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.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Pictures from June and July

These feature Fourth of July festivities, plus visits with cousin Iona, honorary Grandma Marsha, and Brady's family!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Glowing Parents

My mother recently learned how to download pictures from her camera into the computer. That relevation leads to this post. She sent us a couple very sweet pictures of ourselves in full parenthood.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Conception Achieved: Anniversary

On June 10, 2008 we conceived our two babies. Actually, they were conceived for us in a petri dish, and there were more than just the two. This wasn't the first batch of embryos to be conceived, either. They were in the third group. These two were the fifth and sixth embryos to get to see the inside of my uterus in the span of a year. What made these two special was that they survived. They stuck around in my body long enough to get bigger, and when they were ready they came out as baby humans.
Last week, Shady Grove Fertility finally got around to my repeated repeated repeated request, and sent me the photo of these two particular embryos.

This is the first picture of Amanda and Elisa.

Amazing. Think of all the genetic information that was inside those tiny cell clusters. We had no idea what they held at the time, and we're only starting to find out. What tiny little bits of infinite mystery and wonder!

To my dear friends who are still in the fight, I think about you all the time. Here is hoping that little clusters of cells like these, wherever they start out and wherever they gestate, float their way into your lives very soon.
Never have things so small been so big. Never have things so nondescript been so beautiful.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Summer Fun

This slideshow has pictures of the girls hanging out at home with their cousin, Iona, in the "Where's Waldo" role (hint: she's usually under something). We also have some pics from our trip to their Godfather Jeff and Aunt Noemi's wedding in Pennsylvania. No, the margarita is not bigger than Amanda. But that didn't stop me from drinking it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Latest Photo Shoot

Grandma and Papa were in town for the babies' Christening this weekend, and we took the following pictures in our traditional last-day-of-visit photo shoot:

Monday, May 18, 2009

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Any [wo]man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

-John Donne

Can you love someone so much that they become a part of you? That's what I asked at Mamaw's funeral on Friday. I had been thinking that question after we buried her in a private family ceremony earlier that afternoon. In the car on the way to the church I looked at Amanda in her carseat. Did I really embody part of Mamaw? Did Amanda? I know we had been saying she would live on through her relatives, but would she really?

In her almost 96 years, Mamaw was so "involved with Mankind" (and not just because she was boy-crazy) that around four hundred people came to the Celebration of Life service at the church. The whole choir sang. Grandchildren and children and honorary relatives got up and spoke. Ten years ago she gave one of the "bastard children" from her Sunday School class the task of giving her eulogy. He finally got to do it. And these people are all at least a generation younger than her. Imagine how the congregation would have spilled out into the halls if all -- if any -- of her contemporaries were still around.

Yes, she would live on. Of course she would. All those people filling up the sanctuary were part Mamaw now. The way she had treated them would influence the way they treated others. The way she interacted with the world, the things she had talked with them about, would affect the way they thought and acted. She loved so many people. Like me, she made a best friend every time she went to the grocery store. And because she loved so much, many many people came to love her.

Mamaw is a part of me because she offered her loving arms to me for 37 years. We wrote each other letters; I visited her whenever I could. She would always say that it was so easy to be around me. I found the same true of her (except when she was watching Fox News, which she had chosen because the anchormen were the cutest). One night one year I read her poetry from a very old book. She recited it along with me. It's an understatement to say she was special. And for her to tell me I was special, well. It was special.

When I write letters, when I make friends, when I fight for a chance to speak to a crowd -- about anything -- that's all from Mamaw. When I make a little "huh!" sigh and look up and raise my shoulders, that's Mamaw. When I dangle my fork between my fingers over my plate, that's Mamaw, by way of Mom. And when I yearn to make my home a place where anyone is welcome, where everyone is loved individually, and where music and light reign supreme. That's Mamaw. I want, I want, I want to give my girls the kind of experience that I got at Mamaw's house.

That's how she lives on.

But Mamaw doesn't just live. She died. She swapped love with us. The places in us that she filled with her memories and appreciation, used to hold bits of us. We gave those to her. And so when the bell tolled for Mamaw, it rang for a broken community, a broken family, a broken me. We're mostly the same, and we hold so much of her still. But it's a loss. It hurts. We all died last Monday.

Along with the tolling bell quote, I've been thinking about "tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." Can you imagine what life would have been like without Mamaw? No, me neither. And I don't want to. Getting my heart broken at 37 is a small price to pay for the life she's given to me.

I see Mamaw's baby pictures in Amanda's dark hair and chubby cheeks. I see Mamaw's love of people in Elisa's perpetual smile. In James I see the person Mamaw said she'd marry if I didn't.

We're all Mamaw. It's only barely a metaphor. And so we're all less now than what we were.

It will take some time to recover.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Day of Mothers

This morning I wrote about Mothers' Day from the perspective I've had until now: that of someone on the outside. Today I was inside. And I like it.

I did the 6:00 a.m. feeding, but James took the babies from there, and I got to sleep until 11:23! I slept so much that my eyes were puffy. That hasn't happened in a long time. I awoke to the sound of Amanda howling in the living room and James begging her, from the kitchen, to just hang on. As I came down the stairs, James told me to go back upstairs. Then he reconsidered. Okay, you can come down here, but you have to stay in the living room.

After a very sweet few minutes talking to my little babies, both of whom were smiling back at me and doing some very preliminary cooing sounds, James walked in with a masterpiece. The girls and he had made French toast with strawberries on top, and fresh squeezed orange juice. I can't remember which girl they said it had been who squeezed the oranges, but either way I'm impressed. I wouldn't have thought they had the strength.

James also brought me out a card from the girls, which he was kind enough to take dictation onto. He even drew a heart on it, because the girls told him to. They know, at this early age, that girls draw hearts on things. It's true. I told him about the year of 5th grade, when I dotted every single "i", for one year, with a heart.

Next, James brought me out a baby bottle with some flowers in it. It was going to go on the tray that would have brought me my breakfast in bed, if I'd stayed there to receive it. Oh, so cute.

