The flat earth of right now

It’s a bright and beautiful Saturday morning in June and I am sitting in a bed typing next to my feverish toddler, watching her sleep off whatever evil thing is making her feel ill. Again.

Two weeks ago she was knocked out by the very worst virus of her 2.5 years of life. It was Memorial Day weekend. She was incapacitated, burning up and scaring the crap out of me with hallucinations in the middle of the night. We missed an epic neighborhood party (with bouncy house) across the street. We missed grilling with our friends. We missed everything, most especially restful sleep. And then we missed three days of school and work because this virus lingered so long.

I am trying not to worry too much about what this relapse might mean right now whole she snoozes peacefully and trying instead to absorb life as it unfolds in each complicated but sweet moment.

But I’ve been up since 4:30am, when one of our 8 month-old twins — the one I was sleeping with in our bed — started whining her way out of sleep. It stirred my wife, who was downstairs sleeping on the couch with the other twin, who had started her whining wake-up routine at 3am. Darry came upstairs, we traded babies and I went down to the living room, standing and rocking Rowan so she’d remain asleep. Finally I was able to sit and spent 90 minutes in relative quietude, staring at Rowan’s perfect face and making mental lists of all the things I want to do but have no time to do.

  • Paint the front doors to the house purple. Well, maybe. Get some sample colors for the front doors of the house?
  • Build a perennial garden in the front beds. Well, maybe first buy some plants. Or just go plant shopping? Buy a shitload of compost and mulch too.
  • Take the whole family out together to do something, anything?
  • Take a walk and make sure my legs still function.
  • Mow the lawn in the backyard, like, for the first time ever?
  • Try meditating again
  • Launch my million-dollar idea for a parenting blog.

I don’t know who coined the phrase, “the flat earth of infancy,” but my therapist shared it with me. I like it. It’s helped me recast my current despair about our sleep — which is not sleep, exactly, but a hilarious routine we engage in each night in various spots around our house, usually with one baby in arms, but sometimes two, or sometimes with the impossible combo of one baby and one toddler. We rest in short bursts of two or three hours before it’s time to relocate, swap kids or stand up and lull a kid back into dreamland with the slow, steady rocking motion of a person losing their mind.

We are awake for the sunrise each morning. This sounds romantic but I cannot recall seeing the actual rising sun ever. I can only remember the sensation of my muscles constricting when the first “mama” floats over the monitor from Serafina’s room, seconds after I’ve finally just gotten a baby back to sleep on top of me. Somewhere — where? — Darry has likely just done the same thing. Who makes a move to fetch the older kiddo? Whose sleep is more sacred? Some mornings we all start the day in our king sized bed, all five of us. Babies crawling around. Serafina hollering at them to not steal her beloved Giraffsie from her clutches. Me and Darry delirious and in love and murmuring lowly in our internal voice (well, just me anyway?) “fuck my life, I want to sleep past 5am so badly.”

We *will* sleep past 5am again, I know this. In that brief window of time, between when Serafina was about 17 months and when the twins were born, just before her second birthday, we slept beautifully. We enjoyed evenings after bed-time, engaged in adult conversation, chores, binge watching two (sometimes more!) episodes of something.

Serafina is awake now, next to me. Still warm, but her brief nap seems to have revived her energy and spirit, at least a little. She wants to “snuddle” with me and she does not want to get out of bed. She wants to sleep, but is playing little games with her dear Giraffsie and gazing out the window happily. She wants to lie here forever, I guess, in the flat earth of our lives. We are chained by the tyranny of childhood colds, viruses, nap times, sleeplessness and snuddles, making wistful lists of things we will do one day when the earth is round again.

Thanks, boobs: An ode to our nursing years

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Me and Serafina, 7 months into our nursing years.

Two days and seven months. Roughly.

That’s how long I can say I was a nursing mama.

A week ago, or so, was the last time Serafina asked for mama milk. We had been weaning, together, gradually. First reducing to twice a day — in the morning and at pickup from school. Then to once, just during the cuddle that starts our day. Incrementally the sessions got shorter.

In the final month I’d say, “just for one second,” when she’d request milk. She’d reply, “two seconds” and then pop on with her mouth full of sharp toddler teeth and pop off just as quickly, usually laughing. We did that routine until it just stopped, suddenly and without notice. It was a peaceful and weirdly anticlimactic end to something that was so important for so long. But I guess that’s the best possible outcome.

Our nursing relationship began within minutes of her birth. I was able to put her on my chest as soon as she came out and let her find her way to the boob. We gave her a little assistance, but she had a winning suck and an eagle eye for nipples from Day 1. One particularly proud moment came during Serafina’s two-week visit to the pediatrician, when I was introduced to the staff as the first-time mom who was standing up and nursing a newborn just hours after giving birth. I guess the doc had observed me doing that and had been impressed. I didn’t appreciate at the time that that was a thing that was maybe hard to do, but I do now and it makes me smile.

We were blessed with no rough patches, no infections, blocks or trouble with latching:  breastfeeding was smooth from start to end. We only struggled once, somewhere around the 18 month mark, when she asked so persistently for milk (which she then still pronounced as “meeeelk”) that I thought I’d lose my mind. I actually did a little. But we drew some boundaries (like not at the dinner table) and proceeded, despite the vocal judgment from some that it was really time to put an end to this. I was determined to not close this brief but sacred chapter in my child’s life with a battle, so we got through.

