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.

Arrival, Part 1: Actually Arriving

In retrospect, I could probably write a long blog entry about the signs of early labor I’d been dealing with for several weeks by the time I went into the hospital on the morning of Wednesday, March 14, because as it turns out, I’d been dismissing a lot of things that I shouldn’t have been: actual contractions, loose stools, pelvic pressure, the works. For as much as I fancy myself knowledgeable on topics of pregnancy, labor, and delivery, I actually was completely clueless when it came to recognizing that I’d been in early labor for several weeks.

BUT this is already going to be long, so I’ll just fast forward to Tuesday.

Tuesday, March 13, we had a nor’easter here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It was the third in less than three weeks, and everyone had a feeling of fatigue when the forecast called for a whole bunch of snow on top of the stuff we’d gotten the week before. Sam’s school was closed for the day, Kyle was working from home, and I was adamant that I absolutely would not go into labor that day.

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Not that I had a lot of reason to believe I’d go into labor so early, of course. Despite my immense discomfort, my pregnancy had been smooth and healthy, and the twins were growing steadily enough. I itched like hell and was begging for my bile acid test to show that I had ICP so that I could start receiving treatment for it, and of course I had the aches and pains to be expected with carrying twins, but I had no reason to suspect that I’d be delivering them any earlier than overall vague guestimates of 36-38 weeks. I expected Easter babies, I expected several more weeks of misery, and I expected my body to listen when I demanded that it NOT go into labor in the middle of a snowstorm.

And, well, I didn’t, but I was uncomfortable. The discomfort was nothing new, but I just felt overall unwell, tired and full of malaise. Both were easy to chalk up to late pregnancy misery, but late pregnancy misery or no, I was relieved when it was finally time for bed.

I’ve mentioned before that falling asleep while so enormously pregnant is a difficult process, and on Tuesday night, it was no different. I rolled and I shifted, I stretched and I turned, and eventually, I fell asleep on my side, facing a gently snoring Kyle. And I’d been sleeping pretty well, too, until around 2:30 a.m. Kyle’s hand must have fallen from wherever it was resting as he slept, and it gently thwacked me in the belly, jolting me out of sleep (as even a gentle jolt against that belly is enough to shock me into consciousness). I sleepily berated him and then began the difficult task of walrusing myself out of bed to use the toilet.

Because when you’re that pregnant, you always need to use the toilet.

When I got back to bed, I settled down in my sleeping nest and was immediately greeted by hip-to-hip pelvic pain. It was pretty bad–a six or seven on a scale of 1-10.

a-better-pain-chart(per Allie Brosh’s fabulous chart, I saw Jesus coming for me)

Still, I dismissed it as round ligament pain for the most part. The entire team who’d cared for me throughout my pregnancy had warned that, especially when you’re carrying twins, round ligament pain can be excruciating. I’d just gotten up and shifted my position, which logically had shifted the twins’ position and thus the position of the pain. The fact that I managed to fall asleep within ten minutes seemed to further my conclusion that I wasn’t really in labor, that it was just regular aches and pains, that I’d be fine by morning.

Well.

Morning came as it always does. Sam woke Kyle up, and the two of them started to head downstairs in order to let me sleep a little longer (until 8:30; it was 7 at the time). The trouble was that I couldn’t fall back asleep because the pain was still there, just as bad as it had been at 2:30 in the morning. I shifted and rolled and tried to calm it down with positional changes, but it persisted. Still, I didn’t want to call it “labor” because it didn’t feel like contractions–the pain wasn’t coming in waves or intensifying and releasing. It didn’t take breaks; it just hurt. At that point, I thought I’d just really aggravated the muscles, but I still wanted to call a doctor, just to be sure.

So I called Kyle up. “Don’t start freaking out,” I told him, “but I’ve been cramping since 2:30 a.m., so I’m going to call the doctor if moving around, eating breakfast, and drinking water don’t help.”

To his credit, he kept his freak out internal as I shuffled downstairs and slowly ate breakfast. He got in touch with his boss and said that he might not be in that day. I gently urged Sam away from my lap and ate, still not noticing any ebbs and flows in pain like you’d expect from contractions, but instead noticing that the pain was lessening the longer I sat. Not lessening, however, were the number of Braxton Hicks contractions I started feeling.

Braxton Hicks contractions, for the uninitiated, are painless “practice” contractions the uterus goes through in the last several months of pregnancy. The uterus tightens and releases, but the contractions do nothing in terms of thinning or shortening the cervix, so these contractions don’t require medical attention. They’re annoying and can be pretty intense, but they’re not a sign of anything going awry.

And I was having them Wednesday morning, but they weren’t at regular intervals, and they certainly weren’t painful. Intense, yes: the way the muscles in my abdomen tightened left me entirely breathless and unable to do much until they relaxed. But painful? Not even close. It was like involuntarily trying to deconstipate or lift a heavy object; again, not painful, just a lot of effort.

