5/25/17

Breastfeeding Twins: my story



Grace. Let my first word of this post be grace. Breastfeeding twins comes naturally for some mamas while others, like me, will struggle. For me, the desire to feed my babies at the breast was enough fuel to help me endure and overcome three months of struggle and feeding challenges. It was hard but worth it. For other mamas, the emotional and physical challenges will be harder than mine and they will make the decision to pump, use donor milk, or switch to formula. Still others will be forced due to circumstances beyond their control to let go of their desire to feed at the breast. Whatever your story, I respect your choices and hope you find no judgement here. We are all doing our best for our babies and there is lots of room for grace in parenting. 

When I was pregnant one of the first things I googled was, "Is it possible to breastfeed twins?" I had no idea if a woman's body could make enough milk to sustain two lives. My twins are now 13 months old and still nursing! The answer is: yes it is absolutely possible to breastfeed twins! While I've shared bits and pieces of my breastfeeding journey in my monthly postpartum updates, this post will be a more focused and detailed walk through my story. Because I am not a lactation consultant nor a breastfeeding specialist, I don't want to offer any medical advice here; instead I will share my personal journey and offer a few pieces of general advice at the end. While every twin mom's journey will be different, my experiences were not uncommon and I hope you, as an expectant mom or new mom of twins, will find it helpful as you prepare or encouraging as you look for hope in your own journey!

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If you are not familiar with my story, here's a brief summary: my twins are my first children by birth. My husband and I also have an older son who came into our family via international adoption at age 2.5. Our twins were conceived with donor embryos after years of infertility.

When I was pregnant with my twins, I felt very unsure about how breastfeeding would go. I would look at my oldest who was given formula in infancy and feel comforted to know that he was (and is!) an absolutely amazing little boy: smart, healthy, funny, artistically gifted... I could not be more proud of him! So while I knew I absolutely wanted to give my best efforts at breastfeeding, I was not opposed to using formula. I already had a child who was given formula and was thriving.

However the more I began to read about the benefits of breastmilk , the more I wanted to breastfeed. (Among other benefits, breastmilk contains antibodies to protect baby from illnesses, lowers risk for asthma and allergies, and gives babies the perfect nutrition) I also loved the idea that I would not have to wash bottles and I would be able to feed my babies anywhere at anytime. I joined some Facebook support groups to learn how I could prepare myself for breastfeeding and quickly discovered that breastfeeding doesn't always come easily! I told myself I would give it a good solid try for two months before I made any decisions about giving up. It turned out I needed both those months plus a couple more weeks to work out all the issues I faced in my journey! Here is my story:

I encountered two breastfeeding obstacles immediately after the birth of my twins: 1) I had a hemorrhage after their birth and 2) my twins were born prematurely at 35 weeks gestation. The hemorrhage caused my milk to be delayed in coming in and, because they were premature, my twins could not wait to be fed. I was thrilled to learn that the Special Care Nursery at my hospital (which is like a low level NICU) gave parents the choice of donor breastmilk or formula for their preemies. My husband and I chose donor milk which took a huge load of stress off my shoulders as I waited for and worried abut my milk coming in.

As we waited for my milk to come in, the nurses and IBCLCs (International Board Certified Lactation Consultants) encouraged me to come to the Special Care Nursery to hold my babies skin-to-skin and put them to the breast as much as possible. This contact would stimulate my body to produce milk. They also had me pumping every three hours to encourage my milk to come in. On the third day I started producing the tiniest amount of colostrum. Honestly it was so little I probably would have done nothing with it, but the nurses had me put it on my fingers and rub it on the inside of my babies' cheeks. They told me it was "liquid gold" and certainly treated it as such!
Tandem feeding my twins for the first time! 

Seeing my milk come in was exciting! I remember saying to one of the IBCLCs that you know as a woman it is "supposed" to happen but there is a part of you that wonders if it really will... when it finally does it is a huge relief and an amazing thing to think that your body is producing milk to sustain another human life! Or in my case, liveS!

I was discharged from the hospital before my babies due to their prematurity. The main thing my twins needed to learn before being discharged was how to eat. The suck/swallow/breathe routine babies need to nurse is quite complex and preemies often struggle with it. My twins had a tube that went down their nose into their belly through which they could be fed. Our general routine was to first put them to the breast and then to give them a bottle to see how well they could take milk by mouth. When/if they tired, they received the rest of their feeding through the tube in their nose.
You can see the nose tube (to feed via "gavage") here. 
When putting my babies to the breast I encountered another problem which was that my babies could not latch. As a result I used a nipple shield which is a thin piece of silicone that makes it easier for my twins to latch. Using the shield was both a blessing and a curse: a blessing because they were able to latch with it but a curse because it was tricky keep on, especially with trying to tandem nurse, and a source of much frustration as I later tried to wean them off it.

