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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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Parenting twins

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Ode to My Windy City Whirlwind Tour and My Perfect World Back Home

I just returned from a weekend get-a-way to Chicago. Me. Leaving twin toddler threenagers and a curmudgeonly dachshund with spiteful shit tendencies at home with my husband. What was I thinking?

I’ll tell you what I was thinking. I was thinking my sis and I hadn’t had a girls’ trip in over ten years. I was thinking I was in dire need of some breathing space, a massage therapist’s table, and a cocktail or two on a rooftop bar.

chicagorooftop

And I was thinking I was leaving my boys with their father. A father who is no rock star. Or bionic man. Or superhuman specimen. Although I tend to think so. Nope, he is a dad. But not JUST a dad – for there is no such thing. There are wonderful dads — capable, organized, efficient, loving co-parents. And there are terrible dads – disconnected, disinterested, uninspired biological sperm donors. And there are all those who dot the continuum from wonderful to terrible and back again. The same goes with moms. But my boys’ father – he sits at the very top end of that number line. He is a wonderfully capable, organized, efficient, and loving co-parent. So, guess what?

I had an absolute blast. I didn’t worry. I didn’t fret. I didn’t leave frozen meals in the fridge and emergency contacts on the counter. I didn’t call him every three minutes to make sure he knew not to forget sunscreen or to give them too many sweets or too much screen time. I knew that he had it all covered: the Friday school routine, the Saturday morning pancakes and the Sunday Frozen film fest. I knew he could sail smoothly — well, maybe not smoothly (there’s no smooth sailing with twin boys) — but he could at least sail confidently through all the random tantrums, dirty diapers, snotty noses, and snotty attitudes that our darling twosome could serve up. And they can certainly serve up a lot. But he had it. Asthma regimen – no problem. Bedtime and bath – no sweat. Stealthy wiener dog thievery and rapidly-scarfed-down happy meal nuggets – well, that may have ruffled his sails for a second, but still. He had it.

And like I said, I had a blast. My sis and I were ready to cut loose. We crammed as much into three days as humanly possible. The first night housed a gala – complete with hair and makeup and champagne on serving trays. And dancing. Lots and lots of dancing.

chicagogala

The next morning held a detoxification massage (not that we had any need for a detox). But let me take a small second to tell you about this massage. I’ve had rubdowns (not like my sister, mind you She’s had basically every make and model from Swedish to Shiatsu) but both of us would argue that no massage compares to this massage. It’s like being melted down and remolded out of myrtle and cypress and juniper berries.  It is seventh heaven on the eighth floor of the Four Seasons Chicago. Go there. Yesterday.

And speaking of the Four Seasons Chicago – they know how to pamper an exhausted twin mom/end-of-the-year schoolteacher and her kid sister who has her own special set of challenges and fatigues. We were spoiled senseless. We consumed flatbread sculptures, ate hand-rolled truffles, drank gingerbread tea, sipped three-olive martinis, slept on marshmallow mattresses and consumed room service before a window that reigns supreme o’er the Windy City. I can’t thank them enough for their hospitality.

Nor can I thank my sister enough. She is my mirror twin, separated by four years. We are opposites. I am quiet, she is… not. She brings light and laughter everywhere she goes. When she turns it up, the world dances to her energy. I tend to sit back in the shadows. I enjoy naps and home. But last weekend, she plugged me into her electrical current and we bathed in the bright lights of the big city. We took a river tour and learned about the history and skyline. We had guitar solos played for us at Buddy Guy’s. And we rubbed shoulders with giants – literally. The Celtics were staying at our hotel and we bumped into their seven-foot-tall frames and their family members at every turn. I am now rooting unabashedly for Boston in the post-season because of the cutest three-year-old daughter of Jay Crowder and his beautiful wife. They shared their enthusiasm for Disney and her daddy as we sipped our gingerbread tea.

 

And finally, I can’t thank my husband and boys enough.  They hung back here in the big city of Euharlee eating the unexceptional provisions of a middle-class pantry and the Big Arches drive thru, while I gallivanted around Chi-town consuming deep dish pizza and five-star cuisine. My fellas are the ones who truly spoil me rotten. They shower me with love, and with hugs and kisses, and with the occasional bodily fluids (different fluids from different fellas ;b), and their love outshines all the fine-dining and relaxing massages and super shiny skylines in the world.

I thank them super very much a lot for loving me enough to let me leave them for a weekend. Especially to Mike. He handled everything with the dexterity and talent of a dad — a capable, organized, efficient, loving (and might I add, sarcastic — see above spa-parody pic) co-parent. And while the Four Seasons was leaving perfectly molded mints beside my meticulously fluffed and feathered guest bed, my dachshund was leaving perfectly pinched turds beneath Mike’s and my comfortably rumpled marriage bed. And yes, Mike handled that, too. I most humbly thank him for loving me enough to handle even that. He is way too good to me.

