Conquering Costco

I think the best way to summarize my feelings about Costco would be to borrow from my daughter.

Today, in Costco, after she screeched from dropping her spoon from a sample of Indian lentils:

Me: “Arden!  We do NOT yell in a store!”
Arden:  “It’s NOT a store!  It’s COSTCO.”

She gets it.

It’s not a store, it’s a planet; one teeming with food in mass quantities, offering samples right before lunchtime, otherwise known as appetizers, and feeding four of us two hotdogs for $3.23 that I would never otherwise eat.

We go about every other week, and it is always enjoyable, satisfying, necessary work.  And I always go alone with three kids.  That might sound oxymoronic, but alone really means “the only person over three feet tall in my party.”

I want to emphasize that I built up to this feat, doing it for the first time three months ago. Before that, forget it.  I’d bring only two kids or another adult to assist.  Also, the first time I did this I felt heroic upon completion, only to turn and see a mom getting hotdogs with a toddler in her cart and newborn twins wrapped across her chest in a Moby.  I was knocked off my high horse faster than you can say free refill.

Like her, when I roll in with two kids in the cart and one on my chest, the stares roll right along with me.  I am entirely accustomed to this and don’t mind in the slightest.  We would be able to buy so much more food if only Costco gave me store credit every time someone said to me, “You’ve got your hands full!”

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August 2014 and April 2016.  The only real difference is on the right I have a baby strapped to my chest.

 

Friends and family are often deeply perplexed as to why I don’t go when I’m alone in the actual Webster’s definition of the word.  The answer is simple: I love Costco, but I do not want to spend “my time” there.  “My time” is evenings or naptime, or the occasional hour-escape by myself on the weekend.  I want to go to Costco on “kid time” when I need something for us to do anyway, and I have food that needs to be restocked.  Besides, they love it.

Should you venture there with one/two/three/baker’s dozen of your own progeny, my hot tips follow:

Get Gas First

Costco is a good time, but nobody wants it to continue once we’ve exited the building.  Once we’re in the car, it’s time to go home, it’s not time to ask the kids to endure another errand.  They like getting Costco gas on arrival, but getting it afterward is like asking for one of them to pee on the car seat after holding it successfully all this time.

Park by a Cart Bay

Even if it takes a minute longer to find a spot (and it nearly never does), this is essential for getting kids into the cart safely and returning it later without leaving them alone in the car.

Costco IS the Activity

The entire reason Costco works as a morning errand is because I am not rushing.  I am not  going to Costco on my way to a play date or an appointment.  No – that would be masochism, which is not my brand of fun at all.  I make a trip to Costco sound like a trip to the park and the kids are all in.  This doesn’t take nearly as much work as it sounds; they already love going, so I just say, “Do you think we should go to COSTCO today?!” and they’re already squeezing their little feet into their Natives. (One of them can do this successfully, the other cannot, and I do not blame her; it’s hard.)

Make a List

There is enough to think about in a warehouse with three kids without having to ask oneself if there are eggs in the fridge at home.  Or having to walk each aisle slowly to mentally assess if there’s anything one has forgotten.  Make that list and then haul your massive cart across that shiny cement like you were born to do it.

Let Samples be Your Friends, But Discriminate Against Your Friends

Eating free snacks is a highlight for the little gremlins, because they share my genes and are predisposed to love anything that’s a snack and anything that’s free.  Free snacks is a unicorn that must be ridden across the sky.

However, I take full advantage of the fact that the twins face me in the cart, and Hunter faces me in the Ergo, because then I can see what snacks are ahead before they can.  Costco loves to push flavored yogurt, “cracker cookies” and other garbage, so if I spot those I steer clear or make an early announcement that our train will not be making a stop at that station.  “Oh that’s yucky yogurt, that’s not the kind you like,” I assure them.  For now they believe me; we’ll see how this goes when they’re old enough to read.

Involve Them

I think attitudes transfer pretty easily, not just to kids, but in general, and this applies here.  If I’m stressed and annoyed at having to do this, they pick up on it.  Instead I really try to have fun and let them feel like it’s a group endeavor.  I’m constantly talking. “What else do we need, you guys?  Let’s check our list.  Shoot, we forgot your favorite salad in a bag!  Back to the cold room!  Do we need anything else in there?  Oh and later let’s remember to get napkins.”  They totally dig it, and – hand to heart – remind me of things I’ve genuinely forgotten.

Henry: “We forgot the quesadillas!”

He means raw tortillas.  But he’s right.

Lunching There is a Double-Edged Sword

Eating hotdogs after shopping serves several purposes: lunch is done with no cooking or cleaning, it’s a treat for being well behaved while shopping, it’s a treat in general because we don’t eat hotdogs at home, and it’s $3.23 for two dogs, which feeds four of us, so it feels almost criminal to walk on by.

