Twins, Love & Transformation

Brittni:
I told myself my next post would not be baby-related. I was thinking I’d keep this blog separate from motherhood for a while and maybe write a baby update a little ways down the road.  Well it turns out that when you are a new mom of twins, nothing is separate from motherhood. This mom gig is all consuming at the moment. How authentic would I be if I forced myself to write about something unrelated at a time when I literally cannot focus on anything other than the two little nuggets that turned me into a mother? Of course I will find a bit more balance in my life as some time goes by and I fall into more of a rhythm. But for now I am accepting of the fact that there is not a whole lot of room – in my brain, heart, or daily life – for much else.

They are three months old. These tiny beings have been the light of my world for three months now. (Nope, I am not one of those moms who fell in love with her babies during pregnancy – I hated pregnancy to be perfectly honest. It was really quite miserable. So my endless mountains of love for my babies began three months ago at the moment they were born.)

 

It has been three months since I laid under those bright operating room lights, my husband by my side, waiting to meet the two humans that had been growing inside of me for eight and a half months. I was shaking like a leaf, terrified at the idea of surgery (Twin A was breech, which meant I was having a C-section). But the whole experience was surprisingly calm and nothing short of its very own kind of perfect.

 

Those first days were surreal. Suddenly our much-anticipated twins were real. They were here, in my arms, delicate and beautiful and helpless. And here I was – practically helpless myself in my post-surgery state of immobility. My husband scurried around selflessly. He and the nurses took care of me and the babies while I focused on learning how to tandem nurse, determined to breastfeed. We carried on like this for two days, me and the girls practicing our breastfeeding skills while my husband and the nurses did the rest as I was not yet able to stand or walk unassisted. By the third day, the pain had subsided enough for me to maneuver myself slowly around the hospital room. I was weak, tired, and overwhelmed, but oh so happy.

 

But that evening, just minutes after my husband left to go home to shower, get the mail, etc., Kaiya, my precious ‘Twin B’, decided to stir things up a bit.  She was sleeping peacefully one second and the next she was blue as a blueberry and still as a stone and I hope that I will never again in my life have to feel a fear as horrific as the fear I felt in that moment. My mom was with me in the room and we both immediately snapped into action. A thousand thoughts entered my head as I tripped over myself to get to the emergency button across the room, the most prevalent thought being that I am not strong enough to lose her; the second most prevalent being that  maybe I already had.

My mom ran down the hall with Kaiya in her arms and nurses rushed out of what seemed like every room on the ward to come to our aid. I couldn’t see or hear or think straight. The pain that had rendered me immobile just yesterday disappeared as I ran out of my room screaming to nobody in particular that I needed my baby to be okay. And then I remembered I had another baby in the room alone. So I turned around and ran back yelling the whole time, “I need her to be okay, she needs to be okay”.  A nurse caught me when I nearly collapsed as the pain suddenly returned to where I had been sliced open just days earlier.  In a blur, she brought me back to my room and a minute later, my mom came in to tell me Kaiya was okay. “She’s okay”, she said. “She’s okay”. It took a minute for those words to sink in, but when they did, a wave of relief bigger than anything I had ever felt washed over me and I could breathe again.

 

Needless to say, our hospital stay was a little more dramatic than we had anticipated. BUT Kaiya is healthy and strong now and there’s nothing like a little perspective to make a couple of new parents feel grateful beyond words and stop sweating the small stuff. After nine days in the neonatal intensive care unit, where Kaiya was closely monitored until she outgrew her newborn apnea (apparently this is a thing and is not overly uncommon; kinda wish someone had told me about it before ten years had been taken off my life), she joined her family at home and now here we are; wow has it been a fun/crazy/beautiful/exhausting/amazing three months so far…

Three months of nursing; tandem nursing, one-at-a-time nursing, multitasking nursing, nursing in bed, nursing in public, nursing on the floor, nursing in the rocking chair willing myself not to fall asleep. Always. Nursing.

 

Three months of nights that feel longer than days. Grueling nights that are laced with beauty and awe as I rock, cuddle, and feed my two bundles of love in the dimly lit nursery, my husband slipping in and out to help me position them, change diapers, burp, and swaddle. We dance this family nighttime dance together until the sun peeks through the blinds and it is time to try to be thankful for whatever amount of sleep was had and embrace the new day.

 

Three months of diapers, onesies, and burp cloths. Binkies, little baby socks that get lost in the drier, and matching baby hats that hide the girls’ physical differences just enough to make me think twice about who is who.