As I continued to nurse and pump over the course of my twins' 10 day hospital stay, my milk production ramped up. I would proudly arrive at the Special Care Nursery each morning carrying a bag filled with little bottles of milk for my babies. It made me feel so good to know I was producing for them! However as I produced more milk, my babies began to eat more and I could not quite catch up to them. Near the end of their hospital stay I was producing about 75% of what they needed. I remember thinking that if I only had one baby, I would have more than enough milk. That thought was encouraging and gave me faith in my body, however I wasn't satisfied with that. I wanted to produce 100% of what they needed and was determined to not give up.

While overall the hospital staff were incredibly supportive of breastfeeding, I did receive two comments that stung my emotional postpartum mama heart. They were both the same comment: "You may never make enough milk." 

I'm sure the staff people who made this comment were only trying to make sure I had realistic expectations, but I found those remarks incredibly discouraging. And looking back, I believe it was way too soon for them to make that suggestion. Not only was there no medical reason to suspect that I might not be able to make enough milk, there was medical reason to explain why I was having such a slow start to my milk production. First, I had hemorrhaged which can hinder initial milk production. Second, I was mostly pumping and a mother's body responds differently to a pump than to a baby. Once I was able to put my babies to the breast more frequently my milk production did indeed increase. I wish instead of saying, "You may never make enough" they had said, "Let's continue to keep nursing and pumping and see what happens!"

By the time I left the hospital I was producing about 75% of what my twins needed. While the hospital had provided donor milk during our stay, we were given a special formula for preemies to supplement with at home. I felt okay about supplementing with formula but continued to hope I wouldn't need it for long. Shortly after I got home, a woman from my church contacted me and asked if I would like to receive a donation of her milk to I could stop using formula. I couldn't say yes fast enough! I felt tremendously blessed by her generosity and still to this day feel grateful.
Arriving home with our twins for the first time! 
By the time they were six weeks old, my milk supply had nearly caught up what my twins were eating and we were supplementing with one 3oz bottle of donor milk per day. Having nearly gotten my supply issue under wraps, my next focus was on getting my babies to take their full feeds at the breast.

Getting the twins to take enough milk at the breast proved to be the biggest challenge I would face. Since we had arrived home from the hospital I had been "triple feeding" which means I was nursing and pumping and bottle feeding at nearly every feed... which means every 2-3 hours around the clock. By the time I got done one feeding it was very nearly time for the next! When I say that I was exhausted I mean I was absolutely hollowed out exhausted.
So very, very tired. 
There are not words to tell you how awful it was. Many times I struggled to know if I was making the right decision to keep at it. I thought about giving up on nursing and exclusively pumping instead. But each time I brought my babies to the breast I was overwhelmed with the feeling that this is how it should be. All my motherly instincts were on fire telling me that this was what was best for me and my babies. If only my babies could figure out how to take enough milk from me! I had enough milk! They just needed to get strong enough to take it from me. 

So despite my loathing of the pump and all that time wasted at the sink cleaning and sterilizing bottle and pump parts, I kept on. 

I brought my babies back to the hospital to visit with the IBCLCs for weighted feeds where they would be weighed, then nursed, and then weighed again to see how much they were taking in. By four weeks old they were still not taking enough milk at the breast. 4 weeks may sound young, and it is, but four weeks of triple feeding is a very, very long time. I was feeling desperate.

Then someone suggested to me that my babies might have lip and/or tongue ties. That night I researched the symptoms of lip and tongue ties and I felt like I was reading a description of my babies! They had nearly every symptom. The next morning I went back to the IBCLC's office to have them checked and they did indeed have ties. Why they were not checked earlier, I don't know. I wish I would have known to ask!

My husband and I made an appointment with a specialist in a nearby city to have their ties revised. I researched a lot to find someone who was well-trained and able to complete this procedure with a laser rather than scissors which, after my research, I believed to be a more precise way of revising the ties. The revisions were done at 6 weeks old and took two weeks to heal. It wasn't until 10 days after the revisions that I really noticed a difference but it was a big deal when I did: both twins had latched without the nipple shield! Finally! They had not been able to latch without it until that point, despite my many efforts.

