Monday, June 24, 2013

Ghosts of Children Past, Present and Future

I am haunted by other people’s children.

I was part-way through a much-delayed blog when I saw a news report about a missing infant in Utica, NY, a report that has infiltrated my consciousness. For those that haven’t read about it, a nine-month-old infant was reported missing by his father … two weeks after he actually went missing. The father found himself locked out, left the baby on the porch in just a diaper and went around back to let himself in. When he returned, Levon was gone.

I couldn’t push the image from my head. I imagined a nine-month-old, alone in the dark, plopped on a small porch. An infant that age is relatively self-aware. He would have a sense that he’d been abandoned. He’d be intensely afraid. He would likely be crawling. What dangers would his curious little fingers unknowingly drag him towards? Or perhaps it was far worse. Perhaps the story was just that. Perhaps the father had actually killed the boy, intentionally or accidentally, and this boy had been robbed of his first steps, his first words, his first bike ride, his first day in school.

But this is far from the only story that pursues my thoughts. I find myself deeply affected by countless stories of other people’s children. Their pain to me is palpable and permeating. I can feel it seep inside my being, sparking my maternal fears. I envision my own children in these situations, imagine my world in tumult, taste the hypothetical despair. And sometimes, I find it difficult to step away from these feelings.

When I was pregnant, a good friend was also pregnant and gave birth just a few days after I did. I remember the excitement of seeing her initial text announcing the baby’s arrival and then the growing dread as I began seeing Facebook posts asking friends to pray for their little girl.  As wonderfully overwhelmed as I was with my own healthy boys, I was also overwhelmed with empathetic grief for my friends, who ultimately had to make arguably the toughest decision any parent could make and take their daughter off life support. I couldn’t stop thinking about them throughout the day, couldn’t stop imagining myself in their position, tried to say a quick prayer of thanks for my own blessings and for their healing each time they passed my mind.

More recently, it was the Newtown shootings I couldn’t quite eradicate from my thoughts. I couldn’t stop imagining those poor babies staring in the face of hatred and violence. I couldn’t stop feeling for those parents who’d envisioned the adults their babies would become; dreamt of their future doctors, teachers, engineers; held their burbling grandkids in their mind’s eye. I looked at my own two boys, now such strong, individual characters, and teared up every time I contemplated a word without them.

This, to me, is part of what it means to be a parent, and particularly a mom. For most moms, there is an intense primal urge to protect our young at all costs. The thought of anything happening to our children is devastating, and thus we are in alert mode at all times, even in sleep. I know that statistically, our modern world is no more dangerous that the world of previous generations. But stories like Levon’s and like Newtown’s are reminders of what can happen and validate our constant paranoia.

Beyond the reminder, though, there is a level of empathy that you can only experience after you’ve become a parent. While many of us may have always been those who loved kids and may have had kids in our lives that we loved dearly, there is no bond quite like that between a parent and his or her child. My children are pieces of me, both literally and figuratively, and without them, I am not whole.

Too, I see that same connection in their eyes, feel their own joy and need in their embraces. Just as much as I can’t imagine a life without them, it’s equally painful to contemplate missing a moment of their lives.

A former schoolmate of mine died a little over a year ago, taken by a brain tumor at 33. I hadn’t been in contact with her for many years, but I followed the latter months of her story and beyond through friends on Facebook. Her son was just seven. I think about him, about the void that will be there throughout his life. And I think about her, about how painful those final months must have been, as she dreamt of a future for her son that she would never see. I sincerely hope that there is some realm of the afterlife where she can at least watch her son as he grows.

Even fictional grief gets me. I have never really been much of a crier, but I’m finding that it’s increasingly difficult to keep the waterworks at bay if I’m watching, reading about, even writing about anything in relation to parents and kids. (Hell, I’m trying to hold back tears as I type this in Barnes and Noble. Perhaps, in retrospect, this would’ve been better to finish writing in private.) This is why Downton Abbey kills me. Seriously, two parent deaths?  I even knew one was coming, and I think that just made it worse.

To be a parent is a gift. Don’t get me wrong, there are more than a few moments that you truly doubt that statement … and that can be in just one afternoon. There will be times when you want to run screaming, when you question why you ever stopped using birth control, when you wonder if you’ll ever sleep again, when you will wonder how much screaming your eardrums can take before they explode, when you realize you forget what it’s like to wear clothes that don’t have some food or snot stain somewhere on them.

All of those moments, though, can be easily outweighed by moments of such intense pride and joy that you think your heart might burst. When you see your child light up the moment he catches a glimpse of you. When you realize that your touch alone can sometimes soothe him. When he learns how to truly give a good “squeeze” and relishes giving you one. When you hear your own words and intonations slip from his plump little lips. These moments are so rich, have such dense value, that they will make you want to hoard them and to fear anything that could strip you of them.

This is why I also have such a hard time understanding those parents who take that currency for granted. They infuriate me. I get visibly sick and angry when I hear stories of abuse or neglect, even those that may not initially seem as such.

I was reading a book recently about a journalist’s journey into the Amazon to search out information about a long-missing explorer who disappeared while searching for a potentially non-existent society in one of the most treacherous environments in the world. I had to stop reading. What was supposed to be this romantic tale of exploration was, to me, an exercise in narcissistic stupidity. The journalist, an overweight city boy with zero experience or knowledge, leaves a wife and small child at home to risk his life to write about a man who continually left his wife and children at home to risk his life. I couldn’t read it. I was just constantly pissed off. I didn’t see either the famous explorer or journalist as adventurers. I just saw them as selfish jackasses who shouldn’t have gotten married or had kids if they wanted to go traipsing off into mortally dangerous environments.

I felt the same as I read about Nik Wallenda’s tightrope walk across the Grand Canyon. This is not entertainment. It is narcissism. His “victory” is not something to celebrate. His willingness to risk leaving his children fatherless for the sake of an empty accomplishment and some TV ratings is deplorable. OK, off my soapbox.

But this all comes back to my earlier statement. To be a parent is a gift. It is a singular experience that can frustrate you, humble you, humiliate you, terrorize you, intimidate you and exhilarate you, all in one moment. It opens a part of you that you may not have even known existed. It taps into a whole new palette of emotions that provide you such a freshly vivid perspective on the world. It indoctrinates you into an ancient clan of nurturers and providers, fostering intense connections with people you don’t even have to know.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Mommy Guilt: Making Catholic Guilt Look Like Child's Play

“Kids don’t come with an instruction manual.” It’s what everyone tells us and what many of us tell ourselves as we struggle with the brain-busting enigma that is raising a very individual little being. But in many ways, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, part of the problem is that, especially in the digital era, there are so many conflicting “manuals,” all of which somehow make us feel entirely inadequate.

For eons, the manual has come in various oral forms, readily excerpted by family members, friends, coworkers, random observers on the street. Enter the printing press, and a multitude of experts and “experts” from Dr. Spock to Jenny McCarthy and beyond provided baby bibles, some complete with very detailed charts and diagrams, ranging from the clinical to the farcical. Hell, there is even a Your Baby’s First Year for Dummies book. Now, with the Internet, there are exponential sources all claiming to have the answers, to be able to provide us with the “best” ways to raise our kids.

