Monday, August 25, 2014

advice i give myself

It's quiet in my home right now. All I hear are the rhythmic tic-tocs of two baby swings, the whir of a fan...and a toddler bellowing "moooooommmmyyyyy!" from her crib upstairs. So it's not technically quiet, but it's "resting time" for another fifteen minutes, so that's good enough for me. If you were to stop by for a visit right now, you might be impressed. No dishes in the sink (although the stovetop is covered in pizza crumbs). No puddles of baby puke on the floor (the dog is useful for something). And the laundry is done (my mom did it). Although I haven't showered since yesterday morning, I'm pretty sure I smell reasonably fresh because I took a dip in the kiddie pool last night. And I even made time to weed half the backyard a couple days ago. I'm leaving the left half the way it is so that I can see how far the right side has come. It gives a nice before-and-after affect.

But don't be deceived. Although I may look like I have it all figured out (please sense my sarcasm here), this mom stuff is hard. Some days, it's super hard. Like cry-into-the-fridge hard or snap-at-your-biggest-support-person hard. Some days, I'm nauseous and dizzy from tiredness. Other days, I'm full of self doubt and self blame. Some days are just-make-it-through days and other days are catch-up-from-the-just-make-it-through days.

Thankfully, I've got support. If I hit a tough spot and don't know what to do, there are pep talks everywhere - from people who love me, people who have walked this road before me, people who are just straight-up wise. They give support. They give advice. They give pints of Ben and Jerry's Salted Caramel Core. But there are other times when it's just me, figuring this stuff out minute by minute. And during those times, I give myself a pep talk. I give myself some advice. And I probably eat that whole pint of Ben and Jerry's.

So feel free to listen in. This is the stuff I'm learning every day, the advice I have to give myself over and over to keep myself on track when the (albeit priceless) monotony of motherhood starts to become too much.

You might be next - balancing your laptop on your belly as you read this. Or scrolling through these words on your phone as you empty your bladder for the twenty-first time today. You might be freaking out about the fact that you're going to have a tiny little person who relies completely on you. Or maybe you're having twins like I did. If so, I hope you can benefit from these words, not because I'm an expert on managing the littles but because I'm still in the thick of it. It's great to glean wisdom from people who are on the other side - that woman behind you in the check-out line whose twins are twenty-three now. She's got a lot of good stuff to say. But sometimes it's nice to hear from the woman who has a fresh spit-up stain on her shoulder. That's me. Each shoulder, in fact.

So without further adieu, here's the advice I give myself...

1. When you eat, make it count. 

It's hard to find time to eat, so when you do make time to feed yourself, choose something that sticks with you. I never eat breakfast foods anymore. This morning, I had a salmon burger with no bun. Yesterday I microwaved a mini chicken pot pie. The day before that, I think I had a taco. It sounds weird but it helps a ton because it keeps me full longer and gives me a lot more energy than a bowl of cereal would.

2. Remember that dads make lousy supermoms.

Andrew is a fabulous dad, but he's not a baby person. In fact, the other day, he said that if he could just press a button and have the boys be two-year-olds, he would do it. And I believe him. Because all of the baby stuff - it's not his thing. He's more of a wrestling, swimming, bike-riding kind of dad. The other night at about two o'clock in the morning, he was burping Louie, and Louie was screaming. "He wants you to stand up," I said. But Andrew just sat there with his eyes closed and continued to burp him. After another fifteen seconds of screaming, Andrew stood up and Louie calmed right down. "I hate that he gets to pick," Andrew said. And I started to laugh. "He's a baby!" I said. "He always gets to pick! That's how it works!"

Another example - until recently, if the babies didn't need to be held, he probably wasn't holding them. This completely broke my heart in the beginning, but it's getting much better. Mostly because he's getting better about picking them up, especially when he can put them in the baby carriers and stay busy around the house. But I'm getting better too. I have stopped expecting him to approach parenthood the way that I do. I love the snuggling, blowing raspberries on their bellies, singing to them. And I want him to be just like me. But he's not. And in some ways, that's a very good thing. We went through these same issues with Harriet and I actually cried about it a lot. But this time around, I have a better perspective because I've seen him grow and come into his own as a dad with each month of Harriet's life. And seeing that happen reassures me that he will have a wonderful relationship with the boys as well. He may not be supermom when the boys wake up in the middle of the night, but he is certainly Harriet's superhero. Any time we encounter a broken toy, a burnt pancake or a heavy box, she looks to her dad for help. The other day while we were stuck in rush hour traffic, she said, "Mom, call Daddy and tell him to come and move all these cars." I love hearing that. I love that she thinks her dad can do anything. So I'll let him be the superhero, and I'll just be plain mom.

