Toddlers are insane.

in·sane
inˈsān
adjective
  1. in a state of mind that prevents normal perception, behavior, or social interaction
    – (of an action or quality) characterized or caused by madness.
    – in a state of extreme annoyance or distraction

The girls are 2.5 years old. What happened? Why didn’t I write any entries for the last 18 months? Well mostly because my brain was too clouded by tiredness to stretch into any creativity. And spare time I had was used to sleep or watch TV lame enough not to require much brain function (Vampire Diaries, yes; House of Cards, no).

tired-eyes
Tired morning eyes (Sophia wants the camera)

Not that I am getting the most epic amount of sleep these days, but things are on the up and up. I find myself feeling pretty good some days, and it’s a real treat to feel normal.

Let me catch you up:

Last time I wrote we had recently come back to Denmark and my soul was crushed under the weight of snow in March, dark days and living in a mouldy basement apartment. I slowly weaned the girls from breastfeeding and made them more purees. FYI I hate puree. I hate pureeing. I hate the sight & sound of a spoonful of puree slapping the wall behind the dinner table as the girls playfully explore the flight properties of sweet potato moosh. I also, and most of all, hated cleaning puree off the floor and bibs and myself. But at least I got my boobs back, or what was left of them anyway. Soon after the weaning, the true price of pregnancy made itself known. Turns out that a juicy proportion of breast fat was replaced with milk-producing glands, and after weaning I was left with 2 cups half-empty. The (super-young & perky) sales girl at the lingerie store said ‘oh yes, we see this all the time’ as she regarded my formerly Christina Henrdicks-esque and now sadly deflated bosom. I am however somewhat in awe of my now clearly ‘mom’ boobs. I feel like they have now taken on a kind of melancholic beauty. Like a tree with the leaves turning orange in autumn….

2015 was almost as tough as 2014, but luckily towards the end of the year, Chris got a decent ‘real’ (aka not a postdoc!) job and we could finally see a future for ourselves in Denmark. We managed to get a loan and buy a little house in the ‘burbs, with a small garden so the girls could run around. This was a huge undertaking. Let me help you to imagine buying a house in Denmark. There is a mountain of Danish paperwork that you can’t possibly understand, so you hire a lawyer for a squillion kroner per hour to make sense of it for you. Then there’s the complicated negotiations with several banks to try  and get the optimal interest rate on the loan. This features fun meetings where they present you with complex analyses of your financial situation (in Danish of course) and offer you infinite possible combinations of loan conditions. Finally, there is the tax. Oh there is so much tax! There is the fee to the government you pay for buying the house, then there is the tax you pay for buying the house followed by the bi-annual tax you pay for the privilege of owning a house. There is even tax to pay on the tax you pay. But hey, I signed up for this. And the sense of relief at finally being home after so long as travellers was amazing. Not to mention escaping the mouldy basement. We found an amazing daycare for the girls where they are cared for by a nanny in her home with just a few other kids and this was way better than vuggestue, which was anyway a little stressful for these girls.

We have been here almost a year and I am so content. We have neighbours with similar age kids and they all run around in summer, and it’s so cosy (‘hyggeligt‘ in Danish). I am also really happy with my concrete walls and I feel like I have more privacy than ever before in Copenhagen. I think we will eventually feel less like outsiders, and there is a good chance that the girls will feel authentically Danish, even if we never do. They already speak more Danish than English, though usually its a creative combination of the two.

This past summer was a memorable one. Our first summer in our new house and the girls were getting to know their surroundings. There is a small wood next to the house and we explored around there, digging up bugs for them to see, hunting frogs and shouting at ducks and they loved it. We also got Chris a Weber braai so he could exercise his inner South African and braai to his heart’s content.

Unfortunately this summer living led up to the worst day of my life.

One July evening, the girls were playing with us outside while Chris had some fish on the braai. I had taken them around the corner behind the hedge to look at some spiders and they were running around there. I didn’t know that Chris had just taken the grill out and put it on the floor for a minute and turned around to move something in the Weber around. Just then, Olivia ran away from Sophia & I towards the house and suddenly she was screaming like hell. I came around the hedge to see her getting up from the grass where she had just fallen on the glowing hot metal grill. I felt the world fall out from under me, the sight of her soft pink flesh seared by the heat, the skin hanging off in places. I was shocked and panicked. We took her inside and put her in the kitchen sink with cold water. She was screaming. Sophia was crying, afraid of what she saw and confused. It was 6pm, and the house was in disarray. I couldn’t find my bag or phone. I was so confused and scared, I ran next door and asked the neighbours what to do.

My neighbour took us to the closest hospital and there Chris sat with Olivia on his lap in a plastic bath full of cold water while we waited for an ambulance to take us to Rigshospital where they deal with burn victims. Olivia had some painkillers and fell asleep out of exhaustion from crying. Sophia was afraid, so I called her nanny to come and take her home so we could deal with this emergency without freaking her out too much. At Rigshospital, we saw the extent of the burns. She had multiple stripes burned onto her left calf and one on the right. She had another stripe on each toe, and one on her left lower arm. The doctor explained that they have to remove the burned skin so the skin below can cool down and heal. So the nurse gave Olivia a juice box and calmly scraped off the burned skin. It took ages, but Olivia was so brave and tired, she hardly cried at all. She then had to stay overnight in the ward. They leave the burns open to get air and dry out a bit, so she had to stay in a clean room and couldn’t touch the wounds or play on the floor. The next day the doctor applied a burn dressing and bandages and Olivia came home. She stayed home from daycare the next 2 weeks and she had to keep the wound bandaged and dry. This was challenging every day since she wanted to bath with Sophia, but we made it through without any mishaps. She was playing and riding her bike like always, so resilient and undeterred by her injuries. At the next checkup, they took off the bandages and saw that the burns were healing well so she wouldn’t need a skin graft. I was so relieved she would be spared surgery, and so was Olivia, to be free of the big bandage. She still had to wear a plaster to protect the wound during the day when she was playing outside, but it was getting better. Now the wound is still pink, but the scars are fading and we hope she will be scar-free in a year. We put fancy French cream on every night and she knows she had a big Eina, but it’s getting better.

That evening is one I will never forget. The fear and horror seeing her hurt like that is something I have never before felt with such intensity. And the shame at having let it happen is incomparable. Chris & I felt like the worst parents ever but we are slowly forgiving ourselves. Let’s just say that these days, if we are tired we eat pasta, or get takeaways and don’t try anything fancy.

The toddler stage snuck up on us, and one day I realized that they are no longer babies. I am loving it, despite the insanity 😉 They grew taller (and skinnier) and started running, climbing, talking.  They subtly accumulate words and expressions and come up with some real zingers. Upon not getting her way, Sophia said the other day ‘Daddy naughty’. She is fond of bossing Olivia around and will repeat my orders to her sister (‘put shoes on!’ ‘ikke (don’t) touch pan’). Olivia is in a stage of being obsessed with certain clothes and wants to wear the same top all day every day (when she is dressed that is). She has chosen a t-shirt covered in Russian dolls, which she refers to as her baby t-shirt. If I manage to convince her to remove it so I can’t wash out all the milk, spit & porridge, she asks (‘baby t-shirt?) as soon as she gets home. She is quite conscientious and informs me as soon as she is dirty (‘I all dirty!’) and lately requests multiple baths a day. She enjoys washing the rubber ducks and hanging them to dry, and drinking the bubble-covered bath water out of plastic cups. ‘Coffee!’ She declares cheerfully as she takes a pretend swig of the water, which vaguely resembles the foamy top of the cafe lattes that I chug in great volumes daily (she offers me a sip).

They both still really don’t eat much, except butter which they can consume in obscene quantities, often plainly licked off a spoon or bread. Eggs of all kinds are a hit too. I have found myself in a groggy haze hoisting the overly heavy cast-iron pan onto the stove before the clock has struck 6 am on a Sunday morning to a joyous chorus of ‘Eggies!’. The girls insist on being involved when I am cooking and Olivia is especially keen. She can competently sprinkle a pinch of salt and oregano on the aforementioned frying eggs, and surprisingly competently flip a flapjack. She also likes to make pretend cakes. If she spots the flour in the grocery cupboard she demands to have some so she can ‘bake’.