HOWEVER…it’s a little work to get it done.  I make the twins stay in the cart so that they can’t mess around on the benches, fall, or run around.  Hunter stays on my chest, and we get our hotdogs and then park next to the end of a table.  I need a little table surface so I can put our hotdogs and drink cups down while I’m trying to hand things to each of them.  I fill condiment orders, then hand them each half a hotdog while I fill the cups 75% with water and 25% with lemonade, which is possibly their favorite part of Costco.  Then I stand in front of them and remind them over and over, “hold it tight with both hands!” because I recoil at the thought of a hotdog dying on the floor.  All this while trying to feed Hunter and myself, and providing them sips of their precious lemonade.

People stare, and I just keep trucking, because once this is over, we’re home free — riding home with a car full of fresh groceries, full bellies, and smiles as big as the one drawn on the receipt.

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The Upside of Going it Alone

Mike has had to travel for work quite a bit lately, and it’s given me the opportunity to flex my put-the-kids-to-bed-myself muscle.  Do you hear the positivity in that sentence?  That took months of self-pep talks and slightly angry prayers.  But here we are – positive!

 Today he was away and we had a really great day.  My mom came over and we went to the first farmer’s market of summer and had a truly terrific time.  Henry and Arden’s experience of the market compared to last summer was palpably improved; rather than passively observing and tentatively interacting with the vendors and food, they were excitingly pointing and talking about every sight, particularly the waterfront.
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When we got home, I threw together a healthy, if unstructured, meal, and then it all started to be exactly what you would imagine pre-bedtime would be for three children under age three.

I made a dozen trips from the table to the sink to carry dishes, wipe mouths, wipe the floor, wipe the hands, remove the food, stack the plates.  Hunter cried until I let him out of his seat and then speed-crawled to the slide to do his newfound head-first dives.  Henry asked to go outside in his bare feet, with Arden immediately following.  Two minutes later I was on my hands and knees wiping grape skins off the floor when Arden barreled past, announcing her need for the toilet.

A minute later Henry called from the backyard, “Arrrrrrrdennnnnn!  Arden!”

“I’m wiping right now!” she hollered back, in a classic unselfconscious toddler overshare.

I was too amused by the cute exchange to actually process the information, and by the time I did, I heard splashing.  One should never hear splashing coming from the bathroom of a toddler.

I darted into the room to find she had not only peed, as I had assumed, and was attempting to handle the situation on her own.  There was no mess, there was no issue, but she had put paper after paper into the toilet and was now holding one high and moving it around as if she were stirring a bowl of soup.

Then like a shot in my mind — had she closed the screen door?  Was Hunter crawling toward it AS I was wiping her?

I raced to the back door to close it and glanced in the living room to see he was still contentedly playing by the slide.

After handling Arden’s situation, I got all the kids outside and we were having a happy time running around and getting our final ya-ya’s out until last call for bedtime…wherein Henry promptly tripped on the pavement and scraped an elbow.  Minor!  I promise it was very minor, but as I hugged him to comfort him, the pain made him angry enough to bite me across my collarbone so hard I actually screamed.

Moments like this are when I want to call human resources and say that these work conditions are unacceptable.

We made it inside and up the stairs to their bedrooms.  I changed the twins into pajamas, Hunter cried from exhaustion, and I took him into his room to get him ready for bed.  I told the twins it was time for quiet and to stay in their room while I changed Hunter.

One minute later I step into the hallway to see Henry dragging the last of their rug from their room.

Before I could go with my first instinct of rage, I looked up and saw them dancing around in the altered space, a space they changed, a space they made their own on a whim.  I walked Hunter inside and he broke into a little chortle, tears still sitting on his cheeks.  He smiled ear to ear and then sucked his thumb as he watched his siblings cavort around the room.

I herded the clan into the bathroom for tooth brushing, and then sent the twins back to their room while I lay Hunter down for the night.  I stood rocking him, singing to him while he sucked his thumb with his head on my chest.

“All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voice and with us sing.  Oh praise Him, hallelujah…”

The sound of the twins’ laughter from their room next door was so joyful, so abundantly glad, I realized they are lifting up their voices.  I so often try to quiet them, to stifle that joy in the name of order and my own sanity, and as I rocked Hunter and listened to them I was overwhelmed with the knowledge of their happiness, of their limitless love for one another and their lives.  Despite my failings, despite my frustrations and selfishness, this remains.  They remain, just as they are.  Pealing melodies of belly laughs down the hall.

I laid Hunter down and went back into the twins’ room.  Normally I’d curtail the fun and usher them to bed, but I just leaned on the doorframe and watched, taking the best video my flippant memory could muster, brand-ironing the image on my heart of Henry chasing Arden, of Arden being chased, of them catching each other, tumbling down to the ground in a heap of happiness.

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All the Things

My little sister Sam is pregnant with her first child (!), a darling baby girl, and since I promised about 21 months ago to do a post about essential baby gear, this is the perfect excuse to end the procrastination.

I’m excited to catalog the items that have proven to be utterly, desperately necessary.  We all know that this is a first-world post, because children really need food, shelter, and unconditional love, but I’m going to assume that anyone with access to the Internet is already providing their children with those things and now would like to know more about the tangibles.

