thoughts on pregnancy

… very post partum!

The girls will be nine months old next week and I find it interesting how frequently I think back on my pregnancy, the delivery and the weeks following.  I suppose the fact that my dear friend VIcky is going through some pregnancy concerns may have triggered some of these thoughts (if you pray, please pray for her and sweet baby Bubbles and her husband Tim and their little boy Caleb).  But anyway, in no particular order, the things I think about are:

How strangely calming it was to be on hospital bed rest.  Perhaps that’s where the phrase “peace that passes human understanding” comes from. And while I’m sure I was not always peaceful about it, the way that I remember it was that I didn’t have much anxiety about the situation most of the time.  I remember being alone in my room a lot, looking out the window at the office of my childhood pediatrician. The memories of my childhood pediatrician are pleasant, although most memories involve being home from school sick.

Aside from actually being sick, I usually liked being home from school sick because it afforded a sneak peek into a world I didn’t usually get to enjoy.  It put the world into a new context for me – a glimpse into what adults did while I was at school. Often I would look at the clock and think of what I should be doing in class and compare it to what was going on in the world around me – the mailman delivering mail, neighbors out walking, adults going to the store and so on.  I would hear my bus stopping near my house, dropping off all of the other students who had gone to class and I wondered what it would be like if I had been at school that day and was disembarking the bus at that moment, instead of tucked away in my bed.

And really, that’s what it was like on hospital bed rest.  The world was going on around me and I was watching it happen from my adjustable hospital bed. I tried not to think too much about work, although I checked in frequently to make sure that everything was OK. It was as though if I could just make it another day and just stay pregnant a little bit longer, it would be so much better for our girls.  I made it ten days.

I also think a lot about the labor and delivery. I remember it like I was watching things happen to me and not actively doing something about the situation.  As a matter of fact, I spent much of my mental energy trying to stop the freight train of labor so that Frank could be there for the delivery.

I was apprehensive about delivery because I felt like there was a big question mark hanging over the outcome. I wondered, somewhat fearfully, what my children would look like.  I wondered if they would look like real babies and if the image of alien-looking babies would follow me for my entire life.  It made me sad to think that their birth wouldn’t be “normal” – that a trip to the NICU was a certainty.

I remember the doctor announcing I was “complete” (ready to deliver), but was only measuring 9 cm (normally you measure 10 cm before you push).  Then I realized that the reason I was “complete” was because they were expecting me to deliver very, very small babies.  I was filled with dread.

When they wheeled me into the operating room to deliver and told me to start pushing, I was suddenly confused and unsure of how to do it.  I had thought about this moment over and over in my head, but I found myself afraid to push.  Not because I was afraid of pain, but I was afraid I’d push too hard and hurt the babies.  Silly, right?

I pushed anyway. The girls were born within 20 minutes.  I remember wondering, as I was pushing, whether they would cry when they were born.  When Ellie was born, I found myself holding my breath, waiting for her to take her first breath.  Oh, and when she cried, it was the sweetest sound I’d ever heard.

And when just three minutes later, Carrie was born, screaming and all angry, I was flooded with relief.

Yes, they were small, but OH! they looked like real life babies! I was so relieved.

I did get to hold Ellie in the operating room for a few seconds – long enough to snap a picture.  I think about that moment a lot – how surreal it felt. How different that moment felt than I had ever imagined.

I also think pretty frequently about getting to go see my girls in the NICU after I spent time in recovery. My entire pregnancy, the thing I couldn’t wait for was hearing the lullaby played over the intercom system at the hospital.  But all the times I had imagined it, I was holding my babies with my husband.  Instead, the first strains of the song rang out as I was being wheeled to the NICU through a long, winding hallway.  The doors of the NICU ward opened and directly ahead of me painted on the wall was an excerpt from the poem “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

And oh, how those words chilled me.  I remember seeing those words when we toured the hospital two months earlier.  I remember seeing those words on our tour and saying a quiet prayer in my head that I wouldn’t see them again.

There I was, facing those words and hearing the song playing over intercom and my heart was so sad.  “This is not how I imagined it!” I wanted to say.  But there were no words.