Now that they talk in sentences they like to narrate events and reflect on them afterwards. With only modest encouragement they will enthusiastically shout and gesticulate to recount a story. We showed them a scene from The Jungle Book movie where Mowgli is thrown from monkey to monkey up the mountain to the monkey king. They were completely amazed and stared with open mouths. Afterwards they told me in a mix of English and Danish about ‘Mowgi’ being thrown around. And that he got an ‘Eina’ (a sore) from the monkey scratching him. On a recent trip to the zoo they were initially quite wary of the monkeys, perhaps fearing a trip up a mountain for themselves. They got similarly excited about a story book called The Snowy Day (by Ezra Jack Keats the snowy day), where the protagonist Peter is a victim of a pretty tame snowball fight. They were very sorry for Peter, and said ‘Aaaay, mor. Snow ball hit Peter’ and then explained all the events that led Peter to this point. It is way more entertaining than the story alone!

The girls are teaching me all the time about myself, and kindly illuminate all the darkest, scariest corners of my character. One of the leaders in this list is impatience. There is nothing quite as infuriating as dressing a willful toddler. My girls are not keen on clothes, being dubbed The Nudists by my dear friend Lindy. But the Danish autumn is no slouch, and temperatures are in the single digits in the mornings. I fight to convince Olivia to wear a wool vest under her beloved (paper-thin cotton) baby t-shirt. Then I turn around and she has removed all her clothes because there is a small spot of drool on her shirt ‘All Wet!’ and I have to start again. Nappies are so out of fashion around here too, and I have basically given up on making them wear them at all during the day. At night of course I have to fight to make them wear nappies but they are seem to understand that they aren’t quite able to hold their bladders in check at night. Sophia loves her big girl panties and fancies herself quite the grownup. She was asking me about boobs the other day and I assured her that she has boobs too and they will get bigger as she gets older. Then out of the blue a few days later she told me ‘I have boobs like mommy when I big girl’. I really like the way she contemplates the things I have told her. 

They will soon be out of cribs too, Olivia has promise in a gymnastic career. She climbs between her crib & Sophia’s and sometimes climbs out of her crib if I don’t come and get her as soon as she wakes from a nap. I hear the door click open, her quick little footsteps and a naughty giggle.

Something no one tells you, and I never considered, is that twins fight a hell of a lot. They are constantly competing for attention from you, for their toys, books, food, baby t-shirts etc. And they are vicious. Pulling hair OUT (and stopping to admire the bunch of hair in their little paws), scratching faces and pushing. Nowadays at least they kiss it better immediately after and smile sweetly. Still, some weekends, after a rough night of poor sleep, and a day of constant fighting and crying, I think that this is impossible to survive and I wonder how parents make it to tweendom. But I think we may have passed the peak of toddler evil* and they are playing together a bit more and trying to kill eachother less. They like to play with baby dolls, and like me & their nanny, have multiple babies to care for. They put them in the pram and sing to them (‘Dudu baba, sleep angel muffin’) while pushing the pram back and forth. They change the babies nappies (‘Skifte! go fetch baby bum cream’) and comfort the babies when they are sad (‘Aw baby crying’). They even change eachothers nappies and help eachother to dress.

One of the other recent developments is that they love this stupid Disney TV series for kids called Sophia the First, about an ordinary village girl that becomes a princess overnight. Vomit. Also, why is it always about being a frikkin princess? There is more information about tiaras and tea parties in this nonsense than I ever cared to know. But sometimes on a rainy day when they have been running around like crazy it helps to just occupy them for a few minutes. Mind you, they sit still for an average of 5 minutes. The funny thing is, they call it Olivia the First. As if, in their minds, Olivia and Sophia are interchangeable. I mean, they know their names, but seem to think that really this is a mutable property. I guess this is sadly due to people mixing them up all the time. These days I am quite competent at telling them apart, which I thought was impossible when they were babies. So many little features are slightly different, the shape of their eyes (a tad more almond-shaped in Olivia), their mouths (wider in Sophia) and their speech (louder & more enunciated in Sophia). But for most people they look the same.

By the way, the sleep thing was apparently in no way sorted the last time I wrote. After the sleep training the girls did sleep well at night. For a while. Then they got a cold and it all went to hell. In my overly concerned mom way, I stupidly took them to bed with me when they were sick (ALERT: letting a kid sleep in your bed is never a one-time thing! They are like crack addicts for mom’s bed.) I recently tried again to dissuade them from coming to my bed, mostly because they don’t sleep well with me, and I don’t sleep at all. So far so good, I have had more sleep than usual in the last week but if I have learned anything during this journey, it’s that nothing stays the same and nothing is predictable.

Now I am at an impasse in my life. 

I am getting marginally more sleep. Looking at life and wondering what is the deal? Having these girls, I realise, has been an identity-melting experience for me. Reflecting on pre-baby me, my identity was very much linked to work. Working a lot, trying to reach a goal (eventual academic tenure). Post-baby, I can’t work as much, the time is not enough. I want to be there to fully experience their childhoods with them. I don’t think I can achieve my previously all-important goal without paying too high a price. Whether it is my health, or missing out on time with them. So now I am reassessing and it’s hard. In the first place it’s hard to admit it: I don’t want to do this anymore. I have to look honestly and wort through layers of stories I have been telling myself for years to see: what do I really want? I want to use my natural talents and work in a way that I can feel flow and creativity and not anxiety and insecurity. I have no idea yet how this is going to turn out, but I officially invite the universe to help me out. I am open to any possibilities and I am ready to change and be challenged.

sister-hugs
BFFs

*Spoke too soon.Sophia just discovered the joys of stamping. when she doesn’t get her way, she stamps her feet on the floor and wails**. I’m working on it…

** Tantrums explained

Sleep: One nap of 1-2 hours around midday, most days; Sleep at 7.30 pm, sometimes wake up during the night, awake by 6 am

Eat: Eggs, butter, cucumber, apples, blueberries, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, beef, chicken, frikadeller, rye bread, yoghurt, rice, pasta, oats, anything sweet

Skills: Running, throwing ball, naming animals in books, climbing, changing baby nappies, singing, drawing, painting, riding pushbikes and much more

Talking: short sentences, Danish and English mixed, more words every day, some swearing (oh my God!)

Choice quotes: Sophia: ‘It’s not so bad’ after bumping her foot; ‘I am scared, Winter is coming’

Olivia: ‘I buy present for daddy’; ‘Sophia naughty! Nej, she nice’, ‘I not baby, I biggirl’

6-11 months (4-9 months adjusted): globetrotting with babies

Its been awfully long since the last entry but I assure you, dear reader, I have been busy. Helluva.

This post has been written in bits over several months, and I have been dying to share the latest news. I have recapped a little to start with, since I frankly hardly remember what was happening last time I checked in.

