Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Little Bit Danish

When I was 8 or 9 years old I went to summer camp for the first time. I spent a week in a tree house at the Santa Fe Tree House Camp. It was a remarkable week for many reasons including my newfound independence, my love of nature, the beginning of my love of summer camp, etc. But what I remember most about that week is that I forgot what I looked like. Completely forgot. And at that point where I could no longer remember what I looked like I created a face in my imagination. I suppose this dreamed up image of myself was an accurate reflection of how I thought of myself. The little girl I imagined had my curly frizzy hair and someone else's light brown skin. I remember being shocked when I finally looked in one of the little camp mirrors (apparently my hygiene suffered when away from my parents for the first time) and saw that my skin was creamy white.

This incident stayed with me and I often think of it as a way to describe how I internalized the culture of Northern New Mexico and the Hispanic people who have lived there for hundreds of years. In college I met a friend who had a Hispanic father and a Jewish mother. We had some interesting conversations about identifying with two cultures. I remember thinking that my new friend was a more understandable embodiment of the cultural identity that I adopted as a child in New Mexico. I am ethnically a Jew with family from Russia and Germany, but I internalized the culture of Northern New Mexico and have carried it with me. 

In this same way, I feel that I became a little bit Danish during our 2.5 years in Denmark. No, I did not learn to fluently speak the language and I am not descended for Vikings, but I am longing for the hygge of this time of year. I miss the red hearts and white lights that go up all over Copenhagen to symbolize Christmas. I miss the dark seed-filled rugbrod. I miss biking and walking everywhere and I better understand the Danes' socialized medical system than I do our confusing healthcare. In short, I feel uncomfortable in my own country. The reverse culture shock is worse than the culture shock was. Perhaps I didn't completely fit in in Copenhagen. There I was so clearly An American. But here, I don't feel American enough. 

If it has been hard for me to adjust, it has been even more difficult for my 3.5 year old son to adjust in many ways. He has easily fit into school and loves it, but he still hums the theme song from Rasmus Klump and sleeps with a photo of himself and his daddy standing at the top of the Round Tower to remind himself of Denmark. 

While discussing synonyms with Riley the other day, Riley listed the Danish word as a synonym for something which was both accurate and a little bit heartbreaking. I didn't know that particular word and I told him as much. He said, "That's because you and Daddy are not Danish, right?" 

"Right," I said.

"But I am a little bit Danish, right?" Riley asked.

I thought about myself at summer camp when I forgot what I looked like, and all the little facets of identity I have picked up here and there. I thought about how my son lived in Denmark much longer than he has yet lived in the United States, how he was learning the language in school, how I would prefer a world where we can all be multinational citizens. I thought about how maybe the responsible answer was to say that he was Ameircan, but Riley knows he's American and he knows he is Jewish and apparently, just like I did as a child, he also viewed the culture he grew up in as his own in some way. So I said, "Right, Riley, you are Danish a little bit." 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

My dog is dying. As I write this, I am sitting in a chair beside her. She is sprawled in a little blue bed eyes open, taking slow and shallow breaths. Earlier, I came home to find she had fallen on the hard wood floor, feet in every direction, head in a puddle of pee. This is not what we think about when we adopt our pets.

Barbie and her brother Wylie have been our companions for 9 (Wylie) and 9.5 (Barbie) years. They cuddled with me through three moves, a miscarriage, two pregnancies and the birth of three children and many adventures. In October, we made the decision to have Wylie put to sleep. He was in pain, we couldn't hold him and he couldn't hear or see. Even though it seemed to be the right decision, it was heart wrenching. After he died, I went to write about him and found I could not bring myself to. A couple weeks later when his ashes were returned to us, I walked all the way home for the vet, carrying a little box that contained all that was left of my little buddy and sobbed.

This week, we have been faced with an all too familiar situation and so far we have chosen not to euthanize, but tonight it is clear that Barbie is suffering. We sat with her and told her we love her and stroked her tiny body, and there is nothing else we can do. Losing Barbie feels like a double loss in a way. I feel I am losing her brother all over again and losing her as well. I feel guilty because she has received less and less attention as our family has grown and now that we moved to Oregon, she couldn't make it up the stairs to our bedroom and has been sleeping alone downstairs for the first time since we adopted her when she was five.

Losing Barbie is losing a good friend and saying goodbye again to all the chapters of our lives she has accompanied us through.

When I came home to find her sprawled on the wood floor, I quickly scooped her up to help her and to protect my three year old who understands way too much about death and dying already. We have been telling him that our dog is sick and she might go away soon and he remembers that Wylie died and went to heaven so he asked if she would be going there too and when. When Wylie died, our son asked for him and cried for months afterward. After a recent discussion about how everyone dies at some point, Riley turned to me and said, "I hope I stay until my baby sisters are grown up." I had to turn my head to hide the tears that came streaming down my face as I assured him he would live long after his sisters grow up - as if anyone can make that promise to anyone else.

My dog is dying. She suffers from kidney and heart failure and some sort gum or tooth infection that is causing her mouth to bleed. She is dying after 14.5 years of a good life and she is forcing me to remember my own mortality.

I will miss you Barbie.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

26 Hours

It took 26 hours to travel from our apartment on Amagerbrogade in Copenhagen to our new house in Beaverton, Oregon.

26 hours with me, Neil, two five month olds, a three year old, a fourteen year old Maltese dog, cousin Brittany, 13 checked bags and 11 carry on items. 26 hours to a different life.

No matter how you prepare for such a journey, there are bound to be mishaps. I am proud to say that we had adequate snacks, changes of clothes, diapers and toys for all three kids and the grown ups.

The big hitch in our plans occurred when our flight from Copenhagen to JFK didn't take off on time.

We had spent the time in the boarding area bonding with the crew of our airplane. Flight attendants were holding the babies and playing with Riley. Our kids charmed the New York-based flight crew and the crew, in turn, charmed us.

And so, when one of the nice men who had held the babies came on the intercom and said, "well ladies and gentlemen, the reason the plane was a little late getting in is that there is an exterior door that is broken. It isn't going to keep us from flying, but we can't fly at our top speed or the door will come open, so instead of a 7 hour flight to JFK, this will be a 9 hour flight." My first instinct was to want to kill the messenger, but I liked the messenger and realized I couldn't direct my anger at the crew so I resigned myself to our new fate - 9 hours on an airplane and a missed connection in New York.

The flight was ok. Riley slept for only 30 minutes and needed entertainment the rest of the time (for those of you who are not skilled with numbers, that was 8.5 hours of entertainment for the three year old) and the girls slept on and off, but needed to be walked around the plane the rest of the time. This meant that none of the adults slept at all and at least two of us were up walking around the plane most of the time. I got covered in spit up once and did a whole outfit change in a small, dirty airplane bathroom. Neil got covered in spit up, but neglected to bring an extra outfit for himself so he just put water all over his clothes and walked around wet. Otherwise, there were no major mishaps.

Our flight landed in New York and first Neil left Brittany's roller bag on the plane. Once that was retrieved, we promptly forgot Riley's stroller at the gate. (Easy to do when you have 11 carry on items.) This resulted in having our little three year old, who was by this time drunk with exhaustion, walk while towing his suitcase down the seemingly never ending hallway to customs. Brittany and I were carrying babies and bags and Neil was carrying what seemed like the entire world but was really a couple large bags and the dog in her bag. He tried to get Riley to ride on his shoulders, but Riley refused. I tried to get Riley to let me carry his suitcase, but Riley refused. Riley was swerving and stumbling and I struggled to get him to keep up, but several times the passengers from a flight from Israel and another flight that I am guessing came from India got between me and Riley. Because I was completely exhausted and uncomfortable and really upset that I couldn't carry my little guy when he so clearly needed to be carried, I was disproportionately distraught about his drunken stumbling. I imagined him being washed away with the crowds of unfamiliar foreigners, or just wilting and remaining forever in the long hallway between the international gates and
official entry to the US. 

