Roland’s 4th birthday letter

Roland John,

My baby boy, you are now FOUR!  But – we talk about this often – you will ALWAYS be my baby boy, even when you are a grown up.  You are starting to look more like a big boy now, but I still love to squeeze your body and feel the last little bits of baby chub that remain.  I still wash your hair with Baby Magic so I can sniff your hair and get that baby smell.  I guess I’m holding on.  I don’t really want you to grow up!

You will be starting school soon!  You will be attending the montessori school that your big brother and sister attend.  You will be going for half days.  I am so excited for you to start school.  I think you will love it!  You are definitely ready.  Montessori is super fun.  They have class pets.  They go outside for nature walks at least twice a week.  They do lots of fun things; it’s a lot different than most mainstream schools.  You are going to have a blast and make lots of new friends.

You have been having a fun summer.  You play outside basically all day.  You and Juliette are best buds, and you have a few friends in the neighborhood that play with you frequently.  You make clubhouses, climb trees, have picnics – all while you are barefoot and shirtless, because you say shirts “bother you.”  I think you are having a fun summer, an old school summer, like previous generations’ kids used to do.

As I’m typing this letter to you, you are sitting at the table, coloring with paper and crayons.  You are drawing your family.  You always include the babies, which is so cute.  You love your twin baby sisters so much, and you are really good at getting them to laugh!  Your world has certainly changed a lot in the past year, since our babies became part of our family, but you have weathered all the changes incredibly well.  You really seem to understand that mommy often has to do things for the babies first, and you are very patient.

You have maturity and emotional intelligence WAY beyond your age.  You are the most empathetic, big hearted human I have ever met, and I am constantly in awe of you.  If someone gives you something, the first thing you do is ask if they have any more, because you want Juliette, Lennon, and/or your friends to have one too.  You will give your last bite of a treat to one of your siblings.  I am constantly asking myself, what 3-4 year old would do this?!  You are at what is generally a pretty egocentric age for children, yet you are constantly thinking of others before yourself.  It is truly amazing.

People sense that you are different, in such a beautiful way.  I don’t know if I should really even tell you this, but I have had several people tell me that you are their favorite kid.  Daddy and I often talk about how we’d considered our family complete with Lennon and Juliette, and then we had you, and I am so, so happy that we had you.  You had to be in our family!  You have added something to this family that we didn’t even know we were missing.  When things are hard, when I am struggling, you brighten my days so much.

I am looking forward to watching you grow, and seeing where these amazing qualities you possess will lead you in life.  I predict you will have some kind of career where you are helping people.  That big heart of yours will be put to good use, I just know it.

In the meantime, please stay little?!

Love always,

Mom

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Image is a close up photo of Juliette and Roland, in profile, kissing each other. Best friends!
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Image is a photo of Roland, shaggy-haired, sitting in a tree, holding out a stick, with a big smile.
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Guest blogger article for Go Valley Kids!

I had the wonderful opportunity to write a piece for a local magazine called Go Valley Kids.  Check it out here:

http://govalleykids.com/8-survival-tips-parenting-twins/

 

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Image is a photo of Magnolia (left) and Sunflower (right) lying on their back with their heads together, looking straight at the camera.  They are wearing mustard-colored crocheted hair bows and tops with mustard floral and plaid fabrics.  

 

The pie incident

Let me tell you a story about my beautiful, sweet, tender-hearted three year old son, Roland.

My mom had made me a pie with a graham cracker crust, vanilla pudding, and whipped cream.  She brought it over one evening, and of course all the kids wanted a piece right away.  As she was serving it up, Roland hesitated, then asked, “does this pie have eggs in it?”

You see, his daddy is severely allergic to eggs, and usually cannot partake in any kind of delicious desserts, much to his dismay.  I was pretty surprised that young Roland thought to ask about the ingredients in the pie!  My mom informed him that it didn’t contain eggs, and he was pleased.

