Thursday, November 13, 2014

They Should Offer a College Course Or Something For This.

All I wanted to do was take out the trash.

But the dumpster was three apartment buildings over, and it was 30 degrees out, and I knew I couldn't leave the sleeping newborn in the crib, because the whole place would inevitably burn down in the four minutes it took me to return. But he was sleeping. And the doctor had said not to take him out in public until he was 2 months old.

I bundled him up, awkwardly carried him with two bags of trash across the parking lot, and [thankfully] tossed the correct two out of three into the dumpster.


Anyway, parenthood's proven more a learned skill than an intuition of wisdom. I thought getting pregnant came with a blast of holy pixie dust, and whatever virtue it is that kept Mary from yelling at Joseph for falling asleep at the Nativity. 


The logistics of every day life and kids should be a course in college. A legit course, not some joke elective for those of us pursuing the MRS degree plan. (Yeah, I'll own up to that, as well as admit it was the dumbest use of college funds ever, perhaps secondary only to being a Communication Studies major. No, for real.)

Raising Kids could be a logic course for philosophy credit: is it more ethical to cut your grocery list in half and leave the store with a crying toddler, or just forge on, to the annoyance of other shoppers? What if it's two crying toddlers? What if it's the day before your husband's birthday and cutting your losses means no chocolate in the brownies?

Or it could be a dual credit course for statistics: discuss the probability that your three-year-old is actually having an emergency and must pee on a tree right off the sidewalk, or is just faking it, because peeing on trees is the coolest new skill in his set. (There's something about yuppy suburban bike trails that pushes preschoolers and pseudo-pro cyclists alike to want to show off.)

Then there's the logistics of having kids. Why are we even doing this? There are costs to consider. Sure you might be able to afford diapers today, but what about driver's ed, car insurance, college?! (Our four-year-old attends part-time Catholic preschool that's somehow four-freakin'-thousand dollars a school year. It's hard for me to grasp spending that much per year per kid on education, even though it's on the low end for private schools. Except now that I've used the F-word euphemism as a tuition descriptor, we might not be invited back. Problem solved.)

I've heard that caring for children is a way to holiness -- just as any vocation or life-calling, but I expected a kind of innate and instant holiness. It turns out that tiny, needy babies bring out my worst, and I'm not the calm, cheerful, easy-going, generous, thoughtful woman I can make myself out to be. (Fact: I'm super grumpy. Like, humorless to the core. Except with coffee, when I can at least muster up enough goodwill for dry witless wit about TMZ being the only real news source in America.)


Picture Source
But even with kids revealing my worst, they're also bringing out my best. Our utter unpreparedness humbled me with our first baby. The health needs and care for our second baby emboldened me. The subsequent surprise of twins has caused me to abandon all pretense and search out our intentions and second-guess our expectations.

Everyone's striving for something better, to have a better life than our parents, that our kids will have a better life than us. But what do we mean by "a better life"? More stuff from Ikea? More prestige in our work titles? More house in our homes? I don't think most parents mean any of this. We mean happiness. We want our kids to be happy, and we fill their lives with all kinds of opportunity, experience, and stuff to make it happen.

A line from my favorite Rich Mullins' song keeps relaying through my mind -- "they worked to give faith hands and feet, and somehow gave it wings," alongside images of his family of seven in a car that seats five, and a line down the hall for the single bathroom in their house. But they were happy. 

And I'm reminded there's really no preparing for any of this. And man, it's not exactly the life we planned, but it's so, so much better. 




Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Birth Story (for people who like this kind of stuff)

"We brought chocolate!" Wally announced, holding up a large basket of candy bars and Laffy Taffy.

It's not the normal way to announce your arrival at Labor & Delivery, but after several weeks of living at the hospital on mandatory bed rest, I wanted to thank all the nurses for waiting it out with me.

Just before reaching 34 weeks, I was released to continue bed rest at home, after assuring Heather, my nurse practitioner midwife, that I'd return at the first sign of labor. (Pre-term labor had been stopped at 32 weeks with magnesium sulfate, this awesome, terrible IV drug that made me go kind of crazy. From that point, I was already dilated 4 cm, so we anticipated a fast labor when the time came.)

