence)

Last night, Sam woke up around 12:45 a.m. to use the bathroom and called for Kyle, and when Kyle slept through that (as he is wont to do; he could sleep through WWIII happening in our bathroom, I swear), I came up and fetched Sam and brought him downstairs with me. He was skittish about being alone in his room for reasons known only to him (no new media lately, no changes to his normal routine except that there was a holiday this week, nobody coming or going, probably just a run-of-the-mill bad dream or need to be near Mommy), and I was too tired and too busy with babies to try and negotiate him back upstairs.

So downstairs he stayed, initially sleeping on the chair but eventually shuffling over to sit with me and a recently-fed Isaac on the couch. I knew that he wouldn’t sleep while I was up and while the babies were fussing, so I didn’t try to make him. Instead, I just quietly talked to him while Isaac sat on my lap, wide-eyed, and participated as babies do. I was, admittedly, frustrated at Sam being downstairs somewhat–it’s easy to calm his fears and help him relax when the babies are asleep, but notsomuch when they’re awake and hungry–but at the same time, I was glad for that time. He was sleepy enough that his usual boundless energy had settled to the dull roar of bedtime, and he just wanted to quietly lean on me and watch cooking videos on my phone.

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I’ve missed those quiet moments with him; they used to be far more common, but now, I just snatch them when I can, when he’s quiet and at peace and happy. Like this afternoon, when he was overtired and whining, so we just sat on the couch and watched videos of people carving soap (look, don’t ask me why, it’s just really relaxing) and tornadoes (again, don’t ask me). The babies fussed from time to time, but Sam and I just sat there and talked about the soap and the tornadoes. He talked about how he likes soaps that have two colors, like blue and white or purple and pink, and how tornadoes are big and scary but cool. It felt like connecting with him, just talking and being on his level. My little boy.

The babies, too, are growing into that wanting to be with me. Lately, they’ve started fussing if they’re in their rock-n-plays and I’m out of line of sight, which is both flattering and frustrating. Flattering because it’s great to know that your mere presence eases someone’s troubled mind; frustrating because, dear sweet children, Mommy does have to pee sometimes.

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They’ve started smiling for reasons beyond “I have been tickled,” and that’s been pretty rewarding, too. Isaac is the readier smiler of the two–no matter what mood he’s in when things start, just seeing someone or getting his Wubbanub or being patted gets the biggest toothless gummy grin out of him. Carrie, on the other hand, needs a little coaxing. You have to talk sweet to her and remind her that yes, she is a beautiful girl (“the beautifullest” as Sam says, usually in a death metal screech: “OHHH THE BEAUTIFULLEST!” as he pets her head) and she’s a funny girl and you love her very much. Then her entire face goes sunshiney sweet, and she sticks out her tongue in happiness.

They’re a little behind, but not as much as they could be. I admit that any delays they have–although completely understandable, considering the circumstances, send me into a spiral of impostor syndrome.

For the uninitiated, impostor syndrome is when your brain basically tells you that you’re not as good as people think you are, that your successes and happiness are unearned. It’s really common in successful creative people–authors, actors, artists, musicians, that sort of thing. You get it in your head after one off-handed comment or dressing down that no, you’re not really as good as people seem to think you are, that any day now, they’re going to find out that you’re faking it, and then you’ll lose all the happiness you think you have, and then where will you be?

It’s how I end up sabotaging myself in whatever job I work (“I don’t really deserve this job/the praise I’m getting for this job, and it’s only a matter of time before they find out” …and then cut to me being so anxious about this imaginary situation that I actually end up messing up and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy), and it’s how I often feel about being a mom. I hear a lot of “you’re amazing! You’re a great parent! You’re kicking ass!” and I want to believe it, but then the impostor syndrome shows up and says, “Hey, by the way, the twins aren’t picking up their heads and chests yet, both of them have flattish heads, Sam acts out all the time, your house is a mess, you need a nap every morning, and this is all because you’re actually a TERRIBLE MOTHER.”

The most I can do is try not to listen to it, try and tell that voice to shut up. That the twins are delayed because they’re not actually almost 4 months old but closer to two-and-a-half months old. That their heads are flat because of all sorts of reasons, none of which are me. That Sam acts out because he’s adjusting to this new life, that it can take a while. That it’s okay for the house to be a mess, as long as it’s mess and not filth. That I have infant twins, for crying out loud, and even when they’re being good (like they are tonight; Carrie needed 2 oz at around 11:30, but they’re otherwise sleeping peacefully), they’re a lot of work.

I tell myself all of those things, and eventually, I hope I’ll believe them. That’s the best I can do; that and do everything in my power to make sure my kids are happy, healthy, and kind.

In the meantime. The twins are getting bigger and bigger, and I love it. They were such little peanuts when they came home, absolutely drowning in newborn size clothes. Now they’re on the cusp of switching from 3 month to 6 month clothes because they’re both on the curve, growth-wise. As of last weigh-ins, they were at 5th and 7th percentile (Isaac and Carrie, respectively) for their actual ages, not their adjusted ages, and that’s awesome. With any luck, being on the curve will translate to us getting to stop the expensive formula and move on to formula that’s even slightly more affordable and comes in larger canisters.

And we’ve learned that Sam is slowly but surely transitioning to the pre-K classroom at his school. I shouldn’t be at all surprised by this–after all, he’s four and will be starting actual kindergarten a year from September–but it’s still a little jarring to know that my first baby is moving towards real school. He’s learning to read and add and subtract and multiply and sometimes write (sometimes; he’s not much of a pen holder). He LOVES numbers, loves to ask “what do 2 and 3 and 5 make?” when he sees a time displayed digitally (and if you explain “it’s 2:35” he says, “no, what do they make?” and you have to tell them that 2+3+5=10). He still adores space and wants to be an astronaut when he grows up.

