Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Kinda-Sorta Minimalist's Guide to Baby's First Six Months



I can’t claim to be an expert in what to buy for baby raising.  If they hand out awards for that, we were certainly neither informed nor nominated.  However, we had Allison in a tiny one bedroom apartment for her first 9 months, and I’m me, so we were more careful than most about what we bought and kept during that time.  Here's a pretty exhaustive list of what we found necessary for baby.

TRANSPORTATION:

The thing you will not be allowed to leave the hospital without is, of course, the car seat.  I recommend a travel system that includes a pumpkin seat, a base, and a stroller.  Yes, I know the baby can only fit in it for about 9 months and then you’ll have to get a different one.  But the benefits are huge.  Mainly, when baby falls asleep in the car or stroller, you can just lift him in the seat and plop him down in your place of choice in the house.  So worth it.  Trust me.  [Also they are a huge help when you are running errands and making multiple stops--no strapping baby in and out all the time).  The travel systems can be pricey, but they make spectacular shower gifts.  So go ahead, do some research and register for the one you want.  Or, you can always check craigslist.  The first system we got was used and only $40 for the whole shebang.  However, check the dates.  The typical life of a car seat is seven years, which is something to think about if you suspect baby will be getting a sibling or two at some point.

I also recommend getting a ‘bundle-me’ for your pumpkin seat.  It’s a blanket that straps into the car seat and keeps baby nice and cozy no matter what he is wearing.  This is clearly not a necessity, but I was so happy to have mine with Nicole.  You don’t have to worry about bulky coats or snow suits (which look pretty uncomfortable and are actually unsafe in a carseat), and if baby spits up or leaks any other undesirable fluids, you only need to wash the bundle me, not the whole car seat cover.

The final thing I recommend in the transportation department is a baby carrier.  The Ergo is fabulous, as it allows you to carry kids weighing up to 40 lbs on your back.  HAHAHAHA.  As if any sane parent wants to carry their 40 lb kid on their back.  The ridiculous weight limit aside, the Ergo is very comfortable for both parent and child, and it works as a front or back carrier.  My one complaint is that I didn’t care for it with the infant insert (we had a basic front carrier I preferred when the girls were very little).  Try some different carriers on; strap a 20 lb weight in them (or a friend’s baby if you have one accessible).  Try walking around, vacuuming, doing dishes, and bouncing on the balls of your feet while singing nursery rhymes.  And try putting it on when you are tired--maybe 4 am or so.  This is a valuable part of training for parents-to-be and will help you select the correct carrier for your family.


THE NURSERY:

I use the term ‘nursery’ loosely of course, as it doesn’t have to mean an entire room devoted to baby.  But it should include somewhere for baby to sleep, be changed and dressed, and somewhere to store all of baby’s clothing, accessories, and any additional paraphernalia.  I use the phrase ‘additional paraphernalia’ in loo of “baby’s multitude of crap’ because it sounds nicer.  But let’s not sugar coat it.  Baby will have more things than you and your partner combined.  The smaller the person, the more stuff they have.  It’s probably Newton’s fourth law or something.  Anyway, if you can swing it, it’s nice to have an entire room devoted to your newest family member.

You will probably want a crib or a pac n’ play.  Even if you think you will co-sleep, it’s nice to have a safe place you can put your baby while you cook dinner, open mail, or scream into a pillow when nothing seems to be making baby happy.  You should probably also get a couple of sheets for it and a waterproof pad or two, you know, just in case your baby isn’t quite as fluid free as you may hope.  I really liked having a crib and a pac n play.  A small pac n’ play is nice for the first few months because you can set it up in your room for easy access to the baby during its multiple night wakings or in the living area as a place to change baby without walking all the way to the nursery.  If your house is all one level, you may not see the perks of this.  But add in sleep and sanity deprivation and your perception of ‘so far away’ may change.

I’d buy a crib that works for a boy or a girl in case mini-you has siblings.  You can always make it gender-cutesy if you wish with sheets/bumper pads etc.  If I could do it again, I’d pick a crib that can transition to a toddler bed.  From what I’ve heard, the move from crib to big-kid bed goes much more smoothly if it is, in fact, the same bed.

For the pac n’ play, I know there are a ton of options out there.  They have ones in adorable girl or boy prints, ones with ruffles, ones with lights and sounds and mobiles, and ones with automatic diaper changers and wine dispensers.  Wait, no, those last two were just wishful thinking.  Honestly, I’d go as simple as possible.  Sure, get one that’s cute and that folds easily (they probably all do now).  But all the extras tend to make it hard to store, and we found we didn’t use them much anyway.  I do like the bassinet/changer features; we used them a lot when the kids were wee.

***Another less expensive option is to just put a mattress on the floor from the time the baby first comes home.  The idea is that there will never be a need to transition to ‘big kid’ bed because the baby has been sleeping in one all along (just make sure the room is baby-proofed).  And with the wisdom that comes from transitioning two kids to big kid beds, let me tell you, not having that transition would be amazing.  In fact, after finally getting Nicole to stay in her big girl bed at night, I swore I would do the mattress on the floor method if we ever had a third child.  But then children three and four arrived simultaneously, and what better way to spend a boatload of money than to buy not just one crib, but two?!  I’m really looking forward to transitioning two at once [please note the sarcasm].  But if I ever have a 5th kid—no crib for sure.