 

Three months of baby-wearing. Of gliding around with a baby hugged tightly to my body in a sling. Of wishing I could wear both babies at once. Of trying to wear both babies at once at the expense of my back.

 

Three months of baby baths. Undress, wash, dry, lotion, diaper, dress, hand off to husband and repeat with the next baby. How might our routine feel if there were only one baby to tend to? How would all of this be different if I was easing into parenthood as a “singleton” mother? Would I be able to slow down a little? Indulge and enjoy each moment a bit more? And then, feeling guilty for occasionally wishing this were easier, ‘How hard would this be with triplets(!?)’.

 

Three months of Googling. ‘Infant sleep’, ‘twin routines’, ‘diaper rash remedies’, ‘binky addiction’, ‘baby growth spurt timeline’, and on and on and on. I have a whole new appreciation for my parents having had three babies pre-Google.

Three months of becoming more organized than I’ve ever been. I am a bit scattered and disorganized by nature, but as soon as these babies entered the picture, the need for order became notably stronger than my formerly disorderly ways. Looking for an alternative to ADD meds? Just have twins! JUST KIDDING. I mean…I wouldn’t trade my beloved twins for anything in the world, but… let’s just say I have ADD and twins and twins are way harder. I guess it’s for that reason that I have become a sudden queen of organization…
I put dividers in the kitchen drawers and assigned spots for bottles and pacifiers and milk jars. I have a bucket for dirty pump parts and a bucket for about-to-use pump parts. I put hooks on the insides of cabinets for bibs and towels. I have a bin in the nursery for burp cloths, a bin for blankets, a bin for sheets, and a bin for towels. I put a laundry basket in each bathroom and bedroom and do at least one load of laundry (AND FOLD IT AND PUT IT AWAY OMG) every day because we are going through so much laundry that I can’t afford not to. I set up a diaper changing station downstairs and one upstairs. I keep track of each of the girls’ nursing sessions in the baby app on my phone. On the whiteboard, I keep lists of chores to be done, groceries to be bought, thank you cards to be written, and questions for the pediatrician. Each morning, I set up a feeding station on the couch with fresh burp cloths, my tandem nursing pillow, and a full water bottle. Each night, I go through the house to fold spare blankets, take out trash bags full of diapers, and get the house ready for the next day. I do all of this, not because I am trying to be super mom (believe me I am anything but), but because if I leave anything undone, I will inevitably find myself caught soon enough in the sticky situation of having my hands full with two hungry or tired or poopy babies and no time or hands to spare to go looking for what I need in the moment.

 

Three months of falling even more in love with my husband. We have our struggle moments to be sure just as all new parents do, but in the end we are a team. Neither of us could do this twin parent thing without the other and there’s nobody else I’d rather do it with.

 

Yes, it has been one heck of a journey so far. I have been told by countless people to “enjoy every second because it goes by way too fast”. Well I can’t say that I have enjoyed every single second, but I can say that I am loving this with all of my heart. For three months now, I have been mom and not much else. The rest of me – the non-mom parts of me – will come back. They have even started to ever so slowly start to make their way back into my life. But I am not in a rush because, as everyone says, this does go by fast and I am all in.

Holy Unfiltered Truth

“We have to fight harder to safeguard our time and our dreams and our souls.”

Brendon Burchard, The Motivation Manifesto

 

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Mother: In my earliest memory of church, I am standing next to my grandmother, reciting a prayer by rote memory: “Lord I am not worthy to receive you….” 

Why am I not worthy? my five- year- old self wondered.   What have I done?  The prayer was coming through my lips. My thoughts about it were coming from my head. My heart was sort of disconnected from the whole experience.  

“…only say the word and I shall be healed.”

All around me people were broken. I would come to believe that it takes more -so much more-to be healed than only saying the word in church – things like courage, desire, truth, reflection, and yes, faith. My faith would come much later though, and have very little to do with a Catholic mass, or so it seemed. It would have much more to do with sitting with my self than with a congregation; more to do with uncovering worthiness than denying it.

***

When my three children were of the age to attend church, I did what every lapsed Catholic was doing. I dressed them up a bit and with my husband, who somehow thought I was equipped to make this all-important choice, took them there. I felt like a bit of an impostor, because I just never really liked going to church. Besides, I’d taken up meditation and yoga, one hour of which seemed to put me in alignment with Best Self more than any church service ever had. I loved devoting time to strengthening my connection to the divine, and to my own soul, but for me it was a private endeavor.  

I guess I’m  just a bit more hippy than churchy; More personal freedom worshiper than authoritarian follower. You could say it’s a personal preference. There are many paths to God, right? So how do you go about choosing for an entire family? 