I love my husband, and I love my little daughters. And according to what they wrote on the card, they love me, too. It turns out, Mothers' Day isn't just about elevating the mothers around us. It's not even spelled Mothers' Day. It's Mother's Day. It's not about being celebrated: it's about celebrating your own mom for the wonderful, wonderful things she's done for you and meant to you. When you hear somebody thanking you for what you do for them, and they tell you they love you as much as you love them... well, wow. James's card made me really understand that the girls love me. It may seem funny, but I wasn't sure they did. I wasn't even sure they recognized me when I picked them up. But yeah, I guess they would.

I have heard people say that when you have children, you appreciate your own parents much more. You have a much greater understanding of what they went through with you. That's true. And having twins myself, I realize with shock and awe what their lives were like in 1972. And so I say,


It's true that Dad tried to comfort me in the infertile years by saying that children were a lot of trouble, and maybe I didn't want them anyway. But it wasn't a very specific warning.

I do feel my mother could have been a lot clearer about what I was really in for. She did say year ago, apropos of nothing, that she hadn't minded the work of taking care of two little children at the same time, since David and I were so cute. She just liked being around us. At the time, I thought that was obvious. Now, I see it's not something you can take for granted.

So why didn't Mom tell me how exhausting it is to do everything you have to do to take care of one baby, and right after you have won every struggle with the one, to turn around and do the same thing with the other? You finally rock one to sleep. Okay, good. Now change the other's diaper, feed her, and rock her to sleep now. Whew. Finally got one through a bath, screaming the whole time? She's warm and toasty, finally calm, and smelling sweet? Okay, go get the other one and peel her clothes off her. Start the cycle all over again.

I'm not complaining. I'm just saying. Damn.

Mom should have complained. So why didn't she? I suppose it's because she loved us as much as we loved her. And that's a whole, whole lot.

Now I get it.

Mother's Day

Few things are as pervasive in the Animal Kingdom as motherhood. There are references to it everywhere. "Motherhood and apple pie." In James's Catholic church the Virgin Mary gets a pass on Original Sin because she bore and raised God's son. To be absolutely as obscene and insulting as you can be, you call somebody a mother fucker: yeah, nobody could be as vile as a defiler of the most revered people on earth. In my friend's church, they have all the mothers stand up to be recognized on Mothers' Day. In the infertility community, we know how excruciating motherhood references (except for the mother fucker thing) can be for people who're are trying and failing to be mothers.

Last year on Mothers' Day I was awakened by a wrong number. "Oh, well," the caller concluded, "Well, I hope you have a happy Mothers' Day." A shoe might as well have emerged from the receiver and kicked me in the stomach.

This year, Mothers' Day is different. I'm finally a mother. I woke up to two infants screaming with despair and fear that they would never ever ever be fed. When I put each of them on the changing table, they smiled at me. Then, as I was feeding them on either side of me, their warm little feet kicked at my ribs happily.

Needless to say, I feel a lot, lot better now. But Mothers' Day will never be the same for me as it is for most mothers. I know how devastating it is to a silent minority of women. And if we're only finding out now that "Motherhood and apple pie" can evoke tremendous feelings of hurt in so many people, what else don't we know?

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Grandmother Connection

My grandmothers have been tremendously important in my life.

When we went to Texas a couple weeks ago, one major point of the trip was to introduce the babies to my grandmother, Sara June Goode. Coming up on 96 years this month, she has lived a long life in very good health. Only after she turned 95 did her health start to deteriorate. The decline has gotten steeper recently. We expect her to live another few days or weeks. Or hours.

One of the best things that has happened in my whole life is that I finally had children, and that their lives got to intersect with Mamaw's. Mamaw was the 20th Century, born in 1913. They are the 21st, born in 2009. And here both are, lining up for 4 months. I am so grateful.

Two weeks ago Amanda and Elisa smiled at Mamaw, and Mamaw smiled back. I told the girls that Mamaw had been a baby once. And I told Mamaw that my goal was to create two future Mamaws. I can think of nothing better.

That was in East Texas. When we drove to West Texas, to the land where my paternal grandmother had been born and grown up, I started to get sad. Grandma died ten years ago, when I had just started to get the maternal itch. I didn't expect her to get to meet her great-grandchildren, and indeed, she missed them by a decade. Because I couldn't introduce her to her progeny, I decided to show my babies everything Grandma. We dipped their toes in the creek where Grandma had played as a child, and where her three kids and five grandkids had followed suit. We showed them the rocks, the barn, the river, the cattle, the house where she grew up.

Then we took the girls to Grandma and Grandpa's grave. "We're going to meet your great-grandparents." We pulled up to the old family cemetery and found the Bailey plot. I'd thought blithely that I would romantically hold my babies up above Grandma and Grandpa and say, "Here they are. See what I have done? I had twins too! Aren't they beautiful? I'm going to raise them the way I was raised, and I'll make them into people you'll really like."

But when we got there it started to rain. James and I held the babies silently as we stood on the graves. "You stupid fool," I thought to myself. "It's too late."

Grandma wasn't there: she was dead. She couldn't see the babies. She would never know what became of her only granddaughter's life. She couldn't see me carrying on her traditions. It was a stupid, romantic idea. She wasn't there.

James, that sweet man, told me that when he saw the clouds open up and let the sun through the rain, he thought that was Grandma. And when it started raining droplets on us at the cemetery, those were her tears of joy. I love James. That's what I preferred to think. It's a much happier interpretation.

But I could do him one better. That evening we spent the night at my aunt and uncle's house. Two of my three cousins were there, with two new wives brought into the family, and four new children. My other aunt and uncle drove in from out of town to be there, and my dad joined us, too. I missed my brother and my missing cousin, but was thrilled to be in the bosom of the Baileys. There were pictures of Grandma and Grandpa and their forefathers up on the walls. I saw Grandma's footstool in the living room. And I saw a little bit of Grandma in Aunt Mary's face.

