On Writing and Turning 35

It’s November, which is something I’ve been waiting for most of the year. I love the end of the year, from October straight on through New Year’s (though October slightly less because it tends to be bad luck for me in general), and I’m feeling really good this year, at least on a personal level. Thanks to a generous gift from Kyle’s grandfather, we’re actually feeling comfortable financially, and we’re able to get started on celebrating Christmas and giving our kids a fantastic holiday season.

Facebook’s memories feature keeps reminding me that, for several years in the past, November meant the start of NaNoWriMo for me. Nano, for the uninitiated, is National Novel Writing Month. It’s this big… thing where people across the country and world sit down and try to bang out 50,000 words over the thirty days that make up November. It usually involves a lot of crying, swearing, and procrastination on some level.

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(shown: 6 hours of work)

For me, it typically involved (past tense for now, I’ll get to that in a minute) the early adoption of Christmas music, as somehow, the dulcet tones of holiday hits, both present and past, get my writing fingers going. The words flow, the stories build, and I get things done when there’s Christmas music playing. For some reason.

(sidebar: I discovered this during graduate school, when I’d procrastinated on my final paper and presentation until the night before. I poured myself a bowl of cereal, turned the TV on to the Music Choice Sounds of the Seasons channel, and banged out 15 pages of philosophy/rhetoric thoughts and a 10 minute presentation; and combined, the two earned a 95, and I got a 93 for the class. Moral of the story? As we used to say back when I studied at Oxford, procrastination is merely the realization that true genius is forged in the white hot flames of crisis)

So anyway, that used to be the case, but for obvious reasons, Nano has been a struggle since 2014. I started to try it that November, but Sam was six months old, we were in the process of buying a house, and my body was still adjusting to my antidepressants. The next year, I was working, as with the year after that and the year after that. This year, I’m not working, but I now have two eight-month-old babies and a four-year-old.

“So what?” says the reader, and I say, so I’m tired. I have ideas, but they mostly come to me as I’m drifting off to sleep late at night, and I’m far too tired to pull myself out of bed and get them on paper or else wake myself up properly enough to make a note about them (though I probably should do that). I’m tired, and I hate it. God, I miss writing, but by the time I get to the end of the day, even the best days, I’m ready to zonk out, floating with that feeling of running on E.

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I’ve always compared writing to oxygen for me, and though I’ve been reading plenty, I haven’t been creating as much, so it feels a bit like taking a deep breath and holding it for a while. Sooner or later, you need to exhale.

Which is what this blog is, I suppose: a small exhale for me. I have ideas I want to play with and develop, I have stories I want to keep telling and start telling; I just get to the end of the day and stare at the blank page and wish it would just fill itself without me needing to think about it. I used to be able to do that, honestly, but I think I’m just so drained by this particular phase of my life that it’s harder than it should be. Ugh.

But it’s a phase, and Sam will be in kindergarten next year, and it’s only four or so  years until the twins are in preschool 2-3 days a week, depending on what school we send them to. I have plans, and people say, “Don’t wait! Start today!” but seriously, I’m tired. I know what will happen the first morning all three of my children are at school: I will nap. The second morning, I will go and buy a dozen donuts only for me. The third morning, I will write.

(of course, the best laid plans and all that; I’ll probably spend the first morning sobbing, the second morning watching The Price is Right, and the third morning constructing an elaborate city in The Sims or something)

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Speaking of phases, though, I’m an hour and a half away from turning 35!

(how’s that for a segue? Yep, I’ve still got it)

Thirty-five. It’s a weird number. When it comes to fertility, it’s this dreaded number, where your fertility drops off and you start producing the weird eggs, the old and dusty bottom of your reserve. This isn’t really true, actually; your fertility drops off a little at 35, but it’s not this drastic thing. Still, though, once you hit 35, any fertility dances you do are done with an added caution sign.

Which– I used to be worried about it, but now I’ve got three kids, and any further kids I’d want to have would come from the embryos I froze last year, so I’m actually kind of okay with 35 from a fertility perspective.

Obviously not the only one that matters, but I’m happy. Life is honestly pretty good right now. The kids are fantastic. Kyle is incredible. I’ve got a comfortable home, a rockin minivan (two words I don’t usually expect to put together), great friends, and awesome family. If this is 35, I’m loving it.

A couple of months ago, I was at a family get-together, and my mom frowned and plucked a grey hair from my head. I no longer get carded, as Kyle and I discovered when we went out to eat the other day (and I was served possibly the worst cosmopolitan I’ve ever had, by the way). My joints snap, crackle, and pop when I try to function. I am well acquainted with back pain.