And he loves his brother and sister and they love him. And all together, I love my three kids. I love being a mom, even when it’s hard, even when the impostor syndrome devil is sitting on my shoulder and telling me I’m a fraud and my kids are going to suffer for it, I love it. I know exactly where I belong, and it’s right here, with them all around me.

Nothing about this is normal; everything about this is normal

Nothing about this is normal; everything about this is normal.

I’ve been trying to write this for a total of two weeks now, probably more, but I feel like I’ve lost count. I get writing done very late at night, at a time I used to reach without even thinking about it back when I was in college and graduate school but that now seems like the latest of late hours (seriously, the sun is coming up in three hours, WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND IS AWAKE NOW and WHAT WAS I THINKING). It’s only then that the new normal calms down enough for my brain to start processing everything that’s gone into making the new normal… well, normal.

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(this time of night was previously known as “way too early” and “why are you waking me up?”)

We’ve been trying to make incremental adjustments to this normal in order to improve our overall functionality. The twins are creeping ever closer to sleeping through the night, but it’s still a process. The first half of any given night typically involves Carrie being wide awake and unhappy unless she’s being held; she doesn’t care what’s going on while she’s being held, she just wants to be held. As she’s being held, she’ll contentedly babble to herself or look around or chew on her hands, but put her down at your own risk. Isaac, meanwhile, conks out at promptly 8:00 and doesn’t wake up again until 7 or 8. And Carrie typically conks out after a midnight-ish feed of 2-3 oz., so really, it’s mostly just a long night for me.

BUT I wouldn’t trade it because I can’t do early mornings to save my life. I’ll stay up until 4 if I have to, but don’t make me get up at 4.

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(no, I don’t understand it either)

So with the twins creeping towards sleeping through the night, Kyle and I have tried at least once to actually make it through the night sleeping, but that hasn’t happened. The twins’ daytime schedule got thrown off the last time we tried, which resulted in them freaking out all night and poor Kyle getting no sleep (per his suggestion, he slept downstairs with them, since he’s better at sleeping on the couch than I am; he got me up at 5 a.m. and slept until 9 a.m., when he started work). Worse, I didn’t get any sleep either, because when your body and mind are used to staying up until 2 a.m., you can’t shut them down before at least 1.

This is the new normal: so little sleep that when allowed to just wake up “whenever,” both Kyle and I will easily sleep well into the afternoon, which didn’t seem like a big deal when I was younger, but now I panic because most of the day is gone, and I have STUFF TO DO.

The new normal is chained inexorably to a schedule from which I hate deviating because deviating from that schedule ruins everyone’s day. It’s the twins’ eating schedule: bottles at 7 a.m., 11 a.m., 3 p.m., and 7 p.m., plus a mini bottle at 11 p.m. for Carrie. Deviating from that means that trips out of the house must be postponed, that the night will be fitful at best, that the adults’ meals all get thrown out of whack (or at least breakfast and lunch), that everyone is cranky and exhausted. Even when we leave the house, I’m adamant that we follow the schedule until the twins reach a point where we can drop one of the daytime feeds and just feed them three times a day, like we do with Sam.

That, I figure, will happen around the time they’re able to hold their own bottles, which is one of those milestones you don’t really think about before you encounter it, and then you’re suddenly like “oh my god, I have HANDS!”

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(shown: me when feeding the babies at present)

This is the new normal.

Sam has a hard time with the new normal, because he has to share us with the babies, and even though it doesn’t (usually) make him mad or sad, he still struggles with it. I try to keep him in the daily schedule as well: a movie of his choosing in the morning, lunch, learning time, Kindle time, dinner and cuddling, bedtime. This doesn’t always happen, particularly the after lunch stuff. Sometimes, I’m just so exhausted that I give him a second movie after lunch so I can try and sleep. Sometimes, I rush through learning time and give him his Kindle early so that I can help whichever baby is panicking because I’m no longer in their line of vision (I forgot about this phase; it’s exhausting, and I miss leaving the living room).

I miss being able to give Sam more consistency, and I know a billion people will comment places and say, “You just have to…” and to them I say, no, you come and try and do this. This is not. easy. It’s never just doing anything. There’s a schedule that I want to be ironclad because if it’s not ironclad, if anything gets slightly thrown off, everyone struggles through it.

Honestly, I think that’s the most frustrating part: when you’ve got twins, you get a lot of unsolicited advice. Thankfully, it’s rarely from people Kyle and I know well, so we can just brush it off, but you still get the occasional, “Oh, you should do XYZ!” suggestion that’s completely unhelpful, if well-meaning. And those are the worst, because you want to tell the person with that suggestion “hey, go eat a diaper,” but they mean well, so you put on a pasted smile and say, “I’ll try and remember that, thanks.”

(also funny, whenever someone sees that you have twins, they’re compelled to say, “Oh, my brother’s best friend’s cousin’s coworker’s nephew has twins!” especially if they’re a stranger, and you’re just like, “…okay?”)

This is a little bitchy. I apologize. I’m tired.

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Unhelpful suggestions abound towards a new corner of the new normal. We took the twins to have their heads looked at and came away with an official diagnosis of moderate-to-severe positional plagiocephaly. The doctor was… kind of a jerk about it, honestly. You could hear the “this is all your fault” laced through every sentence, and I came away feeling chastised and clutching only a confirmation of a follow-up appointment in 6 weeks. He mentioned physical therapy, but he didn’t give us any details. He said, “They’ll definitely need helmets,” but didn’t do anything else at the appointment.

And, well. It was frustrating. I came away just this side of furious, because it’s like… dude, can you come down off your high horse and put yourself in our shoes for a minute? These guys were born six weeks early. They didn’t reach the newborn phase until they were six weeks old, and they’re behind on a lot of things because of that. They’re only just now starting to be more awake during the day; up until probably 2-3 weeks ago, they just slept. A lot. They were born with weaker necks and softer heads that should’ve had at least 4 more weeks in utero to move around and get firmer, but they came early and slept in cribs when they should’ve been sleeping in me. Their neck and chest strength isn’t where it would be for four-month-olds born at term because they weren’t born at term. And all the tummy time and holding and therapy in the world isn’t going to change that.