So finally, voilà:

In mid-September last year (when the girls were effectively 1 month old) Chris went back to work and I was left alone with the girls. All. day. long. Its harder than it sounds, believe me. I thought I was hardcore and that I can do anything I put my mind to. But damn. As much as I love the little monkeys, weeks on end of caring for them is absolutely exhausting and draining. Many a day they refused to nap and I would end up with them in tears and me holding them just to get them to catch a few zzzs. By mid-October I was officially strung out and well on my way to crazy town. Some days I woke up feeling anxious knowing I was faced with the day of caring for them on my own, and that I would inevitably feel overwhelmed and unsure of myself. A few days I cried before Chris went to work and a few times he stayed home to help. On other occasions I called him & asked him to come and help because I felt I couldn’t cope and I was afraid. Sound like postpartum depression? Yup I reckon so. I decided that an emergency trip home to South Africa was immediately necessary. The kind folks at the SA embassy in Copenhagen issued emergency passports for the girls and we booked the tickets. I gritted my teeth and looked forward to easier times. I was so tired of being cooped up inside, the wind blowing, drizzle in the air and the days getting colder….I was tired of carrying them up & down the damn stairs if I mustered the energy to take them out walking. They would often wake mid-walk, not impressed, and I’d end up with 2 screaming babies & rushing home anyway.  Depressing days for sure. Chris and I were semi-malnourished due to lack of time for cooking. I forgot to mention the girls had this annoying habit of screaming for 3 hours every night before finally feeding and falling asleep. We read all the books, all the forums etc on this type of behavior but nothing really helped. So in the evenings we would each hold a baby and basically comfort them until the scream o’clock came to an end. Then I’d tandem feed them until they were asleep and then I would collapse for the night myself. Often without dinner, I’d just pass out lying in bed feeling as if I was vibrating, all my cells buzzing from tiredness, and often not sure I was still holding a baby or if I was alone in bed. Only to wake whenever they next were thirsty….

marshmallow babies
marshmallow babies

Lindy, an old friend of mine from uni to whom I’d been whining on a daily basis, took pity on me and offered to take me in for a few months in SA so that I could get some support with the girls. We flew to SA in mid-November (the flight was intense and long but actually not as terrible as you might imagine, airport scream o’clock notwithstanding) and moved in with Lindy, her husband and their 2.5 year old son. Chris left back to Copenhagen a week later (he had to work). Lindy was there for me every day helping me with the girls and constantly trying to decode their confusing signals and ease them into a more happy, routine lifestyle. Bath times were especially noisy, the girls would inevitably be overtired in the evening and although they loved the bath, they hated getting out of it, especially having their PJs put on (FYI, it’s months later & I still struggle to get them into jim jams). Then they would be super tired and annoyed, and I would irritate them further by trying to feed them before bed, which resulted in lots of screaming. Their newly found ability to notice eachother also caused one to start crying just because her sister was upset. We all sodliered on and things settled down a bit, but as with babies, the only thing you can be sure of is that they will always be changing, so you are always adjusting & learning too.

I was deeply depressed and really felt alone without Chris, but we texted & spoke often. Some advice to new moms out there: if you have a partner, there is no replacement for that person. He is an essential part of the deal and I felt robbed being there alone. Ok I wasn’t alone but no one could give me all the hands-on help I needed. It’s a lot to ask or expect. My brother was working full time, my mother-in-law came as often as she could but was working too & the lovely friend I was staying with had her own kid to take care of, house to manage & a job on top. I would find myself alone with the babies from 5.30 or 6 am onwards, and sometimes I was just sad. Partly hormonal sure, but also knowing my husband was missing out on seeing their daily changes and I still felt clueless and trapped. I missed our little family unit and I was all alone, at least in my head.

twice as cute & dressed by their loving uncle Belchazar
twice as cute & dressed by their loving uncle Belchazar

So I hired an experienced nanny to help me out. Rahab was amazing. Totally unflappable, she gave me confidence and taught me how to get the girls into a semi-routine, and also how to stay calm. Plus she would keep an eye on them while they napped so I could actually get out of the house on my own for a while.

Once I bought the newspaper and a latté and just read a few pages while sipping my coffee. Bliss.

The girls were growing & changing every day. They started rolling over and making lots of funny noises. They were curious but still a little scared of new things. I tried to swim with them but the water was too cold and much screaming ensued.

I moved in to my brother’s cottage after Christmas and he made it a little mommy den of comfort for me. He was still super busy, but I had the sun, a pool and a nice neighborhood so I could drown my sorrows in cafe latte (decaf, naturally). Some dear friends & family came over to visit and cuddle babies, and I started to heal. Ah the magic of sunshine.

ouma loving the babes
ouma loving the babes

A few more weeks went by and finally Chris came to SA and I felt like a huge weight was lifted. Finally I could share the responsibility with someone as invested as me. When a baby cried in the night I could actually roll over, nudge him & say ‘Your turn, champ!’. It was awesome (It’s still his turn).

So we actually were super happy and chilled for the remainder of our time in SA. The babies had gotten more used to being in a carseat so when we took them somewhere there was less of the screaming (theirs) and gnashing of teeth (mine). They started eating a great variety of solids, so I made them loads of puree (butternut; courgette; sweet potato; even some chicken&tomato). It was so fun as they started exploring the world of food. One gem: they enjoyed sucking on a slice of lemon, but made such funny faces when they realized it was sour! ha, silly babies 😉 They would breastfeed less often so I felt a little less  like a tethered boob (sorry but it’s true). It was a whole new world. We lived it up, eating countless avocados, knocking back frappucinos and getting some sun. I relaxed and even threw them a naming day party, which was a chance to celebrate their birth which we didn’t have time to do in June.

dad's a funny guy
dad’s a funny guy
naming day louis
naming day moments with their uncle
Olivia 6 months
Sophia 6 months

Finally February ended and we reluctantly came back to Copenhagen. Bags were jam-packed with all the baby clothes (I ♥  Cotton on) & paraphernalia you can imagine, jars of puree & nappies galore for the flight. It was hairy in the airport with all the luggage and carrying the babes (hot tip: NO you cannot gate check your enormous double stroller so you have to carry your baby! enjoy).

Getting to CPH was a real shock to my now sun-softened brain. It was sleeting when we arrived, with a nice bracing wind, clouds and no sun. geez. I had convinced myself that Spring would be in full swing. Ha!

Nope, it was freezing. It kinda still is….

Anyhow, after a week of hell as the babies adjusted to their new environment by refusing to sleep unless being held by a parent (yup) we all settled into our new nest. Chris had moved us into a ground floor apartment in Frederiksberg while I was in SA so it was all new to me too. It’s small but there is a patch of grass outside and it’s in a quiet area, so basically it’s perfect.We got into a nice little routine of playing with babies, walking Copenhagen to death so they could sleep their naps in the stroller, drinking lattés and generally living in a little baby/parent bubble. Olivia & Sophia were now rolling over both ways, started sitting up on their own briefly and were babbling all day, super cutely.

sophia laughs
Sophia having a giggle
happy days are here
happy days are here

It all started feeling kind of do-able. In mid-April they started going to daycare for a few hours a day to get used to it in preparation for my return to the lab at the end of the month. It was a strange process, made worse by our ignorance of how daycare (vuggestue) works in Denmark. But after 2 days of spending a few hours in daycare Sophia woke up vomiting. Then she had diarrhea. Then Olivia started vomiting. Then the diarrhea. Then Chris. Then Sophia again. Then on what was supposed to be my first day back at work, it was my turn. I spent the morning violently vomiting & decided to stay home. Then Sophia started again…..We were officially in hell. I was drowning in a pit of nauseated despair (flashes back to the epic nausea of my pregnancy) and a pile of laundry was taking over the tiny flat. The babies were miserable, feeling sick and whining to prove it. Chris was pale and thin (again). I felt like packing up and running South immediately. But I didn’t have the energy so instead I had a nap while Chris looked after the girls and after 4 days I felt somewhat less vile. The doc diagnosed rotavirus and said to keep an eye on signs for dehydration but there was nothing else she could do. She also said they wouldn’t get this virus again this year (woo hoo!) but there is another one they could get called norovirus (boo!).

so slippery mmmmm
so slippery mmmmm
Sophie grabs the noodle with both hands
Sophie grabs the noodle with both hands

