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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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IVF

Walnuts, Wonders, and Collywobbles

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I defy logic. I defy all explanation. I am one of the wonders. I shouldn’t have been able to have these boys. I’m a challenge to the balance. I know that. I knew it all along. But when our maternal fetal specialist agreed to take our case pro bono because our lovely Georgia governor played dirty with our insurance, I learned just how unique I was. Modern medicine was eager to use me as a case study. I was a Wonder with a capital W. Without my fertility specialist extraordinaire and my maternal fetal specialist with angel wings and a big check book, without my ever-steady and supportive ob/gyn, I wouldn’t have these boys. I completely get it.

But it’s not just medicine that brought my winsome sprouts to my womb and formed them into into flesh and blood and spirited magic. There is so much more to it than that. Prayer played a tremendous part. And Grace. And finally Fortune, that most fickle of Ladies. She decided to be kind. For whatever reason, the Universe decided to bestow two breathtaking blessings upon Mike and me. And I cannot be thankful enough. Ever. And so I’m giving my testimony for others. Sharing our recipe for success. Hoping that someone, somewhere along with way, will benefit from our story.

I know that my age was against me. VERY against me. Especially when I would read all of the unhappy IVF stories of women my age. I quit reading them, actually. I eliminated all negative energy from my life. That was ingredient Number 1. Only positivity and sunshine.

I began listening to Natalie Merchant’s song, “Wonder,” some lines of which I alluded to earlier. Now if you don’t know it, Google it. Get on YouTube and listen to it. It is powerful stuff. Words are powerful potion. My father taught me about self-fulfilling prophecy and about spoken blessings. He’s quite the preacher type. He’s also a physicist. He’s kinda weird. He’s an oxymoron. He’s Sheldon Cooper on scripturoids. But he always, always, ALWAYS has believed in the power of prayer and the spoken word. So I accentuated the positive and eliminated the negative.

Speaking of the power of the word, if you haven’t read The Secret by Rhonda Byrne or The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (Ingredients 2 and 3), read them. Out loud. And believe. They both discuss the power of the Universe and Her generous nature, Her willingness to grant your heart’s desire. You just have to say it. See it. Believe it. Write it. And wait for it to be delivered.

Now of course it’s not that simple. There is hard work involved. You have to dig. And keep digging. And the digging is physical, which is hard, full of medicines and injections and time and doctors visits and uncomfortable procedures, and it is also mental. The ups and downs of infertility is an ordeal no one who hasn’t experienced it can ever possibly imagine.

But you know what else? It is one that SO MANY of us share. It is a taboo subject that most are afraid of, or ashamed of, or too private to talk about. I was amazed at how many couples I knew presented themselves as IVF patients once I came out about our journey. Infertility sufferers are everywhere, yet it is still such a lonely, isolating experience.

So Coelho nails it. The mental digging is the hardest. But he explains that just when you are ready to quit, when the digging has gotten darn-near impossible. When the clay and rock are so incredibly rigid and unyielding and your body is bone-weary and your soul is sucker-punched, just KEEP digging. Because the Universe is about to deliver. It’s like the transitioning stage in labor. It feels like you’ve accomplished nothing at all, but your bundles of blessings are about to present themselves, to crown in all of their wondrous beauty.

So just like the good books commanded, we said it, we believed it, we wrote it down, complete with baby names (names, incidentally, which are now the middle names of both boys ). We visualized. We saw our sticky beans steeping in the placental gravy of the Universe’s Grace. We believed we would stay pregnant, even through dehydration and preeclampsia and advanced maternal age and hospital runs at midnight and the fortnight I slept with ice packs on my chest because it felt like the boys were splitting my sternum like a Butterball turkey’s wishbone.

Beyond saying and believing, Mike and I also played an active part in our process. We researched a ton, which included watching IVF home videos of couples who had been through this process before. (You would be amazed at how many of those there are online.) We watched those who had succeeded and we watched those who had failed and then succeeded. We searched for any and every kernal of wisdom and homeopathic hocus pocus, which leads me to Ingredient #4: pineapple core (yes, CORE) and raw walnuts.

I ate them every single day without fail for two weeks after embryo transfer to assist with implantation. The core was a bit gritty and fibrous and pulpy, but not as bad as you would think. And besides, I would’ve eaten an entire pineapple, in all of its sharp and spiney glory, if I thought it would help in our quest for the elusive sticky beans.

Coming home from the clinic on our transfer day, Mike and I implemented Ingredient 5, a tradition that carried me and our embryos through that most terrifying of times for all fertility patients: the first trimester. We listened to two very, very (have I said VERY?) uplifting and prophetic songs: Natalie Merchant’s “Wonder,” which referenced earlier, and Elton John’s, “You’ll be Blessed.” Google that one too. Right now.

These two songs became the soundtrack of our conception and gestation. I listened and sang along to them religiously every day. Every. Single. Solitary. Morning. Without fail. My power songs. Through them, Fate smiled at Destiny. Through them, the Universe laughed as she came to my cradle and laughed as my body she lifted and laughed as she filled me with her bountiful blessings. With a little help from these songs, and With love, with patience, and with faith. I made my way, and continue to make my way through this miraculous journey.

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The final ingredient is absolutely NOTHING like the aforementioned ingredients. It was nothing I planned or researched or manufactured. It was completely unpredicted and unrehearsed and (thankfully) unrepeated and something I would’ve preferred had happened in a bit more private of a manner, but the Universe works in mysterious ways…

Ingredient # 6: the Collywobbles. Such a fun, playful, Roald Dahl kind of word for one of the most UNfun, UNplayful conditions known to man: intestinal distress. The night before our two little baby buds would be siphoned from a petri dish and shot through my cervix with a straw, I had an up close and personal experience with the Collywobbles. To say it was horrible would be an understatement. But I have no doubt in my mind that not only was it God trying to acclimate me to the shit storms to come (twins are nothing, if not collywobbles times two), but I also maintain that it was an integral (and embarrassing) part of our recipe for in vitro success. Doctors prescribe enemas for all manner of procedures. It just so happens that this particular order was placed by the Heavens. Now, my girls will tell you I just don’t ever discuss poop. Ever. But in keeping with the nature of my blog to give honest, heartfelt information about our journey and our family, I guess I have contracted myself into spilling all… kind of like that midsummer night’s eve three years ago.

So before getting down and dirty, allow me to set the stage as prettily as possible: Daytime was dripping into dusk and it was hothouse humid — typical August fare for Georgia. Mike was away at football and wouldn’t be home until late — again, typical August fare for a Georgia football wife.

I was at the park across from our neighborhood, the chattering rise and fall of cicada song pacing my run. Butterfly bushes lined part of my path and I was pushing myself hard. I knew that the following morning Mike and I would drive to the perimeter for transfer and I would be taking it easy for at least the next nine months. I was taking no chances. I didn’t care that my doctor had told me I couldn’t sneeze, poop, fart, laugh, hiccup or jiggle those embryos out, I was going to be as safe and sedentary as possible.

