Saturday, May 26, 2007

The babysitter

Last night, I left the babies with a non-family babysitter for the very first time while my mom and I went to my niece's dance recital and G went out with the guys. The babysitter in question is a college girl, the daughter of one of my mom's friends, and she was wonderful. She showed up early, a big help as I was trying to get ready with help from a crying Claire, and by the time I left, she was sitting on the floor having a big time with the little girls. When I called at 9PM to check on them, she told me that they had been "perfect angels", that they got a tiny bit fussy at 7:45, but then took their bottles and went to sleep by 8:30.

It's a good day when Greg and I can get them both to sleep by 8:30, let alone someone flying solo and not in possession of Magic Breasts. This girl is good. I hope she'll come back and make me feel inadequate on a very frequent basis.

The aging parent

So, have you all seen the story about the New Jersey woman who just had twins at age 60?

On the one hand, it's nice for her that she was able to achieve a successful pregnancy. We all know that it's hard not to have the family you want, regardless of how many you already have, and it makes sense to me that she wanted a closer sibling for her six-year-old. While I don't think that secondary (or in her case, quaternary) infertility is perhaps as wrenching as primary, it's no walk in the park, either, as I suspect I'm going to find out in a few months. So I'm sure it wasn't easy for her, and I know she is happy to have completed her family.

On the other hand... y'all, I'm 30, just like the woman's daughter, and my mom is 60. I absolutely cannot imagine her becoming a mother of twins right now. My mom is in good overall shape, but she is starting to have some trouble with arthritis, and there was the recent scare with her episodes of confusion. She volunteers to babysit quite often for me, but I try not to leave her with them for more than an hour or two, because they can be exhausting. I've never seriously contemplated leaving them with her overnight, at least until they're a bit older and easier to care for. It's not that I wouldn't be comfortable with it, just that I don't want to put her through something like Wednesday night, where the babies were awake from 1 to 5 and again at 8. I don't think she could handle being a full-time mother of twins, even with the nanny I am assuming this woman probably has.

Maybe this woman is very youthful and healthy now, but age and illness can be an unpredictable thing. I find it irksome that our culture often seems to think every physical ailment can be conquered with the right lifestyle choices and mindset. Infertility can be cured by relaxing, or eating pineapple and eliminating caffeine, or possibly by adopting. Diabetes only happens to people who are lazy and eat too much sugar, jogging will stave off heart problems, and you won't get cancer if you don't smoke. If you're a thin vegetarian nonsmoking marathoner, well, congratulations, you're immortal. This woman may take very good care of herself, but she is still at a much higher risk of serious illness or death, simply because of her age.

I was 21 when I lost my father, a healthy eater and jogger, to the long-term fallout of a heart attack at age 40. I was three when he had the heart attack and nearly died, and I remember quite well how scary it was. It was scarier at thirteen, when he had the second heart attack because the grafts from the first bypass wore out. It was pretty damn awful at fourteen, when he spent six months in the cardiac ICU waiting for a heart transplant. It was really fucking awful at 21, when he spent six months being eaten alive by cancer caused by the anti-rejection radiation treatments he got right after the transplant.

By then, though, I was an adult, more or less. While he would miss seeing me graduate, and get a job, and get married, and have babies, I did have a father during my formative years. My sister was eighteen, and had a harder time with it, but ultimately, I think neither of us really thought of ourselves as fatherless children. It was a tremendous loss for my brother, though, who was in that critical period of transitioning from boy to man. And it was hardest of all on my half-brother, who was only eight when Dad died; I don't think you can blame everything on losing a parent, but I think it's fair to say that his life to date probably would have turned out substantially differently, and for the better.

Those new babies have a 58% chance of losing their father before graduating high school, a 37% chance of losing their mother, and a 21% likelihood of losing both parents -- and that's just the risk of death itself, not infirmity. A one-in-five chance is pretty darn big, probabilistically, worse than the odds of Russian roulette. Yes, bad things can happen to parents of any age, but here it's the difference between knowing you might get hit by a car, and driving the wrong way down the highway.

I am generally against legal or professional restrictions on ART, and I don't support them in this case either (not like it would matter, since the couple in question went to South Africa for their treatment). I try not to be judgmental as a general rule, since it's hard to know what it's like until you've walked in someone else's shoes, but this particular pair is at least somewhat familiar. Me, though, I don't think I could go to great lengths to have children, knowing how likely I was to leave them orphaned.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Swing low

Claire's newest feat has left me wondering whether I'm a blithering idiot. Sure, I've seen her pull herself up on furniture, her walker, the crib, and my legs. But somehow, it still didn't occur to me that she wouldn't be safe when strapped into her swing.