This was where Grandma was. She was in her family. Duh. What would Grandma want more than anything? To keep the family together. She'd want for me to keep in touch with my cousins and make more trips to West Texas. She'd want for me and my husband and babies to spend more nights at Aunt Mary's. To pet their dog, to ask Cousin Scotty about his love life. To become great friends with John and Jeff's wives. To have my kids get to know their kids like cousins. Grandma always regretted being an only child. She wanted a big family. The least we could do was to be one.

And so on the way back home, I went through East Texas and saw Mamaw one last time. I thought about the things that had made me so sad when Grandma died in 1999. I'd wanted to keep writing Grandma letters, but I knew there was nowhere to send them. I'd felt sad abandoning Grandma, stopping my letters to her, not visiting her any more. I wanted her to know it wasn't that I had forgotten her: I just didn't know how to reach her.

So the last afternoon I spent with Mamaw, I asked, "When you die and I miss you, what should I do? How can I reach you?"

She said, "Well, what did you have in mind? A seance?"

"No -- is there any particular music I can listen to that will represent you?"

"I've been listening to Harry Connick, Jr. recently," she responded. And then she started singing.

Missed the Saturday dance
Heard they crowded the floor
Just can't bear it without you
Don't get around much any more.

We can analyze the hell out of those lyrics, and maybe I will on a post some day. But you should have heard Mamaw singing Ella Fitzgerald's lyrics, as she appreciated through Harry Connick, Jr.'s sweet young male voice.

And there I had it. I knew Mamaw would live on through music. And now I knew what to do when my letters would have no more earthly destination. I'd play some jazz for the girls. I'd shape them into little grandmothers for the next century.

This is a personal post. It's the kind of thing I would write in a diary, but here I am writing it in a public forum. Why? That's not a rhetorical question; I had to ask it of myself. Did this have anything to do with infertility or raising my test-tube babies?

Well, yuh. This is what fertility is all about. And this is what infertility threatened to cut short. It's not my own mortality that I care about: it's my grandmothers'. E=MC squared. Conservation of grandmothers in the universe. When two die, two must be born.

So here's to that. Amanda and Elisa: you go, girls!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

In Bad Taste

I've been meaning to write this post for a long time, so while I'm on a roll and have my second wind of the night (or is it first wind of the morning?) I'll go ahead.

Several days after I was discharged from the hospital after my C-section, I noticed my tongue with horror. It had lots of jagged growths on it that seemed like they were filled with puss or some other disgusting substance. I ran to the doctor, who said, "Neat" and took a picture. He said that this was just inflamed taste buds. Why were they inflamed? I said I'd had dry mouth for months during the pregnancy. That might be it, or it might be something else. It might be related to the pregnancy or not. Maybe my salivary glands had stopped working. If it didn't go away in a few months, that might be it. Or it might be a reaction to other things going on in my body.

I suspected the latter. There were lots of things going on in my body. This is the story of how I gave birth.

I went to the doctor on January 13 for a weekly check-up. They said, "Go to the labor and delivery unit right now." Apparently my liver enzymes were high and platelet count was low. I walked over there, in the same building. When those people finally figured out why I was there and who I was, they put me in a room with one monitor on my belly. "The other baby is about right here," I offered. Oh, there was another baby? Well then, they slapped on another monitor. They hooked me up to an IV for reasons unknown to them, and I decided to text James. "Everybody ok but I have preeclampsia. In hospital. Could u come now pls." The return text said, "On my way."

Pre-eclampsia is one of those syndromes that happens a lot in multiple pregnancies. It involves the shutting down of organs -- liver, kidneys, etc. I had HELLP syndrome, a particularly nasty version of pre-eclampsia that involves low blood platelets. When the hospital finally got my chart from the doctor, they put me on IV magnesium, which helps keep the pre-eclampsia in check, but brings on nausea. I immediately threw up. That was nothing new. I had been throwing up for months. I kept throwing up. Every time I did that, I peed in bed. Peeing while vomiting was nothing new either. They gave me anti-nausea medication in the IV. Every few hours they took blood to test the platelet and liver enzyme count. They put saline in the IV to keep me hydrated.

In the meantime, they needed to know how much urine I was producing. They put a urinary catheter in so they could suck the urine straight out of my bladder into the measuring bag. You know how that feels? Sucky. And you know how it feels if they do it wrong? Like a urinary tract infection. You know how that feels? Remember the UTI medicine commercial where you see the door of a bathroom stall and hear a woman screaming? That's how. After hours of that, a nurse mercifully took it out, let me pee into my bed like a normal person, and reinserted it the right way. Then they changed the sheets.

More blood tests. They gave me a steroid shot in the hip to bolster the babies' lungs. Ideally, I would get four shots over 48 hours, and the babies would be more ready to breathe when they came out. They were at 33 weeks of gestation at that point. Normal is 40.

More blood tests. The question was: was my pre-eclampsia getting worse? The cure for pre-eclampsia is giving birth. How long could they wait to get the babies out before my organs started shutting down? Could they wait 48 hours, long enough for the steroids to kick in in the babies' lungs?

More blood tests. The nurses and doctors kept looking with concern at the urine bag, not filling up. I wasn't making urine. I should say, my kidneys weren't working. The blood tests showed the liver was spewing enzymes left and right. That's what a liver does when it is in distress. I didn't really get that at the time. My platelet count was dropping lower.

James was there. So was Mom. The endeavor had started about 3 p.m. and by 3 a.m. James was asleep on the fold-out chair, Mom was back home, and the doctors said, "We've got to get these babies out now." We called the appropriate people and James got his paper outfit on. We were going to have a C-section.

I started to get a little nervous in the operating room. The anaesthesiologist tried to put an epidural in my back twice, and a spinal once, but my back was so twisted with scoliosis that after the three tries he didn't want to waste any more time. I had held on to my doctor, a wonderful woman who had twins herself via C-section several years before. I said, "I'm scared." She comforted me.

