Summer and second-hand FOMO

I have long been looking forward to summer, as it would be the time of Getting Out More. However, we have yet to achieve this Getting Out More.

One of the things I’ve been planning on doing for awhile is taking the babies to baby story time at the library. I even mentioned it to a friend who was also looking for something to take their baby to. We went for the first time last week and…it was an experience. I think the babies had a fine time, but for me the whole experience was stressful. Neither of the babies is sitting up on their own, so I couldn’t really have them seated without being supported against me, which is tricky to do when you’re trying to make them clap and do hand motions to keep up with the songs being sung. Nor could I really engage them in other active parts of the songs or stories, given that one of the babies wanted to be held almost the whole time. Nor could I lay them both down because the space was too new to them and they were not having it.

The experience highlighted a fear or anxiety I have around there being two of them and only one of me. I imagine parents of more than one kid, in general, feel similarly. But I have not yet gotten accustomed to doing outside activities that require me to engage them equally at the same time, such as story time. I hate feeling like I’m leaving one of them out, even if I am going back and forth between the two of them. I also feel like I can’t do things that require one-on-one attention. For example, taking them to the pool. Activities like that require two dedicated adults, each to safely handle a child (at least until they learn how to swim).

I just feel like they are missing out, and will continue to miss out on certain things because there is only one of me.

As it is, I don’t take them out as much as I would like. I’m used to being out a lot during the summer, and this summer feels shockingly similar to this past winter and early spring when we couldn’t leave the house much. For awhile I was feeling like I was just failing at things because I couldn’t get us out more, such as parent groups, to the park, or even just out for walks like we used to. I kept wondering why, given that the weather wasn’t shutting us in. I would see other parents and see or hear about how they were out doing all sorts of things with their kids, and I couldn’t manage to get us outside regularly for a walk. I came to realize that I’m just tired and there is little reprieve. It seems like such a weak excuse, but I think it’s just the truth of the matter. After taking care of and playing with them all day, there is no real energy left to try to go somewhere. (Living in a three-story walk up doesn’t help. I try to only make that trip up and down the stairs once a day, since I carry them in their car seats simultaneously, and then it’s a walk to the parking lot.) And ultimately, the difference between me and those that seem to be getting out more, is that there is no one to pass the babies off to in the evenings. No one to help clean out their high chairs for the 3rd time today. No one to help clean the kitchen after I make all of our food. No one to help clean the apartment, do laundry, bathe the babies, etc. The more I talk to or read about folks, that seemed to be the missing piece.

It’s ridiculous that I didn’t realize this immediately. That I got to the point of just feeling bad and frustrated with myself, wondering why I couldn’t achieve what seemed like such a doable thing. I am single. Obviously I’m going to be spending more of my time doing things that keep us afloat and will, ultimately, have less energy to get us out and about for fun. Granted, knowing this doesn’t necessarily make it feel any better – I still miss being out and about, and wish I could get us out. But the goal is to try to get out more; summer is my favorite season and I love being out in it, and I want the babies to get lots of summer outdoor time. I just need to give myself some slack, remembering that there’s a lot on my plate, so it’s ok if I can’t take us out everyday. If I manage a few times a week, or even just once a week when things get tough, then that’s still something.

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Going with the (milk) flow

I wrote the last entry about two weeks before I actually posted it. I haven’t quite figured out how to take care of babies and write at the same time. My, what a difference two weeks makes.

I was really stressed out at the time and was still very much in survival mode. I’m still in survival mode to some degree, but things are a bit calmer now. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’m usually able to get one more hour of sleep than I’d been getting or what, but things feel slightly smoother now (knocks on wood).

One of the things contributing to my stress was my milk supply. In December I started to notice that my milk supply was not increasing with the babies need, or that it felt that way. I also wasn’t getting as much when I pumped. Part of this was because I was nursing them every two hours instead of when I pumped every three hours when they were in the NICU. But even when I took that into account, it still seemed lower than it should be. Also, my period came back and my supply took a dip. I think this somewhat overlapped with a growth spurt, so the babies were nursing even more. But my supply never really increased even though the babies seemed to be getting hungrier. It was as if I’d plateaued.