Fantastic!, you might say. With such a wealth of information, we should be so much better equipped to transform those primitive, screaming, squirming creatures into eloquent, well-behaved adults. So why is it that somehow the more I read, the more I feel like a complete and utter failure as a parent?

Granted, I own the fact that I live for overanalyzing, but, the reality is that as with any self-reflective parent, it’s almost impossible not to. The nature of parenting lends itself so readily to rampant overanalysis, particularly as your child is still developing his or her language skills and you seem to be continually engaged in a high stakes game of charades.

I read somewhere recently that the average adult makes 35,000 decisions a day. That number can only be significantly higher for parents, particularly stay-at-home parents. Yes, many of those decisions are very small, seemingly insignificant ones, but that’s just it. As a parent, especially considering how many “manuals” tell us how every choice we make for our children will completely alter their existences, it seems as if no decision is insignificant, and we – It’s not just me, is it? Please say yes. – are left to continually second-guess ourselves.

Why didn’t he eat much at dinner? Why won’t he at least try what I put in front of him; he used to eat everything? Am I making him mac-n-cheese too often? Is he missing out on key nutrients? What will this mean for his physical and cognitive development? After all, “they” do say how important X-Y-Z are for his brain. Should I have attacked him with veggies with more force? Did I not offer him enough variety? After all, “they” do say that providing variety early on is crucial to proactively battling picky eating.

God forbid, we watched an extra episode of Elmo’s World today. Did I just condemn my child to suffering from ADHD? Am I playing enough of the “right” games with them? Should I be doing more pretend play? Should we stay outside longer? Should I have kept them out of the sun? Did I put enough sunblock on? Did I buy the right sunblock? Is that what caused Big Boy’s rash? The boys are playing well together on their own. Am I a bad parent if I leave them be and check my e-mail? Am I fostering independence or being selfish?

Dimples is not nearly the talker that his brother is. Am I partially to blame? Big Boy frequently engages us in conversation. Have I not initiated Dimples enough? Should I make more of a point to grow his vocabulary?


The boys have begun the battle for control and independence and could win Oscars for some of their tantrums. Dimples has always been particularly adept at pouring on the waterworks at the drop of a hat. Big Boy, meanwhile, can turn virtually every shade of red in the Crayola box of 64 and then some. Should I walk away? Some say not to provide an audience. Should I comfort them? Some say never to walk away because they’ll feel abandoned. If I offer a compromise, at what point does it become giving in?

I swear, one of the reasons I’m so ready to collapse at the end of the day is because I’m exhausted by the relentless battle my brain wages against itself. Did I yell too much? Did I reprimand them enough? Did I show enough overt affection? Did I show too much? Did I foster ample development or hinder my children’s growth?

I think over the last 21 months, I have felt like a failure more often than not. Though, in truth, I know that some of this derives from a different place. I know that overall, my children are thriving. While Dimples may eat only a handful of main dishes, he eats enough for three kids and is a very healthy, active boy. I know that just because Big Boy’s verbal skills are advanced doesn’t mean his brother’s are behind. I know that overall they’re very happy, goofy boys. (Not that any of these acknowledgements will stop my obsessive self-reflections and anxiety-ridden reservations.)

Part of my feeling of failure comes from my admitting to myself that I sometimes wish I were doing something else. I read an article a while back in which a mom took issue with a stranger’s statement about how that stranger cherished every moment with her kids. The writer/mom very earnestly said that in her case, and likely most other moms’, this was a bit of an overstatement. There are many, many moments in raising kids that are far more about survival than savoring.

There are moments that I wish I could have someone magically appear in my house to watch the boys, freeing me to escape for a bit. There are days when I particularly anxiously look forward to naptime or bedtime. There are days when as soon as my husband comes home, I find something that needs to be done in some other part of the house. There are many a days when I fantasize about spending a night away, alone.  

Being a parent is arguably the most challenging, most frustrating task one can undertake. There is little to savor about living on three hours of broken sleep, or walking in to a crib full of diarrhea, or watching helplessly as your child bites someone else’s, or wracking your brain as to why your child might scream both when you put him in the swing and take him out. (Turns out Dimples only likes to be swung one particular way. Seriously?)

These moments do make many other moments that much sweeter. Watching the boys giggle maniacally as they chase each other around the house. Having Dimples turn his face up for a kiss before I put him down to sleep. Snuggling with Big Boy, as well as with the two blankets and three stuffed animals he brought with him from his crib, as he sips his milk after waking from a nap. Observing them discover the wonderfully gushy texture of mud for the first time. And I cherish these moments. I do, locking them away forever in a precious corner of my memory. Though, sometimes these blissful moments seem slightly sullied by my guilt, as their simple beauty only makes my selfish moments appear that much uglier.

I know I need to let it go. I will make mistakes, many, I’m sure, but I will not ruin my children’s futures. I may cause them pain at some point, but it will not be with anything but loving intent. I need to accept my own human failings and to accept that it’s OK to also want to take care of myself. I need to acknowledge that I’m also allowed to feel angry and frustrated and that in some instances, that will be harder to mask than others. And I need to forgive myself for those moments. I need to remember that there will be a lot of times that I will not like what they do, but just because I’m angry with their behavior, I’m not any less in love with them. I may just need a brief moment of time and space to reconnect with that.

I must somehow come to truly accept that this process will be messy and imperfect for all parties but that that mess will somehow hopefully translate into two vibrant, productive, and animated additions to our society. I’m still working on the letting go. It’s a daunting task for a type A control freak such as myself. Perhaps a beer and a little trashy TV will help. After all, there’s no more Calgon to take me away.



Monday, April 29, 2013

Extreme Home Makeover: Baby Edition

For those planning to have kids, pause for a moment to really take in your home as it looks now. Sweep a glance across your living room, taking in each of your carefully selected, carefully coordinated decorative touches. That Pier 1 potpourri pot, those Kate Spade frames you got off your bridal registry, those various candles about which your husband constantly complains because you won’t let him light them.

Take in your uncluttered kitchen, the counters serving their intended purposes of storing well-used small appliances and serving as space for food prep. (OK, uncluttered may have been a bit of a stretch in my pre-kids house, but work with me here.) Enjoy your quiet moments in your recently renovated bathroom, with those granite-topped, glass-doored vanities you were so proud to discover on clearance and that new storage unit in the center of the room with the Asian-themed knick knacks.

Walk casually and capriciously across your empty hardwood floors, marveling at how shiny they still look even a few years after having them redone. Enjoy the newly painted white trim around your doorways and flooring.

Take it all in. Cherish it. Commit it to memory. Because soon, your home as you know it will soon be just that – a warm memory. The decorations and knick knacks will be gathering dust in boxes in your closet, those vanities will be chained up with various pieces of plastic that even you struggle to open, and the endless onslaught of cars and push toys will quickly weather all wood in the house.

Once the baby (or in our case, babies) comes, your whole world will change, including your physical one. Over the last 19-plus months, our house has essentially been in a state of constant evolution, or devolution, depending on how you look at it.

It began with shifts in our kitchen and living room. Our counters were invaded by an entire colony of feeding apparatus that seemed to breed and multiply as the months wore on. A migratory breast pump took up residence in various nooks throughout the house. The freezer shunned frozen veggies in favor of frozen bags of breast milk. The stove became a forgotten, neglected entity, thrown over for the ease of the microwave and take-out food.