As for a place to change baby and keep all the clothes and such, I suggest a regular dresser with nice deep drawers.  Get some drawer organizers to help keep all that itty bitty clothing neat and visible.  Ikea has some great organizers and relatively cheap dressers. 
I really like the idea of a regular dresser because you can attach a changing pad to it when baby is young, and it will be a more useable piece of furniture in the future.  Also, you can pick a height for the dresser that’s comfortable for you to change the baby on.  I recommend using a basket or something basket-like to keep all of your diapering essentials together and accessible.  We’ve always had a basket on top of the dresser with diapers and wipes (not sure what all you need with cloth-diapering if you’re going that route), and a smaller bin for diaper cream, a nasal aspirator, and any medications or special creams you may need at any given time.

Another item for the nursery that is not a necessity, but can feel a lot like one, is a rocking chair.  We didn’t get one before we had Allie, but I sent Chris out to buy one the day after we brought her home from the hospital.  I kid you not.  Get one.  Get one used.  Borrow one from a friend.  Steal one from an enemy.  But get one.  You can thank me at 3 am when you are rocking a snugly baby that will only sleep in your arms.  Just don’t call me to thank me.  I will be sleeping.


ACCESSORIES

There are roughly eight thousand accessories available for baby.  I’m estimating of course, but just check your local Babies R Us if you need confirmation.  We didn’t try all of them, but I have a few must-have items and a few don’t-need items that I can share here.

The must haves include burp-cloths, bibs, and receiving blankets or swaddling blankets.  For burp-cloths, I recommend the tri-fold cloth diapers.  You can make them cute by sewing strips of fabric on either end, or just leave them white.  Either way, they are hands down the best for wiping up spit up, protecting your shoulder (if you are into preserving your clothing and not changing three times a day), and can even double as a blankie in a pinch.  I wore one over my left shoulder for three months straight after having Allison, and even longer when we had Nicole.  One pack of 6 should suffice.

A three pack of drool bibs is a good place to start.  If your baby is prone to spitting up and large amounts of drool, you may need a second pack, but for starters three should be fine.  I like the ones from Carter’s.  They are cloth covered and waterproof, but don’t feel overly stiff.  They also make them with a snap which is important once baby figures out how to rip off the velcro ones.

As for receiving blankets or swaddling blankets, I think three or four should be adequate.  Actually, I’d probably recommend a three or four pack of receiving blankets in addition to two swaddling blankets.  The receiving blankets are great to keep in your diaper bag as a light weight blanket or a place to put baby at friends’ houses.  The swaddling blankets, I’m convinced, make for much easier nap times.  The nurses will make perfect baby burritos with simple receiving blankets, but Chris and I found that we were gloriously inept at this most coveted of skills.  Enter swaddling blankets.  They are a fool proof way to keep baby’s arms and legs from flailing inconveniently, thus allowing for more peaceful sleep for baby (and for you!).

One accessory that I think you can definitely forgo if you are tight on space (or even if you aren’t) is the baby bathtub.  That’s what sinks are for.  The baby tubs are big and just one more thing to clean.  When baby outgrows the sink, you can move him directly to the bath tub.  Sure, it’s a little hard on your back, but babies are small and quite quick to clean.  Ten minutes.  Tops.  All this talk of baby baths has reminded me of a couple other things you may want:  hooded towels and baby wash cloths.  We used the baby wash cloths minimally (just for sponge baths), but we still use hooded towels for the girls (albeit bigger ones).  We just have one for each kid and have never had an issue, but you may want two depending on how often you do baths.


CLOTHING:

It is tempting to go out and buy every cute little outfit you see for baby.  They are just so little.  And so cute.  In reality, our babies lived in a few basic pieces.  Sure, they had some special outfits in each size, but these really ended up being just for pictures, holidays or the occasional visit with great-grand parents.  Likely, baby’s grandparents and great grandparents will provide such outfits, and you will not have to buy anything special.  But go ahead and get a couple if you must.  After all, they are just so little.  And so cute.

Keep in mind that overalls, button down shirts, slacks, or little sweaters are often not the easiest clothes to put on baby.  Or take off.  And it’s not as easy as you might think to dress a baby.  All those uncontrolled limbs flailing about.  The giant head.  The feeling that you might break their little arms as you shove them into long sleeves.  Here are the basics that I suggest for babies up to 6 months old (and rather than repeat myself over and over, all of these things you can get at Carter’s.  They are well made, relatively inexpensive (watch for sales), and wash well):

1 Pack of Newborn size side snap long sleeve tees w/hand covers
    The side snap is for before baby’s belly button heals, the hand covers are so you don’t have to worry about baby scratching himself with the long fingernails you are too afraid to clip.  Both of our girls basically lived in these and diapers--no pants--their first week or so.

1 5-Pack of White Short-sleeve onesies in each size (NB, 3 months, 6 months)

4 or 5 Footie Pajamas in each size (NB, 3 months, 6 months)
    Bonus points if you find zip up ones.  They are far easier for middle of the night diaper changes.  You may need more or less depending on how messy your particular baby is.  The rule in the Claussen household is that there is no need to change baby’s clothes unless they have spit-up or some other bodily fluid on them.  Up until 6 months, footie pjs can be worn day or night, or day AND night.  Our kids wore them 24-7 until about 9 months (don’t judge!).  Not only are they versatile, but the ‘footie’ part keeps you from having to worry about trimming baby’s toenails and about socks that won’t stay on anyway. 

2-Pack Soft Elastic Waist Pants with 5-Pack Coordinating Onesies
    Just in case you feel baby should be more ‘dressed’ than footie pjs, these are nice for easy and comfortable everyday wear.

