Achieving Conceiving

Adventures in making and raising our test-tube babies

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Fiber of My Being

Long, long ago, in March of '08, I started this blog, and it has been very good to me. My goals included getting myself through the hell of infertility, and letting my friends and loved ones know what the journey was about. And I've done all of those things.

When I was still in the trenches, I would follow link after link to great-sounding blogs written by infertile gals like me, only to find that they had beat the affliction and had children. Their blogs may have offered hope that it could happen for all of us, but they also contributed to my feeling of isolation. If even infertile people could have children, why wasn't it happening for me? As my aunt Joneil would say, it was a bummer.

A few months ago my dad mentioned that it might be time to move on from Achieving Conceiving. After all, I'd achieved and conceived. Not to mention carried (almost) to term, birthed twin babies, and survived until they started sleeping through the night.

So although I usually like to do the opposite of what Dad suggests, this time I'm taking the advice. I'm moving back to where I started: my art blog at Fiber of Her Being. It isn't that I'm leaving my friends in the infertile community behind. To the contrary, it's because I love them so much that I don't want to muddy this blog space. What I have to say simply doesn't fit an infertility blog any more. I don't want my joys to trivialize the sorrows of people who still need to write and read about the struggle.

As I start the re-design of my personal and professional existence, I will be combining these spaces in real life and on (computer) paper. It's a matter of formally bringing my art and family together, since they've never really been separate. It's time.

And if Amanda and Elisa's gorgeous little faces help sell quilts, well, I'm not above that. Who said exploitation was a bad thing?

I love you all -- yes, all of you -- and I'll see you over at

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thursday Afternoon

Last Thursday the girls and I had a nice time hanging out on the living room floor, like we do every day. Here's a slideshow that features not just photos, but also an honest-to-goodness video!

Fur Allure, and a Thing for String

The babies love the cat. When Sarah walks into the room, it is like Marilyn Monroe has just entered the scene. Everything stops so they can watch her. They look at her intently, hoping to catch her gaze. They never do. They have started reaching out for her. Sometimes they are lucky enough to have her walk close to them, so their little fingertips can graze her fur. It is heaven. Someday they hope she will speak to them. Someday.

In the meantime, Sarah is not as aloof as she could be. She is interested in the babies. Occasionally she will smell their heads -- preferably when they don't know it's happening. The 5:00 a.m. feeding usually finds me sitting on the floor between the babies in their boppy pillows, holding a bottle in each mouth. Sarah often comes in and sits on my lap there. She wants me to pet her, but I'm short the hands to do it. So if one of the girls reaches her little fingers into Sarah's fur, Sarah chooses not to realize it's not me.

One day when Elisa got very, very lucky, Sarah's tail fell on her neck. Elisa took it in her hands, like a banana, and put the tip in her mouth. She sucked it until it looked like the end of a paint brush that has been sitting in a jar of water. I didn't bother to stop the action because 1) I didn't have enough hands, and 2) it was inevitable.

Meanwhile, Sarah loves one thing more than all others. String. She has been known to swallow thread that's still threaded through my sewing machine, and run upstairs pulling the thread behind her, as it's being unwound from the spool in the sewing room. We have a hula girl lamp that used to have a grass skirt on it. Sarah ate it. We found puddles of grass-skirt throw-up around the house and the remnants of the skirt on the floor. (When a delivery man came to the house and saw the lamp, and I explained what happened, he said, "Good cat." Sadie, our lamp hula girl, was only wearing a painted-on thong under the skirt).

So when Leigh, my delightful cousin with two growing girls, sent us a new box of hand-me-downs, we were thrilled to find a pink plastic hula skirt among the clothes. And Sarah was delighted as well.

Now the girls and Sarah have one thing in common: they love this skirt to pieces. There is nothing more fun to entwine one's fingers in, or chew out the side of one's mouth in hopes that a strand will fall off. The texture is delicious to little girls, and the flavor is delicious to cats who also enjoy the taste of plastic bags.

Now when Elisa or Amanda is sad, I hand her the skirt to rub her face in. Perhaps they know it is covered with cat spit. Perhaps that just makes it all the better.

To see a video of our beautiful girl-girl-cat dynamic, click HERE.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Slice of Morning

This was taken a few minutes ago. Mornings are actually kind-of nice.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Body Language

I had a dream recently where someone told me that if you didn't speak the language in a country, you could not communicate with the people there at all. To that, in the dream and in real life, I say, "HA!" I think that travels across the tongues pretty well. HA!