I finished breakfast and excused myself from the living room, where Sam was pretty engaged with his movie (Moana, maybe? I was a little focused at that moment). I intended to sit at my computer and google my symptoms while calling the nurse line and making sure that my phone had some good labor playlists on it, which was one of my last checklist items. To my annoyance, my computer had decided to install updates overnight, so I watched it balefully while chatting with the nurse line and coming up with a plan of action.

Initially, the on-call nurse suggested that I go to an appointment at their Westborough office to get checked out. Because the pain wasn’t strong and rhythmic, she said, it didn’t sound like labor, so a quick appointment would probably help me figure out what it was and end with me going home to rest and drink water. She’d talk with the physician assistant on call to make sure, but she said it just sounded like I needed a quick once-over and that I’d be fine. My appointment would be at 9 a.m.

I got up and started pulling myself together, texting my mother to ask if she could watch Sam for a little bit, telling Kyle that he should probably hold off on going to work for at least the morning, and planning to just drive myself the half hour to Westborough and get checked out on my lonesome. Five minutes later, the nurse called back after speaking with the physician assistant. “She thinks you should go straight to labor and delivery,” the nurse explained. “It’s probably nothing, but since you’re expecting twins and since you’re 34 weeks along, she just would rather have you there, just in case.”

Alright, cool. I got off the phone and told Kyle and my mother (over the phone in a different conversation) of the change in plans. We’d drop Sam off at my mother’s house on our way to the hospital, in Framingham, and then pick him up later today or tonight, depending on how long they took to monitor Isaac and send us home. “Just in case,” I gave Kyle a list of things to pack in a labor bag, like our chargers and a bathrobe for me and so on. I went to help get Sam get dressed.

Five minutes later, the phone rang again. This time, it was the doctor at the hospital where we’d planned to deliver. “How far are you from here?” she asked. “Because the roads aren’t great, and if this is an emergency, we don’t want you to have to travel far. I see that you have two hospitals closer, Saint Vincent’s and Memorial. Saint Vincent’s is actually our affiliate, so why don’t you go there?”

COOL. I told Kyle about the new change in plans, passed the information along to my mom, and bundled everyone up in the car. I kept my phone in my hand, just in case they called again, and we sped along the highway for the ten minute drive between our house and Saint Vincent’s.

(you may wonder why we weren’t going there in the first place, and in fact, I had Sam at Saint Vincent’s, and it was a great experience. This time, I’d been more interested in following my OB-GYN, even though it meant a longer drive to an unfamiliar hospital, so heading to Saint Vincent’s again was… off-book, to say the least)

My mom met us up at registration, where the Braxton Hicks contractions hadn’t really let up and were keeping me from concentrating on the questions at hand: things like emergency contacts, insurance, and so on. We hadn’t planned to deliver at this hospital, so we weren’t preregistered or anything, and every question and signature only served to make me appreciate the preregistration process more. After what seemed like hours of paperwork, but was really only a few minutes, the registrar set me free and found me a wheelchair, which Sam desperately wanted to ride in. We denied him this and instead distracted him with the fancy glass elevator between floors.

Once off the elevator, our motley crew wheeled through the hospital’s grand atrium (complete with birds, trees, and a working waterfall) until we reached the Center for Women and Infants. Our party split there–Sam and my mom went to the waiting room while Kyle and I continued on to one of the labor and delivery suites, the one in the farthest corner of the hall.

The room itself embodied the unsettling sort of Lovecraftian aesthetic that’s so familiar in our part of the state, for better or for worse. The walls had a sort of mauve-and-seafoam Victorian border against beige “texture,” broken up only by a large picture of babies in hats. Jesus stared down at us from a silver crucifix–after all, it’s a Catholic hospital–and something about the decor gave the flavor of a turn-of-the-20th-century asylum more than anything else. The view of bricks and snow and the grey light from outside the frosted window only added to the eeriness, and I laughed with Kyle at the sight. Wouldn’t it be funny if I really was in labor and this was the where of it all?

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Ha.

Every trip to labor and delivery begins the same way. Once you’ve been admitted, the nurses send you into the bathroom, where you pee into a cup, take off all your clothes, and change into a gown that is in no way large enough to cover you. You’re lucky if it ties at all, enormous belly considered. You’re also lucky if they remember to give you a plastic baggie of slipper socks (I was not lucky on Wednesday, at least not to start). Once this is all done, the nurses return to you and place monitors the size of whoopie pies all over your belly to monitor your kids and your contractions. This is uncomfortable, but definitely not the most uncomfortable experience of the day.

It’s even more uncomfortable when you have one twin who is just completely disinterested in being monitored ever, ISAAC.

The nurses found him eventually, though, and I explained my situation to about 50 people coming in and out of my room to do various things–take my blood pressure, give me an IV, ask me what was going on, ask me how far along I was, introduce themselves as Nancy (I had three Nancys helping me at one point). At length, the nurse midwife on call came in, introduced herself, and performed a pelvic exam, which felt like the fist of God. I figured this would be the thing to send me home–that she’d have reached up into my tonsils and come down with the conclusion that I wasn’t dilated at all, that I just needed to poop, and that I could go home.