The couches, once lazy lounge areas, became supreme multi-taskers. Changing areas, Boppy-centrals, nap spots, you name it. For the first few months, they were even our beds, as the boys weren’t too keen on sleeping anywhere but Mommy’s and Daddy’s chests. Their appearance seemed to morph as well, as they tended to be shrouded in blankets thick and thin, sleepsacks, spare clothes, diapers, pillows, and the like, items that we would have taken time to put away more frequently if we could have only slept for more than 90 minutes at a time.

As the boys began to become more alert, the alterations spread to the basement, the rec area appropriated for playroom No. 1. The ping pong table was relegated to the garage, replaced with the Superstar Step N’ Play Piano and a couple of Jumperoos.

But all of this was, pun intended, child’s play. Once they became mobile, the house began to change at breakneck speed. Take two very active, very curious boys, and you take babyproofing to a whole new level. I am truly starting to think I should start a new business in which I take my wild men to the homes of new and/or prospective parents and let them loose to help demonstrate everything in their houses that needs babyproofing. For example, I’d never thought I’d have to worry about floor vents until Dimples kept pulling them out at a girlfriend’s house.

Now, don’t get me wrong. You may be one of the lucky ones who barely needs to mention the word babyproofing. Every time I visit my niece (22 months) and nephew (almost 4), I make a mental catalogue of everything that would never, could never exist in our house, at least not anymore: the mini-wine rack, the entertainment center with open access, the kitchen cabinets that have nary a latch, which never ceases to thrill the boys.

But for all of those like my niece, I’ve heard far more stories about those like my boys, and some much more creative and frightening. My favorite remains the twins tale from one of the nurses at our pediatrician’s office: in the few moments she took to go to the bathroom, they managed to climb up to and hang from a lighting fixture.

For us, babyproofing has become a series of Macgyver-esque challenges, requiring strange and inventive solutions. To that end, I thought I’d share some of what we’ve learned and what’s worked for us in hopes that it might help others.

1.       If you’re going to paint anything, do it now, and be prepared for that paint job to take a beating.

As I look around my kitchen, I’m sometimes appalled by how beat up my cabinets look. There’s actually one spot on a drawer that looks as if my dog went to town. Yeah, not the dog. A teething Dimples. The doorjambs and trim throughout the house have been battered by various push toys, cars, Swiffer handles, you name it. I just keep reminding myself, it’s only temporary and try to envision what it will look like in a few years when we give it a fresh paint job.

2.       Be sure to find the shortest latches possible for drawers and cabinets and don’t put anything sharp or dangerous near the front edges of those drawers and cabinets.

We realized quickly that the initial latches my husband put on our drawers were definitely not cutting it when the boys started pulling whole objects out of each. Even with the short latches, they’re quite adept at pulling small objects out with those tiny little fingers, so I’ve learned to keep pens, etc. pushed way back in those drawers and make sure my scissors are all the way back. Too, once they hit their climbing phase, they quickly learned that open drawers make for lovely steps. Thus, we have a couple drawers that we’ve attached together, making climbing virtually impossible. (Damn it! I’ve jinxed myself.)

3.       Buy door handle covers in bulk.

Even before they were tall enough to quite reach, the boys were trying to figure out how to get those doorknob things to provide them access to all of those other, forbidden realms in the house. As soon as they were tall enough to reach, they made quick work of those glorious metal gatekeepers. Especially when you have two who love to stick their fingers in small spaces where they don’t belong and to close things very hard, fast and loud, doors, and especially door jambs, are the things that bloody parental nightmares are made of. (OK, so maybe it’s just me. But hey, I get to claim the first parent paranoia flyer.)  

We especially made sure to put plastic covers on all doors to the outside, as these are particularly heavy and of particular interest to the boys, who know what exciting adventures lie on the other sides of those doors. They see fun and wonderment. I see a set of perilously steep stairs and a concrete patio. Another crucial cover area for us was the inside of the bathroom. My husband had to travel for a week for a work, and I was on solo tubbies duty. This was fine when they were in the tub, a bit more challenging when they were out. The doorknob covers were essential for trapping the boys in the bathroom.

4.       Assess all objects for “climbability.”

Once the boys became really adept at walking and increasingly interested in climbing, they started realizing that virtually anything could be used as a climber and that that climber could potentially give them access to forbidden items and areas out of reach. With two to watch, sometimes in separate rooms, I simply couldn’t take any chances. As soon as I saw them climb on a toy or other object, it either made its way into our “consignment sale” pile or, if it wasn’t overly tall, was reassigned to an area where it could no longer provide access to anything. We actually had to rearrange our living room twice to account for their newfound couch climbing skills and a banister that overlooked a set of stairs and a stone foyer.

5.       Invest in SuperYard sections.

Easily the best babyproofing investment we’ve made was in our North States SuperYards. These are not cheap, with new sections of six panels retailing for $75, though they’ve been more than worth our money. You can actually sometimes find some good deals on these at consignment sales or on Craigslist. We found one set of eight panels on Craigslist for one third what the cost would have been new.  

The great thing about them is that they are freestanding and so are pretty versatile. Last summer, when my dual roamers needed trapping in the backyard, one of our SuperYards was the perfect solution. I threw their pool, water table and toys in the middle and had a way to safely contain them. Downstairs last summer, a few panels of SuperYard kept the boys from reaching the buttons on our freestanding air conditioner. (Well, at least until they were tall enough to reach over.)

In the sunroom, while they were smaller and not quite so devious, a few freestanding panels kept the boys from our filing cabinet, desk and modem paraphernalia. Once they figured out how to topple it, my husband was able to devise a bracket for one end, while we attached the other end to one of the desk drawers with a babyproofing clamp. He reinforced the gate with a triangular section of panels in the middle, weighted down with a few small freeweights.

In the living room, we have a similar setup to block the TV and fireplace. One end of a section of panels is bracketed to the wall, while the other end is attached to a PacknPlay, which is then attached to an armchair. In the middle, he created an inner square of paneling to reinforce the gate and allow us to keep the panel straight. (Typically, the strength comes from not having the panels all connect straight across but having some sort of angle at each connection point.)

6.       For banisters, buy a “kid shield.”

Ours is a split level home with a sizeable section of banister overlooking wooden stairs and a stone foyer and banister posts that seemed just wide enough for us to worry the boys may fit through, even Big Boy. As soon as they were mobile, we knew this was going to be absolutely essential. Until we found a solution, the upstairs would be off-limits to us during the day, leaving us with only the downstairs playroom. Don’t get me wrong, I had totally pimped the playroom, but Mommy can only inhabit one small room with two active kiddies for so long.

The solution for us was the Cardinal Gates kid shield. It’s basically just a big roll of plastic that you attach to your banister using a hole punch and zip ties. We added a few screws to make sure the ends especially were totally secure. One of the selling points is that you barely notice the plastic is there, and I have to admit, for as much as most products tend to overpromise, this was pretty accurate. Plus, the boys loved that it made a noise like thunder when they banged on it. (OK, so maybe after they put a million fingerprints on it you notice it, but other than that …) We found ours on Amazon for a very reasonable price.

