Half Measures

I am hooked to a breast pump and my babies are fussing. Eleanor just cried out in earnest and I can only watch her from the monitor to ensure she’s not in trouble. They ate recently, their diapers changed, the swaddles wrapped to favorite positions. Eleanor: legs tight, arms free to stretch over her head. Henry: one arm pinned, the other free to press the binkie to his face. They wake and fall asleep with some regularity as I wait for the pump to finish its work, and I think about crying.

I recently saw an Instagram post that I probably shouldn’t have. A friend with a new baby liked it, and as someone with a new baby who belongs to a similar demographic, Instagram’s algorithm threw it on my feed. It talked about the sinister origins of “cry it out”—a sleep method apparently created by a man who thought babies were being coddled too much. In decrying its methods, I began to worry that I wasn’t holding my children enough. I quickly remembered the rules of social media: the post was not anything personal, and I scrolled away before I could reach the last slide or clicked on something to learn more.

I didn’t scroll fast enough. Here I am days later, thinking about that post, about how holding your child to quiet them is the natural way of parenting. Humans are social animals, we live in groups, there should always be arms to hold baby. Holding baby keeps them calm and calm earns trust and without trust baby will never sleep soundly…  

I saw a lot of advice in the months I spent preparing for their arrival; don’t rely on swings or they’ll never sleep without it. Don’t use a binkie or they won’t ever latch. Don’t let baby suck their thumb or they won’t ever stop. Don’t move baby after they’re sleeping or they’ll become disoriented. Don’t use mobiles; they simulate flying predators and stress out your baby. Don’t use formula if you can help it; breast is best* breast is best breast is best.

My breasts didn’t start producing milk for a week and a half after my cesarean, and in four days from birth Henry had lost an entire pound. He only started with 5lbs 5oz. There wasn’t much to lose.

When we met our pediatrician, she told me that my children had lost too much weight and I was to start them both on a high calorie formula meant for preemies. This was direction, not advice, from a confident woman who radiated an air of experience*. I wanted to hug her. I needed that permission from her, because the nurses were insistent that I feed my children from my dry nipples when their tiny premature mouths could not fit around them. Even with the mothers in my life reminding me that fed is best, the cult of breastmilk got into my head and made me feel inadequate. I couldn’t feed my kids. What kind of mother am I?

Even now, I can only produce about 80% of what they need. They get the rest of their calories from formula. Erik has mentioned if they were one baby, I’d be producing 160% of their needs, and I remind myself of that while I ask WIC to include formula with our benefits. I mention it to the woman on the phone as well; they are two. Their needs are greater than a single baby, and I am only one woman.

When they are both crying, I try to be 160% mother. Sometimes I can be. When they’re both crying for food, I set them both up on a pillow and see if they can each take a bottle from my hands. But sometimes Henry is crying so hard that he thrashes away from the nipple in his mouth and he needs my full attention. Sometimes Eleanor falls asleep while eating and only takes in a third of what she should. And sometimes they’re crying to be held, but they’re still too small and floppy for me to safely cradle them both. One goes in the swing or under a mobile, while I tend to the other.

I don’t care if they fall asleep in the swing. I don’t care if the binkie causes nipple confusion. We’re already past the stage where I can get them to latch onto my breast (is best is best is best). I don’t care if the mobile simulates predators because it got my daughter to smile and quiet herself mid-meltdown and it gave me the time to feed my thrashing son. And if none of this is enough to calm them, one just has to cry.

It hurts when they can’t stop crying. Sometimes one will rile the other and both are inconsolable. But I can’t let it into my heart, because crying will happen even if I could be 180% mother to one baby 100% of the time. They can’t talk yet, and the world is confusing. The world is confusing for a 36 year old woman who can talk (even if she chooses not to.)

