Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Mangia, Mangia!

Clio looks exactly like this kewpie doll sometimes when she's breastfeeding. She gets this impish little proto-smile on her face. Then her eyelids sag, and she looks like a happy baby stoner. Then, she's sound asleep. When she pulls away from the breast (falls off it, more like it), she pouts adorably, her lower lip thrust out, her eyebrows raised, and her chin covered with milk.

We have a whole series of "Wake up the baby" rituals we practice on her mid-feeding to try to get her to perk up: blowing on her face, tugging on her ears, squeezing her feet and hands, and, our favorite, holding her upright and bouncing her while we sing "Bouncing Baby," an original composition to the tune of "Frere Jacques." It doesn't always work, but it's fun to watch her facial expressions while we torture her with it.

She's a terrible eater, really, but she's just so damned cute.

Elsa does much better -- it's no wonder she's half a pound heavier. She chugs like a frat boy at first, voracious and alert, then downshifts into a steady, businesslike sucking. Sometimes she forgets to open her mouth wide before latching on, and makes a little kissy-wissy face instead, but eventually she remembers to open up like a baby bird, and all goes smoothly.

She is, however, a noisy little thing during and afterward, with frequent hiccups and burps and hiccurps and burpups. She's also prone to spitting up. Last night, after I'd fed her and was getting Clio started, she was sitting in her bouncy chair and started clicking/pulsating, much like our cat does before she barfs. (And rather like the Fire Swamp, before the flames shoot up out of nowhere.) She spit up a little bit, then a little bit more, with more force. And then she did this big, huge, projectile barf, like a tiny Linda Blair -- a thick column of milk, just spouting out of her mouth.

I yelled for A. to come do something, quick. I don't know what; I guess I was afraid her head was about to start spinning around. It was quite disturbing, though Elsa herself didn't seem in the least bit bothered. A. changed her sleeper, which was soaked, and then she promptly went to sleep. I'm amazed she wasn't crying to be fed minutes later. The volume of milk she expelled was extraordinary. Maybe we've been giving her a complex by calling her "piglet" since her last pediatrician visit. Oh dear. Our one-month-old has an eating disorder. See? This is why I was afraid of having girls.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Fat babies

The girls had their one month pediatrician visit yesterday. One month already! What a month it has been; a hazy progression of days and nights all more or less the same: eat, sleep, pee, poop, cry, fidget, grunt, squeak, stare. And that pretty much sums it up for the babies, too.

I feel closer to and more fond of them than I did in the first couple of weeks. They are starting to be a bit more alert, and occasionally even make what could be considered eye contact. I am still very much looking forward to their first smiles and coos, though. A change of wardrobe would also be nice. We have to dress them in the same damned Gerber sleep-n-plays day in and day out, because nothing else fits. We have lots of adorable sleepers labeled "newborn," but I've decided that that must mean newborn baleen whales. We could fit both Elsa and Clio into the sleeve of one of them.

Having smaller than average babies really does throw your perspective off. Other babies start looking like monstrous pituitary cases by comparison. At the doctor's office a couple of weeks ago I saw a baby just a week older than ours with a head like a sumo wrestler's. I mean, it seriously looked like someone had inserted a bicycle pump needle in his ear and inflated him. I thought maybe there was something wrong with him until I saw another similarly fat-headed newborn a few days later and began to realize: hey, our babies are wicked small. (And much cuter if you ask me.)

But soon enough, they will become little plumplings too, and we'll swoon over how many folds of fat they have around their wrists. At yesterday's appointment, Clio weighed in at six pounds even, and Elsa the Insatiable clocked in at an impressive six and a half – a one pound gain in two weeks! It was quite gratifying to find out that they'd grown, and that all the breastfeeding was actually doing something besides keeping them alive. When the nurse announced Clio's weight I exclaimed jubilantly, inexplicably, "You're like a real baby now!"

Note: I had to take a break from writing this, as both babies suddenly decided to wake up and fuss their heads off. A few minutes in the sling seemed to do it for Clio, and then I sat and rocked Elsa for a while until she fell asleep. Then, naturally, as soon as I put Elsa down in the crib, Clio woke up and started crying in her bleating, comically explosive sort of way, and a few minutes later Elsa was crying too, in her more whimpering, distressed sort of way, and shushing and pacifiers didn't work, so I tried something new: I took the hose out of the vacuum cleaner and plugged it in next to the Pack-n-Play for some nice white noise. I noticed the other day while actually vacuuming that it seemed to calm them. Now they're both asleep, and the question is: do I turn off the vacuum or keep it running? It's awfully loud…OK, I turned it off. Both of them sort of twitched a little, and Clio is doing some of her baby tai chi with her right hand, but they haven't actually woken up. And if they do, well, it's almost time for another feeding anyway.