Let’s rock this.

The Skip Hop Pronto Changing Station

Skip Hop Pronto Changing Station, Chevron

My devotion is limitless.  It would be impossible to overestimate the obscene places I have had to change my children (think downtown bathrooms with no changing tables…I put them on the floor on this), and if I hadn’t had this, if I had just carried around diapers and wipes, I do not know what I would have done.  This perfectly collapsible, diaper-and-wipe-compartment, nicely-chevron-designed changing station has been used hundreds and hundreds of times.

It’s companion is the Planet Wise Wet Diaper Bag, which holds the soiled items, along with anything else you don’t want touching everything in your bag (wet bathing suit, blowout clothes, etc).

Planet Wise Wet Diaper Bag, Owl

Stokke Tripp Trap High Chair

Stokke Tripp Trapp Highchair - Walnut

As soon as it was time to buy high chairs, I knew I didn’t want the conventional stand-alone-with-tray setup.  Probably because I had to buy two, I didn’t want plastic monstrosities filling the dining room and hollering KIDS LIVE HERE to every person we had for dinner (I let every other corner of the house holler that).  We discovered these high chairs and scored two used ones (for the price of one) from a fellow twin mom whose four-year-old twins had outgrown them.  This was part of the purpose — they are useful as kid chairs beyond the high chair age.  They match our table perfectly and slide right under just like a regular chair.  The kids are eating at the table with us, which has always made dinner time feel more family-centered.

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I promise the chairs don’t encourage these manners.  And neither do we.  Ha.

Also in lieu of a tray we lay down these placemats (seen above tossed casually on the floor — thanks Henry!):

Summer Infant Tiny Diner Portable Placemat, Green

Now if I could only find a used Stokke for Hunter.  Alert me if you know a guy.

 

Sleepsacks

HALO SleepSack 100% Cotton Swaddle, Cream, Small

From birth to literally today, my children have spent every unconscious moment in sleepsacks (car naps excepted, obviously).  I cannot recommend them enough.  Initially, after trying half a dozen, the best swaddle we found was the one the hospital sent home with us as a gift (nice market placement, Halo).  The Halo Swaddle Sleepsack fit our kids great and kept them tightly bundled all night.  Once they moved into the non-swaddle variety, we used Halo and Aden + Anais with cotton for summer and fleece for winter (though the twins don’t sleep in fleece ones anymore).

aden by aden + anais Wearable Blanket, Life's A Hoot - Turtle, medium

It’s a great comfort to know they’re safe from blanket suffocation, but also they’re a cue for bedtime and a reassurance if they’re sleeping away from home.  It’s one more part of their routine that can be taken with us to help them feel comfortable enough to fall asleep.  I genuinely don’t know at what age kids stop using them.  Is nine too late?  I’m kidding.  Am I?

The Tummy Tub

The Original Tummy Tub Baby Bath - ClearWe loved this bathtub because it submerged our newborns/early infants so that they were warm throughout the bath instead of laying half-covered in water, freezing and blaming us for it through their screams.  The laugh was on us though when Hunter was born at a near eleven pounds and could only fit for the first…month?  Two?  It was not enough for his burly physique but it will be for any other child’s first five months.

DSC_0047 (1)She’s saying, ahhhh, baby spa.

Baby Jogger City Select Stroller

I’m not even going to give this a whisper because I’ve given it a novel here, but I promised an update once we had three kids and needed to use the glider board so…maybe I’ll whisper extra softly.

We added the glider board when Hunter was born and my 21-month-old kids were having exactly none of it because they just didn’t have the agility to ride and hold at that age.  Or maybe they just didn’t have the guts.  Either way, it was rejected.  Now, however, they ride along just fine and we go on our walks where we incur the stares of many.

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The Ergo

Ergobaby Original Baby Carrier - Black/Camel - One Size

If you’d rather not fall to your knees and beg for mercy on behalf of your back, the Ergo is for you.  We received this and the Baby Bjorn and it was no contest right out of the gate.  The Ergo is infinitely more supportive and easier on your body than the Bjorn, which relies entirely on your shoulders and lower back to hold your baby to your chest.  We also tried the Moby Wrap, and all the others, and this was far and away our favorite and I still use it today (front for Hunter, back for twins).

Moby in the early days:

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And then the Ergo once Hunter was big enough:

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HOWEVER, you can’t wear your baby facing outward in the Ergo that we have, you have to buy the “four position 360” for that, which didn’t exist when we were in the market.  The babies have all loved facing outward in the Bjorn, which is why we’ve kept it around, along with our chiropractor.  I kid.  Again, do I?

Aden + Anais Muslin Burpy Bibs

aden + anais Muslin Burpy Bib, Jungle Jam, 2 count

I have more of these than I care to admit but they are so, so useful.  For newborns they cover your whole shoulder and down your front and back for spit up, they’re useful for any sort of quick-grab cloth for baby needs, and as the baby ages they’re a super-coverage bib.  Done and done.

