It’s been 84 years…
We are going to conveniently ignore the fact that it’s been exactly 1,018 days since my last blog post.
And somehow that felt appropriate because the topic of my last entry was how stressed I felt trying to work full time PLUS parent three kids full time. That’s all been going on for the entire 33 months I’ve been absent — and it shows.
Now I’m on a brief work sabbatical also known as maternity leave. That doesn’t mean I have time to dig in and start blogging again — if anything, I’m way busier than I was in August 2018, the time of my last update — but with so much going on, I felt like I had to get down some thoughts and provide a centralized place for people requesting updates on the babies. I can’t keep track of who I’m telling what.
And obviously, I want to look back in 1,000 days and remind myself how miserable I was because life will be much better then. Right? Right.
Welcome to our renovation nightmare
Ok so quick, quick update on the last 3 years: We considered moving but decided to stay after losing out on our dream house (7 offers in 48 hours) and realizing the housing market is totally out of control. That led to embarking on an agonizing, drama-filled, six-figure renovation that included multiple shady contractors, skyrocketing costs of materials amid the pandemic, broken appliances, and lots of other bad news every day. Nightmare isn’t even the word. It’s a never-ending horror show.
Six months later and it’s still not finished. However, we’re finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I could go on for pages about this saga but at the moment I’d rather be talking about my other big news. The moral of this story? (Most) contractors suck, renovations are expensive, and if you want something done right you have to do it yourself.
Suffice it to say we are never, ever moving and it will all be beautiful when it’s done, thanks to the literal blood, sweat, and tears that we (and when I say we I mean Eric) put into this project. And even though we spent wayyyyyyyy too much money on it, technically we still have equity and aren’t forced to overpay for a crappy house like so many other buyers right now. Small blessings.
No embryo left behind
The reason I’ve been very unhelpful in the construction department, besides my complete lack of manual labor skills, is that I’ve been pregnant the entire time.
After going back and forth and agonizing over the last two embryos for years, I finally decided the time had come. I got the go-ahead from my OB to implant two embryos at once (“But will my uterus literally explode if I’ve had 3 c-sections already? No? Are you sure?”) even as my RE Dr. L tried her damndest to talk me out of it.
“They could split and you could get triplets. You could get QUADS,” she warned.
However, I’ve said all along that we abide by a “no embryo left behind” philosophy. I also reasoned that these were the worst quality embryos of the group. There was a decent chance that only one would stick. Or none would stick! It was a $5,000 gamble I was willing to take, especially since it nicely coincided with a generous work bonus.
And then both embryos stuck. And then we had twins.
The pregnancy was both eventful and non-eventful. There weren’t any major concerns until the third trimester other than cholestasis, which was an itchy nightmare, and extreme discomfort for my 5’1 frame carrying two growing humans. My back ached, my feet swelled, and apparently, I had a short temper with everyone (in my recollection, this part is exaggerated, but all my family members agree that ‘Amanda while pregnant with twins’ is super bitchy).
It’s gonna be May
Everything was uncomfortably yet smoothly sailing along fine as we passed the 30 week mark. But then I started having some concerning growth scans that showed Baby A, the girl, was experiencing IUGR (intrauterine growth restriction).
We already knew I’d be delivering early because of all my risk factors — twins, IVF, repeat c-section, cholestasis, advanced maternal age, etc., etc. But all along I had the goal in my head of making it to 37 weeks. The twins were due 6/24 — the day after Molly’s birthday, how full circle is that? — and if I got to 37 weeks, I would at least be in the correct month for their due date. Meanwhile, my OB said to prepare for delivery between 34 and 35 weeks even before the scans. She’s clearly psychic in that regard.
Finally, baby girl started having issues with cord flow and the perinatal doctors insisted the babies had to arrive no later than 36 weeks. They started using terms like “stillbirth” and scared the crap out of me. I called my OB to get her opinion on when to schedule the surgery. That’s when I found out she was leaving for a humanitarian trip to Africa in mid-May. My last day to schedule the surgery with her was Monday, May 17 – when I would be exactly 34+4 weeks. It felt like a sign from God that it was the right day.
And so it was. Surgery went great, recovery was a bit rough but manageable, and the babies were super cute. Lucas Russell was 5 lbs 6 oz, which happens to be Molly’s exact birth weight at 40+4. He clearly would have been my biggest baby if we had let him cook longer. Meredith Jane was 3 lbs 3 oz. But then they got whisked off to the NICU and they’ve been there ever since.