I don’t know. I may be reading some of my own guilt into his tone (though Kyle picked up on it, too). I wish I could be as ON them as I was with Sam. I wish that I could reach a point with them like I did with Sam where my arms felt empty without him, not because I was like “Gosh, I wish I was still holding a baby” but because I literally held him so much that it felt weird not to have him on me.  I wish we’d be at the point where we’ve moved from survival mode to the previous sense of normal, but.

Well. Here we are. Normal helmets. Normal babies. Normalcy that’s anything but.

LIVE

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(hi, consider this a HUGE TRIGGER WARNING because I’m talking about depression and being suicidal in here, so if that’s going to trigger you, stop reading NOW)

(also, if you’re going to make a comment or joke about “lol hashtag triggered” you can go run a marathon barefoot over a course of wet food while seaweed tentacle monsters caress you and whisper “moist” in your ear over and over)

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I love the Travel Channel, and when I stayed home with Sam–past the point where he needed constant attention and holding every hour or so–I watched a lot of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. Between him and Andrew Zimmern, I fell even more in love with travel than I had when it was a regular part of life for me, years and years ago (read: before I had to pick up the tab, thanks Mom and Dad).

They had two disparate styles when it came to approaching the same thing: engaging with the culture of a place in a way that American tourists rarely do. Andrew Zimmern, whose shows still take up a LOT of Travel Channel real estate (I think he’s got three at the moment: Bizarre Foods, Delicious Destinations, and The Zimmern List), tends to respond to 99% of what he encounters with a desperate attempt to be nice about it (the 1% includes some pretty mundane foods, like I think oatmeal is one of them). He’ll say things like “this has an earthy flavor” and I’m 110% convinced that he means “this tastes like poop, but you’ll never catch me saying that.”

Anthony Bourdain, on the other hand, had a delightful snark about him that made him so relatable, never really with a cruelty behind it but rather with an undeniable love for the foods and cultures he met. Sometimes, it sounded like he was less punching down or up but rather punching a mirror, which is… honestly, way too relatable from the position of someone with depression and a snarky sense of humor. Self-deprecation is a good suit of armor, I think.

So the weird thing about being suicidal is that until you hit a moment of crisis, it’s not sitting there with a gun in your hand all the time or a bottle of pills just waiting to be swallowed. A lot of the time–most of the time–you just live with it until something pushes you over the edge and you either get help or die. That’s why so many times, when someone kills themselves, the people around them are shocked and talk about how they never saw it coming: being suicidal becomes such a part of the big knotted lie that is depression that you end up just seeing it as background radiation.

Because until you reach a moment of crisis, it’s not a desire for something active so much as it’s just a passive thing; you don’t so much want to die or kill yourself as you want to just stop. Depression isn’t misery, at least not in the sense that most people understand it…

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(much less Kathy Bates, for one thing)

…it’s nothingness. It’s like those foggy, overcast days when the clouds are white and the fog is white and you can’t see 50 feet in front of you or behind you or above you. It feels like neverending bleakness, like all the excitement and happiness and even sadness and anger have just been drained out of everything, and all you really want is for it to stop. It’s relentless, and my god, relentless nothingness is its own special kind of torture. Sometimes, you nominally look forward to things, like woo, yay, going to the beach today, but because depression is an actual chemical imbalance and disorder, even those rare changes don’t really break the monotony, because your brain is too broken to see it.

When I was first coming out of it, I described it to my therapist as wishing I could take a vacation from life overall. Not just my life but life overall, because I couldn’t see things being better or different anywhere I went. And the trouble was, of course, that while I’d have been fine with a temporary vacation, the only way to escape life overall is to die, and that’s a permanent thing.

When that’s your mindset, it doesn’t take a lot to push you from passively not wanting to live anymore to actively wanting to die. I remember for me, it was just one really shitty weekend that pushed me into the crisis where Kyle stepped in and sat there while I made the call to my doctor for an increased dosage of my medication and the call to my therapist for an appointment. That weekend, it was things that were stressful and sad, but in retrospect, really not worth wanting to die over: my grandmother was nearing the end of her life, we were in a tight spot financially, and I think I was having trouble finding a pair of jeans that fit.

Silly things, but I was in a really bad place, and when I was getting dressed to go and say good-bye to my grandmother for the last time, all I could think about was how hey, I have a life insurance policy, so if I died, all of Kyle’s financial problems would be solved, and he and Sam would be okay. Like some wicked little Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life was whispering in my ear, “You’re worth more dead than alive.”

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(WE DO, IN FACT, HATE YOU, MR. POTTER)

Which is, of course, the nature of depression. It’s a liar and it fucks with your perception of reality. Everything gets filtered through a brain that’s starving for serotonin and, because of that, can’t conceive of a positive world. It may be true that a person is loved and appreciated and adored, but their brain can’t hear or understand that, because the way it’s been warped and changed keeps it from seeing truths.

That’s why depression doesn’t discriminate between rich and poor, black and white, male and female, gay and straight, trans and cis, old and young. Certain populations may have higher rates of dying from depression, but I’m pretty sure that’s because certain populations are more likely to experience those moments of crisis without having a way out than others. And that said, even the most privileged person of all can be lost if they don’t reach out when that moment of crisis hits.

And that’s another danger of it: depression’s absolute deadliest effect is that it prevents you from reaching out for, oh, any number of reasons. I imagine that, in the case of the many celebrities it’s stolen from us, it gave them the lie that they had no reason to be depressed, that they had everything and that it wasn’t worth bothering someone over, and that fed into the larger and louder lies that depression feeds you all the time: you’re worthless, you’re terrible, you don’t deserve, you can’t, you won’t, you aren’t.