7.       Beware buying anything that requires you to use adhesive.

We learned this the hard way a few times over. As new parents, and especially as new first-time parents, sharp corners could send us into paroxysms of semi-rational fear. So, we bought cushioned corners to stick on our tables, cushioned strips for our hearth and for a wooden ledge in the basement playroom. Turned out, most of the corner cushions ended up being more of a draw than anything else. The boys thought pulling them off was great fun, especially since they turned out to be such wonderful teethers. So, in the end, within a very short time, all of the corners were once again exposed, as was much of the wood underneath, since the adhesive stripped off the paint and/or finish, and the boys had mouthfuls of rubber and adhesive. Awesome.

Especially beware the strips that have a back that is entirely made of out adhesive. My basement ledge still has most of its underlayer of cushioning simply because it’s so well stuck, it would take off the entire top layer of wood, leaving me a project I’m not ready to tackle yet. Truth be told, that ledge was far from the head wound trap I thought it could be, and the boys proved much more stable and adept than I’d thought.

The same holds true for the adhesive on certain babyproofing items for drawers. We had a couple drawers for which hooks weren’t an option, so we used a few of these rubber gadgets that have circular adhesives on each end with small rubber posts, and a rubber piece in the middle that attaches to each end of the post. The assumption is that little fingers won’t be able to manipulate the piece enough to detach it.

That wasn’t entirely the case. While we do still have one that’s holding together the doors of our cleaners cabinet, the boys were able to pull of the adhesive pieces of many of the others. It’s amazing what a little gnawing and a lot of drool will do. Instead of safety, we ended up with big circular hunks of gummy gook that has proven virtually impossible to clean off, likely requiring sanding and repainting. Yay, more projects.

As with anything related to raising kids, it’s an ongoing educational process, and for us, babyproofing has become a somewhat frustrating but somewhat invigorating high-stakes test. We are constantly challenged to come up with new ways to solve the same equation: home + x = two safe toddlers.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Babymaking, the Final Frontier

From the moment we begin to even ponder the idea of sex, we are typically perpetually plagued by one overwhelming, overriding fear: pregnancy.
We are constantly reminded: It only takes one time. And there are certainly enough after-school specials to prove it. OK, wait, I dated myself there. There are enough episodes of Teen Mom to prove it.
We spend much of our teenage years and, often, early 20s or well beyond, terrified that we might get pregnant. In college, I had a friend who was worried she might be pregnant because she had fooled around with her boyfriend in a hot tub. (Um, yeah, sperm may be good swimmers, but they're not Ryan Lochte, sweetie.) In high school, one of my friends and her boyfriend would run water through their condoms just to make sure there were no holes.
I had another friend who was so worried about getting pregnant that she and her husband used condoms even though she was on the pill. After all, as the ubiquitous "they" always remind us, abstinence is the only 100% effective birth control.
And then, one day, we decide, we're ready. Unbatten the hatches. Pull the goalie. Take off the helmet. It's babymaking time.
We plan it all out. Let's get pregnant during "x" month and then we can have the baby during "y" month and that will work well because of "x" "y" and "z." No problem. Just a little quick math, subtract 40 weeks, and boom, let the fun begin.
For some, it is that easy. For many, it's anything but. For all those countless cautionary tales, the harsh reality is that getting pregnant is very, very hard, and sometimes the process is anything but fun.
Every month, there is a very tiny window during which a woman can get pregnant. Once a woman ovulates, her egg survives for only maybe two days. A sperm can survive two to three.
Timing is everything. So we buy basal thermometers and keep temperature charts to try and determine when we typically ovulate each month. (Your temp spikes after ovulation.) We buy ovulation predictor kits, some of which cost upwards of $30! (And some of which don’t sell refill strips, forcing you to shell out another $30 even though you already have a strip reader. Bastards.)
For me, predictor kits never worked, so I had the privilege of having blood drawn by my doctor every day to try and determine when I ovulated.
We even go so far as to (TMI alert!) check our cervical mucus, as it tends to get thinner as we near ovulation and then get thicker as we near menstruation. Oh yeah, let me tell you, there’s no greater turn on than telling your partner, “Hey honey, can you see if my cervical mucus is the consistency of egg whites yet?” Meeeeeeeeow.
But here’s the rub. Even if you time it perfectly, you still only have about a 25% chance that the sperm will fertilize the egg. And that’s for a perfectly healthy young couple with absolutely no issues who is actively attempting to conceive and times it perfectly. For someone who is just regularly sexually active, the number drops to 11%.
And for those over 30 or with any fertility issues whatsoever, the number tends to be just as disheartening.
Once upon a time, my greatest fear was glancing down at a pee stick and seeing a positive sign. As my husband and my quest for a baby began stretching on long past our planned baby dates, my ongoing waking nightmare was just the opposite, endless negative signs and/or waking up to find my dreaded “friend” had arrived.
After about nine months or so of actively trying and becoming increasingly discouraged, we sought out a fertility specialist. Babymaking had officially shifted from the bedroom to the examination room, and the fun had gone clinical.
First it was testing. Extensive bloodwork for both. Semen analysis for my husband. An HSG, which is a really fun procedure that involves pushing dye through your fallopian tubes to make sure everything’s flowing as it should. A polypectomy, after an ultrasound revealed a couple polyps that could, possibly, maybe be getting in the way.
Throughout, I secretly wished they would find something wrong with at least one of us. At least then we’d know what was wrong, and maybe we could fix it. But all we got was a frustratingly ambiguous diagnosis of unexplained infertility.
Next began the treatments. My endocrinologist suggested trying metformin, as he thought maybe I was demonstrating some signs of very mild polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), though I had no ovarian cysts. Fun side effects included a few weeks of cramps and becoming close with my toilet as my stomach adjusted to the medicine.
Then came our attempts at IUI, intrauterine insemination, or basically a turkey baster approach with supercharged semen, scrubbed of all impurities and lazy swimmers, coupled with clomid, or basically speed for your ovaries, forcing them to churn out a few extra eggs.
Each month, we hoped anew, but each month, that hope became more and more difficult to muster and the results more and more heartwrenching. I couldn’t help but perseverate on one thought: What was wrong with me? I was convinced it was my fault, and I simultaneously loathed and pitied myself for it.
Each failure made it more and more difficult to appreciate others’ successes. A friend told me she and her husband were starting to conceive. The next month, they celebrated. My brother and sister-in-law announced the impending arrival of their second. I congratulated them and ran to the other room and sobbed.
I couldn’t help it. Rationally, I could appreciate their happiness, but I just couldn’t truly be happy for them. I was too jealous, too frustrated, too angry, too mired in self-pity. Why would God make this so difficult for us? I knew that we would be wonderfully loving and giving parents, how could he make this seem like such an impossibility?
After two rounds of IUI, we opted for IVF, and in this, I feel incredibly blessed. One, that science has evolved such that these processes are available. Two, that my job afforded me insurance that would pay for almost all of what is an incredibly expensive procedure.
The process itself certainly takes a lot of the fun out of creating a baby. First, there’s the two-and-a-half hour lecture/Q&A and the three-hour class that provides all of the how-to’s of IVF. Then there are the initial daily shots in the abdomen, on some days both in the morning and afternoon.
Next, the surgical procedure to retrieve the eggs and the transfer a few days later, provided there are positive results with the retrieval and fertilization. Then, the really fun shots begin, the daily doses of progesterone suspended in nice, thick oil, administered slowly with a syringe with a lengthy needle.
In truth, the whole process actually wasn’t all that bad. I didn’t react to any of the medications, and a little ice on my tushie helped with the progesterone shots. Plus, I earned one of my more colorful nicknames: Auntie Bum-Bum.
My husband was in India for the first two weeks of my progesterone shots, which you can’t administer yourself, so my brother and sister-in-law were stuck sticking me. They would also redraw the circles on my butt that indicated where to stick, though my brother sometimes took the term circle a bit liberally and got a bit, um, creative. My nephew was fascinated by the circles and thereby dubbed me, for quite a few months to come, Auntie Bum-Bum.
I was also blessed in that I worked with the UConn Center for Reproductive Services. For anyone seeking out help, I cannot say enough wonderful things about Dr. Engmann or any of the staff at the Hartford or Farmington offices. Beyond being skilled, they are genuinely caring and empathetic.
It also helps to know that we’re far from alone in our experiences. Countless friends and acquaintances have struggled in much the same way and have shared their stories. Many also conceived through IVF, and many with the same doctors.
There are times when I’m a little saddened that I’ll never experience that classic TV show moment where the couple huddles expectantly over the pee stick and suddenly erupts into tears of joy after seeing the positive sign slowly appear or that our conception story is not exactly romantic.
But more than anything, I am incredibly thankful. Our story is one of trials and tribulations, but ultimately one of triumph and love. Our heartache and frustration were temporary, and for that I feel blessed. I know that not everyone is so lucky. My heart goes out to those individuals, and I hope that they are able to build their families through other means. Everyone deserves the opportunity to experience the overwhelming emotion of being called “Mom” or “Dad.”