1 or 2 Hats 
    The hospital will likely give you one, and you may want one or two more since babies look adorable in hats.  Also, if you take baby outside and he doesn’t have a hat on, every women over 65 in a five mile radius will ask why ‘mommy didn’t put a hat on that poor baby.’ 

Socks
    Maybe.  Some parents like them.  We had little use for them until the kids were closer to walking, as the best way to get them to stay on is by covering them up with shoes.  We had little use for shoes until the kids were close to walking as well, and the ones we loved were Robeez.  They are adorable and they stay on.  Score.


TOILETRIES

This is a nice short section, as babies are pretty low maintenance when it comes to skin, nail, and hair products.  I’d suggest a baby bath soap and shampoo in one.  We had one medium bottle of Johnson and Johnson’s baby soap and shampoo that lasted us a good 12 months, and was all we ever needed to keep baby clean.  A good diaper cream is crucial; we like Desitin, but I suspect you can find one that you will like just as well.  You may want a bottle of baby oil or baby oil gel in case of cradle cap, but you could also wait and see what your doctor recommends if the problem arises.  You may want to buy baby lotions, but babies are so soft in general that it seems unnecessary.  If your baby develops eczema or some other common skin condition, your doctor will likely recommend something specific, and you can buy it then.  You will want to have a gum brush (they go on your finger to brush baby’s gums and first teeth--no toothpaste needed),  a comb, finger nail clippers (I suggest one with a removable guard), a thermometer (I think it’s worth it to get one that is as fast and unobtrusive as possible), and a nasal aspirator (the hospital will probably give you one that is better than one any amount of money can buy).


FEEDING/NURSING:

For the first five or six months, your baby will eat almost exclusively breast milk or formula.  Some doctors seem to recommend you start feeding your baby solids by four months, but even if you go that route you will just need one or two little baby bowls and a couple of baby spoons.  Easy peasy.

If nursing works out for you, and you are not comfortable nursing without a cover, I suggest a ‘hooter hider.’  Babies are small, but they are quite adept at exposing you at inopportune moments during feedings.  I preferred mine to a regular blanket because I lacked the coordination (and extra hands) necessary to keep myself covered and get the baby latched on at the same time.  I also suggest a lanolin based product (like Lanisoh) for the first few weeks.

If you will be bottle feeding, you will need 6 to 8 bottles, a fabulous pump (if you are planning on using breastmilk), and a bottle brush and/or a bottle cleaner insert for your dishwasher.  I feel guilty even admitting this, but for the girls, we loved the Playtex bottle liner system.  Not fabulous for the environment, but oh so very convenient for parents.  However, for the boys, who were exclusively bottle fed, we opted for the Avent natural bottles.  If baby is not picky, I’d use a bottle system with the fewest number of parts per bottle.  All those dishes really add up.  If you intend to use formula, I’d find one your baby tolerates, and stick to it.  You’ll probably get plenty of samples from the hospital and in the mail.

I would forgo the highchair if you are tight on space.  We got a sassy seat that clipped to the table, and that is all we used until the kids were big enough for a standard booster chair.  I think they even sell boosters that recline for smaller babies now, so you could probably get away with just having one of those.


TOYS AND ENTERTAINMENT

You do not have to buy any toys for baby.  No, that is not a typo.  One day you will look around your house and think, “We have way too many toys!!!”  They will just appear and then procreate like bunnies.  People will give them to you as gifts, you will get hand me downs.  And if you don’t, for the first 6 months, baby will be perfectly happy chewing on your tupperware lids and drooling on your phone.  Of course, if you can’t resist that adorable little stuffed animal or perfectly educational set of rings, go ahead and get it.  It is fun, and not all phones are created drool-proof.

Even if you are trying to stick to the basics, you may want to splurge on a bouncy seat or swing of some sort for your baby.  It’s nice to have a portable place to set them down and keep them nearby while you shower, fold laundry, eat dinner, or more realistically, snooze on the couch.


FOR THE PARENTS

Find a diaper bag that you love.  It will be your purse (or murse) for the next three plus years.  Lots of pockets are great.  Easy to clean is great.  Personally, I have not regretted for one moment my purchase of the Petunia Pickle Bottom backpack diaper bag.  It is high quality, it doesn’t slide off my shoulder when I’m chasing munchkins, and has everything an organized fanatic like me would want in a bag.  It also hooks to my stroller with these nifty little stroller hooks that are sold separately.  I’m not going to lie.  It was pricey.  But worth every penny, and the only bag I’ve ever needed.

Read some baby books BEFORE you bring home baby.  If you are like us, you’ve spent plenty of time reading up on pregnancy, labor and delivery.  You may even have read some books on breast feeding.  That’s great!  Just don’t forget to read a book on baby and sleep.  (We like Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child).  Because it turns out, most babies do not know how and when to sleep on their own.  I know.  It’s shocking.  Unpleasantly so.

Go on some dates.  As many as you can.  Spend some lazy Saturday or Sunday mornings in bed.  Go to restaurants that don’t have a dollar menu.  Go to the movies.  Go somewhere overnight and only pack one small bag.  Slam your doors and stomp around the house at all hours.  Speak above a whisper.  Use your doorbell.  Stay up past 9 pm.  Enjoy your remaining time as a family of two.  Because in just a few months, life is going to get much more complicated.  And much more fun.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

How We Roll with Twins: Feeding

When I found out I was having twins, I desperately wished someone would tell me exactly how they handled having two babies at once.  I would walk up to total strangers if they had kids who looked to be the same age and upon confirming that they had in fact survived baby-dom with twins, I hit them with a barrage of questions that could put even the longest tax form to shame.
Me, looking for all the answers.

