Happy Birthday to me

Last Friday was my birthday. It was lovely, and delightfully uneventful; my husband made me a dinner of lobster and corn (accompanied by some bubbly!) and for dessert we had Jebmade blueberry pie and vanilla ice cream. I went to bed happy.

The next day, I decided to run away. I like being alone, but rarely get to experience it. Luckily, I married well and my husband understands when I need to go. I escaped to a lovely mountain town in Vermont about 90 minutes from home. This place is special to me for a few reasons: my mom used to meet me here for lunch, two of my siblings married here, and it is absolutely beautiful.

When I pulled into my lodging for the night, I heard the ding of a text. The message was from Jeb. He had managed to get all of the kids together for a photo. With Luke living out of the house and Cal an independent teen, this is no easy feat. The last time this happened was three years ago. A lot can happen in that time, especially when puberty starts working its magic.

The photos instantly brought tears to my eyes.

My children are beautiful. Stunning. (I love how this works. We are so blinded by love for our children that we are convinced they are the most magnificent things on the planet. We would be shocked if others didn’t quite see what we see…love goggles).

And they all came out of a spark between Jeb and me. Remarkable. Our love created these human beings. That is amazing. I stare at these captivating images and I can hardly wrap my head around what they represent. These are my children. Without me, they would not exist. Without them, neither would I.

When I left for this excursion, Jeb locked me in a strong embrace. Nicky was holding onto my leg and I had just received a hug from Kelly and about twenty-five kisses from Drewzie. As Jeb released me, he said, “You sure are loved.”

Yes, one thing I know for sure: I am loved.

When that thought came into my head, I felt the most lovely feeling wash over me: contentment. Right now-this very second- I have absolutely everything I need. My life is filled with love, and when all of the other noise gets distilled down, there is nothing left but that.  

To love and to be loved. It is why we are here.

 

 

Mission accomplished.

 

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GR8FL

november

We are deep in November. The days are grey and cold, the branches bare, the mornings dark. It is possible to love November days, but it takes practice and insight. The beauty does not shout like that of the spring forsythia. It lies underfoot in the delicate frost on the leaf, overhead in the intricate patterns of the newly exposed branches, in the exhilaration of cold air filling your lungs and in the promise of warmth when you return home.

Mornings are especially peaceful this time of year. Most living creatures choose to stay snuggled until the sun comes up. My husband, my kids, even the birds are silent. The promise of solitude pulls me from my flannel sheets. This is not easy, but I know I will not regret it.  I love sneaking out into the dark world, the moon and the stars my only witnesses. It feels sacred.

I bundle up and make my way out. My dog cannot believe her good fortune, though we do this everyday, sometimes twice. As always, I get a few steps in and am glad for it. By January my brain will have connected the appropriate dots: get out EVERY morning, no matter how cold, and move your body and you will find happiness. In November, I am still relearning the obvious, and every morning I am still a bit shocked by my discovery: I love this. I need this.

For me, physical movement invariably leads to gratitude. I breathe in the crisp air and start my mental list. I realize that Thanksgiving is in a few days. I feel that I should write something and then it comes to me: I need to write about my baby boys. I have written about everyone else and they are certainly the icing on the cake, the grande finale. So drumroll…cymbals crash. Here goes…

When you find out you are pregnant for the first time, you cannot wait to share the news. It bubbles from your lips during every conversation. Your exciting news is met with hugs and cheers and elation all around. By the second baby, Mom is usually just as excited, but public excitement has dimmed. Old news, they’ve heard this before. By the third and fourth pregnancy, people barely crack a smile, some even look at you sympathetically. If your pregnant for the sixth time and your history includes Down Syndrome, a life-threatening congenital birth defect and the death of a child, you keep your mouth shut. You sit on the toilet and stare at that little stick and think, “Fuck.”

The next thing I do is run away. I drive over 70 miles to a place where I don’t know a soul. When I know for sure I am alone I call an old friend who has no connections to my local life. I tell her my secret and together we process: How did this happen? Birth control malfunction. Did you tell Jeb? Not yet. How do you feel? I don’t know. What are you going to do? I’m going to deal.

The information is mine and mine alone for two weeks. I walk about in a daze. My husband and I go out to dinner. It is our first time alone since my discovery. During dinner he brings up his plans to have a vasectomy. The appointment conflicts with a trip we had planned. Here is my chance, my baby-brain thinks, why ruin our plans if it doesn’t matter anyway? I can’t get pregnant ‘cause I already am! I tell him so. He stares and the blood drains from his face. The waiter arrives with our food, but my husband does not turn to him, does not move his arms to make way for the food. He has not said a word, but it is obvious he is feeling the same: Fuck.