There is a lot of advice for mothers, a lot of it contradictory, or simply unfeasible when combined with the rest of the advice received. There is not enough time in the day to incorporate all of it. And when I am crying along with my kids, I wonder if I’ve done something wrong. Maybe Henry won’t calm down because he spent too much time on his tummy today. Maybe Eleanor is mad because she spent too little. Maybe I’ve missed something key when I was flooded with a thousand small suggestions for a perfect baby, a perfect night’s sleep. Or maybe I can listen to my pediatrician, and let the rest of the noise land wherever it may lie. I will use whatever tricks and cheats it takes to make my kids happy. And when they fail, I will hold my kid as soon as an arm becomes available, and apologize for the wait, and rock with them while they calm back down.

Henry and Eleanor came as a pair. They will never know a world in which they don’t have to share me. I’m not half a mom to them because my attention is split. Although it can feel like I’m only half of what each of them need, but I am wholly theirs.

I don’t have a solution for this feeling. Maybe if I write it out, I can scroll past it. Keep scrolling. There’s baby pictures below.

where i’m writing from
they’re too cute.
this is called the double baby special

*I am certain this slogan caused more anxiety for me than any cries I have heard from my children. I spoke with friends who are mothers who know that formula fed children vs. breast fed children are no different when they get to school age, and yet I had internalized this stupid slogan enough to just cow to the night nurse who told me I needed to try latching the kids before she’d get the donated breastmilk for them. It also poorly affected my decision making skills on whether to ask for donated breastmilk or formula while we were still learning the kids needs.

*thank you, Dr. Kathuria. Your guidance in that moment and every moment since has eased my mind immensely.

An Equitable Love

I was on a gurney in the OR, a paper sheet pulled up to keep me from seeing the teams of nurses surrounding my open belly, and they asked me which child I wanted to hold first. I would hold one, skin to skin, and my husband who sat behind me would hold the other. It was my choice. I had to choose.

How do I decide what is fair while my body is cut open and my head is swimming with drugs? I asked for Eleanor. She was born first, so it’s only fair I should hold her first, right? The nurse went to grab her and I told my husband he could never tell our kids I asked for her first. They placed her on my chest and I held her while the doctor began sewing me up and I loved her and I was scared for how small she was and how unfinished she looked and also, as they put Henry on my husband’s chest, I was afraid that I’d already failed him. I was asked to choose between my children, and I asked for his sister.

Early in my pregnancy I was already worried about my own social failings. I read something about how babies read expressions and in a mild panic I texted a friend. I don’t always remember to have facial expressions! Especially not when tired, and I’m going to be tired with two infants to take care of! The kids won’t see me smile, how can they come to trust me when I’ve got my serial killer face on?! My friend reminded me that my kids won’t have the same societal expectations that come with a woman’s neutral face. Maybe it’ll even be good for the kids to know that neutral does not mean angry or cruel.

They calmed me in that moment (Thanks, Collin <3), but expressions are only a part of the insidious fear that crops up in social contracts. I rarely know what is correct, so I focus instead on what is fair. I’ve come to understand it as “The Tally.” How many seconds of eye contact have I given during this conversation? How long have I been talking? How much space am I taking up here and is it equitable to the median space taken by everyone else? The Tally asserts itself when I’m in an unfamiliar social space. It’s especially loud when I feel the need to perform.

I had never been a mother before. The pressure was on.

The Tally started whispering at the hospital when the nurse placed my daughter on my chest. It got louder that night when I had to attempt breastfeeding. Who eats first? How many pictures have I taken of each? How much time have I held one child in my arms?

This is not to say that my first days with my children were dominated by The Tally. There were other anxieties that come with hospital stays, but mostly there was love and curiosity and one extremely nice breakfast with my husband while the kids slept in their bassinet and we got to enjoy the view out of the eleventh floor of the hospital. And then it was time to leave.

Henry was in his car seat. He was smaller than Eleanor, small enough that the nurses needed to make sure he’d fit, and his car seat was on a cart pushed by my mother. Eleanor was in my arms while I sat in the wheelchair, waiting for Erik to come to the front of the hospital with the car. It was a long wait. My mom got a text from Erik about car troubles, and left me with the outtake person and the kids to figure it out. When they came back, Erik said the car was gone.