The next morning when I got up, I checked the fridge and there was only one piece of pie left.  I figured the kids – and perhaps Jacob? – had eaten most of it, but I felt justified in taking the last piece, since my mom had made this pie for me specifically, and I hadn’t even tried a piece yet.

I sat down with my cup of coffee and my plate of pie, ready to dig in.  It looked delicious!  Roland came up beside me and asked if that was the last piece of pie.  I said yes, it was.  He immediately crumbled to the floor, sobbing uncontrollably.

Oh great, I thought.  He’s having a tantrum because he wants the last piece of pie, even though he’d had at least one piece already, if not more!  It was way too early for this, and I hadn’t had my coffee yet…

Roland looked up at me, his big brown eyes brimming with tears, and said, “but…if you eat the last piece….then Dad won’t get to have it….and it doesn’t have any eggs!”  He began sobbing again.

I called Jacob and asked if he wanted that last piece of pie, because Roland was very concerned about this.  Jacob said it was ok.  He had already sampled a bite, and it was yummy.  We were welcome to the last piece.  So I picked up my son, sat him in my lap (pausing to consider how much bigger he seems in my lap now) and we alternated bites of pie until every morsel was gone.

This child is THREE.  Three is a very egocentric age.  Three year olds do not like to share.  But Roland is different than most.  His heart is huge, and his heart is pure.

I’m so thankful for this incredible boy.

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Image is a photo of three year old Roland, with shaggy hair, his tongue sticking out, and wearing a Sublime t-shirt, sitting on a brown leather couch beside his identical baby sisters, Maggie and Sunny, wearing white floral sleepers and big white bows.  

 

 

This moment

I’ve been….not ok lately. Like really, really not ok. I’ve cried all the tears. I’ve hated myself and hated my life. I’ve felt – not just thought, but known, deep down to my very core – that I am a failure. If I can’t nurse these babies, I don’t even know who I am as a mother. Maybe I’m not a mother at all.

Then this morning, there was this moment. The love was palpable between these two. It filled the room and it filled my heart.

Maybe the twins don’t nurse. But they never wanted to. I didn’t take anything away from them. Maybe they’re not missing out. Their lives are different. Everything about their existence, from the moment their egg split apart and they became two, has been different from my other babies. Why do I feel things must be the same? They never will be, not for these babies.

They aren’t aware that their mother has failed them. They will not see me this way. All they know is that their mother loves them and takes care of them. They have a good father, and three siblings who adore them. They are surrounded by love. That has to be enough.

I think it is enough for them. The question is, will it ever be enough for me?

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Image is a photo of three year old Roland, holding a pink-capped baby bottle for five month old Magnolia, as she drinks.  He is looking at her with the sweetest smile on his face.

Gratitude

I know some incredible people. People who are caring, empathetic, giving, and kind. Some of these people I have never met in real life and probably never will. Others live far away and I don’t get to see them often. Still others live right here in my town, but we don’t meet up, because life, because kids, because social anxiety, etc.
 
Yet all of these people show their love and support for me in other ways.  A simple text, facebook message, or comment on my photos can lift my spirits so much.  I’ve had people take the time to make handcrafted items for my babies.  People have offered to take my older kids out to do things.  My mom will often come over and fold my laundry, which is such a huge help.  I’ve even had someone order boxes of diapers, on several occasions, and have them delivered to my door – how AMAZING is that?!
Parenting two infants plus three other kids is no easy feat.  No mother could do this all by herself.  I know that when I am struggling – which is often, lately – I have a whole network of supportive people all across the country who are rooting for me.  I never would have thought, when I was a shy, geeky kid who couldn’t manage to navigate the childhood social hierarchy, that someday I would have the amount of real, true friends that I have now.
Some of the most common remarks I hear as a mom of twins are: “I don’t know how you do it” and “supermom!”  The thing is, I am not supermom.  Not even close.  I’m just a regular, run of the mill mom.  A mom who is tired, a mom who struggles, but a mom who, above all else, loves her children.  And to answer the age old question of “how do you do it?!” I’ll have to quote The Beatles:
“I get by with a little help from my friends.”
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Image is a black on white graphic with the words “I get by with a little help from my friends” written in a cursive scrawl, surrounded by music notes and a peace sign.