It truly does suck when they're both crying and there's no one else around to hold and comfort one baby while I tend to the other, or, in the case of two hungry babies, to help me get them both nursing at once.

Shit, there goes Clio. "Blaaah!" Do I turn the vacuum back on? Let's try and see what happens…

Right. That worked. Well, sorry Earth. Sorry twins' college fund. We're going to be running up some astronomical electric bills in the next few months. Between the extra laundry and dishwasher loads, the space heater in our bedroom, and the fact that we're home all day and it's January, we're already breaking new utility expenditure records. What's a few bucks more to employ the Dirt Devil as a stereo system?

Or drive the Subaru aimlessly around with the girls in the back. We did that the other night to calm them down when we cockily decided to try to go out to dinner and bring them along. We figured, why not? As long as they're asleep – which they are about 75% of the time – we can just have them sit in their car seats next to us in a booth and enjoy dinner while they snooze. We'd go to El Guapo – the mediocre Mexican place a few blocks away from our house, which always has a nice hum of background/bar noise, and which we can escape easily if the babies have a meltdown.

We concocted this plan last week, but didn't get around to executing it until this week. And what a difference a week makes. Whereas last week, the gals would have conked out for a good two hours after their early evening feeding, this week they have begun a campaign of dinner hour eat-and-fuss binges. So our foolhardy dinner outing began with spending forty-five minutes driving around trying to get them to fall asleep. First, we just stuck to local roads, but soon realized that they were about as smooth and pothole-free as your average road in Gabon, so we got on Route 93 and drove a few exits up and back. Clio fell asleep, but Elsa was still wailing when we got off the highway, so we pulled off the road and I crawled into the backseat (did you know that it's possible to wedge yourself between two carseats in the back of a Subaru if you can balance on one hip?) and gave Elsa the "top-off" bottle we'd brought. She sucked the whole thing down, and finally fell asleep just as we were pulling up to the restaurant. The only parking spot remotely close was a fifteen-minute one. I said fuck it; it's 19 degrees out. Let's take our chances.

From there on out, dear readers, I'm happy to report that the gods of infant care smiled upon us. We didn't get a parking ticket, and the girls slept like rocks, tucked into their carseats, tucked into the booth near the back of the restaurant where we were seated, while we ate our mediocre Mexican food and made snide comments about the musical act – a twenty-something guy with an acoustic guitar doing covers of nineties alterna-pop tunes. (Me: Whose stupid-ass song is this? 182 Melons? A: I think it's Blind Hazel Eye. Me: Or Hooty and the Gin Sister?)

OK -- I just tried turning off the vacuum again, and now, five minutes later, Elsa is starting to fidget. (I can tell their noises apart from afar now.) At least they're tag teaming instead of both going at it at once. But I have a feeling we're on the verge of a double meltdown. It's been almost three hours since their last feed, so it's time to give in to the inevitable and pull out the milk jugs. (Hey: is that where the term "jugs" came from? It never occurred to me before...)

More soon...

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sleeping beauties

Clio on the left, Elsa on the right.

What do you suppose babies dream about? I'm mystified by their sleeping grunts and squeaks and facial expressions. They don't have much in the way of visual vocabulary, so I can't imagine that they're actually *picturing* anything the way we do when we dream. Maybe they dream in sensations? Hunger, satisfaction; comfort, discomfort; safe, unsafe?

The night nanny came again last night -- and not a moment too soon; the night before had been a tough one. The girls had been fussy all evening, and I had hit something of a fatigue wall. She (the nanny) seems somehow magically able to soothe and calm them. She got them both to sleep for four hours between feedings, which we haven't accomplished yet. Is she giving them breastmilk white Russians? Turning the oven on, blowing out the pilot light, and popping them in for a quick gas hit? Or maybe -- most likely -- she just exudes calm and confidence. Which sucks, because the other two would be much easier for us to pull off.

Anyway, today I felt so refreshed that I even did some yoga. It was nice to feel like my old physical self, more or less. While being pregnant was a fascinating experience, I can't say that I miss it, though I do get a little nostalgic for feeling the babies move inside. It was so odd; the first few days after they were born, I felt what I can only describe as "ghost movements," where I swore I felt a kick or a squirm. It was probably my internal organs moving back into their regular positions. Still, the consciousness of the belly lingers. Last night was the first time I slept on my stomach, and I didn't do it for long.

So, taking stock, part by part:

Feet: shrunken back to their regular size, or close to it. I haven't tried wearing any of my dressier shoes, so I don't know if they still fit, but I suspect they will.

