The twins are ONE year old!
I sort of kind of not really totally didn’t think we’d ever get here. The newborn days were long and the newborn nights were a special kind of torture. I was fairly confident the sleep deprivation would kill me, but somehow I’m here to tell the tale. Billy made it out alive, too, although he had his fair share of nights spent rocking pillows in a sleep-deprived stupor. The past few years since Benjamin have worn me down, stretched me, changed me, and sanctified me, and this particular year hasn’t been an exception, but oh man, it’s been absolutely fruitful and incredibly rewarding and fulfilling, and it’s not lost on me that the sweet parts only shine bright because the bitter parts have been there as a backdrop. I’ve been stretched, snapped, molded, and repaired this year, and now things look a lot different than they used to in all forms: mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
Mentally, I’ve been challenged in getting the twins on a schedule, making sure their sleep patterns align with one another and their meal times and amounts are on track with each other. The boundaries of a sleep/meal schedule have given me the freedom to enjoy a couple of naptimes throughout the day where I get to shower, eat a meal, and pick up around the house. I find deep satisfaction in creating a somewhat orderly home at the start of each nap to give the twins a fresh slate to mess up at the end of each nap. Somehow I find the same satisfaction in a house riddled with toys and signs of life as I do in fresh vacuum lines. There’s a big push in the social-media-age mom community to ditch the chores, blissfully let the dishes pile up, and turn a blind eye to the overflowing laundry, but I am completely in the minority camp that believes children must grow seeing us parents take care of our homes, and thus our families, joyfully and dutifully, and anyway I just “mom” better when my floors are clean.
Emotionally…emotionally. Emotionally—where to begin? As if I wasn’t already emotional enough, raising baby twins post-child loss has brought me to the highest of highs and lowest of lows. The Lord has been my stable rock through it all, with my husband being a tangible example of the faithfulness and steadfastness of the Lord, but I’ve definitely been challenged to the point of severe discomfort both emotionally and spiritually this year while at the same time finding deep gratitude in the gifts the Lord has lavished on me and the examples of His love and provision He’s blessed me with via the hands and feet (and arms to hold babies) of family and friends. It’s been a very extreme couple of years, and while I don’t think things are going to be slowing down for, I don’t know, 18 years?, I am hoping and ready for a season of emotional and spiritual rest.
Spiritually, I’ve been challenged to surrender my idealistic expectations of babyhood. Mothering a special needs child who lived and died in the hospital led me to believe anything, even baby twins, would be easier than the grief and painful memories I have of my sweet first son’s life. I can definitely say I wasn’t wrong—no amount of sleepless nights filled with nonstop crying and nursing struggles can compare to holding your child as they die, all your hopes and dreams for their life passing away as well. Still, there were many sleepless nights filled with nonstop crying and nursing struggles, and while those nights have passed (oh praise Him), I still reflect on how quickly I got frustrated and how deeply embedded impatience and selfishness are in my spirit. One of my sweet babies had colic, and there were days where they cried for 10 hours straight; day after day of intense crying followed by night after night of spotty sleep can really wear a person down. I also developed post-partum anxiety, which is typical after delivering multiples due to the greater hormone drop and, I would think, just the natural pressure and stress of caring for two newborns. The PPA caused me to feel as if the walls were closing in on me. I didn’t feel like myself—I didn’t know who I was. I cried all day long and battled insomnia all night long. I was too anxious to nap when they napped, and feeding them through the nights left a scant few broken up hours to sleep, but sleeping meant I’d need to relax enough to actually drift off, and I just couldn’t. When I somehow did, I’d wake at every little noise and then it was time to start the feeding cycle all over again. I felt a heaviness on my chest and a bleakness about my life. On the outside, I kept hearing how fortunate I was to have two healthy babies at home, and how I should enjoy every moment because “these are the days” and “it goes by so fast” and “the days are long but the years are short.” On the inside, I screamed, I get it, I know how fast it goes by—I’ve seen it come and go! But I need to be able to cope now, to find joy now. I never really found a great way to cope, so I kept my head down and kept my hand to the plow, and through the grace of God which He provided in the support of family and friends, we got through a very hard season.
I was mentally, emotionally, and spiritually challenged on a deeper level with the health of the twins (which we now have zero concerns over). Both babies had separate instances this past year in which they exhibited signs of seizures, rampant enough that I was able to video both babies’ episodes, months apart from each other, and send to the doctor, which led to ER visits and concerns from neurologists about a serious condition called Infantile Spasms (a rare, severe form of epilepsy found in infants). We had overnight hospital stays for both, and EEGs done, wistfully reminding me of Benjamin, who had EEGs done himself for surgical-related seizures. If diagnosed, IS can cause development to stop, or even reverse, unless treated with medications that can cause undesirable side effects. Both babies have been cleared and have not exhibited any more seizures, which we are extremely grateful for. Additionally, Chase went through a few special tests, including going under anesthesia for an endoscopy; he, too, has been cleared and is doing great as he seems to have outgrown his issues, but he appeared to be in discomfort and struggle with eating the first 9 months of his life. These medical concerns are all so basic compared to the even the lower level stuff that Benjamin experienced, yet it hurt my heart just the same every time one of my babies had to get an IV, a blood draw, or fast for procedures.
