Teach Other People’s Children Well

It isn’t anything new that I consider myself a passionate defender of public, state-supported education at every level. I grew up with a mom who was a fantastic public school teacher who at various points in her career, taught at every single level. This support for public education extends to medical education. Until this current school year, my sister taught at UNC’s medical school, and this year, she decided to add MD to her PhD and enroll in medical school itself. So I guess that I had a particular familial connection for the medical education component to this.

When I started seeing my reproductive endocrinologist at UNC fertility, I think I became more aware of residents and medical students as a part of my care team than before. In part, is because when you are having so many transvaginal ultrasounds, you become acutely aware of how many other people are in the room. When you are dealing with hard outcomes and talking about it with doctors and others present, you become aware of it too. So last year, when Sarah asked me to speak to her med students about my experiences and diagnoses, it actually was pretty easy to do so in a clinical way. By the time I actually managed to get and stay pregnant, I had no problem talking to any sort of medical students or professionals about my health issues. By the time the babies came, I don’t think I had much modesty with medical professionals (or the students and residents that accompanied them) left. Actually, while I have been in the hospital the past two months, this has also extended to pretty much anyone who works at the hospital who entered the hospital room, down to the housekeepers and the people who delivered food…

Because my adventures in breastfeeding have included many follow up appointments with lactation consultants as well as the Maternal and Fetal Medicine Doctor who specializes in breastfeeding problems, I wasn’t surprised when one day, the doctor asked me if it would be okay if she and her associates took some pictures of my battered, wonky breasts for possible inclusion in a textbook she is writing or other medical literature. I signed the permissions immediately. After all, if there is anything that I can do to educate others that sometimes breastfeeding hurts a lot and not all women have breasts perfectly situated for it, then I am all for it.

If only the elected officials of North Carolina shared my commitment to public education. Not only do I think that they wouldn’t strip down to educate others by showcasing the parts of them that are messed up and don’t work right (which for most of them, would be their brains), but they can’t even abide a university system that researches issues like poverty, biodiversity, and voter participation. Take a look at this webpage for full coverage of the Board of Governors (appointed by the NC General Assembly in the most partisan way possible) and their recommendations with regard to two important centers at the UNC Law School. I could go on and on about how their decisions stink of a dislike for academic freedom for professors who disagree with their regressive agenda and of a particular hatred for poor people and other disadvantaged populations. Yes, these are not people who have a commitment to public education at any level. It breaks my heart to think of the damage these people are inflicting to a university system that I love so much that I am willing to literally strip down to educate its’ students.

Insert Ferris Bueller quote about life moving fast here…

I realize that it probably is trite to say that as a new parent, time is something that I completely lack these days.  This week is the week that I officially started back to work (although that was somewhat thwarted by lots of ice around here), and it only compounded that problem.  With twins, I dare say that everything takes at least 1.5 times longer than with one baby (everything is at least 1.5 times more costly too).  The reality is though, I want to spend every moment I possibly can with them.  So many things that I ordinarily do, updating the blog being one of them, has fallen a bit by the wayside. I also don’t have time to post endless pictures to Pinterest from the new clothing lines during the Copenhagen/NY/London/Milan/Paris fashion weeks either. Darn. So little time for my so much shallow consumerism…

Additionally,some of the things that I had anticipated doing on my maternity leave – writing thank you cards, writing in baby books, cleaning and decluttering, etc. haven’t been done either.  Sometimes I feel guilty about that.  I feel guilty too that there doesn’t seem to be enough time to do all of the things with the babies that I want to do with them too.  I just have to accept the realities that time imposes and leave it at that.

My last week at home was mostly spent at the hospital with Desmond, as some minor surgery turned into a lengthy hospital stay.  He was a trooper, though, and thankfully, we are all home again.  The best day in the hospital was the day that my mom brought Calum to visit and I was able to have the two boys together again.At the hospitalThe boys are now officially two months, which meant after we arrived home from the hospital we took many pictures.

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I have found an additional use for my silly hats – the boys love to stare at them…
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Grandpa came out to help with some things after David went back to work. He and Mimi traded off visits, and now she is here to stay until the end of May. We couldn’t be happier, as no one does a better Grover voice than Mimi.
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Time goes fast, but we are trying to make the most of it.

Teach Your Children Well

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On MLK Day, I started to fret because I had not yet bought a children’s book to read to the boys about MLK and the Civil Rights movement in our country. It was a never-ending spiral from that point. I started thinking about all of the things that I wanted them to learn about and how little time I have to teach them those things. This is the problem with having a generalist as a parent: it isn’t just learning about the Civil Rights movement, it is also learning Bollywood dance moves, how to play the cello (which of course, I would not be the one to teach them), French social issues rap, and how to drive a John Deere Gator. There is so much in this world to learn about, and there are so many different people in the world to learn from.

