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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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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.

A Little Allegory of a Parent’s Soul

To introduce the concept of allegory to high school students, I use Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree.” It is the first book I ever remember receiving as a gift. I still have that original copy. It’s inscribed with a birthday wish and a life blessing. Its edges are tattered and curl softly from use, and its insides are  tatted up from Crayola abuse.

I loved “The Giving Tree” from the beginning, although I didn’t understand its complexity back then. Instead, I loved it for its simplicity and purity — the modest black and white sketches, and the story of the tree who loved a boy – loved a boy from every depth and breadth and height her soul could reach.

A boy and his tree. I loved it. But I didn’t get it. I didn’t.

And then I became a mom.

And KA-POW! – deeper understanding hit me like a felled oak straight to the noggin. This wasn’t merely the story of a boy and his tree. I mean it was, but darn, it was so much more, too! It was a little allegory of a parent’s soul. And for the first time ever reading that story, I cried. And ever since, every single time I read that story… I cry. I can’t even read the last line, I get so choked up.

The truth and power of its message gets to me: the unhesitating willingness of a mama to hew off whole parts of herself to raise up her young with the necessities and tools to survive in this world.

Like I said, I introduce the concept of allegory to my high school juniors – and they can see it, the multiple meanings hidden in its seemingly simplistic lines. They see the sacrifices the tree makes to keep her boy happy. They see her wide-open love through the gifts of her leaves and her apples; they see the unflinching sacrifice of her limbs and her trunk; and they think they understand the final grand gesture in the giving of her shriveled, old stump. Yes, they can definitely see it. And they think they get it. They interpret the allegory in one of two ways…

Some of my students connect it to parental love – those blessed enough to have parents who have shown them true, unconditional love.

But sadly, some don’t get it at all because some of my students haven’t felt that sort of love from their moms and dads. The stories I hear — the stories I see – students whose parents have left them surfing couches in friends’ houses, students whose parents are locked away in jail or whose love is locked away in addiction, students who are parenting siblings — students mere saplings themselves — playing the role of the Giving Tree.

It’s an impossible task for them. They lack the depth and breadth and height of maturity: their leaves are too tender, their fruit is too green, their roots are too shallow to support and sustain another soul, much less themselves. Their stories are enough to crack open a planet-full of hearts and send them weeping.

And speaking of planets… some of my students see another allegorical interpretation: humanity’s blatant misuse of Mother Earth and her resources. In this version, the boy takes and takes and takes with no regard for the Giving Tree’s sacrifice – the more he needs, the more he takes until there’s nothing left but a shriveled-up stump – and even that gets used.

And yes, the depletion of our planet’s resources is a valid and compelling argument — easily seen and scientifically supported, regardless of those who might say otherwise. And in this political climate – when the Environmental Protection Agency is being run by a fossil fuel magnate and the current POTUS is playing a nuclear-annihilation game of chicken with his Asian doppelganger, it is an interpretation with grave importance.

But I prefer the little allegory of a parent’s soul. And I really do believe it was Silverstein’s intent. Because after each sacrifice, after each leaf and apple and branch and trunk that is taken, his prose simply reads: And the Tree was happy.

And the earth cannot be happy being plundered and pillaged. That just cannot prove true.

But as a parent, that happiness statement rings true every single time. When my girls need me. When my boys need me. When my small and humble breasts sustained them all as infants. When my wide and ample hips carried them all as toddlers. When my long and lanky arms surround them as both youngsters and adults. When my eager, willing heart beats for all four of them always and forever with joyful abandon… I am happy.

For them, I would give all. Willingly. And happily.

That’s how I know “The Giving Tree” is a little allegory of a parent’s soul.

This past week, I introduced my boys to Silverstein’s masterpiece – my original, 45-year-old birthday book, its edges all tattered and curled from use, its insides all tatted with Crayola abuse. My boys were mesmerized. They loved it: the simplicity and purity of its prose, the modest black and white of its sketches.