A friend of mine posted, in light of all the talk about depression and suicide, that it’s important to keep that deadliest lie in mind. It’s SUPER important for people with depression to know that they can reach out and get help at any time, that they aren’t weak for doing so, that resources exist to help them; but it’s also important, in light of that deadliest lie, to check in on your friends and make sure they know that they can be honest with you if they’re in a bad spot, because that bad spot is telling them that they’re worth more dead than alive, that their loved ones will be happier without them, that things are always going to be this way.

It’s what saved me, honestly. I’m terrible at acting happy when I’m in a downswing, and when I had that worst downswing, I was almost never alone: Kat lived with us, Sam was always with me, Kyle worked from home one day a week and was home all weekend, and my mom stopped by regularly. The three adults in the picture noticed I was acting worse than usual and intervened; Kyle stepped in and made me get help, knowing that depression lies, and I would have tried to go it on my own without him. And as for Sam, he helped me stay alive to the point where Kyle could intervene, because for however else I felt, I couldn’t let my baby deal with losing me (in that way or any other… the latter of which gave me anxiety, but hey, good news, the medication that treats my depression also treats anxiety!).

What should you glean from this?

As well-intentioned as it is to say “talk to me, reach out to someone, if you’re in that place of crisis,” sometimes, you have to be the one to do the work. Sometimes, a person is so lost that they can’t even conceive of reaching out for help, so it’s important to check on people, if you know they have depression or have struggled with suicidal thoughts in the past. Even something as simple as sending someone a message on Facebook or a text saying, “Hey, I just wanted to see how you’re doing?” can help.

Handle those moments of crises delicately. You don’t need to have on kiddy gloves or to beg them to live, but give them something to look forward to out of that moment, something tangible with a definite time frame, something that will pull them out of that moment of crisis long enough to get the help they need, whether it’s because you hold their hand as they make the call or not. I remember reading one story about someone who was pulled out of a moment of crisis because a friend messaged them to talk about the new Star Wars movie coming out (this back before The Force Awakens, when the last thing we had was “I love you like I’m blind” and its ilk).

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(very dark times)

(I can’t 100% guarantee that this works, but it’s a strategy I’ve seen touted pretty often. And awesomely enough, Deadpool–the comic book–did a really great bit about this sort of strategy a little while back)

The big point is getting someone out of that moment of crisis, throwing them a life float so that they can get into the boat and get to dry land. It’s a mental health CPR, if you will, that doesn’t necessarily solve the underlying problem, but rather gets a person stable so that they underlying problem can be solved. And sometimes, you do need to help them take those next steps and make them call people and do what they must to get well again.

So reach out to your friends, and if you, yourself feel like you can’t go on, take it from someone who’s been where you are right now: there is hope. There is a tomorrow. You can be well. You can find joy again. You can see the fog roll away to reveal sunshine and rain and thunderstorms and snow and everything in between. You will have sunny days again. I promise.

SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE: 1-800-273-8255

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/talk-to-someone-now/

Never B♭, Sometimes B♯, Always B♮

Years and years ago, my dad used to get this catalog in the mail–I think it was called the Music Stand. It was basically music paraphernalia, not the kind of stuff you’d find in a Guitar Center like picks or music stands or sheet music, but kitsch. Ornaments shaped like your instrument of choice, Broadway musical souvenirs, an entire spread dedicated to The Wizard of Oz (understandably so). I loved the catalog mostly for the tiny instruments you could buy, miniature replicas of your instruments of choice, everything from flutes to trumpets to guitars.

This catalog also had gloriously geeky music-themed shirts. By “gloriously geeky,” I mean that these shirts were awash in puns galore, yards and yards of fabric dedicated to the kind of dad jokes that your dad really commits to if he’s a musician. They said things like “I’m a musician, I can Handel it” and “I’ll be Bach” with a picture of Bach wearing Terminator-style sunglasses.

One of these shirts had this on it:

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It’s a pun, but one that only people who can read music get. It says “Sometimes be sharp, never be flat, always be natural.” Which are the key signatures in those staves. Get it? GET IT??

(it took me until I was like. 16 to get it. I couldn’t read music at all before that point, which is why I stopped playing the flute before everyone else stopped with their instruments in fourth grade, like yeah this isn’t happening)

Related to things being flat, the twins had their two month check up last week, on Kyle and my anniversary, because “busy” is the name of the game around these parts. And the check up itself had a funny story surrounding it (tl;dr – Kyle decided to let me sleep in, not knowing what time the appointment was and forgetting that it was a school day for Sam, so cue a very grateful me scrambling to get everyone to the doctor’s office on time), but on its own, it went very well. Mostly.

The twins are very healthy, zooming towards the 10 lb mark, starting to hit their six week and two month milestones, and suffering only a little from their vaccinations. The only real issue at hand, or rather at head, was what appear to be two cases of positional plagiocephaly.

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Positional plagiocephaly, for the uninitiated, is the fancy term for “flat head syndrome.” Babies’ skulls don’t fuse together until about two years after they’re born, which is absolutely wild to me (and sounds dangerous), and this usually doesn’t cause problems, but every so often, a perfect storm of issues mixes up, and you end up with a baby whose head is flat on one side or on the back.

Or, in our case, two babies with flattish heads.

Plagiocephaly develops for a variety of reasons, and our twins basically had the decks stacked against them in that regard. With full term, healthy singletons, it’s often because they don’t change position often enough in early months, so they end up with one part of their head being flat (and it’s worth noting that the “back to sleep” campaign, while it’s saved countless lives from SIDS, has also caused a HUGE increase in plagiocephaly cases). You can also see babies with an issue called torticollis, in which the neck muscles are too tight, so the baby can’t move their head around and get the pressure off one part or the other.

So these are all things that happen, but then you add on the risk factors our two collected, and it’s not at all surprising that they’ve developed this. For one thing, since there were two of them in utero, they had less space to move around, and after a certain point, the big movements that would’ve repositioned their heads just couldn’t happen. They were born six weeks early, which meant that their skulls were softer when they were born than if they had gone to term, and they spent two weeks in the NICU, getting used to sleeping on their right sides.