Ankles & legs: Wow! I forgot what nice, slender ankles and calves I had pre-pregnancy. I could be a freakin' ankle and calf model! That is, if I had time to shave my legs.

Privates: irrelevant, for the moment. But at least now I can look down and know that they're there.

Bladder: Liberated. Greeting the babies with flowers and dancing in the streets. I'm amazed at how infrequently I have to pee, especially given how much liquid I'm drinking. I guess most of it gets turned right into breast milk.

Belly: Back to looking like that of a boozy sorority girl, only squishier. The skin is oddly tan and dry, and the linea negra is still there, making for a strange overall appearance. But no stretch marks! Lucky me.

It is the remains of my belly which, I assume, constitute the 10 or so extra pounds I'm still carrying around. I didn't expect to lose so much weight so quickly, and it's great, but also annoying from a sartorial perspective: my maternity clothes are all too big now, but I can't fit into most of my pre-pregnancy clothes, particularly pants. So I'm stuck wearing knit and sweat pants and one pair of "transitional" jeans I bought at eleven weeks pregnant. This is fine for now, considering I rarely leave the house, but will pose a conundrum when it's time to go back to work.

Boobs: I've covered this elsewhere. (See previous post)

Hands: They appear to be back to normal, but my wedding and engagement rings are still snug enough that I'm afraid to wear them. Is it possible that my knuckles expanded during pregnancy? If so, can someone please explain why?

Face: Deflated almost to pre-pregnancy levels. One and a half chins as opposed to four.

Hair: I got it cut last week as a treat to myself, in a desire to look a little more polished and stylish. (Which one really ought to look when one sits around the house all day with her boobs hanging out.) I'm semi-pleased with the results. The fact is, I have great hair -- very thick and healthy -- but am incredibly lazy when it comes to doing the necessary work to make it look good.

Overall: A few lingering aches and pains occasionally flare -- the beleaguered pelvis, the taxed lower back -- but other than that, I feel almost normal. How lovely it is to be able to bend down and pick things up, trot (instead of lumber) up the stairs, and not feel like I have a laceration in my upper left abdominal muscles.

Oh yes -- and it's nice to be able to drink wine. Just the slight, single glass with dinner, as I do not wish to intoxicate the wondertwins and jeopardize their little brains. But even that -- Ah. So nice.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Thanks, everyone, for your replies to my last post. That's what's so great about this whole blogging thing -- you really do find out that you're not alone. I'm pleased to report that the hormones seem to be settling down a bit and I'm feeling somewhat better.

I also feel like I'm getting to know and enjoy the gals a little bit more. I'm trying to take more time to hold and look at and talk to them, unresponsiveness be damned! They do cuddle well. And this morning I read them a story, The Mitten. I think some of the finer points of the plot and themes were lost on them, and they were quite frankly indifferent to the gorgeous illustrations, but that really isn't their fault since they can't see more than a foot in front of them. And can't speak English. But they seemed to like the sound of my voice, and I felt like I was being a Good Mother.

Now, answers to your most pressing queries:

1. How did you come up with the girls' names? And how did you decide which to name which one?

Elsa was inspired by the character Ilsa Lund in Casablanca. (We're big Ingrid Bergman fans. Congratulations to the Motel Manager for guessing this one correctly, by the way!) We considered Ilsa, but decided to go with the slightly less foreign-sounding version of the same name so people wouldn't think that we hate America. And freedom. Elsa was the quieter of the twins in-utero, and has a sort of elegant look to her (for a baby, that is). There is also something elfish (elvin?) about her, which makes a nice mnemonic: Elsa the elf.

As for Clio, we liked the idea of a name from Greek mythology, hoity toities that we are, and were considering "Calliope" but weren't crazy about the nickname "Callie." So we checked out the names of the other Greek muses. Clio is the muse of history and heroic poetry, and is known as "the Proclaimer." We had a feeling this would be the right sort of name for Twin B, who liked to make her presence known in the womb. Indeed, Clio now likes to raise her arms and wave them around like a little dictator, so the "proclaimer" moniker still fits well. I'm annoyed to say that there is also an advertising award show called the Clios. So far, amazingly, none of my advertising colleagues have made any jokes about this.

2. How are things going with the doula?

Things went well. We had three visits from Arlene, who helped me figure out how to tandem breastfeed, offered encouraging advice, did some light cleaning and laundry, and one day made us a really excellent omelette for lunch. We also had visits from two other doulas when she wasn't available. Having them was nice, but we found ourselves not having too much for them to do. With A. being home, and both of us being fairly organized people, we've been managing to hold things together pretty well. So, we've decided instead to get an overnight nanny service that specializes in twins once a week. They came for the first time on Monday night, and Oh. my. God. I only had to get up once to pump, and therefore got almost a full night's sleep. The nanny stayed downstairs with the girls, gave them bottles (of pumped milk), changed them, swaddled them up like cigars, did their laundry, and emptied and loaded the dishwasher. Even though I'm not paying for it, I am embarrassed to say how much this service costs. But, it is so choice. If you have the means...