So on this hot, humid, hellhound of an August night, I decided to get my last run in and work out all of my remaining anxieties. When, much to my surprise and chagrin, on the far side of the baseball fields, in a No Man’s Land of summer perennials and the boys of summer charging their grounders and snagging fly balls– I was struck with a vicious and violent blitzkrieg. My stomach flipped and dropped. I broke out in cold sweats. My core cramped. My vision blurred. I was a half a mile from home. And I was in trouble. To call it intestinal distress would be an understatement. And to call it collywobbles seems way too pretty. And it was NOT pretty. And there was nothing I could do. Nothing but think about that horribly humiliating scene in Bridesmaids and be jealous because Maya Rudolph at least had a huge tent of a wedding dress to hide her shame. All I could do was break out in spontaneous prayer. Sincere prayer. Bona fide, true blue, unpretentious prayer. There’s no prayer more down to earth than a “please don’t let me crap myself in public“ prayer. And as I prayed, I shuffled. A hearty knees together, buttocks clenched shuffle. A get-your-Flintstone-feet-in-gear shuffle. And I am here to tell you that bona fide prayer and heartfelt hustle will get you far. It’ll get you darn near half a mile. Close, but no latrine. I made it to our driveway, and I am forever thankful for that small blessing.

And then then floodgates of Heaven opened and the rest is a poorly digested visual. I don’t know if it was nerves, a beastly bug, or the reheated half of a Reuben sandwich from Larry’s Giant Subs I had for dinner, but I was dealt a savage– and I believe an extremely fortuitous, hand. I thoroughly believe the Universe decreed that I have a completely pristine vessel in which to implant my little lads. I’m convinced that in our parenting game of chance and childbirth, my royal flush didn’t beat a full house, it helped make one. (Sorry, terrible pun.)

Anyways… that is our sticky beans recipe. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Note I didn’t say THE recipe for success. Everyone’s recipe will different. And the climate and the conditions and the Universe all have a mighty say in how and when and where the blessings will be rewarded. Some beans will be organic and simply made, with no assistance whatsoever. Others will need chemical intervention, like ours did. And still others will be harvested elsewhere and then supplied. But know that if you want it deeply enough, badly enough, heartily enough, your own little peas will be delivered unto you. Thus sayeth the Universe. So dig deep.

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Eggs

Cackling farts — from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. And I certainly love me some vulgarity. Anyone who knows me knows my propensity for my favorite four-letter acronym – one I’m trying to curb since I’ve got these two impressionable young lads soaking in vocabulary like spaghetti sauce (or pureed prunes, or masticated teddy grahams, or you name it) on your favorite silk blouse (but I’ll save the stain stories for another blog). Still, “cackling farts” is simply the grossest, funniest, most colorful, obscene, and obscure term for EGGS I ever did hear. And this post is dedicated to them.

Eggs. Such simple things, it would seem. But simple, or not, as humans, we are fascinated by them. We eat them for breakfast in numerous ways, from the simply scrambled or over-easy, to the fancy-schmancy eggs benedict or quiche. And the recipes go on and on…

We’ve also built idioms around them. Some to reflect personality: “you’re a tough egg to crack” or he’s a “good egg” or a “bad egg.” Others reflect embarrassment: you can have “egg on your face” or we’ll tell someone to “go suck an egg.” We can use them in terms of monetary metaphors: we build “nest eggs” or search for “the goose that laid the golden egg” or we’re cautioned not to “put all our eggs in one basket.”

Naturally, if there are idioms about eggs, there are bound to be books about eggs. Some of the greatest literature features them. From Gulliver’s Travels to The Handmaid’s Tale to “Green Eggs and Ham,” we celebrate and admonish, using the Egg.

So eggs are far more complicated than the chalky-white ovals of serene, life-giving perfection they might seem. They house SO MUCH POTENTIAL. In the afore-mentioned The Handmaid’s Tale, the narrator proclaims, “I think that this is what God must look like: an egg.” And then later, “If I have an egg, what more can I want?”

Interestingly enough, this novel is about infertility. An entire nation that has fallen on post-nuclear sterility. The narrator may or may not be infertile. She has one daughter. She, nor the reader, knows for certain if she can get pregnant again.

And just like Offred, six years ago, I myself didn’t know if I would be able to carry children again.

We had an appointment with our fertility specialist, Dr. Mark Perloe, at Shady Gove Fertility in Atlant. (I can’t sing his praises highly enough!!! If you are contemplating IVF or if you are struggling with infertility of any sort, go see HIM.) Anyway, at that very first meeting, Dr. Perloe informed us that a woman over 40 had nearly zero chance of getting pregnant with her own eggs, and that we would need to use a donor.

My eggs were past their expiration date.

Now, you know what? I knew that already. Of course I did. I’m an educated woman. I do my research. I knew it going in. Still, his words stung just a bit. Just for a second. Not, though, for the reason you are probably thinking (the use of donor eggs).

NOPE, it was the Advanced Maternal Age phrase he used. AMA, a three-letter acronym that isn’t nearly as fun as my favorite four-letter one, and a label that would go into my charts and follow me to delivery. I still feel twenty-two, after all. As Jimmy Buffet says, “I’m growing older, but not up…”

“Donor eggs,” though — I was already familiar with and prepared for that phrase. We were given a password and the privacy of our home to view the donor profiles and search for our potential anonymous Wonder Woman — a super hero of the highest magnitude. I am forever and ever in her debt.

It felt strange, perusing those profiles. A giddy, dizzy, feverish, frightening cyber-ride. We wanted someone as close to me as we could get. Not because we intended to hide the fact that we used donor eggs from the boys or anyone else, for that matter, it was just something we wanted.

We wanted someone who loves literature as much as me. Someone who excels in science like their big sister. Who swings a mean bat or tennis racket, like their other big sister. Who appreciates a mean game of football, like their dad. Oh, and we wanted height. A nice, tall drink of water. I’m 5’10 and so to combine that height with their daddy’s good genes, we’re hoping for a couple of defensive powerhouses one day.

“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen,” said the mighty Ralph Waldo Emerson.

And our decision, our selection, set the Universe in motion, her cogs and wheels, parts and plugs assembling the various and sundry pieces, the stardust and cackling farts, the wood glue and lacquer and metal most attractive that would spark our little fellas into being.

Her eggs. My basket. And a gaggle of Y chromosomes from Mike. Now of course, it wasn’t nearly that simple… but more on that next time.

The Travesty and Tragedy of IVF Clinic Negligence: The Impossibility of Justice

Babies. I don’t know that there is a subject that tweaks the heartstrings and fuzzes up the solar plexus quite like babies. Just the thought of tiny wriggling newborns gets us all giddy with promise and potential. We thrill to the touch of their tiny fingers and toes, their tufted, downy crowns, their milk-mottled necks. We cradle them in our arms; they cradle our legacy in their limbs.

Four years ago, this past week, Mike and I brought our own downy-crowned, milk-mottled newborns home from the NICU. And we’ve been caring for and corralling our twin bundles of rollicking, unequivocal energy and joy ever since.

We owe it all to the generosity of the universe — and a top-notch IVF team.