After two weeks, I took them back to the IBCLC's office for another weighted feed and the results were encouraging! The twins were very, very close to taking what they needed at the breast!
Looking down on my babies in a milk coma after nursing! 
What's more, my milk supply had not only caught up to them but exceeded them and I was building a small stash of milk in my freezer! My confidence was growing.

Now, I have to interject a disclaimer here: lip and tongue ties can grow back as they heal. If I look in the twins' mouths now at 13 months of age, to me (not a professional) it looks like their ties have grown back. This does make me question whether the revisions were what turned things around for us or if it was just them getting older and stronger. I guess I will never know but I do know I made the best decision I could at the time with the information I had so I don't regret it. 

Over the next couple weeks my twins continued to nurse more effectively. Until then I had been following up each nursing session by pace feeding a bottle of expressed milk and now they seemed less eager for the bottle. I called the IBCLC's office to talk about taking that bottle supplement away and they gave me the go-ahead. At this point I was still worried about my babies not getting enough to eat so I bought a baby scale to do my own weighted feeds and to make sure they were gaining appropriately. I watched them closely over the course of a month and indeed they gained more than enough by simply eating at the breast! By the time they were 4 months old, I put my pump away and I haven't looked back since.

While my journey to successful breastfeeding was gradual, there was one particular moment that made me feel like I had finally been victorious. It was a sunny morning in early summer. My husband and I had taken our twins and our older son for a short hike at a local nature preserve. While hiking, the twins began to fuss. We stopped at a bench by a small stream. My older son played in the stream and I sat with a baby while my husband held the other... and I nursed. As simply as that. After all those weeks of triple feeding with nipple shields and bottles and pumping etc.... to simply and easily sit down and nurse a baby felt like an enormous victory! I remember looking at my husband and saying, "This is what makes everything worth it."

Breastfeeding only got easier from there and now more than a year later it feels like second nature.

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I want to end this post with some words of advice. I asked the women in a La Leche League support group for moms of multiples what their advice would be for a mom who wanted to breastfeed her twins. I received wonderful words from 40 different women and here I will summarize the 3 most repeated:

3. Get support. Surround yourself with people who will encourage you on your journey and reinforce the truth that it is possible to breastfeed twins! I know I felt vulnerable and emotional in my postpartum period and I needed to hear again and again that I could do this and to not to give up! I could compare it to a long distance run: there will be times when you want to give up because you are so tired but those cheering voices encourage you to keep going. When you cross the finish line you will be so proud of your perseverance! Perseverance is always difficult but it also teaches you how strong you truly are.

"It is going to be tough at first and you may feel at times like they are constantly attached to you or worry that you can't keep your supply up for them. But just know that even though they are little, somehow they let you know they appreciate all you are doing for them.... And remember that you are awesome for being able to provide this amazing nutrition for your baby. Not everyone makes it, determination is key!" - Marlesha Fishnick 

"Don't let anyone tell you that you can't. This is your journey with your babies, don't let someone else ruin it. That being said, surround yourself with supportive people. Doctors, friends, family, LLL, groups on social media are all important to your journey if you utilize them! Find good, supportive ones and let them encourage you when you need it." - Kate Black 

For me the most important people in my journey were 1) my husband who encouraged me and supported whatever decisions I wanted to make about feeding our babies 2) the IBCLCs whose professional advice was invaluable, and 3) fellow breastfeeding twins moms who knew what I was going through and told me again and again, "It gets better!"

2. Be flexible, be patient, be determined. If your milk comes in late or you need to supplement or use a nipple shield or your twins are preemies or you deal with lip and tongue ties... go with the flow while keeping your eyes on your ultimate goal.

"I have found that breastfeeding is truly a journey that ebbs and flows. What works one day, may not work the next. There will be days that the babies are satisfied and happy, and there will be days when you are all crying together. Never give up on your hardest day. One day you may be able to exclusively nurse, one day you may have to pump, bottle feed and nurse, and one day you may need to supplement with formula, nurse, and pump! It's exhausting, but you are not alone and you are doing the very best thing you can to give your babies a good start in life." - Ashley Stultz Kempton 

"If one feeding doesn't go well, try not to think that is how it will be, and remember how sleep deprived you are before you start saying the world is going to end! As the weeks go by they will get better at nursing, remember you are learning with your little ones" - Sarah Jackson Clark 

"Grace. Give yourself grace. I had times that I was overwhelmed. And exhausted. And so convinced that I had to do all direct from the breast all the time, because as a stay at home mom, I had no excuse not to. Except I don't need an excuse. You have to do what you can do. And you have to let go of other people's ideas of perfect." - Rachel Brooks 

1) Get a twin nursing pillow! This was BY FAR the most repeated piece of advice and I 100% agree. I used my nursing pillow in the hospital, at home in bed and on the couch, in the minivan, on vacation.... every time I tandem nursed for the first 6 months. There are two popular options: I had the My Brest Friend Twin Plus pillow which I would recommend and anther option is the Twin Z pillow. Most women followed up the pillow advice by saying you should store water and snacks in the pillow's pocket or nearby. Breastfeeding twins burns something like 1,200-2,000 extra calories per day so you are going to need to eat lots and stay hydrated!