Somehow, we made it through customs. Somehow we got all our 13 bags and got Riley in his stroller and he fell asleep. Which would have been glorious if we didn't have to rush like crazy to catch the last flight to Portland for the night. A kind airline employee took us on and hustled us through rechecking our bags and getting through security. She even held Barbie (the dog) while we went through with all our kids etc. At one point on our way from bag check to the security checkpoint I saw the lady give our three carseats and our insanely expensive double stroller to some male airport employees headed to oversized luggage and she said "make sure these get on the plane, these babies need these to get home tonight". The men disappeared with our stuff into an elevator and she turned to me and said "I hope you get those, if not, you can get carseats for car rental agencies" and then we were off running again. 

When our guardian angle airline employee first approached us to help us get to our flight, Neil was so exhausted and hassled he thought she was trying to prevent us from getting to our flight and started saying, "come on, we just need to get to our flight..." I had to intervene to clarify that she was trying to help, not hinder.

Again, we somehow made it through security and to our flight, we were among the last to board and were seated way in the back of the plane. Neil had to wake Riley and surrender the stroller at the gate. This resulted in our three year old screaming at the top of his lungs. He really couldn't be blamed, our journey was approaching the 19 hour mark and he hadn't slept. By the time we were seated on the plane, all three children were screaming at their top volumes. I thought the babies might be hungry,  but they wanted nothing to do with eating, they were also overtired. I think it took about 15 minutes of complete and utter torture which included all the passengers surrounding us making jokes and complaining about the crying, a flight attendant trying to bribe Riley with a big bag of peanut m&ms and me contorting my body so I could comfort one baby and Riley while Neil held the other baby until everyone, and I mean everyone including myself and Neil, fell asleep. 

The rest of that 6 hour flight was peaceful and when we got to the airport in Portland, more than half a dozen family members were waiting with Danish and American flags and helium balloons and welcome banners. Which was the most over-the-top airport welcome I had ever received, but was also completely appropriate given the marathon we had just completed. 

We got our bags, had lots of help loading them into three cars, took a ride to our new house and walked inside. 26 hours to a different life. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Departing

Departures are so strange and intangible. We have been leaving for several weeks now. We said goodbyes. We watched a team of Swedish movers box up our possessions, load them in a shipping container and drive it away on a semi truck. We have been doing all our lasts. 

Last visit to Magasin. Last trip to our friends' house. Last walk along christianhavn canal. Last paradis ice cream. Some lasts went unnoticed. When was my final visit to my Egyptian friend's delicious restaurant? When was the last time I walked by the round tower? Saw a swan family? Heard the bells on Holmens church chime in a song?

Today, to mark our final day living in Denmark, we went to Tivoli. It was a bit overcast and tourist season is dying down so there weren't many people in line for rides. I was lucky enough to have three sleeping children a d one patient cousin and was able to go up The Golden Tower four times in a row. Once on each side. The ride is one of the simple run you up a tall tower and then drop you in a free fall until you get close to the bottom where you bounce up and down as if you'd gone bungee jumping. Normally I wouldn't want to go on such a ride, but there is something about The Golden Tower. There is a moment at the top where everything is still and you can survey the beautiful old city of Copenhagen. And then you suddenly plummet from the sky back down to earth. 

I surveyed the city I have come to call home, trying to soak in the beauty, to remember how lucky I am to have lived here and then I fell. 

After Tivoli, we took the bus home and put all our belongings in bags. We threw out an embarrassing amount of food, packed an embarrassing number of suitcases and went to sleep for one more night in our echoey, empty apartment. 

I remember leaving our home in Washington DC to move here and feeling much the same way. A sense of profound loss at the life we were leaving and simultaneously thrilled at the new adventure awaiting us. People say you can always return. "You can come back to Denmark," they say. And it is true, you can, and we will - but it will never be the same. We won't live here again and we won't find all of our familiar people and places again on our return. Time will march on, we will change, our neighborhood will change, people will move away, the city will shift and transform. It will not be our Copenhagen in the way it is in this moment and we will not be the way we are in this moment. 

In the morning, we will gather our belongings, make a final sweep of all the rooms, slam the door so it locks and leap - free falling into our next adventure. Here. We. Go...

Monday, August 12, 2013

Farvel Danmark

I don't like leaving, and yet we are all always leaving. We decided at the beginning of August that we are moving back to the United States at the end of the month. There are many things I am looking forward to about moving to my home country, but there are so many things I will miss about this amazing country that I have come to love.

I will miss the friends we have made here, many of whom were instrumental in helping us survive my pregnancy and our early days with the twins. I will miss the bakeries. I will miss their pastries and also their amazing breads. I will miss taking Riley to Lagkagheuset and leaving with his free child's roll in a small brown bag. I will miss taking our huge strollers on busses, walking past the city's canals every day, hearing English spoken with a Danish accent, passing days or afternoons at Tivoli, talking to neighbors in our courtyard while Riley plays in the sandbox or on the pirate ship play structure. I will miss the Danish people who think they are unfriendly but who are actually kind and generous in their own quiet way. There is so much to miss.

Neil jokes that if we had to sum up our time in Denmark in two words those words would be "We reproduced." This is funny to me because on the one hand, it is true, we moved here with a 7 month old and are returning with a 3 year old and two 4 month olds. But children, while perhaps the most important thing to happen to us, were not the only thing to happen. We traveled, oh did we travel. We had my dream European vacation at least four times over. And we became a part of a community here. We learned to live abroad, immersed ourselves in another culture to the point that nothing here seems strange anymore except the language.

I fell in love with Denmark. A friend recently remarked that living here is like being at Disneyland, you can't stay forever. It is true. It's easy to live in Denmark. Sure, there are problems here, but compared to most places, it is utopic. Our experiences with the schools here have been outstanding. I feel it is almost criminal to take Riley out of the fantastic little bornehavn he just started attending in June. My time at the hospital was so positive in so many ways. Our family doctor is outstanding. Our neighbors are nice. We can bike, walk or take public transit everywhere. It just feels good to be here and I am so sad to be leaving this place and the people who make this place special for us.

I look forward to being closer to my family and in the same place as much of Neil's family and I am sure I will enjoy things like understanding other people's conversations, reading signs, going to Target, etc. But right now I am determined to soak in as much Denmark as possible before flying to Oregon with two 4 month olds, a three year old and a 14 year old dog (and Neil and cousin Brittany). You just know that day will make for a good blog post or two.

Movers will come this Thursday and take all our belongings and put them on a boat. As we go through our flat and sort and pack it feels like both yesterday and a lifetime ago that we were doing the same thing in our apartment in Washington, DC in preparation for our Denmark adventure. I hope our next adventure will be just as good as this one has been.



Sunday, July 28, 2013

Terrible toddler

For the first two years and eight months of my son Riley's life, I was frequently convinced that Neil and I deserved a medal for outstanding parenting. What else could explain the adorable little person we had created? He was polite, he easily tried new foods, was a dream on airplanes, behaved well at school and at home, loved to snuggle and hug and wasn't nearly as crazy as some of the other little boys we knew.

I remember when his second birthday approached, I was walking around on eggshells waiting for him to become a terrible two year old. It didn't happen. He was two and a half and it still hadn't happened and I took a big sigh of relief. "Our son is so great, we got to skip the Terrible Twos," I thought.

I would look at the parents whose kids were wheeled by in their big Danish strollers while screaming and flailing around and feel immense pity for them while simultaneously thinking, "Thank God my kid doesn't throw tantrums like that."

Perhaps I was too smug? Too sure that Riley's sweetness and compliance were due to my superior parenting skills. But really, I think I was just a silly first-time mom who somehow thought I could skip over a key developmental stage with my kiddo. The technical term for that stage, as I have now learned is, The Do Not Listen To Anything Anyone Says, Lose All Self Control, Throw Tantrums and Perfect Your Ability to Say "NO" in The Most Annoying Way Possible Stage.

I suspect that even if I hadn't disappeared into the hospital for 9.5 weeks and returned home with two baby sisters, Riley would be going through some growing pains right now, but certainly the addition of the babies to his life has complicated things. Riley also changed schools recently and was coaxed into giving up his pacifier for good. Not to mention the rotating cast of characters that have been staying with us to help with our massive increase in children. Just as Riley is comfortable with one grandma,  the other comes and just as he is comfortable with the other grandma, our cousin comes, the kid is having a tough summer. But, he has also turned into a total monster. Don't worry, he is a monster that I desperately love and would defend with my life, but he's exhausting to be around.