I love languages. That is not to be disputed. This morning when I was talking to Amanda about a butterfly toy, I said the word "butterfly" in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian before I got stumped on French. The other Italian words that the girls will learn from me are precious few, but at least we do like to keep up a good banter in Spanish so they'll grow up bilingual. At the very least. As Napoleon Dynamite would say, "Gah!" We think language is THAT important.

Once, when I was a single girl, I found myself sitting at a table of Bulgarians. Some spoke English and those were the ones that I spoke to. Dmitri Dmitrov was one of them. He was like a Saturday Night Live character in real life, an Eastern European who had learned English -- and recited it accordingly -- from CNN news anchors. Imagine experiencing life with a nightly news inflection. Yeah. Anyway, I could talk to the would-be news anchor. But the people at the table that I couldn't speak with almost didn't exist. They were props to be smiled at and turned away from.

And then one of them said, "Habla espanol?" My head perked up, my eyes opened wide, and I saw a new person at the table. He had been there before as a languageless lump. And now he was a whole new interlocutor with opinions and experiences and personality. The Communist connection had brought his Eastern Bloc parents to Cuba in the 1960s, and they had all learned Spanish there. Someone -- maybe it was Dmitri Dmitrov -- pointed out later that I seemed to like speaking Spanish better than speaking English. Maybe it was that I liked talking to the Spanish speaker better than I like Dmitri Dmitrov. No offense, Dmitri Dmitrov.

So regardless of who you're talking to, or writing to, language allows you to bring details and stories of other times into the conversation. It lets you refer to things that aren't right there in front of you. But talk-language is by no means the only language. A "tongue" may be a set of words and structures, but it is also just one of the many body parts.

One time I was in Serbia, speaking about 10 words of Serbian, and I was assured that half of all Serbians speak English. I got on the bus to go downtown, missed my stop, and found that none of that half of the Serbian population was on the bus. "Ruski?" they asked me hopefully? Nope, I didn't speak Russian. "Portugues?" I offered bleakly, as a last resort. Of course nobody spoke Portuguese in Belgrade.

But you know what? Once I made it clear that I was looking for downtown, and I feared we had passed it -- because we were leaving civilization -- the whole bus got involved in helping get me back. Practically a group pantomime arose about getting off the bus and crossing the road to the other bus stop. Someone wrote down the numbers of the busses that would take me where I wanted to go, and wrote the word for "downtown" (whatever it was) using the Cyrillic alphabet for the next bus driver. They collectively wished me luck, I think, and I ended up perfectly fine. And richer for the detour.

This all comes to mind because, as you might have guessed, the girls don't use a lot of language. They are seven months and several days old, and despite a dirth of words, we know them EXTREMELY well. Their personalities stand out a mile -- so far that I doubt I would have missed them from any bus. Their tongues, the body parts, are active as hell. There is never a time that they aren't using them to eat, taste, explore, and lubricate anything within licking distance. Sometimes when their tongues are not otherwise engaged, Amanda grabs hers with all ten fingers. It may be uncomfortable, but it's clearly worth it to her.

Though their language is unformed, they aren't mutes either. (And don't think of calling them "dumb"). I hear Amanda right now, supposedly in a nap, talking to herself in her crib. It's a mix of noisy inhales and exhales, laughs, and squeals. Elisa went through a growling phase about two months ago. In one gravelly stream she would expell all the air in her lungs like a baby bear. Nothing ferocious, but nothing human either.

I can't imagine what they could possibly have to say that they don't already convey with facial expressions and wiggling. There's fear, frustration, incredulity, amusement, sleepiness, boredom, glee, contentment, ambivalence, and, of course, pooping. We know with 100% certainty when they are happy (usually) and when they aren't (right before naptime or bottles).

Some of my peer moms have taken a sign language for babies class, and I'd love to have been able to go. We have several books that show the signs for household nouns and verbs. My friend Katie told me that, in teaching the babies to sign, you start with baby-side things that they are interested in. That could be the fan, light, toy, cat. When you see them engrossed in one of those things, you show them the sign for it. When they get the concept that a sign stands for something else, you can bring in parent-side words, like bottle, diaper change, hungry, and so on. They are slower to adopt the signs for those words because they already have a perfectly fine system for communicating about those concepts: crying. Not to mention their facial repertoire. Still, when they are comfortable with a set of about twelve baby- and parent-side words, they're ready to start learning the signs for everything. And then, get ready, you start to get some specificity. And maybe you can branch out from "hungry" and "annoyed."

From what I hear, they will start talking in a while. They'll start by saying all the cute things that people recount about at the water cooler. "Now that you're a big girl [on your third birthday], what are you going to do?"/"I'm going to drink coffee." ha ha ha ha ha! And then they become teenagers and their body language takes back over and reverts to "hungry" and "annoyed." That's when they exercise their linguistic option of surly silence.