The anaesthesia was making me throw up. Or maybe that was the magnesium still. Lying on my back on the operating table, I threw up huge amounts of liquid -- all the liquid that wasn't making its way through my kidneys -- into little tiny vomit pans that the nurses held at the side of my face. They had a fireman line of vomit pans coming to my cheek and back to some receptacle to dump them out. "Is there a better way to do this?" I asked, wondering if the pans were designed to fit my cheek at a better angle. I certainly didn't want to make a mess. "No, you're doing fine." Vwaaaaaaahhhh. Vwaaaaaaahhhh. Vwaaaaaaahhhh. Later the doctor told me that everyone in the operating room was impressed by how nice I was being. "It must be what happens when she gets stressed," she said. What, me? I'm always nice!

Before I knew what was happening, they had the sheet hung vertically to shield my abdomen from my eyes. They let James in to see me. I felt them poking my lower belly. "Do you feel that?" Yes. "Do you feel that?" Yes. Here? Yes. Here? Yes! Here? Yes!! I had this feeling that the operation was about to proceed without the anesthesia.

And then I got confused. What really happened was that they gave me general anaesthesia to put me to sleep, now desperate to get the babies out of me. What I felt was confusion as to whether I was inside or outside. I didn't know where I was. I yelled as much to James. I saw white buildings like a theater set coming in at me. I thought they should all know that I didn't know where I was. James found this unnerving.

James had to tell me later what happened during the operation. They pulled Amanda out and showed her to James briefly. She weighed in at 4 lbs. 13 oz. at that point. Elisa came out immediately afterwards, a small 3 lbs. 13 oz. James didn't even see her. As the neonatologist ran the babies to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, James watched the receptacles on the floor fill up with blood. I was hemorrhaging; that's what happens when you have no platelets to help clot your blood. Fortunately they got that under control. And eventually they woke me up and told me I had two babies.

The rest of the night and the next day, my IV was delivering magnesium, anti-nausea meds, saline hydration, and morphine. Though James kept slipping away to go look at the babies, I lay in bed thinking, "I would have thought I would want to see them, but I'm too tired to bother." That was the morphine, I'd venture.

I had a monitor on my finger measuring the amount of oxygen in my blood. Whenever it got too low, the alarm would go off and a nurse would come running. Whenever I went to sleep, which was always, my breathing would become shallower and the alarm would go off. It's not a very restful situation. Morphine -> sleep -> shallow breathing -> too little oxygen -> alarm -> wake up -> sleepy -> sleep -> shallow breathing ... times 24 hours.

The nurses tried to get me to cough and do other things to get my abdominal muscles and lungs going. Coughing after a C-section hurts. Like hell.

A day later, I had still not been able to see my babies, though everyone else had. We begged and begged, and finally they let me go down to the NICU. I still had the IV in, but my liver enzymes were now low enough to let me go off the magnesium. They pushed me in the stroller (did I write that? I meant wheelchair) to see my destiny.

I got to hold Amanda. I cried and kissed her. I caressed her head. James videotaped it for Amanda's enjoyment later. I don't think we'll be posting it online. I didn't get to hold Elisa, and from my rickety perspective in the wheel chair, not able to move my body on my own, I couldn't see her very well in her incubator. But I did see her teeny body a little. I wished I could hold her.

When I came back to my room, they gave me a transfusion of two units of blood. I want to thank the person who donated for me to use. I needed it, and I appreciate it. I think it might have saved my life.

The next few days were a blur of blood tests, pain meds, IVs, and not being able to roll over in bed from so much pain. James, and occasionally the nurses, nursed me back to health. Every hour or so I would ask James to hand me my glass of water and my chapstick. Now we realize that it was the dry mouth that made me need both of these things; James just thought I was addicted to chapstick. It was the bane of his existence as it went rolling around under the hospital bed and other inconvenient locations.

For several days they kept me on a liquid diet, not because I needed it, but because of some error in reporting my medical status to the cafeteria. The first time I cried in the whole process was when the cafeteria refused me real food. Was this post-partum depression, I wondered. No, I concluded. It was the fact that I had just been sliced open, bled dry, stabbed repeatedly, and jostled, and now they wouldn't give me a sandwich!

With James's loving care and unsqueamish walking me to the bathroom, and bathing me while I sat on a seat in the shower, I finally got better. He wheeled me to the NICU several times a day to feed the babies. After a few days we finally got to hold Elisa, who had been cloistered while she still had an IV in her umbilical cord stump. We have James on video feeding her for the first time. What a sweet little, little girl.

We went home without the babies. I had a prescription for percoset and ibuprofen, but that wasn't really enough. I don't know what I would have done if I had to care for newborns in that state. Though I hated to leave the little girls at the NICU, I was grateful for the rest at home. My platelets were closer to normal; my liver enzymes now a mere three times the normal amount, not ten times. My exercise regime was going to see the babies several times a day, and occasionally standing up straight.

And then I looked at my tongue in the mirror and was horrified. Was it that my salivary glands had stopped working? Or was it that something else in my body had thrown my system off kilter? Was there anything else going on in my body that would have disturbed my equilibrium?

Oh, I don't know.

Anyway, yeah, my tongue went back to normal within a few days. It just had to register its disgust first.

Texas Slideshow

A lot of people are missing from this show, since we were too tired to find the camera a lot of the time. But here are some pics:

La Madre Patria

We went to Texas, the Madre Patria, my homeland.

Ashley procured us bouncy seats. Bill insisted that all babies looked alike. Celia tried to disabuse him of that idea. Lute rocked a laughing Amanda vigorously in her carseat. Steed (age 3) showed Elisa a picture of herself that was really a picture of me as a baby. Charles served us cheeseburgers at Stover Boys Burgers that were better than Five Guys. Sara waited patiently to hold a baby. Jana did not. Julie cleaned everything in her house except the baseboards. Jeff C. gave up his home for the weekend. Kay W. gave the girls their first barrettes. Tom told me about a mountain in West Texas where ladybugs congregate. Mom did some middle-of-the-night feedings.