3. Which twin do you like better?

What a ridiculous question! Obviously, the one who's sleeping. Seriously, though, it is an odd thing to have these two completely different babies to divide my affection and attention between. "Divide" feels like the wrong word, though, because it's not like they each get half what they'd get if they were singleton babies. At least, I hope not. Though it is heartbreaking to have to let one cry while I'm feeding or changing the other one, simply because I can't get to them both at once. (N/A, of course, if A. is here and we can do man-on-man baby handling. Then, he doesn't have tits, which does put him at a disadvantage sometimes.)

The girls do have different personalities and tendencies, though I wonder how much of it is real and how much is our own projection. Elsa seems more serious and complex, Clio more silly and emotional. Elsa is prettier, Clio is cuter. Elsa's going to be a straight-A student, Clio's going to be a party girl. See? You get into dangerous territory when you start comparing. And yet, it's impossible not to.

4. Are you getting out of the house at all?

Believe it or not, yes. Now that I'm more or less recovered, physically, from the delivery, I'm trying to get out at least once a day, even if it's just to walk up to CVS. Over the weekend I went to a friend's baby shower, and yesterday I went to a lunch for a work friend who's leaving for another job. On Tuesday, at A's insistence, I went out to the local coffee shop for an hour and a half and had an au lait and read a novel. So, I'm managing not to get cabin fever. At the same time, I'm getting more accustomed to the rhythm of just being home and hangin' with the babies, and enjoying it more.

5. How are your boobs holding up?

Marvelously. They're just about the size I'd want if I were going to get a boob job. I'll miss them when they're gone.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Bright days, blue nights

Last night A. and I went on a date. His parents are in town visiting/helping, and watched the babes for a couple of hours while we went out to dinner. It was nice to get out of the house and have some time alone together. But it also felt disconcertingly normal -- almost like any other Saturday night in our life up until this point. I didn't feel like a parent. If you told me that, no, I didn't, in fact, have two baby daughters waiting at home, I might have been convinced. And realizing this made me feel quite guilty. Aren't I supposed to be rapturously in love with my daughters? Aren't I supposed to spend hours just staring at them, marveling? Aren't I supposed to feel like a mother? I want to. I'm dying to. When does it start?

I love these babies dearly. I love watching their little faces scrunch and stretch in sleep, love the way it feels to hold them, love to kiss their little cheeks and heads and mouths, and am still quite amazed each time I see them feeding at the breast, being nourished by my body. And yet, I have to admit, they don't feel quite fully mine yet. They can't interact or smile or acknowledge. They are mostly either eating or sleeping -- there isn't much in between. In other words, as lovely as they are, they are also rather boring.

If you haven't had children, or if you happened to have a soft-focus Hallmark Card mothering experience, you're probably thinking that I'm a horrible person. But I daresay that I'm not alone in feeling this way. And I think it's a big part of why the first weeks with a newborn are so hard. Yes, the lack of sleep, the constant feeding sessions on top of the demands of "normal" life (i.e. eating, showering, laundry, etc.) are in and of themselves challenging -- doubly so with twins. But what makes it even harder is the sense that you're basically just life support for these little munchkins. You give and give, and receive little in return. You feel, in a way, like your faith is being tested.

For me, it's the hardest in the evenings, when I've lately tended to be a little weepy and down (damned hormones), and when the night lies ahead, promising no real rest. I wonder: Why did I want this? Will it get easier? What is wrong with me?

By morning, though -- that first daylight feeding, when the four of us are all in the bed together, and A. and I are alert enough to laugh at Clio's dramatic hand gestures and Elsa's strange squeaks and grunts, and both babies finish their feeding milk-drunk and smacking their lips and smiling in their sleep -- things feel brighter. Thank God for the mornings.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Chapter One: We are born.

OK, this may be the longest post in the history of blogging, and if it were going to be workshopped, I'd most certainly be accused of the cardinal sin of abject naturalism. Truman Capote might say of it what he said of Jack Kerouac: "That's not writing; that's typing." It's short on wit, long on detail, and probably rife with errors, but I really wanted to get it all down, in large part for my own future reference. If I had time, I'd have created an abbreviated version for the blog, but -- well, time is about as scarce as dry diapers 'round these parts. So, feel free to skim, ignore, etc.

I promise that the next post won't be so prolix!