“The car was stolen last night. We’ve only got Henry’s car seat, so you and Henry will ride home with your mom and I’ll wait here with Eleanor for her to come back and ferry us home.”

He’d worked out the plan with mom before talking to me. A plan makes it less scary. I love my car. It was bad that it was stolen, but there was a plan, and in that moment, I had a small revelation:

“Henry can’t be mad that I held her first, because he’s going to be the first one I bring home.”

Somehow this balanced the books on love in my brain, and Erik and I started laughing. Yes, I was crying, too, because my car was stolen and I was leaving the hospital and I was so not ready for all the things I didn’t know about being a mother, but in that moment The Tally couldn’t touch me. I brought my son home, and sang to him until his dad and sister and grandmother arrived and my husband and I held each other and cried with relief that we’d all survived the scariest days we’d had as a couple.

It didn’t break The Tally. There were moments in the weeks after coming home that I worried people were holding Henry more than Eleanor, or taking more pictures of one than the other. But it shifted The Tally to actions outside of myself, and I can set those aside more easily. I settled into a rhythm with the kids. It does not matter who eats first, so long as the time between eating is roughly the same. Everyone is held, eventually.

And I love them. Easily and individually. Henry watches everything with stoic curiosity. Eleanor smiles and tracks your eyes. I don’t have to tally my minutes with them because there are enough minutes now that I’ve lost track. And the big disparity; who do I hold first, who do I bring home, was balanced for me.

Time makes The Tally small. Time enough to lose track of my facial expressions and eye contact until I’m just existing and accepted for existing in that space. It’s been six weeks with my children, and it’s easy now to love them equitably. I always loved them equitably. And from the beginning, my heart knew that love is not a pie to be parceled out until there’s no more pie. I love my husband wholly, and my son wholly, and my daughter wholly.

And my cat, too.

And when The Tally returns, I can tell it to fuck off. I’ve already balanced the books.

The Business of Being Born

My children were born a month ago, and I’ve been chasing paper since. In between heating bottles and pumping and pleading with Henry to eat without choking, I’ve had to gather evidence of his identity. Which is especially difficult when he’s too young to have much of it.

He was given the wrong name in the hospital. Not by me. I filled out Eleanor and Henry’s birth records at the same time and gave them over to the same person, so when I requested their birth certificates, I was surprised that there was one for Eleanor, but nothing for Henry. The person filing his records put down my last name for him instead of the name he shares with his sister and dad.

The hospital fixed their mistake when I called, but it was too late to stop the cascade of other paperwork that began rolling in with the wrong name. His social security, birth certificate, and the insurance cards for our entire family were thrown into question, because someone in our family had inconsistent records. I left the twins with Erik while chasing these inconsistencies and stamping them out with the flimsy records I had.

Today I received the last piece of paperwork confirming Henry as an official Hosa. I also received a notice that his insurance claim was rejected and we’d be on the hook for the entire cost of his delivery.

Which is a little curious, as he was the second twin out and Eleanor was covered. Did they bill me for half a c-section? At that point pulling out twin 2 has got to be only 10% of the work.

The call to the insurance company was a gloriously short one. The notice that the claim was denied was sent out while there were still records for a non existent Henry Beals, and had since been corrected.

I hope. I Hope. I HOPE this is the last we’ll see of the name that isn’t. Hold music and phone anxiety has taken too much of my time in this last month, when the true business I’d like to get to is singing to my kids and bathing them and sometimes just holding them while they aren’t hungry, because I love them and I want it to not be so much work.

Or rather, I want to choose the work that benefits them directly. Henry and Eleanor don’t know their names yet, and it will be years before they’ll understand this story. But I can collect song lyrics today and tack them up in their room so I can sing to them even when I’m so tired I forget my words. And I can practice the signs for ‘hungry’ and ‘finished’ and ‘more’ so they can talk to me a little before they learn to speak.