Because it was five years ago, this month, that Mike and I sat down to meet with our newly- acquired fertility specialist to learn all the ins and outs of “test tube” baby making: the belly and booty shots, the ovary stimulation, the egg extraction, the cup deposits, the petri dish insemination, the embryo transfer. All of it.

Talk about exciting.

And daunting.

Daunting because I was about to do from-scratch motherhood all over again at forty-seven. I’d already raised two daughters successfully into adulthood (no small task); yet here I was again, preparing myself mentally – and physically (hence the fertility specialist) — to bake up a couple more.

And daunting because the odds were not necessarily in our favor.

Now the first thing I recall about that initial meeting is the vast, heavy, wooden desktop in the doctor’s office. The surface of that desk seemed to me a small-scale representative of the hard, formidable expanse that must be crossed to make Mike’s and my dream of parenthood together come true.

But luckily, there on the other side sat Dr. Perloe himself – frothy white curls, cropped close, and eyes twinkling behind clear lenses. He instantly put us at ease.

But he didn’t mince words either, when he gave us the facts. The fact that my eggs were too old to consider for our IVF procedure. The fact that using a donor’s eggs could cost us as much as a compact car or a midsize sedan, depending. The fact that the procedure was no guarantee, but the odds were greatly increased if we followed his protocol precisely: multiple medical and psychological exams; donor candidate selection; numerous supplemental vitamins and hormones using ingestions, injections and suppositories; and time and patience — lots and lots of time and patience.

Our success depended on it. Our success demanded it.

We signed a contract to do our part. The contract also specified that our clinic would do its part.

We never considered otherwise. Events in the news this past month suggest perhaps we should have.

Thank heavens, Dr. Perloe and his staff are consummate professionals and we never had a need to worry. Mixing babies for couples with fertility issues goes beyond their life work. It is their passion. And they do it with compassion. And with contracts.

Those two qualifiers — compassion and contracts — ensure that they would never, ever risk a patient’s hard work, dedication, financial and emotional investment, and (most important of all), eggs or embryos. Never.

The procedure is risky enough as it is.

The IVF success rate for a woman over 40 is between 13-18%. A donor egg increases those chances to 35% per embryo. Transferring twin embryos gives slightly more favorable odds, procuring a 55-65% success rate that one embryo will take. With a chance for twins at 30-40%.

Now I’m no mathematician (far from it – despite being the daughter of a physicist), but I do understand that even when hedging my bets with donor eggs and a double-embryo transfer, there was absolutely no guarantee we would find success – especially on the first try.

But success, we found. On the very first cycle, too. And with both embryos.

It was an absolute miracle. Without a doubt.

But the miracle was brought to fruition through the hard work and dedication of our IVF team – the physicians, embryologists, nurses, technicians, and Mike and me. We were all in it together, working hard and following our contract to the letter. We dotted every egg and crossed every petri dish.

Again, I reiterate that the one thing that was never considered when we rolled the dice, said our Hail Marys, and took our gamble on IVF was that our clinic would be negligent.

But a month ago this week, a fertility clinic in Ohio was just that: grossly negligent. There were issues with a cryogenic tank that housed microscopic miracles, the frozen eggs and embryos of thousands of prospective parents. Somehow, the built-in failproof — the remote alarm system that would notify employees if temperatures began to climb — had been turned off.

As a result, that tank — a tank that housed a total of 4000 eggs and embryos– rose to temperatures that left all 4000 nonviable.  4000 hopes and dreams, 4000 Hail Mary passes, 4000 double or nothing bets, 4000 potential babies… all lost.

I’m up close and personal with the IVF process that these heartbroken families went through. I understand their hopes, their dreams, their financial and emotional investments. I understand their courage, their fear, their gamble.

But I am not up close and personal with their loss. The emotional cost is unfathomable. I can’t imagine it. I don’t even know where to begin. That reality is too harsh, too brutal, too gut-wrenching. There is too much frustration and betrayal and agony and pain for my mind to go there. It slams shut at the thought.

IVF is a wild, whirling roulette wheel. The odds are frightening. A world-class clinic makes the risk worth it. Still, it’s a scary bet.

Wannabe parents willingly take bold risks at steep odds because babies are the jackpot. Babies. Our tiny-fingered, downy-crowned, milk-mottled legacies. We will do almost anything humanly possible to bring them into this world.

These parents in Ohio did just that.

This clinic in Ohio did not.

This clinic was anything but. It is a tragedy and a travesty.

The harm done is irreparable. The resources lost are irreplaceable. The crime committed is unforgivable.

And as the lawsuits stack up, the cases are nearing class-action status. But how do you put a price on hearts broken? On families fractured before they’ve begun? On entire legacies lost?

How is justice ever to be found? How?

It can’t be done.

Our Hard, Hellish Journey through the Place Where Miracles Mature, the NICU

We got pregnant four years ago via IVF. We used donor eggs, fresh and locally sourced. I guess our pregnancy mirrored the current foodie trend, although it wasn’t quite farm to table. More like follicle to petri dish to uterus, with a five-day incubation in between.

You see, I was too old to supply eggs of my own. I was two months shy of forty-seven when we began the process, and I was forty-eight when I had the boys. Everything in between went smoothly enough (relatively speaking), from embryo transfer to the thirty-fourth week. But that’s when things took a rapid tumble downhill. That’s when my “Advanced Maternal” body declared mutiny on the whole pregnancy thing by throwing some protein in my urine and slinging my blood pressure into the stratosphere.

I don’t remember a whole lot between then and the two days it took to bring the boys into the world because magnesium was introduced to my blood stream (Which is the Devil. Magnesium is the Devil). I recall a little ambulance ride up over the state line where our maternal/fetal specialist practiced. I recall fainting while lying flat on my back. I recall oxygen masks and my 300-pound husband tightly poured into the wrong size scrubs. I recall (fuzzily) my twenty-four-year-old baby girl sleeping on an orange couch in the corner of my hospital room with the cushions piled over her head. I vaguely recall talking to my eldest baby girl via FaceTime and her double and triple checking what actions the doctors and nurses were taking. And I remember kissing the boys on their wet little heads before they were wheeled away into the NICU. That’s pretty much all I remember about those couple of days.

Now we were extremely lucky with our boys. Thirty-four weeks is a solid gestation time for preemies. Hearts and lungs are developed and strong. Immune systems are decent. The only real issues we had to face were body temperature maintenance and feeding challenges. Boys are notoriously lazy eaters (you would never know it now), and because of that, Tate and Parker spent six days and nine days in the NICU, respectively.

For those of you unaware, September is NICU awareness month. That’s why I am revisiting one of the most difficult times in our lives. NICUs are hard places, one of the hardest places on this earth. Babies should never have to suffer. Innocence should know no pain. Innocence should know no struggle.

I think that’s why NICU families will always have a tender place in my heart. I don’t know if there is any situation quite like a NICU stay. Think about it – here you are, in what is supposed to be one of the most magical and perfect times of your life – the birth of your child. It’s the moment you and your spouse have prepared for since you first peed on the stick and got the news. And then something goes wrong. Sometimes horribly wrong. There is nothing quite like that kind of an emotional hijack.