But I don’t really mind it. There’s this weird life stigma against aging, that it’s something to dread or feel sad about, but I don’t. Grey hair is easier to dye fun colors. No longer being carded means I don’t have to fish for my wallet every time I want a glass of moscato. I’m not a fan of all the aches and pains, but they’re manageable enough thus far.

Basically, aging has been pretty great thus far, and I’m looking forward to the future, to seeing where my life goes from here, to grabbing onto and living out new dreams.

The Rest

Around this time last year, my RE successfully transferred two embryos into my uterus, and those two embryos grew, over 34 weeks, into my delightful Isaac and Carrie. That IVF cycle resulted in more embryos than I’d ever had before, more than I’d ever had last as long as they all lasted–nine of them lasted until day 5, when Isaac and Carrie were transferred, and seven are still frozen, waiting for whatever comes next.

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Or, well. They are now. I’m finding myself having to decide about them a lot sooner than I’d wanted to decide.

Kyle and I had been operating under the impression that our seven remaining embryos would be kept frozen by the fertility clinic for two years, covered by our insurance. After those two years, we could decide if we wanted to keep them frozen, paying $85 a month for their storage; if we wanted to donate them to either science or another couple (I’d prefer an LGBT couple if we go that route); or if we wanted the facility to dispose of them (not likely). The $85 isn’t manageable now, since we’re barely making it from paycheck to paycheck while still buying groceries, but in two years, with Sam in school and the twins on cow’s milk? It totally would be.

But. The bill came early.

It came in the mail the other day, a bill for $170 for last month’s storage and this month’s storage, and I was baffled, because I’d thought things would be covered. I only opened the bill in the evening (opening mail when you have a little shadow in the shape of your four-year-old son is very difficult), so I couldn’t call to clear things up that night, and so I immediately guessed that our insurance must have changed policies on embryo storage. Maybe they only covered for one year instead of two now, which left us in an absolutely wretched spot: having to decide immediately to either get me knocked up again (no, or at least not right now) or where to donate our remaining seven embryos.

Kyle, fortunately, cleared things up in the morning: we just have to get authorization from our RE and send that to the insurance company ourselves, and once we do that, they’ll cover an additional two years of storage, giving us more time to decide what we want to do with our seven remaining embryos.

Seven potential lives, at least in theory. We don’t know the health of any of the embryos, since PGS was financially out of reach for us last year (and probably will be for a while yet, since it’s in the neighborhood of $3500). None or all of them could have aneuploidies incompatible with life, as with so many of our other losses. Some looked textbook good; but then, we’ve had perfect embryos before, and those resulted in miscarriages. The only two we know for sure are healthy are currently asleep in their bassinets, one probably flopped on his stomach and the other squashed into her favorite corner.

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Whether now or in three years, Kyle and I do have to decide what to do with these seven embryos, which is a weighty task. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I do not want seven more children. I have friends with nine and ten kids, and they are fantastic people and superhuman (how can you not be, when you have that many kids?), but it is not a path I want for myself or my family. I don’t know what number is our path (four is looking likely, one way or another, and I’ll get to that in a minute), but that number is absolutely not 10.

A less ethical fertility clinic might have popped all nine in me at once, and I could’ve attained international fame like Octomom–except doing that is unethical for a reason. The pregnancy would’ve put enormous strain on my body, and the likelihood of even half the babies surviving would be slim. Worse, the ones that didn’t survive could take the others with them, and then we’d have been back to square one again. So no, I’m glad that my clinic is good at risk management, and I’m glad that I’m not suddenly a mom to nonuplets, even if it means I don’t get my very own TLC show.

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(that’s probably for the best, honestly)

But that still leaves 7 embryos that we have to figure out what to do with, 7 embryos that we need to decide where they go. Logically, I know that even if we decide to try for one more pregnancy out of this batch (and it would be one more, not more than that, and no more twins), that’s six embryos that still need a place, and it’s just so… weird to decide.

I mean, look. I’m pro-choice as they come. I believe strongly in bodily autonomy and that, whenever life begins, personhood cannot begin at conception because everything that makes a person a person exists in one’s brain, and that doesn’t show up for at least six weeks, probably more (it’s been a while since I watched a baby development video, I’ve been kind of busy). My ethical qualms aren’t so much that I’m thinking of this in the same way as I’d be thinking of giving up my living, born children, but more in the sense that I’m trying to… I guess wrestle with the potential.