Marsha made us an amazing casserole. Dan told jokes. Ralph told jokes. Marjean wore a lot of mascara. Frieda gave me an uncharacteristically gentle hug. Linda, the town librarian when I was a little girl, gave us children's books. Roe, having not aged since the 1980s, had a baby face.

Dad showed the babies around the ranch. Mary provided lots of baby gear. Jenn gave us hand-me-down shoes. Jacqui gave us half-cows, half-blankets. Jeff H. said Scott said Jeff was too ugly to hold the babies. Scott said no such thing, probably. Trey showed us pictures of his boat. Kenny looked for a store that sold Pirelli tires. JoNeil wore her red Members Only jacket. Quinn and Haydn played together by the refrigerator. Hunter tried to use up the green chalk on the front stoop. Madeleine cried when she had to leave.

And that's not even mentioning my grandparents. I'll do that later.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Music is Love

Some people say that God is love. I say God is music, and music is love.

Last night and today I've thought a lot about music, and the role listening to it and making it has played in my life. Sharing music with people can be so personal, and so expansive. I've had some wonderful, intimate experiences of singing lullabies to my babies. And the most spiritual moments I've ever felt have been while singing in a chorus of 100 voices, with the sounds echoing through the high ceilings of a marble chapel. I thought that there must be some higher order to the universe to make all the sounds interact so neatly.

Whether singing harmony to Dolly Parton on the 8-track, or singing James Taylor songs in the car with my father and step-mother, listening to my mom and aunts sing harmony while doing the dishes, or gasping excitedly for breath while a huge choir sang around me in Lincoln Center, music has been its own leitmotif in my life. I have sung at my brother's and father's weddings, and my grandmother's funeral. My other grandmother, who says that music is her religion too, has planned the musical fare for her own future funeral. She did that decades ago. And half a century before that, she was singing in a trio with Dale Evans. My brother has a band now, and I've sung with them. Once I got onstage with a zydeco band in New Orleans and played the washboard with them. I'd have sung if I knew the words. Lately I've sung in my living room with my friends Linda and Roy, my babies (not singing), and my mother-in-law, who has the most wonderful voice. My mom has sung in her church choir for years, and following her lead I've sung in lots of church choirs in many different cities. When I worked in Mexico, I amused the whole office by singing the jingles I learned from the radio. In Brazil I sang the Minas Gerais state song with a green parrot named Juruna.

Is that enough of my singing resume? Need I mention the musical theater shows I sang in? Mom's advice at the auditions for "Annie" was "sing loud and smile!" I got the part in the show, but I also use the advice as a metaphor for getting through life. I've sung loud and smiled my way into lots of jobs, apartments, countries. My marriage even.

By far, one of the most wonderful parts of my life was singing in my high school choir under the tutelage of the director, Phil Raddin. As my parents were getting a divorce and I was insisting to the world just how independent I was, I became very dependent on Mr. Raddin and his choir. He had -- has -- the amazing talent of bringing music out of high school kids. He is a rigorous director, insisting on very precise diction and timing, flowing dynamics, and disciplined vowel sounds. And beyond the mechanics, he makes the choir members feel the music and "emote" the hell out of it. When you put this together with a bunch of adolescents who would follow him through hell and back, you get music that bounces off the walls and reverberates through hearts. And while music is the end that we were all working toward, it was also the means to lots of other things kids needed. Self-esteem, pride, sense of community, work ethic, fun. Love. I sang second soprano in the chorale. I also got love, encouragement, and attention from Mr. Raddin and Mrs. Garza (now Mrs. Hood), our beloved accompanist. I lived for them.

There is a song, "The Music and the Mirror," that the characters in "A Chorus Line" sing as they audition for a part in a show. Substitute "sing" for "dance," and it describes my experience in the HHS Chorale:

Give me somebody to dance for
Give me somebody to show.
Let me wake up in the morning to find
I have somewhere exciting to go.
To have something that I can believe in
To have someone to be.
Use me, choose me,
God, I'm a dancer,
A dancer dances!

Give me somebody to dance with.
Give me a place to fit in
Help me return to the world of living
By showing me how to begin.
Play me the music,
Give a chance to come through.
All I ever needed was the music
And the mirror and a chance to dance for you.

When Mr. Raddin moved to a different school my senior year of high school, I was crushed. I didn't realize it at the time, but he had really become a parent to me while my parents were otherwise occupied. For twenty years I've kept in touch with him through Christmas cards. I've watched his two kids, through yearly photos, be born and grow to beautiful children. I heard from a fellow HHS Choruster that his music program at Klein High School won a Grammy! And then last year he wrote that he was coming to Washington, D.C.

Yesterday I went to see his choir perform at the National Cathedral. They sang a 30-minute program, a prelude to the Evensong service. There were 50 or 100 Texan teenagers, all dressed in black dresses and tuxedos, singing with the same perfect diction and disciplined hearts that I remembered from my own experience. Their voices reverberated through the cathedral, weaving between their excited bodies up on the risers, forging an experience that they would never, not one of them, forget. I wept. Sobbed, really. I watched a mother in the audience in front of me rock her toddler in time with the music. When their part was over, the choir members filed off the steps and back to their seats, lining up to hug Mr. Raddin along the way. I cried at that, too. I remember hugging him. I remember being that devoted, that grateful.

And then I got to see him again, talk to him and his beautiful wife and adorable kids. He had about 45 seconds before he had to resume his teaching duties, getting his choir reassembled to take a picture in the back of the cathedral. I showed him pictures of my babies. I congratulated him on his Emmy. Grammy. Yeah, whatever. I got a hug. He hadn't changed a bit.

As I watched the concert, and after I left, I had a million thoughts about music, relationships, parenting, accomplishment, and belonging, swirling like five-part harmonies in a baroque chorale in my head. In a lifetime of music, look what a huge impact one person and two years can have.