In the past 48 hours he has: head-butted one of his sisters and made her cry, hit a sister with a (padded) hockey stick, spent at least 15 minutes in a heap on the living room floor screaming "No, No, No" to no one in particular, drawn on a kitchen chair with crayon, kicked a half-eaten nectarine across the room, thrown a full cup of milk across the kitchen, punched a girl he doesn't know at a birthday party, and dumped 3/4 of a bottle of nail polish remover on my leg and all over the bathroom floor while saying "I know it's not a good thing to do, but I do it anyways."

I have gone from feeling like parent of the year to feeling like I should be sitting in the corner with a dunce cap on. The worst part is that I can see that Riley is hurting on some level and that is probably what a lot of his acting out is about. But I am powerless to help him. He is going to have to get used to having sisters. If it takes much longer, I am going to be the one in a heap on the living room floor throwing a tantrum.

All parenting advice is welcome. We clearly do not know what we are doing.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Drowning in Children

Let's not sugar coat this: caring for two babies is tough - really tough. Caring for two babies and a jealous toddler is, well, I am not sure there is a word for it. If you asked me most afternoons how I am feeling, I think the first thing that would come to mind is, "I am drowning in children."

Yep, drowning. My adorable monoamniotic twins still eat every three to four hours during the day and then spit up for a bit after eating. Often they wake up and want to be held for several hours, apparently not realizing I do not have enough hands. My formerly perfect little boy is acting out in any way possible which includes whining, temper tantrums, yelling when babies are sleeping, throwing things, purposely spilling liquids and foods, saying "no" more times in a row than I thought humanly possible and constantly turning on the baby swings and bouncer so as to waste the batteries and inflict multiple annoying baby toy songs on us at once.

With all the spit up going on in my home, I am doing multiple loads of laundry daily and changing my clothes at least three times before bed. It has been warm and some nights, I just take off the spit-upon pjs and don't bother putting anything else on thinking it is easier to just hose myself off in the shower than it is to wash one more t-shirt. That, and I usually don't have any clean shirts left at that point anyways.

My kids are all such wonderful blessings, but to say this is a lot of work is a gross understatement. It is a miracle if I get anything done in a day aside from showering and eating. I am either nursing, changing diapers, sitting on the floor of the bathroom reading potty books to Riley while he is on the potty, rocking a baby to sleep, dealing with a toddler tantrum or some other child-related task. And keep in mind, I still have family here helping. Some days, the absurdity of it all makes me laugh, other days I cry.

Thank goodness for the funny stuff that happens around here, if not for that, I might not survive. Allow me to relate what is sure to become a family classic. The other evening, while our cousin Laine was visiting, Riley decided he wanted to get his "outside toys" (bubbles, frisbees, tennis rackets and other things that can create havoc inside) and play in the courtyard. I decided I would go with him and Laine, but I happened to be holding one of the girls (couldn't tell you which one). Riley walked over to where I was sitting on the couch and in his normal inside voice, which is loud enough to wake a hibernating bear, he said "Come to the courtyard Mommy!" I probably shushed him instinctively and then I said, "I am going to Riley, I am just waiting for Grandma Terri to take the baby and then I will come play." At this point, Grandma Terri had already approached for the baby hand off, but Riley turned around, filled with his excitement that I would be going outside with him and looked at his grandma and shouted:

 "Take it! Take IT!!! TAKE THE BABY!!!!"

Each "take it" louder and more emphatic than the last. The whole episode was accompanied by Riley's wildly gesturing arms. He was not messing around. He meant business. Of course, grandma Terri took the baby and instead of talking to Riley about how he shouldn't talk to adults (or anyone) like that nor should he refer to his sisters as "it", I burst into laughture.

When you are drowning in children, you take the laughs where you can get them.







Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Little Ears

When our monoamniotic twins were born at 32 weeks and 3 days gestation, their tiny ears were just ear-shaped flaps of skin. They could bend and fold and we had to take care not to put the babies down with their ears creased. The neonatal nurses told us that the cartilage would develop in the coming weeks and it did. The tiny ears were just one more fragile thing about our little babies.

When we checked out of the hospital, Aviva's and Violet's ears were beginning to take more shape and were much less flexible. We had instructions to get two additional screenings for the girls after being discharged - a hip screening (twins can have hip issues, ours do not) and a hearing screening (done on all newborns, but not done while in the neonatal unit).

When our son Riley was born, they checked his hearing the very next day and before we left the hospital. I remember the nurse coming in the room and saying "Congratulations, he will hear and develop speech normally." I thought it was a strange thing to say at the time, but was glad to know his ears were working. This time, when we left the hospital without knowing if our babies could hear, it felt odd.

Fast forward to about a month ago when we finally went in for the hearing screening - a normal day and we were doing what I thought would be a routine test. Until both girls failed the test. The woman who conducted the test seemed very sad and said that sometimes a failed test was due to having a cold (both girls did), but she also didn't give us any false hope. The fact was, it was possible that our babies could not hear. We were refered to a hospital specializing in ears and hearing and we waited to get our appointment. Due to some Danish holidays, we waited a while. And this is how I came to spend nearly a month not knowing if my babies could hear.

While I know that hearing problems can be overcome, no mother hopes for her babies to be hearing impaired or deaf. After worrying about so many things through the pregnancy and our NICU stay, I was completely deflated when we sat in the hearing test room and watched the little light on the machine flash red over and over again.

We spent the ensuing weeks asking questions. Did she hear the dog bark? Why didn't Aviva turn her head to see the mobile when the music went on? Did Violet just wake up because of the creaking floorboard or was it a coincidence? Would I ever get to hear Aviva and Violet chatter away like their big brother does, or did we have something different in our future? I didn't share the hearing test results with many people for fear of making it more real. We just waited.

Today was hearing test day at last. We took the regional train to the hospital this morning and finally got the news we were waiting for. Both girls can hear! The relief I feel is enormous. I wanted to hug the nurse who did the tests, but I refrained. Our babies can hear! I'd like to say that I will sleep well tonight since I no longer need to worry about their hearing, but they will wake me up too many times for a good nights sleep.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Tubeless and Officially Discharged from the Hospital

It has been a full week since either of our monoamniotic twins has had a feeding tube in her nose. The final medical equipment from their time in the neonatal unit is gone and my babies are just babies. As each cord, wire or tube was removed while we were in the hospital a bit of relief set in. I felt happy that the removal of equipment meant the babies were doing well and happy that it was incrementally easier to hold my babies without fear of hurting them, disconecting monitors or tangling cords. When I took Aviva's feeding tube out last Tuesday and could look at my little girls' faces without funny tubes taped to them, it felt fantastic.

No more tubes means that the girls are eating all they need on their own. They are growing and thriving. Violet weighs just over 6 lbs and Aviva is catching up quickly at about 5.8 lbs. This Tuesday we received our final visit from the neonatal nurse and she officially discharged the girls from the hospital. With a hug and good wishes for our future, Lise walked out of our apartment and closed the hospital chapter of Aviva and Violet's story. (Hopefully permanently)

I am more exhausted now as I am solely responsible for all the feedings, but it's a good kind of exhaustion that only comes with new babies. Soon, we will introduce some bottles and start using our milk supply in the freezer from all the pumping I did before they could eat on their own. It will be nice to have a little more freedom to do things without worrying the girls will go hungry.

Because we are in Denmark, we will have a home health visitor (a nurse trained to work with babies who comes to check on Violet and Aviva every week or so. Unlike in the US, where we had to take Riley out to the pediatrician for check ups when he was really small, here the healthcare professionals come to us as much as possible. I remember having Riley at the pediatrician when he was a few days old and feeling incredibly uncomfortable and nervous about him getting germs from one of the sick kids in the waiting room. The system here is so much better in this way.

As the weather improves and Danes are getting outside and occupying every spec of bare grass in the parks, Aviva, Violet and I are getting out more, too. Hopefully we will get a few more nice days before the rainy summer begins. In a way, it feels like my life is beginning again as I climb out from the shadow of worry that nearly consumed me since last fall. It's nice to feel this way and have it complimented by sunny weather.