So if your baby is still tiny and you're heartbroken because your husband doesn't hold and stare at her for hours, take heart. Even without knowing your husband, I can almost guarantee - it will get so much better.

3) Get help.

If you have family or friends or anyone nearby who is willing to help, let them. Seriously...LET THEM. Resist the temptation to do it all alone because you will become tired and bitter and your kids will suffer. Here's an ugly truth about me - it's really easy for me to fall into the trap of playing the martyr. But when the boys were born, I forced myself to accept help from anyone who offered it. And I'm so glad I did. I'll admit - it can be tough to have people in your home all the time. It's embarrassing to have my dirty house exposed and have my laundry folded by someone else, especially because I still occasionally wear the massive underwear I was wearing at the end of my pregnancy, even though I'm now sixty-some pounds lighter. (Hey, they're comfortable.) But it's worth it. I have felt so blessed by those who have come over to my house, sat in the middle of the mess with me, and loved on my kids. Whether it's been a one time thing or a weekly commitment,  I couldn't be more grateful.

Do not be impressed. We literally use about four cloth diapers per week. 

4) Don't get help.

Sometimes, you just need to do it on your own. There's going to be crying and nothing will get done that isn't necessary for survival, but you have to do it anyway. When I take the kids out on my own, I often question why I'm doing it. It's usually a disaster. But I need that boost of confidence that comes from facing into the chaos and saying to myself, "I can do this."

5) Don't play the mom-olympics.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when we're out with our kids and somebody says, "Wow! Three kids two and under? You're sure busy!" I don't know why, but it just bugs me. I want to say back to them, "All parents are busy, whether they have one child or ten." Or when another mom starts to share some parenting struggle with me and then invalidates her own experience by saying something like, "Well, I'm sure I have nothing to complain about compared to the work/sleep deprivation/diapers/whatever that you handle on a daily basis." I find myself doing it too - minimizing my problems when talking to a mom who has more kids than me or whose kids are younger than mine. Especially in the multiples community, it's like you get extra points for having more kids or for having them close in age. It reminds me of the "degree of difficulty" component of gymnastics. You get more potential points based on how challenging the elements of your routine are. We act like motherhood works the same way. FYI - it doesn't. And when we think that way, it devalues the experiences of moms who have one child (or two) and are struggling to manage the day-to-day stuff.

So if you're tempted to measure a mom (yourself or somebody else) by how many kids they had in how many years, stop yourself. A woman may have one child and no partner, no friends, no nearby family, no savings account. Or a woman may have lots of kids and two full-time nannies. Thinking competitively makes us unapproachable and makes it very hard to support one another.

6) Don't miss Jesus.

Sometimes motherhood feels really, really hard. Like when I've only had maybe three hours of sleep broken up in four chunks and I realize that the sun is rising and I have a whole day ahead of me. Or when a baby just won't stop crying. Or the toddler seems incapable of obedience. Or when I'm adding things to my to do list with the full knowledge that they will never, ever get done. Those are the times that I can start to feel stuck, almost claustrophobic. But that's where He is. Jesus is right there in the midst of those moments and I have noticed that the more my day-to-day life seems to fall apart, the more I need to lean on Him. I've started to recognize those moments of defeat as gifts because they bring me to my knees in humility and prayer. The opposite is true too...

Two Sundays ago, I got the kids to church on time all by myself. Andrew was up north for the weekend and was meeting us there. To be completely truthful, I got lucky. The boys slept in so that I had time to shower, do my makeup and hair, pack the diaper bag, and dress and feed Harriet. Plus, Harriet watched TV for about an hour. When the boys woke up, I had bottles ready and was able to feed them, dress them and get them into the car in about twenty minutes. We literally hit every green light on the way there and we found a great parking spot. Harriet cooperated like a little angel (an extremely rare occurrence) and neither of the boys cried when I put them in their carseats. I checked the kids into their rooms and met Andrew in the sanctuary. He was impressed and told me how pretty I looked. He couldn't believe I did it all by myself and got us there on time. But as the music started and those around me entered into worship, I had such a hard time finding that place of communion and friendship with God. I was still pretty impressed with myself. And I realized how hard it is to have a worshipful heart when we feel like we have it all together. For me that Sunday, it was impossible. I had to spend the worship portion of the service asking God to humble my heart and remind me to rely on Him. All it took was one "successful" morning to turn me from someone who gropes for Jesus hour by hour into someone who is patting herself on the back while those around her worship. So bring on the tough days, bring on the failures, bring on the train wrecks. I'm not interested in perfection if the cost is that high.