Simple Wishes Hands-Free Pumping Bra

Simple Wishes Hands-Free Breastpump Bra, Pink, X-Small-LargeI promise you this was the least-cringe-inducing photo of this product available.  You do not want to see the photos of the women wearing this contraption while casually paying bills or making dinner.  You don’t.  Or maybe you’ve had three glasses of wine and you’re eager for a laugh, in which case, please pay attention to the women attempting to make this as attractive as lingerie.  You can thank me later for your LOLs.

Shortly after the twins were born, I wrote this as part of an update on how we were doing:

“Oh and the breastfeeding and pumping.  My word, are those time-consuming activities with two babies.  I enjoy breastfeeding and bottle-feeding, but pumping is really nobody’s friend.  I’m not bonding with a baby when pumping.  I’m attached to a machine like a dairy cow, unable to do anything else at all because my hands are holding the receiving containers.  I can’t even scroll idly on my cell phone.  This sounds like an incredibly inane first-world complaint, but when it’s done four or five times a day for fifteen minutes each time, believe me, it gets old.” — Sept 23, 2013

After writing that, I was inundated with emails from people telling me about the Simple Wishes bra.  I was hugely skeptical based on the preposterous photos I described above, but with one use my life literally changed as I was able to use my pumping time for such invaluable activities as: phone time, Netflix time, iPad time, snack time.  Need I say more?

Graco Pack ‘n Play

Graco Pack 'n Play Playard with Twins Bassinet, VanceIt’s the most obvious thing in the world of babies, but we use it to this day.  I knew I’d need it initially, but once we removed the twin topper (used while they slept in our room the first few months), we have traveled with it and also used it just to take naps at Nana’s or Nonni’s houses.  Don’t question, just get one.  But not the twin one.  Unless, well, you know.

Fels Naptha Laundry Soap

Dial Corp. 04303 Fels-Naptha Laundry Bar Soap - Pack of 4

I want to say “don’t ask” but of all the things listed here, isn’t this the one you’re most likely to…ask?  Specifically, “what the junk?”  This is a bar of soap that costs approximately a dollar and gets out all the stains and lasts for years.  Well, mine has.  I bought it because another blogger recommended it, and I was skeptical because who uses bars of soap anymore?  The Amish, that’s who.  Which is exactly how I feel every time I wet my kids’ clothes and start scrubbing this bar into the stains.  But it works.  Bodily fluids, mud, food — it gets nearly all of it out.

I just have to strengthen my inner hippie when my mom catches me rubbing the soap into a shirt and says, every single time, “This you have time for?  When Oxyclean is a thing, you want to scrub!?”  But it costs practically negative money and I’ve had the same bar for two and a half years.  That little cake of soap is the train that keeps on chuggin’.

Zutano BootiesZutano Newborn Unisex-Baby Fleece Bootie, Cream, 12 Months

We’ve tried all kinds of baby shoes and these are the ones that stay on.  Staying on is all you really ask of an infant shoe, besides warmth, and these are made of fleece so they cover both necessities.  They come in lots of colors but they’re pricier than some baby shoes, so I just buy ones that go with everything (Hunter wears navy almost every day).

 

Let’s flip the coin.

Items I thought I would need but never did:

  • A video monitor –  Everyone I know swears by them, but we sort of swear against them.  People look at us like we’re from the stone ages — or worse, the 80’s — but we’ve never regretted it.  All we need to know we can hear.
  • Cloth Diapers –  I tried, I did, but with two it was just not happening.  I couldn’t handle the extra work, which felt punishingly unnecessary.  Kuddos to all who can pull it off!
  • Sound Machine – we received one but never used it because we were afraid of it becoming a sleep crutch (not being able to ever be without it).  Again, this probably works great for many people but we just never introduced it.
  • Fancy Clothes –  This one bums me out.  Going into having babies I thought this was a large part of the game, I really did.  Now I know that true fancy and incredible clothes opportunities are rare and expensive.  Sound the sad trombone.
  • A “diaper bag” – I gave this way too much thought prior to purchasing, and then realized I didn’t like any of the “diaper bags” made for that purpose.  If I wouldn’t carry it normally, why carry it when I became a mom?  So I ditched the whole category and bought a Zella bag (no longer available on Nordstrom, apparently) which I would easily carry for going to barre class or running around town.  It had tons of pockets and was black so Mike wouldn’t mind carrying it too.  After the twins turned one and I didn’t need to carry quite so much, I bought a Madewell tote and now I just throw it all in there.  There is – count it – one pocket, but that doesn’t matter because I carry my changing station and small cloth bags to organize key items.

 

As an aside, none of the links above are affiliate links, so I’m not profiting from your clickety-clicks.  If I were a cooler, more prolific blogger, maybe I would be, but alas.

These are just the opinions of one teensy weensy mama, so feel free to balk or disagree entirely with my recommendations.  I’d love to hear what items you cannot live without, so please share that we all might benefit in our baby gear acquisitions.

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This Morning

“Awdennnnnnn! Awden Chawlotte!”  Henry calls from the living room.