 

Clean Feet and Wet Hands: Toddler Compliments and Superhuman Husbands

feet

“Your feet are very clean now, Mommy,” Tate announced this morning as I slipped him into his seersucker shorts – the ones with the cute little sailboats.

“Um… thank you?”

“Yeah, they are VERY clean now!”

Hmmm. Confusion danced across my brain. I may not always get my hair brushed until past noon on the weekends, and I’ve been known to go to school wearing cheerios on my shoulder and toothpaste on my slacks — thanks to hugs from a couple of twin toddler boys — but I’m fairly certain I always manage to bathe.

As I slipped him into his shirt, he continued, “And your hands are very wet.”

Nope. Pretty sure my hands were dry as dust. I know because they were craving my Bath & Body Works hand cream – the cream I apply the minute the boys head off to school with their Daddy. If I put it on before they left, they would want some. And it’s not that I mind if they smell like French lavender and honey and all things yummy. It’s really not. Shoot, right now, Tate parades around the house telling me he’s Elsa and wearing a blanket for a ballgown while singing her signature song. So, no, it’s not that it’s too feminine for them (I don’t even know what that means), it’s just that it’s too expensive.

That darn hand cream costs a teacher’s penny – which is far more precious and valuable than a pretty penny, let me tell ya. Teacher’s pennies are delved out once a month ‘round these parts, and I try to make certain my lotion makes it through at least six of those once-a-month paychecks.

So, no, the boys get their generic brand baby lotion, and I horde the B&BW for myself.

“Tatebug, my hands are not wet. Cold maybe, but not wet.”

“No, they’re wet mama. You said they’re wet.”

“Pretty sure I didn’t.” Why was I arguing with a newly-turned three-year-old? A three-year-old who can throw a tantrum the way Tom Brady can throw a football – a fast and furious spiral into his opponents’ worst nightmare. Just ask the Falcons. What was I thinking?

And that’s when my husband stepped in for the game-saving interception: “It’s because you painted your nails.”

“Gotcha,” I said. “Wait, what? My nails aren’t wet. That was Saturday.”

“Right. Saturday. But remember when you told the boys you couldn’t pick them up or play ball with them because your nails were wet?”

“Yeah…”

He continued to fill in the holes of my faulty reasoning skills, “Tate thinks the polish on your nails means your hands are wet. And your feet are clean. Not just clean, VERY clean. It’s a toddler compliment. Say thank you.”

“Thank you.”

“Make my feet clean,” Tate demanded as I wrestled his foot into a shoe.

“Maybe tonight,” I mumbled.  I’m not scared of painting my son’s toenails red if he wants. That doesn’t scare me.

But there are two frightful things about this exchange that I would like to point out…

  1. The boys are three years old and have never seen their mother’s nails painted. In three years’ time. I used to get manicures regularly.  That’s just sad. And it speaks volumes about my life with twin boys. AND
  2. My husband can follow the derailed, runaway train of thought of a three-year-old boy. That’s either a sign of permanent brain damage brought on by three long years of sleep deprivation or of super-human strength. I don’t know which.

But I’m going with the latter.  My husband is superhuman, which is a good thing because he’s going it alone with the twin tornadoes this weekend while I head to Chicago for some sister time with my little.

Like I said, he’s a superhero.

superhero

NICU Memories and Musings: a hellish ride in the holiest of holies

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit – a clinical cocoon of a womb for babies born too soon or too hard. For some families, it is a beautiful place. A site of unmatched miracles and grace. For others, it is a heartbreaking place. A place of pain and unconscionable loss. For all, it is a place that houses love and fear and absolute out of control situations and emotions. It is a place both holy and hellish, where innocence is taken to either heal or to die.  It is a hellish ride through the holiest of holies.

The first time I entered the NICU to see my twin boys, I was terrified. I didn’t know what to expect. Didn’t know what I’d see. Had no idea how I’d feel once I did see them. Suffice it to say, the experience was overwhelming. I vomited. Partly from the anesthesia after-effects, but largely due to the emotions that surged through me. A storm surge of terror coupled with love. My boys were so tiny, so fragile. There were tubes and monitors and beeping machines everywhere.

After that initial chaos, I calmed down. I collected myself. It was then I registered my surroundings. Everything was hushed and dimly lit and deceptively serene, considering the delicate nature of the patients and their varied conditions. But definitely hushed and dimly lit.

It felt like a church. But holier.