As they wheeled me into Ellie’s room, the second lullaby started playing for Carrie. They wheeled me up to her incubator, a glass box, and there was my very small, but very beautiful, baby girl.  She was hooked up to monitors and an IV and wearing only a diaper.

They placed her in my arms and I think about that moment, too.  I was so sorry.  I felt like she was hooked up to monitors and IV’s and I didn’t do everything possible to stop it. I came up short and she had only been alive for a few hours.

Carrie hadn’t been cleaned up yet or fully observed, so I didn’t get to hold her.  I looked at her through the glass, marveling at her tiny, perfect features.

I think a lot about going back to my hospital room on the Mother & Baby floor.  All of those rooms, in my mind, were full of babies and their mommies.  And I was going back empty and alone.

I think about swallowing all of those feelings and thoughts when I saw my little girls. They needed me to be strong.  They needed me to be happy when I saw them and to cover them in love. This whole thing wasn’t about me any more.

I think about the next day when they explained to us that the girls would need feeding tubes. While we were sitting in Carrie’s room, they ran her feeding tube through her nose and into her tummy.  She screamed these fragile, tiny baby cries that broke our hearts.

I remember the sound of the breath leaving Frank as he watched them run the feeding tube.  The “oomph” was like he had been punched in the gut.

I think a lot about the nights when we first had them at home.  The nights sort of blurred together. On the morning that Prince William and Catherine Middleton married, Carrie woke up at 3 a.m. Frank and I wound up watching the entire wedding, thanks to Carrie.

I turn these moments over in my head, over and over.  I think about what they mean, how they changed me, and wonder what would’ve happened if things went differently.

But what happened is what happened, as un-profound as that is. Months and months later, the girls are doing great. They are healthy, vibrant, active little girls.  They laugh and squeal and chatter.  It’s hard to imagine that they were born a minute before they were meant to.

The more I talk to people and hear their stories, the more I realize that life rarely turns out as expected or planned. Perhaps that’s what John Lennon meant when he said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Life is fragile and delicate and rough and sharp and beautiful.

k stories: rituals of love

I wanted to document some of the special things we enjoy with the girls that may not be event-specific: On-going rituals and experiences that we love as a family.  Just a couple of my favorite rituals that come to mind:

Spa Bath Time

Bath time with Mom? Warm water in a bath tub.  Wash hair, rinse.  Wash baby, rinse.  Splash in the bath tub, towel off baby, lotion, diaper, and put on pajamas.

Bath time with Dad?  Akin to a fancy spa experience.

First, Frank plugs his iPhone into speakers in the girls’ room and sets the Pandora App to “new age” spa-type music.  He dims the lights ever so slightly and gets one bowl of soapy water and one bowl of warm fresh water.  If I am home, I sit in the rocker with one baby and Frank begins the sweetest and most tender ritual of giving the twins sponge baths.  He dedicates one wash cloth to the bowl with soapy water and one wash cloth to rinsing.  He washes their faces and necks, and then rinses.  The girls LOVE it.  Then hands, tummy, legs and feet.  He liberally applies lotion all over their tummies and legs, combs their hair and dresses them.  Watching him give them their baths is one of the sweetest and most tender acts of love that I have ever seen.

Good Morning!

Every morning Frank and I listen to the girls gabbing in their cribs.  We try to sneak in a few more minutes of sleep before we have to get going with the day, but as they get louder, we know that we are on borrowed time.

Frank usually runs downstairs and gets breakfast prepped.  I start getting ready for work if it is a work day.  When breakfast is ready, Frank comes back upstairs and together, we stand outside the girls’ door.

“OK, ready?” one of us usually says.

We push open the door and Frank flips on the light switch.

Every morning we are met with squeals of delight.  Carrie usually lifts her head up high in the air, flashing a big smile and scrunching her nose.  Ellie kicks her feet excitedly and sporting her own wide gummy grin. Frank and I each pick up a girl and we stand in the middle of the room, all four of us squealing and laughing.

It has to be the absolute best way to start a day!

eight

On a beautiful Friday eight years ago today (9/19/03), Frank and I were married. It was the last Friday of summer – the kind of Friday that you wish lasted all year: sunny, warm and fragrant.