Of course, I also cannot wait until they start to get older and we get to find out what they are interested in. My goal is to introduce them to as much as I can so they can decide what they want to learn about more (I hope that they love the animals as much as I do, because I have a million ideas for that). I cannot wait to travel with them and show them the world.

I cannot believe they are already six weeks old. It goes so fast. I feel like I missed so much of the first month, because I was sick. I am trying to make up for that time now.

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One Month and Still Going

I think one of the long term effects of infertility that people don’t talk about is an intense paranoia about health related issues. As I stated when I was pregnant, when you are used to things going wrong, you just keep assuming that is what is going to happen. I hoped that would stop after I gave birth, but the truth is, I love these boys so much, I cannot stop fretting about their own health issues. While it is true that both of them have required trips to specialists so far (with more trips to come), it is also true that they are both gaining weight and growing, and so by that measure, they are doing fine. Just as when Knightley was a puppy and I didn’t know what I was doing and I hated that he couldn’t tell me when he was feeling well, I have spent sleepless nights stressing out about every little sound I hear the boys make.

In the first month, I have also dealt with all of the feeding issues – the fact that the boys aren’t good at latching, the fact that I had to work incredibly hard to get a decent milk supply (that still has to be supplemented with formula), and the fact that I measure my days by how much milk I am able to pump. I have seen the specialist doctor about the pain issues I have with breastfeeding too. No one prepared me for how painful it has been. However, I have been reassured because the babies are growing and they are getting the antibodies that I have produced (which is particularly useful considering I was sick a solid three weeks of the first month – one week with the flu, two weeks with a terrible cold). The doctors have made me feel so much better about my abilities, and they still give me hope that Desmond can learn to latch.

So things have been tough in a way that maybe I wasn’t completely prepared for – the sickness in addition to the sleeplessness, the pain in addition to the supply issues. But at the end of one month I have two beautiful boys that I love so much.
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I love that face on Desmond, so that is the picture that I had to include here. Both boys make the funniest faces.

Merry Christmas, Your Gift is the Flu

I wanted Christmas to feel like a celebration this year, and it certainly did. Of course, that was in spite of the fact that David was sick with the flu that he brought back from attending the Utah bowl game in Las Vegas with his family. It felt like a celebration to me up until the day my parents left to go up to Virginia to watch Harrison and Phoebe and I came down with the flu that David had. Then, it just felt miserable. I couldn’t sleep to get over it, because I had to keep up regular intervals of breast pumping, because the antibodies in my breastmilk were all that were keeping my babies from getting sick. So the celebration turned into a weekend of exhaustion, body aches, coughing, and fretful thoughts about my babies getting sick.

The good news is that they are still free of symptoms. I hope it holds out. The bad news is I am completely exhausted and unsure whether or not I am actually going to be getting better anytime soon.

Here are some pictures from the celebration part of Christmas.

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I actually think that is a pretty great family picture of us, in spite of how sleep deprived we all are.

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Had to get a picture of the boys with their stockings. Calum was a little more awake for the Christmas morning festivities.

Of course, this good boy also enjoyed his Christmas stocking unveiling too. It was stocked with his favorite treats.

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In spite of the fact that the boys lack the ability to focus clearly on objects presently, that didn’t stop them from scoring the largest Christmas haul. Mimi and Grandpa made sure the boys had their first exposure to John Deere with a piggy tractor rattle.

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A few days prior to Christmas, we had a pre-Christmas celebration with Harrison and Phoebe. Is it possible to have too much cuteness to celebrate the holidays? I don’t think so.

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I will take it; even with the flu.

These are the Days of Miracle and Wonder

When I walked into our house yesterday after taking Calum to a doctor’s appointment at the hospital, I thought to myself, this house smells like baby. “Baby” is a unique combination of Dreft laundry detergent, formula & breastmilk, and baby diapers. It is not a smell that I ever associated with my house.

I have been debating how much to put about the babies on my blog. I mean, even though this blog is not widely read, once you put something on the Internet, it is there for all the world to see. I want to respect and value my children’s privacy and allow them to make their own decisions when they get old enough about what they want to share with the world. But at the same time, they are an important part of me and to not write about them at all wouldn’t be authentic. So, I plan to be highly selective – save most pictures for family photo albums and most stories for their baby books and other offline memory books.

So here is what I want to share from the hospital. I was terrified before and during my scheduled c-section. I never will know what it feels like to have an actual labor contraction, but I definitely know the fear and anxiety that come from not knowing what to expect. The moment my doctor pulled Baby A from me and shouted, “Oh my goodness, he is looking right at me,” to the next moment with Baby B reaching his hand forward to be pulled out (the result, the kids were born 15 seconds apart), I felt, finally, yes, this is real and these babies are yours, and I finally allowed myself to cry in relief and in happiness. At that moment, I felt like I became the mother of those boys.