Four days after being released from hospital bed rest, on an early Tuesday afternoon, I felt a strong, definitive contraction. With Heather's advice fresh on our minds, Wally insisted we leave for the hospital. I insisted we unload the dishwasher and fold the last load of laundry.

Months earlier, we'd found out that our baby boys were sharing a placenta, and after the pregnancy was recategorized to "high-risk," we hopefully counted up each day in utero, relieved to make 23 weeks, then 28, 32, and now 34 weeks and 1 day.

I didn't feel any additional contractions, but I did have this weird physiological feeling, the same sensation I'd felt about 12 hours before each of our other kids were born. So with nothing but one good contraction an hour earlier and a vague physical intuition -- which I interpreted as a 12-hour RSVP from the babies -- we dropped our preschoolers off at my parents' house and joined late afternoon Dallas rush hour on our way to the hospital.

After our strangely celebratory check-in ("Hello!" "Good to see you again!" "So you think you're in labor?" "Eh, I don't know, but maybe, so we're here..." "We brought chocolate!"), I spent the night in an observation room on the Labor & Delivery floor.

When Heather came in early the next morning, she said one of the babies had a couple of decelerations of his heart rate overnight, which could indicate a failing umbilical cord. It was David, the same baby who had stopped growing in utero the week before, the first indication of a problem with the placenta or umbilical cord. We agreed it would be best to get the babies out that day.

I was already contracting regularly, if not progressively, so we scheduled induction for that afternoon. Since twins are delivered in the Operating Room, I joined the queue behind an emergency C-section and two scheduled C-sections that morning.

Contractions picked up through the morning, and around 11 am, once I reached a pain level of four, I requested an epidural. I could have held out and grunted through the pain for awhile longer, but the epidural was mandatory anyway (since twin deliveries more often turn into emergency C-sections), so why not keep the whole experience cool and calm?

I'd heard that it hurts to get an epidural. No, it was wonderful. So, so wonderful.


An epidural meant we could watch "How I Met Your Mother" and Wally could eat lunch.
Since the babies needed to come that day, a small dose of Pitocin was added to my IV at 1 pm. By 3 pm, I was dilated to 8 centimeters and on the way to the OR for delivery. Everyone was calm, but getting wheeled into a room with weird lighting and 14 people in scrubs (two NICU teams and a delivery team) felt overwhelming, and I almost lost it.

Heather asked if I felt like pushing, but gloriously, I couldn't feel a thing. God bless that epidural.

"Well, go ahead and push anyway during this next contraction," she encouraged. I let her know that I had no idea when contractions were happening. (God bless that epidural.)

"Ok, I'll let you know," she said, watching the monitor. "Push now."

One push, and David entered the world! Four pounds, crying out with strong lungs, and peeing everywhere. I couldn't have been happier.



Wally was allowed out of his corner in the OR to cut the cord, and then Heather passed David over to one of the NICU teams. She pulled over the ultrasound machine to make sure Jonathan was still head-down, ready to come out next.

At this point, some doctors force the second baby out quickly. Or sometimes, the back-flow of blood into the placenta, from the first baby's cut umbilical cord, causes an overflow of blood into the second twin's system, and an emergency C-section is needed.

Thankfully, Heather just watched the monitors to make sure Jonathan's heart rate was normal, and said we'd wait as long as needed.

While we waited, Heather told the delivery team the story of our last birth experience. And we all laughed and were grateful this time around was going so smoothly. (Laughing during delivery? God bless that epidural!!)

Heather interrupted her own story: "Did anyone check the clock? Do we know what time David was born?"

Everyone looked around, surely someone had checked the clock. Where was the clock anyway?

"Okay, well, it's 3:23 now, so let's just say 3:18 pm. Birth time for David -- 3:18!"*


As we continued to wait, Heather told the story of how we found out it was twins on April Fool's Day. I had thought the ultrasound tech was joking. I told them it was an awful prank to pull on new moms. "Um, Charlene, we're not pranking you. That's twins." 

