Adventures in making and raising our test-tube babies

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.