In the recovery room, I held our nameless boys and talked with David about what they should be called. Truthfully, we had already decided on one name, Desmond Alexander, and had thought for many months that it was going to go to the baby born in the presenting position. Yet holding those two boys, it didn’t feel right to go to the elder brother. I looked at Baby B and said to David, “No, this one is Desmond. I know it.“ Desmond was named after one of my icons, Desmond Tutu. I knew Desmond because he was calm and peaceful (he still is as he so far doesn’t get worked up over anything). His middle name comes from three different generations of Alexander McIntosh, of my great-grandmother Lessie’s McIntosh family (Lessie was who my mother named me after). They made their way from Scotland to the Sand Hills of North Carolina right before the American Revolution.

Baby A was a feisty one. In some ways, his temperament is much more like mine. He is frequently impatient, but loves a challenge. I wanted to name him Aengus, after the poem by Yeats, “The Song of Wandering Aengus.” David thought that name sounded too harsh, but we still wanted to give him a Scottish name. After back and forth rounds of discussion, where Aengus and also Malcolm were discussed (he could be a little baby Malcolm Tucker), I finally relented to David’s preferred name of Calum. Although the only Calum’s I know are football players or sons of football players, I just hope our Calum doesn’t grow up to be an Arsenal fan. We decided to give Calum the same middle name as my dad, Michael.

The hospital experience was trying, but I felt the boys and I were well taken care of. Thankfully, my parents have been here to help since the boys came home. Melissa and her family were here at the weekend bringing a lot more laughter and fun to our house also.

Now let’s get to something better than my words, a few pictures of our new family.

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The last pregnancy photo, at 4:45 AM leaving the house for the hospital.

DSC_0035In the recovery room with the boys after the procedure, do I look tired? If you saw me today and compared it to this photo, I look positively radiant here.

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The stockings were gifts at the hospital for all the Christmas season babes.

I will post more of the back at home photos later, but finally for all of you wondering how this guy is adjusting, use this picture and judge for yourself.

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Thank You Babies

This will be my last weekend that I am pregnant.  It is strange to think about, but I will never look down at my stomach and see it moving in the same way again.  I think about how long it took me to get to this point, and how there were so many moments when I was quite sure I would never know what it would feel like to be at this point in time.  I think about how many times I was filled with hopelessness and wanted to give up. I think about how many times I got my hopes up, only to have them come crashing down again. I think about all of the lessons I learned about empathy, kindness, understanding, and withholding judgment along the way. And then I think about all of the ways that I learned to cope and to find beauty and joy amidst those sad days.

Mostly, what helped me make it through all of those days was the fact that I always felt like I had people in my corner who gave me the support and understanding that I needed. David, Melissa, Sarah, my Mom, Dad, and Knightley; I cannot explain how much more my family has come to mean to me in the past few years as they have borne my burdens with me and seen me through those days.  The past few years have taught me even more about what real friendship means, as I have been lucky to have a few great friends who have supported me and listened to me in my darkest hours.  From a spiritual point of view, I have felt what it is like to truly despair and feel the relief that comes from getting the answers that I have sought out for myself, when the blanket “Sunday School answers” were not good enough to relieve my distress.  So, I am thankful for that.

Now, I just want to thank these two little guys still inside of me, but whom I will meet very soon. There were many days that I doubted that we would get to this point. I wasn’t sure that they were strong enough or that I was strong enough, and I felt that my body was failing them in providing them a place where they could grow and be healthy.  I am glad that they showed me that they were stronger than I gave them credit for at times. I am glad they didn’t give up and that my body didn’t fail them.  I am so thankful to them for making me a mother.  I will miss them growing inside of me, but I cannot wait to meet them properly.

David and I have one more weekend to ourselves (or rather, Knightley has one more weekend with us to himself). We plan to celebrate our last DINK date tomorrow night at the Fearrington House. It might be a while before we once again have the chance to have a night to ourselves, but we have so much to look forward to.

Lacrosse Moms and Holiday Lights

Our neighborhood is the kind of place where tasteful outdoor holiday displays of white lights framing front porches and mini-wreaths and candles decorating windows prevail.  It is the kind of place where the neighborhood listserv calls out visiting Jehovah’s Witnesses as potential prowlers “casing” the neighborhood, sees arguments erupt over individuals allegedly failing to pick up their dog poop, and lists endless requests for the names of worthy contractors for all sorts of home improvement projects.  It is the kind of place where everyone waits to buy their Christmas trees until the local high school lacrosse team Christmas tree sale fundraiser, because everyone’s sons plays lacrosse.  This terrifies me, as there are two team sports that I do not want my sons to play: American football (because of the fear of traumatic brain injuries) and lacrosse.  In Durham of all places, I do not understand the enthusiasm that so many people have for their kids to play lacrosse. Those Duke lacrosse players may not have been guilty of rape, but they certainly were guilty of racism, sexism, and just generally appalling behavior. Even at UNC, I was once caught walking through the lacrosse team after practice. In addition to their general post-practice odor, the 30 seconds of conversation that I overheard made me grieve for all of humanity.  No, that lacrosse thing is exactly what I want my kids to avoid. So, it is possible that we might have to move to a different, less lacrosse-friendly neighborhood before my boys get drafted into the neighborhood sport.