"It will be a year breastfeeding my twins and I have 3 older kids I nursed as well. With twins it is completely different and wonderful. Go into it with an open mind knowing there will be tough days. When those tough days come, lean on your loved ones, ask for help, accept that lactation consult, pump and trust yourself. I was surprised when they wanted to eat every hour round the clock so I spent weeks on the couch with my twin Z nursing pillow, huge water container and a smorgasbord of snacks. When days turned into weeks and weeks into months I realized that without my noticing, it had gotten better and became more of a snuggle session. My personal saving grace is that I learned to nurse them at the same time." - Deanne Rivera Sellars  

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Last week a woman in my community had a baby and nursing got off to a rough start. She needed donor breastmilk to supplement for a while and I was able to give her 75oz that I had pumped and frozen months ago and never needed to use. As I made my donation I thought back to myself last year: emotional, struggling, wondering if I would really ever have enough milk or be able to feed my babies at the breast... 

If I could see me now! ;-)

xo

4/27/17

Q&A: More kids? Balancing life? Favorite cookbooks?

Thank you for all the questions you asked me in response to my request for this Q&A post! I think of myself as someone who goes deep fast and it seems like many of my readers are too; wow you asked some great and pointed questions! I won't be able to get to all of them, but I chose the most repeated. A few I have addressed in the past (read my thoughts on faith and fertility treatments in this post) and the questions about breastfeeding I've decided to answer in their own post so look for that in a few weeks! I'm also thinking about writing a post on the whole process of embryo adoption, but want to do some digging to see if some kind of helpful document on the process- in its many forms- already exists first. (If you know of one, please let me know!)

Let's start with the meatiest question, which is about the future of our family: Are you having any more children? Related, a number of you asked if we have any more embryos and what our relationship with the embryo donors is like.

The embryos were donated to us anonymously via our fertility clinic's anonymous donation program. This means that we do not know the donors.

There are remaining embryos however after much (emotional) thought and prayer, we've decided not to pursue any more fertility treatments. (The embryos will go back to our clinic for another couple.) If you've been through the IVF process you can probably understand our decision. If not, I don't know if I can adequately express how truly taxing the process is. After our many IUIs, two surgeries, and three rounds of donor IVF, I'm done. I am grateful beyond description for our twins and for Arie which is why the decision is so tough, but I don't have it in me physically or emotionally to undergo more embryo transfers.

These days I feel fully invested in the present tense and I am loving it! I take each day as it comes and pour all my energy into my family. Undergoing IVF would take me out of the present tense. It would require me to use my time and energies for something else. I don't want to miss a single second of these crazy precious years with my three little boys! I want to enjoy them. I am enjoying them.

If I am totally honest I will tell you that I do want one more baby. If I were one of those fertile people who get to have a say in when they conceive, I would want to add a fourth and final child to our family in a few years. (Probably when the twins go to preschool to give me a break from the nausea I would anticipate living with for the first four months again!) However when you are infertile you don't get to decide if you'll have more children, much less when. So, I'm deciding to be content with my three beautiful, precious, amazing little boys. I may always feel a little ache for a fourth child but it is nothing, nothing, like the devastating hollow in my heart before them. I can live with the ache because it is soothed with the gratitude I have for my three.

Yes. Unless we are surprised with a miracle baby, three is our number. Three is our joy!
Our three precious gifts! 

*

The next most common questions were all some form of: How do you do it all? How do you balance everything? 

The very first thing I always say when someone asks me this question is: I don't believe in balance. 

Instead, I believe in priorities.

Different seasons and heck even different days call for different priorities.

For the first three months of the twins' life I heard this comment a lot: "Make sure you take care of YOU."

Um.... those people must not have had twins.

Or maybe I just had no idea of what "self-care" looked like with newborn twins. For those first three months there was not a chance in hell I was getting away for a massage. I barely had time to pee. And that's not an exaggeration. I remember reading a book for twin moms and the author said something like, "In the first few months postpartum, if you brush your teeth and care for your babies, consider your day a success." Reading those words was such a relief to me! Trying to figure out "self-care" at that time was just one more thing for me to fail at.