It was almost like a recap of the pack-n-play incident from last week. I was sitting at the computer feeding Katherine, heard a giggle, and looked over to see Claire standing up in the seat of her swing. She had grabbed on to the side bars, and I guess she had just tucked her feet under herself and pushed into a stand. She was strapped in, but the harness on that particular swing doesn't do much to stop a baby from going upwards.

Another quick lunge from me and she was safe -- thank God I keep all the dangerous things right within arm's reach, eh? Now, I'm wondering if I'm just a dumbass for not thinking she would do that, or if that was unusually creative on Claire's part. I'm still sort of amazed that she was physically capable of doing it, especially given that the swing was moving under her feet.

So I have a few more gray hairs today, and I'm suddenly terrified of what she's going to do for her next trick. We're in the process of babyproofing the house, but I think we're going to have to accelerate the schedule.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Baby Einstein

Since the little girls got over their illnesses, they have decided that they loooove any and all food I might happen to feed them. Even Katherine, once the baby who would eat nothing but mandarin oranges, has changed her stance on the matter. In the last two weeks, I've offered them chicken, broccoli, lima beans, green beans, blueberries, cauliflower, and hummus (homemade sesame-free), and they have scarfed every last bite down and howled for more.

They are each eating roughly a half-cup of food at a sitting, twice a day, and nursing roughly five times. We're being especially aggressive with Claire, who shrank down to 12 lb 12 oz while sick, but who has recovered nicely. I took them for a weight check on Friday, and Katherine was 15 lbs 2 oz, while Claire weighed 13 lb 10 oz. For eight-plus months, this is REALLY tiny, and she's still well into the pink under the 3% growth curve. On the bright side, this is a gain of about a pound in a month, and the doctor pronounced herself pleased and said to keep it up.

They are still super-messy eaters, and they are discovering that food is fun to play with. They will spit it out of their mouths to examine it, and snatch it off the spoon as it's going in. Both babies are also fascinated with the blue food bowl -- seriously, they get all excited when I take it out of the cabinet -- and grab for it every chance they get.

I usually feed them together, alternating bites so that nobody cries for MORE FOOD NOW. The other day, I went to put a bite in Katherine's mouth, and brought the bowl just a little too close to Claire. While the baby has the quickness of a striking cobra, her little hands are tiny. She couldn't possibly have grabbed more than a tablespoon of peaches-and-rice-cereal. However, you would not believe what a tablespoon of peaches-and-cereal looks like when it's been flung all over Mama, Sister, and the dog on the floor below.

I choose to believe that she is performing science experiments, and that she has formulated Claire's First Law of Baby Physics:

Messes are always bigger than the sum of their ingredients.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The it's-not-fair milestone

Up to this point, the babies have not been very fussy at all. The evening period was somewhat dicey for a few weeks in the beginning, but other than that, they are really very good babies. Lately, though, there has been a noticeable uptick in fussing.

I'm not sure what to chalk this up to, although I have several candidates. Teething is a perennial favorite, but I've been blaming anything and everything on teething for months, and the teeth have yet to appear. We have had some sleep disturbances lately, which I think were developmental and/or nutritional in nature; they hit a growth spurt and learned to crawl, and the situation improved after I added a second solid feeding and let a little time pass. Separation anxiety kicks in at about this age, and maybe that's a factor too -- certainly, my being out of eyesight is unpopular.

Lately, though, each baby has understood what it means when Sister gets picked up and she doesn't. If I put one of them in my lap, or feed one of them, the other one begins to whine in that special "pick me up!" frequency, and stretch out her arms to me. It's unmistakable that they realize they are being left out, and they do not like it, not at all. Claire is worse than Katherine about it, but as I write this, Katherine began to cry as soon as I put Claire in my lap to nurse.

This is the hard part about being a twin, I think, having to learn that you can't have Mama's undivided attention, and that sometimes you get left out. When they were tiny, it was a lot easier to meet both babies' needs at one time, whether with tandem nursing or just holding them both. Now, they are big enough to be a real lapful, and it's a struggle to keep them from pulling each other's hair or poking eyes. Practically speaking, I just can't be everything to them both at once any more.

I don't like the idea of cry-it-out, and I try to manage it somehow if they are really screaming, but if it's just crying and complaining, mostly I just have to let them deal with it. I can choose which baby is unhappy, but I can't make them both happy. People tell me it's good for them to learn patience, and that they can't always have everything they want, and I do suppose they have to learn those lessons sometime. Honestly, though, eight months seems a little young to me, and patience is asking a lot of people who haven't yet learned to wave goodbye.