And Mike and I had it relatively easy, all things considered. (Although at the time, it felt anything but.) Nine days in the NICU would be a Godsend for some preemie parents.  We were surrounded by cribs housing babies who had been there for months and months, parents loyally by their side. Babies who had undergone surgery after surgery. Babies whose cribs were peppered with personal items from home. Or worse. Babies who had been there for months and months with no personal items and no family members to be found. Crack babies. Unwanted babies. The world can be a cruel place for some of the most amazingly beautiful miracles ever made.

I can’t even imagine seeing the suffering day after day. I have no idea how the staff holds it together amongst that kind of injustice. My faith would waiver, I tell you. It would waiver big time. As it was, our babies were loved and they were relatively healthy and they were incredibly strong. All of those little warrior babies in the NICU are strong. Much stronger than the parents. Me, I was an absolute disaster.

Those nine NICU days, I felt like a giant, injured cuticle, stripped and torn, tender and exposed. I cried at the slightest provocation. When the elevator was too slow, I cried. When the hallway was too crowded, I cried. When I held the boys for the first time… I didn’t cry. I vomited — the anesthesia from the C-section. But that second time –oh, I cried.

I cried when I pumped for what felt like hours the very first time – my nipples stretched thin and angry and complaining like hell. I cried. And when all I got for my hard-fought labor was the tiniest, most miniscule amount of colostrum you ever did see, I cried. And when the nurse divided up that tiny little miniscule amount of colostrum and put it on two separate Q-tips and swished it around in the boys’ mouths, I cried.

When we bathed the boys for the first time, their wrinkly little alien bodies so slippery and small I feared they would slide right through my fingers, I cried. And when my milk came in and my chest rippled and ridged and cordoned itself off like a honeycomb, chamber after chamber flooded with liquid gold, I cried.

The worst, though, was if somebody was nice to me. If somebody smiled kindly at me, it was over. Or if I saw something beautiful. Like my boys. They did me in every time. But so did the long, sunny mural on the way to the NICU — a green and golden ant village, with ants sailing on leaf rafts, or ants raking their gardens, or ants swinging on tire swings or flying on butterflies. It was beautiful and whimsical and comforting. And it sent me into a bleary, teary, snot-filled mess every time Mike wheeled me down the hall.

And it wasn’t just me. This NICU time was also the first time I ever saw Mike cry. He’s big. He’s strong. He’s a meathead. And he’s a fixer. But this was something beyond his fixing abilities. This was all up to his boys — his tiny, fragile, five-pound boys. They had to decide when they would eat what they needed to eat – and on a consistent basis – to be allowed to go home.

I saw him break down for the very first time one morning at the breakfast table. His shoulders shuddered, his face folded under and crumpled, and there, above his cereal bowl at the Ronald McDonald House (I can’t EVEN tell you how much we owe to the Ronald McDonald House, but that’s another blog), he wept. And I cried. (Apparently there was another instance where he sneaked into the chapel across from our room and cried and cried and cried. I wasn’t there for that one. But I’m telling you, the NICU is hard on the strongest among us.)

Yes, the NICU is a hard, hard place, but the people there are far from hard. They are big-hearted and oh-so-capable. The nurses and doctors who work in a NICU are special people. They have to be, to work somewhere where innocent souls suffer so unjustly. To dedicate themselves to a life surrounded by the harsh realities of a cold universe…every single day… I don’t understand their endless capacity for TLC without frustration, but I am forever grateful for them.

Those nurses, especially, were our salvation. They instructed us, they comforted us, they listened to us. They rattled us sometimes. And sometimes they just made us mad.

I’ll never forget one NICU nurse in particular. I thought I hated her. I thought she was the worst one of the bunch. She was grouchy and my nerves were brittle, and I humbly admit I despised her. I thought she was so self-righteous. Turns out, she was just plain right.

That cranky, caustic nurse was actually an efficient, matter-of-fact caretaker who knew her stuff and took a no-nonsense approach to her little patients. She was the one who showed us the technique that finally got Parker to eat so we could take him home. She may have been cranky, but she was an absolute Christ figure. She sacrificed personality for patient progress, and she saved us from who knows how many more days in the NICU and how many more nights in the Ronald McDonald House. I will never forget her grumpy ass.

Yes, NICUs are hard places and special places. They are grueling. They grind parents down. But they lift babies up. They are a place of miracles, where miracles go after they are born, to heal up and head home – to their earthly home or their heavenly home.

NICUs may feel like they are Godforsaken places, where the innocent suffer without cause, but NICUs are far from Godforsaken. He puts His best angels there:  the gentlest, the ablest – and sometimes the crankiest angels there to do His work. They shelter those little miracles until they are ready for the world.

But sometimes the world is just not ready for some of them and they go back to Him. At least that’s what I have to tell myself. Otherwise I can’t. I just can’t.

Yes, NICUs are very hard places.

Fertility Godmothers: Egg Donors (and Surrogates)

Some people claim the good old days are long gone. I call Bull Shenanigans. According to those folks, people used to be more trustworthy, more helpful, and more neighborly. You could “always depend on the kindness of strangers,” to borrow a Tennessee Williams’ quote. And speaking of borrowing, if your hens weren’t laying and you wanted to bake a cake, you simply garnered a couple of eggs from a buddy down the block. And if you needed some assistance — raising your barn or raising your kids — someone always came through.

Now I haven’t raised any barns recently, but I am raising twin boys – which takes a hell of a lot more strength and manpower, let me tell you – and folks always seem to come to the rescue. Take this past Sunday afternoon. We were at a local burger joint when one of the boys, who was curled up on my lap feeling crummy, managed to knock over my drink, giving both of us an ice bath. Before I could even react, a mother at the next table jumped to the rescue, swabbing us with napkins and then going for reinforcements when it became obvious we would need a warehouse-full. So don’t tell me chivalry is dead.

And while people have performed random acts of kindness since time immemorial, only in this day and age have those acts been granted an international day all their own. But kindness is not relegated to a single day. You constantly hear and read about layaway Santas, drive thru do-gooders, and animal shelter altruists.

What really elevates this era from the ones that came before it, though, is that the whole neighborly trait of lending a cup of this or a couple of that when you’re in need has moved beyond simple, farm-variety produce. In this beautiful, postmodern world, you can borrow eggs to bake up a cake or you can borrow eggs to bake up a baby. Seems to me that’s taking the whole “kindness of strangers” notion and knocking it up (you see what I did there?) a notch.

I like to think of the IVF process as a pantry to pregnancy revolution (rather like the farm to table one in food). And I guess that makes our boys a sort of revisited and reinvented version of the Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa classic:

Take a cuppa sperm, well beaten 😊 and a coupla eggs, borrowed.

Mix well.

Marinate 5 days. Transfer resulting coupla embryos to clinically preheated oven.

Bake 9 months, and… VOILA!

