Mother of three (aka Worst Case Scenario)

My bed on a typical weekday morning around 6 a.m. Note the absent hubby, who has to be at work by 5.

This was not my idea. 

Around age 31 (post-law school and first home purchase), I decided I wanted a baby. Badly. Unfortunately, it is not nearly as easy to get pregnant as we have all been lead to believe (middle school health class teachers are LIARS!)

After 12 months of trying, including a couple rounds of clomid, we decided to bring in the big guns (or ultrasound wands, whatever). There’s science for this sort of thing and, thankfully, we had the money to use it. After some testing, dietary changes and just one IUI, I got my baby. And he was (and is) the most scrumptious thing I have ever see:

When our oldest got to be around 18 months, the sibling talk began. I had always pictured myself as a mother of two (just like my mom, my MIL, and just about all the other moms I know of that same generation). But birthing and raising our first had taken its toll. Infertility is soul crushing and my post-partum anxiety nearly killed me. I mean, my house was spotless and the baby was thriving but I was living my life one small crisis away from a complete and likely very public breakdown (think sobbing in the checkout line at Target because I couldn’t remember my debit card pin – yes, this actually happened and, yes, I had another card with me I could use instead, but my brain had failed me and I can only imagine it getting worse from here).

I floated the idea to my husband of having just one. That the three of us could be a very happy little family, with more free time and disposable income, less poop and public meltdowns (by me and the babies). He was not convinced. I was torn. 

I wanted our son to have a sibling but I wasn’t sure I wanted to go through another pregnancy plus 12 some months of nursing. Also, I wasn’t really sure I could love someone as much as I loved my baby boy and that just didn’t seem fair to anyone.

After weeks of back and forth, discussions with friends, family and even strangers, I came to the conclusion that it is relatively unlikely that someone would ever rationally choose to have another baby; that a pro-versus-con list will ever come out in favor of less sleep, less free time, more poopy diapers, more visits to the pediatrician, more college expenses, etc. etc. So, I put away my lists, stopped trying to talk myself into it, and  irrationally decided I wanted to have another baby. Because love.

Given our history, we decided to go straight back to the fertility clinic. We figured one IUI and we’d be good. We were wrong. 

Three failed IUI attempts over the course of three months and I was truly crushed. My body had failed me. It didn’t want more babies. Maybe it could sense my ambivalence. Maybe I did too many drugs in college. Maybe I wasn’t healthy enough, physically or emotionally, to bring another human being into this world.

After the third failed IUI, our doctor insisted on a “regroup” to discuss our “options.” Basically, we could move on to IVF or we could try one more IUI, but this time with me using injectable hormones to increase the likelihood of follicle growth and egg drop. IVF would mean a boatload of meds, two surgeries and a whole lot of money. An IUI with hormones would cost only slightly more than a regular IUI but come with a 20% risk of multiples. The likelihood of success at all though was just 10 to 20% given my age and other risk factors.

“I can’t have twins,” I said to my husband matter of factly as we left the doctor’s office. “I just can’t. It will kill me.” I said this again and again, to myself, my husband, my mom, my friends, my therapist.

Yet somehow, over the next few weeks, it began to seem less and less likely that I actually would end up with more than one baby. I mean, at this point we couldn’t even get one egg and one sperm to meet under relatively favorable conditions, plus the general statistics said there was an 80% chance it would not be multiples. And, if somehow we ended up with three or more fertilized eggs, then we would have the option of selective reduction. So, statistically speaking, our most likely outcome was no baby, next most likely was one baby, and least likely was our worst case scenario – twins. 

We did the IUI on a Thursday. Everything felt the same as it had the three times before. Around day 12 of the tww (two week wait in infertility speak; there’s a whole secret language, I swear) I started having some major cramping. Being the total pessimist that I am, I immediately informed my husband and close friends that I was cramping, getting my period, and thus the IUI had failed, again. My husband was away on business at the time so I told him all of this by text, which, in retrospect, was not the kindest thing to do. It seemed especially brutal when I texted him two days later with this:  

That’s right. We were preggers. I was thrilled and yet terrified as we still had four more weeks to wait before we could confirm how much preggers.

My initial blood tests came back with extraordinarily high pregnancy hormones. “But still within normal range for one right?” I asked the nurse. “Yes, still within normal range,” she assured me. Even then, I had my doubts/fears.

Then a few days shy of my six-week ultrasound I started dry heaving on a Saturday morning and basically couldn’t stop for three days. This was not good. Morning sickness is notoriously worse with multiples. 