Before the twins, self-care meant going to my pottery class, getting a massage, or taking a day to go shopping. After the twins, at first self care looked like remembering to eat lunch and closing my eyes while I yawned. After those first few very intense months passed, self-care meant I loaded up the twins in my minivan and drove around for an hour so they would both sleep at the same time and I could listen to a podcast and sit down without holding anyone. I admit, I drove through our local ice-cream place for milkshake to enjoy on my minivan drives on more than one occasion. That precious hour was such a nice breather in the middle of my afternoon!
Happy 6 month old Roman in the van! 

Now that the twins are on a schedule (finally!) my evenings are free for me again. As an introvert, I like nothing more than to have a quiet evening alone (with John). I feel like I have time for myself again, time to take a bath, look up decorating ideas for our house, read my food magazines and search for new recipes, edit photos, indulge in my hobbies again. I prioritize my evenings for myself and I cherish that time.

As far as other priorities, it really depends on the day. If I'm having company, I'll prioritize cleaning. If not, I'll let my kitchen floors get gross, hope I don't have any surprise company, and do something else like work on my blog or write an email to a friend. (The other day I had a friend over and when I apologized for the stiiiiiiick-cruuuuuuunch thing her socks were doing on my kitchen floors, she just smiled and said, "Feels like home." I mean... is that a true friend or what??) If the weather is nice, the tiny messy handprints on my windows stay there and the boys and I enjoy being outside. If it is rainy and cold, I might get around to my bi-annual Vacuuming Of The Stairs.

I don't do it all and I don't have a balanced life. I just prioritize. The most important things get done (Children alive and well? Check.), the least important things almost never do (Vacuuming the stairs? Rarely. Ironing? Never.), and the medium important things happen in a last minute panic with some swearing (It's our week to bring snack to kindergarten!!! WHO THE HELL ATE ALL THE CHEESE STRINGS?!).

Maybe balance is important to you. Just ignore me then. But I'm not happy trying to find balance. I say no to a LOT and figure out what is important to me. Life is still crazy and busy but you know? We only get this one life and I don't want to spend it stressed about doing it all. I know what it important to me and I focus on those things. Everything else can wait or go away.

So please don't think I "do it all." I don't! This week I cooked some amazing dinners, cleaned out the boys' closets, kept our house mostly clean, spent time outside with the boys, forgot to mail a document I was supposed to mail two weeks ago, failed to send Arie to school with his indoor shoes four days in a row, decided my shower wasn't that dirty and can probably make it another week (it really can't), lost a baby's sun hat after ONE use, and... was happy.

...

When I first wrote this answer I left it there but I felt I should come back and give you at least one paragraph of practice advice. Here are my three best tips for making life run smoothly:

1) Minimalism. The less you have, the less you have to clean up, worry about, fix and repair, and deal with. Hearty recommendation for the book The Joy of Less by Francine Jay.

2) Amazon Prime. Just this week our carbon monixide detector died. Instead of putting it on a list to be forgotten about for months or searched for aimlessly in the hardware store, I just typed the make and model in Amazon and two days later it was at my doorstep. I order SO MANY THINGS on amazon. Make up, bar soap, pajamas for the twins, shoes for Arie, craft supplies, extension cords, batteries, party balloons, YOU NAME IT. Saves so much time at the store!

3) Bullet journaling, calendar keeping, and list making. As a mom, I am only working with 25% of my brain at any given time. My babies stole the rest while I wasn't sleeping. Writing stuff down makes life run better because I am not stressed about remembering or forgetting.

What are your favorite cookbooks and recipes? 

Oh me. Oh my.

Do you have an hour?

I probably could have talked about cooking in the above "self-care" and "priorities" because cooking falls into both those categories for me. I feel like myself in the kitchen. I feel so good about my mothering when I put a good meal on the table. For me cooking indulges my creativity, makes me feel like I'm doing a good job as a spouse and parent, and the dinner hour grounds us and centers our family's daily schedule... it ticks many boxes.

Right now my favorite cookbooks are all about fast cooking because I have three kids and I don't have a ton of time to spend in the kitchen. I look for meals that take about 30-45 minutes from cracking open the cookbook to dinner on the table.
Making Sloppy Joes from: 100 Days of Real Food Fast and Fabulous cookbook

Currently loving:

100 Days of Real Food (Her granola recipe is perfection.)
100 Days of Real Food Fast and Fabulous (Morrocan meatballs are a current favorite over here!)
Skinny Taste Fast and Slow (Just made her "Three Cup Chicken" in my Instant Pot for dinner tonight. Yum!)
Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime (Chicken Enchiladas. Need I say more?)