Friday, March 8, 2013

Pregnancy: Invasion of the Body Snatcher(s)

Celebrity magazines are rife with famous fashion plates gushing about how incredible they felt during their pregnancies and how much they enjoy being pregnant; with stories reveling in how these moms can manage to do it all, to act, run an independent film company, to design her own fashion line for wonderfully overdressed toddlers, to serve on UN councils and visit third-world countries; with photos of how so-and-so has lost the baby weight and you can, too.

To all of them, I call bullshit. A little reality check.

First, these moms can do it all because they have the financial means to hire a gazillion nannies. Seriously, I think the Jolie-Pitts have about a gazillion nannies since they have one for each kid. They also have professionals who clean their homes, personal chefs or delivery food services, personal assistants, fashion consultants, you name it. Think how productive YOU could be if you had a small nation working for you.

Second, there's a reason they have their bikini bods back so quickly. Actually, there are many reasons. They can afford to have someone prepare unbelievably complex, healthy meals for them on a daily basis, while I'm happy to get at least one "cooking day" a week, where I attempt to make as many meals during naptime as possible to last us the rest of the week. They also have personal trainers and nannies to watch their babes while they workout, while I try to squeeze in a workout at the ass-crack of dawn before my husband has to get ready for work.

But the coup-de-gras ... they have plastic surgery. As a mom of twins, let me just tell you, there's no way all those celeb twin mommies out there got those flat tummies from diet and exercise alone. Pregnancy wreaks havoc on your abs and skin is only so elastic, especially for those of us over 30.

But my loudest bullshit echoes for those that gush about how amazing they felt throughout their pregnancies. Because let's be honest, in a lot of ways, pregnancy kind of sucks.

Don't get me wrong. Pregnancy is an incredible experience. I'm still floored by the fact that my body could grow not just one but two beautiful creatures, complete with minute replicas of all of my husband's and my parts. That my body could provide all the sustenance they would need to bake for 38.5 weeks and even most of what they would need for their first six months in the outside world. That my innards could move aside to make room for 16 pounds of kids and return to (I hope) their normal positions.

I will forever remember what it felt like to feel them move and shift inside me, a surreal and overwhelmingly vital sensation. At first, it would just be little jabs and nudges, alerting me to their presences. Later, it was entire limbs protruding and undulating Aliens-style across my midsection. I would chuckle each time Big Boy surreptitiously mooned the world, which was often.

However, for as wondrous and life-changing as the experience is, I think most women would tell you that most of the time, they felt oh-so-far from amazing.

But don't worry. I'm not looking to make this entry a bitch-fest. Rather, I thought I'd offer a little practical advice for the travails ahead.

1. Buy a Body Pillow

Something I never knew about pregnancy until I actually got pregnant: your bones actually become softer and more pliable, which makes sense since they need to accommodate a rather large object. So, what do you get when combine looser joints, softer bones, and an ever-growing midsection? Cranky joints that will send you fiery missives when you've lay on them too long and make sleep nearly impossible.

By the time I was dwarfing Moby Dick, I would get stabbing pains in my hip after sleeping on my side. I'd switch to the other side, but on that side, my stomach put a lot more pressure on my back and soon that hip would become equally sore anyway. And thus began my endless bedtime mambo, shifting my hips back and forth in time with my hip pains. Until I found my savior ... my body pillow.

I heartily recommend the full length ones that are shaped like a comma and provide both a pillow to put between your knees as well as belly support. Without it, I don't know that I would've slept more than an hour at a time during the final months.

2. Eat Frequently

OK, don't hate me, but I was lucky. I never experienced morning sickness. I had times when very little appealed to me and, in general, I couldn't stand the smell of cooking, but I never got sick. I know, I know, I suck. I actually felt quite guilty because some of my friends had been very sick, in some instances, out of work for long stretches of time sick or throw up on yourself in your car and have to drive home for a second shower and outfit sick.

But I do know that with many of my friends (not all but many), there was a common theme: empty stomach equals roiling intestines. (I found the same was true of heartburn: empty stomach always seemed to fan the flames.) Some of my friends would keep a stash of food in their purses or desks at work, etc. Others would eat little snacks in the middle of the night. Come on. Who really needs another excuse to eat something tasty?

3. Remember That Supplements Are Your Friends

More than one friend has referred to her oven bun as a parasite, and while this may sound appalling to some, the reality is that it's an accurate description. Your baby is literally sucking the life out of you. And in this case, literally is literally accurate. Whatever you eat goes directly to baby, and whatever her or his umbilical cord hasn't sucked out of what you've ingested eventually goes to you.

Thus, those vitamins you start taking early on aren't just for the baby, they're for you. In some cases, if your body is a bit low on those nutrients, you will begin feeling low yourself. This is especially true of iron. I'm not much of a meat eater, so early on, I became anemic, and my doctor recommended a daily dose of iron supplements, a dose that increased as time went on.

Now, be prepared. Pregnancy can already make you long for the days that you made fun of ExLax commercials. Add iron supplements to the mix and you can be bound up better than little Ralphie in his snowsuit. And when you do finally poop, don't worry if it looks as if you've eaten nothing but spinach for weeks. Green, in fact, is the new brown. (Sorry, too much? I think parenthood has officially dislodged my filter.)

While some are hesitant to dose up on iron because of the tummy issues, I can tell you that it's worth it. My energy level definitely dipped significantly if I let myself get too low.

4. Buy Antacids in Bulk

For me, the worst part of pregnancy was probably the heartburn. As your baby gets bigger, her body will further invade that space near your esophagus, leaving food very little room to move. (Side note, I'm still fascinated that my innards and my monster babies could all fit in that one small space.) 