I remember feeling peaceful on my wedding day.  I remember being happy and content. Was it perfect? Not at all.  I believe that God uses the engagement and the wedding to prepare you for what is to come.  I think of the engagement as a boot camp of sorts – how to deal with the family, the friends, the job, etc – how to set precedents.  

Frank and I didn’t live together, which is how I prefer it.  As unpopular as it is to not live together these days, I wouldn’t do it any other way. I’ve had roommates before.  I know about globs of toothpaste in the sink, one tablespoon of milk left in the jug before it was put away (I mean, really? Just drink it!), missing food, too-long showers – etc, etc, etc. I was friends with Frank for four years before we started dating.  We dated for nine months before we were engaged. We were engaged for six months (almost exactly) before we were married.  If he was a jerk, living with him wasn’t going to expose anything I shouldn’t have already known.  And if leaving the toilet seat up (which he doesn’t really do anyway) was going to be a deal breaker, well, gee whiz, I need to examine my own heart first!

So really, our wedding was the beginning of a new era for us.  Our lives were about to radically change in very real, tangible ways. And there I was (as someone with major anxiety issues) feeling peaceful.

Peace, as I’ve learned over the past years, is precious.  Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, does not necessarily mean the absence of conflict.  Instead, it means fullness or completeness.

On our wedding day, I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy, but I knew it would always be worth it.

At last my love has come along, my lonely days are over and life is like a song

Oh, those were the words that were supposed to float over us while we danced our first dance as husband and wife.  But alas, our DJ, who swore he had five copies of the song, came up empty handed when we took to the dance floor.

Watching in slow motion, as you turn around and say, my love, take my breath away…

Instead, we danced to Take My Breath Away. You know, the hot, steamy, cheese-errific song from Top Gun (oh, the pilot cliches!). Also the title song for my junior prom, it was the only song we could come up with in the two minutes we had to come up with a new song.  Oh, the agony.  Through gritted teeth and pained smiles we hissed at each other on the dance floor through the entire first verse of the song.  But then we laughed, realizing that it was silly to get all worked up.  By the end of the song, our smiles were genuine and we knew we would laugh about the first dance mishap for years to come.

It was like God gave us our first lesson as husband and wife – gently telling us that life would not be perfect, but as long as we could laugh together through it, it would be so worth it in the end.

When we were first married, we would lie in bed, listening to the wind rustling through the vertical blinds in our apartment and the distant sound of train horns, and we would talk about our future.  Frank would hold my hand and say, “I just feel like we are on the launching pad – we’re getting ready for a great adventure – we just don’t know what it is yet.  I can’t wait to go on this adventure with you!”

And oh, what an adventure it has been!  It has not turned out the way we imagined it would – there have been curve balls and disappointments and challenges and victories – but it has been so worth it in the end.

So, to Frank, on the occasion of our eighth anniversary:

I love you. This much, always.

three things: dancing emily-style

It has become apparent to me today that Frank and I desperately need dance lessons.

This is not just for us – it’s for everyone who has to watch us dance.

And it’s not because of Frank.  Standing at 6’9″, Mr. Frank can cut a rug seven ways until Sunday.

No.

If you know me, and you know Frank, then you know that the source of our dance move mojo… issues… is me.  And here is my amateur diagnosis of what goes wrong on the dance floor…

thing 1: rhythm

A major element of dancing is rhythm.  You know, keeping a beat.  It’s a fundamental element of dance. As in, required. Oddly enough, my inability to keep a beat (and carry a tune and sing & clap simultaneously) was a leading factor in my decision to end my orchestral career after 8 long years of torturing a variety of dedicated musical professionals. Tonight, for example, there was a song playing and everyone was clapping along with it.  Some people were even stomping and clapping.  Me?  I was clapping.  Was I clapping at the same time as everyone else? No. And I certainly wasn’t stomping at the same time as everyone else.  As a matter of fact, I probably wasn’t even dancing to the same song as everyone else on the dance floor.  It probably looked like I was having a stroke.