By the time we made it to the actual ultrasound, I wasn’t really surprised to see Baby B along with Baby A. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t devastated. I was. I tried so hard not to cry until after we’d left the clinic but I couldn’t keep the waiver of fear and disappointment from my voice as we discussed next steps with our nurse.

Then I went to work, locked my door for most of the day, and cried like a baby, like two babies.

As I write this I can’t help but imagine our twins reading it at some point in the future. Please know that you were not unwanted and you were not unloved. Mommy just needed a little time to grieve. She needed to grieve the loss of her life as she had always pictured it-husband, two kids, dog. Never once had she imagined having three kids, let alone two at the same time.

I am predisposed to all sorts of non-parenting friendly disorders, including OCD, depression, and anxiety. Needless to say, all of these things basically explode when you have your first child. I made it through relatively unscathed, but I just couldn’t imagine doing it again times two and surviving. 

But after a few weeks of wallowing, I realized that there was nothing I could do except just do this, do this thing that was going to be the hardest thing that I have ever done.

And it is. It is so hard. We are three months in and there are days when I am barely holding it together and days when I am simply not holding it together at all. But we keep going because that’s what you do.

And I know that someday it will be easier. But I also know that it’s never going to be easy. There will be days when I want to run away. There will be a lot of tears. But there will also be joy, so much joy. I really believe that.


Things I think about when I should be sleeping

  • Why does the kid’s bathroom smell funny?
  • When was the last time I cleaned the bath toys?
  • Maybe the bath toys are horrifically moldy and that’s why it smells?
  • Oh god, I don’t have the time or energy to clean all those stupid squeezy toys.
  • Maybe I can just throw them away and get new ones. Henry doesn’t even take baths anymore and the babies are too small for toys. No one will notice.
  • Who am I kidding, Henry will notice within five minutes. Damn.
  • All bath toys should be dishwasher safe.
  • Man, my boobs really hurt. 
  • Was that Calvin or Lucy?
  • Is Henry just coughing in his sleep or awake and coughing?
  • Is there any chance I will get a nap today? Seems unlikely. 
  • I need to order more diapers.
  • That swing makes such a godawful noise. We really need to move the babies into their crib.
  • How are we going to fit two cribs in that room? 
  • We will have to move the love seat.
  • I wonder how much we could sell it for? Or maybe we can give it away in exchange for pick up? Totally worth it.
  • Was that Lucy or Calvin? 
  • Nope, Henry. Definitely awake and coughing. FML. 

Mommy-lead weaning 

So I pulled the plug yesterday. No more nursing or pumping (except on a very minimal basis so that I don’t die). I feel like shit; like the worst mother ever in the history of mothers (which I know isn’t true but that’s what it FEELS like, okay?)

The truth is I’m not doing well at all mentally/emotionally and any benefit I might have been getting from trying different meds to improve my situation (thus allowing me to be a more present and capable parent) were completely nullified by my constant anxiety that the meds were hurting my babies.

I know many meds are safe (I took Zoloft throughout my pregnancy) but my team and I are looking to some less well-studied alternatives to try to fix my broken brain and I just wasn’t comfortable. So I had to choose. 

And I chose the meds, and (hopefully) getting better, and being a better mom, and giving formula to my babies. So that we can all thrive together.

Right now it feels like an unbelievably selfish, painful, awful, irresponsible choice. I can only hope that will change with time.

The voices in my head

Everyday I listen to the voices in my head. They tell me what needs to be done and how, what can wait and until when, how I’m feeling and why, whether life is good, just okay, or fucking awful.

Trouble is the the voices have a nasty habit of sending mixed messages (like your maybe middle school boyfriend who called you last night but won’t look at you today). Even more disturbing, I have no idea which, if any, of the voices are mine: my authentic voice reflecting my true wants and needs. So much of my personality and approach to life has been shaped by my perception of other people’s expectations, my desire to please, to be praised. 

Do I find my job intrinsically satisfying or do I like it because I’m good at it and recieve regular positive feedback?

Do I work out almost daily because I want to feel strong and healthy or because I want to be perceived as attractive by others and fit into clothes of a certain size?

It seems like it must be mostly external motivation because the things that will be good for me but won’t necessarily earn me praise from others are the ones I always put off or avoid all together: taking that nap, being still, leaning in to uncomfortable feelings, just doing nothing for a day (not that that’s really an option right now but maybe it is and I just can’t fathom it).