With the exception of a few wonderful friends (both old and new), I mostly received vague bits of wisdom in answer to all my queries.

“You’ll be fine; it’s exactly like having one baby except there are two.”

“It gets so much easier once they are older.”

And my personal favorite:

“We found a night nurse to be invaluable.” [Chris’ comment on that?  “Umm, isn’t that what you’ll be doing?”]

Of course, now that I’ve been through the first few months of motherhood with twins, I realize it is not just possible, but quite likely, that we mothers of twins forget exactly what it’s like at the beginning.  So for anyone who is interested or is expecting twins and desperately needs to know, here is how we fed our twin boys.  Exactly.

Breastfeeding

Before I had the boys, I always pictures myself nursing them.  I breastfed both of my girls exclusively for the first 9 or 10 months and loved it.  I loved the bonding time, and more than that I loved not needing to worry about cleaning/heating bottles or measuring formula in the middle of the night.  I was hopeful that I would find a way to nurse both boys at the same time, as I knew the time it would take to nurse them separately would border on impossible.

Once I actually had the twins in my arms, it became apparent that I would need to nurse each baby separately, at least to start with.  Ryan seemed to take to nursing pretty quickly, but Joel had a very difficult time latching.  By the end of our hospital stay, I had gotten both boys to latch at the same time exactly once, and that was with the help of 6 pillows, two blankets, and a lactation consultant.

When we came home from the hospital, I diligently tried to nurse each baby every three hours.  After 24 hours home, neither baby had had a wet or dirty diaper, but both appeared to have a healthy set of lungs which they used simultaneously to alert us of their displeasure.  We ended up giving each boy one of those ready made 2 oz formula samples, which they sucked down like they hadn’t had a proper meal in days (perhaps they hadn’t).

After several visits with a lactation specialist, a lot of frustration and an enormous amount of shame and guilt, I stopped my failed attempts at nursing.  This was not an easy thing for me to do, and it didn’t help that the ‘literature’ the hospital sent us home with bordered on propaganda with its formula and bottle shaming.  In the end, I threw out every piece of paper that made me feel like a contender for worst parent in the world if I couldn’t breastfeed exclusively, and kept the few pages which offered practical information on storing pumped breastmilk and how many ounces a day a newborn should be eating.  I decided that what was best for my babies was whatever kept my family the most sane, which for us, was bottle-feeding.

**I should note that I know several mothers of twins who successfully breastfed, which is spectacular!  But this is not the right place to come for information on how that works.

Bottle-feeding

The trickiest part about bottle-feeding was figuring out how to feed both boys at once.  Following the most oft given advice on twins: feed one, feed both, sleep one, sleep both, we wanted to make sure the boys ate at the same time.  For the first few weeks, Chris and I were both present at every feeding, each feeding one boy.

But alas, Chris couldn’t stay home from work forever.  And even if he could have, both of us getting up at night for every feeding was taking its toll.  We found that the easiest way for one of us to feed both boys was to sit on the floor (or bed or couch) and lay the boys on their backs on either side of us.  We always put their heads on burp cloths in case one or both babies forgot how to swallow mid bottle and was secretly just drooling all the milk down the side of his face.  I won’t name any names.  Joel.

An early technique.
It’s not a perfect system: the boys are pretty much flat on their backs but for the minor incline caused by my rear end sinking further into the mattress than theirs.  I’m not sure what the effects of flat-on-your-back-eating are, but it’s something we are willing to risk.  It’s worth it to preserve the schedule.

Yup, I just said schedule.  I know a lot of moms prefer to feed their babies on demand.  That’s wonderful.  Your babies are eating!  I also know a lot of moms prefer to feed on a schedule.  That’s wonderful.  Your babies are eating!

For me, putting the boys on a four hour feeding schedule was the key to my sanity.  Because the girls have school and extra curriculars that we need to work around, I decided to nudge the boys toward a 7, 11, 3, 7 feeding schedule.  The times are not set in stone, but on a typical day, the boys eat within a half hour of those times.  They have been on this schedule since they were about 5 weeks old.

And I love the predictability.  Love.  It.  I love knowing exactly when I will need to have bottles ready, and when I will need to find a place to feed the boys.  Because it is rather difficult to feed them both at the same time when we are out of the house, I usually plan to be home during those times or with a friend who can feed one baby. 

The schedule also ensures that the boys are not hungry and desperate for a bottle during a time when I can’t feed them (i.e. if I’m walking Allie to/from school or getting Coco on or off the bus).

Finally, I’ve found that for us, the 4 hour feeding schedule works really well with the boys’ naps.  More on sleep later.

Currently, Ryan and Joel are almost 4 months old, and they take about 6 ounces per feeding during the day, plus a 4 ounce bottle at night.  Depending on when they wake at night, I sometimes split their morning feeding in order to preserve the 7, 11, 3, 7 schedule.  For instance, if they wake at 5 am, they might have 4 oz then, and another 4 oz closer to 8 so that they’ll be okay until 11 am.

Pumping

Let’s not sugar coat this.  Pumping sucks.  Ha!  In more ways than one.  It evilly combines all the disadvantages of bottle feeding without any of the advantages of breastfeeding.  [Obviously with one exception: your baby is getting breastmilk, which is amazing!]