This story of a tree who loved a boy is timeless. This story of a tree that readily hands out huge chunks of herself never gets old. The tree herself may get old. She may lose apples and branches, and her tattoos — if she had any — may wrinkle like that ME + T heart scratched into the core of her being, but no matter what, if her kid finds happiness, that tree finds happiness.  No matter the hardship, the struggle, the pain…

Yes, my boys loved the book.

And this tree was happy.

giving tree

 

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.

Boy Parts: A Map for Boy Moms (Since We’re Strangers in a Strange Land)

I was a Girl Mom for a lot of years before I became a Boy Mom – and a Twin Boy Mom at that! And while I had a lot more energy and a tad fewer aches and pains (and facial grooves) as a mom thirty years ago, I also had a lot fewer surprises. After all, the girls’ anatomy was my anatomy. But boys… well, boys are different. And while we all know that, if you’ve never had or been around baby boys, you really have NO IDEA. So many times, I find myself completely lost –even with all those mom years under my belt. Thirty is a lot of years, David (my apologies to Love Actually), but boy-oh-boy, I find I’m completely ill-prepared for this journey. Boy motherhood is so entirely different. The climate’s different and the topography is different. And while I’ve barely breached its borders (I’m a mere three years in) I will try to chart the geographical features I’ve encountered thus far to help any new boy moms out there…

Of course, some things about the realm of boys are just plain legendary — things that everyone knows and expects. Like the unpredictable showers that drench mama’s belly or daddy’s shirtfront at the first available opportunity and then regularly for the next six months or so. It just happens. You’ve heard about them and you try to prepare. You cover the spigot whenever possible, yet you still find yourself soaked on random occasions.

You also know boys tend to manhandle their man handle. Like constantly — lest it get lost; or stolen; or some other unlikely calamity occur that all men, from one to one hundred, seem to universally fear. I learned this from watching baseball and Al Bundy and basically observing all the men in the history of my life.

But there have been other geographical idiosyncrasies involving male nether regions that have totally taken this mama by surprise. Starting with the ultrasound — which is when I discovered we were having turtles. No, I take that back. For two weeks, we thought we were having a turtle and a hamburger. But then, turtles won out. For those of you unaccustomed to sonogram speak, turtles are boys (little heads poking out of little shells) and hamburgers are girls (single patty sandwiched between a bun). In all honesty, this Girl Mom had never heard hamburger OR turtle talk. Again, thirty IS a lot of years, David. Ultrasounds were barely on the horizon, back then. So all that was news to me.

And speaking of turtles – sometimes they are shy and sometimes they really stick their necks out. As in baby erections. Grown men, sure, but infants?!?  Yes, infants. It certainly surprised this mama – and a lot more mamas out there too, I’m sure. (And if we’re being honest here, probably even some daddies.) Turns out baby boys stand at attention a lot — usually when their bladders are full — but not always. It’s just biology at work. And that biology certainly gets a work out. My eldest often exclaims, “It’s too big! It’s too big!” I’m sure he’ll outgrow that phrase.

So yes, boy topography is in a constant state of flux. But there is a landscape choice that must be made when a baby boy is born. I’m talking circumcision here — smooth or rugged terrain — and for such a thin layer of skin, parents better be thick-skinned about their decision. Because someone out there will object, no matter which way you go. People are passionate about the subject. Pros and cons are argued vehemently on both sides. Ultimately, I left it up to their daddy. I figured he had the equipment, and I didn’t.

Is there pain involved in the procedure? Absolutely. The boys swelled and turned red; they cried during and after the surgery (which is what it is – a minor one, but still), and they were fussy for several days after. It was traumatic for all of us. The boys suffered physically. Mike and I, psychologically. We felt guilty and wondered if we’d done the right thing. Is there risk? Negligible, but yes — experts say less than 1% chance of complication. Since the boys were in the NICU, they weren’t circumcised until after they were discharged (at eleven days), a fact which points toward greater risk amongst preemies who are already facing unique hurdles. Other arguments for and against involve UTIs, STDs, penile cancers and psychological effects. Statistics are skewed one way or the other, depending on the stance. Our boys seem well adjusted. Like I said before, the only thing they’ve ever said about their penises — “It’s too big!” Imagine if they had that hair’s-breadth of a foreskin to top it off!