I’d been working with a lactation consultant early on when it became clear that Mini Me’s weight gain was quite low. I reached back out to her, and after another meeting and discussion, she thought that maybe I’d reached the max my body could produce. She came to this conclusion because I’d been trying everything in my power to improve my supply: drinking more water, eating more, eating oatmeal, drinking oat water, taking fenugreek/herbs, drinking teas, eating lactation bars, trying to get more rest, etc. I’d maxed out the galactagogues. All of those things only gave me a tiny boost. If I only had one baby my milk supply would be more than sufficient. But with two babies, all those things hadn’t given me enough of a boost, especially because Mini Me clearly needed more. So, the lactation consultant recommended (along with the doctor and midwife) that I supplement with formula for the time being.

That was tough for me. I, personally, did not want to give my children formula. I don’t care and have no judgements about what other people do, if they use formula or not. I feel that it has a place and should be used when needed, whatever the situation. I just knew that, for me, formula wasn’t the desired option. Part of this was because I was lactating and had the ability. Part of this was science. Part of this was that I’m vegan and lactose intolerant/dairy sensitive and therefore the babies had not been exposed to much animal protein. (They were given human milk fortifier in the NICU that, unbeknownst to me, had dairy protein, which was upsetting because, veganness aside, I have a family history of milk allergies and/or dairy intolerance, so it’s something I felt should have been communicated to me. It explained why the babies were regularly constipated while in the hospital.)

So, being in a situation where, after trying everything I could, I just couldn’t completely fulfill this need of theirs was hard. My thinking was (as misguided as it was) I already wasn’t able to carry them to term, so the least I could do for them is exclusively breastfeed them. So it was tough coming to terms with the formula supplementation.

Interestingly, what made me feel bad also made me feel good. Hearing from the lactation consultant, someone who is all about breastfeeding, that my body may be plateauing at it’s maximum, made me feel better. One of my best friends said it was because, in some ways, it took me off the hook. It was not really my fault, so to speak. And, the amount I have to supplement is actually quite small. I would say that 90% of their nutrition still comes from breast milk, even more for Feisty since he is more efficient at nursing and has good weight gain. Having the formula on hand when I have a dip in supply during my period also makes me feel less stressed; knowing they will be able to eat just fine during that time makes me feel much better.

The only thing possibly throwing a wrench in this is Feisty possibly not being able to tolerate the formula I’m using, which is frustrating because it’s already fairly hypoallergenic…

So, just trying to go with the flow, adjusting as necessary. Trying to keep the stress down, though things are going more smoothly, and I suppose they will continue to get smoother…at least for a little while.

 

 

Adjustments

The babies have now been home for 3 months, and my what a 3 months it has been.

The first few days…having them at home felt so nice and so overwhelming at the same time. And frankly, it was a little scary. Especially because both babies had bad reflux, so I was constantly watching them waiting for the next bad occurrence. But in general, caring for the both of them at the same time was an adjustment. In the NICU, I was only able to take care of them one at a time. I never even got a chance to hold them at the same time, save for one day a few days before they left. So it was a bit surreal to care for both of them simultaneously.

Shortly after they came home I also thought I would be able to keep them, if only for a few days, on the same schedule they were on in the hospital. I thought this because it became clear to me very quickly that the way to maintain sanity raising twins was to have them on the same eating/sleeping/etc. schedule. Now, this was after, upon immediately having them home, I tried to respond to them separately, for example feeding each one whenever they wanted to eat, irrespective of the other, and quickly found that I was getting absolutely no sleep and no non-feeding time. So I quickly tried to get them back on the same schedule, and one that was close to what they had in the hospital. The mistake here was that, while Feisty seemed alright with this, Mini Me had issues, but ones I couldn’t see immediately. It turned out that he was not as an efficient feeder as brother, so his weight (which had begun to fluctuate about 2 weeks before he left the NICU) continued to fluctuate and his weight gain was not good. Both had issues with weight gain initially upon arriving home, as going from almost all bottle feeds with 1-2 nursing sessions a day in the NICU, to all nursing at home was too much, energetically. So we switched to nursing half-time, bottle feeding with expressed breast milk the other half, and that seemed to do the trick. That, and having them eat more often.Eating more often really threw me for a loop, as it felt like I was doing nothing but feeding them. Which I was, given the two of them.

