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.

It’s been one week…

In the end, the twins were in the special care nursery for exactly two weeks. Two days before they were sent home, the hospital had us come and stay in a room and care for them throughout the night, which was an honest help overall. Kyle and I were able to get a feel for the newborn care thing again–the overnight, the feeding schedules, our shifts. It wasn’t a true one-to-one experience, as we’d learn in the next couple of days, but it was a reminder of the way things would go, of the way things went four years ago when Sam was this young.

It’s different, of course, because the twins are already on a schedule, which has been weird for having newborns. With Sam, there was no real schedule until he was 3-4 months old, something that had at least a little to do with the full switch over to formula feeding. That’s really a kind of hidden benefit of formula feeding–you have a lot more control over feedings, ensuring that your baby is getting enough food while also ensuring that they’re getting enough sleep. The special care nursery had the twins on such a regimented schedule from the get-go that they’ve just sort of stuck to it since getting home as well.

 

Anyway, we passed the overnight with flying colors, which… honestly, unless you’re some kind of wretched and completely ignoring your baby, I’m not sure how you wouldn’t pass. The most difficult part of the entire experience was getting a teaching from one of our nurses at the start of the night, pushing the overall start of Kyle and my shifts later by about an hour. I enjoyed our talk, mostly because she confirmed our decision to formula feed exclusively and even applauded it; I just wish it had happened earlier in the night.

The only difficult part of the night was entirely my fault. I caught Isaac mid-poo and had to clean up his clothes and change his diaper a couple of times before I got it all. Carrie was crying all the while, so it was an adventure, to say the least. Thankfully, that didn’t happen again the rest of the night and hasn’t happened again since, though I’m sure it’s just a matter of time.

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We’d heard a rumor that we’d be bringing the twins home immediately after the overnight, but the nurses were all quick to reassure us that wasn’t true. In the end, they came home the day after the overnight, and both of them have been doing well since. We’ve been doing well since, for the most part, but the adjustment… well, that’s been more difficult than the actual baby care, if that makes sense.

And by “adjustment,” I mean that Sam is having a hard time adjusting to not being the only child anymore. It’s more than that; I think that, were it just the “oldest, not only” thing, it would be a lot easier, but we’ve added onto it all the time I spent in the hospital and Kyle and I went back and forth to the hospital and how unsettled his life was the last several weeks, and the poor kid just can’t cope very well. He’s only three, after all, and that many life changes are hard even for an adult.

He’s regressed in a lot of ways–undone all his potty training when he’s at home, stopped really sleeping through the night, demanding cuddles and carrying at all times–and it all makes sense from an emotional perspective. He feels like he’s not getting enough attention, and he’s told us so in many ways and as many words. Not coincidentally, everything he’s doing to act out is something that requires us to pay attention to him. If he pees or poops his pants, we have to clean up after him. If he has a nightmare and comes into our room, we have to take care of him. If he demands cuddles or carrying, we either have to tell him no or pick him up.

It’s become an awkward sort of balancing act, between enacting consequences when he does act out (for the record: I don’t consider demanding attention in general to be acting out, but when the kid purposely runs to the dining room to drop a deuce like he’s forgotten what bathrooms are, you kind of have to do something in response) and trying to help him cope with the emotions he has. But he’s three, so it’s just a really weird situation. There’s only so much we can do to help him figure things out, and we’re of two minds about it, Kyle and I. Kyle’s a little stressed out about things, so he leans towards more consequences; I am also stressed out, but I’m all like “feelings” about it, so I lean more towards talking things out.

And, well, neither option is working terribly well. Some days are better than others, and Sam does a LOT better mornings than he does nights, but ultimately, even though we know that this is temporary, it’s still probably the hardest part of this process.

The worst night so far involved Sam waking up at around 11 p.m. with nightmares about me dying and nobody helping me (OH OKAY). Initially, he came into our bedroom with Kyle because it was my shift to be up with the twins (more on that in a minute), and when Kyle came downstairs to get a clean Pull-Up for Sam, I suggested that he bring Sam down to rest on the couch so that he (meaning Kyle) could get some decent sleep before his next shift. This ended up being a huge mistake; Sam didn’t sleep the entire time he was downstairs, instead spending the rest of the time he was downstairs with me patiently waiting for me to finish taking care of the babies before snuggling up on my lap and chatting with me about three-year-old things (e.g., “I think the babies like chocolate” or “Mommy, what’s bigger, thirteen or a lot?”).