Most likely, even if we decide to have one more child from this batch (which wouldn’t be for a while… like, at least three or four years), we’d donate the embryos to other couples struggling with infertility. I’d prefer, as I said before, to donate to LGBT couples, but ultimately, I want to make sure they go somewhere they’d be loved. But then I wrestle with it because it’s like… how do you discuss that with an eventual child? Embryo adoption can be open, as can traditional adoption, but at the same time, just… it’s such a weird thing to try and explain.

“Well, Liam Neeson Smith Jones III, it’s not that we didn’t want you, but it was luck of the draw, and we ended up carrying Isaac and Carrie instead. And we wanted you to be with someone who loved you, and we chose them special for you.” And then silently you think about how it’s hard to look at them and see their father’s eyes and your mother’s smile and hear the same laugh that runs in your dad’s side of the family.

I think it would be an awesome chance, and I’d love to do it, but it’s something I’m wrestling with emotionally. Giving up a child for adoption is hard. Giving up an embryo is slightly less hard, but still weird. Weird is a good word for it.

Scientific donation is on the docket as well, and if we’re able to do PGS on the embryos before sending them anywhere, it’s what we’d both want to do with any embryos not compatible with life. Just the same, if we don’t meet requirements for adoption, it’d be the second best choice, but it seems… wasteful. Not because I feel like it’d be murder for science, but because my god, I put so much WORK into those, and maybe they’ll help scientific advances or just be testing ground for a new resident, but it feels like they should at least become people first?

(I wonder if this is how an oak tree feels if its acorns fall on asphalt, and it’s just like “Motherf– DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH WORK THOSE THINGS WERE???”)

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(oak tree when an acorn hits the pavement, played by Kristen Wiig)

That’s also why I’m not keen on the “eh, just trash ‘em” option. Those embryos are a culmination of two years of very hard work and physical and financial sacrifice. They are not going in anyone’s biohazard bag if I can help it.

I guess the hardest decision is whether or not we should reserve one for ourselves before donating the rest. If I were to get pregnant again, I wouldn’t want it to be until the twins are much older, and while your fertility doesn’t immediately bottom out once you hit 35, I’m already in a wonky spot where that’s  concerned. If Kyle and I want another biological child, these embryos are our best chance, and I’m having a hard time letting go of that overall.

We also know and have agreed that we want to adopt once our biological kids are older (read: 5+), preferably through the state foster system. So then the question becomes if we want five kids? I don’t think we do, and we both agree that we want to adopt, but

But.

But it’s just very difficult to let that go. The past six years of my life, up until March, I was so focused on getting and staying pregnant, and it just seems… weird and difficult to let it go.

Well. At the very least, I’m getting authorization for insurance to cover the cost of keeping the embryos stored for the next two years (Kyle said it’s my job to do that), because if nothing else, it’ll buy time to let go, to accept and embrace all of this, and to adjust.

What you don’t know

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Hi, it’s me, a big huge TRIGGER WARNING because this post describes sexual assault and discusses it. Viewer discretion is advised.

Additionally, if you’re going to read this and comment about how any of this was my own fault or any sort of awful defenses, just do yourself a favor and go stare in the mirror until you manage to grow anything resembling a conscience.

*

When I was in fourth grade, my teacher was a substitute the entire year, as the teacher I should have had was out on maternity leave. Mrs. C. was my teacher, and she was really nice, skinny and willowy, kind of looked like Monica from Touched by an Angel. She did a really good job, but a lot of times, she felt somewhat out of her depth, and I was frequently one of those times: one of the brightest kids in the class, who finished all of her work twenty minutes before everyone else and was so bored she resorted to drawing on her desk to keep entertained while everyone else finished their work.

But Mrs. C.’s heart was in the right place, at least. She tried really hard to find ways to keep me engaged, even when everyone else had finished their work, even when I was losing my mind because of how bored I was. I remember making a cardboard robot once with some of the other smart kids (it was supposed to be a boy robot, but I guess I was woke or something because I was adamant that it be a girl). I remember going and recording a chapter from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in a cold corridor with my best friend. I remember pulling together a miniature model of the Niña for our Columbus Day parade.

I also remember how control of the class was often evasive for poor Mrs. C. One of the kids in the class would’ve been diagnosed with ADHD in a heartbeat today, and have been much better off for it, but back then, nobody got diagnosed with anything unless things were stereotypical and severe. I remember one day, he just sat in the front of the class with his pants off, not making a scene, not drawing attention, just pantsless. Mrs. C., when she discovered it, sent him straight to the principal’s office, and correctly so.