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Now, I don’t want to mislead you — IVF isn’t that simple. And it certainly isn’t as failproof as the time-honored Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa cobbler recipe. It takes a carefully calibrated oven and experts who’ve undergone years of rigorous training to ensure just the right amount of salts, sugars, amino acids and proteins are in place during prep and baking.

Nor do I mean to make light of infertility or the expensive and excruciating journey that comes with it, a journey that is so full of loneliness and uncertainty. There are no guarantees. But there are options. If your fertility quest is hitting roadblock after roadblock, please remember that there are generous strangers out there — fertility godmothers if you will – ready to lend their eggs or even their wombs (one of my former students has offered her uterus as a surrogate on two separate occasions) for struggling couples.

Three years ago, I was able to bake up some babies with a fertility godmother’s healthy, young eggs, my husband’s sweet sauce, and my own reconstituted oven. The effect of one anonymous stranger’s generosity and the amount of gratitude in our hearts for her sacrifice  is impossible to put into words. She made our dreams come true.

I believe in the magic of kindness and the kindness of strangers. Put those two things together and miracles occur. Living, breathing, Cuppa Coupla Coupla miracles. If the glory days are in the past, then the hallelujah days are in the present. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.

Amen and pass the cobbler.

 

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C-Section Realities and Naked Mole Rats: the Birth of our Beautiful Twins

I was always jealous of those moms who had scheduled C-sections. They were always perfectly primped in their post-delivery pics. That was going to be me this time around. My hair and makeup spot on. No sweaty curls, no petechiae in the whites of my eyes and the flesh of my neck like I had with the girls — when I pushed so hard that tiny blood vessels burst all over my head. I looked like a voodoo doll’s target. The boys were going to be C-section babes at 37 weeks.  And I was going to be a glamour shot, post op, cover girl.

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Yeah, that didn’t happen.

On a Wednesday afternoon three years ago today, I went in at 34 weeks for my prenatal specialist appointment. They took my blood pressure, did an ultrasound, and next thing I knew I was getting pumped full of magnesium and slung into an ambulance.

Let me tell you a little bit about the evil entity that is Magnesium. Not the magnesium you take as an over-the-counter supplement to prevent constipation or leg cramps. No, I mean Magnesium with a capital M, second cousin once removed from Beelzebub of the netherworld. It is given to women with preeclampsia as an emergency measure to prevent seizures when mom’s blood pressure gets too high, but it also has some nasty side effects. Like sending your BP plummeting so low you’re literally fainting while lying flat on your back. You feel heavy as lead… but MOLTEN lead. Because Mag is a stout, heavy devil that belches brimstone through an IV drip into your circulatory system, leaving you in a sulfurous state of confusion and heat. Sinners-in-the-Hands-of-an Angry-God confusion and heat. A great, fiery furnace of confusion and heat, flames and lava lapping at your body and soul for hours and hours. Hell hath no fury like a magnesium drip.

And it’s a hellish fury you tolerate because it’s saving you and your babies, but immediately after delivery, you beg, plead, bargain and bully to be taken off the drip. And if you’re lucky, really, really lucky – and really, really persuasive — your OB agrees.

Mine did. She probably regretted caving to my persuasive pressures because my feet continued to swell to the size of human lungs, and my blood pressure spiked, and my head pounded, and my vision sparked like Vulcan’s smithy. But she took pity on me nonetheless and yanked the mag bag.

But back to my first and only experience with a C-section and the delivery of our beautiful boy babies. My girls were born the traditional, squeeze and extrude through a narrow flesh funnel for hours and hours way, so I didn’t know what to expect. The OR was much smaller than I’d imagined. (They look so much larger on Grey’s Anatomy and House reruns.) And it was cold – ice cold. But that was a welcome respite from the MAG demon busily rafting rivers and tributaries of fire in my body. I also recall having a difficult time curling inward enough for the epidural because, let’s face it, YOU try curling your spine forward with double the fetuses and fluids in your frontal regions. NOT ideal.

I knew enough to expect a sterile sheet wall at my chin so I couldn’t see all the bloody shenanigans going on below my naval, but I didn’t expect my arms to be strapped, crucifixion-style, out to my side. To be perfectly honest, it made me feel a little out of control and vulnerable. (Like being paralyzed from the chest down and sliced hip to hip didn’t leave me vulnerable enough.) And I never expected to feel strange squeezing sensations coming from my lower extremities. When I asked the nurses about it, I was told I was wearing compression boots that were pumping my calves to prevent blood clots. Still, the ability to feel that regulated pressure and release was disconcerting. What if I felt the smooth blade of the scalpel slicing me open like a ripe cantaloupe?

I didn’t. But I did feel a whole lot of pulling and tugging and what felt like my uterus being stretched over the rim of the Grand Canyon. So much tugging. And I could hear a chorus of nurses and doctors, commanding and directing. And then, at 10:35 AM, the tiniest quivering wail rose over the sheet, and I heard Parker Isaac Candela singing heartily for his supper for the very first time, but certainly not the last.  My heart swelled to bursting at his voice. A voice that still trembles and purrs with sweetness to this day.

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One minute later, at 10:36 AM, Tate Michael Candela arrived. But this time, no song accompanied the entrance. Ironic, considering Tatebug sings constantly these days – a continuous refrain from sunrise to sundown: Itsy Bitsy Spider; Wheels on the Bus; If You’re Happy and You Know It… You name it, he sings it.

The NICU docs and nurses immediately shuffled Tate off to a corner of the OR and got to work. I couldn’t see a thing. All I could do was hear. And all I could hear was the sound of silence — for what felt like a millennium. It wasn’t though. Of that I’m sure. In a relatively short spell — one crammed with absolute horror and fear — the staff managed to coax and cajole his little lungs into song. His quivering wail joined his brother’s in a sudden, trembling hallelujah chorus, and Mike and I melted into a blubbering mass of unbridled relief and boundless love.

When they brought them round for me to kiss, they were beautiful. Beautiful, precious, tiny naked mole rats. Because honestly, that’s what all newborns look like, if we’re being perfectly honest. And that’s what got pulled out of my belly on March 20th, three year ago. Two of them. Only my naked mole rats had half-moon eyes. Beautiful, Korean, half-moon eyes. And Parker had lashes that fanned across his cheeks in the most magnificent display you ever did see. They still do, for that matter. And then there was Tate. Tate with the buttery-gold skin of an ancient temple Buddha. We oohed and aahed over his ancestral gift of a most-glorious skin tone. Come to find out, it wasn’t genetics. It was jaundice… But even after that bilirubin leveled out, he still possesses the most exquisite built-in tan you ever did see.Sadly, after planting a kiss on my long-lashed and beautifully-bronzed naked mole rats, they were whisked away to the NICU.

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Now the NICU was not in my birth plan. Not even close. I had anticipated a glamour-shots delivery, remember? And then a saccharine-sweet bonding period full of soft, fuzzy snapshots. Me snuggling our newborns while they mewed hungrily at my breasts.  Mike slumbering with them on his chest in our overstuffed, deep-seated rocker. That was my vision. That was my dream. Our reality was nothing like it. At all. There were no nursing newborns at my breasts and no happenstance naps with Daddy. Instead there were incubators and oxygen lines and feeding tubes and beeping monitors and carefully measured mills of breast milk in the tiniest bottles you ever did see.