Today is the 12th day without my newborns.
Welcome to the NICU; no one wants to be here
It’s a surreal feeling that’s inspired me to compose so many NICU-related posts in my head ever since our journey began.
I want to write, “The 1 Question You Should Never Ask a NICU Parent” (Spoiler: It’s “When do you think they’re coming home?” I know this question is very well-intentioned and is one I would have been asking before I knew how it felt to hear it. But the constant update of, “we don’t know, we don’t know, we don’t know” is so emotionally draining.)
I’m also considering one titled “10 Surprising Benefits of the NICU.” Having highly trained professionals caring for my babies while I recovered my old, tired, 37-year-old body from major abdominal surgery was pretty nice. During my hospital stay, I could go visit and hold them whenever I wanted, but when I wanted to go to my room and shower, rest, and watch HGTV for an hour without interruption, that was also an option. The real guilt and hardship didn’t begin until I left the hospital empty-handed.
Our adorable wimpy white boy
When we found out Lucas would be over 5 lbs and Meredith would be 3 lbs if she was lucky, a few people mentioned there was a chance he could come home with me while she would definitely be stuck in the NICU. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that not only was Lucas not coming home, but he was actually faring worse than his teeny tiny sister. It’s all because of a phenomenon known as “wimpy white boy.”
So many people have said this phrase to me both in the hospital and at home. It refers to the fact that Caucasian males tend to fare worse in the NICU regardless of their size or gestational age. So even though Lucas looks like he’s fine, he’s actually doing terribly at handling life on the outside. He’s a wimpy white boy.
His main issue is bradycardia events (“bradys”) where his heart rate drops and he has to be roused by the nurses. He was having so many he had to be put on a CPAP machine for a couple of days. The doctors also put him on caffeine to help prevent them, and as long as he doesn’t have any bradys today he will be taken off caffeine by end of day.
But he still has to be brady-free for a 7-day stretch post-caffeine, or 5 days regardless. So if he has an event on Sunday, the clock resets and we have to hit that 5 day stretch. Little man has only managed to make it 2 days without having an event so far.
He’s also being lazy about eating, which is typical for a preemie (and a wimpy white boy). He had some reflux issues but those seem to be getting under control. I’ve been diligent on trying breastfeeding whenever I’m there for his care times, but he just kind of latches and stares at me, like “What do you want me to do with this thing?” Then he falls asleep.
However, he’s freaking adorable. All the nurses are in love with him. How could you not appreciate that handsome face?
Little lady is a fighter
And then there’s Meredith.
She has that NICU baby look with virtually no fat on her body and the tiniest little hiney I’ve ever seen in my life. It took some time for me to feel comfortable changing her diapers because I felt like I would break her legs by accident. She’s just soooo small and fragile looking. But looks can be deceiving. What Meredith lacks in size, she makes up for in determination.
Baby girl has never been on oxygen and never had a brady. The first time I put her to breast she latched on and went for 15 minutes solid (she hasn’t been able to replicate that since; I think she’s still recovering from the Herculean effort it must have taken).
The only reason she is still in the NICU is that there’s a 4 lb minimum to leave (that’s for car seats) and she’s still only 3 lbs 5 oz after losing weight post-delivery and then working like hell to gain it back.
She also needs to work on eating but has been doing decent with the bottle and breast. She’s also very, very cute even with that slight alien look.
Baby steps, literally
I have so many reasons to complain about being trapped in the NICU but just as many to be grateful. I love that it’s 10 minutes from my house. If these babies had been born prior to January 2020 I’d be commuting 30 minutes each way which would have made life so much harder. Plus, I’m in some twin mom groups where the moms mention their closest NICU is an hour or more away and they can only go every other day. I just can’t imagine.
The staff at St. Luke’s is wonderful; I love all the nurses. I love the new building with the private NICU rooms rather than just being in one giant area. If there’s anywhere to be stuck, it’s here.
But progress is slow and I’m impatient. It doesn’t help that my 3 big kids need me at home while my 2 small ones need me at the hospital. No matter where I am, I feel like I should be somewhere else and like I’m letting someone down. We won’t even discuss my husband who has been trapped in the basement working alone for weeks now while I try being everything to everyone. Even my lack of attention/help for him makes me feel endlessly guilty, guilty, guilty.
As much as I love all the NICU nurses, I inevitably have my favorites, especially the one who insists on posing the twins and doing newborn photo shoots every time I’m there.