I also got through some seriously unpleasant pumping. From February to October of her first year of life, I pumped several times a day when I was at work or otherwise away from home. And pretty much every pumping session took place in my car — during frigid winter weather, wet, sticky summer weather and everything in between. I worked at a farm, which was ill-equipped to provide a nursing mama the privacy and cleanliness of a space for pumping. So I got a travel plug and drove off, for each pump, to a remote spot where I could stare at a stand of big old trees and make the food that would feed my baby.

I also hauled that pump to places and events I hadn’t anticipated. Like to Florida, on my first trip ever away from Serafina, when I went to say goodbye to my dying father. I wept in his bathroom and relieved my engorged breasts after a full day without nursing my then-18 month old. I dumped the milk down the drain. I brought the pump to Boston a few weeks later, for my next night away from Serafina, when my brother died suddenly. And wept, again, pumping to relieve myself, and pouring the milk into the kitchen sink in his apartment.

I *should* have brought the pump to a wedding in the White Mountains later that summer, when Darry and I stayed away for one evening alone. But I didn’t think my production was so high it would be a problem. Nope. Woke up swollen and in so much pain that I had to hand express and resort to begging Darry to suckle. Not a joke. Not a lie. It was hilarious and awkward and it worked.

When Serafina turned two my wife gave birth twins and her breastfeeding life began. The twins lost weight quickly in their first days, as babies do, and the doctors gave me orders to supplement them after every one of Darry’s feedings. Another family would have been pushed to use formula while the birth mom’s supply built up. But I had the milk and I was happy to help and it was an amazing gift for all of us in those early weeks. Serafina didn’t even seem to mind sharing.

We have no evidence that there is fact behind this anecdote, but during Serafina’s exclusively breastfed months (until she was 10 months) and beyond, her health has been nearly perfect. She’s had fewer fevers than we can count on one hand, just as many colds and she’s bounced back from all of them quickly. I feel lucky but also like the breastmilk has contributed to the strength of her system.

Coincidentally or not, right when she stopped nursing, she was hit with the worst virus of her life. A fever and cough that took her down for days — we’d never seen her so sick. The same virus had passed through all the kids in her preschool class, so perhaps there was no avoiding it. But I did note the timing in relationship to her nursing.

During her illness, in a desperate moment, I offered her mama milk to try to make her perk up. It was the first time she ever declined and I knew then we were done forever. How bittersweet, how beautiful and how big it feels in retrospect to view one big moment in my life and my child’s life from beginning to end.

There’s that thing people say about loving up your little babies. Hold them while you can, because one day you will put them down and never pick them up again. And you don’t know when that last time will be. That concept seems much more tangible to me now.

Thanks, boobs, for the hard work. Sorry nipples, but you’ll never be the same. Thanks, Serafina, for being the best little nursling. Thanks to all the other nursing mamas who validated my choice and supported me with insights and encouragement along the way.

 

 

 

 

It’s a girl … and another girl

The ultrasound technician lubed up Darry’s belly, flipped on her screen and took the wand to my wife’s impressive bump — much larger than my own was at 20 weeks pregnant. And the first words out of anyone’s mouth came from me:

“Is that ummm… two heads?”

Yes, she said. That’s two heads. There are two babies in there.

It was clear instantaneously. It was shocking instantaneously. It was hilarious, amazing, terrifying and, to Darry in that moment, apparently a nightmare.

Screams. She literally started screaming “NOOOO!” and attempted to scoot her way up and off the chair, as if to escape from the reality on the screen: two perfectly formed, contented little babies hanging out in her womb.

Our 18 month-old Serafina, who we brought with us, sat silently, staring at the commotion and calmly eating one Cheerio after another.

Twins. We were having twins.

How did this happen?

First of all, it did not happen because we did anything that you can do that increases your odds of having twins. No fertility drugs were involved in this conception. No IVF. We got Darry pregnant the old-fashioned way, or as old fashioned as two lesbians can be with their gay friend’s sperm — “deposited” in a sterile cup, transported 20 miles down the interstate and inserted using a needless syringe.

Our timing was precise and impeccable. And Darry’s ovaries, apparently, dropped two eggs during that cycle. They both magically, miraculously, were fertilized. This was on our very first try getting her pregnant. Magic and miraculous.

We were having twins, I forget the rest

We got through the rest of that ultrasound after Darry took a few moments to gather herself, although she quivered and whimpered through the rest of it. It was long and tedious, but both babies — two girls — were perfectly healthy and exactly the same size, with their own placentas and sacks. This is the best scenario you can hope for in a twin pregnancy.

We called our moms, our friends and tried to absorb the news. I ran out, for some reason, that same day and renewed my license. The expression on my face accurately captures the power of the day’s news.

Most people discover they’re having twins much earlier in their pregnancy, not half-way through. But suddenly it all made sense: the way Darry could not consume enough calories, the way she was knocked on her butt with exhaustion in the early weeks, the fact that her belly was noticeable in her first trimester.

We had so much to figure out, so many plans to reconsider. So many more dollars in child care to save and spend. But at least it was two more girls, we thought.