When you are pumping, you still have to deal with washing and heating bottles, and you also have to deal with finding a discreet place when you are out in public.  Not only do you have to find the time to feed your baby, you have to find the time to pump.  Which means waking up in the morning before the baby does, using baby’s nap times for pumping instead of sleeping or getting things done, and can still result in being hooked up to a pump whilst your baby, or in my case babies, scream in their cribs.

I pumped for three months with the boys and was able to provide breastmilk for about half of their diet.  So I just chose my favorite boy and gave it all to him.  Kidding, kidding!  They each got breastmilk about every other bottle.

It was wonderful providing the benefits of breastmilk to the boys, and it was worth it to give up every moment of potential free time to do it…until it wasn’t.  I gave up pumping because I wanted to sleep until the babies woke up in the morning.  I wanted to be able to watch a show at night with Chris without the ‘psh psh psh psh’ of the pump as background noise.  I wanted to take the kids to the zoo all day without worrying about finding a place to pump.  I wanted to spend more time playing with the boys.  I wanted to have time to sit around and drink coke and read.  I mean, exercise.  The disadvantages of pumping began to outweigh the benefits of feeding the boys breastmilk, and for me, it was time to stop.

Bottom line?  If you are happy pumping, that’s awesome, keep going!  Your baby is eating!  If you are not happy pumping and you want to give your baby formula, that’s awesome.  Your baby is eating!

This blog post is entirely too long—get to the point.

In short, my advice on feeding twins is this:
 1.  Feed them at the same time.
 2.  Use a 4 hour feeding schedule.  (A lot of twins start their lives in the NICU and are on a 4 hour feeding schedule from birth anyway!)
3.   I’m not going to lie.  That night nurse would have been nice.

These boys are fed formula on a schedule.  Do you see how they suffer!?!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The First Two Months

Countless girls want to have twins when they grow up.  I lost track of the number of women who see my boys in their double stroller and say, “Aww, I always thought it would be fun to have twins!”

Twins are so easy.
And it is fun.  Double the smiles.  Double the cuddles.  Double those sweet little expressions they make when they are sleeping.  The myriad of Halloween costumes that are now available:  Batman and Robin, Thing 1 and Thing 2, peas and carrots.  Whatever suits your fancy.  So.  Much.  Fun.

Yay!  Fun!
 But also, I am beginning to suspect, having twins is a lot like doing a triathlon.  For 18 years.  Granted, I don’t run unless something is chasing me and I don’t like to put my face in the water, but I do like to bike.  Also, I have twins, so bear with me on the analogy for a moment.

Because when you have twins you are always exhausted, rarely stop moving, and often wonder whether you are going to make it.  You don’t have time to eat.  Or pee.  And you desperately need a shower but have come to grips with the fact that it’s just not going to happen as often as it should.

Now that the boys are two months old, I have just enough perspective and almost enough sleep to look back on our first weeks and make some semi-rational observations about our life with twins thus far.

I think the hardest thing about having twins is that there are two of them.  Just when you get one baby changed, dressed and down the stairs, you realize there is another one waiting none too patiently in his crib for the same.  Every time you pick up one sweet baby and start to cuddle him, you are leaving his sweet brother lying forlornly next to you on the bed/couch/floor/bouncer not being cuddled.  And every time you watch your little boy drift into peaceful, limp armed, smiling-with-his-dimple sleep, there is a good chance your other little boy is staring at you wide eyed from the confinement of his baby-burrito wondering loudly why he can no longer move his arms.  And when you go out?  (If you go out)  There are still two babies.  Plus two pumpkin seats, two blankies, two binkies, two bottles, and 8 diapers. 

Always two.
For the first few weeks, I felt constantly outnumbered and overwhelmed.  I spent much of those first days home crying.  I cried because I was tired and hormonal, but also because I didn’t know how we were going to do it.  How was I going to spend quality time with each of our four kids?  How would I keep everybody fed and clothed and clean?  I literally thought I would never leave the house again.  I vaguely remember saying exactly that:  I was sitting on the bed surrounded by babies, ugly-crying with red eyes and a runny nose.  Between sobs I told Chris, “I am *sniff* never *sniff* going to be able to *sniff* go anywhere *sniff* again.  Ever. *sob*”

But then those first days and weeks passed.  Our truly amazing friends brought us food and diapers and took our daughters to do fun things.  My mom came, helped for a week, and took the girls back to Washington with her for vacation.  Chris’ mom and dad watched the boys one evening so we could go out.  Our amazing friends brought more amazing food.  Our house did not explode and nobody, that I know of, felt unloved or under-cared for.  We survived. 

While Chris and I are still bleary eyed and dreaming (figuratively of course) of longer stretches of sleep, the boys are thriving.  They are healthy, happy, and (I don’t meant to brag) pretty darn adorable.  They enjoy chewing on their fists, smiling, cooing, tummy time, and having their sisters’ faces three inches from their own at almost every waking moment.  We couldn’t be happier with our ‘little’ family of six.

The boys enjoying their sisters and vice versa.
But if having twins is like doing a triathlon, having twins plus two overzealous girls is like running a marathon.  In a tornado.  With glitter.  More on that later.

Tilt your head to the right to see two thriving boys.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

This may not be our first rodeo, but it kind of feels like it is…

Chris and I did not take the decision to have a third child lightly.  We went back and forth a lot.  The girls are getting so much easier in so many ways.  They get themselves up on the weekends and make their own breakfasts, so we can sleep in.  We don’t have to worry about diapers, bottles or being home in time for naps.  When we run errands, I take only my small wallet.  When we go somewhere overnight, we no longer need a semi-truck to cart around various baby paraphernalia.