For a while one of my least favorites was a nurse I nicknamed Nurse Proper because she had a very precise way about her. It’s hard to explain… she says “beneath” instead of “under” and just has an extremely formal, competent manner. Of course, this makes me feel like a total schlub in her presence and even though I’ve become adept at NICU care and protocol in the 2 weeks we’ve been there, I always seem to mess up when she’s around. I guess she brings it out in me.
After the fourth night shift in a row with her assigned to my babies, she changed my whole perception. It was 10PM and I was about to go home and finally get some sleep. As usual, the older kids had put themselves to bed (remember, Eric is still stuck in the basement, probably painting something) and I was wondering if they’d really brushed their teeth.
But then Nurse Proper pulled up a chair, looked me right in the eye, and said, “Hey. How are you? I mean, how are you?”
I gave the usual response of “Fine! Great! Surviving!!” And then she said, “I want you to know you don’t have to do this if it’s killing you; it’s OK to take a night off, or not come here twice one of these days. We aren’t going to judge you if that’s what you think. We know you have other kids and a life at home.”
Deep down I knew I was feeling this — the obligation to always show up twice, once for day shift and once for night shift. This is both for the twins and for optics because God forbid I become known as the mother who never visits her babies. I still haven’t gone a day without visiting twice but at least she acknowledged and knew how I was feeling more than anyone else. Maybe Nurse Proper isn’t so bad after all.
Hello, my name is Bessie
I was terrified of not producing enough milk for twins. Ha. Haha. HA! I cannot believe the amount I’ve been getting.
The nurses said the whole NICU fridge is nothing but my bottles and they’ve had to start freezing it. The twins started out on donor milk when they were first born but haven’t had to use it since their first three days of life. I am an absolute pumping machine and while it’s annoying, and feels bovine, at least this is one thing I know I’m doing for my babies that’s legitimately helping them grow and thrive.
I pump every 3 hours and typically get 8-9 ounces each time. That’s double what I used to get pumping at work for Molly and Liam when they were babies. I credit my diligence at sticking with the every 3 hour schedule (even in the middle of the night when the last thing I want to do is get out of bed) and my new Spectra breast pump, which makes my old Medela clunker look like a tool from the Stone Age. Plus I’m assuming my body knows it had twins and needs to produce twice as much to feed them.
I hope I can keep up supply once they come home. I could never be an exclusively pumping mom… it’s so much work without the reward I want, the bonding and the convenience of breastfeeding. These kids have got to get their latching skills down soon.
This too shall pass
I look back and laugh at how pissed I was when they wanted to keep Molly in the hospital two extra days after she was born. The horror! Obviously I overreacted at my extended stay. And even now, as stressful as being a NICU parent is, I am trying to maintain perspective.
The twins are premature but they are healthy. Plenty of parents wind up in the NICU because their babies have serious medical complications and must stay for months and months on end. My babies are just early and they need more time. Meanwhile, thanks to the state of the renovation, we need more time too. Their clothes are still in boxes, their bassinet is at my sister’s house, and their various accouterments are in the attic. In a couple weeks that should be a very different story.
The earliest they could possibly go home is 7 days from Lucas going off caffeine — one week from today. Incidentally, that’s about how long it should take Meredith to gain what she needs to gain. I’m thinking, realistically, they’ll be home in the early part of June and one day I can read this post and look back at what a small blip it was on our radar.
Another thing I’m grateful for? Last night was the first time I even had to think about what was for dinner. So many friends and family members have been dropping off food and we’ve never eaten so well. I never had to worry about having a ride to the hospital even before I was cleared to drive; my mom and sister happily shuttled me back and forth no matter the hour and what else they had going on.
Others offered to take the big kids for playdates and distractions amid the chaos. We are surrounded by help and support constantly and for that, I cannot be more thankful.
My heart is torn in half right now. But every day is progress toward our goal: paint on the walls, babies in our home, and a relaxing summer.
Oh wait, just kidding, I’m going to have newborn twins. I don’t think “relaxing” will be part of my vocabulary for at least the next 20 years.
And that’s just how I like it.
It’s good to be back, friends. I can’t guarantee I’ll blog all the time (actually I can guarantee I WON’T blog all the time). But I can say I’ve missed this space a lot. Don’t be surprised for a random post here and there when all is calm on the home front. Thanks for still reading along one thousand days later.