Holier because it was full to bursting with innocence. Six rooms, called pods, full to bursting with pure, unblemished innocence.  Innocence in birthday suits, tanning under lights, innocence bundled up to the eyeballs like cotton-swaddled ninjas, Innocence helmeted in CPAP masks and Velcro. Innocence with solitary, glowing pulse ox ruby slippers – and parents promising “There’s no place like home… there’s no place like home…so let’s get there.”

Now we were unbelievably fortunate. Our boys were born at 34 weeks 5 days.  Preemies, yes. With battles, yes. But their battles were a far-cry from the wars that were being waged around them by their 24, 25, 26 week counterparts. Preemies crippled and broken and fragile and fierce.

Preemies fight hard. Famously so. They never cease to amaze the doctors and nurses and their parents. They are bony and brittle, but Lord have mercy, how they fight. They have butterfly wings for skin; they are thin and veined; there is tape pulling at their newness and needles piercing their perfection. Their surface is marred to save their soul.  And goodness, how that soul fights.

Saving innocent souls. So not like church, after all.

But then, like church, the NICU is full to bursting with prayer. Prayer of all kinds. Prayer, well-practiced and well-formed, or haltingly hesitant. Prayer, desperately flung like a Hail Mary, last ditch effort to bargain for what feels like the impossible. But with God and love and miracles made all-the-more-routine through modern medicine, those Hail Mary’s are caught more than they’re dropped. All types of prayer form on the lips of preemie parents. We were no exception. We prayed, often. For our sons and for all of those preemies around them.

There are miracles in the NICU every day. More than one a day, 365 days a year. Against seemingly insurmountable odds. These smallest of warriors fight. They are so much stronger than their parents. The parents crack. We cry, we rant, we bargain and beg and rage and plead and cave. But these wee ones… they fight. Hard. And often – quite often – most often – 98-percent-of-the-time often — they win. So there are many, many, many miracles in the NICU.

And there is communion in the NICU. Hunger and thirst satisfied on a physical, spiritual, and emotional level. Flesh made perfect through the transformative powers of maternal biochemistry. Doctors and nurses encourage preemie moms to breastfeed — because in the NICU, breast milk is not just nutrition; it is medicine. With this most perfect food comes antibodies, anti-inflammatories, and other nutrients (like fatty acids, digestible proteins and stem cells) that can help power these infants through the gauntlet of bacteria and viruses that lay in wait. A mother’s body responds to any hostile environment around her infant, and adjusts her milk accordingly.

Breastfeeding my boys helped transform not just them, but me.The roller coaster of hormones and emotions that always comes with the postpartum experience was a hundred times harder and rougher with the NICU included in the mix.  I was an absolute mess. I was stressed and depressed and fatigued. But the skin-to-skin bonding I felt through nursing helped ease my anxiety and exhaustion. Nursing my boys calmed my core and centered my soul solely on them: the smell of their skin, the tickle of their breath, the warmth of their weight. Their most perfect food was my most perfect therapy.

And Mike got in on the skin-to-skin communion, too, through kangaroo care. Watching him wrap his wide, warm arms around our tiny guys, seeing them snuggled safe against his chest, I saw him change. I saw  his hard edges soften; his tough-guy exterior melt away. He was instantly putty in their pouty-lipped presence.

The NICU is a hellish place. It is hard and draining and demanding. It left Mike and me feeling defeated 90% of the time our boys were there. It was a place that tested our endurance and our strength — and fortunate for our family, we were only there for 6 days for one boy and 9 days for the second. What we went through was nothing compared to what some preemies and their parents go through. NICUs are hellish places full of unfathomable hurdles. But 98% of the time, they become miraculous places full of undeniable grace.

But what NICUs are most full of is babies — very, very special babies. Babies who fight like the dickens for their chance at life. This month, the March of Dimes campaign reminds our family of that distant battle we once waged and prompts us to give what we can to help current and future little ones — and the medical professionals who look after them– bring that miracle percentage up to 100%.If you can, won’t you please consider giving, too?nicuboys

 

 

 

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.

parkerbirth

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.

birthboys2

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.

Sleeplessness was born a twin

“Happiness was born a twin.” At least, according to the Romantic poet George Gordon, aka, Lord Byron. And knowing Byron, he probably dated a set. At the same time –the kinky devil. So I believe I have Byron to blame. He and his perversions saw the last of the happiness twins.

Now don’t get me wrong. My twins are happy boys. But very rarely in tandem, it seems. And for the last three months, only Parker has been a happy twin. And that’s only in spurts because he feeds off his brother’s angry elf shenanigans. But when he’s sweet, he’s quite content, my little cuddle lump. He chills sweetly in my lap with his monster trucks or he charges rowdily around the house with a smile on his face and a chuckle in his chatter. Tate, the one allergic to apparently everything on this planet, including sleep, has been a Grumpy Gus – a veritable Fussbudget on steroids. Like, literally. He gets an inhaler full of the stuff every day. And he is chock full of roid-rage. (Evidence A.)