We questioned whether we wanted to ‘start all over’ with the baby stage.  In the end, we decided it would be worth it.  I’ve spoken to multiple people who wish they had another child.  I have yet to meet a parent who said, “Oh man, I wish we hadn’t had that third one!”

Besides, we figured this baby would be a breeze compared to the first two.  With Allison, we had just one baby at home, and life was relatively simple.  Of course, we were first time parents and had no idea that life was relatively simple.  I was overwhelmed by nap schedules (or lack there of) and diapers and nursing.  When Nicole came a long, we pretty much had the whole baby thing worked out but were unprepared to add the toddler into the mix.

My thought was that our third child would be so much younger than Allie and Nicole that it would basically be like having one baby again but with the advantage of knowing how easy we had it.  Good thinking, right?

Except I think this is what happened:  Karma and Fate were somewhere out there hanging out, and they witnessed my cocky can-do-girls-and-maybe-even-a-boy attitude.  One nudged the other with his elbow and said, “Heh, heh.  Dude, you know what would be funny?”

**********************

Our first ultrasound with this pregnancy was back in December when we were 8 weeks along.  My doctor said we would try to see the heart beat, and make sure it was just one baby.  You can imagine my relief when I saw our baby’s head, belly, and arm and leg stubs and a nice strong heart beat.  The doctor moved the wand around a little more and confirmed, “Just the one baby in there!”
One peanut.
I went on my merry way, pleased and reassured that at least thus far, we had a healthy baby.  The next months passed in a blur of all the usual activity of a family of four combined with morning sickness, afternoon sickness, evening sickness, and some heart burn thrown in for good measure. 

I was absolutely exhausted—more so, it seemed, than I had ever been when pregnant with either of the girls.  Even my borderline neurotic tendencies with the house started to slide as a result.  I left beds unmade (particularly mine—what was the point when I knew I’d be back for a nap within hours), dishes undone, and toys scattered all over the house.  I’d be asleep by 9:00 at the latest, despite having taken a nap.

When the exhaustion and morning sickness failed to abate well into the 2nd trimester, it did occur to me that something else might be going on.  I thought I may be anemic, but I also knew that pregnancies vary greatly and mine might be of the particularly rough variety.

Then I started to get big.  I mean really big.  The kind of big where putting on your own shoes in the morning can seem a bit daunting.  I hadn’t actually gained more than a pound or two, but my belly already looked like it did around 36 weeks with Allison.

20 Weeks.  Thar She Blows.
It was around this time that I started my extensive google research on ‘hidden twins’ and  mothers whose early ultrasounds only showed one baby, but the 20 week ultrasound showed twins.  My internet history is absolutely full of various sites regarding this rare phenomenon.

I won’t claim that I had some sort of mother’s intuition or anything about having twins; it was more wishful thinking that there was a reasonable explanation to why I looked like I was about to give birth only 20 weeks into the pregnancy.  The only other theory I came up with was that I was carrying a goat, whose gestational period is about 5 months.  Not surprisingly, I preferred the twin theory.

The night before our twenty week ultra sound I had a hard time sleeping.  I couldn’t wait to find out if we were having a boy or a girl, and I woke up early, worried whether everything was okay.

After we got the girls off to school, Chris and I headed over to the hospital.  We checked in at the fetal monitoring center and waited to be called.  I couldn’t stop smiling when they finally called us, and we were taken back to the ultrasound room.

Our technician squirted gel on my tummy, placed the wand on top, and an image popped up on the tv mounted in the corner of the room.  She moved the wand around pretty quickly at first, but we could clearly see two separate circles on the screen.

Chris told me later that it was at this point that he suspected there might be two babies.  I didn’t speculate as I have always been horrible at reading ultrasounds.  When Allie was a baby, I finally just lied and said I could see her little legs and arms, when in reality I had no clue what I was looking at.

The technician asked if this was our first ultrasound.  I replied, “No, we had one at 8 weeks.”

“Well, I’m seeing two babies,” she said.
Two peanuts.


I looked at Chris.  He looked back at me.  I smiled.  He smiled back, albeit slowly.  I was actually wondering if I was in the middle of a very realistic dream that had spawned from all of my hidden twin research.  I was considering pinching him to find out, but he didn’t know that.

I asked the technician if she saw two heart beats, and she replied that yes she could.  She also could see two heads, two bodies, and a whole tangle of arms and legs.  Then I said, “No way.  I can’t believe it.  This is crazy,” about twenty-six times.

But the weird thing was, despite my assertions to the contrary, I could believe it.  I think I was truly more shocked that both babies were boys than that there were two of them.

While the ultra sound technician took measurements on Baby A (11 oz) and Baby B (10 oz and a major mover and shaker), I asked Chris if he was surprised.  “Well, I thought I might be seeing two babies when she first turned it on,” he said.  Then he added, “And I thought you were looking big.  Really big.”

I tried not to take offense, as I had certainly noticed the same thing, but I still felt compelled to defend myself.  “There are a lot of women bigger than this at 20 weeks!”  [I have no idea whether that’s true]

Really?!?!” he answered, disbelievingly.  That’s when I pinched him [in my mind].

We spent the next 45 minutes or so watching our little boys move around and stretch their tiny arms while the technician got the images she needed.  She said that the boys were lying feet to head, so that Baby B was breech.  She could only see one placenta, and said it looked like the boys each had their own sacs.  We will be unable to determine if they are identical until after they are born and have DNA testing.