But I’ll address the NICU and its roller coaster of events and emotions next time…

 

 

IVF Twin Pregnancy: Operation Double Doozy

Carrying twins was a blessing of tremendous proportions, as well as an eight-month war of attrition on my body. Despite reinforcing myself with some of the best defensive strategies of modern medicine and engineering, I delivered prematurely.

I had preeclampsia.

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But first, a little about those months leading up to delivery…

In all fairness, my body didn’t want to have twins. At forty-seven, it was biologically certain that the entire procreation thing was over and done with.

As a result, there was quite a lot of gestational gerrymandering involved in order to manipulate my hormonal constituency and ensure a victory.

We began with a preemptive strike of suppositories, injections and oral supplements, then recruited a donor’s eggs, an endocrynologist, an embryologist, and a nurse with steady hands and capable bedside manner. To seal the deal, we utilized a paper cup, a secluded chamber, a dimly lit procedure room and a straw. Okay, maybe it has some fancy, schmancy medical term, but for all intents and purposes, it was a straw. A straw meant to spit a couple of sticky buns into my baby maker. (BTW, if someone is looking to duplicate our successful campaign, it is important to note that there were five days separating the cup & the spit wads & the straw.)

So with these tools, we successfully raided my trench and left two embryos safely ensconced within my uterine walls. Now all that was left was to keep them there for nine more months.

The task was Herculean. Or, in keeping with my militaristic theme, the task was Spartan.

From nearly the get-go my body was pummeled with Braxton Hicks contractions that rocked my belly – as in, my belly was transformed to granite – close to eighty times a day. I took measures to reduce the contractions as best I could. A gallon of water a day helped. A gallon — no lie. I was supposed to drink 128 fluid ounces  of water. A day. Twins siphon off your liquid intake pretty much as quickly as you can pour it down your throat. Dehydration was a constant fear – and became a two-time reality. Two times my champion husband drove me to the hospital for IV fluids, a quick Doppler listen, and close monitoring.

Another defensive strategy I employed was a battery of supplements: prenatal vitamins, calcium, folic acid, iron, fish oil and protein shakes. Not only would my little twin tenants deplete all my fluids, they could potentially steal my bone density, my red blood cells and my brain.(I think they successfully absconded with my brain.)

Epsom salts also became part of my nightly arsenal. I spent hours in a bathtub full of them. The salts contain magnesium, and some studies have linked them to a reduced likelihood of preeclampsia. They are also touted as a defense against restless leg syndrome – which plagued me incessantly while pregnant. I guess since I suffered from both RLS and, eventually, preeclampsia, the salts were probably a pointless maneuver. But, I do love a nice, long soak in a tub, so I’m saying, “No harm. No foul.”

Along with all the aforementioned strategies, I spent many a sleepless night sandbagging on pregnancy pillows and couch cushions with ice packs between my breasts. Not on my breasts. Between them. Why, you might rightly wonder? Because the rapidly growing juggernauts in my uterus were putting unconscionable stress on my rib cage. My sternum was ready to snap like a Butterball wishbone at Thanksgiving. Nobody told me about this horrific twin pregnancy phenomenon. I still haven’t heard of anyone else experiencing it. Maybe I’m the only one.

And finally, while pregnant, I suited up in armor designed specifically for safety and comfort. First, there were nylon compression stockings designed to combat swelling and provide support. Mike had to roll and tug and pull and pretty much squeeze me into them every morning. And then do the reverse every night. And he hand washed them. No small feat since they smelled like feet. Swollen, sweaty, pregnancy feet.  And then there was my Velcro and cotton maternity belt with an extra-wide back support and straps both above and below my giant, billowing baby bump. That belt could’ve saddled the Trojan Horse it was so big and wide. And indeed I felt like the Trojan Horse, housing tiny warriors in my belly just waiting to spill out and conquer the world. Or at least northwest Georgia.

And finally, our mechanized measures. We bought a blood pressure cuff and took regular readings four to five times a day. We were closely monitoring for any slight increase in diastolic and/or systolic pressure, or both.  Despite all our protective measures — along with meds to conquer and control the riotous numbers) — at thirty-four weeks, the nebulous, egregious  villainous Preeclampsia invaded, wreaking havoc on my body and my babies.

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Three years ago this week, I was forty-seven years old, thirty-four weeks pregnant, forty-three pounds heavier, and two cup sizes larger. My legs were the size of aspens and my ass was the size of Warren Buffet’s assets. I was an amniotic and edema filled cistern of IVF success. I looked like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Or a stack of stratocumulus clouds. I was so fluffy I could die. Literally. And so could my in vitro twin boys. Preeclampsia is no laughing matter.

Three years ago, this week, I was about to experience a barrage of new and scary experiences, including: an ambulance ride, an emergency C-section, two five-pound, six-week-preterm twin boys and an up close and personal relationship with a NICU.

But more on that next week…

An Exercise in Fertility

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Three years ago this week was a big week for us. Huge. Monumental, even. On August 3, 2013, bright and early on a Sunday morning we drove the forty some-odd miles down to the Georgia Perimeter to Georgia Reproductive Specialists because it was egg retrieval day and time for Mike to make his dutiful “deposit.” We were both nervous wrecks. It was a seminal moment – on so many levels. The other day, when reminiscing, I borrowed heavily from one of my favorite poets and penned a little “Red Wheelbarrow” parody:

so much depends

upon

a sterile dixie cup

glazed with hard

swimmers

beside the petri

dish

Because so much did depend on that day and that cup and that petri dish. And luckily, Mike’s swimmers were reliable little guys. And don’t get me started on the generous and steadfast nature of our donor and her eggs. I wish there were a way to explain to you and to her how truly indebted we are for her incredible sacrifice. I know it wasn’t easy. She endured hormone shots and blood draws, ovarian hyper-stimulation and surgical egg retrieval — which I understand was hardly, as the old song goes, “Easy Like Sunday Morning”– which was when she drove to our clinic, just after daybreak, to tender our eggs. She is my hero… and I will never know who she is.

But I know that she is strong. I know that she is selfless. I know that she went through pain and agony and tremendous risk to incubate new life for a couple she didn’t know, would never even meet. Ever. And she delivered – like the Stork; like Santa Claus; like the sunrise; like the rainbow . She delivered little bundles of promise and beauty and perfection and joy aspirated through a needle into plastic culture dishes. Science and nature. Miracles and medicine. Magic and mathematics. To God be the Glory – and talk about Amazing Grace. Our donor has it. She lived it. She is it.

We had arranged with GRS to do a shared cycle, which meant that the clinic would receive half of the eggs she produced and we would receive the other half. It was kind of a BOGO deal with a twist: Buy One, Give One — the only IVF plan we could feasibly afford on teachers’ salaries. It was a gamble that paid off beautifully, thanks to our donor and the quality of her fierce follicles. We ended up with five beautifully round and robust little embryos. And it turns out we only needed two. Our donor was THAT good. And to give credit where credit’s due, so was Mike’s baby batter.