I like to think she did that with R, but I don’t remember.

R was a troublemaker, but not of the severe sort like the boy with ADHD. A lot of his behavior could be chalked up to that loathsome phrase, “boys will be boys” more than anything else (a phrase that I use to mean, “boys will do really ridiculously stupid things because they can” and not “boys are exempt from consequences for being awful because that’s just how boys are”). I hated him from the get-go; something about him rubbed me wrong, like a cat setting off sparks on a dry winter day.

I only had to endure him for a short time that year, though, and here’s why.

Mrs. C. always arranged our desks in groups of four, all facing each other. R was in my group the first part of the year, diagonal from me. We couldn’t do anything without arguing, bickering, whatever you want to call it. He annoyed me so much, and not in the “ooh, someone’s got a crush!” sort of way, but in the “there is a hornet buzzing around my head, make it stop” sort of way.

One day, we were arguing as usual, but we were doing it via notecard because Mrs. C. was trying to teach a lesson. Back and forth we passed the notecard, writing the worst insults we knew at each other (but it was fourth grade, so I don’t think we knew anything very good). Eventually, R stopped passing the notecard to me, and I felt a gleam of triumph, like I’d won. That triumph was short-lived, though: he handed it back, and it was half soaked in yellow liquid. He looked so smug, even as I put the pieces together and shrieked, without raising my hand, “Ew! Mrs. C., R gave me pee!”

I don’t remember the specifics of what happened after that. R was never in my group again in that class; I don’t think I interacted with him again that year. I like to imagine that Mrs. C. reported the whole incident to the principal and found it disturbing enough that she did what she could, but ultimately, R was in my class again in both fifth and sixth grade, still annoying me, but now somewhat under my skin. I remember kicking him in the shins really hard once, and I remember not getting in a lick of trouble for it.

*

Back in the day, I called the first semester of my freshman year of college my “slutty year.” I’d lived a pretty sheltered life to that point, and I’d had a boyfriend all through high school, so the idea of multiple people being interested in me was really new, and rather than stopping to think or be rational about things, I flitted from guy to guy for the entire back half of 2001.

…no, flitted isn’t dramatic enough. It was very dramatic, my flitting. Breakups were loud and sobbing and angry, with slammed phones and huge boxes of tissues wasted and the like.

I was kind of an idiot, truth be told.

Anyway, one of these guys was actively the worst, the worst possible guy you could date. His AIM handle, to give an idea of how much the worst he was, was something along the lines of “Darkest Angel.”

Oh yeah. One of those.

He’d dated one of my friends earlier in the year and, as the worst guys usually do, seemed amazing from a distance. He’d perform these grand romantic gestures that all the girls in our dorm would swoon over, and we’d all wish we had a boyfriend like him, not really knowing what he was like.

You know. The worst.

And so it happened that his attention turned to me after he saw me wearing my prettiest, gothiest outfit on my birthday. He spent a good couple of weeks on me, telling me about how girls were evil and he’d always be alone because his heart always got broken because girls were evil and telling me about all these grand romantic gestures he performed that didn’t pan out (because girls were evil), and for some reason, I missed every last red flag that should have given me.

Like I said, I was kind of an idiot.

I believed, as many women do when confronted with a guy who is the actual worst, that I could fix him or prove to him that NOT ALL WOMEN ARE EVIL! LOOK AT ME, I WILL SAVE YOU FROM YOUR BROKEN HEART! or something similarly idiotic. Which was, of course, exactly what he wanted me to think.

The relationship turned physical pretty quickly for reasons mostly related to us being two twenty-somethings with hormones. The trouble with those hormones lay in that we attended a very conservative Christian college that wasn’t too keen on the whole “horny young folks” bit. Men and women were forbidden from entering each other’s rooms except during move-in and the designated weekly visiting hours, and even then, the door had to be open, so anything beyond some sitting and chatting was completely off the menu.

So we did as other couples did back then and improvised, and here’s where things start to get sticky.

Improvisation with this guy, the worst guy, mostly involved long walks to a nature preserve park type place about a mile away from the campus. It was a warmish fall, so the walks were pleasant and through nice neighborhoods. The park itself was all fields of tall grass and old trees with little peeks of marshland here and there; pleasant during the day and delightful at night. The worst guy led me to the park twice, and twice, the same thing happened.