So don't miss Jesus. Look for Him in the most impossible, frustrating, defeating moments and He will always be found. Even better than that? He will give you the strength that you need to face into each and every day, no matter how tired you are, how emotional you feel, or how much you need a vacation.

Every single day, He will renew your strength.

So that's the advice I give myself. Well, some of it. I have a sign on my wall that says "we can do hard things." I intended to use it as a reminder for my kids when homework assignments get tough or when they have to wake up early or face an especially mean kid at school. But I'm finding that I'm the one that needs that reminder on an hourly basis these days.

Hard things...but good things. So, so good.

I'll end by throwing in a few pictures we've taken this summer, in totally random order.

Meeting my grandparents for the first grandpa is over 100 years older than Gus and Louie! Read their story here

impromptu picnic at the park

proud girl right after catching her first fish 
Gus looks teeny in this picture but it's just the camera angle. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

strike a pose

I said I'd never do it again...too much stress, too much time, too much baby poop everywhere...but we did it anyways. Newborn pictures. It was messy and chaotic and loud. Harriet toppled off the chair that the photographer warned her to get off of. Andrew had to drive the boys around in the car for twenty minutes half-way through the shoot to get them to stop screaming. We got a fair amount of poop on the beautiful quilt my mother-in-law made. We shoveled endless amounts of candy into Harriet's mouth in an attempt to get her to smile. Andrew's hair was like something out of The Lion King...or Cats. Harriet got a red stain right on the front of her dress. Andrew and I had a huge fight about something ridiculous on the way home...

Oh, and I looked like crap. Please avoid commenting something nice about how I look because I'll know you're full of it. I was super, super pale with anemia. None of my clothes fit. My hair was incredibly flat. And I was wearing something that looks more like pajamas than my pajamas do. My mom told me to wear tons of makeup because I was so pasty, so I slapped coat after coat of foundation, blush, eye shadow and mascara on my face...and it looks like I'm wearing no makeup at all. Right now, my inlaws have one of these pictures of our whole family up in their house and I'm pretty sure they're doing it as payback for something I did because there's no way they like looking at that picture every day!

Anyways, they're called "newborn pictures," not "new mama pictures," so I'm going to move on and let it go.

Check out my darlings...

I have to give major props to the photographer. She handled this ridiculous scene with such grace and patience…even though she had a broken leg and had to scoot around on a stool during the shoot. 

I’ll soon be posting more recent pictures of the boys, plus words of some sort. I have several posts started in my head, on my phone, and in random Word documents. I have so much to write about, but as usual, so little time to actually write it. Missing this space and missing my blogging friends.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

table for two

It's not often that I'm alone with all three kids. When I am, it's usually for just a few hours and it goes surprisingly well...except, of course, when it doesn't. Andrew left for work this evening, and about an hour and a half later, I sent him this text:

So far...complete shit show.

And that's not an exaggeration. It was chaos. During that hour and a half, Harriet watched an hour and ten minutes of Barney. Barney is useful because he puts her in a sort of cooperative, I'll-do-whatever-you-say-as-long-as-you-let-me-keep-watching-this-purple-dinosaur trance. She doesn't like to eat, but Barney helped her eat a microwaved corndog (full disclosure - it was her third in three days). Barney also helped me get her to pee on her little potty chair...I literally carry the laptop in front of her like a carrot dangled in front of a mule as we walk to the bathroom. My respect for myself as a parent sort of goes out the window whenever I use this technique, but it works, so whatever.  Barney wasn't especially useful with the whole teeth brushing thing, because she still threw a fit. Thanks for nothing, Barney.

While I'm doing all of this, the boys are off and on for an hour and a half. I pick up the loudest and/or reddest one and hold him until the other one matches the first in intensity. Then I lay the first boy down and pick up his brother. We do this taking turns routine until one or both of them fall asleep. But even that only lasts a couple of minutes.

So I'm carrying this dumb laptop and a baby around, trying to get my toddler to cooperate with the bedtime routine and she's throwing little fits about...I'm sorry...the dumbest stuff ever, like the importance of holding the handrail on the way up the stairs and which sort of toothpaste we need to use. And it kind of blows my mind that she thinks that these things matter at all in the midst of such chaos. I mean, can she not hear two tiny boys absolutely losing it in the background? But then I remember that she's two, so yeah, it totally matters...even though one particular brother looks and sounds like he's a couple breaths away from complete combustion.