Now I have discovered one similarity about the lands down under with regard to both sexes: the flora and fauna can quickly become unbalanced. Yeast covers girl and boy parts with equal abandon. It is the kudzu of the bacteria world. And antibiotics are the good-intentioned gardening clubs that unleash havoc on every regional ditch and telephone pole.  Now I knew girls were prone. Crevices and divides are prime soil for antibiotic-fueled mayhem. But boys? Boys have jutting promontories– I thought they would be immune. Boy, was I wrong. While it’s true they don’t have those same moist nooks and crannies, their twigs and berries can still turn to cranberry chutney the minute Augmentin arrives on scene.

And finally, the most recent frontier I’m encountering in boy country involves the perils of potty-training. The girls were relative quick studies, conquering toilet training around 2 years without fanfare, a mere bump in their journey toward self-government. The boys on the other hand… They were 3 in March and we’re not there yet. One is making strides – at his own glacial pace (kinda synonymous with those harbinger turtles — slow and steady wins the race). The other boy, though, is completely uninterested. Diapers have served him well thus far, and he absolutely refuses to be a slave to that strange spigot standing at attention. And who am I to argue with that? Soon enough, he’ll learn what his bodily urges mean. So I’m cool with him staying in diapers a while longer. I know he’ll eventually cross that border into big boy underwear. And then, before too long, big boy bodies will arrive with big boy erections. And I would like to think that neither boy will ever be slave to those.

pottytraining

But then, I’m a stranger in a strange land. What do I know? I pray, though, that with my husband’s assistance and experience, and my attentions and persistence, our boys will grow to be conscientious and confident and in control – of their parts, their desires, and their lives.

That is my goal as a mom of girls now raising boys: that both sets of my children are fully in control of their bodies, their desires, their lives.

Because in that regard, there should be no difference.

bothmom

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!

birthboys2

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.

 

goldenembryos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

tatebirth

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…

Blue Jeans, Cast Iron Skillets, and Fine Wine

I’m an “Older Mother.” At least that’s what my OB chart plainly labeled me. AMA: Advanced Maternal Age. Apparently, any mother over the age of 35 gets that acronym. And I suppose I am REALLY advanced – having surpassed that baseline by twelve years. I’ve always been advanced, though. I was an early walker, an early reader, and an early bloomer. And continuing in that vein, I currently teach and coordinate Advanced Placement at our school. So, yeah, I freely accept the Advanced acronym.

But what else does it mean to be a mother of advanced age – an older mother, if you will.

Well, it means I can no longer do somersaults… I found that out this past weekend as the  boys were perfecting theirs — Tate all nimble and quick and wheeling across the floor like a roly poly bug; Parker thudding onto his back from his leap-frog position like a Big Wheel with a flat tire. Me, I suddenly and foolishly felt compelled to demonstrate my long-dormant expertise. Big mistake. Frightful. I heard my neck go all crunchy – crunchier  than my granola hipster students with joggers and facial hair. I think there’s some residual pieces of vertebra rattling around in there like spilled trail mix. So there will be no more deliberate, premeditated tumbling routines in our living room.

It also means I don’t wear high heels much anymore. When the girls were little, I wore heels to work every day. That was pure nonsense. I shouldn’t have. Not because they contribute to bunions and plantar fasciitis (neither of which I have, mind you… I’m not THAT advanced), but because teetering after toddlers on stilts is not ideal. (Although, note to self, putting TODDLERS in stilts might be. I suspect it would slow down their capacity to gain speed in a short time frame. It could potentially save my nerves and their lives in parking lot situations. Plus, Tate might even like it. He did inform me last night that he’s a Disney princess.)