Sunday, April 28, 2013

One month old

Hooray! We are one month old! (Aviva on the left, Violet in yellow)


My adorable girls are a month old. We have been home with them for two weeks and it has been exhausting but fantastic. The beeps and alarms of the NICU are fading from our memories, we aren't kept awake by other people's screaming kids and we get to have our family together.

Violet and Aviva are still gaining strength and getting bigger. We think they will be eating all their food on their own within a couple weeks and the feeding tubes can finally be a thing of the past.

I am loving being in my own home and with Riley and Neil more. It is crazy to think that I was living at a hospital for nearly nine weeks. I miss some of the midwives who cared for me while I was there, but not enough to move back in.

The reality of being a mom of twins is slowly sinking in. I didn't let myself think about it too much during pregnancy because I wanted to get the babies out alive first. But as we inch toward being finished with the feeding tubes and the nurse visits, we are coming out of being in a rare and perilous situation - monoamniotic twins! Premature babies! Extended stay in the neonatal unit! to being a normal family with newborn twins. Turns out, this isn't very easy. We have three kids under three years old. It is a zoo around here.

The girls eat and get diapers changed every three hours, and until they are done with the feeding tubes, I pump every three hours at different times from their meals. This basically gives me 30 min between things to do things like nap, eat, and shower. It is brutal. And yet, I feel it has all been worth it and will continue to be so as long as I am blessed to be these little girls' mom.

I must now give into my exhaustion and get some sleep.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Gratitude and Going Home

During my nearly nine weeks (NINE WEEKS!!!) in the hospital I have met dozens of amazing health care professionals. From the committed team of midwives who helped find my squirmy babies' heartbeats three times a day for six weeks, to the team of doctors, anesthesiologists and nurses who cared for me during my c-section. From the incredibly gentle and patient NICU nurses, to the pediatricians who saved Violet's life when her lung collapsed and have watched over the girls since they were born.

One of the privileges of being a patient here for so long is that I was able to form relationships with several of the people who have cared for me and the girls. I will truly miss the midwives and nurses here. One of the more special relationships for me and for Neil is with the gifted and committed doctor who watched our girls grow and carefully examined them with twice weekly ultrasounds and then performed the c-section when they were born. Anne Marie is a tall Finnish woman who we first met on a tour of the maternity ward of the hospital when we were deciding if we would stay in Denmark for the pregnancy or move back to the US. Our relationship started out tentatively. We had met many ultrasound doctors already in this pregnancy and at least two of them had offered options to terminate the pregnancy.

Any fears we had about Anne Marie were completely unfounded. She was so kind and so thorough each scan, always checking each girl's blood flow at critical places in her body, all the organs, and of course, the cords. After six weeks and twelve or thirteen lengthy ultrasounds, we knew each other pretty well. During all the measuring and monitoring, Anne Marie would occasionally point out things like hair on the babies heads, good images of their faces and their lungs moving in practice breaths. I got the feeling that not only did Anne Marie understand why I checked into the hospital so early in the pregnancy (26 weeks) but that she also let out a breath of relief each scan when things still looked as good as they could for the babies.

A week or two before the scheduled c-section, Anne Marie told us she would be doing the surgery. We didn't even know she was also a surgeon at that point, but having the doctor who knew the twins best perform the surgery seemed perfect.

I am not sure when exactly Anne Marie worked her way into my heart. Was it during my six weeks of hospital time before the girls were born? Was it the moment when I realized she was invested in the outcome of my pregnancy and was rooting for us? Was it when she safely delivered the girls? Maybe it was when she came to the neonatal unit to check on me and the babies a day or two after the operation? I can't be sure, but at some point I realized how big a part she played in the miracle of our girls' lives. She helped watch over them and then brought them into the world. We could never repay her for all that she has done for our family. But, of course, she wouldn't allow it if we could.

A few nights ago we ran into her and began talking about how incredible it is that the umbilical cords were not entangled when the girls were born and how miraculous the whole pregnancy really was - how week after week there were no problems. As Neil was saying this, I could see that Anne Marie agreed. Her eyes got a little misty. I then tried to thank her and got about halfway through before bursting into tears. (I am sure some of these tears can be blamed on post-partum hormones, but I think I may have cried even if hormones weren't a factor.) She gave me a huge hug.

How do you thank someone like Anne Marie? I have been grappling with this. How do I tell her that she will always be with us, always be a major character in our family's story? I am sure we could have had a fantastic outcome with less personalized medicine. We could have had 12 different ultrasound technicians and a surgeon and still ended up with the same positive result, but the personal connection and continuous care we received here was so much better, its value unquantifiable.

******************************************************

In other news, after nearly three weeks in the NICU (and a total of almost nine weeks for me in the hospital) we are going home on Saturday!!!! The hospital has a fantastic early release program that allows us to go home and remain there while the girls get stronger and learn to eat on their own. A nurse will visit twice a week to make sure we're on the right track and we get to bring our family together at long last. We are thrilled. It is, of course, a little scary to take on all the night feedings and all the care of the girls, but we are ready.

For several days now (since Monday night, I think), the girls have been off the heart and oxygen monitors that kept them tethered near their beds and are only connected to small hand-held apnea monitors. Today we took them around the hospital to meet some of our favorite midwives and visit an old roommate of mine. Being able to carry our babies around is fantastic as is not worrying about the numbers on the monitors and just focusing on the babies to determine how they are doing.

When we go home we will have the monitors for a few days and then the nurse will visit and remove them! At that point, the only remaining piece of equipment on our babies will be the small feeding tubes that run through their noses to their tummies. Neil learned how to put one in today because the girls have become fond of pulling them out. As soon as Aviva and Violet can eat all that they need to keep growing on their own, the tubes will come out and the nurses will officially discharge the babies from the hospital. Until then, we get lots of support and get to be in our own home.

My own home, with Riley and Neil and Aviva and Violet. (And my mom and dad who are here to help.) I cannot wait...

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A week and a day in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

So much has happened in the past week that I am not even sure where to begin. I woke up on March 26th feeling trepidatious about having major abdominal surgery and about the well-being of the twins after being born at 32 weeks and 3 days gestation. I was also excited and just wanted the surgery to be on time. Unlike many things in my 6-week hospital stay, the surgery happened promptly at 9:30 in the morning. They wheeled my bed to the operating room, I sat on the table and, after a team of very friendly anestesiologists had numbed me from the middle down, our twins were born almost simultaneously - fitting for two girls who had been sharing the same space for the past 32 weeks.

Other than the relief of hearing two tiny cries and getting to kiss my babies on the heads before the doctors took them to the NICU, I remember a few things about the surgery. One: The doctors and nurses were incredibly kind. They were professional and business-like, and also had unbelieveable bedside manner. I wasn't expecting anyone to be mean to me, but I didn't expect the added level of compassion either. Two: I could not stand the feeling of my legs and feet going numb. It was extremely bothersome to me to be unable to move my lower extremeties and yet somehow still able to feel them. Three: I am pretty positive they were hitting my uterus to make it contract after they sewed it up. This was disturbing.

And then we had babies. I had to spend time in a recovery room regaining my feeling, but as soon as I could competently move my feet, I was wheeled to the NICU to see the twins. Aside from one night in my old room, I have been sleeping beside Aviva and Violet ever since.

It has been a very eventful week. Violet had a collapsed lung her first night which led to a drain in her chest to remove air and a ventilator to help her breathe. It was excruciating to see her lying in her bed in pain (mostly from the drain). Fortunately, her lung healed quickly and within a few days (which felt a bit like an eternity to me) the drain and ventilator were removed. For the past several days she has been breathing room air on her own and her sister Aviva got the annoying CPAP (which puffs air in babies noses to remind them to breathe) removed today. I can now look at both of my babies' faces and see their noses. It has been a really good day.

I think that because I knew these babies would be born early no matter what, I was prepared for a certain amount of blood draws and needle pricks and tubes to help them in the early days. I have been much tougher than I ever thought I could be. I am the mom who broke down in sobs when Riley had to have a heel prick on his thrid or fourth day of life. But being in the NICU is on a whole other level.