Since this was Baby #3, Wally didn't skip work to come to appointments anymore. So he missed the ultrasound showing we were getting Baby #4 with Baby #3. So then I had to convince him by text message, on April Fool's Day, with no history of twins on either side of our families, that we were having twins.

At 3:32, Jonathan had dropped into place for delivery. Two painless pushes later (okay, I was a little out of breath, but anyone who's given birth naturally can just laugh at that), and Jonathan was born! Four pounds, eleven ounces, also crying and peeing. He had a little more difficulty breathing consistently, so they put something on his nose to help regulate it.



The doctor on standby for C-section rolled his eyes at having wasted 20 minutes of his life on standby in the OR. The anesthesiologist, on hand to knock me out, gave me a hearty congratulations and said he was glad not to be needed. The nurses all smiled and relaxed and said it was the easiest, smoothest twin delivery they'd ever seen. 

And we were so, so happy to have our babies safely into the world. They spent two weeks in NICU and then came home. 




*David's godmother was praying for us during the delivery. She said she prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy at 3 pm -- when it's traditionally prayed -- and I don't think it's any coincidence that David entered the world just as the chaplet concluded!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Nicest Thing I Ever Did For My Cat

I didn't clean the cat's litter box. It really needs to be cleaned. I didn't clean it last night either. But I filled the dog's water bowl. Eh, close enough. 

"Tomorrow... tomorrow..." and then I'm asleep.

When Wally and I started talking about maybe, possibly having a third kid, I was really apprehensive. I kept saying, "We can't bring a baby into our already crazy lives!"

There's no guarantee the baby's needs would rank above the dog, in the sleeplessness of newborndom. Everything just kind of exists in time and space and what gets done is done and then undone and what doesn't get done floats around until it absolutely seriously for real has to get done like now like yesterday. And the cat, the poor cat.

But I was wrong. 

As it turns out, having a baby -- or two babies at once, as it turned out -- was the nicest thing we've ever done for our cat. I'd recommend it, for cat lovers everywhere.

First there was the maternity pillow: 


The buggy by the backdoor (with the best view to watch birds in the yard):


The changing table (with the best view to watch babies in the crib):


A new chair, just for her: 


Truly, they've become the kittens she never had. (Wally's going to kill me for writing that.)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The First Week Home (re: Twins Aren't So Bad After All)

Surprisingly, twin newborns are not as life-shattering as I expected. We have our moments of chaos, to be sure. But these babies together are actually way easier than either our first or second kid!

It's not that there are fewer diapers, less laundry, more sleep, or easier work. I just think our parenting philosophy has relaxed a little, and now we can enjoy our kids, instead of freaking out to get every detail of family life "right" (whatever that is).

Here's the plan that's currently working in our houseful of crazy:

I will drink coffee every morning. And still nurse the babies. I might have a beer after the preschoolers go to bed. And still nurse the babies. I could eat nutella and crackers for dinner with ice cream for dessert. And still nurse the babies. Or maybe, if I get tired of nursing the babies, we'll switch to homemade formula (not to be pretentious, just because it's cheaper than store-bought formula). But actually we won't, because --
Seriously, you know why we breastfeed? It's not all the research that guilts exhausted moms into more and better motherhood via "breast is best." (And really super moms should buy this breastfeeding/pumping system of $18 nipples and $120 bottle warmers, because it will make you the best breastfeeding mom ever, and help you love your baby best of all and then register for a thousand-million necessary accessories to go with it, because how did small humans ever get fed before corporate America?!!) Seriously, we breastfeed because it's free. And I like a good deal. That's it.

We will let our kids stay up after 8 pm for special events. 

We might skip a nap for a playdate. 

We might co-sleep, if I'm too tired to put a baby back in the crib. We might not co-sleep, if I'm too tired to get the baby from the crib.