Like I said: it’s no surprise, all things considered.

We’ve been trying various exercises to get them to turn their heads, but it’s been to no avail. They just keep whipping their heads back to the right. And so, in all likelihood, we’ll be looking at helmets and physical therapy for them.

It’s an interesting thing to think about, the helmets and the PT. I was looking at the whole thing kind of like braces, like okay, here’s this thing that will cause problems if we don’t fix it, and yes, it means spending a lot of money and you wearing something uncomfortable for a little while, but it’s better than the alternative. Some Google Fu led me to a few websites with really adorable decals for the helmets, decals that can be changed out on a whim with a little bit of mod podge and some very satisfying moments spent peeling. And what’s more, because the twins would be so young when they start the helmets, they’d be looking at a much shorter stint in them than if we waited.

The interesting thing to me has been reading people’s accounts and feelings on plagiocephaly and the possibility of a helmet. A lot of people seem to be really upset by the idea, devastated by it. I keep reading accounts of people sobbing uncontrollably, of being heartbroken, and not to try and discount anyone’s feelings, but… I just don’t get it?

I mean, there are things I don’t share feelings on that I understand. I never felt absolutely devastated by my really early losses–maybe because I hadn’t had a chance to get used to getting pregnant, but they made me feel more embarrassed or angry than devastated. But I get why people would feel devastated by that. I get why people would be heartbroken over not getting the birth experience they dreamed of and why they’d experience gender disappointment and other things related to babies.

But this, I just… I don’t understand the devastation. I’d understand if plagiocephaly was, say, a serious disorder that could result in death or if the helmets were really tantamount to torture, but everything I’m reading suggests that the consequences of untreated plagiocephaly are primarily physical inconveniences and social difficulties, not death. The helmets themselves apparently become security blankets for babies after they get used to them, so…

I don’t know. A friend of mine whose babies were treated for torticollis pointed out that the twins’ stay in the NICU probably put things into a different perspective for me, and I tend to agree with that. Give them helmets, give them braces, make them do uncomfortable PT, whatever you need, but let them do it at home. Let them be just a few rooms away from me. Let me still have my days and nights with them, not just a few hours borrowed here and there. Let them breathe on their own and eat without their hearts stopping and sleep without wires and tubes and monitors coming out of them. Let them sleep in a room where the only sounds are the television and the air conditioner and family conversation, not the beeping of monitors and medical personnel.

Honestly, compared to the NICU, plagiocephaly sounds like a cakewalk.

(and again, definitely not trying to discount anyone’s feelings because everyone experiences the world differently, and that’s okay. Just for me, I’d take helmets over them being back in the NICU any day)

I’ll keep updating as we move forward. The appointment isn’t until June 22, so we’re doing what we can to mitigate flatness in the meantime, but I’ll be honest: the mitigation would be a lot easier with just one baby to play “no, face that way” whack-a-mole with than two.

Many Waters

Is it strange that marriage has never much felt like work to me? I don’t know.

Whenever people talked about marriage being a lot of work, back before Kyle and I got married, I always assumed that it meant work in the overall American sense of the word, the stuff that you do because you have to, not because you want to. I imagined the work of marriage to be kind of like chain gang work, grumbling and muttering all the way to glory because we were married and we had to work at it.

But it’s never been like that for us.

Oh, there have been times when we had to put in conscious effort. Now is one of those times. Before kids, conscious effort wasn’t necessary, really, because although our lives didn’t revolve around each other, we liked spending time together and didn’t have to schedule that time ages in advance to make sure that we had babysitters or that the kids would be asleep and/or fed and/or fed and asleep. Date nights came about because one of us would say something like, “Hey, I don’t feel like cooking. Wanna do a $20 dinner for two at Chili’s?” and the other would respond, “Hells yeah, I need some cheese fries.”

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(hells. yeah.)

Nowadays, it’s a bit more complex. We won’t be celebrating our anniversary by ourselves probably until this coming weekend because, well, three kids. Even a trip to Chili’s would be an Ordeal. And sometimes, we’re both tired enough by the end of the day and the end of the week that we don’t chat much, we just sort of collapse in front of our respective computers and zone out until it’s time for Kyle to sleep and for me to start my shift with the twins.

And so we have to put in effort and remind ourselves, “oh yeah, take that time to chat with your spouse,” but it doesn’t feel like work. It’s not a “have to do,” it’s a “want to do.”

In a way, it’s like self care, which people talk about a lot these days. Self care is making sure that you, yourself, are healthy; taking the time out of your schedule of focusing on work, family, hobbies, and so on, to make sure that your mind and body aren’t falling apart on you. Depending on how healthy you are, mentally and physically, self care can be a “have to do thing,” but I think a lot of folks see it as a “want to do thing” and that’s why it falls by the wayside.

…I lost my train of thought there.

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I was trying to get at how the “work” of marriage doesn’t feel like work because Kyle and I really like each other. Still. After first meeting twelve years ago, getting dumb crushes on each other, me trying to shut him out because “I can’t see myself marrying you” (LMAO), him saying, “…okay, but can we still be all flirty with each other anyway?” (of course, I said yes to that), meeting in person and realizing that oh wait I could totally marry this guy, three years of long distance pining, the world’s least romantic proposal, two years of engagement and stressful living conditions, several drives across half the country, collectively years of unemployment, struggles with infertility and bills and the Nissan, and three kids… after all of that, we still REALLY like each other.

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The shape of liking has changed somewhat, which is another place where I think a lot of people get tripped up.

When Kyle and I first met, it was all those butterflies and rushing feelings, heart pounding, googly eyes, happy sighs, and zingy excitement. It’s that biological attraction thing; if we were a couple of animals functioning only on base instinct, that zingy attraction, what we call puppy love, would’ve existed mostly to get us to reproduce, and then the hypothetical offspring would’ve either kept us together or at least gotten Kyle to bring me some food while I gestated and hibernated for the winter.