It is very warm in our room and nurses and doctors come in at all hours to check on the babies. The lights are always on and many nights the door is left ajar. I am sure my lack of sleep has slowed my c-section recovery a bit, but it is amazing that both Neil and I have been able to sleep here since the babies were born. Our lives have taken on a rhythm of checking oxygen levels and every 3 hour feedings. We have become used to the whirr of the various machines and all the different beeps and other noises.

For all of the commotion and intensity of the NICU, it is also proving to be a very peaceful place. The highlights of my days so far are hours spent holding the babies. As more tubes and wires are removed, it has become easier to hold them together which is pretty fantastic.

Such a weight was lifted from my shoulders on March 26th when my girls were born and no longer in peril in my belly that I think in some ways, I am still floating through my days with relief. Next steps, teach the babies to eat on their own and fatten them up. Then, soon after that, we can finally go home and be a family. That is the day I am longing for most. I hope it will come soon.


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Welcome Aviva Juliet and Violet Behira - 3.26.13

We did it! Aviva Juliet and Violet Behira were born on Tuesday the 26th of March. My perfect little monoamniotic girls both came out crying at around 10 in the morning. I survived the c-section (but I much prefer giving birth the other way). And aside from a couple minor setbacks which have since been overcome, the girls are doing very well in the neonatal unit.

The girls' cords were not tangled or knotted. Neil, who saw the babies come out, said the cords crossed over each other a time or two, but once the cords were cut, they quickly untangled. We are so incredibly fortunate.

I keep looking over at my little babies in their bed and being in awe that they were both in my belly and that they are both here with us and beginning to thrive. Having them in our lives is truly a miracle. I am already feeling the exhaustion that will come from caring for two newborns, but I also know it will all be worth it. It has all been worth it already and they have only been here five days.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Tomorrow

Tomorrow morning if all goes well I get to meet my baby girls. It is incredibly hard for me to believe, but it is starting to feel real. Today we had our final ultrasound and met with a maternity ward doctor and an anesthesiologist. I also had a long conversation with a midwife and I think I am as ready as I will ever be to have my body sliced open. It is funny because I know so many women who have had c-sections, and they have all survived and said it wasn't a big deal, but to me it seems like a big deal because I have not experienced anything like it before. I am not totally freaking out, but it will be best for me not to think of it between now and then.

In about two hours, I will have my final monitoring session where we watch both babies' heartbeats for about 30 to 40 minutes. Since checking in on February 11, we have monitored them 128 times. Tonight will mark the 129th heart rate monitoring session of my inpatient stay and we had one session before I checked in making a nice 130 times these babies have been followed on fetal heart rate monitors, 130 times I will have had big straps around my belly securing the ultrasound-gel slathered monitors against my skin. Ah, memories.

We have had approximately 32 ultrasounds during this pregnancy! When we started out and still thought it was a normal one-baby pregnancy, I remember feeling bummed that in Denmark they typically only do two ultrasounds each pregnancy. I certainly did not need to worry about that.

I have gone through two tubes of Locoid 0.1% hydrocortisone cream to keep my PUPPS rash in check. And, as of today, I have been in the hospital for six weeks.

Tonight marks the first night of Passover and Neil, Riley and my mom brought a Seder to the hospital. Considering the fact that we were in a hospital with a 2.5 year old, it was a really nice Passover meal. Yesterday, the Copenhagen Chabbad rabbi, Yitzi, paid me a surprise visit. He gave me some matzah and told me that Passover is a good holiday to have surgery and to have new babies because there is extra protection at this time of year. I am holding onto that idea going into tomorrow morning. (Thank you, Yitzi)

Thanks again to everyone who has been supporting us in a myriad of ways through this whole crazy time. Thanks for your continued good wishes and healing thoughts as we go into tomorrow. It feels almost crazy to take these babies out now, while they are so little and still growing, but I keep reminding myself that from this point on they are safer outside than in. I can't wait to meet them and we will do our best to share news of their birth with all of you soon.

Friday, March 22, 2013

32 weeks! 4 pound babies!

When I wake tomorrow morning I will officially be 32 weeks pregnant with my monoamniotic/monochorionic twins. This has been the goal since we first learned about our precarious pregnancy in early November. To make it to late March, to survive all the gut-wrenching ultrasounds when we didn't know if there would still be two hearts beating, to get through six weeks of hospitalization with close monitoring, to survive my separation from Riley and Neil and my home, all seemed nearly impossible in November. But here we are. We've almost made it.

According to the most recent estimate, both babies are nearly 4 pounds (1800 grams). Hopefully by the time they are born Tuesday morning, they will have packed on a few more grams. This weight exceeds the goal I had of 1500 grams by the time the babies are born. Apparently all the protein I have been choking down has made a difference. And I am sure my nightly ice cream habit that lasted all of December and most of January had to help, too.

I am getting really excited to meet these baby girls. In fact, it seems that most of the staff at the hospital are excited to meet them too. I have really grown to love most of the midwives here. I know some better than others, but they are all fairly fantastic. I feel incredibly fortunate.

The head doctor of the whole maternity department will be doing my c-section along with the amazing doctor who has been doing our twice-weekly ultrasounds since I checked in. We just learned that she doubles as a labor and delivery doctor. I trust and feel good about both doctors. I suppose having a super-rare pregnancy has some benefits, one of them being high level professionals want to be involved in my care.

At this point I would really like to fast forward the next few days, go right past my operation and stop at the point when I get to meet my babies. We don't know how they will be doing, or how soon we will be able to hold them, but hopefully they will be strong and healthy from the start.

 A lot of friends and family have been remarking on how very strong we seem. (We being me, Neil, Riley and my mom). I will not dispute that. This experience has certainly tested my strength and the strength of my family and we are holding up really well. But I would like to confess to some imperfection. Finding the strength to get through this has not been easy and I have not always been a model of positivity and serenity. I spent much of November and the bulk of December watching every stupid romantic comedy on Danish Netflix and playing Plants vs. Zombies on my iPad. I was hiding. I am not proud of this, but it definitely helped me get through. I have not always been as nice as I should have been to my mom or to Neil. I am sure a large part of the reason for my lack of niceness was a need to release some of the stress I have been feeling, but it was unfair of me to release it in that way.

I am pointing these things out because I do not want to paint too rosy a picture of myself during this time. There was lots of crying in the beginning and many an asked but unanswered "Why me?"  The point being, it took a while to find this strength that I now seem to have, it hasn't been easy and I have not always been the best version of myself. I am hopeful that I can maintain my strength and improve upon it as we head towards the NICU chapter of this journey.

Thanks again for all the positive thoughts and kind words. Please keep it up as we head toward Tuesday. Lots of milestones yet to reach, but it is looking good. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

31 Weeks and 3 Days Pregnant With Monoamniotic Twins

I am 31 weeks and three days pregnant and exactly one week from meeting these special babies. When we learned about our monoamniotic twins in early November, I couldn't even visualize making it to this point. I hoped for it, but could not imagine. There seemed so many things that could go wrong between then and now. We are so lucky that nothing has gone wrong and we only have 7 days to go.

Something very cute has been happening in my inbox every day. My husband, Neil has been sending me photogtaphs of friends and family helping me to count down the days until the planned c-section on the 26th. I never know who will show up in my email, but I have really enjoyed seeing everyone and getting the support from afar. I don't think Neil got permission from everyone to post them on my blog, but the photos are truly fantastic.

My most recent roommate moved out of my room today and I am basking in the privacy I have been missing. Who knows when the next roommate will move in, but I will enjoy this solitude while I have it.

It snowed again last night in Copenhagen and looks positively wintry outside. I heard a rumor that it will continue to snow through April and then in May we can expect Spring to arrive. This sounds pretty bleak, but at least I am not stuck in a hospital during sunny and amazing weather.

I am not really stuck here, as I have made a practice of leaving for a few hours here and there, especially on weekends. I am under the impression that many people think I am here on bed rest. I'm not. I am really only required to be in my room three times a day for the monitoring of the babies' heartbeats. Other than that, I have twice weekly ultrasounds and occasional meetings with doctors. This week, Neil and I toured the neonatal unit to get an idea of what we're in for next. The doctors and nurses there are very optimistic about our babies and we hope they are right. A rule of thumb for a NICU stay is that we should not expect to bring our babies home any earlier than their due date (May 18th), but I am hopeful that we will get to go home with them before then. I suppose that next Tuesday when the babies are born, we will begin a new kind of countdown or will it be a count up?

