I visited a friend and her preemie twins at the NICU yesterday. They are both growing well; evidences of baby pudge on their faces. My friend let me change one diaper. And in that moment, a flood of memories of my own early experience came rushing back. Until that moment, my ability to recall details of 8 years ago was a complete blur.
That early part of parenthood was a torrent of extremes, no doubt flamed by postpartum hormones. I remember euphoria clouded by anxiety. The joy of birth rushed into concern about breathing on their own. It was a nightmare roller coaster in which my major abdominal surgery recovery could barely contend.
Just today, Steve and I argue over how long they were in the hospital. I remember being granted an extra night in the hospital because I developed a bladder infection. Steve says the next night I spent on a couch near the nursery (I don't remember this). And then we had four nights in the Ronald McDonald house until the babies were released.
I remember crying hard. A lot. Crying harder than I had in years.
They were born on a Friday.
On Saturday night, a volunteer came to my hospital bed to administer Eucharist. I couldn't make it through the Lord's Prayer. It was a little embarrassing that I couldn't control myself; blubbering so hard I couldn't speak. The volunteer and I had a previous working relationship; but I was ever grateful for her compassion and not saying anything.
Two days later, my heart ached when I was driving away from the hospital with empty car seats. We were supposed to be leaving the hospital with babes in arms; bundles of flowers, and balloons, and piles of diapers.
The babies had to stay because Stephen turned blue the first night. Bridget turned blue in her basinet next to my bed as I was holding Stephen the next day. I was called to the nursery to comfort my babies when they told me they were drawing blood. By the time I got there, Bridget's had already been drawn. I nearly attacked the student nurse who was holding her. As she handed over my crying daughter, my son's blood was being drawn from his only visible vein - in the top of his head. For the hospital staff, this all seemed so... normal. My perceptions infuriated me. I've never felt that kind of protective rage before.
I sobbed when the doctors told us while holding vigil with the babies that they needed apnea monitors, and we needed to learn infant CPR. As we walked from the nursery to a distant area of the hospital for the "Breathing and Lung Center (?)" Steve had to literally grab my shoulders and say, "I know this is hard, but I need you to step up and get hold of yourself. The babies need you."
[I realize now that I should have used a wheelchair for all of the walking. I over did it, and my C-section recovery was complicated.]
Our first night home with the babies was terrifying. Would we be able to revive them if the monitor went off? What if we slept through something vital?
I remember extreme expressing with the industrial strength breast pump. I named it the "ACME Breast Milk Extractor". It hurt. But I knew they needed it from me. Neither baby latched. And before I knew what was happening they were being fed formula. Bottles were our future. I wanted to be there at every feeding; holding them. I resisted sleep, no matter how much I knew I needed it; I just couldn't tear myself away from being in the nursery.
Then I met with a La Leche coach. Biggest mistake for me. In all the anxiety, the last thing I needed was for someone (not a doctor) to tell me to not feed them by bottle until they figure out how to latch. I can't believe I was stupid enough to listen to that. Fortunately, we wised up after two missed feedings. This stupidity is what I feared most.
My milk only lasted a couple of weeks. I realized that the most important thing was their health. Not my expectations of perfect motherhood. After a fenukgeek overdose, I accepted my limitations and embraced infant formula.
Steve's sister came to our house the day after we brought the babies home. She helped us organize our house for baby routines: diaper changing areas, feeding, sleeping. She spent a day and left. I also had a friend from the local Mothers of Multiples group bring me a huge pot of pasta dinner. We devoured it. [This is why I always make food for friends who have babies - it is an easy, non-intrusive thing to do] Friends would stop by and visit. But I felt like we were alone; and very much without a clue. Our lives were focused on two hour cycles of feeding, changing, and sleeping when the babies slept. We recorded everything; how many ounces were taken in; how much poop came out.
A few weeks later, my mom came to visit for a week, knowing Steve and I would have to find our way on our own. It was Easter. We brought the babies to church. Mom figured out how to feed them at the same time in her arms. Never having twins, I asked her how she knew that trick. She said, "I just figured it out." I knew she was already a great mom having five kids in six years. At this moment, she became a Super Hero.
The day she was planning to leave, I was called to my work for an important meeting that couldn't wait. My babies were one month old; with medical needs. I was already anxious about leaving them for the first time without a licensed nurse nearby just in case. My Superhero mom would have to do. I was the first of a 15% staff cut. I lost my job.
It was in that moment I dug deep down for the strength I needed to find my own way. There were no answers to my situation to be found on the internet, in Dr. Spock's book, or from any other person who's been there. I had to figure it out.
Eight years later, I see some moments of grace from all the heartache of the parent-hazing period. But about that parenting thing - I'm still figuring it out. The challenges don't feel as extreme; they just shifted. One outcome I wish to achieve is content, responsible children who understand that while the world doesn't revolve around them, their mom loves them completely.