So we process: How did this happen? How do we feel? What are we going to do?

Terminating is not an option. What if we had aborted our other not-so-perfect babies? Unthinkable. I can’t help but believe that we were meant to have this experience somehow. I mean, how did those sperm sneak by anyway? Having this attitude makes it easier to deal somehow. We move forward. We  have a secret.

One night the whole family is in the car together. From the back seat my oldest calls out to me, “Mom, how come you’re taking prenatal vitamins?” My hands freeze on the steering wheel. Damn. I’m not ready for this. When we get home we sit our son down. He has always been our most intense child and he wants answers. He is angry at the news. He has witnessed too much in his thirteen years and he wants it to stop. It has only been two years since his baby sister died. Stop doing this. He feels the same way: Fuck.

We move forward. The time for the trip we had planned arrives. We fly the whole family across the country. No one knows us here. I am now 16-weeks pregnant and a friend has arranged for us to have a free ultrasound. I need some answers. I need to know.

I go alone. Jeb stays at our hotel with the kids. We are both sick with anticipation. What could it possibly be this time? Is it even possible for us to have a “normal” baby? I am 42-years-old.

The ultrasonographer knows nothing of my history. He is just doing a favor for our mutual friend. He squirts the jelly on my belly and gets started. After a while he says, “Well, I can’t tell you much because its a bit early, but I can tell you there are two in there.”

Astonished, it slips out before I can think to be polite: “Fuck.”

I get in the rental car and have to laugh out loud. I look up to the heavens and shout, “Are you serious?”

The first bubble of joy floats up.

I drive back to hotel and Jeb greets me at the door, expectation and panic in his eyes. I lead him to the privacy of the bathroom. What? what? what? he pleads. Unfairly, I bait him: there is something…and you’re not gonna believe it. Twins, I tell him. Identical twins. They share a placenta. His mouth drops open. Nothing comes out. He drops to the toilet seat and puts his head in his hands. When he looks up at me, I see it: the beginning of a smile. I drop to my knees and let his arms wrap around me. We laugh together. What. The. Fuck. Our union is so strong. Life has tested us over again and again, but we remain solid, strong. We will do this. We will.

The trip ends and the prenatal train starts moving. I call our trusted home-birth midwife who has delivered four of our babies, only one of them an uncomplicated birth. She is apprehensive. She is not comfortable with a twin birth. She requests that we scheduled an ultrasound at the nearest teaching hospital over an hour from our home. She does not trust our small town hospital.

I am nervous for the ultrasound. I am further along and they can see more. What if? What if? What if? I am alone with my midwife, my husband is not there. The waiting if forever. It is crowded and sterile and serious in the waiting room. We are all waiting for the top-notch ultrasound; one that goes above-and-beyond the average sound waves. My past pregnancy history and my age have landed me here. I am the only pregnant woman here, the others have different conditions. There is no joy in this waiting room.

It is finally my turn and my midwife accompanies me to the examining room. I try to make light conversation, but the technician is having none of it. Her actions make it clear that we will not be chatting. She will divulge nothing. This is the serious unit. She does her job and leaves the room. The “High-Risk” obstetrician enters to take a look. With a matter-of-fact tone she informs me that she suspects my babies have something called Twin-Twin Transfusion Syndrome. To her trained eye, the ultrasound is showing that one baby is receiving more blood flow than the other. She goes on to flatly explain that this is rare and only occurs with identical twins that share a placenta. She tells me that this pregnancy will be difficult and one or both babies may die. We will probably need to have specialized care in another state, perhaps Pennsylvania. She knows my last three births were very hard on our family. She recommends termination. She wants to schedule the procedure. We still “have time”.

I cannot speak. My midwife is my voice. Thank you, we will consider your recommendation. The doctor leaves. On to the next patient. There is more news to give today.

My midwife cleans off my stomach and helps me up. I look at her stunned. Let’s get out of here are her only words. She leads me to the car and puts me in the passenger seat. She will drive. On the way home, she calmly explains that she has studied a few of these cases. She has heard that bed rest and a high-protein diet can have an effect. I stare out the window.

At home, I take to the couch. My husband is given the news. We have no time to react before the children come home from school. My oldest asks immediately is everything is okay. Everything is fine, I say. Fine.

I try to stay away from the internet, but, of course, I cannot.  I know from past experience that the news there is never good; even if there is hope, I will not find it here. The pages only breed more fear. I look away and look inside. I can do this. I can.

I spend the next week hardly moving and take in nutrients. I consume high-calorie, nutrient dense shake after high-calorie, nutrient dense shake. There is no desire for solid food, but I eat it anyway.