We'll probably eat the same thing for every meal, because it takes zero brainpower, and the kids like it. And take daily vitamins to make up the difference. 

We'll cloth diaper once their little bottoms are big enough to fit the cloth diapers. Again, not because they're better (maybe a little), just because it's cheaper. Unless the laundry gets overwhelming, and then we'll stop. 

I might "sleep while they sleep," but I also might use the downtime to take pictures of my cat with the tiny babies. 



And we'll all be just fine.

Because Everyone (Apparently) Wants To Know

As the admitting nurse in the Labor & Delivery wing of the hospital filled out my paperwork, she casually asked, "Do you want your tubes tied?"

It took me a moment to realize this is a real question, on the admitting paperwork for moms in labor, about to give birth. "Have you had prenatal care?" "Will you want an epidural?" "Do you want your tubes tied?"

WELL, GEEZ! What woman in labor, in her right mind, after 9 months of carrying around baby(ies) and extra hormones, and an inevitable future of no sleep and more budgeting DOESN'T want her tubes tied?! What a terrible time to ask someone to make a life-changing, long-term, irreversible, expensive decision!!! 

It's like asking a marathon runner at mile 25 if they're ever going to run again. It's like asking the winner of Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest if they'd like another hot dog.

Congratulations! Do you ever plan on eating a hot dog again? You know where hot dogs come from, right?
I guess if I'm audacious enough to have two kids at once, I shouldn't take offense to strangers wanting to know about our future family plans. 

And they all ask. Every nurse through 3 weeks of bed rest. The anesthesiologist giving the epidural. All our usual best friends around town -- grocery store checker, post office clerk, other parents at the park, the pediatrician, the pediatrician's wife (whom I don't know, but happened to be at the office during the babies' first wellness visit), and the random neighbor I've talked to twice (the second time about whether or not we're "done.")

After giving birth to the twins, my mid-wife reminded me every single day for four days straight that there should be no sex for four weeks. I heard her on the first day, but I guess I laughed too many times about Irish twins and how funny it would be if we had two sets of twins nine months apart. So I got the "no sex" talk for three more days in a row.

So here's the deal. Since everyone (apparently) wants to know, I will share our future family plans right here, on my blog, for the world to see! 

Today, this 16th day of October 2014, having no assurance of anything for the future (as no one really does), we will uncompromisingly commit to the following as the definitive and right number of children for our family (also with the clear intention that no more of them come as sets):

I don't know. We'll see.



Thursday, September 11, 2014

Some Questions About Domestic Abuse and The Whole Ray Rice Thing

I don't follow sports. Wally keeps me updated on the interesting stuff, and I never hesitate to share my amateur, detached, layman's opinion, usually very strongly. 

Which might be the case here. 

But please help me sort out this Ray and Janay Rice thing*, because right now, it feels like the NFL is unsuccessfully chasing down public opinion, attempting to placate a crowd that can't make up its mind and likes drama for the sake of drama. It feels like middle school. Or election season. 


Picture Source

Are women a weaker sex? Is it men's job to protect them?

If the answer is "Yes, and therefore, men should never hit women," then why is the Ray Rice assault just now becoming an issue? Why would we even need to see video footage to demand justice? Ray Rice told NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell back in June that he hit Janay, and we all saw the video footage of him dragging her unconscious body out of the elevator. 

When Goodell acknowledged the initial 2-game suspension wasn't sufficient, NFL policy changed to penalize domestic abuse with a 6-game suspension, and everyone seemed okay with that (at the time). Now we see new footage of the same event, and act shocked that he actually hit her. 

Where was the public outcry back in June or July, when this was all over the media? Why is Ray Rice just now being terminated from the team? Why is the National Organization of Women just now petitioning for Roger Goodell's resignation? Why should seeing a video of an event we know occurred make any difference? Unless we all got it wrong in the first place -- not just Roger Goodell, and not just the NFL. And shame on us for needing a video to realize how awful domestic abuse is.

But back to the question -- Are women a weaker sex? And is it men's job to protect them?