* * *

By Wednesday the 27th I was just so damned ready to not be pregnant anymore. Not purely because of the discomfort, but because the waiting was getting to be awfully tedious. I was too big and uncomfortable to leave the house much and too distracted (and also uncomfortable) to get any productive writing done. It was beginning to feel to both A. and me like the girls had resolved to stay inside for as long as fetally possible.

And then, whaddya know. Just as I was getting into bed, at about 11:45 pm, my water broke. We'd just finished watching The Innocents with Deborah Kerr, (an adaptation of James's The Turn of the Screw). Nothing like a movie about creepy, possessed demon children and a possibly mad governess to induce labor, I guess. I'd had some mild contractions throughout the evening, but they were no different from what I'd been experiencing most evenings for a while, so I didn't let myself get too excited about them.

The sensation of the water breaking was unmistakable – a warm spreading gush. Rather nice, actually. I leapt (as best a woman with a belly the size of a prizewinning hog can leap) out of bed and ran to the bathroom, heroically sparing the sheets. We'd changed them a couple of days earlier, which seemed a good Murphy's Law kind of way to encourage my water to break.

After a bit of running around, packing things up, and—yes—a quick blog post, we were on our way to the hospital. I'm so glad it happened late at night, incidentally. For the same reason I love driving to the airport when it's still dark out: this feeling that you're in a slightly altered version of the world, where only a small, strange population is awake and exciting things are about to happen.

My contractions started coming on soon after the water breakage, growing stronger and more regular. Very manageable, though. (Hooray for ujayyi breathing!) When we got up to the labor/delivery floor, they johnnied me up and checked to make sure my water had really broken—a sophisticated diagnostic test consisting of seeing just how fully one soaks the paper on the exam table—then hooked me up to two fetal heart monitors and a contraction monitor. These would soon become the bane of my labor. I was also readied for an IV, but asked them not to actually hook me in until it was necessary; the fewer encumbrances the better. I guess I'm a fairly assertive person in general, but I was impressed with my own ability to draw lines and make my preferences clear. A. was also a great support in this respect.

And it's a good thing, because the on-call doctor was a freakin' idiot, with a skittish, nervously smiling bedside manner. He told me that it's "standard procedure" for twin mothers to get an epidural. I informed him that no, it wasn't; it was my choice. He smiled skittishly and nervously. Then we asked him if he was prepared to do a breech extraction for the second baby if necessary. He said he didn't do breech extractions. Needless to say, we didn't exactly feel like we were in expert hands here. My next question to the nurse, when the doc left, was what time his shift ended and someone new would be in. 7 am. Excellent. I wouldn't even be close to delivering then. I thought.

We were brought into a labor room with a gorgeous view of the Charles River (not that we had much time to enjoy it). A labor nurse came named Chrissie and helped us get settled, then I had to lie on the labor bed (grrrr) while she tried to get a good trace on both heartbeats. They'd been having trouble getting a good line on Elsa. Meanwhile my contractions were getting stronger and closer together, moving more prominently and painfully into my lower back, and I was itching to move around, sit on a birthing ball, assume wolf-woman primitive squatting poses and channel lunar energy and whatnot. But there I was, stuck on the bed as the heartbeats fluttered in and out of view. I had to do this a couple more times during the course of the labor – lie down and have them attempt to find the heartbeats and it was just terrible to be stuck in that bed.

Not that being off the bed was that much better. With three contraptions strapped to my belly, their tubing draped over my neck, and a Johnny that kept falling off (the person who designed that garment ought to be drawn and quartered) it was tough to maneuver. I began to understand why the people in natural childbirth books are always naked. I would have killed to be naked and unencumbered. My most oft repeated phrase for the next hour or two, I think, was (in reference to the tubing) "get these fucking things out of my way!" A. was a saint, patiently rubbing my back, helping me disentangle myself from the tubing, giving me ice chips, and even managing to make me laugh. What was strange to me then, and even moreso now in retrospect, is the fact that the nurse didn't stay with us and help me through the contractions or coach in any way. Which was OK, I guess; A. was on the job. But I sort of thought that was a big part of a labor and delivery nurse's job....

At some point in all this, the other on-call doc came by for a visit—the chief resident, a woman my age or younger—who told us she did do breech extractions, and explained the risks, etc. Explanation! Respect for my wishes! Thank you!!

But then, a visit from another dickhead doctor, the on-call anesthesiologist. I'll cut him a little bit of slack, noting that a language barrier might have been part of the problem. Maybe he didn't really mean to sound like such an ass when I asked him about having the epidural catheter inserted but waiting on meds and he kept saying, "Why would you do that? It doesn't make any sense. Why suffer if you don't have to?" Apparently he and the on-call OB read the same book on how to perpetuate stereotypes about doctors and modern, medicalized birthing. I actually snapped at him at one point. "No, you're not listening to me. This is why I want what I want…." That felt great. I was really enjoying being difficult. Don't fuck with a woman in labor.