I hope I can give some of that to my daughters. We have lots of songbooks already and have more waiting on the baby registry. (Yes, that's at I've sung them lullabies, Mexican nursery rhymes, and show tunes. Though as a child I didn't think it would be possible to raise children without knowing how to play the guitar -- a lesson I learned from Julie Andrews in "The Sound of Music" -- I am doing my best with my voice and my CD player. And the keyboard is in the basement in case we get in a bind with my sightreading.

One miracle is that the babies have been asleep for an extra 52 minutes to let me write this whole post. Another miracle is the number of people who have shared their music and their love with me over the course of my life. Mr. Raddin is an extraordinary example, but he is only one of many. I hope, hope, hope that my girls have as rich a musical life as I have had. I hope they get as thick a coating of love. And I hope that my impact on this world, through music, art, or anything else, can be half as strong as Mr. Raddin's.

Hallelujia. Hallelujia. Hallelujia. Hallelujia. Ha-leeeeeiiiii-luuuuuui-yaaaaaaaaaaaa.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

For Starleneg

As per your comment, trust me: I'm exhausted.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Three Months!

The girls are three months old today! Here are some recent pictures, including Elisa and Amanda in their Easter finery. The third baby in the three-baby shot is Cousin Iona.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

They Slept Through the Night!

April Fools! Of course they didn't sleep through the night.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


"That's your best friend!"

James was holding Amanda up by the armpits, holding her over her sister. About two weeks ago we became aware that they were actually looking at people now. One time Elisa had woken up to Amanda's screaming. She looked over at Amanda, glanced up at the mobile, and then closed her eyes again and went back to sleep. Another time, I saw one of the girls glance at Sarah the cat, who has been smelling their heads for a couple months now. They're making purposeful eye contact with us now, which is really a delight. And about damned time.

Though they could look at each other this time, they weren't. James got Amanda closer to Elisa, almost on top of her. Amanda continued to look upwards, towards the light, and had to crane her neck to be able to see it from the new angle. Elisa was awake and aware, but managed not to notice the baby in front of her. She kept looking towards the blanket.

This may be a lesson in childhood development -- babies do not typically interact with each other until 10 months of age. Or it might be the first of many times the girls just avoid doing what we want them to do. Well, I shouldn't say FIRST.

I have no idea when I first became aware of my twin brother's existence. As far as I was concerned, and quite literally anyway, he was just always there. I believe I expressed that sentiment at his wedding -- that it was easy to take David for granted because he was an inherent part of my experience of the world. It didn't come out sounding all that nice, actually. When people would ask me as a child what it was like to have a twin, I always answered that I didn't have anything to compare it to, but I did note that you had to share your birthday. Now that I'm an older twin and have twins of my own, it seems like the best part of twindom (and maybe the worst?) is constant companionship.

One sweet and annoying development of about a month ago was that the girls started hearing each other cry, and joining in. Maybe because it was scary to be in an environment where someone else was crying, maybe because they were sad their sister was in distress. So we can call them co-cryers now.

They also have to share their feeding time. We try to feed them at different times -- whoever starts to get cranky first eats first. But it doesn't always work, and lots of times I wind up with two hands holding two bottles in two mouths, and with my two eyes bonding with no one. Lots of other times one baby is getting held and the other is crying. I have to put the quiet one down (yes, punish her) to pick up the loud one, and then have her quiet down and have the other start up again. They must hate to hear their sister cry in that case, because it heralds the exchanging of the babies in the lap.

A book on raising emotionally healthy twins told me yesterday that I should spend individual time with each child, while someone else took care of the other. If I could relate to each baby one-on-one, I would have a better relationship with each. At this point, that seems like a luxury. Where's the "someone else" from 9:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. anyway?

As someone who survived twinship with a hearty ego in tact, I'm not too concerned about their potential to blossom as different people. But if we can give them life, individuality, and a Best Friend Forever, wouldn't that be nice?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

In the Treetops

"I'm finding it very hard to get things done," I said to the night nurse we hired the other day. My mother-in-law, who had held the babies for 20 hours a day, 21 days in a row, had gone home, and we thought we needed just a little more help before the babies got big enough to sleep longer stretches at a time.

"There is nothing that needs to get done," she said, a grandmother herself. "All you need to do is be with them. The babies are the most important thing, and they grow up in a flash. Think about it: one year from today they'll be walking and talking."

I couldn't picture it. And I didn't agree that nothing needed to be done. Sometimes I had to go to the bathroom, for example, and sometimes I needed to prepare their next feeding. It's not like I was trying to translate Romeo and Juliet into Portuguese. Just survival stuff.

By six o'clock the next morning, Grandpam, what Pam the nurse calls herself for the babies, had changed her tune. "If last night is any indication, you must be going crazy!"

Uh, yeah!?

Apparently, our babies have what they used to call colic, what they now call reflux. Every time they lie on their backs, which is always, they get stomach (hydrocloric) acid in the throat. Sometimes it comes in an impressive amount of spit-up, and sometimes it just reaches their esophagus and makes them cough and sputter. Sometimes it comes through their nose and they gasp for air and weep wet tears. In any case, it makes our babies cry more than most babies, and sleep less. It didn't happen for three weeks when my mother-in-law could hold them all the time, because they were more upright. But now that she was gone, we were all feeling it.

It could drive a mother mad. In both senses. It could make you want to act out the "Rock-a-bye Baby" lyrics for real. To the treetops, Alice!

Mothers who have experienced infertility are more prone to post-partum depression because caring for a crying baby is not as fun as they had imagined and wished for, for all that time. Mothers of multiples are more prone to post-partum depression because they have more work, and more screams to contend with, and a lower hand-to-baby ratio. Mothers who have had depression in the past are more prone to it because once depression gets into your system, it's hard to remove. And mothers with colicky babies are more prone to post-partum depression because their lives are filled with more crying than sleep.