Anyhow, I dutifully signed our oldest up for the First Communion classes, because in the moving sidewalk that is Catholicism, when it’s time, it’s time. This meant that she had to attend a class before the church service each Sunday, and then also attend mass after the class. She was six years old. By the time mass rolled around, she was hungry and bored and feeling about as Christlike as a famished banshee.

And just to add to my cognitive dissonance, one of our daughters asked, “Why is the priest always a man?”

I think something like, “Um..no good reason?” was my brilliant response. I thought she was a bit young to have a discussion on patriarchy or the history of Christianity or the merits and pitfalls of organized religion.

So that’s how we spent our Sunday mornings- for a short time- making everyone stop whatever activity they were engaged in to get ready for a round of church. Gather the snacks and the nursing baby and take the playing children out of the moment where God resides because it’s the Lord’s day and who needs peace anyway?

 

The reward for conformity is that everyone likes you but yourself. R.M. Brown

 

On one such Sunday morning, which is etched in my memory, my husband tried to gently and quietly carry our daughter out of church as she had grown increasingly agitated. When they got halfway down the aisle, toward the exit, I heard my darling, free-spirited daughter’s explosive cry:

  “I HATE CHURCH!”

 

And now let us pray.  Jesus take the wheel.

 

Sometimes parenting is a lesson in humiliation.

 

The Path of Most Resistance

Mother: Despite my being ignorant to the fact that it was the school bus that my daughter  was afraid of, even 20160516_175414more than school itself,  she did eventually adjust enough to make it through her Kindergarten year. In all honesty though, I think that she did not adjust to riding the bus as much as she accepted her miserable  fate..oh the guilt. It breaks my heart even now, two decades later, to think of putting her little tear-stained face on the bus. And for what? All in all, Kindergarten sucked more life out of her than it gave.

***

Summer flew by, filled with free play and fun, reading and swimming, family and cookouts. The jaws of the school bus came around again, this time gobbling up my little girl for the an entire seven hour day. I would come to detest those back-to-school commercials that portrayed the gleeful mom, happily shopping for her kids,  knowing they would be “out of her hair” soon.  For some of us, back-to-school was something to dread. And in those early years I could not shake the nagging feeling that our current setup was just a matter of inertia.  My kids were reading, learning, and exploring the world outside of school, with joy.  What in would they gain by joining the masses in a building that seemed to drain the joy from them? Could anything  be less natural a way to learn and grow than what our society deems mandatory?  What about freedom? What about play and creativity? And peace and authenticity? What about their brief childhood

But school is  the norm. School is what we do to kids.  School is what kids do. And therefore I was scared to face how wrong it felt  to me for us.  I was almost scared to think it, let alone speak it. 

What if I became a dissident?

What if I didn’t? 

I taught Kindergarten long ago, before I became a parent.  It was hard. I recall being under significant pressure to get all the kids “up to speed” and ready for first grade. There were twenty-five of them. Part of me just wanted to set them free.  I wanted to let them stay outside, or play indoors all day if they wanted, or go home, or take more than twenty minutes to eat their lunches. I wanted to let them climb in my lap at circle time and skip nap time – or extend nap time if they were tired. But I was a professional with an assigned agenda, not their mother.  I felt conflicted and overwhelmed.

At that time, I worked with some fabulous people who made teaching their career and have family members and friends who did as well.  Getting done what must get done in a school year while simultaneously nurturing a child’s sense is a tall order.  I feel strongly that we should value the teachers who do this well.  They spend over a thousand hours with our children in a given year! This is important.  If a child feels safe -safe to learn, safe to be curious, safe to be herself- at a school, in a classroom, with a teacher, then wow, this is the season for open heavens, rejoice! If your child loves and embraces being at school? Thank your lucky stars.

***

To “celebrate”  Brittni’s first day of first grade, (I was trying very hard to put a positive spin on this, and to focus on the success! She went! She arrived back home!) I  had the bad idea that our family would go out to dinner.  What was I thinking? Oh to be able to go back in time and let the older, wiser me make some past decisions. I think this is why I don’t often get nostalgic- In so many instances, I want a redo. This day is one of them.

We all piled into the car and drove the fifteen minutes to the restaurant. The next scene involves Brittni hugging a telephone pole outside the car, screaming and crying at the top of her lungs, wanting to go back home.

Why someone did not call the cops at this obvious sign of a kidnapping, I have no idea. But at that point I really thought we could not allow her to dictate the family’s evening plans, and so we waited it out, doing our best to soothe her tantrum, and assure her that dinner really could be pleasant and peaceful.

