Adventures in making and raising our test-tube babies

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).