As I writhed on the bed and grimaced and Kyle watched me and eventually remarked, “That didn’t look like fun,” the midwife hummed and finally withdrew her hand. “You’re about 60% effaced and at a -1 station, and you’re also about 4 cm dilated.”

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And now, a lesson on dilation, effacement, and labor.

In labor, the muscles on the sides of your uterus contract to thin out, or efface, your cervix while simultaneously opening, or dilating, your cervix. The goal is to reach 100% effacement and 10 cm dilated, which can take anywhere from hours to weeks. Over the course of this process, your muscles also ease your baby, or babies, into the birth canal–their station is a determination of how close they are to birth, with -5 being “nowhere near the birth canal” and +5 being “actively being born.”

Dilation is the number most people are familiar with, and it’s also the number doctors use to determine whether or not you’re in active labor. Most won’t send you home once you’re past 4 cm dilated, and suddenly, there I was, having no idea that I’d been dilating at all and being told that this, this was it. I was 4 cm dilated, and because of the twins’ gestational age, they weren’t going to do anything to stop it. I was having two babies, and I was having two babies on that day, Wednesday, March 14.

This is, I believe, the third time during this pregnancy that a surprise revelation has caused me to say, very loudly, “Holy shit!”

Knowing that I was in active labor, everyone picked up the pace. I got a bag of fluids to start my IV adventure, and the doctor on call wheeled an ultrasound machine into the room to double check Isaac and Carrie’s positions, the latter of whom remained breech. The midwife also came back to do my test for Group B Strep, which I’d not had done yet because, again, 34 weeks pregnant. Nobody really expected me to go so soon. While I was being poked and prodded and having my dignity slowly removed (it’s kind of a burlesque routine), Kyle took charge of calling and texting everyone to let them know that hey, babies were coming TODAY, surprise!

Partway through the tests, the doctor came into the room with me and sat down next to my legs on the bed. “So we have a few options here,” she said. I liked her a lot from the get-go; she was young, with a broad smile and the most gorgeous dreds I’ve seen in my life, dyed a golden ombre. She also had the matter-of-fact attitude that I appreciate about doctors, and a sense of humor about the whole thing. “Because Baby B is breech, we normally wouldn’t be able to give you much–you’d have to delivery by Caesarian. We do have a doctor here today, though, who specializes in breech deliveries. So we could let you labor through and try to deliver Baby B breech. We could also have you labor through and then attempt an external cephalic version after Baby A is born–that would just mean me pushing on your stomach to try and get Baby B to turn head-down for delivery. There’s no guarantee either of those would work, and in both cases, that would mean a C-section. You also have the option of just going for the C-section from the get-go. It’s all in your hands; whatever you want to do, we’ll support you, because the babies are both healthy and responsive, and you’re young and healthy as well.”

This was objectively refreshing. There are a lot of stories around the internet as a whole telling of forced C-sections, cascades of interventions, and painting doctors as pushing women into unnecessary C-sections for a variety of reasons, depending on how conspiracy theory you want to go with these things (liability, money, the Illuminati told them to, etc.). And I’m not saying that sort of thing never happens; I’m sure it happens plenty and in plenty of places around the country.

But. Having a C-section presented as my choice, having it be my choice, was really refreshing amidst those stories. It set the tone for the entire experience: even though a C-section is a situation in which you literally have no control over a lot of things, the medical team made sure I had control over this one thing, and that helped so much.

So I chose the C-section. I love delivering vaginally; it’s a huge rush, and I’m damn good at it. With Sam, it took me all of 45 minutes of pushing and he was out and home free. I know I could probably do a breech delivery, especially of a pre-term baby, and I know that I could cope with the discomfort of a version if I had to. But all that said, the idea of going through all of that, of laboring and laboring and trying these methods and having one fail and needing a C-section anyway? I hated it. A C-section was never my ideal, but in that moment, I knew it was the right choice for me, and I told the doctor as much.

And thus the prep began.

My C-section was tentatively scheduled for somewhere between 2 and 4 p.m., leaning closer to 4 p.m. so that (a) my breakfast would digest, and (b) the steroid shot given to help the twins’ lungs mature even a little bit more could take effect. A steady stream of people flowed in and out of my room, everyone doing something different, having me sign a different form, telling me details of a different facet of the procedure.

(Kyle sneaked out to get a slice of pizza and some coffee somewhere in there as well)

I got bags of antibiotics, both because of the surgery and because we didn’t know if I was positive for GBS or not. I got more fluids. I got another cervical check, confirming that I’d dilated to nearly 5 cm. I got a nice shave–of my bikini line. I got to meet Joe, the nurse anesthetist, who had me sign an entire book of papers. I signed that book of papers. I signed some more papers about surgical consent. I signed more papers about drug testing (standard procedure for preemies). I had a third cervical check, confirming I was at 5.5 cm.