“No, Henry, don’t call me!” she replies indignantly.

He persists.

“Awwwwwden! Awden Chawlotte what you doing?”

She caves.

“What’s Henry doin?” she asks me.

“I don’t know,” I say. “You better find out!”

She tears off toward the living room and soon I hear the thunder of a game of chase.  The floor shakes under my toes as I wash dishes in soapy water, and as the rumble of four feet fly by and exhilarated giggling fills the house, I wonder if anything will ever make me as happy as this.

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Life as Five

All I can say is this: I did not know children like this actually existed.  Apart from movies, fairy tales, and suburban legends, I didn’t know babies could be this, shall we say, agreeable.

The twins were not difficult babies either.  They never cried excessively, slept pretty well, ate well, and were easy to handle, apart from the fact that there were two of them.  But Hunter?  Hunter seems to be openly competing for favorite child right out of the gate.

If this sounds like bragging, I promise you it is not.  This is not me holding my child in the sky, Simba-style, for all to admire.  This is me standing next to you, pointing at Mr. HT and saying, “How is this possible?  Let’s not even discuss it further or we may jinx it.”

To celebrate turning ten weeks old on Sunday, he decided to sleep through the night — ten straight hours.  I woke up, looked at the clock, and like all good mothers, promptly assumed my baby was dead.  Once I confirmed he was alive and well, I basically danced a jig.

But he’s been this way all along.  From day one he has slept three to four hours, eaten, and gone right back to sleep.  At six weeks we put him in his own crib all night and he started sleeping six hour stretches.  Then eight.  But I thought it would take months for him to go from 8PM to 6AM.

You know what?  I’m going to stop talking about it.  I may jinx it.

But before I move on, let’s look at the child who I’m still convincing myself is real.

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Here he is at nearly six weeks, covering my torso like a five month old.

He also continues to be enormous.  At his two month check-up a week ago, he weighed 14 lbs 4 oz.  It took Henry six months to weigh that much.  His feet are larger than the imprints we have of Arden and Henry at six months.  He wears six month onesies.  He lifts weights and requests protein shakes.

The twins are over their initial indifference/rage and now always ask where he is if he’s napping or kiss him aggressively.  So far we’ve had no acts of violence, but they do tend to lose their minds whenever Mike holds him.  It’s getting better, but for the first eight weeks you’d think Mike was filling out adoption papers the way they threw themselves on the ground in despair.  No, we are not selling you nor replacing you, we just want Mommy to make dinner to keep us all alive, so Daddy has to hold the baby for ten minutes.

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The real reason we’re doing as well as we are is the amount of help we are receiving.  My sister Erin comes nearly every day, my mom comes a couple of times a week, and my mother-in-love comes at least once a week.  I am overflowing with helpful hands, without which I may very well be drowning.  Whenever people ask how I’m doing with three, I sort of want to say I don’t know yet, because I’m not doing this alone.

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I did do most of a day alone for the first time this week, and it wasn’t as difficult as I expected, but I was reminded of how grateful I am to have such incredible women who care about us so deeply.

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Henry and Arden turn two on Sunday, and I’m thrilled and joyful for this milestone.  Okay, I am 80% happy and 20% totally in denial that they’re aging at all.  I will readily admit that the fact that in six months they will be halfway to kindergarten crushes my soul.

On the hardest days, the ones that feel like the work of child-rearing is a feat so burdensome it must be impossible, I remind myself that this time is finite.  And in that moment I am both totally relieved and completely bereft that these effervescent cherubs will one day leave their childhood behind.  I have never felt such a schizophrenic array of emotions inside the span of a day.

All of this gives me such happy anticipation for all that is ahead for Hunter.  I feel like I have forded the river of the first two years with Henry and Arden, and now I’m ferrying the boat back to pick up Hunter and make the journey again.  The structure is the same, but every crossing has its own wild currents, stray logs, and smooth waters.  I’ll end the metaphor before I’m losing oxen and axles a la Oregon Trail, but it’s a remarkable privilege to get to do this more than once.

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It’s a BOY!

He’s here!

On what will certainly always be the greatest Mother’s Day of my life, we welcomed our precious son, Hunter Timothy Reph, into the world and our hearts. 15-CP6B3840-15 He shocked and delighted us with his abundant dark hair, olive skin, and astonishing weight of ten pounds, eleven ounces. 09-CP6B3822-9That last part especially.

Ten pounds.  Nearly eleven. The doctors took one look at him and shouted “It’s a toddler!  This is definitely my record baby for the year, hands down.”  The nurses were shouting weight guesses, all over ten pounds, and Mike and I just stared agape.  But what did we expect?  His apartment previously accommodated a combined nearly fourteen pounds, so really Hunter was just trying to live up to the previous tenants.