After almost 3 weeks of puke, poo and general ickiness the girls went back to vuggestue, and I was back at work. It’s been weird giving up the time with them, but also good to dust off my old science brain cells and think coherent thoughts. Or at least try to. They seem to enjoy watching the bigger kids at vuggestue running around and playing with different toys, and the pedagog assures me they eat and sleep well enough, so I am trying not to worry. I have enjoyed the luxury of quietly thinking about what experiments to do and making plans, sowing seeds and getting my hands dirty with soil again. I am enjoying the scheduling and imagining what results will come next, but I also feel like I am working in a different way. I can’t just think, ‘oh well I’ll come & do that on Saturday’ so I am quite strict when I do my planning about what I can realistically achieve in a day or in a week. I don’t just set up hasty experiments without first thinking how long it will take & what I will get out of it. I know I should have always done that, but sometimes I would just be curious and do something for the hell of it…I also appreciate the time with the girls more, and it has been awesome as they are becoming more and more like real little people! That sounds weird but you know what I mean. They also sleep ALL NIGHT most of the time, so I feel more human myself*. They sit in their high chairs (Danish design of course;) eat food, try to dish up with their little baby spoons & sometimes even get food in their mouths. Sometimes they just flick the food off the spoon and I am filled with dread as I feverishly calculate the trajectory of said food (sometimes it ends up in my hair, or theirs). They spread it on the table, wipe it on their highchairs, drop it on the floor. It is mayhem. But what joy! And they are mad for summer strawberries. They get excited and kick their legs when they see the box in the kitchen. They have eaten loads of stuff (bread, yoghurt, oats, tomatoes, cream cheese, mozzarella, pasta, eggs, chicken, salmon, cous cous, rice, apples, pears, nectarines, grapes, bananas, kiwi, blueberries, rice cakes, pancakes). So far they don’t like meat much and they love fruit. Most of their food ends up on their clothes/hands/the floor, but they are exploring with vigor, as you would expect from my progeny. They are crawling and starting to stand and pull up. This is a new scary phase, when combined with their continued tendency to put everything they find in their mouths…but I laugh every day. This morning Sophia followed me to my bedroom when I went to get dressed. She peeked at me from around the corner and squealed with delight when she found me. Then she accelerated towards me laughing and smiling, and I must say it made my day.

*love*
*love*

*For anyone who follows this blog and has an interest, you may recall I have always been obsessed with 1. reading books and googling baby stuff, 2. baby sleep. In the last months I realized that googling just makes me nervous, most of the time, so I’m trying not to over-research; 2. my babies were waking up a lot, and I thought they needed my help to replace thier pacifiers. Turns out they could replace it themselves, and they finally slept through the night when I left them to cry for a while (checking in every 10 mins). It was my husband’s idea to see if they could sleep without our constant help & it has been a lifesaver


Then & now:

3 months:

crying team
crying team

sleeping:

  • 4 naps a day
  • waking 2-4 times a night

eating:

  • breastfeeding every 2.5 hours

skills:

  • smiling
  • being cute
  • swatting a toy
  • crying in chorus

9 months:

park life
park life

sleeping:

  • 2 naps a day
  • sleep at night

eating:

  • breastfeed once a day, bottles 3 times (hold their own bottles)
  • eat loads of stuff
  • learning to feed themselves

skills:

  • crawling
  • starting to pull up and stand
  • grabbing things with their fingers (pincer grip)
  • saying many sounds (bababa, dadada, mamama, dedede etc)
  • pointing
  • blowing bubbles in water
  • etc.

So to all my fellow twin moms out there, take heart, it really does get better 🙂

♥ All my love & thanks to Lindy for saving my life many times over in the last year ♥

Babies: 6 weeks post due date

So in a nutshell since the last blog post, the boobs won over tube 😉

The breastfeeding was hell at first, I thought for sure I would either go insane or run away or switch to formula. But luckily my pig pigheadedness won out in the end & I persevered. That and a whole lot of chocolate. Chris just kept it coming, he didn’t even give me that ‘don’t you think you’ve had enough, the box is almost empty’ look.  It has been so hard that I can’t believe the number of crazy women out there that breastfeed. Especially premature twins. It’s a total mission. So respect to you ladies. But yeah, we are saving some cash on the formula, and the cool thing is, boobs are more portable so there’s that. Not that I go anywhere much, but that will come.

This post has been delayed by the fact that I have had zero spare time for the past month. The girls are now just over 6 weeks old and growing fast. A few weeks back Chris went back to work, right around the time that the girls started to wake up and look around them with fascination. That’s great, they should learn and develop and grow. But this comes with the joys of little girls who get big staring eyes who are overtired because silly mommy has no clue what a tired baby looks like. The books say they shouldn’t be awake for more than an hour, but every time I manage to wait too long to settle them down for a nap, and end up with screaming girls who refuse to sleep! So mostly I ended up frantically calming them down, and have often snuggled them both to sleep (see pic below) and tried not to move a muscle for fear of waking them up and the crying to continue. A few times I was the one crying 😉

Nap time ala mama
Livi: Nap time ala mama

 

Then I reckoned, screw that. I decided to take them out for a walk in the stroller and cheat one nap a day that way. Of course that entails some serious planning. I put one baby in a baby bjorn, a backpack with nappy stuff on my back, and the other baby in the carry cot for the stroller. Then I mission down the 4 flights of stairs and sometimes transfer baby bjorn baby to the stroller, sometimes just keep wearing her. Then I walk down to Jægersborggade and get a latte from the coffee collective, a kanel snegl from Meyers bakery & hit the Assistens Kirkegård for a long walk. And pray they don’t wake up!

Ahhhhhh
Ahhhhhh (don’t judge ‘mkay)

 

Sounds pretty good no? Ja well it’s the only time I get out of the flat into the (increasingly) fresh air, so I see it as a necessity. Nonetheless there are still 4 naps I still need to pull off at home with no kanel snegle in sight. I figured out that I would start chillaxing them with a bit of rocking & shushing around 45-50 minutes and put them into the stroller carry cot for naps. This makes sense because when they eventually go to daycare (vuggestue) they will sleep in a stroller outside in the cold, as per the Danish tradition. I can’t leave them outside in the stroller since I can’t carry them up & down the aforementioned and much bemoaned 4 flights of stairs in the carry cots, so it’s indoor naps for now.

Also, their awake time is apparently a little shorter than the books would have you believe. Which brings me to another digression: books mention all the cute & fun activities one can do with your new baby. When? After a clean nappy & a good feed my girls are usually pretty wasted. Sometimes we can squeeze in some tummy time & maybe some face cleaning. Usually when I go crazy with the high contrast pictures and toys they end up with the googly eyes and it takes an hour to get them to sleep!

baby deer in the headlights look
baby ‘deer in the headlights’ look (aka: make me fall sleep before I lose my shit, woman)

They seem to sleep better in the carry cot than in the crib during the day, cos it has this handy hood making it nice & dark & cosy for them. So I managed to get them all their naps since yesterday using my new carry cotTM method (patent pending). In a new record, they managed a 2-hour nap once yesterday, which was so nice for me. I’m not used to having so much time to myself. I had my first hot cup of tea in ages. I tried to relax, but was basically just wondering when I would hear the first cry! I have no idea how to stretch them to 3 hours between feeding (usually its 2-2.5 hours during the day), since they don’t sleep long enough for that to happen……Also I hate and detest anyone who can get their 6-week-old baby to sleep by putting them down drowsy but awake. I have tried this only to get pained screaming from the girls, followed by me ending up rocking & shushing them to sleep anyway….I hope I can get this right when they are a little older, and capable of ‘self-soothing’, since I do want them to learn how to go to sleep on their own. Plus my arms were really tired after a week of rocking these suckers for several minutes several times a day. But for now it’s survival mode & I will do whatever it takes to save them from themselves!!

I have been intermittently (usually while breastfeeding in the evening when the girls enjoy an hour-long suck-fest each-  “cluster feeding”; note that I may slightly be a human pacifier) reading some books on twins, babies, and sleep. It seems like all parents are gagging for some shut-eye. And I now I totally get that. Chris has been giving the girls a bottle of expressed breast milk at midnight, so usually I hit the sack around 8-ish, and he wakes me at 3-4 am for the next feed. Before we instituted that, at the strong suggestion of my dear friend (and personal hero& supermom Lindy), I was close to breaking point. Dealing with these critters all day after fragments of sleep was wearing me down.