When I have more time to cook and/or prep a meal, my two current favorites are:

The Farm: rustic recipes for a year of fabulous food (his "Blueberry Belle" dessert will send you to heaven!)
Eating in the Middle: a mostly wholesome cookbook (her chicken souvlaki with taziki sauce makes my heart beat faster.)

Past favorites that are stained and torn and well-loved:

My Father's Daughter: delicious, easy recipes celebrating family and togetherness (I go back to many of her soup recipes again and again!)
Super Natural Everyday: well loved recipes from my natural foods kitchen (just saying the title of her recipe, "Broccoli Gribiche" makes my mouth water!)

*

Phew! Only got through three questions and I feel I have been typing for hours. I may have to return to another Q&A to answer more. I hope this is helpful for you! Thank you again for asking your wonderful questions! Keep them coming. They help me know how and what to write about!

xo 

4/18/17

ONE!

Tomorrow morning Ira and Roman will wake up as one year olds!

I am mesmerized by them. Everything they do is normal yet everything they do surprises me, delights me, and moves me to a love so deep sometimes I wonder how my body doesn't just burst apart in a spectacular show of fireworks and glitter. I spend my days at home fumbling at my phone to get a picture of the most amazing new skills they have learned or adorable thing they are doing. And then I spend my evenings yelling at John to, "LOOK! QUICK! LOOK! LOOK AT THEM!"

I Skype my parents in the evenings and relive the adorable moments of the day. I could likely bore the paint on your wall by gushing about how Roman tried to crawl OVER Ira to get to a toy. Right over him! Didn't even stop. Just plowed right through! Oh, delightful little boy.

I love them with a stupid love. A love that needs no reason, has no limit, requires no explanation, and cannot be understood.

A mother's love.

A love that wakes at night to quiet cries, that wipes banana off faces, floors, and small hands every morning, that cuts every grape into quarters, that wrestles over impossibly squirmy diaper changes every 3 hours, that kisses bumps on heads, wipes bums and runny noses all day long, and makes peanut butter toast with one hand and cuddles a fussy baby in another.

This love must be divine for the way it motivates even my weariest self to keep going, keep plugging on through the mundane tasks of every day, day after day.

This year has been the most mundane, the simplest, the most tedious, draining, exhausting, boring year of my life. And also the most magical, exhilarating, inspiring, interesting, incredible, most fulfilling, exciting and delightful one too.

I follow another mom of multiples on Facebook and on the occasion of her babies' first birthday she described her year as like having "front row seats" to an amazing work of God.

Yes.

I believe have had a front row seat to a miraculous work of our Father.

To think all the things that had to happen to bring our boys into our family- the twins and Arie too- how much brokenness had to be redeemed, how many details had to fall in exactly the right place. It boggles the mind. When I look at all three of my boys I am silenced in awe to think how all at once they are not where they were supposed to be yet exactly where they are supposed to be. This is what it means to be redeemed, isn't it? A brokenness that gets put together in a new and more glorious way.

I am the one redeemed, most of all. Once lonely and longing I now have three beautiful boys to call my own. Arie made me a mother and Ira and Roman fulfilled my desires to live out the experience of pregnancy, birth, and babyhood. I longed to know everything about those stages from the kicks inside to the slip of a baby from womb to arms, to know the gaze of a nursling at my breast, to feel the perfect weight and rhythmic breathing of a small body sleeping on mine...

I have known them all, two-fold.

This year has been a gift. I have been given a bank of memories with my babies, the full experience of newborn and baby life. I know the flood of emotion that comes with your baby's first smile and the burst of pride when he finally figures out how to coordinate a crawl. I will have the music of baby laughter ringing in my memory until I am old and gray.

I am filled.

I did it.

The pregnancy.
The birth.
The sleepless nights.
The endless days.
The sweet smell of baby breath.
The perfect sight of a baby body in the bath.
The oatmeal in their hair. And ears.
The standing up YAY.
The falling down OH NO!
The "don't pull the cat's tail!"
The slobbery kisses.
The fetching a stuck baby who crawled under the couch.
The early mornings.
The late nights.
The blow out diapers on a road trip.
The "don't put that in your mouth!"
The dressing them up: how adorable!
The undressing them for bath: even more so.
The standing over the crib just to watch them sleep.
The wishing the day would end faster and then missing them when they went to bed.

I've done it all.

I am filled and thankful.