Language acquisition is one of the bazillion aspects that we find so interesting about parenting. Given all the variables that produce so many other variables in forming these new people, I wonder what on earth would happen if we weren't the greatest parents in the world (hypothetically). Here, as always, I'm surprised at how few controls there are for weeding out bad parents. Seems like everyone except my infertility crowd is allowed to have a child, just by, well, you know. Then just anyone gets to shape little brains, become their babies' communication sounding boards, guide the creation of vocabularies and -- by extension -- their thoughts?

Now I'm thinking of the pressures of parenting. If we get it wrong, we've fucked up a life or two. I mean, screwed up. I mean, messed up.

I mean, never mind, Sweetie. Have a cookie and let's see what's on TV.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Pleasure of Being a Bad Influence

We call Elisa "Elisa-Lamb." Sometimes I play with that: Elisa-Lambkins, Ellie-kins, Elkins. And I think about Bobby Elkins. The Bad Influence.

Bobby (he calls himself Bob now) Elkins has been a friend of my parents since they all started kindergarten in 1949. He picked up a wife, Donna, along the way. And they all picked up another couple, the Bermans, in college. Now I'm an adult and they're adults, but once upon a time, they were adults and I was a kid.

And that's where the games began.

Around 1978, the Elkinses and Bermans came to town for a visit. Bobby Elkins brought my brother and me fake tatoos and candy cigarettes. Why? Because it was funny to try to teach his friends' kids to be bad-asses. Of course, nothing could make us happier. I think we have pictures of ourselves with the tatoos on our inner forearms (apparently no one gave us any practical guidance as to where people wear tatoos). We tatooed the experience permanently onto our little brains.

In the meantime, David Berman told jokes. They were of his own making, mostly the self-deprecating humor he learned as a Jewish kid in Brooklyn. I laughed and laughed and laughed, my stomach aching, as he said he should come to town more often, as it was good for his ego. I've told him several times now, as he humorlessly points out, that he shaped my sense of humor. His influence followed me to college at Columbia, where I was surrounded by hysterical Jews and Jewish-wannabes. I realized my dream was to have been born Jewish. The best I could do was to go on to marry a Catholic, which I have been told is just as good. I do love my Catholic boy dearly, but he knows it's not quite the same.

When I think about the influences my parents' friends have had on me, I think about the influence my friends are having on my babies. My friends Eric and Karen handed us four baby books when they first came to see our offspring. The books were entitled Baby fix my car, Baby do my banking, Baby make me breakfast, and Baby mix me a drink. They're published by McSweeney's, an irreverent artsy publication, and epitomize the loving corruption my friends hope to pass along to the next generation.

But it's not just my friends, and it's not just humor that have been leading the girls astray. Their grandmother Tish is a perfect grandmother except for her sucky sleep-enforcement. "She wasn't sleepy," Tish will say to explain the only-five-minute nap. Or, "She doesn't want to go to bed. She should stay with us in the kitchen for another few hours instead." I roll my eyes.

I can't pretend that external forces are the only source of spoilage. I myself am swayed by my parents' attitudes and the equal and opposite reactions they inspire in me. At our twins play group last week, a mom brought her boy-girl twins, decked out in gender-appropriate gear. Ella was wearing a wide headband covered with cloth flowers, as if she were Esther Williams in a dry pool. First I thought, "I wonder why she needs to assert Ella's femininity so strongly in only the seventh month of her life." And then I thought, "Screw that. Who doesn't love flowers on one's head!?" So I bought fourteen stretchy headbands on the Internet, to decorate with bows and flowers and any other pink thing that responds to the hot glue gun. It's in direct reaction to my parents' gender-neutral boy-girl twin parenting experiment of the 1970s. Damn straight. Bring on the Barbies.

So here is my summary. The babies are tabulae rasae, and we scratch and dent them every time we come into contact with them. The "bad influences" I have listed above? They're really influences of humor, love, whimsy, and personality. Add those to lots of singing, Spanish speaking around the house, appreciation of color in vegetables, and modeling love for our fellow men, and you have the rest of our arsenal.

Mama wants a martini.

Thank you baby (and please pass the pretzels).

Saturday, August 15, 2009


It's been a while since I wrote. I think my excuse is that I have infant twins. I spend a lot of time tending to them, and I try to do other things around the house, like sew, wash the clothes, get out of bed, and sometimes eat. Blogging doesn't always fall in the top ten.