Anyway, so it’s not too bad but I am keen on encouraging them to sleep well and without any parent crutches when they are 3-4 months old & have the neurological capacity for that stuff (i.e. supposedly they develop the ability to ‘self-soothe’). So to be prepared I’ve done some research. And it would seem that the sleep coaches out here are cashing in on sleep-deprived folks desperate for some predictability in their lives. I was all excited by the blurb of one book promising to get your twins on a schedule and give you more spare time and inner calm etc.

“Do you have baby vomit in your hair because you don’t have time to shower? (Sometimes!) Do you never know when your baby is going to be hungry or take a nap? (All the time & never without help, respectively!) Then we have the solution for you in our fancy Baby SchedulingTM program”. Awesome! Sign me up!!

Sadly when I read it I couldn’t figure out how in hell you pull that off with an actual live kick-ass baby. Or maybe my babies are particularly ass-kicking. They say you should first make them wait 3 hours between feedings. Ha, well you clearly haven’t met my ravenous girls. Their M.O. is to chow down heartily every 2-2,5 hours like it’s the first time they ever saw a boob. Then I wrangle them to nap for 45 mins (rarely 1,5-2 hours) and it’s dinner time again! They are 4,5kg now roughly, so I don’t know if that’s normal, or if they could go longer between meals but just love hanging out at the boob. The key issue I see is firstly that these baby whispering cowboys who manage to stretch their babies between meals are using pacifiers to subdue the babies, and if try anything like that my girls look at me weirdly, lick the pacifier, gag when I try to push it in, and then drop it out. On the occasion when they have sucked it for a while, it was only a few minutes and they never fell asleep with it. So yeah. Twins that won’t take a pacifier makes for a busy mom I guess. I would appreciate some opinions from the pros on this one – is it better that they never take one or should I keep trying??

Milk is my favorite!
Sophie: Milk is my favorite!

Anyhoo, the scheduling crazy people say that you should feed them every 3 hours during the day, always put them down drowsy but awake (yeah right) and wake them up if they fall asleep while nursing. Oh and if they cry in the crib you are supposed to pick them up & put them down a lot but not rock them to sleep….OK so its complicated. So at this stage I’m just doing all the ‘wrong’ things, and hope to do the right things when they are a bit older and hopefully I’m better at this ‘mom’ gig.

So that’s my life. Breastfeeding is going a little easier, though it’s still challenging. The girls still occasionally choke and cough when the let-down is forceful (see resultant milk mustache in pic), especially first thing in the morning. Middle of the night (4am) feedings are tricky when they’re both crying & I’m so sleepy it’s hard to coordinate the tandem feed. But in general they are better at waiting their turn if tandem isn’t working out that day, and there is less burping & spitting up than before. I’m a little jealous of those formula feeding peeps that can wait 4 hours between feeds, but I know in my gut that there is no such thing as an easy answer when it comes to babies. So I am planning to keep the boobs on the table, so to speak (they may be so pendulous at this point as to hang under the table…) and hope that by the time the girls are 3 months it’ll be easy as pie.

do I have something on my face?
do I have something on my face?

The girls are also much more social these days. Both Olivia & Sophia are smiling cutely, and cooing away at me when they are (briefly) awake. I am so keen to see them developing, it’s really cute as they discover the world around them. These days I can see that they observe things for a long time & with greater interest than before. They are also valiantly trying to find their hands for a good old suck. They are also more opinionated. Gone are the days when they calmly let us dry them after a bath. Nope. They are really not keen on the bath to air transition, despite trying to make it as fast as possible and keep them warm. They get pretty worked up about it, protesting pretty much the whole time. So much for the calming bath before bed routine, but hopefully they’ll get used to it with time. And they kind of ‘talk’ to me also. Or maybe I’m just imagining it, I am deprived of social interaction during the week. But they make cute gurgly noises and smile and seem to express themselves quite well. It’s not surprising given what a talker mom is, I converse with them all day long, telling them weird things, like what I’m reading, or just generally asking them silly questions (“Should we go to the Maldives or Aspen for our vacation this year girls?” ha ha). We have fun together, and it’s exhausting.

But their smiles first thing in the morning are enough to make my day, and I love feeling their plump little cheeks against mine and their sweet milky breath as I pick them up and hold them close ♥ ♥

step into my office...
Sophie: step into my office…
'sup
‘sup Pops

37+6: 4 weeks NICU, 2 weeks home & tube vs boob

Since my last update the girls made huge progress. On the 10th of July the nurses reckoned the girls were doing well enough on oxygen saturation to remove the CPAP. This was an anxious day for me: I was so keen to have them free of the damn CPAP (which they really hate, the equipment on their faces annoys the hell out of them, and it hurts their little tiny noses when the tube goes askew) that I was holding my breath (yup) hoping they would be able to keep oxygen saturation above 90% without it. They did really well for several hours, but after about 8 hours Sophia had several episodes of bradycardia and they decided to re-attach the CPAP. I was a bundle of nerves, because the super scary alarm goes off when they have bradycardia, so it had been a very bleepy and stressful day. I have to admit I was disappointed to watch them put the bulky equipment back on her, but she was very tired from the day breathing without any help, and she needed it.

The next day,  one of our lovely nurses Jeanette replaced the CPAP with a nasal canula, which is does a  similar thing but is smaller and less annoying than the CPAP. The girls did so well that day that the nurse removed that too, and all of a sudden they were managing just fine without any help. Everyone said it would be like this, that they would suddenly develop and be ok without it, but it was pretty cool to see it happen. Now everything seemed to progress really quickly, and on July 16th the monitors were disconnected. So we had wireless babies for the first time!! It was weird at first, I kept glancing up to the monitors out of habit, and finding them switched off. They left a small apnea monitor in place to sound a alarm if they stop breathing for 20 seconds, but it was never triggered, the girls were breathing and not forgetting!

Chris& Sophia 35 weeks
Chris and Sophia, now wireless baby


The hospital offered us what is known as early discharge (tidligt hjemmeophold), which is where stable babies over 35 weeks go home and are visited twice a week by a nurse. The nurse Inge is very kind and comes to weigh the girls and check that we have it under control (ha ha). Every week we update the amount of milk for feeding and the ratio of nasogastric tube (NG) feeds vs breast feeds so we can ultimately remove the NG tube. I was a little freaked out about taking the girls home when they are still fed by NG tube but I was sick to death of living in a hospital. So we started the discharge process. Chris learned how to insert the NG tube in case the girls pull it out any time, and we learned about what to do if they stop breathing. This was a surreal experience for me. The nurse taught us how to breathe into the baby’s nose and do chest compressions using a (rather creepy) rubber baby doll. If the baby stops breathing and starts turning blue don’t panic, breathe into her nose (cover her whole nose with your mouth and breathe out, lift, repeat 5 times). if this doesn’t work, one of you phones the emergency number while the other does 15 chest compressions (press down firmly in the middle of the chest between the nipples)…..I didn’t even want to contemplate that they might stop breathing, but it was good to have the knowledge in mind.

In typical Danish style they asked me ‘So when do you want to go home?’. I was like, you tell me sista! And they pronounced Friday 18th July the happy day. We arranged car seats and a lift home from a kind friend, and I was shaking with excitement and some fear. Shit just got real man.

We went and bought baby vitamins and iron, nappies and bum wipes. We were going to be solely responsible for the care of our tiny little babies. The day before discharge, we gave the girls a nice bath, which they absolutely loved. The minute they are submerged in the warm water they just go limp and smile like ‘oh yeeeaahhh’. It’s too cute. 

We arranged to go home at 11am, and I was so excited I was unable to sit still all day. I packed all our stuff- we had accumulated a lot at the hospital, including clothes, books, gifts, food and of course my stock of extra frozen breast milk, which we would take home in the car and in the cargo bike (aka The Beast). I went to the 7/11 at the hospital and bought us our last (questionable quality) frappucino. This was a treat we indulged in from time to time to break the monotony of living in Rigshospital –  a cold slushy creamy overly sweet mess, and one that lifts the spirits and the blood sugar. We toasted goodbye to the linoleum floors and neon lights, the hushed halls of the neonatal unit and the anxiety of the parents within, the sound of monitors and alarms, and the feeling of never being left in peace. Of course we knew it would be tough at home without the kind nurses that looked after us so well and did the 3am feedings for us (oy vey) but we were ready for phase II: Solo Parenting.