The day after he was born, Henry and Arden came to meet their new brother. 02-CP6B3801-204-CP6B3804-4 They were so sweet, but also deeply in denial.  They didn’t like the sight of mama in the hospital bed, and they didn’t like the sight of this newcomer in her arms.  Mostly they wandered around the hospital room and ate snacks that we’d ordered.  By the end of the visit though, Arden was tenderly pointing out all of Hunter’s features.  There’s his little ears, here’s his nose.  Henry was having none of it.  And that’s okay.  We knew they have their whole lives together. DSC_0311Hunter’s birth story is a doozy, one that I promise to tell before he’s twenty-one months old.  Right now I’m still recovering, but I have the sweetest nugget of love in my arms, one for whom I would endure it all again in a second.  Mike and I cannot believe that we can love a baby as much as we love our twins, but it’s true — he’s spellbindingly precious, a gift from Jesus we will treasure in this new family of five. IMG_0476

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The Twins’ Birth Story, Part Two

For Part One, go here.

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Being told to push created a surreal excitement for us because there was no change in me or the room; one moment I was resting and the next I was to start pushing.  Mike grabbed my left leg and my mom grabbed my right, and Stephanie stood directly in front of me. She taught me to push three times for every contraction, at ten seconds each. I thought this was a lot, but went for it. Since I couldn’t feel contractions, we watched the monitor and would get in position as we saw one coming.  My legs were hoisted up, I’d take a deep breath, and Mike would count to ten. I’d take a short breath and then do it two more times. Then we’d all rest until the next contraction.

I noticed quickly that I could now feel the contraction coming on, and I told the nurse.  She said I could push the epidural button for a little additional medication, and I did. It didn’t do any good. I could feel sensation in my legs, and could move them myself. I started to get nervous that it was wearing off and I’d feel the baby coming out. Like an insane person, I told them these facts over and over. They said the epidural was working and I needed to keep pushing.

I kept pushing. I also kept pushing the drug button.

After about an hour, Stephanie suggested we use a bar for leverage.  I had no idea what she meant, and was surprised when she pulled an actual U-shaped plastic bar across the bed and wrapped a sheet around it.  It looked like a contraption a woman in an English hamlet would have used seven hundred years ago…several women gathered around the laboring mother on a quilted bed in a thatched hut with a fire boiling the rags clean…this was my imagery.

I grabbed hold of the sheet and pulled on it through the next several contractions. It gave me good leverage. The next move we tried was on my side but I said that wasn’t working because it was so uncomfortable I just couldn’t push like that. She didn’t argue, and we moved back to the other two positions.

Dr Walker came in every hour to check on me, and she would watch as I pushed to see how it was going. She told me she wanted me to push harder, and as I pushed extra hard — in her words, “like I’m pooping” — she said that was the right way and to do it like that every time. It was much more intense than I had been pushing and I realized I needed to step it up. Mike was hollering at me to work harder and push intensely, which inspired me annnnnnd irritated me. I found pushing to be easier than I imagined it would be, mostly because it didn’t hurt. I also added another ten second push to the end of almost all of my contractions just to work harder, and really exert myself, so I was doing four countdowns instead of three.

After three hours had passed (!), Dr Walker came back and gave me a stern pep talk. She said I “had to turn a corner” and she never directly said it, but I knew the end of that sentence was “or we’d be looking at a c-section.”  It kicked me into high gear. I said, “I’m NOT getting a c-section, I have been in labor for 20 hours.” She agreed and said, “Then I need you to push and get this moving,” and she coached me through a contraction in which I pushed as hard as I could, out of pure fear. She said, “Yes! Yes, that’s what you need to do,” and I asked her to stay because I did better with her there.  She said, “I cannot stay. I really cannot.  I have had a day. I’m not staying.”  She explained she was on her twentieth hour of work too, on a twenty-four hour shift, delivering baby after baby. I was disappointed but understood. I asked her to tell me how far the baby had to go, in inches. She held her finger up a little more than an inch. I was shocked. I thought the baby was still six inches back. That rallied me.

She left and Mike became extra serious, getting in my face and telling me to work harder than I ever have. I looked back at him and realized that I had been holding something back. Deep down, I didn’t think a baby’s head could physically come out of me – it felt impossible, so I wasn’t pushing as hard as I could. After the c-section pep talk, I decided to imagine that the baby’s head was much smaller than my opening, and I pushed with abandon. It worked remarkably well. My fear dissipated and I pushed with all my strength.

An hour later Dr Walker returned and said our last option was to use a vacuum; I had pushed for four hours with virtually no progress. We discussed it and Mike and I agreed that a non-invasive assist was the next step.  We decided to move to the operating room and do the vacuum there, and if it failed we’d have a c-section. There wasn’t really any other option at that point; I’d been in labor almost an entire day, I’d pushed for four hours, there was nothing more that we could do.  I was so scared, realizing the method of delivery all hinged on my performance; that if I failed, it would mean surgery. An overwhelming feeling of preemptive guilt surfaced, and I tried to calm myself. I said goodbye to my mom, telling her, “The next time you see me, I’ll be a mama!”