We received our first pictures of our boys on August 8, 2013. Their bubbly little personalities shining through, even in that first portrait. Every anniversary, I’ve stacked that first photo on top of a current one, and this year is no exception. It’s amazing how two such distinct and brilliant little people can come from such microscopic origins.

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Parker Isaac and Tate Michael.

We knew we wanted names with symbolic heft. From the moment we decided to pursue IVF, we christened a boy Isaac, as a nod to the grace of God and the Old Testament story of Abraham and Sarah. If you aren’t familiar or in case you’ve forgotten, it is the tale of God’s promise to a barren couple that they would have a son, even though Sarah was ninety at the time. If not for modern medicine and miracles, I would’ve been beyond childbearing age myself (though nowhere near 90, thank you very much). So Isaac was a given from the get go. We also knew we wanted a Michael — to pay homage to Mike and his father and grandfather before him. And Tate was my grandmother’s brother and a name I have always loved, so that was an easy one, too. The fourth one, though, was a bit harder to come by. We rooted and rummaged through Nameberry, voting and vetoing as our little guys grew from the size of newts to arctic puffins before finally deciding on Parker — a tribute to Mike’s Korean heritage, where Park is a common surname. So there. We had names. Now to decide who would be whom…

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We didn’t want the firstborn to have Michael attached to his name for a very important reason. There is a tradition in many Asian cultures (and to be fair, Judeo-Christian societies as well) where the Number One son receives the birthright and the blessings and Number Two plays second fiddle (or second gayageum, I guess, if we’re talking Korean here…) Anyways, we were more than willing to part ways with such unjust, blatant favoritism. So we knew that Baby B would be Tate Michael and receive the honor of his father’s name. And Baby A would be Parker Isaac and receive the honor of biblical promise. Both boys would receive beautifully perfect namesakes.

Now apparently the boys battled it out in utero to determine who would be — not firstborn — but last. In typical “the first shall be last and the last shall be first” fashion, Tate, who had been Baby A (which simply means, the baby closest to the cervix) for more than seven months, scrambled up my ribcage like a set of monkey bars at the last available second and grabbed tight, therein winning the title of Tate Michael. Parker, who had been Baby B for almost the duration of the pregnancy saw the world a whopping one minute earlier than his brother and won the moniker, Parker Isaac.

In keeping with that Korean surname first name, Parker’s eyes are more Asian, like dark-roasted almonds. His smile is deep and wide and his skin is the color of moonstones. He is our gentle giant, giver of bear hugs, open-mouthed kisses and truck trivia. He can tell a backhoe from an excavator, a car transporter from a semi and he LOVES to share his knowledge. And he is his father’s mini me.

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Tate, on the other hand, looks like me (or at least that’s what people tell me, and I’ll take it– even if it is technically impossible). And just like me, he loves books. From the time he could clutch one, he’s had a book in his hand. And a song on his lips. He sings from sunup to sundown – or at least AT sunup and sundown because we hear it on the monitor. There is no sweeter alarm clock than hearing such classic toddler tunes as “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Wheels on the Bus” … although hearing them at 2:20 AM if he accidentally wakes up can be a wee bit spooky.

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So this week is always a huge week for us. On August 32013 Mike did his fatherly duty with a few minutes of hard labor and a plastic covered remote control. Five fizzy, fertilized, egg-splitting days later, on August 8th, our beloved fertility doc, in his white coat and hair net, siphoned our embryos into the core of my being, where they immediately took up residency in my heart and soul. I became a mother again for the third and fourth time. And for the first time to boys. Mike became a father. The girls became sisters to brothers.

August 8th is legendary.

Nitwits! Boppies! Ointment! Tweak!

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Breastfeeding. Just typing the word makes me feel all warm and cozy and capable. To have my arms cradling a sweet little one while it draws milk from my body, to feel the letdown – which is such a crazy term because it is NOT a letdown at all – is quite simply the greatest maternal high in the world. I can’t even put into words the feelings the word evokes. God gifted me with two mammarian green thumbs, and I have been fortunate enough to use them for not one, not two, but FOUR little ones.

So today, I devote my musings to the nursing of twins. Some people will tell you it is impossible. Still others, when they learn you’re doing it, will tell you you’re crazy, or heroic, or unbelievable. I’m here to tell you that you are none of those things. You’re just doing what you’re doing for the good of your tiny twosome. And I’m also here to tell you it can be done. Don’t listen to the naysayers. DO listen to the cheerleaders. Gobble up the kudos and the accolades – to carry you through the tough times — because there are plenty of those. But keep on giving it a go. It is so, SO worth it.

Now nursing twins is a bit more of a challenge, it’s true. I thought I used lanolin cream on my nipples for just one!!! I should’ve bought stock in the stuff. (And I highly recommend roughing those milk makers up early – wet washcloths and heavy tweaking as early as you can. You are in TRAINING mama!) Which brings me to the football hold that you’ll need to master if you feed them at the same time, which I highly recommend — otherwise, you are a 24-hour diner for cranky customers with the mega-munchies. (As it is, it’s STILL feels like that sometimes…) For tandem feedings, clutch those little suckers (see what I did there?) so that their noses face your underarms, their legs wrap ‘round your back. The football hold felt odd at first. I was used to babies being able to stare up at me with their sweet little milk-glazed eyes while they nursed. With the boys, I could still see their tiny faces – just not as easily – and I often had to be content with rubbing their fuzzy bird-heads instead. But what better way for a football coach’s wife to feed her mini linebackers?

Just like in football — where pads are a prerequisite — nursing twins requires additional gear: an ample, sturdy pad called a twin boppy. Now there was no such thing as boppies when the girls were babies, and I had absolutely no idea what one even WAS going into my final pregnancy. (I still don’t know why it’s called a boppy — it sounds violent and Flintstonian to me, like something Bam Bam would carry around) But I do know I couldn’t have nursed my boys without it. It saved my back, shoulders and neck from traditional football mayhem. A twin boppy is truly not like the other, singleton varieties. It is firm, flat-surfaced and fits squarely around you, latching at the side to provide the babies their own solid latching surface. We got ours from Baby’s R Us, and while it didn’t have all the latest giraffe or chevron patterns or come in poetic colors like teaberry or silver mist or pink pebble (‘twas a plain pale green), the functionality is what matters most.