If the answer is "No, we're all equals, and men don't have an innate obligation to defer to women," then should it be taken into consideration that Janay Palmer allegedly hit Ray Rice first? Should this be a case of disorderly conduct or fighting in public instead? Should they both be charged with assault? Or just the person who's not as beaten up? 

Be assured, I'm not advocating domestic abuse here. I just wonder where the line is between two people getting in a fight, and domestic abuse. 

- Is it dependent on one person being physically larger than the other? 
- Or one person having a more powerful weapon? 
- Or is it dependent on the moment when the fight turns from verbal abuse to physical abuse (whoever throws the first punch)? 
- What if they're both sized equally, and the fight looks fair? Would it still be more the man's fault? 

That an intimate relationship even reaches the point of physical violence is tragic. But I don't think domestic abuse is as simple as media and public opinion are treating it. Things usually escalate through stress, disrespect, resentment, anger, verbal abuse through to physical abuse. And I don't think it's a men-versus-women issue. I think it's a people issue. 

I'm not advocating that victims of abuse stay in an abusive relationship. In fact, I think anyone who's even in a disrespectful friendship should just walk away, if it can't be repaired. Oftentimes, children are involved, and I'll clarify in advance that never in any circumstance would I think child abuse is explainable or acceptable. Child abuse is never a fight between equals that got out of hand. I'm glad we have shelters available for domestic abuse victims, in particular the children who are caught in the middle. 

I don't know what happened between Ray and Janay that night. I don't know them. I don't know their relationship. They haven't asked for my help or my opinion. For now, they've asked for privacy. 

So for now, can we back out of their business, back off the public opinion ping-pong game we've been playing with the NFL, and just wait patiently together for the next big social media scandal? I'm sure it won't disappoint. 


Post from Janay Rice in response to the release of the elevator video in September, and the public outcry that followed.
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*Last February, Ray Rice got in a fight with his then-fiance, Janay Palmer, and punched her unconscious in a casino elevator. In July, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell gave Rice 2 games suspension. It made the news, everyone was upset that domestic abuse was obviously less an issue to the NFL than substance abuse (myself included), which carries a 4 game suspension, and come August, the NFL increased the penalty for domestic abuse to a 6-game suspension. Things calmed down, and football season commenced. In September, the video was released from February of Ray Rice punching Janay Palmer in the elevator. It's a violent clip, people got angry, the NFL terminated Ray Rice from the League, the Baltimore Ravens cut him from the team, and the National Organization of Women is demanding Roger Goodell's resignation. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

When Dreams Aren't Really Broken

The radio DJ says God wants to fulfill all my greatest desires, and at inspirational conferences, I hear, "Dream big!" and "Do something great for God!"

I got my 10,000 hours of dance in growing up, and there was something really satisfying about getting to join a company and perform after college. It felt like the first real risk I'd ever taken, the first time I'd admitted to having a dream.

So there were plenty of questions and doubts when I left three years later, looking for love, a job that could pay the rent, and some kind of healthcare coverage. Was I selling out?

I've spent a lot of years mistaking big dreams and godly ambitions for financial stability and health insurance

But I've also spent a lot of years thinking spiritual highs and shining in a spotlight were God's signs of favor in my life. 

After leaving the dance company, I picked up a couple of jobs teaching dance. I realized I enjoyed it, and started grad school to get some credentials in it. 

I married a wonderful man, we got pregnant 18 months sooner than we planned, and I dropped out of grad school to get a "real job." I still wonder if these were the right choices, or how life will turn, or if I'll ever return to something that was such a big part of my life for so long. 

It's easy to feel that the busy seasons of life are more important, or that seasons in the spotlight are more esteemed, or that a season on bed rest is just a big waste of time. (My current full-time -- hopefully temporary -- job is hospital bed rest.) 

But I'm seeing that life is less a Disney movie and more a miniseries, and what I see as drifting from the storyline might just be a new episode. 

And the Author of all of this is pulling together our stories into something bigger and greater than we could ever imagine or write for ourselves. 

A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9