My husband takes me to the next ultrasound. We do not speak. The technician goes through the motions and we wait for the obstetrician. We get a different doctor this week. She looks at the screen and moves the wand over my abdomen. My husband is by her side, trying to decode the images on the screen. The doctor looks up and casually announces that “things look good”.

WHAT? I tell her that a week ago, I was told to terminate this pregnancy. What is going on? Do the babies have Twin-Twin transfusion Syndrome? She sees no sign of that. I tell her of my bed rest and diet, could that have been a factor? No, she says. There is no evidence to support that. On to the next patient.

We stumble into the hall. Joy tries to rise, but I cannot let it. Not yet. The fear is still too strong. Life is uncertain. I have learned this.

More weeks pass and I drink and drink. Food no longer holds any pleasure. Eating is a chore, but I am diligent. Hope slowly begins to smother fear. I have to start telling people I am carrying twins. At six months, I look as if I am full-term. I start with our own children. Joy tries again. I let a little in.

My prenatal visits to the teaching hospital continue. My midwife thinks it is best. I am 42 and this pregnancy is labelled “High Risk”. I am in the High Risk unit and I need to see the High Risk doctors because I am High Risk. I am trying to battle the fear, but I am not allowed. I am told that my babies will most likely be born premature. I tell the doctor that I am a fabulous incubator; my babies grow well inside of me, even when statistics say they are unable to. I am told this will not happen this time. Twins are different and I am High Risk. If my babies do decide to stay inside of me, they will take them out for me at 36-weeks.

My midwife tries to calm me again. These are just recommendations, she says. I tell her I cannot go back to the teaching hospital. I do not want another High Risk ultrasound and I do not agree with the High Risk doctors. I am strong. I can do this. I know it.

She agrees, but it is for the best. After all, I am High Risk.

Enough. I cannot continue to let fear lead the way. I decide to try our local hospital, ten minutes from home. The head obstetrician is the father of twins. My friends have been encouraging me to meet with him, but my midwife is resistant. We need a bigger hospital with more expertise. I am tired of expertise. My midwife wishes me the best. I feel free.

Our local hospital is not equipped with a High Risk unit. I am greeted with excitement. Everything looks great! Wow, those babies have a strong heartbeat! They are going to be big boys! Suddenly, I am strong, amazing, an inspiration! The only thing I feel is relieved.

The weeks pass by and I drink and eat and eat and drink. I am enormous. It is summer and it is hot. Week 36 comes and goes. My babies stay put.

I visit my small hospital weekly and get lots of encouragement. There is no talk of taking my babies. We are doing great. Week 37, week 38, week 39 come and go. Now, even I am surprised. And tired. And hot.

prego twin     And huge.

40 weeks and 2 days and I finally feel it. The boys are ready. They are born healthy and beautiful and plump. Relief+ joy+exhaustion+ hormones=indescribable. Later, when our four older children are allowed to come visit, my son with Down Syndrome will express my feelings in his simple, perfect way. He has been told throughout the pregnancy that we were expecting twins, but the concept was too abstract for him to grasp. When he walked into the hospital room he stopped and gasped. Two babies? Two babies? And then it clicked: Two babies! Two babies! Two babies! He jumped with joy and clapped his hands. Two babies.

That was exactly how I felt. Two healthy babies! Two healthy fucking babies!

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These twin boys were a magical, healing balm for our battered family. It felt like all of our past hardships were just prepping us for the gift of this experience. Every single day of their six years I have taken a moment to thank God for the miracle of them. Even my teenagers are under their spell-the twins give them a reason to roll on the floor, to play, to smile. They bring joy.

So this November, I am indeed thankful. I am thankful for the same things, every single day:                

Five beautiful, unique boys, one incredible firecracker of a girl, my amazing best friend and the privilege of sharing the deep, rich, magnificent experience of it all.

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How do you find your Soul Mate*?

*(a.k.a. your one true love, the love of your life…blah, blah)

An open letter to my children 

(and anyone else who will listen to me)

 

Do I really have the answer to this age old question?

Yup. I do. So, listen up. I know what I’m talking about.

I’ve have been married to the love of my life for 22 years and I still find comfort in his embrace, electricity in his kiss and delight in his humor. At the end of the day, I still want to sit by his side. The fact that I still feel this way about your dad is remarkable. You realize this don’t you? So, stop rolling your eyes and take some notes.

Look around you. How many of your friends have parents that are still married? Of those that are still married, how many of them actually like each other? After 20-plus years, I think its pretty obvious that your dad and I still like each other. In fact, I think he is the smartest, funniest, kindest, and (cover your ears) sexiest man I know. If Johnny Depp knocked on the door and wanted a quick roll in the hay, I would say, “No thanks, Johnny. I’m good”. Then I would proceed to invite him in, sit him on the couch and help him figure out what went wrong with Vanessa. This is because I know what I’m talking about. I got this.