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That feeling isn’t a permanent thing, and I don’t think it’s meant to be. And… honestly, I think I’m too tired for it at the moment, at least mentally. Parenting, especially of newborns, is very taxing on pretty much every level. You just reach the end of the day, whenever that may be (for me, it’s around 2:15-2:30 a.m.) and can’t even manage to string more than three words together, never mind muster up anything zingy.

(though I will say that I still swoon plenty of times–over Kyle’s forearms when he rolls up the sleeves of his flannel shirt, over his chest when he leaves enough of a shirt unbuttoned, over the way he laughs and turns to absolute mush around our kids…)

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Overall, though, I’ve stopped feeling zingy and instead feel… safe, I suppose. Certain. Secure. It’s the feeling of pulling into your driveway after an exhausting commute, the feeling of your favorite pajamas on a rainy day, of the opening scenes of your all time favorite movie, driving along roads so familiar that you almost don’t need to look at them, the dish you always order at that one restaurant because they make it just the way you like.

It’s that feeling that as long as this is here, as long as I have this, everything will be alright in the end. As long as we’re together, we can weather anything the universe throws our way. We’re a team, not two people living in a house, but two legs carrying a body. If one of us succeeds, we both succeed; we pull for each other now and always.

When I see Kyle’s car pull into our driveway at the end of the day, I feel relieved and happy, not (only) because I’m excited for adult contact or for help with the kids, but because seeing him and being with him is right, just like it’s always been, and just like it always will be.

And it’s so NICE, you know? The last several years, I’ve had a hard time getting into stories and movies that focus on that zingy new relationship stuff, crushes and the like, because while that’s all nice and exciting, the loves that make me happier are the ones that have lasted a long time and remain solid and strong and unshakeable, to the point where there’s no villain who’d even try because what’s the point? This kind of love–not the zingy, new relationship energy stuff (though there’s nothing wrong with that!)–is the stuff that many waters can’t quench.

And I’ve been lucky enough to have it in my life for twelve years, and to have it in my marriage for seven. Happy anniversary, Sugar.

The Science Part

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day, and it’s kind of disorienting to me that Mother’s Day this year falls on the fourth anniversary of the day I became a mother.

I remember four years ago on Mother’s Day, I did NOT want to go into labor. I figured, that would be all anyone would talk about: how I’d given birth on Mother’s Day, how I became a mother on Mother’s Day, and that just… it squicked me out. I was still in that place of not knowing how I’d balance motherhood and my own individuality, how motherhood would integrate with the already fully-formed me, so such a twee coincidence was singularly unappealing.

At the same time, though, I was miserable and desperate to be done with pregnancy. I was two days past my due date, and my body had already decided it was Done being pregnant. That last week, I gained 30 lbs in water weight, my blood pressure skyrocketed, and my skin was raw and red from how much it itched due to ICP. I had a recurring pain behind my ribs that I’d later learn was my gallbladder begging my body to kick out the adorable parasite wreaking havoc on my system.

In short: I felt wretched and hated every minute of the last days of being pregnant.

(retrospectively, the fact that I only felt that bad for a couple of days instead of several months was a blessing, but I digress)

And Sam wouldn’t leave! I fully believe he would’ve stayed comfortably tucked beneath my ribs until I passed the 41 week mark, at which point, he would’ve been well above 9 lbs, thus rendering the newborn clothes we had for him beyond completely useless.

But! My body went haywire, my doctor induced me, and Sammy arrived, practically perfect in every way, at 5:42 p.m. on May 13, 2014.

IMG_0340(shown here in the only newborn size hat that ever fit him, looking very much like Isaac currently looks. Yoda for size comparison)

It’s odd how much more difficult things were when he was a newborn, largely because neither Kyle nor I knew what we were doing. We kept doing silly things like trying to sleep through the night while I fumbled through vain attempts to breastfeed. We were both of us exhausted; I don’t know about Kyle, but I have no memory of those early weeks beyond vague impressions of hooking myself up to a breast pump or rolling out of bed so many times in the middle of the night.

This compared to the twins, where we already have our survival strategy in place, where they’re already on a schedule and have been since they were born. You’d think that twins would be harder overall than a single baby, and they probably are if you have to figure out schedules and survival strategies on your own, but since we haven’t, they’re so easy. The only thing that’s difficult is the realization that sometimes, you have to let your baby cry.

(time for a sidebar, folks!)

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(it’s just like that sometimes)

With Sam, I never let him cry, unless he was crying over a mandatory thing, like a diaper change or a vaccination. At the slightest whimper, I ran to him, picked him up, cuddled him, coddled him, and did everything in my power to soothe him entirely. I sleep trained him a little bit (that is: I didn’t let him cry-it-out, but I did let him cry a little until he fell asleep), but I still had that niggling guilt for not running in and rocking him to sleep every night.

But with twins? That guilt is gone.

Why? Here’s the situation. The twins eat within half an hour of each other because I don’t want to spend 24 hours straight mixing bottles and feeding babies. I like being able to, say, take a couple of minutes to use the toilet or eat a Pop Tart. Or sleep. Anyway, if they’re asleep at the beginning of any given feed, the one who’s being fed second (it’s usually Carrie because she takes a decade to eat) will wake up halfway through the first twin’s feed and start first whimpering, then yelping, then screaming. And when they scream, they SCREAM. Carrie will, at least, tire herself out with the screaming within a relatively short period of time, but Isaac could go on for hours if we let him.

It’s the kind of thing that would get me strung up by my toenails in attachment parenting circles, but y’all, it can’t be helped. I only have so many arms and only such a reach. If one baby is in the middle of eating, it’s not generally considered a wise move to stop completely in order to pop a pacifier in the other baby’s mouth. They just have to wait it out, screaming and crying and all, and yes, it tugs on my heartstrings, but…

Well. I’m not Doc Ock here.