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It all started in November, when a wind worthy of a Mary Poppins sighting whipped up – and I wish I may I wish I might have that supercalifragilistic nanny of expialidocious proportions float into our front yard with her trusty umbrella and a carpetbag of tricks to bring the sidelined sleep back into our game. We’re beginning to get desperate. Spoonfuls of sugar – and Benadryl — haven’t been working. Shots of whiskey aren’t doing it for me either. I said for ME, not Tate. I wouldn’t do that, tempting though it might be… Jail time would not sit well with my naturally frizzy hair, and I would rather not bargain for flat iron privileges.

It was a Friday night, November 4th. I remember it well: the night the Purple Hurricanes won a decisive region championship over Troup County and three of the four members of our immediate family kissed our love affair with sleep goodbye. Don’t get me wrong, we are all still very much pleading with Mr. Sandman to come home to us, but he hightailed it out of Dodge and hasn’t really been seen since. I can count on two fingers the nights he returned for a cruel reminder of the old days. We are beginning to show some neglect…

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So on that windswept and win-swept night came the first signs of a decisively drippy nose and cumbersome cough for Tate. And a return of the sleepless nights we knew for the first sixteen months of the boys’ lives. Those were brutal, but I swear, since we had such a nice long stretch of good sleep, this new trial has been that much harder. I don’t know how much more I can take before my mind suffers irreparable damage. I caught myself staring into space the other day pondering the meaning of lice. (I am a schoolteacher, after all, and I hear they’ve been making a comeback.) So I was wondering…  do they live in what they believe is their own little volatile planet, working feverishly to put blood on the table while all the while fearing climate change and their newly-elected louse of a president? I’m telling ya, lack of sleep is taking its toll.

Now we knew right away Tate’s ailment was allergies. Georgia hadn’t had measurable rainfall in months and months, and the pollen and dust and dander and other nasal irritants spun themselves into a serious sinus cyclone. Tatebug had battled allergies before, but those had been child’s play compared to these. These were full grown allergies with a nasopharynx to grind. Benadryl and Kleenex couldn’t come close to containing them.

So we took ourselves on an allergy pilgrimage. We visited all the traditional and not so traditional places: docs, pharmacies, herb shops. Over-the-counter remedies and holistic hocus pocus accomplished nada. The first few prescriptions, likewise. We tethered our boy to a nebulizer and went through fifteen minutes of treatments three times a day. That’s an eternity to a toddler in a tailspin. We were not having fun. And nothing was doing the trick.

Eventually, though, thanks to an exceedingly diligent nurse practitioner, we got an asthma diagnosis and a creative blend of carefully orchestrated prescriptions. We were told it would take four to six weeks for the cocktail to take full effect. Sure enough, like clockwork on the fourth week, our youngest settled in for the night with his stuffed puppy named Spider and his collection of nursery rhymes, and got an entire twelve hours of beautiful, blissful shut eye for the first time in nearly eight weeks.

And that’s when I made my egregious error. The cardinal sin of twin moms (or any mom, really) the world over. I bragged on social media.

There has been no repeat. Of the bragging or the sleep.

The very next day, the plagues of the E-jinx invaded our household. We’ve had tours of duty from stomach flu and common colds and all the anger and resentment and frustration and hostility that comes when your forty winks take an extended vacation. If there’s a quarrel to be had, Mike and I can find it. It’s easy to fold, spindle and mutilate an innocent word or gesture into a Cold War nuclear stand-off or watch it escalate into WWIII when we’re wiped out and wigging out. Every night for weeks on end, one or the other of us has wound up in the guest room, not because either of us is in the dog house (though it’s a wonder in these lethargy-laden days and nights), but because we’re carting Tate in there at 2:30 AM after he’s woken up for the fourth time unable to breathe and we’re all desperately seeking sleep.

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I am not proud of who I have become recently. They say sleep deprivation is one of the cruelest forms of torture ever invented and can cause irreparable mental and physical harm. It can completely change a person’s personality. I’m here to say I am not myself. My mind is mired in the muggy mildew of spilled sleep and the sludge and stench of a weary, wizened wit.

I am sick and I am tired, and I am moving at the speed of a barge in brackish water. I have toddlers permanently growing off my hips like barnacles. The one who doesn’t sleep lives in a perpetual state of whine and wallow, and his brother has started feeding off that whine like an angry, little drunkard ready to brawl. But, in the midst of the chaos and carnage, I utter my serenity prayer. And then proclaim…

Happiness was born a twin, my ass.

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