So, well. It’s a work in progress. He’s got his grandparents on both sides giving him relentless affirmation of how loved he still is, and he’s very slowly coming around to the babies (he even kissed their–mittened–hands today!), but he’s getting there.

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Newborns-wise, I’m going to knock on wood, but things are going really well so far.

Back when Sam was a newborn, the first couple of months were the hell that everyone describes and expects. Neither Kyle nor I got any sleep, and we were both on the verge of insanity all the time. Kyle actually fell asleep mid-sentence when he was at lunch with some co-workers, and they felt so bad for him that they let him keep sleeping with someone there to chaperone him. We had no sense of order or schedule, and I have zero doubt that the chaos contributed to my postpartum depression.

BUT eventually, we figured out a system that made life easier. We took shifts, each of us sleeping for three hours straight and sitting up with baby Sam for three hours straight (which meant getting a lot of Netflix in). Once we figured that schedule out, life got SO much easier, and we remained comfortable and sensible until Sam hit the 3-4 month mark and started sleeping through the night.

(dear any new parents reading my blog for whatever reason: really, the exhaustion is temporary. No, your sleep schedule will never be the same, but the newborn phase ends soon, and you’ll sleep again, I promise)

With the twins, they’re already on a four-hour schedule, and so we’ve adjusted our shifts: Kyle sleeps from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m., and I sleep from 2 a.m. until 7 a.m. (ish). It’s proven surprisingly doable. We’re both exhausted, and I do miss sleeping more, but I don’t feel overwhelmed or like I’m going to die from sleep deprivation. The only hiccup so far came the other day, when a really strong low pressure system moved through and gave me an incredible migraine. By around 2 p.m., I couldn’t function, so Kyle was sweet enough to let me run upstairs and take a nap while he hung out with the kids.

As babies, the biggest challenge with the twins is just that there are two of them, but even that isn’t too much of a challenge. It just means that feedings and changings are two for the price of one, and that’s not too difficult. We’ve staggered their feedings enough that we’re easily able to finish the first feed/change before the second baby even wakes up. And that, overall, makes life a thousand and one times easier, and I’m super grateful to the NICU for getting them in that practice.

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And one way or another, we’re succeeding on some level. Both twins have reached and surpassed their birth weights, three weeks in, which is great for premature babies. They’re starting to focus their eyes on us, which is awesome, and their growth is remaining right on track. Their doctor has even mentioned that if they continue on this path, he’ll have a hard time thinking of them as preemies by as soon as four to six months along. He expects they’ll start hitting their milestones right on target in about that time period, and that’s pretty awesome.

Kids are great, I’m feeling great. I think pregnancy just had me feeling so awful that my C-section recovery has been a breeze by comparison. I’ve been off the prescription meds since about a week after delivery, and I’m not even taking pain medication for any surgery stuff at all any longer. I still occasionally feel some tension and tightness when I bend over a certain way or twist a certain way, but beyond that, I feel mostly healed. I’m avoiding driving and carrying Sam and the baby carriers around out of an abundance of caution, but my energy is up, my motivation is up, and I’m loving life.

It’s even wilder because I don’t have PPD this time (thank you Effexor), so I’m genuinely enjoying the newborn phase. The twins are sweet and good babies, Sam does well when we respond to him with empathy and understanding, and I feel… content. And that’s good.

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Arrival, Part 2: Special Care

Our hospital doesn’t really have a “NICU” per se; it’s a special care nursery for babies born after 34 weeks (we made the cut-off, yay!) or born with some problems that aren’t necessarily life threatening ones. The nursery has lifesaving equipment in case of an emergency, but they couldn’t, for example, keep an infant on a CPAP for a very long time because they aren’t trained for that. If that became the case for someone, they’d have that baby transported down the street to Memorial, where they have a Level III NICU for very sick babies.

