Thursday, February 12, 2009

Year One: A Look Back

For the first two years of my kids' lives, I didn't blog.

Having twins without having had any kids before was akin to being shot out of a cannon. Four years later, I feel like I'm still flying through the air from that cannon shot.

But at least life got a wee bit more manageable in year three, and I found the time, space, and energy to write about my Late Blooming Mom experiences. Last month, this blog quietly hit its one-year anniversary mark, and I'm happy to have a written chronicle of at least some of my first mom-hood years.

But I find myself a bit sad that I didn't take time to keep much track of the first two. So before those memories get any dimmer, I'm going to try to reconstruct a sort of highlight reel here.
 I won't be able to do it all in one shot, but I'm going to get some of the most memorable moments down today.

The first thing that surprised me was how tiny they were. I remember trying to breast-feed two at once in my hospital bed, and I could comfortably fit my palm around the back of each one's soft hairy head. That softness was otherworldly. I could have sworn they were born with the hair of fairies.

Then I remember that breast-feeding after a c-section is surreal: you can actually watch your uterus contracting while the babies feed. This reminds me of the night before that breast-feeding moment, when the milk came in around four a.m., and with it, the engorgement. And of course the pain. I remember hollering -- well, at least frantically pushing the call button -- for a nurse, learning my kids had just been fed formula in the nursery and therefore didn't need a meal at that time, and being told my best option was to pump. Sometime later, a pump arrived, but the nurse on duty wasn't a very accomplished English speaker, and her fluency in breast pump instruction was even worse. I finally got some suction and got the thing going, but soon couldn't understand why I got considerably more milk from one breast than the other (I think I learned months later that this is normal; at the time, I was convinced there was something wrong with me or else the pump was busted). And I didn't really get that much milk. The truth is, even engorged, my breasts never got that big -- I may have gone up one bra size.

Nevertheless, I gave it my all those first few days and weeks. Still, it wasn't enough for the kids' stern, old school pediatrician. He visited me in the hospital right when I was in acute pain recovering from the c-section, and practically read me the riot act because my kids were not in the room suckling at that very moment. Once I got home, the first of the post-partum doulas we hired (with twins, you need all the help you can get) got me started on a pretty good breast-feeding regimen, but I had to supplement from the start, and wasn't sorry about it. The breast-feeding was exhausting: I had a chart to keep track of which kid I fed when, and for how long, on which breast. And because newborns eat every two hours, and twins aren't exactly on a schedule for a long time after birth, I wasn't getting much sleep. Even with the nighttime doula there, I felt obliged to get up and feed, or at least pump, though I still wasn't geting much milk. At least by supplementing, someone else could feed the babies and it wasn't all on me.

Then the whole breastfeeding effort fell apart. Thing 2 came down with a high fever just six days after her birth, and had to be rushed back to the hospital. Despite all our precautions about cleanliness and good sanitary habits, she'd come down with some kind of virus, though we later came to suspect she'd been exposed while still at the hospital (we were there for a full four days when the kids were born). The next thing we knew, she was getting a spinal tap. Late Blooming Dad gets major kudos for staying with her for that, while Late Blooming Mom had the easier job of keeping Thing 1 company downstairs in the waiting room. Soon Thing 2 was checked into the neo-natal intensive care unit and pumped full of antibiotics, and worse, when the spinal tap showed meningitis, she was put in isolation. Suddenly I had to visit my newborn daughter wearing a gown and gloves, and try to feed her in a small room off the NICU, while worrying about what the rest of her life was going to be like if the meningitis was affecting her mind. I was also shuttling back home to Thing 1, who still needed to be held, fed, bathed, and rocked. My milk production took a cliff dive. The stress was overwhelming. It was as if the universe conspired to welcome us to parenthood in the worst possible way.

Then came the hospital's admission that the spinal tap sample may have been contaminated in the lab. A second spinal tap was ordered. Once again, Daddy stood by as his little girl got painfully poked, then comforted her, while mom took care of brother. Trying not to think about it too much, we waited for the results while friends left groceries at the house and checked in with supportive emails and calls. Finally, we got word: the meningitis diagnosis was a mistake. The first sample had gotten contaminated in the hospital lab. Our little girl still had a virus of some kind, but it would likely run its course, and after a ten-day course of antibiotics in the NICU -- the regular NICU, not isolation -- she could come home.