But as Pam has told me no less than four times, "There's a light at the end of the tunnel, and it's not the train." If I didn't like the content of that joke so much, I might not need to hear it as often. But I do like the thought. In the several days since she's come into our lives, she's told us to feed the babies a larger amount of formula, swaddle them tighter, lay them to sleep in an inclined position, and talk to our doctor about the reflux issue. And I see the light. In the confusion of this morning, we accidentally skipped a feeding, and the babies didn't let us know about it for two extra hours. Two hours, in twin time, is almost a whole day. Miraculous.

Thank God for Grandpam, for her medical knowledge and experience. Thank God for my mother-in-law, who was unquestionably put on this earth to be a grandmother, and whose baby care for three weeks was more herculean than Hercules himself could have pulled off. Thank God for my father-in-law, who likened his chest to a waterbed, soo good at lulling babies to sleep. Thank God for my own mother, who comes over in the afternoons to bring me chocolate milk and take the girls while I take a nap. Thank God for my dad, who took the night shift for a week when he was first here, and who will surely come back for more. Thank God for James, the sweetest of all fathers, who is currently shushing a baby downstairs, eating his pizza. His multi-tasking skills have come in so handy in our new life. And thank God for all my friends who have brought food, brought their babysitting and litterbox cleaning hands, and passed along to us their swings, bouncy seats, and other baby-quieting supplies. It takes a village to raise twins.

And thank God for those twins to bring together the village. And to be my sweet little babies. They can melt your heart in the blink of a little eye. And that's what keeps them out of the treetops.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Motherhood and Apple Cake

There are a few conclusive signs I've seen that I am a mother. One is that I was up feeding someone last night at 2:00, and it wasn't James. Another is that I have a baby on my lap right now. And a third is that I am starting to love my mother-in-law, who is here for 3 weeks to help with the babies and the night shift, as much as I love my husband. Maybe more. She made us apple cake, too, and that got her right up there.

Besides the concrete evidence, there have been certain moments that I truly felt like a mother. The first was when the girls came home from the hospital, and I would go in their room while they were sleeping to put clean clothes in their dresser. Getting to go into the dark room and tiptoe to not disturb the girls, but still having housekeeping duties that were more important than the need to avoid their quiet room... I must have learned this from my own mother. It made me feel like I had the very special resposibility, and the privilege, to care for these little babies.

The next thing that made me feel like a mother was when we took our first trip to Babies 'R' Us, just the three of us girls, to load up on more diapers and Diaper Genie refill bags. After I had strolled them around in their double stroller inside the store, we came out to the parking lot, I loaded them in the car, put the stroller in the trunk, and told them we were going home now. As I backed the car out of the parking spot, I had a flash of tremendous maternality. I was looking carefully to see if anyone was coming, and I backed out very cautiously. I was suddenly very aware of my very precious cargo, and the fact that the quality of my driving had a direct impact on their survival.

The next moment of maternal bliss came when I was changing Elisa's diaper. After I got her dressed again, I picked her up, and she had her arms sticking straight up above her. Once I got her up to me, her straightened arms instinctively clamped around my neck, and I felt the amazing rush of The First Hug! She may not have meant to do it, but it was a wonderful feeling for me.

The last such moment occurred yesterday morning as I was singing to Amanda to calm her down before a feeding. A friend lent me a songbook with the lyrics to every imaginable song, and I was making my way through the "Friendship" section. I sang James Taylor's "You've Got a Friend" (You just call out my name and you know wherever I am, I'll come running to see you again. Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call, and I'll be there. You've got a friend) and the AIDS benefit song "That's What Friends Are For" (In good times and bad times, I'll be on your side forever more; that's what friends are for). And as I sang those words, I realized how much I meant them. It may have been the friendship section of the book, but it was easily translatable to maternal love. I looked at Amanda's somewhat sleepy face and tried to do my Kay-Bailey super-duper facial expressions to impart to her how much I meant what I was singing. A mother's devotion to her child, coming out through song and through singing.

And do you know what? Not a single one of those moments has involved thinking about our genetic link. We spent a lot of time in the beginning talking about which of the girls looked like whom, and who had whose eyes, etc. But my moments of intense maternal feeling have been entirely situational. My friends and I in the infertility world spent many, many months yearning for a child who was biologically ours, with DNA we could trace to our own ancestors. It's what we all want, because that's the way the species works.

But I'll be damned if motherhood, for me, isn't turning out to be about the way I take care of the girls and the way we relate to each other through our behavior and our communication. I know that's easy for me to say, the mother of two beautiful babies that are entirely my own biologically, but I think I "get" adoption now. And for those people who choose to create their family that way, I'm so glad to know that they'll get to back their kids out of parking spaces, too, and feel just as wonderful about it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

By Popular Demand

Walter and Jack, the girls' honorary cousins (or maybe they're soul-brothers), have requested a new slideshow to watch.

So without further ado, here's another slideshow. This one features two grandmas, a mom and a dad, a cat, a few friends, and of course, our stars, Elisa (blonde) and Amanda (brunette).

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Baby Dance

The babies are squirmy little worms, which is worth a slideshow.

A Night in the Life

Last night around here was like a Thurber short story. About 9:00 the babies started crying fiercely, so I went to check on them. Their transition to “newborn” size left them in slightly large clothing – too large. Elisa’s had slipped off one shoulder, so she looked like the girl from Flashdance. Amanda had kicked her nightie so vigorously that her feet pulled the neckline down around her elbows and belly button. Meanwhile, Sarah had discovered how comfortable the changing table was, and acted defensively when James tried to move her. So we changed the girls on the bed.

At 10:00 James went to take a nap in the basement. I worked on my Fiber of Her Being taxes and made up the bottles for the next day. At midnight he joined me in the nursery for a feeding, and then he took over while I went to take my nap in the basement.

At 3:00 a.m. the electricity went off, and I was awakened by some appliance that sounded a final “beep” as its death knell, so I came upstairs groggily to relieve James. James, in a middle-of-the-night stupor, was ready, just in case it had been an intruder who cut the electrical line to the house and was coming to rob us. “Hello?” he called threateningly from the babies room, ready to defend his kin. “Hi,” I said from the stairway.