So that already makes the place a little different from what I’d expected. I watched videos about babies in NICUs because I knew that twins have this tendency to come early. From what I’d read, 35 weeks was the average, but I was placing money on anywhere from 32 to 36 weeks, regardless of anyone else’s expectations. Towards the end of my pregnancy, the placing money was kind of a “hope” more than anything else because I was enormous and uncomfortable and itching so bad I wanted to peel my skin off with a cheese grater. Of course, nobody ever wants their baby to be sick or to need time in the NICU because, well, it hurts.

But I’ll get to that.

When my surgery ended and I was wheeled back to the eerie room with its pseudo Lovecraftian aesthetic, my twins headed straight for the special care nursery. We got a report later from the nurse who’d taken charge of their care, explaining the treatments they’d received upon arriving there. She explained about babies breathing that it was like inflating a balloon. The first time you inflate a balloon, there’s a lot of resistance, but if you leave a little air in the balloon when you deflate it, it will inflate much easier the second time.

(I don’t know who’s inflating and deflating balloons out there, but I’m here to tell you, friend, that is not how you use a balloon)

Baby lungs are the same way, but when babies are born before their lungs are completely mature, they can just expel all of the air from their lungs, which means that although breathing still happens, each subsequent breath is as difficult as their very first, and they get very tired, very quickly. The solution is a CPAP machine, or one of several other methods of forcing air into the lungs and keeping it from all escaping completely. “But we don’t have a longterm CPAP machine here,” the nurse-or-doctor explained (and apologies that I don’t remember; I was kind of still on a lot of drugs when she talked to us), “so if they do need that–and they don’t yet, but if they do, we’ll have to send them to Memorial.”

She told us other details about the twins’ oxygen saturation and CO2 saturation and how they were working to balance that out, but assured us that they were really strong and healthy for 34-week-old twins. “And big!” she added and laughed. Isaac topped out at 5 lbs, 12 oz and 18.75” long, while Carrie tipped the scales at 6 lbs, 1 oz and 18.5” long. They didn’t necessarily fall into the category of MAHOOSIVE, but for perspective, another 34 weeker came in about four days after they were born and weighed in closer to 4 lbs. So they’re not delicate for their age either.

But the twins were alright; that’s what I gleaned from the entire conversation, even though my head was swimming and I couldn’t feel or move my toes. The trouble was that I’d have to wait to see them for several more hours, as jumping right out of bed after major abdominal surgery isn’t the best idea of all time.

Kyle got to see them first, and I don’t begrudge it of him because he took pictures and videos for me. By the time he got there, both babies were breathing room air and sleeping, as exhausted by the ordeal as I was. They had so many wires and tubes and IVs hooked into them that they looked sort of like they were part of the Matrix, but of course, they weren’t.

And they were so pink, too, healthy and pink. I held onto that quite a lot over the next several hours as my nurses changed shifts and I faced the big requirement for going to see them: peeing.

(I’m going to tell the story of my first time peeing after the surgery later, because I want to write about the twins now. Aren’t you so excited to read about me peeing? I know you are)

The peeing thing happened at around 4 a.m., and I was exhausted and dizzy and my eyes kept closing and I hurt everywhere, but I DIDN’T CARE because I literally would have walked barefoot on a mile of Legos to see the babies at that point. And thankfully, the hurty part ended quickly and with me sitting in a wheelchair and wrapped in blankets, like the sickly character in a novel that takes place in a time when ladies wore really large dresses. And it was 4 a.m. and Kyle was half asleep and I was half asleep, but we still all wheeled down the hall, merry as can be, to go and see the babies and to finally have skin-to-skin contact with them.

Skin-to-skin contact is one of the most important things you can do for your baby in the first hours of their life: it helps them to regulate their breathing and body temperature, it helps with bonding, and it’s just an emotionally uplifting thing overall. If the twins hadn’t been preemies, I’d have spent the first two hours of their lives holding them both against my bare chest, letting them feel my heartbeat and warmth, smell my skin, remember me. It’s what I did with Sam, and something we practiced very frequently even after he left the hospital. Kyle did it as well, and I honestly cannot emphasize how much it meant to me, how much good it did, and how much I’d wanted to do it again with the twins.

But I didn’t get the chance until 4 a.m.