I stashed antacids everywhere. (Metaphorically this time, not literally.) On my nightstand. In the kitchen cupboards. In the car. In my desk at work. In my purse. Too, as I mentioned before, try not to let yourself get too hungry. I found that once my tank neared empty, my pyloric sphincter would become increasingly fidgety.

5. Be Sure to Have an Air Conditioner

What, you say? You're always cold. Yeah, not anymore.

Trust me, I was that person. I slept in fleece. I once kept my house at a balmy 71. I hated air conditioning. But the more pregnant I got, the more likely even a warm breeze would make me feel like some horrible combination of a sweat-drenched pubescent boy and a hot flashy future menopause me.

My babies were born in August, so I also had the fun privilege of enduring the final trimester in full-on summer heat. Though, even 80-plus-degree days would have me cranking the AC. I simply had zero tolerance for heat. Simply, I think if we hadn't had central air, my husband would've eventually found a puddle in the living room surrounded by stretchy pants, the TV remote and Big Y fish and chips. (This was my one craving. This fish guys actually came to know me by name.)

6. Have Your Husband Rub Your Cankles

Now ladies, you know you deserve some pampering anyway, but here's proof that it's completely essential. Let me first say that I am blessed. My husband is one of the most sensitive, attentive, and caring men you could ever meet. When my ankles started to get a little swollen and sore, especially after standing on my feet all day in the classroom, he offered to rub them ... every night. I mean, who's going to turn that down?

We didn't realize, though, how helpful this was until he was away in India for two-plus weeks for my brother-in-law's wedding. In the weeks he was away, I noticed my ankles gradually becoming cankles. Balloons may be fun, but not so much on top of your already taxed feet.

As soon as he returned, he diligently returned to his nightly ministrations, and my ankles quickly made a reappearance. I truly believe that his labor of love helped I avoid hard-core edema.

Besides, what else does your hubby need to do for the next 40 weeks? ;)

7. Practice Self-Acceptance and Do Something For Yourself

Here's the hard truth, it's easy not to feel good about yourself when you're pregnant. You will see numbers on the scale you never saw even in your worst nightmares. You will live in stretchy clothes for a large chunk of your pregnancy and beyond. (Thankfully, maternity fashion has come a long way.) You will have likely have poop issues, be it constipation or diarrhea or green poop or something else. You will probably be extra gassy and may not have the muscle tone any more to control that gassiness. You may feel sick often or feel as if you spend more time in the toilet than out of it.

Just remind yourself, it's temporary. For now, your body is not your own. It has been commandeered by a creature far more demanding and, in the end, far cuter than you are. And the end result will be worth it.

Take some time to do something for yourself. Get a massage. Have a spa day. Enjoy a wonderfully decadent multi-course meal. Buy a special outfit. Take yourself out for a sappy movie. Do something that is truly indulgent.

Finally, make an effort to make yourself look good. For whatever reason, that's always seemed to help. If I dress nicely, do my hair, put on some makeup, I immediately feel better. Besides, enjoy it now. Once the rugrat(s) is (are) here, personal care and beauty kind of goes out the window for a while.

8. Don't Break the Bank on Maternity Wear

Retailers are evil. We all know how much designers and stores mark up the products, but they really go buckwild when it comes to specialty markets. There are limited places to find maternity wear, so they know they've got you. It's not as if you can avoid buying maternity clothes unless you opt for the gunnysack look, and you know what, by the end of my pregnancy, I think even a gunny sack would've been a tight fit. Hell, I think a big top may have been a tight fit.

For the previously or currently pregnant, how many of you have shopped Pea in the Pod? Seriously, you want me to spend $45 for a plain, black, scoop-necked tee? Are you effing kidding me? I know a maternity shirt needs a little more fabric, but give me a break. I was just looking at their web site. BIG SALE, they advertise. Spend $200, get 15% off. Gee, thanks.

I know. They DO have cute stuff. And I know I just said try to make yourself look good. Just remember, you are only going to wear these clothes for a few months, and then maybe a few more months if you get pregnant again. Just think about how much you're paying per wear!

Some money savers? First, shop the consignment sales. Again, most maternity wear is only worn for a few months, so a lot of used stuff is in good shape. Second, trade with friends. A few of my friends have passed around the same clothes for quite a few pregnancies. Third, check out Kohl's, Penney's and Macy's. Kohl's has a decent section, and if you can shop sales and have a coupon, the prices end up being very reasonable. Kohl's was generally my go-to place for maternity. Penney's and Macy's generally have small maternity sections as well. Penney's was pretty cheap right off the bat. At Macy's, look for the sales. While there were certainly plenty of pricey apparel, I bought a lot of work clothes for reasonable prices.

9. Make Sure You LOVE Your Doctors

Because you will see them a lot. A lot a lot. This is especially true if you're a mom of multiples.

There are monthly check-ups and then bi-monthly check-ups as you get closer to your due date. There are ultrasounds. There are various prenatal screenings. There are non-stress tests. If you're going to spend all this time with these people, you might as well make sure that that time is pleasantly spent.

As a mom of multiples, in addition to monthly check-ups, I had monthly ultrasounds and, toward the end, weekly non-stress tests. I was lucky. My doctors were all fantastic. Shout out to Woodland Women's in Glastonbury!

10. Remember That Getting Your Pre-Baby Body Takes Time and May Never Happen

I know that last part is a tough pill to swallow, but it is a reality. Your body is going to undergo major trauma. It is going to stretch more than you thought humanly possible. You will be exhausted and you may not be able to be as active as you once were. You may get large enough that just lugging your relentlessly expanding cargo cabin up the stairs may require a rest period and bottle of water.

Even once the baby(ies) is (are) out, you first have a lot of extra blood and fluids that need to make their way out of your system before you get to the belly fat. Considering that you're not likely to be sleeping much at night, probably a lot of that possible exercise time will be spent sleeping or, if you're lucky, showering. Healthy meals? I was happy if I had time to put together any level of sustenance. Your world will have a new center, and it's likely you won't have the time or desire to put a lot of thought or effort into self-betterment.

Even once you do start to come out of the initial sleep-deprived infant-stage haze and make that vow to get back into all of your pre-pregnancy clothes, you may find that your body is just, well, different. I've been diligently setting my alarm for 5 a.m. to hit the gym before my husband leaves for work, but even months later, my belly still looks like a cross between Santa Claus three quarters of the way through The Biggest Loser and a pack of bulldog jowls and I'm still buying pants in the next size up.

However, for every time I look in the mirror and sigh, I can scan the room and watch my two perfect monsters playing peek-a-boo around the couch and nearly collapsing in giggles, or observe their looks of concentrated fascination as they put spoons in a bottle and take them out again, or see them lean down to give dog a kiss -- before trying to mount and ride her. And I remind myself that for what I may have lost and never get back, I've received infinite love for the two most beautiful parts of my life.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Booby Prize: Breastfeeding Can Be a Pain

A Brief Introduction ...
Eighteen months ago, I joined an ancient, time-honored, and exhausted clan. I became a parent. And not just any parent. I became a parent to twins, a pair of beautiful boys. I wasn't naive. I certainly knew my life would never be the same and that no book or site could possibly prepare me for what was to come, but that didn't stop me from buying a couple of books about pregnancy and my babies' first year, reading countless sites devoted to various parenting minutia and consulting as many friends and family members with kids as possible. Don't get me wrong, many of those sources were rich with helpful tidbits. But I've realized that my research contained some significant gaps, particularly when it came to some of the um, let's say less glamorous aspects of parenting. Hence, this blog. I come from a long line of very proudly blunt and open individuals and hope that my candor might help you in your preparations, or at least make you laugh in camaraderie. These entries are in no particular order in terms of timing or importance, just what happens to strike my memory strongest on a particular day.