We both got to bed about 4:00, and shortly after that, Sarah came in and meowed her funny meow. “What’s that?” asked James. “Hold on, I’m going to turn on the light,” I said, but he was already asleep. I clicked on my lamp and peered over the footboard. Sarah’s weird meow was the kind she made when her mouth was full. She plopped a dead mouse on our rug. I got up, scooped it up with an “It’s a Girl” paper cup and paper plate, and dumped it in the toilet. I threw the cup and plate away in the garbage can that was full of coathangers. I hadn’t been able to untangle the coathangers with one hand earlier that evening while I was holding Elisa, so I threw them all away. Now the mouse scoops came in with them.

When I went to sleep that time, I dreamed about having an enormous rabbit with a swollen foot on our back porch. I also dreamed that a guy from Cherrydale Hardware was running for President. In the dream only, his name was John, and he needed me to think of a campaign song with “John” in it. The closest I could come up with was “Dawn,” the ‘fifties song. It wasn’t until after I woke up that I realized those lyrics go, “Dawn, run away I’m no good for you.” That would make a terrible campaign song.

When the girls woke me up for the 6:00 a.m., the different clocks in our bedroom said 12:05, 2:17, and 4:20. My watch, which I was glad to have repaired the other day, told me it was 6:45. They slept almost three full hours! Amazing!

As I prepared their bottles, I thought, it’s like the night the bed fell on James Thurber’s grandfather. Just one night in the life. February 21, 2009.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Nowhere Else

"Uh-oh. Is someone getting upset in there?" I listened, and didn't hear anything else.

I had walked into the kitchen and was getting out a pot to boil some water in, to make my whole wheat mac and cheese. I looked down at my right index finger, whose nail was cleaner than the rest because Amanda had been sucking on it for so long.

I looked out the window at the clear, beautiful day. There was a lot going on outside in the world, while inside I was still in my nightgown at 12:50. It was wet on my shoulder where I'd had a baby drooling for a while. Now both girls were settled down in the living room with pacifiers, giving me a couple minute break.

Whenever I think about being saddled with a lot of babies, I think of Heath Ledger's wife in "Brokeback Mountain," the quintessential overworked young woman stuck at home with a ton of kids vying for her hip and arms. A young mom could look out my kitchen window and feel trapped, yearn to be out there experiencing life.

But me, I've been around. I've traveled the world, gotten two post-graduate degrees, had several great careers, owned my own art business, and settled down with the man of my dreams in a wonderful house with a beautiful furry cat. There is nothing that I want to do that I haven't already done.

Except get back to those girls in the living room.

What a wonderful, wonderful life this is.

Oops, someone's crying. Not me.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Taking a Walk

Sunday we took our first family walk. The babies were bundled in their well-insulated carseats, with new hats knitted by Aunt Carolynn. Destination? 7-11 for a Big Gulp!

The rest of the pictures come from our fast-paced activities at home. Rule of thumb: the blonde is Elisa and the brunette is Amanda.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Let the Games Begin

A quick note on what is happening in the crib:

Amanda and Elisa are "asleep" lying close together. They are both working on pacifiers. They are facing each other. Amanda has the hiccups. Every time she hiccups, her pacifier hits Elisa on the nose. Elisa does not seem to notice.

What a funny life. I like it.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Home from the Hospital: Pictures

This weekend Amanda and Elisa came home from the hospital, and what an adventure it has been. Here are a few photos from the transition. (To download and/or print, click on the Flickr logo to get into

If you can't see the slideshow above, you should be able to find it by clicking here.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

They're Home!

The babies are home! The babies are home!

We are having a delightful time. Mostly we prepare bottles and feed babies. After each feeding we pause, change diapers, and start another feeding. They are on a three hour schedule, left over from the NICU: they fuss for an hour, during which we hold them, prepare the bottles, and change diapers. Then we feed them (sometimes sequentially, sometimes with one baby on each side and each hand with a bottle in each mouth). We try to burp them, with spotty success, then we put them in their crib together.

The good part of the NICU routine is that they're on that same schedule. The bad part of this all is that they have a lot of feedings when James and I were used to sleeping...

I'd post a picture but I don't know where the camera is.

Pardon me if I don't answer emails or the phone for, um, a year.

I have my hands full!

Full of baby.

It's fun. Thank God.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fun with the Camera

We had some fun photographing the girls today. Click on the picture to see our slideshow:

Elisa is the wild one in polka-dots, and Amanda is asleep in the blanket.

In the next slideshow, we put the babies together on my lap for the first time (hard because of all their tubes and wires) and what do you know: they held hands!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

New Pictures

The girls are still in the NICU, but today Elisa and Amanda topped 4 and 5 pounds, respectively. They are doing very well for their tiny sizes. They still have feeding tubes that go into their noses and down into their bellies -- but these are just for getting the formula down into them when they've gotten too sleepy to bottle feed any more. They are still connected with three wires to a machine that measures their heart rate, breathing rate, and amount of oxygen in their blood (whether they're breathing deeply or shallowly). But all their systems are working perfectly and they are healthy and happy little babies. When they gain enough weight to keep up their temperature on their own, and when they can eat all the formula they need without using the feeding tube, they will be able to come home. We estimate that to be in the second week of February.

In the meantime, I am resting at home most of the time. James and I go to the hospital between two and three times a day to help feed them, change their diapers, and coo at them. James has told them all they need to know (and more) about the inauguration and our system of government, football and the lead-up to the Super Bowl, and our families. I have sung them more songs than I remembered that I knew. James and I both are so in love with the girls that we are almost intolerable to others. It's hard to talk about anything other than our daughters. And we tend to repeat ourselves: "They're just so cute." "Can you believe how beautiful they are?"

I have much more to say on the subject, but less stamina than that would require. Suffice it to say that we are very, very happy. When I held both girls in my arms at once last night, for the first time, I told James that I would have paid $50,000 for that one evening. And to think we have them forever.

This is all I ever wanted.