I can't know if I enjoy my children more than others do because it was such a hard journey to bring them into our family. But I do know that I enjoy them more than I would have if they had come easily to me. I feel all the emotions like a normal mom from the boredom to the delight to the frustration to the pride. But I don't take them for granted. They are a privilege that will never be lost on me.

Happy birthday Ira and Roman. To be your mama is my joy. I open my arms and my heart to the future. Let's start this next adventure: year two.

Some details on each of the twins:

Ira

Ira is a smiley, happy little baby boy with a love for music and a hilarious shoulder and bum shimmy to prove it. He has a wonderful full body laugh and an equal yet opposite wail when his emotions go in the other direction. He is the more sensitive of the two babies and the one who is not yet sleeping through the night (although he used to the better sleeper of the two! They keep us guessing those two!).

Ira's favorite foods are crackers and rice. A carb guy! His favorite toy is the jack-in-the-box and when he sees us pull it out he starts pretending to be surprised with a quick yelp and pump of his fists. It's like he's trying to tell us, "Do the thing where it jumps out!"

Ira babbles constantly. He loves to talk! When John comes home from work Ira launches into a big long "story" about his day. It melts our hearts! At night we sometimes hear him babbling to his lovey which is so precious. He is a very social little baby and a true joy to have in our home!

Ira is able to crawl anywhere he wants to go, however he is not too busy yet. He prefers to find a toy and sit with it, quietly investigating all its ins-and-outs. He makes the cutest expressions as he investigates and figures out how things work and what they can do. We love his sense of curiosity and know it will serve him well as he grows!

Roman

Roman is pretty much constantly on the move these days! He is very quick at crawling- often to chase our cat Jasper- and practices standing a lot. He pulls up on furniture and them lets go with a look of beaming pride on his face. We expect it won't be long before he starts walking! He is mostly sleeping through the night.

Roman's favorite foods are everything. He eats pretty much whatever we put in front of him! The first thing he outright refused to eat was the cupcake we offered him at his first birthday party! Omi snuck a lick of frosting in his mouth to entice him and he shuddered at the taste of it. That's okay Roman, you'll have plenty of time to enjoy those later in life!

Roman's favorite toys are the remotes for the TV, mom's phone, and a play computer we have. He loves anything with buttons it seems!

Roman is a bruiser and thinks nothing of bopping his smaller brother on the head or chomping on his butt (yet his butt!) in the bath. He is a strong little baby, a big baby, and we think he is going to be athletic by the way he loves to use his body and learn new skills. He has a few words already (mama, dada, kitty, night night) and loves to imitate sounds he hears like a siren going by our house or the cat meowing. He seems to understand way more than he is able to do or express which often makes him frustrated. Hopefully his frustration will encourage him to keep developing new skills!

*

To celebrate Ira and Roman's first birthday we had a small party with our parents and two families of friends. I chose a "wild one" theme (in anticipation of our toddler years ahead) and we had a fantastic celebration! The weather surprised us with unseasonably warm temperatures and after an Easter egg hunt for the older kids we were able to sit outside together. A treat for us Michiganders in April! I'll leave you with some pictures:

Happy birthday Ira and Roman! 

xo 

3/25/17

Twins' 11 month update

We've passed the 11 month mark and suddenly I'm staring my babies' first birthday in the face.

What.

Watching your children grow can feel like a constant bargaining between grief and joy. It's always saying goodbye in one breath and hello in another, crawling slowly past the excruciating parts while clawing at the incredible ones and trying desperately not to let them slip away so fast.

It's happy and sad.

It's some relief and some regret.

It's looking forward and back, back and forward... it's both.

It's both.

It's both.

"Maturing" feels like a strange word to use to describe a baby- or two- but it's what I see happening in my Ira and my Roman. They are coming more alive, awakening to the world in new ways, dying to their baby selves and rising on the steps of toddlerhood.

It's happening so fast.

Like maybe yesterday? They were newborns when I ran to the basement to grab a roll of paper towel and by the time I got back upstairs they were nearly one!

They were so tiny and helpless and now suddenly they are big and they can move and sort-of feed themselves and pull up on the toy box and even make me laugh on purpose.

This is probably the best sword-to-the-heart of the last month: their sense of humor has exploded! They do things to be funny. On purpose. Tiny babies can laugh and be pleased but they can't be funny on purpose. But Ira and Roman can, now. Ooh. That cuts me! This is such a mature thing for them to do: to be funny! To growl and watch for my smile. To bop me on the nose with a ball and giggle. To look me in the eye and grin while throwing pieces of banana to the floor just to hear me smile and warmly scold, "No, no, you stinker!"