I do not want to take anything for granted, so I continue to hope the heart monitoring and ultrasounds look good as we move closer and closer to March 26th and I continue to be grateful to have made it so far without incident.

One week from today!!! Can you believe it?







 





Friday, March 15, 2013

Eleven More Days Until We Meet Our Monoamniotic Twins

Eleven days can seem like a very long time when you go away on vacation to someplace tropical. You can become so far removed from your real life that you truly get a vacation. Or, 11 days can speed by when you're so busy you can feel your head spin as you bounce between work, family, an attempt at a social life and just trying to make sure you have enough clean clothes to get you through.

What will 11 days feel like as I await the birth of my twins at the hospital? Twins that, when we learned about them in early November, we weren't sure we were ever going to meet...

Tomorrow I will be 31 weeks pregnant with my Monoamniotic/Monochorionic twins and I will have 10 days to go before my c-section and their arrival.

There have been some questions about the timing of delivery at 32 weeks and 3 days. The main question is something like this, "If they are still doing well, could the doctors decide to leave them in longer and push back the c-section date?" The answer is a little complicated, but basically, risks increase after 32 weeks for monoamniotic twins to stay inside. This is because of the increased chance that one or both of the babies' cords could become compressed as the womb becomes more crowded. I have talked to six doctors and only one said she would want to wait until 34 weeks to take them out. So, we're going with 32 weeks and 3 days.

Since my last post, Riley has completely recovered from the chicken pox and only has some scabs and fading red marks to remind us of the horrible week he had. I have been using a very mild hydrocortisone cream on my PUPPS rash and it has made it nearly disappear from my body. I was a little nervous to use it at first, but I am SO incredibly happy to not be itching and sitting around with tons of ice packs on my body whilst becoming increasingly uncomfortable due to my massive belly. I want to know where this miracle cream was in June 2010 when I was nearly driven insane by my itching???

The hospital has continued to be a source of intrigue and drama. I have a new roommate now who is also a smoker. She is nothing like the ashtrays, but she does go out one or two times a day to smoke her cigarettes. She is very nice and is recovering from an emergency c-section due to a detached placenta. Her baby is in the neonatal unit and because she was deprived of oxygen at birth, may have brain damage. This has been a sad situation to see unfold and has added a bit of stress this week. I am hoping that things work out and the baby rebounds, but based on what my roommate has been saying, it doesn't look good. In addition to the baby being in peril, the father of the baby and of my roommate's older child has been here a few times causing some drama. I really feel for my roommate who is in a fragile position.

I have made a friend who is in a room down the hall, but walks around more than most of the patients in this unit. We met in the food line when we both announced that we do not eat pork. I suspected my friend was Muslim and at some point I told her I was Jewish, maybe because she wondered why I didn't eat pork. We have continued to talk most days and sometimes we have tea together in the evening. Tonight we talked about Muslim/Jewish relations here in Denmark and, of course in Israel. It was fascinating and completely non-confrontational. I feel fortunate to have met my friend.

I continue to be blessed with friends who visit me at the hospital and who call to check on me, or send emails or mail care packages. Every day I feel lucky. It has gotten to the point where I will not be able to read all of the books that have been given to me or watch all the DVD's. I have, however, managed to eat much of the chocolate. Next week I have a friend coming to help me make a belly cast so I can remember just how humongous I am with two babies in my belly. I remember arriving in Copenhagen in the dead of winter and feeling what it was to really be alone. We did not know a soul and were in a foreign country. How different things are two years later and how blessed my little family is to have so many wonderful friends here. 

I find it amusing that I just typed "my little family" because, actually, we are about to be not so little anymore. We will be a family of five! Five? As you can see, I may need some time to wrap my head around this twin business - what it means to have twins on the outside. We have been so concerned with their well being on the inside and their survival, that we've hardly thought about the logistics of having three children under three years old.  Maybe it's better not to think about it?

And finally, I thought you might like to see a photo of my strange tin-foil-covered light. Creepy right?

View from my bed. Note 1980's TV and tin foil light.




Saturday, March 9, 2013

Saturday Musings

I got to see Riley today! He is finally well enough to enjoy time out of the house and though we are still keeping him out of the hospital as a precaution, his chicken pox are mostly done and have turned into scabs. I didn't see him for 6 days, the longest we have gone not seeing each other since he was born. I was distracted during that time by two roommates, several conversations with doctors, visitors, etc. but it still wasn't easy. Today we went to brunch and after eating a little food, Riley laid down on the booth next to me and took a 2.5 hour nap. We spent quite a while at that restaurant. Fortunately, the staff was understanding and didn't kick us out.

It was very nice to have Riley sleeping beside me (and sometimes on me). I felt at peace for the first time in days. I wanted to smuggle him back to my hospital room and keep him here, but I can wait till tomorrow. I fervently hope that there are no additional childhood illnesses waiting in the wings to attack the poor little guy.

I had my first night alone in my room in more than a week last night and it is looking like I will get at least one more tonight. The midwives are actively trying not to give me a new roommate for a little while. I really appreciate it. Even though I really enjoyed meeting the last two women who stayed here, it is nice to have some alone time and to not have to expend more energy figuring out how to coexist with someone new in a small space under stressful circumstances.

I had a funny conversation with a midwife tonight. When I arrived at the hospital, the overhead light on my side of the room was wrapped in tin foil. Yes, that's right, completely wrapped in foil so that no light can escape it. At first I thought someone very strange must have stayed here who hated light. But after asking, I was informed that the light had been flickering and that is how it ended up in tin foil... Hmm. In my experience, a logical response to a flickering light is a light bulb change. But apparently not here. Here it must go something like this, "what? There is a flickering light? Quick, to the kitchen! Get that foil! Find a ladder!"

So, after a month of a dark room at night, I asked one of my favorite midwives about the light and she told me that the maintenance staff don't do anything anymore. She said the midwives don't like to have to call for maintenance over and over again because they have enough to do apart from worrying about the upkeep of the hospital. She said it used to be much better and she suspects part of the problem is the government's desire to save money and the she said, "I mean, you had to bring your own shower curtain! I saw that and I just laughed!" Then she promised to call someone about my light.

It is true, after a few days of showering with no curtain and getting water all over the place, I asked Neil to bring me a curtain and some hooks. Now I have a cute blue polka dot curtain which brings cheer to an otherwise drab and institutional bathroom and prevents me from flooding the place.

The televisions here are probably from the 80's and there are signs about DVD players that no longer exist. It is not a new hospital and it has not been updated. But, none of the physical stuff impacts the care I am getting here. It does, at times, make things a bit humorous though.

***

I have 17 days left until our scheduled c-section date. 17. It sounds like a lot, but at the same time, part of me thinks it will go rather quickly. Especially because, and I don't want to jinx it, but thanks to my doctor, I may have found some relief for the itchy rash. I'm optimistic. Stay tuned...



Friday, March 8, 2013

Three Pounds! (Itchy, itchy itchy.)

In our second-to-last growth scan yesterday we learned that the babies weigh about 3 pounds each (one just over and one a tiny bit under). This is very good news. When we set out on this journey, the goal weight we had in our heads was 1500 grams and they are currently measuring 1320 and 1380 grams. Tomorrow I will be 30 weeks pregnant and in 19 days (if all keeps going well)1 these babies will be born.

There is much to be excited about and grateful for and I need every bit of distraction I can get as I am itching so badly I would like to remove my skin. I have two weeks and three and a half days to survive the itch until the babies are born. If this rash is anything like the one I had in my last pregnancy, it should go away right after the babies are born. Please keep your fingers crossed that this is the case.

Apparently, I am a magnet for rare pregnancy conditions. The rash, called PUPPS, happens to about 1% of pregnant women. It is a bit of a mystery, but probably has something to do with hormones and/or severe stretching of skin. And, monoamniotic twins happen in about 1% of identical twins. I am the 1% and I am not sure I like it.