But James and I got a babysitter tonight and went out on the town. Specifically, to Fairfax, I think it was. Our friend Jolynn was having her babyshower BBQ and her mom was there. Gloria -- that's the mom's name -- is a self-described 75-year-old old lady and drunk (that's "drunk" the noun). She is James's favorite drinking partner. They flock to each other at parties and share a bottle of whisky or whatever is close at hand. Since we don't see Gloria all that often, I let James go wild and have fun with his little friend. It was the right thing to do today, because after I pried them apart from their goodbye hugs and plopped James in the passenger seat of the car, he told me what they talked about. Me. How great I was. So smart, and such a good writer. Awww. Go on...

"You've got to keep writing on your blog," Gloria had insisted to me before we left, more times than was necessary. I'm not sure she ever read my blog, but she was certainly in favor of the idea, which Jolynn had told her about. "Write about the thing today and the throw-up."

And so here we go.

I made Jolynn some larger than average swaddling blankets for her soon-to-be baby. That's my favorite gift to give expectant parents, because larger blankets are absolutely necessary, and they can't be bought in stores.

I also gave Jolynn two huge diaper boxes full of baby hand-me-downs, industrial-sized post-partum maxi pads, extra burp cloths, and various odds and ends we didn't need any more. Although Jolynn considered them baby presents as well, I considered them crap that someone needed to help me get rid of. And since Jolynn thought she wanted them, she got them. Without ceremony.

As I pulled two big toy arcs -- things the babies could lie under and look at from below -- out of the back seat in front of Jolynn's house, I noticed that one of the toys had spit-up on it. A small pool of dried spit-up. Maybe 1.5 inches in diameter. Slightly textured and of varying thicknesses because what had been spit up upon was a textured piece of plastic. Hunh. Well, it wasn't like it was wet or anything. And if the spit-up is dried on something, we don't really consider the thing dirty. If it were wet, that would be a little gross, though nothing we couldn't handle. And nothing we would necessarily clean up. But dry spit-up? Out of the question.

I brought the stuff in to Jolynn's party. "Here's some more crap you can have. It's got some spit-up on it."

That's what I said. That's what Gloria thought was so funny. "You have to write about the thing and the throw-up," she had said. "And embellish it a little."

So here is the embellishment: a discussion about spit-up.

The girls have been spitting up their whole lives. That's a true statement. When they were born, 7 weeks early, they spit up every time they were laid down horizontal. That's because their esophageal sphincters had not formed all the way, and there was nothing to keep the stuff that went into the stomach from coming right back out. They were like baby bottles without even the nipples on them to rein in the milk.

So up came the milk. Mixed with stomach acid. Our little babies took Zantac to neutralize that acid for several months. It didn't stop the liquid from coming back out their cute little mouths, but it did keep it from burning their little throats.

These days the esophageal sphincter seems to be doing fine, and they only spit up when overfed or squeezed. I should mention that they are always overfed. It's our system. We put in what they will take, and then they self-regulate by handing me back what they don't need. But without hands. See what I'm saying?

Elisa, who is nominally the smaller baby, had worse reflux in the early days. She used to spit up through her mouth and nose simultaneously. It was like getting water up her nose while swimming in a pool of hydrocloric acid. Poor little girl. Now she brings it on herself because she is a compulsive stomach swimmer. When we put her down on her back, she instantly flips onto her belly. She will be crawling any day, but she still needs to fine-tune her moves. What she does now is balance on the fulcrum of her full stomach, and lift her hips/legs and shoulders/head/arms in the air. Then she flails purposefully. Looks like the breast stroke. So in the midst of this 17 pounds of flailing pressure on her abdomen, well, there comes the spit-up. More than you might think necessary. More than you could keep track of once it was dry. More than you would even dream of cleaning up.

Amanda spits out some perfunctory spit-up every now and then to keep us on our toes, and to remind us that we need to take care of her too: she's still a little baby who needs her mama and daddy. First of all we don't believe that for a second. But sure, as long as she keeps the spit-up to a minimum, we'll be fine to go along with that charade. These girls are seven months and one day old, and it's about time to stop babying them.

I looked down at my desk as I was contemplating what to write next. You'll never guess what I saw just to the right of the keyboard: spit-up. A dry spot. Looks kind of like the profile of a fish with a large jaw. Some people interpret cloud shapes. We do spit-up.

My friend Paul told me once that the best baby present was a laminating machine because the word "secretions" best described the first few months of a baby's life. But until they find a way to laminate a wooden desk and toy arc, we're just going to have these nasty little reminders of our cute little babies around.

And that's fine with me. You can't say we didn't ask for it.

In the meantime, our babysitter's husband took some pictures of the girls while we were away. Here they are, to satisfy your curiosity. Reminder: Elisa is blonde with invisible eyebrows, and Amanda is brunette with eyebrows that look like mine.