Around 3:45, another nurse anesthetist (Nancy, not to be confused with Nancy the admitting nurse or Nancy the baby monitoring nurse) brought me a cocktail of drugs to stave off the nausea I’d normally have experienced with anesthesia. I choked down something impossibly bitter while another nurse gave Kyle his own set of scrubs, complete with hat and booties. Another nurse rolled a pair of slipper socks onto my feet, and another wrapped a sheet around my shoulders like a robe. I heard another woman give birth across the hall, and I applauded, though I don’t think she heard me.

Nancy the Nurse Anesthetist and another nurse (possibly also another Nancy, I lost track) served as my escorts as we left the labor and delivery room and made our way down the hall to the operating room. I’ve been in my fair share of operating rooms before, especially considering my history with IVF, but this one came as a pleasant surprise to me. Sure, the table and room overall were cold and sterile, but something about the two radiant warmers set up and covered with blankets settled my nerves. They seemed to say, nothing bad will happen here today. Today, this room is a room of life.

At Nancy the Nurse Anesthetist’s instructions, I heaved my walrus body up onto the operating table, my butt as far back as I could manage without actually falling off (wouldn’t that have been an adventure?). Once I’d settled, she introduced me to Sergei, another anesthesiologist, who would be monitoring me. Sergei’s job, at that point, was to keep me from moving or being too uncomfortable as Nancy gave me my spinal block, a sort of epidural on steroids that essentially turned off my entire body below my stomach. Sergei didn’t completely succeed: the spinal block still briefly felt like someone driving knuckles into my vertebrae, but at length, a warm sensation flooded down through my back and legs, and I felt insanely dizzy. Sergei and Nancy lowered me onto the table, and my legs disappeared from existence.

Well. That’s not true. I felt my legs. I felt my entire lower body. It just felt like instead of existing as things that could be moved on their own or used, they were all wrapped in a heavy blanket, warm and comfortable. The weird part was that I couldn’t move my legs or wiggle my toes, no matter how hard I tried. A lot of people would logically find this weird or frightening; I thought it was hilarious that I was putting so much brain effort into something so simple, mostly because I knew it was temporary.

Anyway. I couldn’t wiggle my toes, and soon, I couldn’t see anything below my chin, as the medical staff placed a huge blue sheet so close to my face that I kept inhaling it. Nancy the Nurse Anesthetist clucked her tongue at this. “I always tell them to put it a little farther down; it doesn’t need to be in your mouth,” she scolded nobody, moving the sheet away from my mouth. Meanwhile, below the sheet, someone remarked to me, “Abigail, this is going to feel like sandpaper, alright?” And then I felt no sandpaper, just someone rubbing my belly a lot. The rubbing didn’t stop and eventually turned into more of a rocking as my doctor arrived.

“Are you going to pinch me to make sure I can’t feel anything?” I asked nobody in particular, remembering what I’d seen in educational videos on C-sections. My doctor smiled at me over my sheet; or I assume she smiled, because she was wearing a mask.

“I have been,” she assured me before returning to her work. A moment later, Kyle came in, though I couldn’t really see him because of his placement and my position. Still, I gave him a cheerful smile.

“Hi honey!” I said. “I can’t feel my feet!”

“I saw your guts!” he answered in as cheerful a tone. “They’re yellow!”

Because, as it turned out, they’d already begun the surgery before he came in. I was mildly disappointed–he’d brought my phone with him so that I could play my C-section playlist, which started with Weird Al’s “Like a Surgeon”–but hey, it meant he got to see my guts. That’s a privilege not many people have experienced.

(and as he said saccharinely later that night: “Now I can say with all honesty that I love you from the inside out.”)

Someone warned me of pressure and tugging, but I didn’t feel anything different, and then before I knew what was happening, I heard a cry: angry and small and demanding to be heard. “Isaac,” Kyle confirmed, and I started to choke up.

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“He’s crying,” I said. Hearing your baby cry right when they’re born is such a relief, especially if that baby is being born early. Crying means breathing. Crying means that air is coming into and going out of their lungs. Crying means that, even if just for this moment, your baby is alright.

And Isaac was crying.

And before I could get over that emotion, I heard another cry, this one an angry kitten. “Carrie,” said Kyle, and I cried again. Carrie’s warmer was within my field of vision, and I watched a half dozen nurses surround her, rub her, and start to care for her.

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I couldn’t look away, even though my neck started protesting the position after only a few minutes. I didn’t know or care what was happening below the blue sheet. I didn’t mind at all that my upper abdomen was being used as a repository for tubs and tools and the like. I just wanted to see my babies and see that they were alright. Someone placed a mask over Carrie’s face, and I knew that she was receiving oxygen, and that was good. The doctor poked her smiling head over the sheet again. “We’re about 75% done with you, alright? You did a great job, just hang in there.”

And then came the twins, Isaac first and then Carrie, both bundled up in blankets and hats, both amazingly pink, even pinker than Sam had been when he was born. I kissed them both on the cheek, touched their soft skin, told them I was there and that it would be alright. And then they were gone, off to the nursery, and Kyle and I sat in the OR and waited for my stitches to be complete.

“You did a great job,” everyone kept saying, and I wanted to laugh. A great job at what, lying immobile on a table? If I’d known that was all I had to do to get such high praise, I’d have started inviting observers to my naps a long time ago.