But here is the other thing about living in my neighborhood, a perfectly pleasant place to live, it makes me despise many of my neighbors who seem so obsessed with appearances. Now fortunately, I live in the best part of the neighborhood.  In fact, I like all of my immediate neighbors.  They are good people who are kind and always looking for ways to help a neighbor out (and some of them even have sons who play lacrosse and who manage to still be polite and good kids).  But the neighborhood listserv does no favors to my neighbors not in our immediate proximity.  When we were looking for a house to buy, one of my criteria was that the house not be in a neighborhood where I had to sign some restrictive homeowner’s association agreement about how long my grass could be, what kind of car I could drive, what kind of signs I could put in my yard, etc. I don’t sign away my free speech rights when I purchase a house, no thank you. Our neighborhood has a Homeowner’s Association, but it lacks the ability to create restrictions on people’s property, so that was good enough for me.  From time to time, neighbors lament this on the listserv, as they regret that they cannot stop people from doing things they don’t like or don’t like to look at.

It has gotten to the point where this holiday season, I told David, I am sick of the tactful white light holiday displays of conformity. I want to blow it up, literally. Call it the Mississippi white-trash country girl part of me, but I wanted us to buy a giant inflatable Snoopy kayaking with Woodstock for the front yard. I wanted us to get the old giant-sized wooden nativity figures that Ma-Maw and Pa-Paw had in their front yard for Christmas out of storage in the old black house (called that because the house is painted black) on the farm and put them in the front yard. David said no to those requests, as he apparently has more tact than I do. However, he did let me extend our Christmas lights animal menagerie to include a golden elephant standing on a flashing red ball this year (not that he had much choice, as I bought it at Lowe’s with my Dad when David wasn’t around). He agrees with my choice to add a lot more color to our lights display to counteract the blandness of the white lights. I don’t know what it is, but I hate conformity so much, that it brings out the extremist in me.

We still have some purple lights to put up, but here is our current statement to the neighborhood.

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Yes we still have the candles, so I guess we still haven’t broken free from all vestiges of conformity. Our house is so tall, and neither David nor I are going to be climbing ladders to put lights on the roof National Lampoon style, so we need some lights up high that are easier to manage.

More than anything, what this means to me is that David and I need to hurry up and find a house out in the country (before all of the “country” in the Triangle has been suburbanized) and I can stop reacting out of my innate extremism. And there we can display all of the giant inflatable Snoopys that our at least 10 acres will support without the fear of retaliation on the neighborhood listserv.

The Hold Steady

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I have made it past 36 weeks.  I may be reproductively challenged in almost every describable way, but at least my cervix appears to be cut out for this baby holding in thing.  Now, I just have to make it to my scheduled C-section next week.

The picture above was taken before church yesterday. Mostly, I love Knightley’s expression in it.  He is keenly aware that everything is about to change.  Furthermore, he rarely wants to leave my side when I am home.  I think he might be more realistic about how much our lives are going to change than I am at this point.

I can practically admit that I know everything is about to change.  I feel prepped for sleepless nights, at least in part because I haven’t been able to sleep in over two months, and now, with my 50 week uterus, it is just a comical display of me attempting to toss and turn all night to try to get comfortable and it never really happens. In terms of other anticipated life changes, I don’t think that I am going through anything uniquely different from what other soon-to-be mothers do who also care a lot about their careers. I have turned into work crazy person, because I don’t really like the idea of going out of the office for two months and people seeing me as less valuable.  I keep making commitments to my boss about writing articles and chairing search committees while I am out on leave, so maybe that is where the unrealistic part creeps in.  But I need to do those things too.

Maybe it is also that I know that I can do a great job with my work commitments, but I am less sure that I can do a great job with the whole raising two human beings simultaneously thing. Maybe I want to maintain control over my work life, because I am terrified about how these two babies are going to come out of me and all of the potential things that could go wrong that I have no control over. I know it sounds strange after what has been an anxiety inducing pregnancy, but I kind of like how these two guys are inside of me now, and I know that in a week I will never have that experience again (even though I can barely breathe or walk these days). It is going to be weird to look down at my abdomen and not see them moving around.

But I do want to meet them properly and start to figure out what kind of little people that they are and see who they will become. I know that it is probably unrealistic to think I would ever feel adequately prepared. I just don’t want to mess them up too badly.

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