Juliette’s 6th birthday letter

Juliette,

You turned SIX a couple of months ago!  Sorry for the slight delay in writing you this letter.  Life is busy around here right now.  A few weeks before your birthday, you acquired two new siblings: your twin sisters, Magnolia and Sunflower!  I am so proud of you for being such a good big sister to them.

You have matured in so many ways over the past year.  You have gotten taller and slimmer, and you look like a big kid now.  You spent the whole summer outside, playing with the neighbor kids, running around barefoot and getting dirty.  You’d asked to get your hair cut, so I took you to the salon and you charmed everyone there with your great personality as they cut your hair into a cute shoulder length bob.

Everywhere we go, you win people over.  You have this infectious enthusiasm.  I love to see your beautiful smile and hear your laughter.  You make everything in life more fun.

You and I always talk about how we are “besties.”  One of your favorite things to do is lie in bed with me, snuggling and talking about the things we will do together when you are all grown up.  I hope we really do stay close as you grow up.  I can imagine us going out to dinner, going shopping together, and getting our nails done.  Someday perhaps you will have children of your own and I will get to babysit.  It’s going to be awesome.

For now, I’m enjoying your “little girl-ness” and hoping you won’t grow up TOO quickly!  You are a kindergartner this year at montessori school.  You are going all day, which you love, and even sometimes eating hot lunch at school (the things you like are few and far between though).  Your teachers love you and the positive energy you bring to the class.

You are a very smart girl.  You can read easy reader type books already, and you impress me with your math skills too.  You are very inquisitive, always asking really good questions.

We had your IEP meeting in the spring, and you no longer qualified for speech or any other special education services.  You also “graduated” from your autism therapy program at the end of the summer.  You are still going on Saturdays for the next couple of months for a social skills group, which you are really enjoying.  We are very proud of the progress you have made!

This year has brought many BIG changes to our family, but as usual, you have adapted well and are still the same sweet, good-natured girl.  You are so special.  Please don’t ever change!

Love,

Your bestie, Mama ❤

 

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Image is a photo of Juliette on a skateboard.  She is smiling and waving, wearing a purple tank top, tired skirt, and pink converse sneakers.

 

 

Closure

I had sent my MFM doctor a message, thanking him for the wonderful medical care he provided, and his quick decision making when it was time to take my girls out. I also asked for a copy of the placenta pathology report.  Mono-di twin placentas are always sent to pathology for examination.

I was disappointed that during their birth, I had forgotten to ask to see the placenta. Once the babies were out, they were my only concern, and I completely forgot that I had wanted to see it. I just thought it would be interesting to see the one huge placenta with the dividing membrane that separated my twins and the two umbilical cords attached.

The pathology report is extremely eye opening. It shows that without a doubt, my twins are 100% identical (although I seriously question it sometimes because they look so different!). It was a monochorionic, diamniotic twin placenta. It states “the dividing membrane consists of a double layer of amnion without intervening chorion.” If there was a chorion in between, then my twins would be di-di and possibly non-identical. So there is no doubt.

Other items of interest:

Baby A’s cord was 10 cm long and Baby B’s was 16 cm. I had heard the doctor say “short cord!” as Magnolia was being pulled out, so this verifies that.

The placental shares for the two babies were not exactly equal. How they determine this is by running two different colors of dye through the blood vessels on each side of the placenta to determine where the division lies, and also see if any blood vessels are crossed (indicating TTTS or TAPS). The report stated that placenta B (Baby B’s share) was larger than placenta A (Baby A’s share).