At 4:40AM they wheeled me down the hall, which I really enjoyed because I’ve secretly always wanted to be wheeled down the hall on a bed in a hospital, as sick as that sounds. Mike walked beside me and took blurry pictures. We all kept asking him if he had the camera, even the doctor asked him, and he said “If one more person asks me if I have the camera, I’m going to scream!” Even after that, I asked if he had the real camera and not just the iPad. He did not enjoy that question.

We got to the room, which was much smaller than I had pictured, and very brightly lit. They introduced us to all the doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, and pediatricians. IMG_3806 Mike turned on music and we got back to the work of pushing. Dr Walker said we were only going to try three times because more vacuum use than that would be risky for the baby.

My heart was bursting from my chest as I felt the most intense desire of my life to push this baby out. I was desperate, pleading with myself, clinging to any strength I had to get the baby out of me. I was begging God, I was burrowing inside myself to find the strength to push her out. I kept thinking: it all comes down to this. For the rest of our lives we’re going to know how they were born based on what I do in the next minute. I pushed so hard I thought the blood vessels in my eyes would burst, while the doctor used the vacuum at the same time. Even when we got to the end of the third push, I sucked in air and insisted on one last try, and pushed with all my might while Mike yelled passionately for me to PUSH.

It didn’t work. I slumped in defeat, asking if this truly was it, and she said any more could hurt the baby, and that was the only thing that mattered.

She called for everyone to prep for surgery.  As the anesthesiologist approached, I told him my epidural had all but worn off, and I didn’t trust it for surgery. He didn’t argue at all, and neither did Dr Walker, and they decided to do a new insertion for a full block. He did it remarkably quickly, and said it was working. I disagreed, saying nothing had changed, but Dr Walker started pinching my stomach and I said, “I can feel that!” in a panicked sort of way. She waited a few more seconds and did it again and I said I could feel it, but she said, “Abby, I’m poking you with a sharp object – if you really felt it, it would hurt.” I relented.

They strung a curtain in front of me and laid my arms down wide.  Mike started saying “What song should I play?” and I said, “How Great is Our God” but he kept playing other songs (Stephanie later told me they were all worship songs, but Mike claims they were born to an instrumental Coldplay song. I have no memory of music being played at all.  I was exhausted, emotional, drugged, and focusing on the biggest event of my life, so I think not hearing music makes sense). At one point Mike flat-out dropped the iPad on the floor which made me wince because I was sure it shattered, but I held myself back from asking if it had broken because I realized how ridiculously shallow that question was in light of meeting my children in the next five minutes. (Shallow update: the iPad was fine.)

Mike leaned in next to me as Dr Walker announced she was beginning her cut. I couldn’t feel a thing. Mike said, “Well, what are we naming her?” with a smile and I said, “Arden. I think Arden! What do you think?” and he agreed, since we had narrowed it down to two names. I was patiently waiting for the next step to be announced, since I thought they’d say “Now we’re cutting the uterus, now we’re reaching in, etc” but instead, the anesthesiologist, who was seated behind my head, abruptly pulled the fabric back revealing a window and…there she was.

My baby Arden. Her feet suspended in the air. All blue and tiny and perfect and I gasped because I had no idea she’d left my body. In a second they whisked her over to the inspection station where a team of nurses and pediatricians began examining her, and Mike’s face was lit up like Christmas at the sight of her.

The anesthesiologist closed the window, and before I could even comprehend what was happening he snapped it open again and there was Henry, perfect Henry, his little blue feet hanging in front of me. He too was whisked away and Mike ran over to their tables to snap pictures. He soon came running back yelling, “SEVEN POUNDS FOURTEEN OUNCES!” over and over again about Arden. I couldn’t believe it but wanted to know Henry’s weight. When they said five pounds thirteen ounces I was nervous that they were so far apart but thrilled that he was so close to six pounds. When Mike was with them, and no one was paying attention to me (well, they were stitching me up), I looked over at the little glowing baby stands, holding my children, and I started to cry saying “My babies, my babies” over and over, just aching for them, not believing that they were in the same room as me. IMG_3819 One by one they brought them over and I just cried with joy. IMG_3822IMG_3824I didn’t know then that Henry’s hair would grow to be as fine and golden as corn silks; I didn’t know that Arden’s upper cheek dimple would pierce my heart with adoration; I didn’t know that the devastating blue of their eyes would literally stop passersby in their tracks; I had no idea that hearing the simple two syllables of “mama” coming from their mouths would make me rearrange everything that had mattered to me before; I couldn’t have guessed that with every passing month I would mourn at their receding babyhood and rejoice at all they gained, in equal measure; I didn’t know that days were approaching that would be so hard I’d weep with frustration; I didn’t know that Henry’s favorite comfort position would be sucking his left thumb, with his right hand cupping my chin; I didn’t know that Arden would grab me around the neck and say “love”, which grabbed my soul with equal force; I didn’t understand that my love for my husband would deepen in unimaginable ways; I didn’t know the deep, contented happiness that hearing their peals of laughter as they chase each other would bring; I couldn’t know that holding them, every single time, without exception, would become the joy of my life.