Being an older mother also means my hormones are in a manic tug-of-war – half my face thinks it’s a teenager and the other half is pleating and creasing its way toward Botox. The ensuing brawl is wreaking havoc on my skin. I have laugh lines and crow’s feet on one side and acne and oily patches on the other. My face is a tangled-up coastline of contradictions. With the girls, I bought and used every exciting new cosmetic fad on the market. But as the mother of twins, I no longer have the time nor energy (nor money, for that matter) for expensive skin regimens. But that’s okay – I use the boys’ products without shame and quite possibly without good sense. For example, over the past week I’ve had a ginormous zit riding my bottom lip (Yes, bottom lip. I TOLD you my skin is haywire right now) that people have mistaken for a fever blister. So last night, I slathered a bit of Boudreaux’s Butt Paste on it and woke up this morning to a barely negligible pin point of a pustule — which I promptly scrubbed away with the boys’ clinically proven, gentle formula baby body wash. Who needs fancy zit creams and expensive cleansers when your twin toddler products can ante up?  Oh, and there’s an added bonus: I smell good enough to swaddle and my cheeks are soft (and dimpled) as a baby’s bottom.

Yes, I’m a mom of advanced age. I can’t deny it. But that really doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I can think of plenty of good things that get even better with age. Like blue jeans, for example, and cast iron skillets, and fine wine.

So time for a little metaphorical role play — to analyze and legitimize my Advanced Maternal Age worth and potential:

I am the mama equivalent of a pair of blue jeans… That makes me functional and durable and classy or casual, as needed. I’m always, always ready for the weekend. I’m soft and broken in, with an extra-long inseam for flexibility and just the right amount of Lycra to keep me snapping back when I’m stretched too thin thanks to my tendency to bite off more than I can chew. Still, I can cover most problem areas and make sure everything vital is covered. So that’s all good.

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And I’m a well-seasoned-cast-iron-skillet of a mother. I’m valuable and irreplaceable. Nothing compares to me. I’m tried and I’m true — a tough, heavy-hitter with a satin finish who serves up comfort in ample doses. I weather the generations with strength. Hell, I perform better with time. I’m certainly no poser, no wannabe, no non-stick newcomer who turns all flakey and can’t handle the heat. Me, I’m multifunctional and sturdy, and I produce quality product time after time. Take a look at my girls, if you don’t believe me?

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And since I started motherhood all the way over again at 47 and am currently a mother of twin toddlers at 50, I’m a miracle of Jesus. So that must make me… Fine Wine. And sure enough, all the classy descriptors fit. I’m full bodied and sweet, with high levels of residual sugar ready to be unleashed. But don’t underestimate my undercurrent of acidity – my sarcasm is subtle but ripe, and it will cut through with clarity and confidence at just the right moment. I’m strong and lush (not to be confused with A Lush), and I can make your knees weak and your head swim. I’m complex (just ask my husband and AP students – I confound them all), and I’m earthy (consider my love of Chaucer and four-letter words) and believe me, I’m far more palatable if I’m allowed to breathe a bit here and there.

So, yes, I am a mama of AMA. But just like blue jeans, cast iron skillets and fine wine, I am better with some age on me. So go ahead, put a stamp on me. A Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval or a Levi patch or a fine French label.  I see your metaphors, and I raise them. I transcend them.  Motherhood is ageless. And limitless. It is powerful, miraculous, metaphysical and absolutely the most important and perfect thing I’ve ever done.

Motherhood is a category all by itself.

#SoulfoodSeoulfood

Our dishwasher has the longest cycle of any machine I’ve ever encountered. An elephant’s menstrual cycle is only slightly longer. It runs for 2 hours and 83 minutes.(The dishwasher, not the elephant.) Not kidding here. It seems unheard of. I’ve never been around one as dedicated and hard working. What makes this so incredibly irritating is that we can’t run the dishwasher unless the boys are asleep or absentee because they like to push buttons. All buttons. The ice and water buttons on the fridge (we had to put it on lock-down mode– I didn’t even know a fridge had such a thing!), the buttons on the oven, the buttons on the remote control, the buttons on their parents (every damn day), the buttons on their parents’ cell phones… the list goes on and on. You name it, they push it. So if we run the dishwasher while they’re awake, inevitably it gets stopped somewhere, mid-cycle. And they’re so stealthy about it that we never see or hear them do it.

