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.)