After she was finished, a doctor also came in to take a look.  He asked us to meet him in his office afterward.  It turns out that being pregnant with multiples automatically puts you in the high risk category, and there are varying degrees of high risk within that.

Because the boys share a placenta, there is a risk of Twin Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTFS).  About one in five pregnancies with shared placentas will have this syndrome, where one baby gets too little blood and the other gets too much.  The doctor reassured us that it doesn’t look like the boys are having that problem now, but we will need to be seen for another ultrasound in a couple of weeks to make sure this is still the case.

The only other abnormality that could be spotted at this time was that both boys have just one umbilical artery.  Most babies have two, but the second is a redundancy [like having two kidneys, the doctor explained].  As long as the ones they have continue to function properly, this will not be a problem.

About two hours after we arrived at the hospital, we were finally able to schedule our next couple of ultra sounds and head out.  The rest of the day was spent in a blur of telling friends and family the big news.  An alarming number of you took some convincing that we were in fact telling the truth, but why would we lie about something like that?!  [Ok.  It kind of sounds like something I would do.]

Monday, February 23, 2015

We’ll Cross Our Fingers for a Boy!!


People I meet often figure out that I am expecting.  Sometimes they guess by the belly, sometimes it’s my pea-green complexion curtesy of my old friend, morning sickness, and sometimes it just comes up in conversation somehow.

After the kind congratulatory remarks, the questions begin:  When are you due?  How are you feeling?  Is this your first?  Do you know if you are having a boy or a girl?

I know some women get irritated by the questions of strangers and barely contain their tempers while trying to find a nice way of saying, “none of your business,” but I am not one of them.  I spend the majority of my days with two busy girlies and a husband who is working forty hours a week and taking two classes toward his master’s degree.  Quite frankly, I’m thrilled when someone takes the time to ask me a question other than, “What’s for dinner?”

What I do find a bit alarming is that after these strangers find out I have two daughters, they almost invariably say some form of “We’ll cross our fingers for you that this one’s a boy!”

This never fails to stump me.  Because I know girls.  I know how to change their diapers and which brands of leggings are least likely to get holes in them.  I know the names and cutie marks of all the main my little ponies and how to get those rubber polly pocket dresses on the little plastic plastic princesses without ripping them.  I learned to french braid and to make lady bug and ice cream charms using nothing but a rainbow loom and rubber bands.  I can put tights on a two year old, for pete’s sake.  I love little girls, and I’d be thrilled to have one more.

It’s not that I’m opposed to having a boy.  I have a lot of friends with sons, and their kids are great.  They can be just as kind, compassionate and funny as their female counterparts.  And I’ve heard boys can be just as messy, wild, and stubborn too.

The only thing that makes me a tad nervous is the way that Chris laughs and says, “I just want to see you try to raise a boy, heh heh heh,” and his mother’s advice nine years ago “to watch your good pans—boys will take them and use them to change the oil in their cars.”

But the point is that we are not hoping for a girl or a boy, just a healthy baby.  Because the sex doesn’t matter.  Newborns are terrifying regardless of gender.  They are red and wrinkled and they can’t hold their own relatively large heads up.  You have to teach them to eat and sleep and keep them warm, but not too warm.  You have to count their wet diapers and figure out why they are crying and how to make them stop.  You get to hold them and snuggle them and tell them that they will grow up to be kind, considerate, and loved.  And that’s really quite enough to be getting on with.

So terrifying.

So terrifying too.
We have our twenty week ultrasound on Wednesday, and as long as baby cooperates, we’ll get to find out if we are expecting a boy or a girl.  But please, don’t cross your fingers that it’s a boy (or a girl).  Just cross your fingers that it’s healthy.  And that it will sleep through the night at a very early age.  And perhaps that it gets Chris’ hand-eye coordination.



Let me know your guesses!
My Guess:  Girl
Allison:  Boy
Nicole:  Girl

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Day the Girls Found Out

We told the girls about their impending sibling on Saturday, December 14th.  We’d been waiting to make sure everything looked okay (we saw the baby’s heartbeat on the 5th, so we are hopeful!), and also because we didn’t know how long our precious heathens could keep a secret (we didn’t plan to tell our parents until closer to Christmas).

But both of the girls had stumbled upon me throwing up on several occasions (Allison said, “Mommy, are you okay!?  I hope you feel better.”  Nicole said, “Mommy?  Why you keep doing that?” in a disgusted voice), so we felt like we better fess up sooner rather than later.

The night before we told them, I wrote Allison a note:




Chris drew a picture for Nicole which featured our family of four plus a baby:


The Crazies.  Also, ignore the misspelling of Coco.

We folded both of the notes and placed them in envelopes with the girls’ names on them.  The next morning, I told the girls that we had a little surprise for them, sort of like an early Christmas present.

“We get to open it?” asked Coco.  I told them we would once Daddy was awake.  Weirdly, Daddy awoke not long after.  I think it might have been the combined efforts of Nicole sitting on his face, Allison pulling on his leg, and them both yelling, “Get up, Daddy!” at approximately 10 decibels.

Once we were all downstairs, I had the girls sit in front of the Christmas tree.  I filmed as Chris handed the girls the envelopes.  Nicole opened hers, tossed the note on the floor, and said, “That not a present,” in a very disgruntled sort of way.