They took the blue sheet down, and I could see the doctor fully now; she was spattered with blood, but she looked pleased. “Everything went really well,” she said. “Great job, mama. Those are some really healthy babies, especially for their size and age.”

A handful of nurses concurred. One said that the twins had the healthiest umbilical cords they’d ever seen: “so thick and coiled and full of nutrients. Good job mama!” I thanked them for this, though again, I had NO idea what I might have done to construct such awesome umbilical cords. I still don’t know what I did, but if I ever find out, I’m 100% going to market it and get super rich in a Gwyneth Paltrow GOOPy sort of way. Shoot, I might just pretend that I know what I did and market it anyway, like maybe I’ll say that it was because I ate so many Milano cookies and I’ll sign a deal with Pepperidge Farm and everyone will buy Milanos because (a) delicious and (b) really healthy umbilical cords!

Anyway.

The nurses rolled me out shortly thereafter, and Kyle trailed along behind on the path back to our eerie room, where I took my first steps of recovery and we started to learn how the twins were doing.

But that is another blog entry altogether.

Concerning Boobies

So I’m going to write about boobs, specifically about breastfeeding. If you’re weirded out by that, (a) might be good to talk to someone about why breastfeeding weirds you out; and (b) you may want to skip this blog.

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I’ve always been on the Bigger Boobs side of things when it comes to my own development. For a long time, I still fit into the “big but can still shop at Victoria’s Secret” category, a category that ends with the letter D; but weight gain and eventually pregnancy showed me a whole new set of letters to describe my chest flesh. At the moment, I’m squeezed into an older bra that’s a bit too small for my “pregnant with twins, what’s your excuse?” chest because I really don’t want to get measured and refitted when I’ve still got a while to go yet in this pregnancy.

People talk a good game about wanting gazongas like mine, but they aren’t fun. On the most pragmatic scale of all, affordability, they’re a nightmare. Some maternity stores do go up to my size for cheap(ish), but if I really want to wear something that’s cuter than beige, I have to go online to find it, and it always costs ~$50-60, which is why I own three bras and three bras only. Objectively cuter bras that exist to make me feel good about myself don’t really come in my size, or if they do, they don’t come easily (though I will say that once the twins are born, I’m totally getting a galaxy bra from Torrid and you can’t stop me).

Less pragmatically, my back hurts. A lot. Contrary to what animes would have you believe, big boobs do not function like helium balloons. They consist of fat and sinuses and chest flesh and thus actually weigh something, and that weight must be supported by something, namely your back muscles. Consequently, I’ve noticed that since I went from my high school size of “appropriate” to my postpartum size of “even turtlenecks give me cleavage,” my upper back hurts a lot more. It’s not excruciating, but it’s enough that, when lying in bed at the end of the day, I pray for the funds to get a breast reduction sooner rather than later so that I don’t develop a hunchback before I’m 40.

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(no offense Quasimodo)

Now, you’d think with these gazongas, I’d be an enthusiastic heifer, udderly producing way too much milk for one baby, let alone two.

And you would be wrong.

I felt encouraged in this direction towards the end of my pregnancy with Sam. Nobody mentions this, but you leak a lot the further along your pregnancy gets, and I kept developing stains on my favorite shirts and bras (which were more numerous then). It was frustrating, but I felt like it was a good sign: if I’m producing enough to leak right now, I’ll surely be a dairy farm for this kid, and we’ll never have to spend a cent on formula.

Ha.

Fast forward to Sam’s birthday, the day of his actual birth. After 45 minutes of pushing, the nurses lifted my child with his enormous head and baby slime to my chest, and it was time to breastfeed for the first time. This practice is encouraged for understandable reasons: breastfeeding causes your body to release oxytocin, which causes your uterus to contract, which helps expel the placenta and slow your bleeding. If, for whatever reason, you can’t breastfeed or your uterus isn’t contracting, you’ll get a dose of synthetic oxytocin (known as pitocin) to speed the process along and hopefully prevent your delivery room from turning into that scene from The Shining.

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So anyway, I tried to breastfeed. I’d read all the videos, knew all the tips, and figured it couldn’t be that difficult. I held my boy tenderly against me and gently guided my huge freaking gazonga titty towards his face and his face towards the huge freaking gazonga titty. For about half a second, he put in a valiant effort of latching onto the bulbous orb that was suddenly coming towards him… but then that second ended and he decided that no, he did not want the orb.

In the moment, it wasn’t a big deal. I was still on an IV that gave me a steady drip of pitocin because of my induction. The placenta came out, and I didn’t die of too much bleeding, and Sam and I had those moments of bonding together–albeit minus the breastfeeding.

But it’s cool, it’s cool, I told myself. I’ve been in labor for 24 hours, Sam is brand new to breathing, we’ll just keep trying until we get it.

Back in those days, hospitals didn’t really go for the baby-friendly hospital movement thing, so we had the option to let Sam spend the night in the nursery and get some sleep. Exhausted from having been pregnant for what felt like 18 years and going through 24 hours of labor without having slept at all in the 36 hours beforehand, I gladly took advantage of this program. The nurses fed Sam formula while I slept and recovered, about six hours a night.