It also says “many small vascular anastomoses are identified.” What this means is that there were crossed blood vessels carrying blood from one baby to the other. Here’s some more info on this:

“Monochorionic twin pregnancies are at increased risk of adverse outcome because of the vascular anastomoses that connect the 2 fetal circulation systems. The shared circulation is responsible for some unique complications in monochorionic twins, such as the twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, the twin anemia polycythemia sequence, the twin reversed arterial perfusion sequence, and monoamniotic twinning. Another consequence of the shared circulation is that the well-being of one twin critically depends on that of the other.”

I have suspected that my babies could have been in the beginning stages of TAPS, which is twin anemia polycythemia sequence, where one baby gets more red blood cells than the other. With TAPS, one baby will be born very pale and anemic, often requiring blood transfusions, and the other will be born bright red with too many red blood cells. I was told that both my babies’ blood counts were within the normal range, but looking back on the photos from their birth, Baby A was noticeably pale and Baby B was darker/redder. They still have different skin tones, with Baby B being darker, which could be attributed to this. I’m wondering if their RBC counts were on the high and low ends of “normal” and perhaps it was the beginning stage of TAPS.

There was a pathologic diagnosis of “plasma cell deciduitis” which is inflammation of the maternal side of the placenta. The most common cause of this is from fetal antigens. Remember the E antibody issue that I was being monitored for? Well, most likely, based on this report, the babies DID have the E antigens and it was affecting the health of their placenta. Plasma cell deciduitis leads to preterm labor/premature birth. I am pretty sure I was already in labor when I showed up at the hospital for my scheduled c-section at 34+3, so perhaps this is why.

The last thing of note is “chronic villitis” which is a “pattern of placental injury occurring in term placentas.” Villitis is “an important cause of intrauterine growth restriction and recurrent reproductive loss.” My babies had intrauterine growth restriction!

All of this information is extremely enlightening. I have been really struggling with feelings of guilt and inadequacy over the fact that I had failed to grow my babies well enough, and that they needed to be born early. Their NICU stay was extremely difficult for me emotionally, and I am still trying to process it and move on. I have failed to exclusively breastfeed them, in part due to issues related to prematurity. There have been times I wondered if my medical team had made the right decision in taking them at 34 weeks.

I know now that the right choice had been made. There were several things going wrong with their placenta simultaneously. It was time. I’ll forever be grateful that my babies made it into my arms safely. Perhaps I can lay some of my worries to rest now.  Closure is a good thing.

Rock star mom

There is so much competition among moms.  I’ve come to find out, from hanging out in twin groups online, that twin moms are no exception.  While there is a really great sense of camaraderie, an overall feeling of “we’re all in this together,” there is also a lot of bragging that goes on.

Women boast about how far they made it with their twin pregnancy (the longer the better, obviously) and the birth weights of their babies (the bigger the better, obviously).  They proudly proclaim it to the world if their twins were born vaginally, or if they didn’t need any NICU time.  They wear imaginary badges for things like babywearing their twins, tandem breastfeeding, exclusively breastfeeding (not a drop of formula!), or for the moms who do have to pump and bottle feed, the number of ounces pumped in a session or the total number of ounces of breastmilk in one’s “freezer stash.”

The moms who do everything “right” are touted as “rock stars.”  “Wow, you made it to 40 weeks with twins?!  You are a rock star!”  As if women really have much control over how long their babies remain in.  There are so many factors to this: the type of twins, whether they have separate placentas or one shared one, if they have any issues such as TTTS or IUGR (which is what mine developed at the end), if they have an incompetent cervix or go into preterm labor, etc.  A mom can do everything “right” and still end up with premature babies.