It’s been a weird month, but the best parts have been when I get to be a parent. I am glad for that work to continue.

Support

If you are reading this blog, you probably know my husband. I don’t think I have a wide reach, and that’s okay. This is a small and quiet space, because large ones make me anxious.

You probably know him as a very handy guy, easy to be friends with, clever and always willing to learn a new skill.

There is no one in this world I’d rather be a parent with, and throughout this pregnancy, every day has proven it true. Honestly, I don’t know that I’d ever want to be a parent if it weren’t with him. I joked when my test first came back positive that having kids was basically getting double married, but now that we’re at week 36 I know it wasn’t a joke.

It is very difficult to be pregnant with twins. Everything in my core hurts, and when I shift positions my lungs compress from the weight of them. My balance is off, and standing requires a slow process of shifting weight until my legs steady underneath me. And he has helped me through the house, in and out of cars, rubbed my shoulders when they’re sore from overcompensating my inaccessible abdominal muscles.

My brain is foggy, and he writes down my questions so I don’t forget to ask them at the doctor’s office.

He’s been building and finishing so many projects, getting our house ready for the kids’ arrival, and all of this is so good, but it adds up to so much more.

I know that I can trust him with anything. I can be vulnerable with him. Actual, in person vulnerable, which is still hard, and he still has to remind me that I need to let him handle the things I’m currently unable to do.

He’s going to be in the operating room with me during the c-section. It’s the kind of thing I’d only ask of someone with 15 years of background in being my partner. Because I love him more than anything. Yes, more than the babies I’m scheduled to meet in about a week.

Right now, the kids are still a dream for the future. And we’re excited to see them, and learn who they are, and guide them as best we can. And they’ll be folded into the love Erik and I have for each other, and grow new branches that are entirely their own.

Because I really really love my husband. I’m glad we’re double married.

Surprises

I have been writing. Still. A lot actually. But I’ve also been preparing for a tremendous upheaval in my life. I’m pregnant with twins, and my husband and I are working to make our house ready for them.

We’ve painted their room in oranges and reds with a horizon of mesas and arches. We built new doors for the terrible storage access with real door frames and latches to keep curious children out of the crawl spaces. The work extends outside our nursery, to bright yellow paint in the hallway, a new blue swinging bench outside, a newly organized woodshop, and unneeded trinkets wrapped up and donated away. It has been a lot of work. It is in anticipation of a very different type of work that’s coming our way.

I was not surprised that this gestation period has turned to preparation. What has surprised me, while it really shouldn’t have, is the number of people who want to help us. It has been tremendously humbling. My husband and I are a lot alike; independent to the point where it can turn to oblivious. We love our friends, we love helping them, and sometimes we forget that our friends love us back.

We have had an outpouring of support, in diapers, in clothes, in helpful tips and devices that we’d never have thought of because we are in our thirties and I have never been a very motherly person. I can admit that. This is a new development and I think it is only fair that I am honest with myself about it. I want kids now. I am excited to teach them and care for them and watch them become their own people. And I am excited to raise them with Erik. He’s the only person in the world I’d do this with.

And I am so excited to know that I have a massive web of support around us. Much larger than I ever thought. Stronger, too. I know we’re not alone. The twins won’t be alone. Even when Erik and I get back to nesting and our quiet ways, I know we have friends. I am so grateful to all of you who have offered congratulations and encouragements and well wishes for the future. Those votes of confidence in my and Erik’s ability to parent have meant the world. This is a big adventure, and although we are both meticulous planners (him even more than me), there is so much that we will not be able to account for. And I’m not scared. Not really. Not as much as I feel I should be.

Twins! It’s crazy. Ten years ago, I might have said I’d never be a mother. And now I’m getting two in one go. The shock has worn down from that initial ultrasound, and now I’m just glad that I only have to do this once.

Because listen. Listen. Pregnancy suuuuuucks.