Babies in car seats ready to go home
Babies in car seats ready to go home

The pediatrician came and made a final examination and declared the girls just fine to go home with their under-experienced parents. There was a possible murmur in Olivia’s heart, so a cardiologist came and did an ultrasound before we left, but there was no problem, so we got the all clear. All in all our stay in the NICU was really amazing, the care was professional, efficient, sensitive and free! I ♥ Denmark.  

So many things are different at home and I was worried that the girls might be freaked out by the new smells and sounds, but they have been fine. It’s been super hot here, so there has been no problem keeping them warm enough. They are slowly getting stronger and bigger and learning to breastfeed. Now they weigh around 2.5 kg and their gestational age is almost 38 weeks. Hopefully in the next weeks they will steadily gain weight and strength so we can wean them off the NG tube so they can exclusively breastfeed. 

When I am not pumping, I am trying to get the girls interested in the boob, so I am pretty much topless all day, heaving my comic-book-style pendulous, leaking breasts around the flat. Funny enough, just before I got pregnant I was keen to meditate more often I bought this awesome meditation pillow to sit on, very conducive to many hours in lotus (ha ha) but then morning sickness struck & I never did get into a daily meditation practice. These days I sit on the pillow on the floor while expressing breast milk 7 times a day, it’s a kind of meditation I guess…..I pump so darn regularly that I have repeated the sequence of wash-sterilize-assemble on the breast pump parts so many times that I can do it in my sleep (kind of like one of those hardcore army guys that can clean & reassemble a rifle wearing a blindfold). Breastfeeding inevitably leads to spills and drips, so I am pretty much constantly soaked in breastmilk and I change clothes several times a day. As far as actually breastfeeding, I feel so helpless, I know next to nothing about it. I got some help when we were in the NICU and from the home visit nurse, and I have read a bunch of books and watched some youtube videos about breastfeeding, but it would be nice to have some expert advice on hand….. After some practice, I can get both of the girls latched and feeding in cross cradle and football orientations. They can keep it up for a maximum of 20 minutes these days though it’s quite a mission to coordinate the suck, swallow, breathe business. They are getting to be such pros that we even tried a tandem feed. It worked out pretty well, a little symphony of suction, quite the experience! It is really cool to know that they are getting fed at the source and it is a lovely bonding experience. Luckily they are not in the habit of mangling my nipples (yet) so its painless, except when I inadvertently hunch up my shoulders. It is frustrating to know that moms of full-term babies don’t have to wait for weeks for the little ones to gain the strength they need to do what babies do best. But if this pregnancy has taught me anything it’s that patience is all there is to it: you have to wait, so wait! It should only be another couple of weeks as they transition to breastfeeding and then we can kiss the NG tube goodbye…..

Chillin' in the crib
Chillin’ in the crib

The first days home were a little hairy since we had some problems with the NG tube. The tube is inserted into the baby’s nose and quickly pushed down the throat (see here http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/En/HealthAZ/TestsAndTreatments/HomeHealthCare/Pages/Nasogastric-NG-Tube-How-to-Insert-Your-Childs-NG-Tube.aspx).  First you stick a piece of specialized tape on the baby’s cheek and then place the tube on the tape, and secure it with another piece of tape on top like a sandwich. The day before we were discharged from hospital they got a new brand of sticky tape  (I know right?), and it was not as sticky as the old one. In the first 2 days Olivia pulled her NG tube out twice because the top piece of tape kept getting loose. Then we had to remove the tube and insert a new one. She cried when we had to pull off the bottom piece of tape, and it sucked to know that yes, she is crying because we are hurting her. Thank Christ our nurse had a little stash of the old tape which she handed over, I wanted to kiss her, and since then we have had no issues.

tube feeding time at the ranch
tube feeding time at the ranch

But mostly the girls are so funny. As I sit writing this they are engaged in a chorus of grunting and farting, really loud farting that you can hardly believe emanates from such a cute little baby girl. I am told that the grunting is part of prematurity-  the digestive system is not that efficient yet. 

So all is well and now I just have to get my neurosis under control. It was hard in the NICU to see the babies all hooked up and feeling helpless to make the discomfort stop, so at least they are mostly wireless now and they seem happy. But having 2 tiny babies that are susceptible to infection (seehttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3659282/) makes me a little overprotective (Grrrrrr!), a little obsessed with washing my hands and quite reluctant to get out of the flat. The world is full of germs man. Especially the bus. But we had to take the girls to the hospital for a hearing test (standard stuff, they passed just fine) this week, so we had to practice baby wrangling on the move, armed to the teeth with hand sanitizer and big sticks to fend off nosy do-gooders interested in twins…. Carrying them in their lifts down to the pram in the courtyard of the flat I realized that by the time maternity leave is over I will have huge Schwarzenegger-style biceps from taking them up & down 4 flights of stairs. Once we were out in the summer day I was totally paranoid about the sun shining on them, or the wind blowing on them and giving them a cold, or dodgy sneezing bastards on the street contaminating them with microbes, but Chris came to the rescue. He really knows how to neutralize, or at least manage my extremes. He covered the lifts with a cloth so they were protected but still getting some fresh air, and he distracted me with an iced coffee and promises of ice creams later (I am a big baby too). Luckily the girls are so chilled they slept through our entire exciting adventure, while Chris & I just wished we could sleep after an exhausting day out!

Caution: learner driver
Caution: learner driver

These days I find myself having a lot of arb questions and worries (‘can the babies sleep in the room with the window open when the wind is blowing? Is a breeze going to make them sick?? Cos they’re so tiny and helpless….’; ‘I know they can have a pacifier but how sure are you that it won’t mess up their chances at breastfeeding? Cos I sure as hell ain’t using a frikkin’ breast pump forever….’; ‘How soon will they be able to breastfeed & what if they never manage?’; ‘is it normal that they grunt so much after feeding? Does it hurt? What can I do?’), and I feel woefully under-experienced for this task. I have found scattered tidbits of information on how to take care of premature babies, but nothing really solid. We are going to have to figure it out as we go along, at least Chris & I are in this together. Between us I reckon we’ll manage.

31+6: C-section and first weeks in the NICU

As I type this, I am sitting on my bed in the Risghospitalet neonatal ICU (NICU) next to the crib where our 2 little babies Sophia and Olivia are sleeping, and occasionally squeaking and gurgling. I am finally able to articulate what has been the most mind-blowing experience of my life to date. So much has happened in the last 3 weeks, I hope I can give a sense of the experience, some of which is a little hazy now.

The girls napping in their NICU crib
The girls napping in their NICU crib 

 

After my last scan my doctor surprised me by deciding we would do the C-section on Friday 20th June, so the girls would be born at 31 weeks and 6 days. I was mostly prepared for that, but actually setting the date kind of freaked me out. The one baby was lying kind of under the other one in my uterus, making CTG monitoring impossible, so it was the safest option to get them out here in the world where we can see them. I had hoped for their sake that they could stick around in my uterus until 34 weeks but it was not to be.

I was scared about the operation, but had a meeting with the obstetrician, anesthetist and midwife the day before to discuss exactly how things would proceed. On Friday morning I arrived and went up to the maternity ward where I slipped into some stylish  Rigshospitalet-issue surgery wear, complete with white knee-high socks to keep my feet warm during the proceedings. The anesthetist came in to insert a presumably huge needle into my spine, which I tried not to think about. I had to fight the urge to run away, and the ever-calm husband Chris was smiling reassuringly. It was so weird sitting on this metal table bending my head towards my chest while a friendly man injected me full of drugs so I wouldn’t feel my bottom half. Around 9.30 am, the rest of the surgical team entered the operating room: several nurses, one of which held my hand and made small talk as if it was no big deal; 2 surgeons; an anesthetist; 2 pediatricians and all their entourage filled the room and I tried to focus on staring at the ceiling and not thinking of sharp shiny scalpels. 