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During the day, we worked on breastfeeding. A steady stream of lactation consultants came in with various tools to help Sam realize that breastfeeding was awesome, but nothing doing. Our most elaborate attempt involved a syringe with a long tube attached that went into Sam’s mouth at the same time as my boob. The idea was that he theoretically wasn’t getting into breastfeeding because my boob wasn’t producing immediate results, which I still think is true, but the syringe didn’t help with that at all. Sam just got angry when the syringe stopped and screamed instead of trying harder, a strategy I can definitely relate to.

But we went home, and I tried to put Sam on the boob every time he needed food. These sessions were, to put it gently, miserable. They lasted at least an hour and a half apiece and needed to start all over again when they ended.

See. First, I’d put Sam on the boob with the mindset of “maybe he’ll get it this time.” Breastfeeding involves a LOT of moving parts, and trying to get your infant to understand which moving parts are which is an exercise in having the patience of a saint and the stamina of a tank. And I did everything the lactation consultants suggested. I used the syringe. I avoided pacifiers at the very start and used breast-shaped bottles to avoid “nipple confusion.” I massaged and focused and switched boobs and did what I could, but even after 45 minutes of wrestling, Sam was screaming with hunger and I was exhausted.

But we still weren’t done, or well. I wasn’t done.

For the first couple of weeks, I had Kyle with me to help, since he had a week of paid paternity leave and then worked from home, returning to work in gradual steps. He would go and mix up a bottle of formula for us, and I’d get out the pump. Breast pumps are kind of weird machines, and it’s impossible to use one and NOT feel like you’ve devolved into some sort of human-bovine hybrid. Even with the most modern and discreet models, you’re being milked, and there’s no way for that to NOT be awkward.

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(sorry to shatter any illusions; it’s exactly like this)

So Kyle would take Sam and sit on the couch with pillows and give Sam a bottle so that the poor child would stop being so hungry. I would get myself hooked up to the milk machine, which was… an adventure, to say the least. I’m not sure if it’s easier for people whose breasts don’t fall into the huge freaking gazongas category, but getting everything aligned properly was always a Process for me. After that, I’d sit and pump for a total of 45 minutes, half on the left and half on the right. I couldn’t do anything else during these pumping sessions, because I had to hold the cups in place or else they’d just be trying to milk air, and that’s not very good. And the end product was always roughly 15 drops of milk–a generous amount for, say, a pet mouse, but not very useful for keeping a child alive.

It was exhausting. And by the time I was done pumping and Sam was done eating, we’d have a reprieve of maybe half an hour before it was time again.

I hated it.

What’s more, I hated myself for hating it. Breastfeeding, feeding in general, was supposed to be this wonderful bonding time with the two of us, but I dreaded the very thought. The best part for me was when Kyle would give Sam back to me, after all the pumping and eating and wrestling and angst, and my baby boy would curl up against me and fall asleep to the sound of my heartbeat. The worst part was literally everything else about it. I was miserable.

If I’m honest, the beginning of the end came about 3 days after Sam was born. Maybe four. Our hospital had a policy that if you left before the 48 hours you were allowed to stay following your child’s birth were up, you could have a nurse visit you at home. Sam was born at around 5:45 p.m., which gave us a solid two nights in the hospital, and we didn’t want to deal with rush hour traffic on the ride home, so we left a good four hours before we had to… and two days later, the nurse came.

She brought a scale with her and blood pressure monitors and all sorts of portable tools to measure Sam and measure me and make sure that we weren’t secretly dying. Sam went first; she took his blood pressure, checked out his jaundice (a lot of babies are jaundiced when born, but most end up better after getting some sunlight), and then weighed him. “That’s really impressive!” she remarked. “He’s gained back all of the weight he lost after birth. He’s back to his birth weight. Whatever you’re doing to keep him growing like this, keep it up!”

The remarks were both flattering and embarrassing. We were about 50/50 formula and breast-wrestling at that point, and even Sam’s pediatrician said at the one week mark, “If you want to start starving him a little so that he’ll take to the boob easier, he’s got more than enough weight on him.” But for my own sanity, I couldn’t do that, knowing what it took to get him to even breastfeed for a solid ten minutes.

I don’t remember the specific day I decided to quit breastfeeding entirely, only that Kyle was there and asked if I even wanted to try to put Sam on the boob. And I took a deep breath and I said, “You know what, I think I don’t. Let’s just give him formula.” The breast pump parts started to gather dust, and although my ginormous freaking gazongas still leaked like a haunted faucet (leading to at least one incident of which Kyle has said he learned a valuable lesson about not honking your wife’s boob affectionately while she’s lactating), things started to look up.