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(sidebar over)

We started celebrating Sam’s birthday today with a trip to the Museum of Science in Boston. He’s a space kid–loves the moon, stars, the sun, planets, rockets, everything. He’s fallen in love lately with a Pete the Cat book about Pete going to the moon in a space capsule, and–smart mom that I am–I realized there was a space capsule that you could actually go inside at the Museum of Science. Combine that with the Charles Hayden Planetarium, and I figured I had a pretty good birthday plan for this kiddo.

And we did! The last time Sam went to the Museum of Science, he was a small whelp of barely 20 months. He was mostly interested in running because he’d only just learned how; nothing science-like held his attention for more than a few seconds, even among the brightly-colored objects around the museum. This time, though, he was really into the entire experience. His favorites were the space capsule and the Dora the Explorer science playground…

…and, of course, the planetarium.

The planetarium didn’t catch his attention much at first, but then the tech blew up their image of the sun to be enormous and take up the entire planetarium screen, and Sam just whispered, “Wow!” And then came the Northern Lights and he breathed, “Wow!” And he remained hooked throughout the rest of the presentation, despite overenthusiastic audience members and people trying to come back in and out throughout the presentation (the presenter sounded like she was about to strangle one guy who took his kid out, since she’d only told us we couldn’t keep leaving and coming back about 500 times by that point).

They say that space and dinosaurs are the two gateway drugs for science, and I genuinely hope that’s true and that Sam doesn’t find himself turned off to science by school the way so many people do. I don’t know that I can, in good conscience, encourage him to go for a science degree (when my own student loans are a dark shadow lurking over every financial decision I make), but in the imaginary scenario where I win the lottery and can afford for my kids to have awesome academic experiences without going into debt up to their eyeballs?

I’d like to think that, in that case, I’d have an astronaut for a son.

A Post with No (Few) Words

I’m not writing much today, since things remain relatively… normalish. Kyle is going back to work tomorrow, I should get an all-clear at my postpartum appointment on Friday, Sam’s birthday is in 19 days, and the twins are doing very well (save for some constipation issues, but that’s the name of the game in this house). No, today, I wanted to just post some of the pictures from our newborn/family photo shoot last week,  because they make me happy.

(all pictures were taken by Melanie Haney from Simply Mella Photography. Real talk: if you’re in Massachusetts or New Hampshire and need a photographer, hire Melanie. She’s amazing)

 

(that’s Isaac on the left and Carrie on the right)

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What comes next?

Every now and again, I get all cosmological about the passage of time. I’m 34 years old right now, but 17–technically half my life ago–seems like it was yesterday, and 40 seems a lifetime away. Time is such a weird, subjective thing, passing quickly or slowly but really, it’s all the same pace, no matter how it feels.

Which is all an “it’s the middle of the night and how do I words?” way of saying that the twins are somehow already a month old.

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Probably because we spent two weeks of this month with them living away from us, it feels like it’s gone by very quickly. Probably also because we got into our shifts routine from the get-go instead of flailing for a month and then realizing, “Well, duh,” it’s been a lot less painful and far smoother than it was with Sam. And, of course, there are the added bonuses of me not being depressed, Kyle having six weeks of paternity leave, and the twins already being settled in a routine that Sam took a good three months to reach.

Still. A month.

The weirdest part about them being a month old is that they aren’t technically due to be born for another 11 days. Part of me can imagine how miserable that would be but the rest of me doesn’t want to.

See, Kyle has it all figured out. I’m completely miserable when I’m pregnant because my body is just too good at being pregnant. With these two miracles that were a one in a million chance (the odds are probably even crazier than that; I’ve told Kyle multiple times, we really need to get on playing the lottery), they drained my body of so much of what they needed that I just felt a disaster all the time. Everyone was super complimentary of their umbilical cords (literally the weirdest thing I’ve ever been complimented on, and yes, this includes the time an ultrasound tech called my cervix “beautiful” and the time a guy spent 20 minutes complimenting my butt instead of making my grilled cheese sandwich, like come on, guy, if you want my butt to stay hotter than heat, make me my freaking sandwich already), and Kyle looked at that and decided that my body grows babies very well. It’s just not very good at taking care of itself at the same time.

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(this is Bella Swan being pregnant with a mutant half-vampire baby that’s eating her from the inside. It’s also a good idea of what I’m like when I’m pregnant)

So if I’d gone all the way to April 25, I’d be carrying not one but two huge babies (probably Sam’s size–8 lbs, 11 oz.–maybe more) and I’d probably have put myself on bedrest, which I hate doing, but I was miserable enough by the actual end of this pregnancy that I could barely go to the bathroom without pain, so life would’ve been terrible.

The “correct” thing to say about my pregnancy is “oh, I wish I’d been able to keep them in longer so they could’ve been healthier at birth,” but honestly? I don’t wish that at all. We were lucky as hell that things went as well as they did, but things did go well. The twins have always been wonderfully healthy, even in the NICU. They were born at good weights for their age, and I feel like if they’d stayed in longer, they wouldn’t have been as healthy. Everyone was running out of space, and I was running out of resources to give them.

(like I guess they could’ve taken my fat cells, I wouldn’t have complained about that, but I don’t know how nutritionally beneficial those are)

The “correct” thing is also to say that I wish I could’ve delivered them vaginally, but I… don’t? At all? I know that I probably could have delivered them vaginally, even with Carrie being breech, but I’m the oddball in the world who was so miserable beforehand that the C-section was actually a really positive experience. And that may be because I’d built it up in my mind to be this terrifying thing, but I can say with all honesty that it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I’d expected. Obviously, my experience isn’t universal, and I know I’d have thought differently if I hadn’t had the two weeks the twins were in the hospital to recover (like seriously, it’s all been nat 20s the way this worked out), but as it stands?