At first the anesthetic made me feel awful, like there was a huge weight on my chest and I couldn’t breathe. That was soon accompanied by feeling like I would throw up. Apparently the drugs made my blood pressure very low for a minute there. At the same time, my extremities were going numb, so they were poking me and asking if I could feel anything. They announced ‘I just pinched you really hard on the leg and you didn’t feel it, so we are going to begin’. There was a weird little ceremony where we all agreed who I am, my social security number and the operation I was about to have and they were off, scalpels at the ready. I have to say I reckon spinal blocks are amazing, I felt hardly anything, very mild tugging as they were rooting around in my insides to yank out the babies.

First out was Olivia at 10 am, then her sister Sophia at 10.01, and Chris nearly dropped his camera watching them emerge into the world.

Chris went with the babies to the neonatal unit and named them and watched them being weighed and measured while I was reassembled. Olivia was 1.6 kg, and Sophia 1.4 kg at birth. The girls were fine, so they were put into a premature baby ‘crib’- a perspex box on wheels, with heated water mattresses under each baby, to help them stay at 37ºC until they are able to maintain their body temperature. They were connected to a heart rate monitor, a monitor to check oxygen saturation in the blood, and each fitted with a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) to blow air over their noses and encourage their little lungs to unfold and help them breathe. They each got a nasogastric tube for feeding them directly into their stomachs, and an IV of glucose for extra treats.

Meanwhile, upstairs in the maternity ward I was quietly crying for like 2 hours, waiting to get the feeling in my legs back so I could go down and meet my babies properly. I was so relieved that they were born, and overwhelmed by a surge of hormones and simply could no longer maintain control. Every time a nurse spoke to me I just burst into tears. Chris popped up quickly to tell me all was well and show me a picture (a lot more tears). A maternity ward nurse gave me some painkillers and a plate of food (leverpostej and rugbrød, only in Denmark) and instructed me to go downstairs. On my feet. Using my legs.  I thought she was kidding, like how am I supposed to walk right now?? But I could, with Chris’ help of course. First she removed the catheter I had for the surgery and instructed me to report back within 4 hours about my urinary proclivities. 

So Chris helped to stagger to the lift and down the hall to the neonatal unit. In our room there are 2 beds and the babies in the crib in the middle of the room, and since there weren’t many admissions that week we could have a room to ourselves. 

I was a wreck so after meeting my babies and crying some more, I passed out. When I woke up I was struck by the immense pain in my abdomen. Never having had surgery I had no idea what pain level to expect, and let me assure you, it was pretty epic. I was given painkillers every 8 hours, alternating between paracetamol, ibuprofen and morphine. I swore like trooper the first time I tried to get up and found that my abdomen was a burning mass of pain and weakness. Chris had to pick me up out of bed and help me out to see if I would detect my bladder yet – sadly no dice, my brain had no idea I had to pee. So I got another catheter for the next 24 hours to give my bladder a chance to come online. This was not so bad, but I wouldn’t recommend it. I guess it was a combo of pain, blood loss and general mind-altering change in my world at the arrival of my babies, but the next day is a hazy memory. 

Luckily, Chris was really into his role as dad to the little ones, even though he also had me to look after, he was smiling all the time. He was watching the nurses in the neonatal unit at first, learning the ropes of caring for 2 little preemie babies, and I was lying in bed alternately moaning and sleeping.

When I emerged from the morphine haze on day 2 after the operation, I was amazed to find that the neonatal unit wasn’t what I had feared and expected from all the reading I had done online.

Rigshospitalet NICU is actually a calm, quiet place, not the hellish mass of screaming babies, bleeping noises and harsh lighting that I had pictured. Our room is in Team 1, which deals with preemie and older sick babies. There are rooms with 2 families per room, separated with a room divider. There is a bed and a closet for each mother and there is a shared bathroom and a cupboard full of the medical and baby care supplies you need (nappies, gauze, syringes, cotton balls, nasogastric tubes etc). The rooms are meticulously cleaned every day and the supply cupboard restocked. There are monitors that bleep when the heart rate or oxygen saturation drop below healthy thresholds, and when that happens, a nurse comes immediately. 

The room in NICU
The room in NICU

Chris and I spent the next days learning from the nurses how to take care of the babies, and I would occasionally just look at them and cry, happy that they are here, alive and healthy but sad to see them all tubed and connected to machines. The nurses record all the info for the babies: their temperatures, poo and pee schedules, how much milk they eat and digest, and other observations, and there are 3 nursing shifts per day. At each shift, the new nurse familiarizes themselves with the babies, and comes to meet and discuss the plan for the day. 

The doctors also come by every few days to check on the progress and tell us what they think. They usually listen to their breathing and poke them gently to check their circulation, and make other observations that I’m sure are beyond my understanding. One kind doc palpated Olivia’s stomach and declared ‘I see she has a soft tummy’ and Chris and I were both like ‘what? Soft tummy?? oh my god! What does that mean??’. He was like ‘Yeah that means that her tummy is soft, that’s all’. Duh, parents.

Olivia in the 2nd week
Olivia in the 2nd week
Sophia 'Can't you see I'm napping?'
Sophia ‘Can’t you see I’m napping?’

The general atmosphere has been one of patience and understanding from the nurses: they take time to explain how to do things, and comfort me when I have a particularly hormonal tearful day, and they really care for the babies. I feel really lucky to be in Denmark right now. We are given the role as parents, and not made to stand by helplessly on the sidelines. So now we are both able to change and clean our babies, and feed them my expressed breast milk through the nasogastric tube using syringes. This last thing was scary for me at first since you have to check the stomach contents by gently sucking out what is in there with a syringe, and then detaching the syringe plunger and pouring milk into the syringe, which then drips into the stomach slowly. Then at the next feeding you repeat the process, checking how much of the last meal they digested. 

The best moment so far was when I held my babies the first time. We are so lucky, we get to do daily kangaroo care, where we hold the babies skin to skin for an hour or two, just cuddling and soaking up the oxytocin. It is the most incredible feeling I have ever experienced, the sense of love and connection in the moment with this vulnerable perfect little being. And it’s as addictive as crack. It’s really great that we have the opportunity to bond with our babies even when they are connected to machines, and apparently it speeds up their exit from the NICU. So it’s good for both babies and parents. Plus there is a constant supply of new baby smell – amazing and calming, even better than new car smell. 

Baby snuzzling
Baby snuzzling
Dad doing kangaroo care
Dad doing kangaroo care

In the first week when holding them I would sometimes have the feeling of burning close to the C-section incision, other times it felt like water was dripping down my skin. It was really weird and I thought maybe there was something infected or wrong with the wound. But it turns out that the nerves reattaching can sometimes create some unexpected sensations. Now I am pain-free and slowly getting back to walking with a straight spine and trying to relocate my abdominal muscles to their rightful place…

It’s been adorable to see Chris in his new role as a dad, holding a tiny baby and smiling like he just won the lottery. Between that and caring for me while I recovered from surgery,  he is surely winning the husband of the year award.