Deciding to nurse and finding the right boppy is the easy part. But I’m also here to tell you the dirty truth. (And there are lots of dirty little truths to reveal.) It’s not all soft lighting and rocking chair dreams. There’s a whole lot of shit-storms (breastfed babies have WAY MORE dirty diapers than formula fed ones – and they are mustard yellow and climb up baby backs like alien life-forms almost every single day), spilled milk to cry over (that old adage is bullshit) and clogged ducts (I sported a clogged duct that turned my right breast into a cauliflower wedge for days. I packed cabbage leaves in my bra, expressed milk in a hot shower, and even nursed the boys upside down — nothing worked until, miraculously on the morning of the third day, I rose and it had vanished. I had harrowed hell), and don’t EVEN get me started on going without caffeine and hard liquor for nearly two years…

No, nursing twins is not easy. Now with the girls, nursing was fairly trouble free (self-imposed prohibition, aside). My milk supply was abundant — to quote my grandma, “I could’ve squirted a stream clear across the room and blinded a man.” When letdown hit, I would darn near choke the girls. They would sputter and mew amidst a milk facial nearly every morning. And I never, ever had to use a supplement. The boys were another story, though. Getting enough milk to feed them wasn’t the problem — but getting enough milk for storage through pumping was another story entirely. Nursing one, you can hook up the other udder to the pump and BOOM, you’ve got six to eight ounces. Not so, when there are two. For a while I tried pumping after the boys were finished nursing, but I just wasn’t getting enough to sustain them for very long once I went back to work. So I began reserving one feeding session a day for formula so I could pump and store. Besides, because the boys were in the NICU for about a week, we were required to give them supplemental formula in the beginning to insure they were getting a certain amount of food in their tiny little systems. So we chose the bedtime feeding, and Mike or my mom or visiting sister or kind-hearted friend (or any other kind, charitable soul who took pity on us in those early days) scored the sweet pleasure of feeding them and tucking them tight into their swaddles, truly one of the most magical of moments.

10301495_10203583767627316_7331122009769522744_nNow part of what makes breastfeeding so wonderful is the convenience, along with cost-efficiency. Heating bottles of formula is hard enough when you have one wee bairn, but it is downright torturous when you have two, colicky, howling lads on your hands. And buying double the amount of formula can put a family living on teacher salaries in the poorhouse. Thankfully, we didn’t have to supplement with a lot. Still, it was enough that when Mike and I discovered the Baby Brezza within that first month, we were more than over-the-moon happy; we were game-winning-Hail-Mary-touchdown happy. Simply put, the Baby Brezza is like a baby Keurig machine that mixes the formula with water and fills the bottle to the appropriate amount at the perfect temperature in seconds. It is a mechanical wonder cow worth every single, solitary, exorbitant cent. (It ain’t cheap, let me tell you. Put it on your shower registry. Like now.)

Oh, and since breastfed babes are far less likely to sleep through the night (breast milk breaks down in their systems faster and they get hungrier sooner), we strategically chose bedtime for formula time. We were playing our odds, hoping for a few more precious minutes of shut-eye. Unfortunately, I think the boys saw our hope and raised it, then watched it come crashing down like a house of cards as they jumped up and down on it for good measure — to the tune of sixteen months of sleepless nights. Now sixteen months with no sleep sounds bad enough, but quantify by stating that sometimes they were up seven times a night (times two, mind you), with us only getting fifteen to twenty minute snatches of sleep at a time, which all equates to Mike and I being up twelve to fourteen times a night for months and months and months… the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts. And by greater, I mean mammoth and brutal. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Now I’m not saying that they would’ve slept better on formula. I have no idea. I will say that nursing them when they woke up that many times a night was by far so much easier and less time consuming than preparing a blasted bottle every single time. I am saying that. Absolutely. So that’s something…

But perhaps the biggest of hurdles we ran into while breastfeeding twins had to do with Parker’s milk protein allergy. Poor little Bear just couldn’t process dairy. It caused him horrible belly cramps and constipation. Before we figured out what was wrong, there were long and torturous nights when we thought for sure that our baby had a kink in his colon or a hole in his intestines, he was so inconsolable and so contorted. Once we discovered the truth, we could only use Nutramigen formula as a supplement– which costs even more than traditional formulas – and I could no longer have any dairy at all. Now that might sound innocuous, but let me tell you, it was pure devilry, the things I had to give up. (I had thought coffee and vodka were tough!) Not only was milk now off limits, but all kinds of favorite foods: blue cheese, Greek yogurt, vanilla milkshakes, classic pepperoni pizza, mozzarella-slathered lasagna, cookies chock full of chips, carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, fresh-baked banana bread… Lets’ face it, the baked goods hit me the hardest. Cheesy foods were difficult, mind you, but my sweet tooth is legendary. It’s insatiable. I bake – I learned early so I could soothe the savage bicuspid. I have a red velvet brownie recipe that could achieve world peace. I make chocolate chip scones that could bring the Brits back to their sensibilities and reverse the Brexit vote. I thought I was a goner when I learned I had to give up my sweets. The only thing that got me through that dietary drought is Oreos. Oreos! Milk’s best friend! (oh, isn’t it ironic???) Oreos are dairy free — completely and utterly. They are also my choke collar for a savage sweet tooth that hates to be denied (because me and a hangry sweet tooth are truly a force to be reckoned with).

11229825_10206173595651398_2595925631929835405_nSo what makes nursing twins worth it, particularly in the wake of food allergies and strict dietary restrictions, football holds and sleepless nights? What makes having the equivalent of four little parasites hanging off my teats (as my physicist/farmer father would say) for the cumulative sum of four years worth it? When I try to rationalize it, at least for the boys and the twenty three months that I nursed them, I tell myself that I was giving them as much of me as I possibly could for as long as I possibly could because the girls will always have twenty seven years and twenty four more years’ time with me than the boys will. I was trying to make up just a little of that quantity with quality.

I also tell myself I nursed for the medical reasons we all have read about: how our bodies produce the perfect infant nutrition; how nursing reduces a mother’s risk of breast cancer and female babies’ risks later in life; how it’s easily digestible and comes in a ready package; how it boosts infant immune systems resulting in less sick days for parents and babies, etc. The list goes on and on. You can look up the research yourself. And I’ll even admit right here in black and white that I’ve squirted breast milk in all four of my children’s eyes and ears to help combat pink eye and ear infections. – with success, mind you. And while I think all of these are part of it, it still doesn’t truly explain why breastfeeding twins and singletons for so many years of my life made it worth it. Ultimately it’s the connection that is made. And that connection is impossible to understand, much less verbalize. There is some sort of emotional and physiological cocktail created, a narcotic that hooks a mother to her child in the strongest of bonds for all of eternity. The connection is emotional, physical, and spiritual. Those babies are flesh of my flesh and blood of my blood, consuming the God-given milk and honey of my temple. It is like no other communion in the universe. It is the holiest thing I’ve ever done.

So yes, while breastfeeding twins is hard, it is not impossible. Still, it is a pretty exclusive club. If you think about it, only one-half of the population can nurse a child (and while I feel sad that father’s can’t, I must also admit that I’m selfishly happy that God made us the ovens and gave us the food trucks). Of that half, only a small portion have twins, (although the number is growing rapidly, thanks to IVF, etc). And an even smaller portion of those twin mothers actually breastfeed. So it’s an exclusive club, but we’re accepting new members every day. Come on, join the N.I.TW.I.T.S.: Nursing Infant TWins Into Toddler Stage. (So, maybe it’s not the best acronym, but I kinda like it… If it’s good enough for Professor Dumbledore after sorting first years into their respective houses (Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!), it’s good enough for us (with a slight adulteration):  Nitwits! Boppies! Ointment! Tweak!

 

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