I took a walk around the floor, stopping to grasp the handrail and have A. rub my back during contractions (now less than a minute apart, if that, and evilly focused in my lower back). Stupid-ass on-call doc smiled skittishly at me as I passed and said, "we do offer the epidural, you know." I all but flipped him the bird.

It took a bit of pride swallowing for me, therefore, for me to finally ask for the epidural at around 4:30 am, at 5 cm dilated. The pain was so intense in my back, and the contractions were coming so hard and fast (I was under the mistaken impression that the time between them would be longer than 20-30 seconds.) Oh yeah, and because no story of mine would be complete without vomit in it, I'm pleased to report that I also puked.

Thinking that I still had hours to go, I told A.: "I don't think I'm going to be able to do this without the epidural." I might have been able to go a little bit longer without, but worried I wouldn't be able to stay still for them to insert the line. As some of you may know, I had a very bad, extremely painful experience after a spinal tap a couple of years ago, when the doctor nicked a vein on the way in. I wasn't about to risk going through that again.

Listen to me rationalizing. Yes, I would have loved to do the whole thing without pain meds. But at the time, and in retrospect, it felt like the right decision. When the anesthesiologist came in (a resident, not the dickhead from earlier) I was so glad to see him I held out my hand for a shake and said, "It's great to meet you," which seemed to take him slightly by surprise. Staying still for the insertion was tough, but the meds acted blessedly fast. I could barely feel the contractions once the epidural took effect, and yet I could still move my legs fairly well (though I wasn't allowed to get out of bed). Really, I was quite comfortable. "We should have brought Scrabble," I said to A.

I even managed to get a bit of sleep. Then, all of a sudden the doctor and a couple of nurses were in the room, and I could tell they meant business. Elsa's heart rate was dropping, as was my blood pressure. They put a shot of something into my epidural or IV (Ephedrine?) and slapped an oxygen mask on me, and that seemed to help. (Pro: the oxygen mask smelled like a Pecan Sandie. Con: it ironically felt harder to breathe with the mask than without it.)

They also put an internal fetal monitor on Elsa's head so they could get a better and more consistent read on her heartbeat. Everything seemed to be OK, but for next hour I couldn't take my eyes off the monitor. Every once in a while, Elsa's heartbeat would go down down down, into the 70s or 80s, and I'd be seriously tempted to reach up and hit the Code Blue button. Then it would climb back up.

At the same time, with each contraction, I was starting to feel a stronger and stronger urge to push. I think I expected this to feel more…er…vaginal in nature. But really, it just felt like an urgent need to take a crap. The next time the nurse came in (new nurse, now; a feisty gal from Georgia named Penelope), I asked – thinking I must still have a few hours to go – if she had any tips for trying to stave off the pushing urge. Her answer: let's have the doctor take a look at you. (And by "look" she meant a couple of fingers in the cooter). The doctor—a new one, a young woman, very smart, friendly and direct—introduced herself, then promptly shook hands with my cervix. Lo and behold, I was fully dilated. It believe it was just before 8 am.

It would be grossly inaccurate to say that the pushing was fun. But there was something rather satisfying about it – this feeling that I was actively doing something, rather than letting my uterus do the work for me as it had been for the previous seven hours. For each push, I'd wait for a contraction, then hold my legs up, bent at the knees, curl forward, take a big breath and bear down like I never had before, making all kinds of strange noises and ridiculous faces, while the doctor and nurse urged me on and said things like "push right into your bum," and "all your strength, all into your rectum." I swear that at one point somebody's finger was in my butt. Who knew giving birth was such an ass-centric activity?

Despite my hard work, the pushing was not going well. Elsa wasn't making much downward progress, and each time I pushed, her heart rate would drop. Her cord was evidently wrapped around her neck or was otherwise getting compressed with each push, so I had to wait out every other contraction to give her some recovery time. We tried some different positions—me on one side, then the other. Still, she wasn't descending the way they wanted. The doctor finally said that if we didn't make any more progress in the next few minutes, we'd need to go into the OR and try some vacuum extraction. Or….menacing music…we may have to go to C-section.

Well, that did it. I don't know if was me or Elsa or both of us, but on the very next push we made us some serious progress, oh yessiree. I said to myself, I know I can do this. If I can hold a challenging yoga pose just a few seconds longer than I did the last time, if I can climb the highest mountain in Central America fighting altitude sickness and nearly blacking out every step of the way, if I can spend three years writing a novel only to have it rejected and then go ahead and write another one, if I can deal with depression and a major disease scare, if I can deal with my crazy family, if I can carry two babies around inside me for nine months while keeping all three of us healthy, then I can push these babies out of me myself.