Booby Prize: Breastfeeding Can Be a Pain

OK, before anyone gets offended or starts spouting statistics, let me begin with a brief disclaimer. Breastfeeding is absolutely the ideal way to provide nutrients and antibodies. (Hell, I pumped for eight months ... EIGHT MONTHS! ... just to ensure those benefits for my boys.) And for many, it's an intense bonding experience. This post is not intended to be an affront to any mom out there who is ready, willing and able to breastfeed. To those moms, power to you.

Rather, this post is intended to channel a little Sean Maguire/Robin Williams to those moms out there for whom breastfeeding proved to be an incredibly frustrating, painful and, in some cases, impossible experience. To them I say, "It's not your fault." (To those moms younger than 30, you may need to Google that reference.)

Twins or not, I was determined to breastfeed. I read the books. I bought my oversized, ridiculously expensive strap-on breastfeeding pillow, complete with storage for your electronics or other small items in the event that you grow a third limb to hold them. My husband and I attended the breastfeeding class at St. Francis. I saw all the videos that showed how easy it was. Just squeeze the boob this way, pop your kid on this way, and poof, perfect latch, easy feeding and no pain. Got it. No problem. Besides, this is all nature anyway, right? I mean, humans have been doing this for eons.

Riiiiiiiiight. Turns out, breastfeeding may be natural, but it's really freaking hard, or at least it was for me. And if you're a driven, type A perfectionist, it can make you feel like the biggest failure in parentland.

First, my milk took five days to come in, which may not sound like a lot to some, but to two very hungry little boys, especially one who had apparently been downing Mommy nutrients like it was his job, it was. One of my twins was 9 lbs., 5 oz. No, seriously, this is not a typo. The doctor said his umbilical cord looked like a massive straw. The doctors had said the boys would probably sleep most of the first 24 hours and not look to be fed much. Yeah, or Big Boy would look to be fed non-stop and wonder why his trusty straw had been replaced this stupid round thing that was so hard to get a grip on and gave so little for so much effort. So rather than sleep, he screamed.

Second, latching was a bitch. I remember seeing this video that talked about how all I needed to do was go topless, let him crawl around on my chest, and voila, he'd attach himself. He could sniff the good stuff out like a hunting dog. (Insert sarcastic snort here.) Neither Big Boy nor I could seem to figure out how to get him to latch without a professional. Dimples meanwhile came to be known as Sharkie, as he would frantically attack my breast with gums that seemed to clamp like a vise. And yet, for all that fervor, minutes later, he'd be asleep before taking more than a few sips.

And it didn't get much better once we left the hospital. We should've gotten a stamp card for the lactation consultant. Five consultations and the next one's free. With the lactation consultant there to help, we could eventually make it work. Once home, it was a different story, one that typically ended up with me and the boys crying in frustration, and me wracked with guilt, first because I couldn't give them what they needed and second because I would get so frustrated with them and myself at our failures. It was hard for me to accept that this wasn't working. I have always been one that believed that to accomplish what I wanted, I just needed to try hard enough. Except in this case, that tenacity is actually counterproductive. (On a side note, a shout out to our lactation consultant. She was AMAZING! So patient. So positive. So reassuring. She truly helped keep me sane.)

Eventually, we did get better. My lactation consultant helped me find the right boob grip. For all the struggling breastfeeders out there, I'm telling you, it's all about the hamburger grip, especially if you have somewhat non-perky nips, which apparently I do, and the booby massage. Squeeze the boob as you would a hamburger, get your babe to take a good bite of the burger, and massage that milk right out. (Any guys still reading right now are both thanking god they're not women and cursing themselves for still reading. I warn you boys, serious TMI upcoming.)

Turns out, the latching issue, though, was just the beginning. Not surprisingly, as a mom of twins, I quickly became an overproducer. Turned out, I also had a letdown that was like a powerwasher on steroids. And so just as the boys got adept at latching on, I drowned them.

The poor things became unwitting victims in a lactation horror film. The camera pans across the room. A young mother cradles her small infant, coaxing him to nestle in. Zoom in aaaaaand letdown. The infant's eyes spring open with fear. He throws his head back, choking and gasping. He desperately tries to avoid the milky geyser that's relentlessly dousing his face. The mother searches for something, anything to quell the milky onslaught. End scene.

I searched for an answer. Express a little milk beforehand. Lay on your back. Keep the baby's head as elevated as possible. Yeah, didn't matter. Gravity could only take the edge off, and amazingly, my fourth letdown was just as powerful as the first. Poor Big Boy actually got to the point that he would cringe if I tried to put him near my boobs, especially my roboboob. (My right boob was like a machine when it came to production.)

To add to the fun, I found that I started having intense pain during and after breastfeeding, shooting pain that would extend out to my back and shoulders. I also noticed that my nipples would alternate between Robert Pattinson pale and Barney purple. Another call to the lactation consultant, and welcome to the world of vasospasms. Turns out some lucky people don't have the best boob circulation. When the boys would breastfeed, they would basically ended up cutting off blood flow to my boobs, and it would take a good 20 minutes or so before it would come back. In the meantime, it would go in and out. Pale, no blood flow. Purple, blood flow.

Just to really make the beginning of my experience memorable, though, I ended up with bout 1 of mastitis. Ladies, if I can give you one piece of advice, it's invest in a very large tube of nipple cream and keep some bacitracin and hydrocortisone on hand for good measure. I'm sure most moms who've at least attempted to breastfeed have ended up with nipples that resemble the San Adreas Fault at some point. Well, beware. Not only are those pesky crevices painful, they're also a perfect entryway for bacteria.

I wondered why my left breast suddenly seemed to be doing its best Strawberry Shortcake impression while serving as its own hot compress. And really, a fever and the flu during Indian Summer?  No flu. Just mastitis, which can make you feel as if you have the flu and as if your breast just participated in a very unsuccessful bid for a Greco-Roman wrestling title.

And so, I finally came to realize the inevitable truth of my situation. For all my dedication, for all my good intentions, for all my efforts, it was just not going to work. I was relieved at my realization but also disappointed. I questioned myself. Was I giving in too quickly? Why didn't it work for me?

I opted instead to pump as much as I could and supplement where needed with formula. I was lucky. My boobs didn't just overproduce, they hyperproduced. I looked up online to see what the average woman typically pumps in a 15-minute session: 1-3 ounces. I could pump that in barely a minute, sometimes less. At the height of my pumping, I could fill two 8-oz bottles to the tip top, meaning sometimes more than 20 oz of milk. Insane! (Another side note, for all of you who pump, a hands-free bustier is a must!)

Granted, this did make weaning pretty interesting. Enter mastitis bout 2. Note to self, it's not a good idea to really push yourself to see how long you can go and how much pain and discomfort you can tolerate if you're producing that much milk. Big mistake. Big. Huge. (Yet another side note, refrigerated cabbage leaves on the boobs really do help and are actually pretty soothing.)