I know moms of singletons experience this with their subsequent children, but I don't think it's quite the same. The first child is, by definition, at least 10 months older than the new baby. He has fewer really immediate needs, and he is more likely to be able to understand that he has to wait for a few minutes while the baby gets tended. Certainly, none of the singleton moms I know routinely leave their infants to cry for ten or fifteen minutes, five or six times a day, while they take care of the older child. Those people who counsel cry-it-out probably also don't realize exactly what's involved -- I don't see many of them saying to sit the baby in her Exersaucer right in front of you to watch you and sob.

I confess, too, that the crying can really grate on my nerves. Today, someone was crying for almost the entire time between 8 AM and 1 PM. I swapped off every so often to give the other one a chance, and there was a period where I had them both entertained on the sofa, but then Katherine pinched Claire, and we started back up. When I'm swapping again and again like that, they never really settle down and get relaxed even when it's their turn to be held, so they get instantly unhappy as soon as they're set down. In computing, when things are being swapped in and out and in and out of memory, we call it "thrashing". That's exactly what this morning was, and I felt pretty thrashed by the end of it, all right.

I can break the cycle by getting them in the stroller or in the car, but first I have to eke out the prerequisite shower, and juggle everyone's nursings and solids and naps, which can take until two or three o'clock on a bad day like yesterday. And yes, sometimes I manage that shower by letting them both cry. I feel guilty about it, yes, but when they're mostly doing that anyway, it's tempting to let them do it in parallel rather than serially and use the time wisely.

Honestly, I can't complain too much, because they are still lower-maintenance than plenty of singletons (for which I thank the stars above every single day). I am having so much fun with them in so many ways, as they grow and develop, and I guess not all growth can be the happy fun baby-kisses kind. Still, I hope this is a phase we're going through, and that I get my easy-going babies back soon.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

I just lost ten years off my life

While writing the previous post, I had the babies in the pack-n-play, which sits in the living room adjacent to the dining-room computer station. Now, I lowered the crib mattresses last week, incurring my ACL injury in the process, but somehow it had not occurred to me to also lower the pack-n-play, which was still set at the halfway bassinet height. (We have a basic pack-n-play, not the twin-bassinet version, and we just reinforced the bassinet to make it strong enough to hold both babies' weights.)

So, I look over at the pack-n-play, and guess who has demonstrated yet another new skill by PULLING HERSELF UP on the corner of the thing? Claire, that's who, oh-so-proud of herself and grinning like a fool at her criminally negligent mother.

Y'all, I nearly fainted. The railing was only at about waist height for her, and another thirty seconds and she would have been over the side and onto the hardwood floor three feet below. I moved faster than I thought possible, about fell down when I forgot that my knee still won't bear much weight, and rescued her before she could take a header. I snatched her up and kissed her, and then I set her down on the floor while I lowered the pack-n-play. And yeah, I might possibly have smacked myself in the forehead a couple times, and berated myself for being such a stupid, foolish, child-endangering, WORST-MOTHER-EVER, boneheaded idiot.

So, today's score:

Claire: 1, for learning to stand
Mama: NEGATIVE INFINITY, see previous re: boneheaded idiot
Babies-R-Us: $100, for all the money I'm fixing to go spend on childproofing stuff


The girls' newest achievement is learning how to give kisses. I have thought for a couple weeks now that Katherine was trying to give kisses, but Greg insisted she was just chewing on my face. Yesterday morning, though, it was unmistakable -- I was lying in bed with her, having just finished the morning nurse, and she leaned in and put her mouth right on mine for a second, and I dissolved into a big pile of mushy motherly bliss. She did it again several times last night at a wedding, in full view of Greg and several others, and it was universally agreed that they were, in fact, kisses. Claire, not to be outdone, gave me kisses this morning.

Is there anything on earth better than getting kisses from your babies? I think not.

Aside from the awwww-sweet-baby-kisses thing, I find this really fascinating, because it's the first thing I have deliberately taught them. Sure, they know tons of things -- who Grandmama is, how to turn the pages of books, what buttons to push to get toys to make noise. They recognize, and are fascinated by, cell phones and remote controls, and Katherine licks back when the dogs lick her. They have demonstrated object permanence this week by repeatedly fishing out Grandmama's necklace from under her shirt, and by making a break for the kitchen when I put them down to crawl around the living room. They also understand when we're about to nurse, both the lifting-shirt motion and, I think, the word "nurse". I have even thought lately that they know their names, though not necessarily which one is theirs.

These things, though, have all been picked up from their environment. I say and do certain things repetitively and deliberately, it's true, like saying "nurse" when we feed. "Gimme kiss", though, is the first trick I have actually taught them to do. Peekaboo is inconsistent, pattycake they don't grasp at all, but they can give kisses, and they learned it because I showed them how to do it. I am so proud of them!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Partially good news

I'm back from the doctor, where I waited just under two hours for a five-minute visit. Believe it or not, this is a distinct improvement, as I have previously waited as many as five hours for a five-minute visit.