Still, at 4 a.m., I took the fucking chance. I was too tired and too eager to really care who was seeing me with my hospital gown flapping down about my waist after the nurses helped me to unsnap it. They closed curtains around the twins’ corner (they have their own corner of the nursery because there are two of them and they’re both in incubators), but honestly, a parade of leering assholes could’ve marched through the nursery and gawked at me and I would not have cared from the second I held each of my babies against my chest.

(this is very sappy and crunchy, like eating a tree)

And then we had to leave. They were too small and delicate to be out of their incubators for very long, and I needed my rest and my medication. Before we left, though, the nurses explained all of their lines and wires to us. The twins each had monitors checking on their heart rate, breathing rate, and the oxygen saturation in their blood. They had IVs in their hands, delivering liquid nutrients and calories to their tiny bodies, since they were still too unstable to try eating from a bottle. They had little thermometers giving feedback on their temperature. They were wrapped in hospital blankets, and they had those funny striped hospital hats on their tiny heads.

Which was something I couldn’t stop thinking about, even after we left: how tiny they were. Now, mind, they’re pretty big for 34 weekers, as I’d said before; but I also have to point out my basis for comparison, which is Sam.

When Sam was born, he wasn’t one of those monster babies that you see on the news where they look like they already know how to drive a truck and sing baritone, but he was still a very respectable 8 lbs, 11 oz and 20.5” long. He’d already mostly sized out of newborn clothes and was definitely too big for newborn shoes, bringing to mind the saddest six-word story ever written:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

That was written by Ernest Hemingway, and it’s objectively sad until you realize that the reason the baby shoes were never worn is because the baby had unexpectedly ENORMOUS feet, and that baby was Sam. I still remember reflecting sadly over a pair of fuzzy monster shoes I’d bought right after we found out he was a boy. They were too small. He never wore them.

So that’s my basis for comparison, a baby too big for baby shoes and newborn clothes, not monstrously huge but definitely never tiny.

And here were these little peanuts, big for 34 weeks, but compared to their brother and most newborns I’ve held, absolutely teeny. Teacup sized. Their heads and hands are so tiny, their noses are eensy, their ears are weensy, but what gets me the most is their feet. Their feet are SO SMALL. It’s absolutely ridiculous! Each foot, each of the four baby feet, is the length of my thumb. I do not have long thumbs. In fact, they’re kind of stumpy. And my babies’ feet are smaller than my thumbs.

Their feet also do not fit in the baby shoes, but this time because they are far too SMALL.

Anyway. We had to leave. And the next couple of days became a sort of confusion when it came to visiting the nursery. When you have a healthy baby, you can go down to the nursery and see them and hold them and love on them any time. You can request specifically that your baby is brought to you for feedings; if you’re in a baby friendly hospital, your baby will be there anyway. You can hold them while they sleep, you can hold them while they’re awake, you can change their diaper any time and let their siblings and grandparents and aunties and uncles and cousins hold them, and it’s grand.

You can’t do that with NICU babies.

NICU babies, you see, need to spend a lot of time in incubators when they’re very young because they can’t figure out how to regulate their body temperatures yet. You can theoretically keep the overall room temperature really high and hope that works for them, but it’s usually not high enough, and if they start to get cold, things go downhill quickly.

So they stay in incubators except for brief visits outside when they’re being examined or eventually fed. And in theory, the outside visits happen roughly every four hours (side note: dear nursery, thank you for getting my babies on a schedule long before we could ever hope to do so at home), but sometimes there’s a checkup you didn’t know about or sometimes the babies wake up early or sometimes you’re trying to get there on time but you keep getting cornered by medical personnel wanting to check your incision, and by the time you get there, the NICU nurses just smile apologetically and say, “Oh, we just finished with his feeding and put him back to sleep. He needs to rest now.”

And this also hurts.

Because you want what’s best for them, you want them to get the best possible chance, but knowing that you missed having them in your arms by that much is a bit like a punch to the face.

This really only stayed a problem while I was still at the hospital, and even when I couldn’t hold them, the nurses gave me all the news of their progress. Carrie has been progressing the fastest, but Isaac hasn’t been far behind, except that he has a fondness for what they call “bradys.” Bradys, where preemies are concerned, are times when the baby’s heart decelerates, and they can happen for any number of reasons. Isaac’s preferred reasoning is that he’s hungry and drank his bottle too fast, and that somehow makes his heart rate drop, which in turn makes his oxygen saturation plummet (this is called a “desat”), which in turn makes his mother freak the fuck out when she’s trying to feed him, even after the nurses easily get him back to normal and tease him for being such a brat.