We sat down, and we started making out, and the worst guy started to undress me, as horny young people do. He never got the least bit undressed, at least not in a way that would cause any shame if we were to be caught. And honestly, I knew there was a chance of being caught, but who goes to a nature preserve park type place at night in late fall? Or at least that was my way of thinking.

The first time, he must have seen them coming, though they didn’t see us until they were right on top of us, and I didn’t see them until that moment either. He didn’t forcibly hold me in place, but the way he had me, I couldn’t have covered myself as I desperately wanted to, and I was somewhat on display for a pair of hunters that walked by. They said nothing to us, and I stared at the ground, trying to process what was happening. He murmured gross things at me, how they probably thought he was so lucky to have such a hot girl with him, and I eventually dressed again and let him escort me back to campus.

And idiotic me, I went there with him again, this time at the base of an old, gnarled tree, and this time, far nakeder than I was the first time. Once again, he must have seen them coming, but once again, I didn’t realize anyone was approaching until they were right on top of us, and I couldn’t cover up. I stared at the ground, displayed, as the interlopers passed, and once they were out of earshot, he told me with breathless excitement, “You didn’t realize it, but we both know them.”

I don’t know who they were. I didn’t look. Whoever they were, they never said anything, for which I’m grateful. When I told Kyle the story last night, he pointed out that they probably didn’t even look or realize or even recognize me. I hope he was right, even though it probably doesn’t matter much overall.

Eventually, the worst guy cheated on me, and that was that. I dodged a bullet; things could’ve been much worse. Still, things bring it back: the weird smell of his hair product, the memory of that breathy excited whisper…

*

Sexual assault is such a weird, wriggly thing. Even when it’s as clear-cut as someone shoving things where things ought not be shoved, it turns into victim-blaming bullshit far too often. People caught in the act are given slaps on the wrist because “we don’t want to ruin his future for one bad decision.” Never mind that she has to live with that bad decision the rest of her life. Never mind that she’ll not speak about it at all until one day, she can’t keep it in, and she tells her half asleep husband what happened, and then he spends the rest of the night lying awake and thinking of ways to flay a person alive.

(I love you, honey)

I was never raped, let’s get that out of the way. Nobody put their penis or anything resembling a penis anywhere in me when I didn’t want them to. Looking back, I’m fortunate that was the case.

But sexually assaulted? Yeah.

In one case, it was a troubled kid doing what troubled kids do. I don’t know what happened to R. He wasn’t in the same school I was after sixth grade. I hope someone got to him and helped him by doing more than kicking him in the shins. I hope nobody else got an index card covered in pee.

In the other case, it was a manipulative and controlling creep who took delight in my shame. I consented to everything he did to me until the second he held me on display for passers-by, both familiar and unfamiliar. I have nothing good to hope for him, but I hope that every other woman he ever encounters is safe and well.

Recent political events made me think more of the second event than the first, though I wanted to tell the first story to illustrate how pervasive sexual assault actually is, how if you know a woman, odds are you know someone who’s been sexually assaulted in some way. I was maybe eight or nine when I got that notecard; I didn’t understand any of the implications of what happened, but I understood that it made me feel icky and wrong.

And it happened.

The second event is such a hard story to tell simply because so much of it was consensual. I agreed to the walk. I agreed to making out. I agreed to my clothes being removed, even though it was technically a public place. I did not agree to be displayed like a centerfold. If I’d been in charge, I’d have found something to cover myself, jerked away from the embrace, hidden better, anything. But I wasn’t, and I didn’t, and I couldn’t.

It’s not a prosecutable thing, what happened, and I had nobody really to tell about it. Most of the authority figures in my life–family, campus officials–would’ve raked me across the coals for being in that compromising position in the first place, a sort of “well, what did you expect?” scolding. My campus had a history of expelling unmarried women who got pregnant while letting the men continue to study; how could I go to them, admit that I was doing this, and then expect them to back me up on anything?

What could I have said? The worst guy never would’ve served jail time for what he did to me, never would’ve suffered any measurable consequences, and I’d been stuck telling this story, reliving that shame again and again, having people pick me apart again and again, and for no reason.

So I didn’t tell anybody until I told Kyle last night.

But I think about it now, and I think that I would bring it up if, by some weird twist of stupidity, the worst guy were in a position where people were publicly judging his character and integrity. And maybe he’s changed. Maybe he’s reached adulthood, real adulthood, and realized how awful he was (and maybe I’ll win the lottery next week!). But regardless, his actions were evidence of his poor character; I wouldn’t publicly name him before that point, wanting to avoid all the bullshit that comes with that, but.