The good news is that he *thinks* that the ACL is intact, and that this is just a partial tear (aka a sprain). This is not conclusive, because I couldn't really relax it enough for him to manipulate it all the way due to swelling and pain, so it's still possible that it could be completely torn. Even if it's only partially torn, there is no way of knowing how much of the ligament is left without an MRI, or how well the joint will function. It was already partially torn from my original skiing injury back in '94, so there may not be enough left to keep my knee stable.

There's a chance I could still be looking at more surgery down the line, but my doctor does think that it's likely to improve considerably over the next week or so. I'll go back for a follow-up in four weeks if it's still not 100%, but for now, we're thinking it might turn out to be OK. I am very, very relieved, because ACL reconstruction is no joke. I'm likely to find out one of these days, because the ligament will go sooner or later if I keep doing bad things to it, but it doesn't appear that that day is today.

The parenting superninja

Sometimes, I am a rather unpleasant person in the privacy of my own head. While I do think that I'm generally a less judgemental person than I was pre-infertility and pre-parenting, I do have moments where I get my superiority complex on, mainly related to breastfeeding.

I'm tremendously fortunate to have been able to make it work, I know. My body cooperated and produced enough milk (after a slight hiccup in the days after delivery), and I had excellent support from some fantastic lactation consultants, from friends, and from family members. My girls were not premature and were able to nurse from the beginning, and our hospital encouraged us to supplement by finger-feeding, so we didn't have to deal with nipple confusion or inability to latch. If any one of these things had gone differently, we might not have made it; I know that all of them are very real issues, and if any of them caused you to be unable to nurse, I would never belittle that.

What tends to push my buttons -- and here is the not-nice-person part -- is women who don't even try to breastfeed, or who give up within days or weeks at the first bump in the road, because "it's too hard". My first impulse is to say, well, my breastfeeding horror stories are MUCH worse than yours! And I had twins! And I'm still nursing them at eight months! Therefore, I win and you are a wimp for not overcoming adversity just like I did.

However, the next thought that occurs to me is that I really did have a hard time. I had to pump and supplement at the beginning, then deal with oversupply, cracked nipples, thrush, and recurrent mastitis, in addition to the "normal" massive sleep deprivation that comes with newborn twins. If you read the common-difficulties chapter in the breastfeeding book, there are only a couple of them I don't get to check off. It's hard not to realize that mothers who dropped out before I did are normal, rather than wimpy, and that yeah, I deserve a metal.

I know it's not nice to toot your own horn, but sometimes it does help, realizing just what you've managed to accomplish. I was recently telling a friend how I grocery-shop with twins, pulling the cart with one hand and pushing the double stroller with the other; when he told me, "Wow, impressive", I told him that I'm a parenting superninja. I said it jokingly, but I wasn't entirely kidding, either. Recently, at a friend's house where Ninja Warrior was on in the background, I realized just how appropriate that comparison really was.

I may not be able to do the Spider Walk, but damn if I'm not a master of Two Babies in Arms, and I can run a nursing marathon with the best of them. I can't even walk right now, thanks to my stupid knee, but I can hobble around on crutches with a baby in the sling, and believe you me, that takes talent. I don't have any medals, or even metals, to give out, but I do know there are a lot of us out there who deserve them -- the twin moms, the preemie moms, the exclusive-pumper moms, the single moms, the special-needs moms. We're parenting superninjas, all of us, and we are awesome.

I think we'll have to do something about the uniform, though. Black pajamas may be very comfortable and easy-care, but I bet they show the spit-up stains something awful.


Speaking of the Stupid KneeTM, it is still swollen, still painful, and still can't bear full weight. It is a little better than it was right after the injury, so I have a tiny bit of hope that perhaps the ACL is not torn, but it's also clear that something is Not Right with it. I'm seeing my orthopedic surgeon at 3:25 this afternoon to determine what the damage is, and will update with what he says.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Thursday three

Claire sat up by herself last night! She has been able to remain sitting when propped for a while now, but this was the first time she got herself from prone to sitting. She is more-or-less crawling, too -- her belly is still on the ground, but she has the basic motions down. I'm sure it won't be long before Katherine has it down too, as she is usually a week or so behind Claire.

While lowering their crib mattresses, I somehow managed to drop the mattress in such a way that it hit the front of my knee. Yes, I mean the bad knee. The knee hyperextended, and I felt something go "pop", and it gave way. It hurt like hell, and two hours later, there is swelling, and I can't bear full weight on it. If I'm lucky, it's just a sprain or a strain. If I'm not, well, that pop was my bad ACL giving up the ghost.

I tell you, I am starting to feel positively persecuted by the fates.

Poopy diaper changes were so much easier before the babies learned to roll over and wiggle. I leave it to your imagination why this is in the "ugly" category.