Allison read hers aloud and though she didn’t jump up and down and scream like I had predicted, she did have a huge smile on her face.  We explained about the baby to Coco, who immediately said, “I want a boy baby!”

Allison, Chris and I cast our votes right after her [girl, boy, girl].  We started talking about what we would call the baby.  Allison suggested “Lyla” if it’s a girl, and Nicole’s first suggestion was “Candy Cane”.  Shortly after, she changed her mind in favor of “Tootsie Pop” as a first name and “Hello Kitty” as a middle name. 

Allison told Nicole that the baby was in my tummy, but Nicole wasn’t buying it.  “No.  Probably Daddy’s tummy,” she said, shaking her head.

Then Allison asked how the baby had gotten in my tummy, and I quickly asked if they wanted to see a picture of their baby sibling.

I showed them the ultra-sound images the doctor had given me.  I pointed out the head and the arm nubs and the body, but Nicole was still quite skeptical.  “That not look like a baby,” she said.

Later, after the girls had been ‘helping’ Chris rake leaves, Allison ran inside.  “I can’t believe we are going to have a baby!” she said excitedly.

Little Lyla Tootsie Pop Hello Kitty Claussen is going to have the best big sisters ever.




Sunday, December 28, 2014

Oi! Intriguing!

Back in November I took a pregnancy test.  It was a Friday, and too early to have anything to worry about, but I took one because I wanted to lay to rest this building but irrational thought that I was pregnant.  I’d had some pretty impressive heartburn on Halloween, which is something my non-pregnant self never experiences.  Also, I kept falling asleep by 9:00 pm.

It wasn’t even the type of sleepy that begins around 7:00 pm after an exhausting day and slowly culminates.  It was more the kind where Chris would ask, “Hey, do you want to watch a movie?
“Sure, that sounds good.” [Roll opening credits]
“Zzzzzzzzzz”

And laying my irrational thoughts to rest with an early pregnancy test totally worked.  Until that second faint line appeared.

I stared blankly at it for a good 30 seconds, but it didn’t go away.  I blinked a couple of times.  The lines were still there.  I shook the test gently.  Still two.  Then, having exhausted all of my voodoo skills, I said a few things under my breath that did not become a mommy-to-be.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t upset at the thought of a new baby.  In fact, Chris and I had pretty much convinced ourselves we wanted a third.  We had just thought we’d wait a year before trying.  Only two weeks earlier Chris had mentioned that he definitely didn't want a baby until he finished his masters program.  Even so, I was cautiously ecstatic.  I wondered how Chris would take it.

I waited out the hours before Chris got home from work with extreme impatience.  I know some moms-to-be think up cute or clever ways to tell their significant others about an impending bundle of joy, but I have never been one of them.  Historically, I’ve just blurted out the news before Chris had a chance to take his coat off, and it didn’t seem like now was a good time to change.

So the moment Chris walked in the door, I said something like, “Hi, honey, how was your day?  We need to talk,” in one big breath.

Those four little words, “We need to talk,” can strike fear into the bravest of men.  “What?” Chris said, “What’s going on?”

Suddenly I decided to play it coy.  Or maybe I’d just been rendered speechless.  I pulled up a picture of the test on my iPhone 4, which took quite a while because the 4 is archaic.

When the picture finally appeared, I handed the phone to Chris.  He glanced at it and said, “Ooohhhh.”

It wasn’t an “Ewwwww,” as in, “Why would you show me a picture of a stick that you peed on?”

And it wasn’t an “Ooooohh,” as in, “I think I’m going to throw up.”

It was just, “Ooohhh,” as in “Oi!  Intriguing!”

I stared at Chris for a moment, and he looked back at me.  I spoke slowly in case he was in shock: “Do you know what that means?”

“Yes, I know what that means.  Of course!”

“And….”

“And what?”

“Well, are you…happy?”

“Yeah, it will be good.  How often are those tests wrong?”

"Not often.  Should I take another test?"

"No, I don't think so.  Let's just wait and see."

"Umm, okay."
  
[The next day I bought a two pack of tests at Target.  Both times I watched the plus sign appear before my very eyes.  One test is not often wrong.  Three tests are almost never wrong.  If I weren't a mathematician, I'd leave off the 'almost'.]

Anyway, we spent a few more minutes talking about due dates/whose fault it was (July 18th/His), and we both agreed it was pretty exciting, timing be darned.  Then the heathens came into the kitchen and all of the usual chaos ensued until bedtime.

Upstairs, there was another brief round of, “Hey, you want to watch a movie?” [him] followed by, “Zzzz” [me].  And then I woke up at four in the morning able to think of nothing but this possible baby.

I thought about how Allison and Nicole would love having a baby in the house, and what room we could use for a nursery.  I thought about adding another hook in the girls’ bathroom for the new baby’s towel and how I would need to switch some pictures out of frames to include the newbie.  I wondered where we’d put guests once the guest room was a nursery and whether we’d need a bigger kitchen table.  I worried about my job and childcare and needing a mini-van and the alarming possibility that this baby could be a boy.  I pictured us holding a footie-pajama-ed bundle of cuddliness, family pictures of five, and Thanksgivings thirty years from now with a house full of people and our three beautiful children rolling their eyes and smiling about their neurotic mother.

I couldn’t go back to sleep, and I spent the following day thinking, “I can’t believe I’m pregnant,” forty gazillion times.

Chris woke up just before eight o’clock, stretched, and put on some work clothes.  “I’m going to go work on the neighbors' deck.”

Mars.  Venus.