I'm not one for letting babies this little cry it or night. I am their mom and it's my job to help them. When I pick them up, they instantly calm. In fact, they melt. They just want to be held and whispered to. And I can do that, so I often as I can...which isn't as often as I'd like because, like every parent out there knows, there's always someone or something else pulling on one of our arms or legs. So I get a little panicky every now and then, wondering what sort of awful damage is being done to my children due to the fact that sometimes, despite our best efforts, they have to cry for a while. I worry about attachment. I worry that they won't feel as loved as Harriet has. I worry that they'll give up on me when I don't seem to heed their calls. But then I remind myself that my best is my best. It's all I've got.

So anyways...I get Harriet to bed (early, in fact...woohoo!). Louie has tired himself out by this point...classic Lou. And Gus is raging red as a raspberry...classic Gus. I change them, swaddle them and put them in their little rocking bassinets, looking like two cranky little egg rolls.

This is out of the norm. Usually, I'd plop them into their boppy's. One on each side of me on the couch. I'd shimmy into my nursing pillow like it's an inner tube and hoist them onto it one at a time. I'd latch Louie first, then Gus. Lou finds it quick, always desperately hungry but still with his wits about him. Gus is usually stiff as a board and I have to coax him to bend his knees so that he can nestle in under my arm and find what he's looking for.

When they're both latched, I wait. It doesn't take long for my milk to come in, fast and strong. That's when the games begin. The boy on the left unlatches first and milk goes spraying everywhere. When this happened to Harriet and I, I'd catch the squirting milk with a burp cloth, but with the boys, both of my hands are tied up, so we just sit there while the milk soaks our clothes. The baby on the left is crying, no doubt because he thinks he's drowning. When I finally get him calm and re-latched, the son on the right is squirming and making faces like he smelled something awful. He needs to burp. This isn't a surprise. I've been hearing him suck air while he guzzles the rush of milk. So even though he's only been drinking for a few minutes, he already needs to get rid of that extra gas. I squeeze my arm underneath him and lift him to my shoulder. In the process, I squish his tummy a bit so he spits up on me. I burp him for a while. He lets out a couple of big ones, all the while trying to climb away or something. I have no idea what he's doing but he's certainly not cooperating. I get him re-latched and now the baby on the left needs to burp. Somewhere along the way, one boy inevitably tries to eat his brother. And this is how it goes until I decide we're done. I get them both in a safe spot with their heads elevated so that they don't lose more of their lunch, and I look down at my shirt. I am completely drenched. Sometimes I change my shirt, but I never change my bra because I have two nursing bras that I like, and I'm not risking having both in the wash at the same time. By evening, I'm transported back to summer days in my childhood - that feeling of wearing a wet swimsuit all day long. As a kid, it's fine. As an adult, you feel like you're getting trench foot...except in your bra.

So back to those cranky egg rolls...Tonight, I decided to forgo the breast in favor of bottles. Now you need to understand, these bottles were the third and forth bottles I have personally fed my children...ever. Andrew had to teach me how to heat it up before he left for work. When I put that rubbery plastic in their mouths, part of me wanted to cry. But then I got myself together and decided to enjoy it. I sang them John Denver and CeCe Winans. I smiled into their beautiful, sleepy eyes. And you know what? It was actually kind of nice.

I wasn't wet at the end. No one spit up. No milk went spurting everywhere. The boys didn't cry or make those sad, gassy faces. And I thought, Wow...could that have possibly been more peaceful and straightforward? I never understood moms who pumped and bottle-fed until that moment.

And that scares me a little...okay fine, it terrifies me. I don't want to give up nursing. I love nursing. I just worry that we're not going to figure out how to make this work. I worry that every feeding is going to be a battle.

And now I'm super mad at myself for not going to bed immediately after I put them down. I've now spent forty minutes blogging and eating rhubarb crisp directly out of the pan when I could be sleeping. So I'm vowing to do it differently tomorrow...never gonna happen.


So now it's 2:30 in the morning...the boys slept six hours straight after I gave them those bottles - their longest chunk so far. It's bittersweet. I'm so glad that they slept such a long time. I feel amazing after sleeping five straight hours. But it kind of makes me wonder if I'm the problem. Much of the time, when I tandem nurse them, it's wonderful. Seeing those four beautiful eyes staring up at me and snuggling their warm little bodies brings on overwhelming feelings of joy and gratitude. More than a few times, I've cried happy tears while nursing this day:

Maybe it's weird to take crying selfies but I love to remember these moments. 
Andrew was outside working on the yard. Harriet was upstairs napping and I was burping the boys after a feeding. He peeked his head in the patio door and asked if I wanted him to put them in their bassinets so that I could stand up. I shook my head no. He asked if I was okay, and I just started to cry. He stepped inside and shut the door behind him, just looked at me and smiled.