We heaved the hugest sigh of relief in our lives as parents yet, then continued our shuttling. Grandma stayed an extra two weeks to help out, rather than going right back to New York after the baby naming for Thing 2 and bris for Thing 1. At home, Thing 1 became needy and demanding, wanting to be held all the time and rocked, while his sister somehow seemed calm, cool and collected in the middle of the NICU. One night when she hadn't been eating well, the doctors threatened to put in a feeding tube, but daddy insisted he'd get the requisite ounces into her, and even promised her Aerosmith would play her prom if she cooperated. I think there was talk of a Ferrari for her sixteenth birthday, too. She ate.

Homecoming was a huge relief, and new parenthood finally settled down into some semblance of normal, or whatever is normal for two later-in-life parents who suddenly find themselves caring for twins.

This was a rocking good time for us, if an exhausting one. Dad took a three-month paternity leave, and I took a six-month leave of absence from work. The Great State of California actually kicked some money back our way, thanks to the amazing, fully-funded paid family leave program. We had a couple of doulas for the first eight weeks who split the weeks, so it wasn't until month three that we were left entirely alone at night with our kids, and the doulas' good sense and wealth of experience around newborn twins was a godsend, worth every penny.

Though Thing 2 settled into a very healthy life, medical issues didn't thoroughly go away: we'd known from ultrasound that Thing 1 was going to be born with club feet, a common birth defect in which the feet point inwards like golf clubs. So he very soon was given soft casts that had to be protected from the water, and changed every few weeks, in an attempt to correct the feet without surgery. Sponge baths were a challenge: we had to wrap his casts in plastic for months, and couldn't immerse him.

Still, it was far less nerve-wracking to deal with his feet than with his sister's out-of-the-gate high fever and hospital stay ... at least until the surgeon took a look at six months and said the casts weren't working: surgery would be required. The little guy would have to be at least nine months old, and reach a certain weight, before anesthesia would be deemed safe so he could have the surgery. Tendons would be severed so the feet could be repositioned; temporary pins would be put in place, and then more casts would be put on, so the feet would heal correctly.

I'll never forget having to turn my nine-month-old boy over to the anesthesiologist to take off to surgery. He looked so small and also so clueless about what was about to happen. He'd been excited by the big hospital bed in the prep area, and the shiny lights above. After surgery, Dad and I were once again doing the hospital shuffle, with at least one of us spending the night with our brave little guy, who looked even more fragile post-surgery with an oxygen mask still on for a while. I remember he stopped sucking his thumb after that surgery, because it just didn't make the pain go away.

But recovery was pretty fast, and the casts eventually went away, leaving two beautifully healed feet. I told the kids repeatedly that they had used up their medical/hospital card for all of childhood that first year: there were to be, I declared, no more hospital visits or surgeries for their entire childhoods because mommy and daddy had already had quite enough of that, thank you. It didn't matter that they didn't understand. I said it and I meant it.

The rest of the year is something of a blur. I remember being sleep-deprived and running out to buy formula at the one 24-hour drugstore in the neighborhood, or sending sleep-deprived daddy to do the same. I remember interviewing nannies and feeling desperate: my return to work was looming, and though I'd be working at home three days a week, and using my lunch-hour for Gymboree and Music once the kids were old enough for such things, I wanted the right person to be there when I couldn't. We finally found a good nanny and went through many adjustments having someone underfoot and learning to trust another person with our kids, not to mention figuring out how to be an employer.

Bookending the year are two indelible moments: that first night in the hospital after being moved out of recovery and into a room, Dad got onto the hospital bed beside me and said, beaming, "I have it all." And a year later, when they were finally on solild food, sitting in their highchairs, when we gave them their first cupcakes ever to celebrate their birthdays: oh, those messy, frosting-filled faces, delighted at finding there was such sweetness in life. I have the pictures of those faces, so worth the hosing-down afterwards when there was frosting everywhere. I still take pride in the fact that we made it through Year One.

We finally felt like maybe we knew what we were doing.

1 comment:

William V. Madison said...

You're my heroes. All four of you.