Sam kept up his pace of growth, and he was a much happier baby now that he was able to actually eat and not have to deal with having a boob thrust in his face whenever he got hungry. Kyle and I were actually able to function better as well, especially once we discovered various charts describing how much formula we could give Sam based on how big he was and how long we wanted to go between feedings. We were able to take shifts at night, so we both got about six hours of sleep, which wasn’t great but was a huge improvement over the three we’d been getting before.

formula-feeding-chart

And, blissfully, Sam started sleeping through the night around three months old. That night is burned into my brain: Kyle and I both decided to crash around 10 p.m., and when Sam woke us up fussing at 5 a.m., we both looked at each other and asked, “Did you get up last night? No, did you?” And then came the realization of what had transpired and life was good.

Four years later, and Sam’s a healthy, happy kid whom his teachers describe as “scary smart.” He is absolutely average in terms of height and weight, and aside from a bout with ear infections well after I would have weaned him anyway, he’s been fantastic all along. I have zero regrets.

And I could go into all of the other things that contributed to the zero regrets: how I had to have gallbladder surgery when he was three months old, how I started antidepressants shortly after that, how scientifically speaking, babies who are formula fed and babies who are breastfed have negligible differences, but… why? What matters here was that breastfeeding was making us both miserable, and everyone was much happier when we stopped.

It’s all making me lean towards not breastfeeding the twins, which is a horrifying prospect when you consider the cost of formula for two babies, but at the same time…

Well, I look at my boobs. They’re still enormous. They could have their own gravitational pulls. I look at how hard it was to convince Sam to even try the boob and imagine doing that, with all its moving parts, for two babies. I look at Kyle and Sam, with their incredible bond that I don’t believe would be nearly as strong if Kyle hadn’t been able to be so involved with Sam’s care in those early days. I look at the almost certain chaos of those early days with two newborns instead of one.

And then I go to the store and buy a dozen more bottles (20% off at Babies R Us!) and say, you know, I think they’ll be alright.

In your head

If I’m being completely honest, I don’t remember hearing about it. It wasn’t an event like 9/11, where the shock and growing horror you feel as you watch events unfold in real time burn everything about that moment into your memory: where you were, what you were doing, what happened before and after, how you felt.

It was the spring of 1999, and I was a sophomore in high school, watching all of my friends who were born earlier in the year getting their learners’ permits and getting our first tastes of that irresponsible freedom that comes with being a teenager. I used to tell my mom that people called them “LPs” for short, but nobody called them that, learners’ permits, I mean. And anyway, I wasn’t really focused on world events at that point in time, except for when I had to be, like in AP U.S. History.

Most of my attention was focused all over the place, because I was a very busy high school sophomore, fifteen and not-quite-sixteen. I had a pretty big supporting role in the school musical that year (stepmother in Cinderella), I had a boyfriend who was in college (automatic cool points and elimination of dating as a distraction in anything ever), I sat state standardized tests (the MCAS exam, which is highly mockable and always has been), I was miserably failing Algebra II, life was busy overall.

I wasn’t thinking at all, of course, about school shootings.

They were on everyone’s radar, sort of, not like they really are today. We all knew about Paducah, we all knew vaguely that this was a Thing That Happened, but it wasn’t something that anyone thought about. School shootings seemed like flukes, like something you’d say “damn that was crazy!” about but then move on with your life, assuming that the perpetrator was bullied or had some sort of vendetta or something.

Somehow, Columbine changed that.

I don’t really remember hearing about it, but I remember the impacts. Not long after Columbine, we had something that was like 50% fire drill but really more of a school shooter drill. This was before you had lockdown practices, of course, because we thought it was a fluke. We all wandered aimlessly out of the buildings, accompanied by our teachers, and hung out on the front lawn until we got the all-clear. It may have been a real threat; I heard rumors that someone had left notes somewhere about shooting up the school, bombing the school, but nobody was really scared by it. Columbine was a fluke, after all.

I remember about six sprillion 20/20 esque programs dedicated to Why This Happened, and everyone had a different thought process. Violent video games! Bullying! The goth subculture! And therefore Satanism (Satanic Panic 2.0?)! Marilyn Manson! Trenchcoats (I’m not kidding)! My boyfriend at the time wore a trenchcoat like it was his job and played Resident Evil almost religiously, so I got a kick out of those theories. I think the newspeople eventually settled on bullying as The Reason, and after that, everything faded… but then later research revealed that the perpetrators were actually more often the bullies than the bullied, so that’s probably not it.

I remember the weird capitalization on certain victims’ lives and deaths. Cassie Bernall was the big one. The story went that she was asked, “Do you believe in God?” and said yes before being murdered. It was a great narrative from a Christian perspective; it turned her into a martyr of sorts, ostensibly killed because she said yes (which was the name of the book her parents wrote about her). Christian recording artists wrote songs about the incident, it was this great wonder and beautiful tragedy and… it didn’t even happen. Students who were with Cassie when she died reported that the shooter only said, “Peek-a-boo!” before murdering her.

But it was still some good music.

And it kind of… went away. Not completely, of course, and certainly not for the victims and their loved ones, but school shootings just anywhere near as common back then as they are now. Oh, they happened. Thirteen shootings happened between Columbine and my graduation from high school two years later. That seems like a lot, but then you realize that 2018 is so far 46 days old and there have already been 18 school shooting-style incidents, and suddenly, 13 over two years doesn’t seem as high of a number.