Not that this, you know, happened to me yesterday or anything.

Now that I’m out of the hospital, we plan our visits and coordinate with the nurses, so they’ll know that we’re going to be there for the noon feeding or the 4:00 feeding or something along those lines, and they’ll make sure to try and postpone the feeding until we get there. Even if they can’t (read: Isaac is screaming and Carrie is kicking the walls of her incubator), they make sure to put off as long as possible so that we have a chance to at least hold them and rock them and change their clothes for the day.

(changing their clothes is illogically one of my favorite things because it makes them seem so normal and so like they’re just at home, and I need that)

They’re showing real bits of personality, too, different on some levels from what I got used to when I was carrying them, but familiar as well.

Isaac has two modes: enrage and asleep. If it’s taking too long to get him his bottle, if he feels like he’s not getting enough attention, if he needs a diaper, he’s enraged. And oh, that boy can scream. He goes from zero to RAGING in about 0.04 seconds flat, and he’s got lungs on him. Usually, the incubator walls muffle the babies’ crying somewhat, but not Isaac. He has a problem, and you WILL know about it.

But then when the problem is solved, he mellows out so easily and reaches this incredible state of peaceful bliss, especially with me or Kyle. He wants to be comfortable more than anything, so if he’s getting the attention he wants and snuggled up with someone he loves and has all his needs met, it takes another 0.04 seconds for him to fall right asleep and sleep so soundly and deeply that, yes, he occasionally had bradys in his sleep.

He also belches like a trucker.

Carrie, on the other hand, doesn’t really scream or cry that often. She’s more of a fusser, kind of like Sam was. If she’s not happy with her circumstances, she’ll give her own little cries, which are more of polite protests than anything else, but will immediately stop once things stop being weird. She’s far more interested in looking around and taking in the world around her, as much of it as she can see. When you hold her, her eyes just stay WIDE wide open and drink in everything, especially you.

She vacillates with how she does on feedings, and her feedings have a lot more variety than Isaac’s. Sometimes, she’ll just sip at 25 ml and be done; other times, she’ll chug 45 ml before you know what happened. She’s not a belcher, nor often a burper, which gets frustrating at feeding time, because you need her to burp in order to make room for more food, but nope. She prefers to just look up at you and will actually use what little neck strength she has to pick up her head and turn it to face you if it’s not already doing so (e.g., when you’re holding her forward and getting her to burp). And when the nurse can’t get her to eat anymore and I can’t get her to eat anymore, it seems to help a great deal when we get Kyle on the phone. She’s a daddy’s girl already.

They’re both such delights, honestly, and leaving them is the worst part of the day, even when you know that it’s just another day closer to when they’ll come home. When it’s time to leave, I’ll have packed up their dirty clothes and picked up their diaper bag, and they’ll both be tucked sweetly back in their incubators. They have blankets from  home now, muslin ones, that I slept with one night so that they would be saturated with my scent (which sounds creepy and weird, but scent is pretty much the only reliable sense they have right now). They’ll both be asleep or mostly that way, but because they’re in the incubators, I can’t really touch them, so I tap the glass and tell them to be good and that I love them and that I’ll see them tomorrow.

And then I go, and I thank the nurses on the way out, and I make jokes even though part of me is staying behind. I press the silver buttons that let me out of the maternity ward, after I have one of the nurses validate my parking ticket, and I ride home with Kyle because I can’t drive yet.

And sometimes, like yesterday, I go home and I cry and I cry and I cry because I know they’ll be home soon, but goddamnit, soon isn’t now, and I’m very childish and temperamental when it comes to having all of my babies under one roof and within easy access of my arms.

Rumor has it, though, that we’re just a few days out. Rumor has it that Isaac is getting off the monitors, and that afterwards, he and Carrie can both try sleeping in cribs instead of incubators. Rumor has it that we need to bring their car seats in for a car seat safety test (where the nurses make sure that they have the neck strength to not suffocate themselves in a car seat), and rumor has it that once they’re in cribs, it’s only another couple of days until they’re home with us.

And I really hope that rumor is true.