I didn’t go into my twin pregnancy trying to prove anything, but it’s hard not to feel inadequate for my apparent “failures” at this whole twin mom thing…

My twins were born at 34 weeks.  I had a c-section…I CHOSE to have a c-section (gasp!)  They were born small for their gestational age.  They had to stay in the special care NICU for ten days.  We have had nothing but issues trying to breastfeed.  I’m now bottle feeding 90% of the time, and struggling to keep up with pumping for them.  They have had some formula, my first babies to ever have a drop of formula.  When I can manage to get them to nurse, I have found that I hate tandem breastfeeding and it makes my skin crawl (it’s kind of a sensory nightmare for me).  I had thought I would wear them all the time, but in reality only have managed to get them both in a carrier comfortably a few times.  With 3 other kids and twins, I am not able to practice “attachment parenting” like I have in the past.  I am not cloth diapering, although I am thinking of going back to it soon due to the  alarming number of disposable diapers we are going through.  My twins don’t get held as frequently as my singletons did.  I’m often trying to put them down so I can pump (omg the never-ending pumping) or tend to the other kids or do the other 579257 things I need to do on a daily basis to keep my household running.

Basically, I would not be much of a “rock star” twin mom in the eyes of others.  I didn’t manage to accomplish ANY of the things that would earn me bragging rights (not that I would have bragged, but perhaps just felt a sense of pride in my own head).

The hardest things for me to process have been the feeding issues.  It had never even crossed my mind that I might not be able to breastfeed my twins.  Each of my singletons nursed until age two.  I even had a brief stint as a La Leche League leader several years ago.  Suffice to say that breastfeeding is extremely important to me.  Of COURSE I would succeed at nursing my twins.

I wasn’t anticipating preemies.  I didn’t know that I would not be able to do skin to skin or attempt to nurse them until many hours after their birth.  I didn’t expect that they would be born with lip and tongue ties that would prevent them from latching properly, or that low muscle tone due to being premature would affect the way their mouths move.  I didn’t count on them tiring out so easily from nursing that they would burn more calories than they were taking in, causing them to lose weight after we brought them home, and gain very slowly thereafter.  And I sure did not think that even after we got their tongue and lip ties revised, they STILL would not be able to latch.

I kept thinking, what is wrong with me?  Why can’t I make this work?!  I am not a rock star.  I am failing.

I had a moment of clarity the other night.  It was literally as if a fog around me lifted and I could see clearly for the first time in 11 weeks.  I had been so confused as to what to do about feeding my babies.  Should I keep trying to pump?  Should I do this or that to boost my milk supply?  How long should I keep trying to make this work?  I would sit at the table, day after day, pumping…always pumping…just feeling completely lost, lonely, and disappointed in myself.

I was lying in bed, trying for the fifth time that day to nurse Magnolia.  With each and every suck, she was losing suction and making a clicking sound, getting more and more frustrated and beginning to cry.  I cried too.  This wasn’t working.  She didn’t want to do this.

I looked into her huge eyes, which are slowly turning brown, just like I had predicted.  Gosh, she was beautiful.  Perfect.  And those eyes were pleading with me to feed her.  So I gave her a bottle, and watched the look of sweet relief wash over her face as she swallowed.  She was gazing at me with the same look of adoration that my other babies had while nursing.  Literally the same exact expression.  I could see in her eyes that she was loving me, trusting that I would take care of her needs and help her grow.  I needed to do that, by any means necessary.

If parenting kids on the autism spectrum has taught me anything, it’s that I can’t – and should not even try to – fit my children into a box.  Each of them is an individual.  They have different personalities, temperaments, and needs.  I am already seeing Maggie and Sunny becoming their own people, which is breathtakingly beautiful to experience unfolding.

Parenting is not about doing things my way.  It’s about working with my children to find what works for them.  Right now, breastfeeding is not working for Magnolia and Sunflower.  And I have been wasting my time, spinning my wheels, in a perpetual cycle of pumping, failed nursing attempts, sore nipples, and more pumping….just desperately trying to make this work.  I was so determined to do this – just stubborn, really – because I needed to feel I had succeeded at something.  In a way, it would be redemption for all the things that had not gone the way I’d hoped with my pregnancy, their birth, and their early days.  I may have failed at literally everything else, but dammit, I would nurse these children if it killed me!

I was looking at this from the wrong angle.  Maybe it was my tendency to think very black and white, all or nothing.  If I couldn’t exclusively breastfeed twins, well then, clearly I was just a complete failure.

I was wrong.  I am not a failure.