thing 2: mah moves

I think that dance class would be beneficial in helping me develop more than four moves. “What are your moves, exactly?” you might ask.  Well, generally my “moves” involve looking at the people dancing near me and trying to do what they are doing. If I can’t do what they are doing, I do some sort of variation on aggressively stepping to the left and right, twitching, anxious hair adjustments and grinding on my husband’s leg.  The last dance move has been banned in some of the more conservative states in the Union, but my lawyer is appealing on grounds that I can’t help myself.

thing 3: leadership skillz

If you thought that my lack of rhythm or any dance skillz at all would’ve stopped me from trying to lead on the dance floor, then you’d be wrong. I have serious control issues that manifest themselves in trying to take over during slow songs.  Frank, being the alpha male-type that he is, often fights me for control.  Lucky for him, I also don’t have a good sense of balance, so usually he can regain the lead while I am trying not to fall on top of the cute 80 year old couple doing the foxtrot next to us. Our struggle for the lead has resulted in a lot of clenched smiles as we hiss at each other “one-TWO-three-FOUR” and “NO! ONE-two-THREE-FOUR!!!”

So… any suggestions on where to take dance lessons?  We still have three more weddings this year (although one is tomorrow, so we are probably too late on that one).

the girls: five month update

Another month has gone by!

And finally, the girls are sleeping through the night.  Sure, “through the night” appears to be a fairly approximate term and really means “5+ hours consecutively” but I cannot complain.  The girls are eating between 6 to 8 ounces and are starting to enjoy their oatmeal with pro-biotics (hey, when you have girls with BM issues, you take whatever advantage you can get!).

But more than just sleeping and pooping, the girls are starting to get more defined personalities.

Ellie is our more reserved, seemingly introverted baby.  She loves the mornings and always greets me with a large gummy smile.  Her red hair appears to be permanent – even her little eyelashes are still red.  While she seems to have a fiery Irish exterior, she has a more stoic Scandinavian interior. Something that I’ve noticed recently is that if I am watching TV while I feed her, she is craning her neck to get a good look at the action.  She really seems to like watching reality TV, probably because they show so many faces.  And also because she has good taste in TV like her mama.  Needless to say, I will be turning off the TV more frequently while feeding them – no need to get them hooked early!  In other Ellie news, she rolled over for real over the weekend.  Sometimes babies roll over “accidentally” when they have acid reflux because their bodies are so tense.  Now she is rolling over because she really wants to, which is awesome!

Carrie is smaller than Ellie and very bald.  While they both have sparkling blue eyes, that is about where the similarities end.  Carrie is a ham.  While Ellie makes you work to get a smile out of her, Carrie thinks everything is absolutely hilarious.  Both girls started to belly laugh over the past month, especially when their daddy makes them do funny dances, but Carrie really lets loose.  While Ellie loves the morning, Carrie seems to be able to party well into the night.  She loves looking around and engaging in her surroundings.  She has yet to roll over, but she definitely wants to.

What has been really cute to see is how the girls are starting to interact.  They are starting to look at one another, grab at each other’s hands and play a little bit together.  As you can probably tell, it is hard to describe one baby without inadvertently describing what the other is not.  I suppose that is a hazard of having twins, but also a joy.  I hope that as they grow up, even though they are likely to be so different, to enjoy each other as much as we enjoy each of them.

Mom, Dad, Ellie & Carrie

twins, unplugged

Oh, how I wish this was a post about our dear daughters acoustic stylings.

Alas, it is not.

To really understand the full scope of what I am referring to, I must begin with what transpired on Friday night.

My dear, sweet, lovely cousin was in from Oregon.  Considering that I hadn’t seen her in years (perhaps as many as five years), I was really looking forward to catching up with her and introducing her to the twins.

In my mind, the meeting would be fit for heaven: my twin cherubic delights would be angelically smiling and cooing whilst my cousin oohed and ahhed over their perfect blue eyes, creamy complexions and amazing ability to grasp toys with their sweet little fingers.  It would be the makings of a Norman Rockwell portrait.

What transpired instead?  My eldest twin was, in fact, angelic.  She cooed and slept and was a delight.  My youngest twin cried – nay – screamed for the better part of an hour.  We took turns rocking, singing, cuddling, walking and soothing her.  The only pause in her blood curdling scream was to inhale and start over.