One of the things I’ve been sitting with is that this is hard, very hard sometimes, but I feel like I can’t admit that. I feel that because I chose to have a child on my own (and ended up with two) that I gave up the right to say it was hard. Logically, I know this is silly, but emotionally I can’t shake it. I find myself sugarcoating how things are really going sometimes when friends ask. My closest friends know how it really is, but that’s it.

Advice is a fickle thing. This is always true, especially when folks have kids. A lot of the advice I get from people doesn’t really work given that I have two babies and just one of me. For example, tons of people say “sleep when the babies sleep.” This would work fine if I had one baby – sleeping when they sleep would be easy. But with two, they don’t always sleep at the same time.

I appreciate the advice I get from folks, and I’ve been able to follow some of it, but twin advice for one adult is hard to come by. I wish I knew someone in a similar situation. (For what it’s worth I have been searching for blogs/articles by single people raising twins.)

All in all it’s a lot of adjustment, and, of course, a learning process.

 

26 weeks, 6 days

After three weeks in the hospital, three close calls of going into preterm labor, three rounds of magnesium sulfate for 12-24 hours each, and one more steroid shot for the babies’ lungs, I went into preterm labor officially at 26 weeks and 6 days. The contractions had come back and I could feel finally feel them, and feel them pretty consistently. My water had broken a couple days prior, so it was only a matter of time.

The whole thing was surreal. I’d had a feeling that the time was coming. That as much as I wanted to make it to 40 weeks, or even 34, something in me knew they were coming before that. But when the moment came I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t ready. This wasn’t supposed to be the time.

I’d wanted to have a vaginal delivery, but Baby B was breech and, because they were younger than 32 weeks, they would not deliver the baby breech, due to hospital policy. The risk is too great to attempt at that age. Part of me wondered if, after delivering Baby A (who was head down) Baby B would turn around, but the uncertainty was too much for me, especially knowing that if he didn’t turn I’d have to be whisked away for an emergency c-section. After lots of consideration I just opted for a c-section for both of them. That was a hard decision to make, but I felt it was the right decision, and every time I think about it, I’d still make the same decision, given all the variables at the time.

An entire cascade of events happened the morning of the delivery, from me reporting my increased contractions, to finding out I was 7cm dilated, to the actual c-section delivery. It was overwhelming. I was so nervous and anxious I was making myself ill. Luckily I had my midwife, my doula, and one of my friends who had just happened to stay with me that night at the hospital. The three of them helped me come to terms with what was happening, and I found the strength give the go ahead for the c-section.

Given their age, just shy of 27 weeks, we didn’t expect the babies to cry or move much when they were delivered. But when Baby A came out, he came out screaming. Everyone rejoiced and all I could do was cry out of happiness. He sounded so alive. When Baby B was delivered, he screamed as well. Their screaming brought me so much joy and relief. My midwife was crying as well, and reporting to me what was happening with the babies as they were being taken care of and prepped for the NICU. They were moving and kicking and just so full of energy. They were both around 2 lbs (Baby A a little less, Baby B a little more).

They were ok.

In the weeks since, I have thought a lot about 26 weeks and 6 days. Some days I lament the fact that I couldn’t make it farther than 26 weeks and 6 days. That my body wasn’t able to do the one thing I had dreamed about for so long. That I couldn’t carry the babies as long as they needed. Some days I feel like my body failed me and that I failed the babies. Some days I miss being pregnant, especially because I should still be pregnant. I’m supposed to be pregnant right now. My babies should be with me, in utero, not away from me in the NICU…Some days are very hard for these reasons.