I didn’t know any of that in those first moments of meeting.  All I knew was that along with two babies, an irrevocable love had been born at 5:48 and 5:49AM, altering my heart forever.

To God be the glory, great things He hath done.

I always knew it was a possibility, but when they had to take both babies to the NICU, I couldn’t believe the heartache and desperation I felt.  I never even got to hold them.

After finishing the repairs, they wheeled me back to my room to recover.  Dr Walker walked alongside me and listened as I expressed my feelings of failure at having to have a c-section.  She stopped me and leaned down close and said “Abby, Arden was face-up.  None of us could have known that.  She was never going to be born any other way.  It wasn’t your fault, no amount of pushing would have changed the outcome.”  Her intensity and my emotion made it close to the “It’s not your fault,” Good Will Hunting scene.

A new nurse was assigned and she tried to instruct me to rest and get some sleep but all I could do was insist on seeing my babies.  I kept saying “When?  When can I go to them?  Why can’t I go now?”  She calmly explained that I wouldn’t be allowed to visit the NICU until I was able to sit without issue.

I couldn’t believe the bar was so low. “Perfect!”  I exclaimed.  “I can do that right now!” I launched myself into a seated position and instantly felt like I might fall over or vomit or faint.  I wasn’t about to admit this, but she already knew.

“You’re completely white,” she said gently.  “Abby, you’ve just had major surgery.  I know you want to be with your babies, but you have to rest.”

“How long?” I asked, near tears.  “How long does it take to be able to sit up?”

“Typically four or five hours,” she replied.  She might as well have said a week.  I was in denial that this was happening.  Stephanie was still in the room and would tell me months later that she couldn’t believe how I was disregarding the pain and fighting so intensely to get to the NICU; she said that is often not the case, which is unfathomable to me.

The next few hours passed in a blur that I barely remember.  I tried to sleep, and probably did, with people moving in and out of the room to check on or care for us.  I was coming off of a menagerie of drugs, and had been awake for more than 24 hours, save for that little nap in the middle.  Add surgery and one of life’s biggest moments to that and I was a little less than energized and alert.

Before I could recover enough to visit the NICU, they released Arden.  I thought my heart would implode from happiness that she was going to join us in our room.

As soon as they wheeled her in in her little bassinet, it was as if the last several hours of longing were erased.  They placed her on my chest and we stared in wonder at the most beautiful little girl we’d ever seen.  This was my daughter.  This was MY daughter?  How could someone so beautiful come from me?

Two by two the visitors came.  First my parents, as this was their first grandchild.

DSC_0020Then Mike’ parents, my in-loves, right behind them.

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And then my sisters, because this was their very first niece.

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And then my sisters-in-love took turns meeting this darling angel.

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DSC_0166It was a joy we’d never known, but it was covered by the cloud of Henry’s absence.  I thought of him constantly and how he should have been right there in my arms meeting each relative who loved him, and instead he was alone in a room three floors away.

We finally got to go see him late that afternoon, when they deemed me ready for the journey.  They gingerly placed me in a wheelchair — catheter strapped to my leg for the ride! — and we took the little vial of breastmilk I’d pumped for him and away we went.

The only true reason he needed to be in the NICU turned out to be that he wouldn’t eat.  He just wasn’t sucking from breast or bottle.  It was like he couldn’t be bothered, and the nurses tried to keep it lighthearted for us telling us that he simply preferred the direct service of the umbilical cord.  Of course I can write this plainly now, but at the time he might as well have been clinging to life the way I cried every day.

Seeing him in his little bed with lights and beeping buttons could have crushed me, but all I saw was my Henry Warren.  He was impossibly precious and lightweight, just a nugget of baby perfection that I couldn’t believe was mine.  A son.  My own son who was more handsome than I could have dreamed.

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IMG_3845We brought our parents to meet him which was really special because only one visitor was allowed at a time with us, so each parent got their sacred first meeting with Henry individually.  It was important to us not to share the babies’ names until each person met them, so all day no one knew his name until they were holding him.

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IMG_3878Since it was evening, everyone else met him the next day, so we announced his name to them when we returned to our room that night.

We were overcome with relief the next day when we could take Arden to visit Henry, bringing the babies together for the first time since the womb.  Seeing them together completed the picture we’d had in our minds since we found out we were having twins.

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 This new mama finally had both of her children in her arms, and it’s written all over her face.

IMG_3905The proud new double daddy.

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We had no idea that Henry would stay in the NICU for seventeen interminable days, that we’d have to leave him each night because we weren’t allowed to let Arden stay, that we’d spend every minute with him from 9AM to 9PM, feeding and caring for both babies while a bevvy of visitors blessed us with their company.  All of that anguish and struggle were approaching, but in those first moments together God gave us a vision of our family of four to anchor us through the coming storm.

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And we made it.  By God’s grace, we made it and thrived; and on August 12, we took both twins home together.

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And now, twenty-one months later, this family of four is ready to begin our next chapter — as a family of five.

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Great is His faithfulness.

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