(Ahem. That was the inspirational paragraph, if you didn't notice. The one where the John Williams soundtrack swells to a rousing, moving climax.)

So, the pushing progressed, while a steady stream of people in surgical scrubs started coming in and out of the room, introducing themselves: pediatric nurses, physicians, anesthesiologists, chefs, jugglers, God knows who, all of whom would be in the OR while I delivered. (It's hospital policy for twin and other high risk births to happen in the operating room.) There must have been at least a dozen people who came in and out, all very cheerfully introducing themselves between pushes. As if I would remember who any of them were, or recognize them once they were in their surgical gear. At one point I looked over at A. and gave him a "what the hell?" look. (He'd put on his scrubs now, and I must say, he looked pretty damned cute in 'em.)

Finally, I was wheeled into the OR by a wisecracking anesthesiologist who made fun of the nurse pushing the bed for nearly crashing me into the wall several times. I was moved onto the table in the operating room—again, I was pretty mobile, so I wasn't flopped around like a rolled up carpet, but was able to do the moving myself.

More pushing ensued, and things seemed to be progressing well, with the doctor and a resident cheering me on as I pushed through one contraction, then rested through one to give Elsa some time to recover, and so on. Again, I really think that at one point someone had their finger in my butt.

Then, A. said, "look who's here." My obstetrician, the fab Dr. Huang, had happened to be in the hospital to perform a GYN surgery that was cancelled, heard I was here, and quickly suited up to come deliver the babies. The on-call doc stepped out, and he took over. "Fairy tale ending" sounds rather silly where mass amounts of blood, amniotic fluid and grunting are involved, but it felt quite auspicious that he showed up.

Back to Miss Elsa: I could feel that head a comin' down the chute, and at one point got to reach down and feel it – it was soft and wet, like a baby chick. A., brave man, was down there helping to hold my left leg back while I pushed, and got a front row view of the head emerging. Everyone was saying "she's almost out! She's right there!" It was thrilling, especially to hear the excitement in A's voice.

But Elsa wouldn't quite get her little coconut out the door. My doctor asked me if I would be OK with a small (2nd degree) episiotomy. Hell, at that point, I would have let them amputate my left hand if that's what it would take to get the baby out. A quick snip—I didn't feel it at all—and Elsa's noggin emerged, face up.

The cord was wrapped around her neck, so they cut it immediately, and then the rest of her slipped out. (Amazing how small the rest of a baby seems once you've passed its big ole head through your vagina.) I only got a quick glimpse of her; she was quiet and quite pale, her eyes wide open. She was whisked away immediately for oxygen and Apgar-ing (she got a 5 to start, then an 8), then taken to the Transitional Care Unit for some extra TLC. I remember being slightly concerned, but not scared. I must have delivered the afterbirth at this point, though I have no memory of it.

Meanwhile, Clio was ready to roll, having cooperatively stayed head down. They broke my water with something resembling a crochet hook, which resulted in an impressive splash onto the OR floor. It didn't take long at all to push Miss Clio out, and I felt like an old pro at that point. She came out screaming and looking quite pissed. (Apgars: 8 and 9) While she was weighed and swaddled, the doc pushed on my belly to help deliver the afterbirth. When that was over, I took a look at my belly—it was so odd to see it so much smaller. There was an odd football-ish shaped mound in the middle that emerged when I tried to sit up a little. The resident said, "that's your little alien," – the result of the abdominal muscles having separated. Or something.

Clio was brought to me then, wrapped in a blanket, her face still wet with vernix. She looked surprisingly like her U/S pictures – a little turned up nose and round baby face (both courtesy of her Dad, methinks). I was awfully glad to see her, but I didn't cry. I didn’t really expect to. I'm weird like that – I cry in anticipation of and after momentous events, but rarely tear up in the actual moment. During my pregnancy I got blubbery every time I watched a video of a baby being born and put into its mother's arms, but I somehow knew that I probably wouldn't cry when it happened to me. It was all just so intense, so real – I was too close to it all to have any sense of emotional perspective or context of the sort that would cause me to cry. Or, maybe it was just the fact that I was so damned dehydrated. I'd never felt so thirsty in my life.

Clio and A. and I all went back to the labor room to chill for a little while, enjoy the view of the Charles River in the morning light. They took my vitals, we were brought some breakfast, and I took a first shot at breastfeeding Clio. It was amazing to see her instincts at work – opening her mouth wide, looking for the breast, sucking. (She didn't actually get a very good mouthful of boob, so it was more like she was giving me hickeys, but hey, it was a start.)