I am a rock star.

I am a rock star because I have overcome significant challenges alongside my babies, and I have not given up.  I am a rock star because even in the depths of postpartum depression, plus my usual September funk, when all I wanted to do was run away, I have persevered.

I am a rock star because, although it took a considerable amount of pain, suffering, and worry, I have found the solution that is best for Magnolia and Sunflower.  I will set aside my own pride and that picture in my head of how things “should” look.  This is not about me, and never was.  It’s not about proving anything to anyone, other than my children.

I will always be a rock star in their eyes.  And that is all that matters.

I will continue to occasionally try to put them to the breast, but if they are physically unable to extract milk, I will not push them.  I will continue to pump and feed them breastmilk, but I’m no longer going to allow myself to stress about it.  The anxiety I have been putting myself through is not necessary, and it is not helping anyone.  I’ll pump when I can, and when I can’t, it will be ok.  I’m tired of spending the majority of my day desperately trying to find 15 minutes to pump, pushing aside household duties, and telling my kids that maybe I can play later.  I will be a better mom to all five of them if I can just let this go.

My babies will be fed.  They will grow and thrive.  I have already learned that formula isn’t the villain I once saw it as.  As soon as I started fortifying the twins’ breastmilk with Neosure, that was when they started gaining weight.  They wouldn’t be healthy, strong, and getting chubbier by the day, if not for formula.  So, I will give them breastmilk when I can and formula when I can’t, and before I know it, they will no longer be babies, but full blown KIDS running around energetically and blowing me away with their smarts, just like my others.

All these little things that seemed so important will no longer matter.  What will remain is LOVE.

Lucky for them, I have an endless supply of that.

Lucky for them, their mother is a rock star.

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Image is a selfie photo of me, holding Sunny (left) and Maggie (right) upright against my chest.  The babies appear to be holding hands.  I look tired but happy.

September

I can sense something slowly sneaking up behind me.  I hear whispers in the winds, barely detectable at first, but they seem to be growing louder and more insistent each day.  I tell myself that it’s nothing.  There is no force looming in the distance, threatening to close in on me and bring me down.

I know that I’m kidding myself.  There is something coming.

It is September.

Every September, I fall apart.  I lose myself in a black depth of self loathing, fear, and despair.  My suicide attempt happened in September of 1996 (twenty years ago now!), when I was 14 years old.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was part of a cyclical pattern for me, something that was occurring each year without fail.  I was powerless to stop it, just as the trees cannot stop their leaves from changing colors.  The trees though, they start to gain their vibrancy as autumn sets in.  I start to lose mine.

September is cunning.  September is a sneak.  September is a liar.  September whispers to me with its winds, which creep up on me, and begin to send chills through my body and mind.  I don’t even remember that it is coming until it’s nearly here, and I start to realize I’m feeling the same old way.

September whispers that I am a failure, that I am a bad mom, that every other person in this world has it together more than I do.  It reminds me of specific times in my life when I’ve done things wrong, playing the memories back to me in my head like video clips.  It tells me that I’m not enough – for my children, for my husband, or even for myself.  It berates me for my social shortcomings, the fact that I can’t even make a phone call without an anxiety attack, that a simple social interaction can render me useless for days, holed up in my house with my shades tightly drawn, pretending the people with their smiles and the trees with their leaves on the verge of change and the near-September winds don’t exist.

I can’t escape it though.  It comes annually, bringing with it the old feelings of worthlessness and apathy.  It saps me of all energy, making every necessary action feel like an impossible feat.  It renders me unable to compose my thoughts into sentences, and pull those words from the depths and send them out of my mouth.  It causes me to want to desperately cry out to everyone to just leave me alone, because I can’t.  I can’t do any of it anymore.

September wants to bring me down, to turn me into a darkened, saddened version of myself, like a tree in winter that misses its leaves and colors.

This year, it will not succeed.  Because I am stronger than the cold and the wind.

I’m going to seek help.  Screw you, September.  You won’t beat me this time.