If you have any interest in a joyful life, do not fuck this one up.

Choosing your partner is one of the most important decisions you will make in your life. It is absolutely the most important decision if you are going to have a family. It is the foundation on which everything else is built. This foundation needs to be rock solid. Your father and I had no idea how important this strength would be in years to come. As you well know, our journey has not been easy, but it has always been good. Always.

The crises that we went through could have destroyed our family if our relationship wasn’t as solid as it is. Instead of crumbling, we became stronger. As the storms blew in, we wrapped layer after layer of love around us and became impenetrable. This could never of happened if we didn’t like each other so much. Who could stand to be wrapped in all those layers if they were made of  sandpaper? Choose to wrap yourself in cashmere. Life is full of intensity; it is guaranteed. You’d be smart to make yourself comfortable.

People talk themselves into staying in relationships all the time: “If s/he only did _____, everything would be perfect.”   “S/he’s just really stressed right now”. One of my friends once uttered the classic whopper: “I think he’ll settle down once we have kids”…painful divorce.

They never just stop to think about how they really feel about the person, deep down. Truth is, they are a little scared to discover the truth. But it is there. It is always there. You just have to have the guts to look for it. Don’t be afraid to ask the two most basic, yet essential, questions:

1.”Do I like this person?” and 

2.”Does this person like me?”

Ridiculously obvious, I know, but critical. Never once in 22 years has your Dad made me feel bad about or doubt myself. 

Not once. He likes me. I’d let all my chips ride on it.

Do not, under any circumstances, settle for good enough. You, as your own person, need to feel complete on your own. You need to feel confident that you would be just fine to live your life with only yourself to keep you company. You have to like you: fully and completely,  inside and out. You need to know you deserve the very best and settle for nothing less.

How do you cultivate such magnificent self esteem?  Do what you love. Find out what makes you feel good inside and selfishly pursue it. Think about you first. I know it goes against a lot of the advice out there, but as I said before, I got this one. Now, this doesn’t mean go be a total asshole. It just means you should never make excuses  for taking care of yourself. Always be considerate of and kind to others, but never compromise what is important to you. Pay attention to what you feel in your heart. Do what makes you smile and makes you feel really, really great. Think about the airplane analogy: when the air masks drop from the ceiling, get yourself some oxygen first, then you’ll be capable of  helping the ones you love. Make sure you love yourself first, before you ask another to do the same. 

When your dad and I met, neither one of us was looking for “the one”. We were both right in the middle of getting our degrees and the course load was intense. We were so focused on doing something were cared about,  neither one of us was looking outside of ourselves for completion. We just happened to meet up during a break in semesters and started to hang out. And while we were hanging out, we had fun. The best kind of fun: the kind where you laugh so hard your cheeks hurt and tears come to your eyes. The kind of fun you want to last forever. It just felt so good to be together, we wanted to hang out all of the time. And so we did, for 22 years and counting.
Sounds so great you want to go out and find it immediately, right? Well, if you are actively “looking for the one”, just knock it off. Call off the search. Searching is not how you find it. Instead, go out and do something that makes you happy.  When you feel great about yourself and are content just being you, the “one” will  magically appear. You will attract another who feels the same way about themselves and that match will be a powerful one. Like two strong magnets. 

Do not underestimate attraction.  You need to be attracted to your mate. If the spark isn’t there, it isn’t there. You cannot grow a spark, yet it is essential to the formula. Attraction can be an illogical thing, so don’t waste your time analyzing it. You can be dating the best looking person you have ever seen or the kindest person on the planet, but something just doesn’t click- you don’t feel that chemistry; the pheromones just ain’t flowing. On the flip side, the person you are attracted to does not have the physical appearance that society would label as beautiful, but you find you cant stay away from them. Pay attention to these things! They really, really matter. How do you feel when you are around this person? Do you find yourself smiling without knowing it or do you feel a little flicker of annoyance starting in your gut? Just be honest with yourself. Deep down the answer is right there. Does this person do it for me or not? Trust your gut.
You have the wisdom. You just have to be willing to acknowledge it.

A loving relationship feels good. It makes you happy. It makes you smile. When you are truly in love, you will feel like you are going to burst with joy. Yes, I’m telling you, this does happen. It is not a fairy tale.  It is the most amazing feeling and it really does happen

So go forth my dear child. Find out who you are and what you love and when the time is right, the love of your life will appear.

Listen to me. I know.

Then…

 

 

…and Now