But how, after 36 years, do I figure out which voice to listen to? What if they are all wrong? What if it’s not a voice that I’m looking for? What if it was, but it died of neglect years ago? 

Sometimes I don’t recognize my own life. I look around and think, “How the hell did I get here?” “It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this.” Or maybe it was. I honestly don’t know. It’s like missing something you can’t remember ever having.

I can’t do this

My oldest is sick. So is my father. I have three-month old twins at home that I’m desperately trying to feed and otherwise care for at half the level of devotion given to my first born. I am so tired. None of my clothes fit. My breasts are killing me. Every sweet gesture from my husband breaks my heart because I don’t deserve it. I don’t know how to do this anymore but I don’t know how to quit either. I’m afraid there is no quitting.

No sleep til Brooklyn (twin plus toddler remix)

I did not sleep last night. Not even joking, or exaggerating. I have three-month old twins who eat twice a night. We don’t tandem nurse (tried it a couple of times; everyone hated it). Plus one twin has a stuffy nose requiring saline solution and nose frida-ing prior to each feeding (if you don’t know what that is don’t even talk to me). 

The three-year-old is often the lower maintenance sibling at night, but not last night. What was a cold with a low grade temp turned in to a full-blown conjunctivitis with pus (i.e. snot coming out his eyes), blisters in the mouth, wailing, crying, sniffling disaster starting at about 11 pm.

After having to get up for about the third or fourth time in so many hours, I finally gave up and invited  the three-year-old into our bed. That lasted about 45 minutes. As soon as he started doing cartwheels into my husband’s face, I picked him up and carried him back to his own room.

Finally, around 5 AM we figured out the right dosage of Tylenol mixed with Advil to knock him out for a couple of hours. Of course, the twins woke up to nurse again around that same time.

I like to remind my husband at times like these that this is all his fault because I only ever wanted one kid anyway. The fact that he still finds this a funny thing to say is probably the best sign that we’re going to make it through.

The (second) guessing game

My oldest child (Henry) has had a cold for over a week now. He’s a daycare kid, so he pretty much always has something going on. This cold was relatively minor and we thought it had passed completely, but then he developed a low-grade temperature yesterday afternoon. Nothing too concerning, but still the parade of horribles came marching down Main Street: ear infection followed by rapid temperature spike followed by febrile seizure (he’s had one before; super scary shit).

Of course, he seemed fine when he got home that night, slept well, and even said he wanted to go to school this morning to play with his friends. So, I let him go.

I then proceeded to spend the rest of the morning worrying that I made the wrong decision. I sent multiple emails to his teachers asking them to please closely monitor his temperature. I called my husband to ask if he thought I should go pick him up. I read the sections of our pediatrician’s handbook on colds, cough, fever, hand, foot and mouth disease and croup (which he’s already had three times but clearly doesn’t have at the moment). Then, I emailed his teachers again to confirm that they hadn’t been in contact up until now because Henry was fine (yep, he was fine).

Unfortunately, this sort of scenario is not a rare occurrence. I am the Monday morning quarterback for my life and every day is Monday when it comes to my kids.

Even the most minor decision  can send me into a tailspin of self doubt. Are those pants too warm? Did Henry have too much screen time today. Should I spend Saturday morning focused on Henry or the babies? Which baby? If I spend more time with Calvin because he cries more, will that just encourage him to keep crying? Should I focus more on Lucy even though she doesn’t seem to need my attention the way Calvin does? Do babies even have enough psychological awareness for any of these questions to be relevant?

Jennifer Senior, author of All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, said in an interview on NPR that she wanted to buy all mothers a bumper sticker that said “I am the standard.” Fathers, she said, need no such reminder.

I think Ms. Senior is on to something. My husband shows up, does his thing with the kids and doesn’t seem to ever question whether what he’s doing is “right.” He knows that he is being a good dad just by showing up; he believes that he is enough.

On an intellectual level, I know that I am a good mom, even on my bad days. I know that there is rarely a “right” answer to any of my constant questions. But I still can’t stop asking them. Not yet anyway.

Even so, the babies and I have made it through three months now. They are growing and smiling and doing their baby thing. Henry just turned three and is so sweet and funny it makes my heart ache. He tells me he loves me every single night without fail. And he still calls for me before anyone else.

Most days I feel like I’m doing okay at this mom thing. Maybe not bumper sticker material but I’ll take it.