In other news, I have had two lovely roommates since my nightmare roommate was moved down the hall. The first was here for twin to twin transfusion surgery and the second was here for a blood transfusion for her baby while in-utero. Both surgeries were successful and I will continue to hope that things go well for both families. I had many great conversations with my roommates and their husbands/boyfriends. It was really nice. The second roommate left this afternoon and I have my room to myself again, which will also be nice. One of the midwives told me that there are not currently any plans for the other bed in my room. We will see what the next two weeks bring.

I sometimes glimpse my nightmare roommate down the hall. Today two of her ashtray visitors walked by and I got a whiff of them and felt enormously thankful that they weren't headed to my room.

And so, the hospital adventure continues. I am hoping for two quick, uneventful and minimally itchy weeks. The sun has been shining in Denmark and when the sun is out, I always feel that anything is possible. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Unsung Heroes

My aforementioned roommate and one of her ashtrays just moved all of her stuff to a new room!!! I get a night to myself and tomorrow I will have a new short-term roommate who is coming for a small surgery. I have been alone in my hospital room for approximately 15 minutes and suddenly feel a couple years younger, a few pounds lighter (though that is absolutely not possible) and much more clearheaded.

I am going to take this opportunity to mention two people who have not received their due praise on this blog.

Two weeks before I checked in to the hospital my mom came to town to help us. Since her arrival she has: cooked, cleaned, grocery shopped, learned to navigate Copenhagen on her own, visited me at the hospital, picked Riley up and dropped him off at school, brought Riley to the hospital in rush hour to see me, taken care of Riley when he got something resembling the stomach flu, caught the stomach flu-like bug herself, put up with me when I have been crabby, and now she is helping care for Riley as he goes through the chicken pox. If there was a sainthood for living Jews, I would be nominating her for it.

Neil and I both realize how lucky we are to have my mom here and I am sure that on some level, Riley realizes he is lucky to have his Grandma Gloria here, too. She put her whole life on hold to be here when we really need her. I suppose that is one of the definitions of a good parent and I feel so fortunate that even at 34, I have a mom who is completely in my corner and whose life is flexible enough at the moment that she could drop everything to be here.

Hero number two is my amazing husband, Neil. He is working, caring for Riley, coming to the hospital for appointments with doctors in the daytime and returning once Riley is in bed to keep me company during the lonely evening hours. Oh, and he got the stomach bug Riley had, as well. Neil brings me ice cream and does my laundry, he helps me change the linnens on my hospital bed and helps cheer me up by watching Modern Family while we wait for my night monitoring. Neil has been just as nervous as me as we've gone through this pregnancy. He held his breath right along with me at the weekly ultrasounds before I checked in and he never sent me to an ultrasound alone.

Sometimes in a marriage, it is the tough times that really show the strength and character of love. I am very lucky to have married such a wonderful and caring man and to have him supporting me now as we wait and hope to bring these two little girls into the world.




Saturday, March 2, 2013

29 Weeks Pregnant With Monoamniotic Twins, Roommate Disasters, Itchy Jodi and Itchy Riley

This has been a very trying week - not medically - but in every other way. First, let's celebrate the milestone represented by today. I am 29 weeks pregnant! Three weeks away from our goal of 32 weeks. The babies have been doing great on all their monitoring sessions, no heart rate decelerations, no irregularities. They looked great on the two ultrasounds we had this week and based on my poor stretching skin, they are getting bigger every day.

On Tuesday, I got another roommate. The day before, the midwives had cleared out all the furniture in my room that would be used for a roommate. They took the bed, they took the nightstand and I was thinking about putting a rug down to play on with Riley. Then, in the middle of my nap, a midwife I do not know well noisily burst in with a bed. I figured they just had an extra one and tried to go back to sleep. Shortly after that, I was reawakened by the stench of cigarette smoke and noisy women chatting in Danish. It literally smelled like the new people in my room had been bathing in cigarettes. Do they make cigarette smoke shampoo? Within about 10 minutes I was nauseous and had to leave the room. I had many questions running through my mind including, "Is my roommate, who is here for early labor, a smoker?"

When I next entered the room and her guests were gone I asked her if she smokes. I actually don't think I said anything to her before that. Just, "Do you smoke?" Her answer, "No, I quit. But my aunt just left to go smoke." Awesome. I explained to her that the smell was making me physically ill and she said she would ask her guests to wash their hands and eat breath mints. "Not going to take care of the shampoo and shower gel they are clearly using to bathe," went through my mind, but I just smiled. She told me her boyfriend also smokes. I am not sure if she was trying to make me feel suicidal, but she nearly succeeded.

Things went from bad to worse. When the walking ashtrays aren't in my room, my roommate speaks loudly on her telephone nearly nonstop. I have not had more than a 20 minute nap since Tuesday (and a big part of the benefit of being here is being able to rest.) I have told my roommate I need to nap and she acts like she understands, but yet she does nothing to make herself quiet. One day when I was napping an ashtray showed up and began talking to my roommate in top volume. When I got up (after being asleep for perhaps 25 minutes) my roommate said, "It has been nearly an hour so I thought it was ok to talk." Seriously?

The final thing that makes this roommate amazing is that her boyfriend comes at least once if not twice a day and spends the majority of the time practically on top of my roommate noisily kissing and doing who knows what else. I am not a prude, I don't have a problem witnessing people kiss, but whatever is going on in my room at the hospital is beyond what is appropriate. It is actually worse than a few awkward situations I found myself in in college involving bunk beds. I can't even fully block the sounds with headphones turned up full volume. And god forbid I need to walk to the bathroom and past her bed. Plus. keep in mind, the boyfriend also smells like an ashtray.

This morning, I finally decided it was time to complain. The roommate is looking at a long hospital stay and if I have to endure sharing a room with her for three more weeks, I may seriously lose it. I was so worried that I would be considered a trouble maker or complainer, but I couldn't take it anymore. To my happy surprise, during my tearful conversation with a midwife, I learned that the midwifes are also a bit uncomfortable with whatever is happening in my roommate's bed with her boyfriend and they have noticed the smoke smell. I have been promised she will be out of my room by Monday at the latest. I am hoping it will be sooner.

And finally, as if life hasn't been throwing us enough lately, two very itchy things have happened this week. When I was at the end of my pregnancy with Riley I got a very rare rash that 1% of pregnant women get. It started on my belly and spread all over my body. I had to stop working and just stay home applying lotions and creams, wrapping myself in refrigerated bed sheets and showering every hour or so with soap that smelled like a campfire. The doctor told me the rash would go away when I had the baby. It got so bad that I went to an acupuncturist three days before my due date and allowed him to poke me with needles for three hours in an attempt to induce labor. It worked and I had Riley the next day. My OB in the US told me that I would probably get the rash again if I got pregnant again. I chose to pretend he was wrong.

This entire pregnancy I have been warily looking for little red bumps on my belly, but nothing. Until, lo and behold, this week (maybe three days ago), the dots appeared and the itching began. I am ok so far. It is just on my belly and I am managing to keep it under control. I keep telling myself that the rash spread last time in part because of the heat and humidity in Washington, DC in June. It is not hot or humid here in Copenhagen and I am making a wish that the itching will remain in check. (Clearly, it is more important that the babies remain safe and healthy, but secondarily, I wish not to be in an excruciating itchy state for the next three weeks.)

About the same time the little bumps arrived on my belly, Riley got a small blister on his neck. I noticed it one day after school. A red spot with a clear blister. Hmm. Chicken pox crossed my mind, but he wasn't itching and there was only one. The next day it was a little bigger, but he still didn't scratch it. On Thursday he scratched it a little. Yesterday the blister was huge but he wasn't scratching and this morning he awoke with a fever, a few spots on his belly and, after a trip to the after-hours doctor, a chicken pox diagnosis.

Really? He has to get chicken pox right now when I am stuck here and can't care for him and he can no longer visit me at the hospital???? But, you know me, always looking for the upside. Here it is: It's good that he got it now because it will probably be a mild case and he will be done with it and, his sisters will have weakened immune systems because they are going to be born early, so it's better that he not bring this home when they are here. Chicken pox can be very dangerous for preemies.