We’ve tried for four days to run our dishwasher. Four. But, sadly, because we are the parents of twins who have decided that sleeping is overrated and shouldn’t necessarily be applicable to them  – well one twin in particular these days — we continuously forget to run said dish washer because our minds are M.I.A. So we currently have no dishes in our cabinets. None. Every dinner, salad, and dessert plate – even every coffee saucer (because we ate breakfast off of those this morning) — is dirty and festering in its own detritus waiting for us to run the load. And we just can’t seem to manage it.

Which makes the task at hand – preparing our New Year’s Day feast – rather difficult. I’ve been closely examining the contents of the dishwasher – sniffing glasses and squinting at fork tines – to determine whether or not I need to take forensic countermeasures with a brillo pad and hot water. I decided it was easier to just pull out the Vodka and pour myself a drink and let the alcohol kill the germs. Besides, I hadn’t properly rung in the New Year yet. Mike and I fell asleep last night before 10:30. Tate and his propensity for middle-of-the-night wake-up calls are beginning to take their toll.

But let’s talk about New Year’s Day in the South. It’s a beautiful conglomeration of country fare: black-eyed peas and collard greens, buttermilk cornbread and sweet tea. And I do it all. Well, except for the sweet tea. I told you already, I’m not a tea-totaler 😉 And I may be Southern, but I’m not Southern Baptist. So I threw back a couple of vodka tonics while I cranked up my veggies because I like my potatoes fermented. Not mashed. And not fried.

But it’s not all peas and greens and potato juice at our table on New Year’s Day. Remember, we’re a mixed marriage, so we’ve got ourselves a mixed menu.  Mike contributes his cultural heritage, too.  He makes his family’s duk guk. It sounds incredibly wrong — like something feculent at the bottom of a millpond. But it tastes incredibly right — like seventh heaven in a soup bowl, complete with seaweed and rice cakes. It’s my second-favorite thing my husband does for me… but I digress.

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Now the boys won’t eat any of the above-mentioned goodness. And it’s not that they are the kind of kids who will only eat chicken nuggets and French fries (although they love those too.) They’ve been raised on multicultural menus their entire two-and-a-half years on this planet. Their favorite foods are Korean curry and chicken n dumplings. Sadly, though, they draw the line on vegetables of almost any variety, so beans and greens are entirely out of the question. And it saddens me, but while my mom and Mike and I feasted on soul food and Seoul food, the boys feasted on Cheez-its and the bacon reserved for crumbling atop the collards. Oh, and some random bites of cornbread. If tonight’s any indicator, I won’t be winning any mother of the year awards in 2017.

But I am winning. Even when I fail.

Even when the boys have minor (and major) meltdowns in Aisle 3 of the new Kroger — and then again in Aisles 8 and 12. (Which happened today while we were shopping for our duk guk and greens, by the way.) Even then, I am still winning. Because I have been given the opportunity to mother four exquisite, perfectly imperfect children who show me the secrets of the universe every single time that they smile. They bring me a joy that cannot be described nor contained.

So, yes, I am winning. Even when I fail. Even when I have minor (and major) meltdowns because I feel like I am inadequate. Like Mike deserves someone better. Someone younger and more energetic and maybe even more Asian who can truly appreciate his passion for all things Ramen and Star Wars and technological. Even then, I am still winning. Because when he wraps me in a big, warm hug and looks me squarely in the eyes, I know I am right where I belong. He is my destiny and I am his. Star Wars fanatic or not.seoultrain

Yes, I am winning. Even when I fail. Even when I have minor (and major) meltdowns because I feel like I can never be all that I should be as a teacher for my students. Hell, if I can’t even remember to run my own dishwasher, how in the blankety-blank am I supposed to properly impart kernels of truth and wisdom to the young minds of Bartow County? But I am still winning. Because even though I teach them about life and literature, they teach me so much more. About life and about living it. The wisdom of American youth should never be underestimated.

Yes, I am winning.

By the way, my first favorite thing my husband does for me is his curry. His thick, brown, spicy, Korean curry.  Happy New Year, ya filthy animals.

 

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