But.

I don’t really have a title?

I’ve been trying to write a blog entry for about two weeks now, but I keep getting stalled because I find myself just complaining and complaining and venting and venting, and I don’t want to do that. I want to be honest in my blog, but I also don’t want to come across as miserable and ungrateful, because I’m not. A lot about this is really hard, but it’s also really good. I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone–controversial opinion of mine, not everyone should be a parent–but for me, it’s good. I miss my kids when they aren’t around, even though during the day, I have this emotion of “why are people on me so much?”

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The adventures of parenting as an introvert, right?

So let’s see. Where are we, from a not so bad point of view?

Sam started preK about two weeks ago, and it’s got him stressed. He’s my most routine-oriented child (at least so far, who knows if the twins will be all about routines when they’re his age?), so mix some change into his life, and he gets stressed. He doesn’t know to call it that, yet, though, so it’s mostly coming out as him being clingier than usual, acting out more than usual, whining more than usual, the works. It’s frustrating because it ends up building until we speak pretty harshly to him, and we know what’s causing it, but he’s also not exactly the most open kid emotionally. I give him words to talk about his emotions, and he sort of nods and says, “But you see, Mommy, this ship here can fly with seven kitties in it!”

We all have different coping strategies, I suppose. His is to create rocket ships.

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He’s doing well enough in school, learning how to make the letter “A” and that “umbrella” does not begin with the letter “A.” He goes two days a week, and I wish he could go more, but it’s out of our reach, financially, at least as long as he stays at this school (and I’m not switching his school–his best friends are here, and that would just  make things crazy). I just hope it’s enough that when he transitions to kindergarten next year, it’s not too overwhelming for him.

We’re prepping for that now, because it’s a REALLY big change, probably the biggest in his memory. He’s going to a new school, all day, and he might not–probably won’t, actually–be in the same classroom with the friends he’s known since he was a baby (unless I can work with his best friends’ moms and CONSPIRE, but I think the kindergarten teachers might be overwhelmed by having Sam and his crew all together at once). He wants to ride the school bus (meanwhile, I’m like, look–we live 10 minutes from the school, the school bus takes 45 minutes to get to the school from our house. Why don’t we stress less and drive? Yes? No? Bueller?). He’ll be getting a backpack and other school supplies. He’ll have to learn in a calmer environment.

The latter part has me a little nervous, because he’s always been learning in this playful environment, not quite a Montessori setting (I WISH, but the local Montessori school is WAY out of our price range), but still mostly informal. I haven’t had any complaints from his teachers since he went through a biting phase when he was about eighteen months old (his principal tried to talk to him about what he was doing and why he shouldn’t do it but eventually gave up because he kept repeating everything she said with a lisp, since he was still learning how to talk). I think he’ll be okay, that he’s just saving all his anxious energy for us because he knows we love him no matter what, but I still worry.

I mean. Not a lot, because if he does have issues, we can work through them together, but you never want your kid to struggle.

Otherwise, though, he’s doing well. We’re working to make sure that he feels included in things with the babies, and that he has a really great school year. And he’s planning to be Jack Skellington again this year, so we’ll have to make sure that costume is ready for him. His school is hosting a Trunk or Treat, and depending on what we can scrape together for paint and other supplies, we might make ourselves a spooky pumpkin patch and participate with a trunk.

The babies are going for Halloween as pumpkins, with little jack o’lantern onesies I got from Carter’s, stripey leg warmers, and cute socks. The onesies came with beanies, which I plan to measure tomorrow to see if they fit over the helmets, to which both babies are finally adjusting well.

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It’s been an adventure! Carrie’s helmet was giving her a lot of trouble to start, and she got a pretty gross friction burn on her forehead from it one day (the burn has since healed, but there’s still a scar), but we’ve reduced friction and misery with the liberal use of cornstarch (which has replaced talc in baby powder and also smells really good). Even without wearing the helmets 23/7, they’ve seen about a millimeter of improvement, which isn’t a LOT, but it’s something.

I dove into some craftiness and decorated the helmets myself with some stickers I had lying around from adventures in decorating a calendar at work (aside: did you know that having a day planner is apparently a craft now? Because I did not, but you can get all sorts of stickers for them and it’s kind of bizarre), along with about five coats each of Mod Podge, which theoretically will allow me to remove all the stickers at once when I’m ready (probably around mid November? Or something; whenever I feel ready to do Christmas stickers instead). It’s the craftiest I’ve been in a while, and it was fun–I think I need more excuses and time to be crafty or decoupage or something.