I am hoping next week brings less interesting things. I'm hoping Riley feels all better soon, my rash doesn't spread and that I get to write here again next Saturday and report that the babies are still doing well.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

28 weeks pregnant with monoamniotic twins

Today marks a very important milestone in this pregnancy. I am 28 weeks pregnant. Babies born after this point have very good odds of surviving without any handicaps or defects from early birth. Of course, we want to keep them on the inside for another month, but should things change and necessitate us taking them out early, we have good chances of having healthy babies.

When we learned that instead of the normal, healthy, relatively simple pregnancy with one baby we thought I was having, I was in fact having an extremely high-risk, nerve-wracking pregnancy with identical twins in one amniotic sack, I could hardly imagine making it this far. That was 15 weeks ago. At the time, it felt almost as if time was standing still, and now, it is hard to believe that amount of time has passed and here we are. I am in the hospital being closely monitored and have reached week 28!

There are some very funny things about being in a foreign hospital. My room is right next to the midwife office and I often hear conversations between midwives. Sometimes they are having loud conversations with lots of laughture. If I could understand Danish, I would know so much more about  everything going on in the hospital and about the individual midwives and their personalities. But, alas, I cannot eavesdrop.

Another funny thing is the signs. The hospital is covered in signs with important information. There are at least 9 signs in my room alone. I have deciphered most of them, but it took a few days and when I got here, I really had no idea what was going on. The midwives told me a lot, but since most patients can read signs, they neglected to mention some things like how to use the television, which water is drinkable and which is not, how to get the shower to drain, etc.

I have gotten used to reading Danish at stores, supermarkets, in public transport, etc. but hospitals introduce all kinds of new words that are beyond my knowledge of the Danish language. So, I am taking the opportunity to expand my vocabulary. I have learned the words for clean and dirty among others. Give me another five years and surely I will be fluent.

Fortunately, all the midwives speak perfect English and are happy to talk to me. I feel very fortunate since it certainly wouldn't be as easy to communicate in some other foreign hospitals. I sense that I am a bit of a novelty to most of the staff here, they like to ask me questions and talk about America with me - San Francisco, marshmallow fluff, American medical practices, etc. It's a little funny, but also makes the days a bit more fun.

It is past time for me to be sleeping. Time to put the earplugs generously given to me by one of the midwives in my ears so I can sleep through all the beeping and banging in the night. Four weeks to go till baby time.




Thursday, February 21, 2013

2 pounds!, marking time in a hospital and a roommate

Greetings from the hospital.

We learned today that the babies are approximately 2 lbs each. This is good news. They continue to follow the growth curve for normal babies and if they keep packing on the weight over the next month, they will have an easier time being born early at 32 weeks.

We also scheduled a tentative birthday (much more fun than saying a tentative day for the doctors to cut me open and take the babies out) for March 26th. It is very nice to have a specific day to focus on and look forward to. If all goes well and the babies are born that day they will be 32 weeks and 3 days gestational age and have a really good chance of a relatively short and uncomplicated NICU stay.

I have been here for nearly two weeks. I can't say the days are flying by, but I have been fortunate enough to have several visitors and enough stuff going on that I am not totally cringing at the thought of being here another month. I feel incredibly fortunate to have good friends all over the place who are supporting me in their own ways. Friends in Copenhagen who have come by to see me and chat at all times of the day. Friends in the US and other parts of Europe who have mailed me everything from books and magazines, to snacks, cozy socks and a fully loaded Kindle. Friends who send me emails to check in and keep me amused for a few minutes every few days. Friends who call me to chat and keep me occupied. Friends who are praying for me and the babies, or just sending us positive vibes. It is amazing how cared for I feel because of my fantastic community of friends and family. I continue to be very glad that Neil and I decided to share the news of this pregnancy with everyone when we did.

Life in a hospital has a certain rhythm and I am slowly tuning into the rhythm here. I now have several events I can check off my checklist as a way of marking time.
  • So far I have been here for two concerts in the hospital lobby and I should anticipate seeing two or three more as they tend to happen two or three times a month. 
  • I am on my second ID bracelet because I noticed this morning that most of the text on the bracelet had worn off. A friendly midwife informed me that I will need a new one every two weeks. So, two more ID bracelets before the babies are born.
  • This morning one of the midwives cheerfully came in my room and announced it was Midwife Day! This means I got my blood pressure checked, had to stand on a scale and was checked for any swelling in my feet and hands. This will happen four more times before the babies are born. 
  • We will have an in-depth ultrasound where the babies are measured two more times before they are born. 
It may be a little silly, but it's nice to have some rather mundane things to help mark the time.

***

I had a roommate for three nights this week. It seems I made the mistake of thinking about how much I enjoyed having a room to myself. No sooner than I had that thought a woman showed up to occupy the other bed in my room. She was also pregnant with twins and came for laser surgery on her placenta because of twin to twin transfusion syndrome. We check for signs of transfusion syndrome every week at our ultrasounds, so I am very familiar with the problems that occur when one twin starts taking all of the resources from the placenta and the other twin slows in growth.

I was not thrilled when my roommate showed up on Monday afternoon, but she turned out to be incredibly nice. While I wasn't happy to have my privacy so quickly taken away, it was nice to have some company. We talked about how humongous our bellies are getting with two babies inside and laughed about the flaws of the hospital room - broken lights, a shower that doesn't drain, televisions from the 1980's. It was nice. Happily, her surgery went well and after two days of post-surgery observation, she got to go home this morning.

I was incredibly nervous when she went down for her surgery for several reasons. Primarily, I didn't want her to have any complications and lose one of the twins. But selfishly, I also didn't want too much sadness to invade my living space. I am working overtime to be as positive and cheerful as possible and the possibility of someone else's loss seeping in to my head space was alarming to me. It was interesting to realize my self-interest in a virtual stranger's surgery going well. I am not proud of this, but at least it was accompanied by a genuine desire for her to have a successful surgery for her own sake as well.

I have my room back to myself tonight. I am listening to music and feeling two babies dance around in my belly as I type. Four weeks and four days to go...

Saturday, February 16, 2013

27 Weeks Pregnant With Monoamniotic Twins

Today I am officially 27 weeks pregnant. Each day the babies continue to do well is a milestone and each week marks fewer and fewer complications for preemies born that week. When we found out about our monoamniotic twins in early November, I could hardly imagine making it to this point. I hoped and hoped, but there were too many gloomy doctor appointments, too many stressful ultrasounds first searching for that elusive membrane between the babies and then simply searching weekly to be sure their hearts were still beating. But here I am, completing my 6th day in the hospital, closely monitoring my girls and feeling more and more optimistic that we will bring home two healthy babies this spring.

The truth is, however, we aren't out of the woods until we walk out of here with the babies. Women have been in the hospital and still lost their monoamniotic twins due to sudden cord accidents. But, with each day that passes and each normal session on the heart monitors, our odds increase. I am betting on these babies, but I still think it is important to remind myself that we're walking on a tightrope and we could still fall off. I was given a stark reminder of that fact shortly before checking into the hospital...

About two weeks before I checked into the hospital, I made a new friend. We met on a monoamniotic twin website and discovered we were both in Copenhagen and both pregnant with monoamniotic twins. My friend was a few weeks behind me in her pregnancy and planning to check in when she reached 26 weeks. When we met she was 20 weeks and I was 24 weeks. We had a fantastic conversation over coffee. It was really nice to have someone to talk to who understood exactly what I was going through. We planned to ask the hospital staff to put us in the same room when she checked in about a month after me. We planned to meet up with our new babies and form our own playgroup.  It was an instant connection and was clear to me that even without this crazy-rare pregnancy in common, we would have had things to talk about. We didn't stop talking for two hours and planned to meet the following week for coffee again.

The night before our second coffee date I got a text from my new friend saying she lost the twins and had found out that morning. She was 21 weeks pregnant. Understandably, I haven't heard from her since. Getting her news broke my heart and gave me a dose of survivors guilt. Since checking into the hospital, it has been hard not to think of my friend and wonder how she is coping with her loss. I wish I could still look forward to her check-in in a few weeks.

And so, every day, I thank the universe for all the good fortune we have had with this pregnancy so far. And late at night, when I am feeling sorry for myself because I am lonely and I will miss Riley's hugs in the morning, I try to remember how lucky I am to be here, to have made it this far and to be getting one more day with these babies thriving on the inside.

The heart monitors that help us keep the babies safe.