All of us a little less hungry at this point, but no longer making a scene on Main Street, we got through that meal quietly, deflated.

And here is what I now know, and what Brittni articulated many years later: School took every single ounce of her energy and then some- to pay attention, to follow the rules, to tune out the noise and focus on the teacher,  to be around many people, all day long as an introvert, to squelch the desire for quiet, for art, for more movement- to be a good girl.  

And she was being a good girl at school!  The teachers were happy with how diligent she was doing her work.  She was easy, quiet, smart. 

Then she came home and lost it.  And I wondered what had happened to my child. What was school doing to her? And why couldn’t I fix it?

And when she calmed down, she would sit at the kitchen table doing her homework, glancing out the window and asking aloud one day, “Is anyone really free?”

School may have been sucking the life out of her, but it was giving her some very big questions.

Little Girl, Big Emotions

Daughter: The best part about growing up with sisters was having two built-in best friends. Home was always my favorite place to be and my sisters were always my favorite people to be with. We were perfectly spaced apart with a little over two years between each of us. By the time Bethany, the youngest, arrived I was a little over four years old and already the best of friends with my two-year-old sister, Jill. But Jill and I were ready to welcome another member into our circle. I adored them both. They were perfect and the three of us were perfect for each other.

But, although I never showed any major signs of jealousy, I think it was there a little bit from time to time after Bethany arrived. Or maybe jealousy isn’t the right word, but I could definitely sense a slight shift in my mother – probably due to the tiredness and overwhelm that comes with bringing a newborn home to two small children and a working husband – and it bothered me. I was so in tune with her mood that any hints of uncertainty or stress in her voice or body language immediately became uncertainty and stress of my own.

She was just as gentle, calm, and attentive as always, but nevertheless I could see and hear that she was a little extra tired and that her hands were a little extra full. I could see the tiny hesitation in her body as she pondered over how to free up her hands to fold the laundry, make a phone call, help me zipper my jacket. I could hear the occasional “um” in her voice as responding to a two and four year olds’ endless questions and requests was surely a little more complicated with a crying infant in her arms who had needs that were a bit more immediate than shoe-tying, story-reading, and fruit-peeling. There was just a small pause about her now as she adjusted to the art of mothering three – an art that she took to naturally and gracefully. But within that small pause was space enough for my ever-sensitive awareness to take note that Bethany, my precious youngest sister, must be the cause for this subtle but necessary adjustment period.

So I hit her one day when our mom left the room to use the bathroom. There she was, sweet as could be laying in her car seat looking at me. I could have been like my mother; I could have been patient and kind and calm. But I have never been very good at pausing. So I bent over and I slapped my beautiful baby sister on the top of her head. She started crying and the guilt immediately planted itself like a heavy jagged rock deep within my sternum and there it stayed. 

 

Mother of Girls

Mother: After my third daughter was born, the realization began to seep in that I would have three sets of eyes, watching me, learning what it means to move through this world as a female. As overjoyed as I was with being a mother of girls, and I truly was, I also wondered if mothers of boys had it easier simply because their offspring was the other.

It was not as if the enormity of the responsibility as role model hit me all at once, exactly. It was more like a slow drip drip into my gut.

While in the thick of caring for a young family, it becomes alarmingly easy to begin to forget oneself, one’s potential, ambitions or dreams, outside of family life. Family can become synonymous with Self.

And although I was blissfully focused on raising my daughters, (okay, it wasn’t always bliss- it was damn hard sometimes too) years turned into decades, and I would later wonder if I might have robbed them of the chance to see a mother with a career, pursuing goals outside the home, making money, earning a living. 

Sure I would eventually pursue my creative goals while they were still young, but until they were nearly grown, it never took up more than a very small space in my life.  

What if it wasn’t enough to be a female role model who was happy, had a healthy body image, a solid and loving relationship with their father?  What if I was suppressing a deeper longing for fulfillment and leaving something very critical out of the equation?

Those were questions I would ask later  – and I know it is a privilege to be able to ponder this.

 At the time though,  with a new baby girl added to our family, I just kept loving them all, and occasionally slipping away, for a few hours, a day or a weekend, to write down my thoughts. These thoughts would eventually, over the course of many years and words, lead to the birth of a creative vocation. 

Did being such a later bloomer in this way deprive my daughters of something? (because this is what mothers always ask, right? How did I do for them? Was it enough? And don’t mothers of daughters demand an answer of themselves more so than mothers of sons? Or maybe not, I don’t know. I will never know.)

And would I have done it differently for myself? 

Maybe? I don’t know.

Everything seems as it should be today, so probably not.

Does it really matter?