While my primary and initial thoughts were, “What is wrong with my sweet baby??!!” I must also confess that in the background of my brain, I was thinking, “What is wrong?  WHAT IS WRONG?? Why won’t the crying stop? We are going to be THOSE parents.  The ones that can’t control their children.  If our children turn out to be wild teenagers, everyone will point back to their infancy and this particular night and say, ‘Yes, we all saw it coming.’ Holy heckfire – please stop crying! I’ll buy you a pony!  I’ll buy you a car! I will tell everyone publicly that you are my favorite!  Please, please stop crying!”

It’s a good thing that those thoughts were only running in the background of my brain because the rational thoughts circulating in the foreground included, “Oh my gosh, what if she has a tumor that is rupturing and I’m sitting here trying to tell her to calm down and this is an EMERGENCY! Maybe we should go to the hospital?  Would I sound crazy if I suggested that we go to the hospital? Can tumors rupture? Ahh!”

And of course, my devoted and loving husband stood next to me, his brow earnestly furrowed saying encouraging and helpful things in a hissed whisper like, “What in the world do you think is wrong with her? What should we do?  Feed her? Change her?  Over stimulation?  When did she poop last?  Should we get a Q-Tip?”

Did I lose you at “Q-Tip?”  For seasoned parents, you may be familiar with the age-old parental horror show of using a rectal thermometer to stimulate, ahem, the bowels.  When our doctor first told us that the only option to get things moving in our preemie newborns was to gently insert a rectal thermometer, we both gagged silently and thought, loudly, “one-two-three-not-it!”

The first three day stint of no-poopies almost resulted in the use of a rectal thermometer.  We held baby Ellie in our arms and told her how much we would sooo appreciate it if she would get things moving.  Miraculously, Ellie ended the stand-off with a BM that resulted in Frank sending me the following text, “POOPIES!!!”

We breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Turns out that was a bit premature.

A week or so later, Ellie went almost four days.  For some reason the thermometer seemed too harsh to us, so we opted to go for the Q-Tip.  And it worked like a charm.

And so, last Friday we found ourselves trying to remember the last time we changed a poopie diaper.  Three days?  Four days?  Hmmm.

Out came the Q-Tips.

But no dice.

We decided to pack up the girls and head home.  By the time we got home, Carrie seemed to be in better spirits and went to sleep easily.

Saturday was fine.

Sunday seemed like it was going to be OK.  The girls slept almost 12 hours.  We had K-Fam time and I started getting ready to go to a bridal shower.

You know, an event with adults, lunch, punch, copious amounts of female giggling and cake.

I love cake.

In between finishing my make-up and taking my rollers out, Carrie lost her ever-loving mind.

I tried everything.  Frank looked at me and I looked at him.

“Q-Tip?” we were hopeful it would work.

Nevermind that we were up against a serious deadline – my sister was coming over to babysit while Frank got ready for work and I left for the shower.

Q-Tip: Fail.

Then we googled options and there was a site that suggested a baby enema.

I can’t even explain how that is executed.

Enema: Fail.

At this point I was sweating from rocking and “shhing” and going up and down the stairs.  There was no way my stick-straight hair was going to hold the curl today.  It was the least of my concerns.

Oh, and Ellie had decided she did not like all of the raucous crying and started whining.

I made a very adult decision: I could not go to the bridal shower. No cake for Mama Bear.

We called the doctor’s office’s answering service.  They doctor’s office’s answering service called the doctor.  The doctor called us.  Dear, lovely, wonderful doctor suggested a suppository.

When she explained to Frank how to administer said suppository, he replied, “Oh, our poor girl!”

The doctor chuckled.  “More like, poor you! I think the suppositories are worse for the parents!”

Lovely.

Frank went out and bought the suppository while I told Carrie that if she pooped now, she could make this all go away.

Reasoning: Fail.

We marched Carrie upstairs, administered the suppository (some things are left unexplained) and waited.

Let’s just say, Carrie is feeling much better tonight and slept for the rest of the afternoon.

Moral of the story?

I don’t really know.

I just need to write this down so that when I am arguing with the girls about curfew, I can at least be grateful that this era of my life is behind me.  Well, it better be behind me.