It’s the same with formula feeding, though I feel a little bolder talking about that one (because people are a great deal more understanding when you say, “well, they’re NICU babies so we need to keep strict track of how many calories they get, and also I have crappy production because my PCOS is a bitch like that”). I have good reasons for not breastfeeding, but I also have not “good” reasons, especially now that I know my babies.

Isaac would be a champion breastfeeder, honestly. He’s always got a good latch on his bottles (the Tommee Tippee ones we got because they’re boob-shaped), and he’s good at working for his food. He’s a quick eater, too, and is usually done within 10-15 minutes of starting, because, again, he works for his food. He ends up being the first on the feeding docket for that reason, and he also ends up with a lot of cuddle and playtime in between feedings because he finishes quickly.

Carrie, on the other hand, is… well, she’s a pokey feeder, pokey like slowpoke. She’s lazy about getting her food and prefers to suck juuuuuust enough to get the formula going and then kind of let it flow. This is a highly inefficient way of eating, so while she sometimes manages a quick feed, she’s usually working at it for 30-40 minutes and even then, not getting everything we make because she falls asleep and won’t open up again. So with her laziness, feeds end up taking well over an hour, and I can’t imagine how much more it would be if we were dealing with my supply issues and the boob wrestling that is breastfeeding.

A huge contributing factor in my postpartum depression four years ago was that my body still wasn’t mine, even after 10 miserable months of pregnancy. I love being Sam’s mom, and that was just as true back then, but when you’re spending the majority of your day just trying to get food into someone or pump food for later, it takes a toll. Being able to take a break, to put these two down, to ask Kyle or my mom to take a feed–that’s been so incredible. It allows me to spend more time with Sam, allows us to take shifts so that we’re not overtired, allows us to still be ourselves even with twins.

The twins are opposites, personality-wise, of what I’d have expected them to be based on their behavior when I was carrying them. Isaac is loud and flaily; if he has a problem, the whole house knows it. He rarely goes on an actual crying jag, just usually lets out a “AOUW” of anger if he’s unhappy with his circumstances (for reasons like “you’re changing my diaper instead of feeding me” or “I seem to have spit out my pacifier. Yes, the one you put in my mouth 30 seconds ago. Is that a problem?”), but it’s a loud AOUW. He also squirms a lot; he’s eager to be mobile and sitting up. This is only a problem if I’m changing him on the couch, which I had to do for a couple of weeks because my C-section scar hurt like the dickens if I changed him anywhere else. Otherwise, it’s just kind of hilarious because he gets himself into these positions like a husky, where you wonder, “how are you possibly comfortable like that?” but he seems content.

He also likes to be held. They both do, but Isaac is more curious about it, probably because he spent the first two weeks of his life being disinterested in the world beyond a bottle and sleeping. He quiets right down if I’m holding him, but he doesn’t like to rest on his tummy on my chest, instead preferring to be cradled in my arms. He’s come close to smiling already, which is a delight.

And Carrie… well, everything Isaac is, she isn’t. She doesn’t cry unless we’re changing her diaper because of the nasty diaper rash she developed (like… layers of skin missing nasty, because she poops so often that we can’t catch it in time to keep things from getting bad, but it’s healing well because Aquaphor, and remember when I used to talk about things like whether or not all literature is time-bound, because I do); otherwise, she just quietly fusses. She doesn’t like to burp the way Isaac does, so it becomes a challenge at mealtime to try and get her to let some gas out and keep eating. She’s quiet before a feed, looking around and watching everything, but having a full tummy makes her sleepy, and it’s rare that she’s really awake after she eats.

Which is when I put her on my chest, because while Isaac isn’t a fan, Carrie loves being beaned up and hearing my heartbeat. And I’ll be honest: I love it, too. She’s a little warm bundle that’s like a kitten but larger, and she lets out contented little sighs but is otherwise so quiet that she might as well be a little doll.

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So that’s the twins. On Sam’s side of things, he’s adjusting better. Nights are the worst time for him–last night, he came downstairs 99% asleep because he had a nightmare that Kyle left and didn’t come back, which… yeah, the hospital stay really messed with him. I’m inclined to just let him sleep in our bed or downstairs with whomever is up with the twins until he reaches a point where he feels adjusted and not like he’s going to lose us at any given moment. This may be soft and squishy of me (and Kyle worries that he’ll just be sleeping in our bed forever), but… well, honestly, my brain is too overfull with twin care worries and Sam care worries to dive into strictly sending my terrified son back to his bed when he has a nightmare.

During the day, he’s at least improved his behavior somewhat. He’s become a great helper with the twins–he likes to figure out which one is crying and why and then solve that problem. He still hasn’t held them, and I can tell he’s nervous about it, probably because he knows it means sitting still and he’s not very good at that. BUT he’s really affectionate with them otherwise: lots of kisses, lots of tickles, and he holds their hands when they’re out of the cribs and crying. He’s also moved back towards his usual level of potty trained (ie., will go when we remind him and sometimes when we don’t), and everyone is relieved about that.

Kyle and I are almost literally ships in the night, but we steal moments when we can. My mom came by to watch the three kids (I have three kids and that’s weird because a month ago, I just had one) so Kyle and I could go out on our own. And it was nice, and somehow, despite the stresses of having three kids out of nowhere and me recuperating from a C-section and having three kids and two of them are infants and one is an almost-four-year-old who’s having separation anxiety, we still rather like each other.

I reminded him the other day that, as stressful as this first chunk of time is, it’s going by very quickly. The twins are a month old now; that means they’re that much closer to sleeping through the night, to graduating from formula to real food, to communicating in ways that aren’t crying. And while I don’t hate the newborn stage, especially with them being such good babies, I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next: what kind of babies and toddlers and kids will they be? Will they get along with Sam and with each other? What comes next?

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(annnnnnd now I’m going to sing all of Hamilton to nobody)

Because, really, that’s the exciting part.