People may wonder what do you do all day long hanging around a NICU? Sounds boring? Well actually, you end up being pretty busy. I started expressing breast milk using a double electric breast pump on the day of the C-section, and have kept up a strict schedule since then, milking out every 3 hours to encourage milk production enough for 2 babies. I take a 6 hour break at night to get a bit more sleep while I still can, and there are nurses to help with nappy changes and feedings in the middle of the night. So with 10-15 minutes per session that’s over an hour a day simply expressing milk (when my milk came in I walked around looking like I was smuggling torpedoes). In between, we have feedings and diaper changes. In the first 10 days, we did feedings every 2 hours, since the girls were losing some of their birth weight as their digestive tracts adapted to this harsh new world. Now we have stretched it to every 3 hours since the babies are able to digest better and are eating all their food and putting on weight, having just peaked over their birth weights. Then we also clean their cute little faces, and comb their hair, which is silky soft and gorgeous, and give them clean woolen hats, and the nurses replace their CPAP paraphernalia. In between I like to do a lot of baby watching, and just stare at them in amazement. Since all phones have to be on airplane mode in the ward, we have to leave to check messages out in the hall, and I tend to want to rush back to the babies, as if an entire nursing staff couldn’t possible manage without me hovering around…

After 3 weeks here, I am starting to find it more difficult, but it helps to know there is no alternative. The machines make sudden bleeps when any of the stats drop below threshold, and the constant noises can make me quite jumpy after a while. But I know the babies need to be here until they are big and fat, and strong enough to breathe on their own, and no longer stop breathing on occasion. So I try to go outside an hour or two a day and breathe non-hospital air and get some perspective. One of these days I will not have a team of nurses to help me and give me advice, so I am going to make the most of my time here and try and learn to be an observant mom, since there will be no monitors at home, just good old looking at your baby. I really look forward to just picking them up, and not worrying about a mass of cables in the way. 

Olivia 34+5
Olivia 34+5
Sophia 34+5
Sophia 34+5

At this point we expect to be here 3 to 4 more weeks, probably at least until the end of July. It is crazy to imagine that, but I know I can manage, and I am just taking one day at a time. I miss the babies whenever I am away so I am so glad I get to live here with them, as much as I miss my home. I know it will be very special when we all finally go home together.

This week’s highlights:

  • Olivia and Sophia both weigh more than they did at birth (1.7 and 1.8 kg approximately) and they have started sucking pacifiers, a gateway drug to breasts for premature babies 🙂
  • We removed the heated mattresses since the girls are able to remain at 37ºC, their brains have developed the ability to regulate their body temperature
  • The girls are learning to breastfeed so I am sitting with each of them twice a day so they can get the hang of it

  

Friday the 13th full moon blues

It’s been an busy and emotional week (pregnancy week 30).  I prepared loads of meals for our post-baby period where I anticipate having no time or energy for cooking. So I made chilli, stew, lasagne and curry, and froze portions in our new little chest freezer. My inner control freak, ever a hungry food snob, is relieved! I went for CTG at Rigshospital on Tuesday and again on Friday to check how the babies were doing. My appointment was at 2pm  and as usual I waited 2 hours before I was called by a midwife. This is not unusual, since the hospital had cutbacks and recently got rid of loads of midwives, so they are understaffed. Luckily, I am on maternity leave, so I have made peace with the idea of spending hours in the poorly lit, rather depressing waiting room. I manage by reading a good book and munching on a stash of nuts & raisins in my bag.

However, upon engaging with this midwife (it’s never the same one), I could tell she wasn’t up for the challenge. I have seen how tricky it can be to find both the babies’ heartbeats, and I have huge respect for the midwives who face this battle every day, countless times a day. But this midwife didn’t seem to realize that she should palpate my abdomen to locate the babies’ backs, and thereby the hearts. She quickly gave up and after she left I waited another 30 minutes for a doctor to come and scan me to find the babies so they could do the CTG.

While I was waiting I thought I would speak to the secretary because I was sure I was supposed to have a scan but hadn’t been given an appointment yet. This is also not unusual. There is some communication difficulty and I don’t get always the necessary appointments, unless I ask for them. I have to have a scan every 4 days, and 2 CTGs per week. This is a risky time, and I would hate to miss signs of distress and lose the babies so close to the finish line.

Also, it could be that I am going to have a C-section in 10 days, and we haven’t even booked a time yet!

As I was explaining the situation to the secretary I was suddenly totally overwhelmed by the fear of something bad happening to the babies, and the frustration that only some people at the hospital seemed to understand that this is a high risk case and needs careful attention. Not to mention the prospect of not knowing when the doctors are going to start slicing me open. And so the blubbing began. Geez these pregnancy hormones are powerful man. One minute I was calmly explaining the need for monitoring, the next I was sobbing and had to run to the bathroom before drowning in mucous and tears. Once the floodgates opened though, it was really tough to get things under control again. For the next 20 minutes every time I tried to talk I would just burst into tears. There was a really sweet Chilean lady in the waiting room who kindly patted me on the back and said it was  all going to be ok….Thankfully, I was soon called in and the doctor and midwife doing the scan and setting up the CTG have seen a million overly emotional pregnant ladies, and just let me work through it.

So after the drama, the doctor realized that yes, I really do need a scan to check blood flow and she sent me to the ultrasound department, which was already closed for the weekend. The fetal medicine specialist there kindly did the scan after hours on a Friday evening, and measured the blood flow and the size of the twins. She couldn’t tell me the estimated weights because the computer system was already shut down, but she could see they were both bigger than last time. She also assured me that the blood flow was all normal.

After 5 hours at the hospital, all my fears have been temporarily put aside, and the doc promised me an appointment for a scan and Tuesday and that we will soon decide the date of the C-section. It seems that I really, really like having a plan.

30 weeks- big belly!
30 weeks- big belly!

I feel better now, except for the mild discomfort of having baby feet squeezing my diaphragm, and a slightly achy pelvis – I am really feeling super pregnant right now, but more calm. I can’t believe we could be meeting our baby girls in a week!

Third trimester of pregnancy: June 2014

Today marks 29 weeks and 4 days along the pregnancy. I am in the middle of the second week of maternity leave, and feeling a little bigger and more tired than last week so I have been taking it easy….There are no signs of premature labour or cervical insufficiency (nice lingo hey?), but I have had some Braxton-Hicks (aka practice) contractions (which is normal).

Fun fact: A woman carrying twins at 30 weeks is carrying the same weight as a singleton pregnancy at full term. That explains it….

I have been swimming to enjoy some time without the weight, and generally organizing things at home. The next project is to cook a bunch of meals, aliquot them into portions and freeze them (in our newly acquired chest freezer) for the anticipated insanity coming our way. Anyone who knows me knows that I want a square meal come hell or high water, and I’ll make damn sure I’m getting one if I’ll be breastfeeding 2 hungry little babies! Friends in Denmark please note: this does not get you off the hook! You are still very welcome (and kind of obliged and forced) to make us meals, generally help and tend to us in the early desperate parenting days 🙂

Today I spent the day at Rigshospital, having tests:

1. Diabetes test to check for gestational diabetes (since my grandfather had diabetes) – no problems there (except for how gross it is to drink a cup full of liquid with 75g of glucose in it)

2. Ultrasound scan & blood flow check

3. Midwife chat

4. Obstetrician chat

The summary is that this week the blood flow of the twins looks fine (in their various arteries as well as the umbilical cord) but one twin seems smaller than the other. One has always been a little smaller, but it seems like the gap is widening. So 2 weeks ago baby 1 was 954g, and she is now 1.2 kg, while baby 2 was 943g and is now about 1 kg. The weight is estimated based on measurements of the circumference of the head and abdomen as well as the length of the femur. Obviously there is a lot of error, given that the femur is only about 48 mm long (aw so tiny). But now the obstetrician reckons maybe a C-section at 32 weeks is more likely than 34 weeks.

one tiny baby profile

So you are probably wondering, like me, why is this happening???

Well they don’t really know… It could be the start of twin-twin transfusion syndrome where one twin is getting the blood from the other, but it’s hard to tell. The main indicator is bladder size, and their bladders don’t look extremely different, so that’s not confirmed. It could also be that for some reason baby 2 is not getting what she should from the placenta.  Either way, it’s not really a good thing to see.

So. bummer.

I mean the babies are both kicking and have good heart rates when we monitor them with CTG (they put these little ultrasound monitors on your belly at the positions of the babies’ hearts and it measures how fast their hearts are beating, usually 130-150 bpm), usually for 20-30 minutes at a time. So far this indicates they are not yet in distress. I have 2 CTG appointments this week, and another ultrasound for the blood flow to keep a close eye on them. Next week I have another scan, 2 more CTGs and a visit to see the neonatal unit at the hospital for the first time.

So the plans is keep on thinking happy thoughts and hope the girls can make it to 32 weeks.