You babies!

Wasn't I just minutes ago gasping in delight at your first fleeting smiles?

Wasn't that just this morning? And now at dinner you pump your tiny first and scream as loud as you can before dissolving into giggles when I jump in feigned terror at the sound of you.

It wasn't this morning, wasn't hours ago, though.

It's been nearly a year.

Nearly a year.

You are nearly a year.

But...

Let's not be too wistful about the passage of time.

We survived things I'm not hungry to repeat. The 10 days of you in Special Care after your birth. 10 days with my longing to bring you home. I'm glad beyond all gladness that you are home with me now. The early struggles we had nursing: the pain, the worry, the constant feeding, the lip and tongue ties, those awful stretches, the long, long, long minutes you spent crying while I pumped milk for you and bounced you in your bouncing chairs with my feet failing to soothe you. The witching hours, the long day-hours, and the night hours when I barely survived my exhaustion.

We made it though that and we are all enjoying our present days so much more. You are almost sleeping through the night now! In fact, you sometimes do! And one of these days, you will both sleep through the night... and so will I.

Bliss!

Our future days are bright and future nights, brighter still.

We have so much more to look forward to!

I can't wait for the beach this summer: to watch you play in the water and sand. I can't wait to see you take your first steps, to listen to your small voices as you learn to speak, and to push you on the swings at the park. In less than a month I can't wait to watch you eat your birthday cake! I look forward to giving you honey on toast, to moving down to only one nap, to holding your hands as you toddle along. This weekend we switched you out of infant carseats to convertible ones and while I whimpered a little inside, remembering how excited I was when we put those in our minivan for the first time anticipating your arrival, I'm also relieved to be done lugging you in those heavy things!

Sad and happy.

Some regret, some relief.

Looking back but also looking forward.

Goodbye and hello: it's both.

It's both.

It's both.

Wistful at times, but now and always: how I love to watch you grow.

11 months old!

Nearly one.

Oh! 

xo

3/1/17

What to focus on

My sister is a professional photographer in Ontario, Canada and while she grew her business largely on wedding shoots, lately she has been doing a lot more lifestyle photography, especially working to grow her portfolio with newborn shoots. I've been watching her instagram feed and getting inspired. I started to think about taking pictures of my boys the way she does with her clients: pictures that are beautifully styled, clean, soft, precious.

So I pulled out my camera one day when the sun was mostly out (a rare thing here in Michigan in February!) and the lighting was nice in our home. Initially looking through my lens the scene did not look great. It looked cluttered. Mostly because the room was cluttered. Coincidentally I was in the same room where my sister, a year before, had taken some of my maternity pictures. I started thinking about what she did to make my pictures look so nice. Where did she stand? How did she hold the angle? How did she style the scene?

Then I remembered helping her push all the crap in the room to one side so it would be out of the picture. I got up and moved a few things, moved the babies closer to the nice window light, and tried a few different angles.

I was delighted by the images on my viewfinder now!

I carried on like that over the next few hours, choosing my favorite parts of the day, pushing all the crap in each scene aside and capturing a lovely photo, a beautiful memory.

I know some people think that it's "fake" when we style pictures like this, without all the normal household crap- broken toys, three rolls of duct tape, a dead plant, the mountainous laundry pile waiting to be folded, the spray bottle of windex and crumpled up paper towel beside it- is hidden from the shot. (These are all real things I moved out of the way when I was taking these pictures.)

But I actually think these "cleaned up" photos are truer to life in that they are more like our real memories.

Even now when I think back to my earliest days of parenting after bringing our son Arie home from Russia, I remember watching him crawl under our table to pet our cat, the way his eye lashes stuck together in the bath, the long sluuuuurping noise he made when he ate his soup. My memories are focused on the important parts. I guarantee when he was under the table, there were piles of something or another on top. When he was in the bath I had one clean pair of pajamas in hand and four others crumpled up in our yet-to-be-emptied suitcase somewhere else in the house. As he slurped his soup I'm sure we had a pile of dishes in the sink, spills on the counter, and burned on spills on our stove.
I know the ratio of twins to Arie photos here is lacking.
Arie is 1) at school all day and
2) so OVER Mom taking his picture all the time. ;-) 

I'm making an educated guess at those background details because only four years later I don't remember any of them.

It's kind of freeing to think about life this way. There's a metaphor in there somewhere: there will always be crap. Don't be afraid to push it out of the way to make a memory. The crap is not what matters in the frame. Its the people.

Those precious, darling people.

Focus on them.

xo 
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