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Both babies remain mildly developmentally delayed. They hit their six month birthday on Friday, but they’re more hitting four month milestones at the moment. Isaac has just figured out rolling over as a method of transportation, so he tends to roll around the living room floor like an alligator trying to steal a chicken from its handler. This gets especially hilarious when he forgets that he can roll from his belly to his back again and wails about the injustice of being on his tummy until someone comes and flips him like a pancake.

Carrie can roll in both directions, but she mostly chooses not to, preferring to just chill in whatever position she finds herself in. She’s a cheerful baby still, or mostly a cheerful baby. She’s an emotional baby, we’ll say that, and you always know what she’s feeling. If you pick up Isaac but not her, she’ll stare at you in cross and stern judgment until you rectify the error. If you walk past her without picking her up at all, she’ll shriek–not just a cry, but an actual, all-out SCREAM, like someone is tearing out her fingernails, until you rectify the error. On the other hand, if you smile at her, she’ll give you the biggest, sunniest, gummy smile ever.

They both babble, in entirely different voices. Isaac’s voice is throatier, and it involves a lot of “Lll” and “Gh” sounds, which is weird, but okay. Carrie is the more traditional baby sound maker, with a lot of “ooh” and “ahh” sounds, and some “buh” and “mah” sneaking in. She’s also learned to make raspberries, which is hilarious on many levels, since it’s her main way of showing relaxed pleasure now (e.g., “I am not HAPPY, per se, but I can see the little toys on my bounce seat move with me, and that is good”).

So they’re okay. We’ve got their six month appointment on October 2, and please GOD the pediatrician will tell us that we can switch to regular formula, which will still be expensive (because we’re shopping for two instead of one; hello, sole reason I wish my tits produced milk instead of just existing like useless 20 lb fleshy funbags), but not as expensive–like $20 or so less a week. So we’re not talking the miracle that will happen in May, when the twins switch to cow’s milk (technically, April 25, 2019; no, I’m not counting down the seconds, my wallet is), but it’ll still be a small relief.

They’re also starting on purees, which is fun. We give them the purees at dinner time, in hopes that it will make them sleep better, but the problem is that they’ve got so many developmental milestones hitting one after another that their nights are very fussy. Isaac graciously gave us a break from his bad sleep pattern for about two nights, but he’s back on it, so I’m expecting he’ll start running triathlons any day now.

It’s all, of course, got me thinking philosophically about a great many things, all sorts of things that I’d love to write about for ages, but when you’re running around after three small humans as a lifestyle, your brain words kind of get jumbled by the time you get around to putting them on paper. And all of the things I’ve been thinking philosophically about are things that could get things a little gross if I word them wrong, so I’ll just not.

Instead, I’ll reflect on the good and the random:

  • I’m counting down the minutes until I can start Christmassing. Don’t get me wrong, I love Halloween, but dressing everyone up for Christmas, pictures with Santa, all of that? Is my JAM. I also know that I won’t be able to do any Christmassing until at least November, so I’m Planning (with a capital P) outfits and pictures and all of this stuff so that I can JUMP ON IT the second I can.

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  • We’re being mostly good with our budget, which is both surprising and nice. Kyle and I have both started paying more attention to what we buy and are learning which things we can get off-brand (most pasta, milk, cheese, pretzels) and which things we’d rather spend the extra dollar on (Ramen, fried onions, ice cream treats, frozen pizza). We did flub up a bit this week, BUT the next pay day is Thursday, so it’s not the end of the world.

  • I’ve been to a playgroup for other moms with kids who are developmentally delayed (as the twins are), and it was… I don’t honestly know. Not BAD, but it felt like a lot of effort for not a lot of reward. I have a mom tribe, and I love them so dearly–they were there for me through a lot of infertility struggles and the stress of the twin pregnancy and I’ve tried to be there for them as well–so I’m not really in the market for another, which seemed to be the overall purpose. The person who sent me to the group through Early Intervention told me that there would be physical therapy there as well, which is what I wanted for Isaac, but we didn’t have any of that. Still, it wasn’t a bad experience, but was it really worth the effort of hauling two babies out of the house at naptime in the rain? Not for me.

  • But maybe when they’re older it would be? I don’t know. I’m bad at figuring out socializing things, and my attempts at making mom friends in the real world largely amount to “haha yeah, babies, aren’t they small?”