Next year, it will have been 20 years since Columbine. A lot has changed since then. The weirdest thing to me is that if you go to certain places on the internet, you’ll find pockets of people who are huge fans of the Columbine shooters. I don’t mean assholes who say, “Man, I wish I could shoot up a school!” I mean people who look at the shooters, say they were well within their rights to massacre people or that they did nothing wrong, coo over how attractive they were, and so on and so forth.

It’s… strange.

*

I always talk to Kyle about meta-fears I have for our kid(s). I call them meta-fears because the likelihood of them ever happening is statistically small, but as a parent, you still sometimes lie awake at night and wonder, “but what if…?” But they’re fears that you have to put on the back burner because if you let them, you’ll become irrational and incapable of functioning because they’re fears of such HUGE things that you have so little control over.

Meta-fears are things like “what if some random person grabs my kid off the street?” Statistically, this isn’t very likely to happen. The vast majority of kidnappings are perpetrated by members of the victim’s family, and while you have some pretty famous stories where that was not the case, they’re famous because they’re so rare. So you hold your kid’s hand and watch them when you’re out of the house, but you can’t let this fear consume you or else you’ll end up locking your kid in a tower, growing out their hair to about 70 feet, and only visiting them on weekends and bank holidays.

Things like “what if my kid gets cancer?” Statistically, this isn’t very likely to happen, even though we all know someone or know someone who knows someone whose kid got cancer. We’ve all contributed to fundraisers and all watched hashtags. One of the towns around here had a big rally for a kid that had one of the worst forms of childhood cancer, DIPG. Their hashtag was #whynotdevin, and it was HUGE around here. And it was heartbreaking, and of course, it made me wonder in my parental way, what if Sam contracted DIPG? 100% fatal, a disease that deteriorates who you are, and the only thing you can do is try and make your kid comfortable until they slip away in less than a year. It’s ridiculously rare (200 cases a year worldwide kind of rare), and you theoretically worry, but you have to put it on the back burner or you’re going to end up losing your mind because it’s not something you can predict or protect against.

Things like “what if this plane we’re on crashes?” Things like “what if there’s a drunk driver?” Things like “what if an asteroid crashes through our roof spontaneously?” Things like “what if nuclear war?”

Things like “what if my child’s school gets shot up?”

This wasn’t a worry when I was a kid. We had fire drills, of course, and those were usually pretty chill. One time, we had a fire drill while we were watching a video about volcanoes, and everybody thought that was hilarious. Another time, some kids brought a ouija board to recess and apparently, the ~spirits~ told them that the school would burn down that afternoon, and when we had a fire drill that afternoon, they all freaked out and that was also hilarious.

But it’s a worry now.

One of the things I’ve had the hardest time reading lately is the swath of accounts from teachers, telling the world who’s never experienced such a thing what it’s like to have a lockdown drill. They talk about kids not knowing it’s a drill, big and tough kids bursting into tears of absolute terror when the assistant principal rattles the doorknob to make sure it’s locked. They talk about teachers not knowing it’s a drill and screaming at their students in a panic, telling them to be quiet and stop talking and giggling, because if there is an active shooter, their silence could be their lifeline.

Fearing that your child’s school could be shot up should be a statistically rare meta-fear, like cancer or a plane crash or nuclear war. It should be something that you can just put in the back of your mind and worry about that bridge if you ever come to it, but it’s not.

Lockdown drills are pretty standard across the board nowadays. I don’t know if our town’s schools do them, or how early they start, but I imagine that they do and that they start very early. It adds a new layer to the meta-fear. It adds a thousand new layers to the meta-fear. I imagine, without wanting to, my sweet little boy with big hazel eyes and blonde hair having to hide in a closet behind locked doors. I imagine him being so terrified that he can’t fall asleep for weeks. Worse, I imagine him having a hard time comprehending what’s going on, being the loud and silly voice, and it not being a drill, and suddenly, I’m planning a funeral for my first baby.

I don’t want to imagine this. I don’t want this to be a fear that we have to take logical preventative measures about, like choking hazards and SIDS and batteries in smoke alarms and car seats.

But here we are.

*

Of course I have opinions about the whole thing. Anyone who’s known me for more than five minutes knows what those opinions are, but I’m not throwing them out here because I don’t want to attract That Crowd, if you know what I mean. I’m also not throwing them out here because I don’t want to sit around and debate and throw statistics back and forth and scream ceaselessly into the void at a group of people who just will. not. care.

I do want to scream into the void. But I’m tired.

So instead, I take a deep breath. I take comfort in the people I love. I hug Sam extra tight, even when he’s spent the entire day being a little shit (true story: this blog was initially going to be about the emotional weirdness of being angry with a toddler over something they don’t know any better, and it was going to be about poop). I listen to the Cranberries singing, “But you see, it’s not me, it’s not my family,” and wonder what happens to That Crowd when it is their family.

Sorry about the lack of entertaining or diverting gifs; they seemed inappropriate.