We were then moved down to our room on the post-partum floor. I won't go into detail about the next 48 hours, except to say this: it is absolutely EVIL that the hospital / insurance companies / the Man / whoever only let you stay 48 hours after a vaginal birth, even if it's twins. I had thought that the hospital stay would be a chance to rest and recover a little bit, but instead it was like a three ring circus – a nonstop succession of people in and out of the room: to check the girls' vital signs (their temps were tending to run low), to check my vital signs (my blood pressure was running high; I had elephant feet and a moon face), to have us fill out paperwork for birth certificates, to empty the trash, to bring food (which wasn't bad, but which was inevitably cold by the time I got around to eating it), to help us with breastfeeding/supplementing, to go over mandatory lists of "things I should know" about my recovery and the girls' first days at home, to show us how to bathe the girls. There was also a baby care class to take, and stress tests to run on the girls in their car seats because they were so small. Plus feedings every three hours, with a complicated catheter/syringe formula supplementation system, and even some milk pumping, so we'd be able to take the babies home with us. (The pediatrician said they might have to stay an extra day if they lost too much weight, but I'd be discharged, which meant we'd have to camp out in a room in the NICU and fend for ourselves re. food, etc.) Then there was the fact that every time I had to go to the bathroom, it was a 5-10 minute operation, involving a squirt bottle, gigantic mesh underwear, ice packs, and diaper-sized maxi pads. Ladies who've given birth will know what I'm talking about.

All this, plus visits from A's parents, my parents, and phone calls to and from friends, all of which were delightful and much appreciated. But Lordy, the whole hospital stay felt rather like running a small corporation. So, while more time to recover would have been nice, I guess in some ways it was actually a relief to come home.

As we left the hospital, a light snow was falling. Much oohing and ahhing over the twins in the hospital lobby while I waited for A. to get and warm up the car. The drive home was, indeed, a little harrowing. Every other driver on the road was a menace, an asshole, an idiot. Which is par for the course in Boston, naturally, but we felt it more keenly that day. A. decided we should get a "Baby on Board" sign, reasoning that whenever he sees one he tends to back off a little. I wasn't wild about the idea on principle, but on our next trip to Babies-R-Us we picked one up. It makes a nice counterpart to the "Anarchy" magnet.

The strangest thing about all this, is that I'm actually already nostalgic for it: the excitement of the birth and the first precious hours. The intensity and strangeness of it all. It was so surreal to think: these are our children. We made them. It still hasn't fully sunk in, I don't think, and as much as I adore them, they still feel like strangers sometimes.

But more on that later...

Friday, January 05, 2007

A few things...

I am working on an account of the girls' birth, which I'll subject you to in the next day or two -- just getting a paragraph down here and there between feedings -- but in the meantime, a few quick observations:

--I feed babies. That is my full time job. I breastfeed and I pump. (Plus some diaper changing and baby holding.) I can feed both girls at the same time with assistance from A. or the doula -- it's almost literally a juggling act. They are learning to latch on better and eat more efficiently, which is nice, since it's been taking us about an hour all told to do each feeding (changing, burping, soothing, etc.). Then two hours more and we do it all again. 24 hours a day.

--The nusing tank, nursing bra and the hands-free pumping bra are three of mankind's greatest inventions.

--My pregnancy weight topped out at about 165 lbs (almost a 50 lb gain). I now weigh about 130. Unbelievable. My favorite maternity jeans, which I couldn't wear the last month of the pregnancy, are now almost too big.

--We picked the right names. Every day the girls feel more and more like what we named them, and more and more like ours. They are absolutely incredible.

--I don't know how ANYone takes care of twins without a husband / mother / hired help around. It seems like it would simply be impossible, and yet it must happen all the time. I feel so blessed to have a husband who can be here to help, in-laws who are paying for extra help for us, and a mom who was willing to spend the first 4 nights at home with us. I don't think we would have eaten otherwise.

--My husband is the greatest guy in the universe. He's so wonderful with the babies, so helpful, so patient. We are absolutely 50/50 in this.

--This is easily the most challenging thing I've ever done, and yet I can't remember the last time I felt so happy and so intensely alive and aware of all the richness, beauty, squalor, heartbreak and gloriousness of the world. I find myself thinking and speaking the word 'God', which I rarely ever did before. Not to refer to any kind of divine being--no thanks--but for this...this...whatever this intensity of emotion and awareness and feeling of interconnectedness with the rest of humanity is. I suppose you could also call it "hormones." But I'm gonna stick with God for now.

My goodness, what an earnest post. This is what parenthood will do to ya. I'll have to be sure to drop a few F-bombs into the birth story, lest anyone think I've turned into a complete sap.