Physically, yikes. Physically, things have, um, changed. Before I started having babies, I worked as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. Workouts were at least once a day, 6-7 days a week, and I was fit, really fit. After having Benjamin I got back into fairly good shape, but then being pregnant with the twins I wasn’t medically cleared to exercise; I could barely stand up to brush my teeth without taking a break. Carrying them to full term has left my body noticeably different, both in appearance and in feeling. My delivery is a whole other story in and of itself, but the short answer is I was induced at 37 weeks because of a condition called cholestasis which can increase risk of stillbirth; I then birthed Chase vaginally and 33 minutes later had a C-section for Gemma who decided to flip breech during Chase’s delivery. Thanks, Gem. Women are so high maintenance.
If carrying twins to term is a physical endeavor, then nursing twins for a year wasn’t much of a cool down. One of the greatest gifts I’ve experienced was the opportunity to nurse my babies their first year of life. While I exclusively pumped for Benjamin, I never got to nurse him, so it was extremely important to me to at least give nursing my best shot, with a year being the ultimate, though unlikely, goal. It was a goal I set when I found out I was expecting them, and one that I never thought I’d meet when they were newborns and the feedings were a real struggle. But with the support and encouragement of family and friends, we met our goal, and it feels really, really good to succeed in this way. Over the months it’s quickly become my favorite experience with them. Being a stay at home mom means I am always on the floor with the babies, all day long, and corralling them as they break on three to go their separate ways, chasing the cat and crawling up the stairs. I find that even when Daddy gets home from work and takes over to relieve me, I have a hard time pulling myself away; on the floor with them in the middle of the toy piles is where I belong. But months of playing on the floor, sitting in awkward positions and using poor posture to nurse and tend to babies has caused me to experience aches and pains where I never used to, even when I was working out my hardest. Now that the twins aren’t as reliant on my milk supply (at the time I publish this they actually won’t be nutritionally reliant on it at all), I’ve been able to start exercising again, and it’s been great! It’s actually kind of fun to start from scratch and rebuild my stamina and strength again.
I’ve been stretched this year, and while the twins have grown, I’ve grown alongside them, and it’s been painful and it’s been rewarding. It’s been a give and a take—a taking of my selfish ambitions and a giving of two precious, unique individuals I get to steward, just as I got to steward their big brother during his life, and now in his wake. God’s mercy has been brightly displayed in the provision of family, especially the twins’ grandmothers, who have sacrificed many days to help raise the babies with loving tenderness; through friends, who gave up resources to provide meals and precious evenings to come help us in our exhaustion during the newborn days (my friend Jenny, God bless her, would walk in the door, and I’d barely say hi, hand her a baby while Billy had the other one, and put myself to bed for an hour); and through Billy, who is an all-around better person and parent than I will ever be, and I get to be married to him so it kind of just makes me a better person and parent simply by association, because you can’t help but be better when you’re in his presence. He’s always exuded love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, but seeing him parent all three of his babies has left him radiating the fruits of the Spirit, and some of it somehow seeps over into my life just from being around him. Our parenting experience thus far in life has been an impressive struggle for the few years we’ve been parents, but our marriage has been spared of struggle and has been a place of refuge, renewal, and rest.
But while I’ve been uncomfortably stretched and challenged this year, I’ve also been encouraged, lifted up, and strengthened. Parenting baby twins after losing their big brother has been somewhat isolating in the sense that it’s not the typical early parenting experience. Because of this unique entrance into motherhood, it’s been hard for me to relate to many other moms. I’ve always been an emotional person, but since losing Benjamin I feel things really, transparently, deeply. With the twins, the lows are to the depths and the highs are the peak of the mountain. Benjamin, Chase, and Gemma have caused me to grab onto every moment with fury and awe. There’s a big push in motherhood to “enjoy every moment,” but I straight up don’t. Nope. There have been some very hard moments that I haven’t come close to enjoying. And you know what? I’m more than okay with that, because while I haven’t enjoyed it all, I’ve felt it all. I’ve lived every moment. I’ve counted every one of them. Each moment is precious to me. The good, the bad, and everything in between. There have already been many times I’ve wanted to escape, but with God’s grace I’ve showed up, I’m here, I’m present. I’m in it, all in. Every moment matters. In that, there are many moments I’ve wished away, and many I’ve wished to repeat. I give myself the freedom to feel it all, because I know how fleeting the moments are. With this perspective, this grabbing hold of and diving into and wrestling with and holding tight to, I’ve been encouraged that while my parenting years have been short, my vision of the big picture is more fully realized than it ever could be if I hadn’t lost Benjamin. This is only because of Christ, because He made a way for me to have one foot in heaven and one on earth.
The amount of pride I have for Chase and Gemma could span a lifetime, and somehow it’s all crammed into one big, little year. Chase and Gemma have got to be the most loved babies in the entire world, and while every baby deserves the kind of love the two of them receive, I’m really, really happy we get to be their parents and we get to project the love of Christ onto them, His beautiful creations. I am absolutely smitten and find myself often having to play it cool around others, because I could go on for hours about all the amazingly cute, silly things they’re both doing, learning something new every day and wowing me with their development and the innocent lens through which they view the world. I thank God every day for allowing us the means to have me stay home with the babies, because I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. Chase and Gemma won’t remember these early years, spending every moment under my care, but I will remember, and I’ve counted every moment as sacred. That’s not to say many moments, many more than I’m comfortable with, haven’t been hard and scary and frustrating and even just mundane. But that’s just part of this nuanced life, and I’ll take the frustration and fear if it means I also get the joy and laughter, the wisdom and sanctification. Because it’s worth it. They’re worth it.