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  • And I’ve been done with IVF for a whole year. I still haven’t figured out if I want to do pregnancy again or not, but unless there’s a very big surprise between now and when I figure it out, it’ll be after spending $3000 or so to test the remaining embryos and going through an FET cycle, and won’t that be fun.

And that is all!

For now.

The Measure of a Head

We’re in the countdown for helmets, having been measured officially on Wednesday. We’ll get the helmets themselves on Friday and be able to wean the twins into them over the next two weeks, at which point they’ll be wearing the helmets 23 hours a day, 7 days a week.

I’m weirdly excited about it, because it’s progress. It’s helping them to take steps forward that they otherwise wouldn’t have taken, and it’s fixing a problem before it becomes unfixable. I was scrolling through Instagram the other day (I’m @threelittlesith if you want to stare at pictures of my kids), just browsing the plagiocephaly tag, and I came across images of a kid who had a form of synostosis that caused his skull to fuse too soon, so his plagiocephaly couldn’t be corrected with a helmet, and he needed to have parts of his skull removed.

Which… yikes.

They’re not that bad. Ultimately, they’ve still got soft spots and you can tell that their skulls are still in pieces, which means we’ve got time to fix this, and that’s good. They’re pretty misshapen, to the point where you can tell that they need helmets, but the guy at the orthotics place said that he didn’t expect them to be in for too long, since they’re so little and starting early enough.

So.

You know.

The fitting, on Wednesday, went exceptionally well. Both twins were very well behaved, sitting still and quiet while they were measured and not crying much throughout. The office itself was filled with mostly diabetes patients coming in to get diabetes shoes, and they were all SUPER EXCITED to see even one baby, never mind two. So we did the “are they twins?” dance about 50 times and had a lot of old people smiling at them and cooing and saying, “Oh, you must have your hands full!”

We were the only ones in the waiting room by the time we were called, and we shuffled into a decent-sized office full of measuring gadgets and a medical table and cabinets and the like. Shortly thereafter, our measuring guy (I have no idea what his official title was) came in and used a handful of tools to take manual measurements of their skulls. He then had each twin wear this funny little sock that had just a space for their face to come out and, after attaching a device to said sock, took digital measurements that made a 3D picture of each baby’s head.

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(basically like this, but these aren’t Isaac or Carrie)

The twins were unimpressed throughout, except with the glowy spinny toy they got to watch while being measured. And then they promptly fell asleep.

The only slight glitch in the system came when the receptionist came in to take our payment. We knew that our insurance was covering all but 20% of the helmets, which meant we’d be responsible for $360 of each, a total of $720. We also knew that we’d pay that in two installments: one after the measuring and one after we received the helmets. Whether due to my lack of sleep/brainmeats or just an overall miscommunication, the way the receptionist phrased our bill made me think that we owed $720 after the measurement and another $720 the next week, which we could’ve theoretically scraped together somehow, except we’d only planned for the $360 that day, graciously given by Kyle’s family.

So I had a brief heart attack and Kyle had a brief heart attack, and we both panicked until the receptionist clarified that no, we only owed $360 on Wednesday and the rest next Friday. Okay.

We ordered the twins’ helmets in white, since I want to be able to (a) dress them in whatever clothes I feel like and (b) decorate for the seasons. They had options like a galaxy print and MURICA and what have you, but the white will work just fine, especially as I learned that you can use just regular stickers and ModPodge on them, so there’s no need to spend $30 for decals or more if you go through an Etsy store. Some stickers from Michael’s will do the trick just fine, and Kyle bought like a gallon of ModPodge about a year ago (he was feeling crafty), so we’ll have fun.

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(almost as much fun as my favorite person on the entire internet)

I’m determinedly not adding to my mom guilt list (which includes: son has too much screen time, do not have eight arms, naps instead of like making seasonal wreaths or something, does not own ironing board) that my twins are wearing helmets, because the more I think about it and look at them, the more I’m aware that it was unavoidable. Between the pregnancy and everyone being smushed, their prematurity, and the fact that they spent the first six weeks of their lives sleeping and doing nothing else, it’s no wonder they’ve got flat heads. The deck was stacked against them. And it’s fixable. Very much fixable.

I know some perfect parent exists somewhere who’d screech, “WELL IF YOU JUST HELD THEM MORE” to which I say

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Saint Carrie and I will have none of your shaming, and you should go have a hot toddy and watch The Great British Bake-Off to calm yourself down.

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/