Other days I feel like it was a feat that I made it to 26 weeks and 6 days. The fact that after being told at 16 weeks that my cervix was extremely short and that I should be prepared for delivering at any moment…the fact that I made it almost 11 more weeks seems amazing. My body carried those babies almost 11 weeks more than the doctors thought I could. My body carried them to the threshold of viability and beyond. Four doctors, at separate times, told me that what happened was a miracle. That, being honest, they didn’t think I would even make it to viability, which was 24 weeks. That the fact that I was dilated to 4 cm, and stayed that way for almost 2 weeks was completely unexpected. Every time they came to check in on me during rounds they were always so excited and happy that I was still pregnant. They genuinely couldn’t believe it. My midwife, who is honestly one of the most positive people I have ever met, told me that while she hoped I’d make it past when I first entered the hospital at 23 weeks 5 days, she genuinely wasn’t sure how long I would go, that sometimes she was unsure I’d make it much past that. She tells me often that this was my doing – the babies being born at 26 weeks 6 days and not before was all my doing. The babies being born at 26 weeks 6 days and doing well in the NICU was all my doing. Some of the doctors have also told me this. On these days I don’t feel so bad, and actually feel good about things.

So now I am a NICU mom. Transitioning into the role of NICU mom has been challenging, and there is a long road ahead for the babies and me, but I am glad that we made it as far as we did in the pregnancy. For how things could have been, I am glad we made it to 26 weeks 6 days.

Reimagining a Life…? Explain.

After spending a long time looking at and reading a lot of TTC/motherhood/parenthood blogs and not often seeing me or my path represented, I decided I wanted to start a blog to chronicle, or just share my thoughts on this journey of becoming a single mother by choice, as a black, queer, ciswoman.

So, why the title “Reimagining a Life?” Well, frankly, what I originally wanted was taken (isn’t this always the case?). I only mention this because the original title (which was just these words, rearranged) I felt made it a bit clearer what I was going for. But this current configuration still works, it just requires a bit more explanation.

I have decided to become a single mother, by choice, and I am 100% ok with that. Ok in that, I was never tied to the idea of having children with a partner. I’ve always wanted children. When I was younger and I imagined having kids, it was usually just me and the kids. I did not often envision me doing this with a partner. I did envision myself having a partner one day, but, interestingly, the two imagined futures rarely overlapped. I’m sure this could be analyzed a number of different ways; I have spent time doing just that. I grew up with single mother for most of my childhood. Many of the women in my family were single mothers. Some of my friends were being raised by single mothers. It was not out of the norm or unusual. It just was. Just like all the other family configurations I saw: kids raised by two, opposite sex parents. Kids raised by a solo father. Kids raised by a grandparent, or two. Kids raised by another family member, etc. I think seeing the varied family configurations led me to conceive of family structures as not predicated on relationship status.

Now, I’d be lying that, once I got to the point in my life where having kids seemed feasible, I didn’t think about it in terms of a two-parent situation. I was looking for and wanted to be in a long-term relationship. That was my priority. But after my last relationship ended I realized a large part of my disappointment was that I’d have to wait even longer to have kids (as it was something me and that person had discussed and were starting to plan for). I was struck by that realization, and realized that something didn’t seem right about that. I wanted a relationship, yes. But I also wanted kids. Further still, why was I feeling like the former must precede the latter, given how I felt about families?

I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t see the benefit of having a child with someone else, with being in a relationship. It would just be foolish not to. Some things can be easier with more than one person. But this is true for a number of things in life. For some people, having that relationship in place, with those assumed benefits, is necessary for having kids. For some people, it isn’t. And that’s ok. There are benefits to both scenarios, and drawbacks to both. Such is life.

I’ve spent the past couple years trying to create the life I want to live. Among other things in my life, being a mother is something I’ve always desired. It’s a journey I’ve always known I would embark on. It’s a journey I welcome in and of itself. So why not actualize this reimagined future, this reimagined life? Not as in me taking my life and reimagining outcomes, but, rather, conceiving of a life in general (read: abstract), re-imagined and free from general, societal expectations of what a family should look like. Actualization through embodied reimagining. A reimagining that disrupts what is presumed necessary to embark on the journey to and through motherhood.