Almost a year later, and my boys are healthy and happy, and we've bonded in so many other ways. The takeaway here is simple. If it doesn't work, it's OK.

For some, breastfeeding might come easily. For others, it will be a struggle of days, weeks, sometimes months. And for others, it's just an impossibility. It doesn't make you any less of a mom or doom your child to nutritional deficiencies and a lifetime of allergies and immunological struggles.

Like so many other things, it just is what it is.

As the serenity prayer so aptly encourages, God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Shit Happens: An Excremental Affair

A Brief Introduction ...

Eighteen months ago, I joined an ancient, time-honored, and exhausted clan. I became a parent. And not just any parent. I became a parent to twins, a pair of beautiful boys. I wasn't naive. I certainly knew my life would never be the same and that no book or site could possibly prepare me for what was to come, but that didn't stop me from buying a couple of books about pregnancy and my babies' first year, reading countless sites devoted to various parenting minutia and consulting as many friends and family members with kids as possible. Don't get me wrong, many of those sources were rich with helpful tidbits. But I've realized that my research contained some significant gaps, particularly when it came to some of the um, let's say less glamorous aspects of parenting. Hence, this blog. I come from a long line of very proudly blunt and open individuals and hope that my candor might help you in your preparations, or at least make you laugh in camaraderie. These entries are in no particular order in terms of timing or importance, just what happens to strike my memory strongest on a particular day.

Shit Happens: An Excremental Affair

Here is one crucial tidbit they don't tell you in What to Expect When You're Expecting. Poop is the cornerstone of parenting a young child.

I'm serious. I have never had more conversations about poop than in the last 18 months, particularly during the boys' first year. Amount. Frequency. Consistency. Texture. Color. You name it. My husband and I have talked about it with the same gravity and depth as we might politics or world affairs.

There is good reason for this. Turns out a child's, especially an infant's, poop is quite an excellent barometer for his health. I definitely don't remember this being addressed in any high school health class. Though I could  certainly envision the classroom discussions.

In the hospital, we were told we should record each diaper change and anything we noted about it. We should be changing at least a certain number of pee and poop diapers a day. On a side note, for the twin to-be-parents out there, this daily diaper tally is kind of Freddy Krueger scary. We were told by many to figure on about 10-12 diaper changes a day ... per kid. Seriously? My bank account threw up in its mouth a little when it heard that.

Once home, we became journal zealots, noting down times and amounts for feedings and changings. This proved a lot more challenging than expected for twins. It was really hard to keep straight who'd done what, but a lack of sleep will do that to you.

When they were very small and I was pumping breastmilk, it was: What color brown was it? Was it mustardy enough? Was it too dark? Too light? Was it too watery? Too thick? What in god's name were those little curdy things in there? (Apparently, it's undigested material from the breastmilk and totally normal.) Were there enough curds? Too many curds? Oh my god, it's green! Is he allergic to something I ate? Did I eat something that upset his stomach? Did I eat a lot of green stuff yesterday?

When we started introducing formula, we were told it would be more green.Thus it became: Was it too dark of a green? Was it too light? Were there dark spots in there?

Add in solid foods, and we were really thrown for a loop. Why was it orange? Seriously, carrots can make it that day-glo orange? Oh my god, there are black specks in his stool. Could it be blood? Oh yeah, I gave him kiwi for breakfast. (Turns out, since those seeds are hard to digest, they come out pretty quickly.) Wait, I didn't give him kiwi this morning, could it be an allergy. (I have had occasion to have poop diapers tested for blood. It was pretty easy, and our pediatrician was very understanding of our, sometimes irrational, concern.)

We strove to become forensic poop experts, examining each and every diaper and seeking out assurances that our boys continued to healthy.

We wore our newfound skills with pride. And that wasn't all we wore.

Turned out infant poop is a WMD: Weapon of Multitudinous Disgust.

Every parent learns a valuable lesson early on. Do not stand immediately in front of a baby's butt. It's like staring down the barrel of a gun, a gun with surprising range and power.

I learned this lesson three times over in one weekend. One second I was innocently changing a diaper. The next I was assaulted by streams of human mustard that marked me from shoulder to toes. I was astounded by the sheer force of the stream. Newborns may be weak, but their sphincter muscles sure seemed to be hyper-developed.

Did I learn? Apparently not quickly enough. My other son nailed me the next day, and the first soaked me again two days later. OK, I got it now. Just take a couple steps to the side and put your face anywhere within range.

Another valuable lesson: When your young baby doesn't poop for a few days, keep more than a few diapers on hand for the next poop.

One of my boys, Big Boy, always struggled to poop. Fun fact of the day, humans actually have to learn how to poop efficiently. That still fascinates me.

After scouring the Internet about poop for the umpteenth time, (Just wait, if you're not a parent yet, this will be you. If you are a parent, you know what I'm talking about.) I happened upon a number of sources that talked about how babies actually have to learn how to use their abdominal muscles -- and build up those muscles -- to push effectively. Where's the Baby Einstein video for that one?

My other son, Dimples, was like clockwork. Food would touch his mouth and, unnnnnh, contents emptied for full intake. Big Boy, though, would contort his face and turn all shades of red, sometimes without success. We had actually taken sometimes to trying to help him poop, pushing his little legs in and out. (Seriously, it helped sometimes.)

He would sometimes go a couple days without pooping, which actually is nothing compared to some kids. Afterward, I would be treated to thick Baby Jiff. But once, he went three days. I knew whatever came next was going to be epic. And Big Boy did not fail to deliver.

I had just changed a diaper when he started doing his poopy face and motions. Sure enough, shortly thereafter, he filled the diaper I'd just put under him. ... And another diaper. ... And another half of a diaper. I still have no idea how that much of anything could have fit inside that little body. From start to finish, a five-diaper affair! I actually took a picture and texted my husband. Gross, yes. But someone else had to experience this, and grossness kind of goes out the window once you become a parent.

Our most recent lesson came courtesy of Dimples. Once your child becomes pretty adept with his hands, always put a onesie on him if you're going to put him in two-piece jammies.

To an adult, poop is gross. To a toddler, poop is fascinating.

Dimples had recently taken to pulling off his bottoms occasionally when he slept. No big deal. The room was warm enough, and it didn't seem to bother him.

Until one morning, after seeing him pantsless on the video monitor and then entering his foul-smelling room, I realized that he was not only not wearing pants but also not wearing a diaper.

I quickly brought him out to put a new one on him when I saw the brown smudges around his nose and mouth and realized that he was still holding a pooplet in his hand.

After throwing up in my mouth a few times, I promptly fervently scrubbed him down in the tub, after which my husband fervently scrubbed down his crib and the wall after stripping everything off the bed.

Now, don't get me wrong. I was actually quite thankful. I have heard stories of Poop Picassos who so generously adorned their walls with expansive artworks. But there is nothing quite like calling the pediatrician and saying, "Um, yeah, I'm not sure whether my toddler may have eaten some of his poop."

But, as they say and as is truly applicable to any parent, shit happens.

About the Author: Christina Vemuri
I am a mother to 18-month-old twin boys on a two-year hiatus from teaching high school English, trading tomes for tots. I will be re-entering the adult world in August, returning to teaching, though I will certainly miss seeing my boys' crazy antics on a 24-7 basis.