"We have a great life, don't we?" he said.

I nodded. "So many of our dreams are coming true."

There's something about nursing these boys, and specifically nursing them together that brings out so much beauty in this mother/children relationship. I'm not giving that up just to get more sleep, and the good news is, I don't think I have to.

Here's my theory. I think that the bottles seem to work better at night for several reasons. First, they don't spit up with bottles because I'm not jostling them around trying to keep them both latched, trying to burp one while the other eats, then switching them up. They're just in one spot, so they don't get sick from having their tummies scrunched and all that. Also, they control the rate of flow with the bottles, whereas when my milk comes in, it's kind of a firehose effect. There's no way for them to turn it off, so they gulp and gulp, which leads to upset tummies. Also, they fall asleep more quickly at the breast than with bottles, probably because with bottles, it's more about the business of eating and isn't as comfy-cozy. Lastly, because I have such an abundance of milk (I'm freezing over 100 ounces per week in addition to the milk that's feeding Lou and Gus), they have to eat a long time to get to the hindmilk (the really rich stuff that keeps them full longer). When I pump and fill up bottles for them, the hindmilk and the foremilk all mixes together. I know that an abundance of milk is a great problem to have, but it's still a problem. And pumping before feedings doesn't help all that much. In fact, I think it makes the problem worse because it makes me produce even more milk.

So I think I'm going to do bottles at night and nurse them during the day. I keep reminding myself that they will be sleeping through the night soon (maybe wishful thinking), so who cares if we do bottles for a couple of months? I also keep reminding myself that Harriet went through this same thing at the same age. She actually seemed to develop a fear of nursing which lasted over a month. As she got bigger and could handle the flow better, the problem just fixed itself. I'm hoping the same happens for the boys, but pushing through the problem just feels a little harder with two babies than it did with one.

I'm also going to do more individual feedings. Nursing them one at a time has its perks - I can walk around the house and do things while I feed them or I can give that baby my undivided attention. I can read Harriet a book and turn the pages, or we can sit on the floor and build a block tower. So most of our feedings have become individual, but I'm trying to do at least one or two tandem feeds per day just to keep up the skill, because I'm guessing that if you don't use it, you lose it.

I'd love thoughts, input, stories and tips from any of you tandem nursing moms out there...or regular nursing moms...or dads or grandmas or anybody! This is so important to me, and I can take all the help I can get.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

welcome to the family

So, I'll warn you. This post has a lot of, it's excessive. But there were so many great ones that I had a hard time paring it down. I so badly wanted Maggie Dehart to take pictures of the twins' birth. I really, really love birth photos. No other event gives you the raw emotion that a birth does. How could we not capture that? Unfortunately, our hospital doesn't allow photographers in the operating room for c-sections. I was bummed out by this, but thankfully, our doula is a rockstar with an iPhone camera and got great shots of the birth.

We opted to have Maggie come to the hospital to capture photos of us when the boys were about twelve hours old, plus pictures of our families meeting the babies. I'm so glad we did this. These images are priceless to me. She did an amazing job. Here are a few (or a ton) of my favorites.

Gus getting all clean and ready to meet the fam.

I was getting so excited to introduce Harriet to the boys that my heart rate monitor kept going off. 

snuggling with Lou

The boys were born about eleven hours before our scheduled c-section. My parents had asked us to call that morning so that they could pray with us over the phone. But instead we called to tell them that the babies were already here. They were shocked. Such a fun phone call to make. 

We decided that Harriet would be the first to meet the boys, so Andrew brought her in before everybody else for some sweet family time. I had to include all of the pictures from this series because they're way too precious. I knew she'd be excited, but I didn't know she'd be this excited. 

the absolute best big sister

love this expression

Trying to wrap my brain around the fact that I have three children...still trying to wrap my brain around it. 

And here comes the rest of the family! They didn't know anything about the babies beyond the fact that they were here and healthy, so the next couple of pictures capture the grandmas' reactions to Harriet's announcement, "These are my brothers!"

My mom is on the left. Andrew's mom is on the right.

Harriet picked out special gifts for the babies.

Andrew's dad with Gussy.

Uncle Brad (my brother) and his girlfriend, Alyssa, who is now his FIANCE!!!! Woohoo!

My mom had to unwrap the babies and check out their little arms and legs.

Papa and...somebody.

Harriet's gift from the babies - Clifford and Clifford books.

Watching the birth video.

I wasn't sure whether nursing would freak Harriet out, but she was totally fine with it.

Big helper.

Harriet calls her Sasa. Soon she'll be Auntie Sasa. 

Welcome to the family, beautiful boys. You can't even imagine how much you're loved.

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