Wednesday, December 29, 2010

On lotteries and life

Seemed an appropriate title, given that today, thanks to a great contact found on Twitter, we had a free photo shoot with a lovely local photographer.  Its just one of the amazing experiences I have gleaned from this little microblogging site, and I cannot understate the role it had in my life in 2010.

And what a year it was. All one has to do is read my blog this past year to know that this was hands down the most eventful, monumental, exceptional years of my life, and one that rocked the foundation upon which the prior 37 years had been based.

But it's all good, people, it's ALL GOOD.

Because, as painful and heartbreaking as the year was, it was also the most beautiful, and it culminated in the arrival of our delicioius twin girls, Alexandra and Hailey. Life at its most incredible, and most fragile, was illustrated to us.  Life at its most resilient and death-defying, was also illustrated.  And through it all, we have a new and healthy family. 

This year also crystalized for me my awareness of the incredible community of family and friends we have backing and supporting us as we tackle life's unique challenges.  What can be said about this support except that we are very, very fortunate people.  As far as I am concerned, we have won the global lottery where we are and with what we have.  It's not overstated or sentimental; it is fact.

And so...while I don't have a lot of time to summarize what has happened, I can flash back to this time, and know that moving forward it will make me appreciate the incredible moments that are already stacking up.

My only wish is that others have such experiences.  Happy New Year everyone...may it be wondrous, new, and ground-breaking, as ours will be.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The first Noel

What can you say when all your dreams come true, and then you celebrate on your favourite day of the year?  Just...awesome. 

Yes, this year's Christmas was amazing.  Certainly I got some great gifts and we ate well (take a look at my hubby's white chocolate creme brulee made from scratch - it is seriously better than any I have had in restaurants...), but the real element of sparkle came from having two healthy, cute and very very special little girls in our life now.  That, and spending the entire day with Grandma and Grandpa was an extra special bonus, as they are normally down in Arizona this time of year.  (We won't discuss the fact that they are leaving soon to head down to where the sun shines every single's going to be so hard for all of us, and Skype will be our friend so that the connection is still there).

Yes, we have an amazing community of support around us, and are so lucky.  So very lucky.

Here are a couple shots of the girls in their various Christmas-themed outfits.  It takes your breath away to see them sometimes, they are so cute.  (Photos don't do them justice - they take after their Mama in that respect - MUCH better in person!)...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Alluring, Intriguing, Diverse

Am I boring you?

I honestly don't know if I will talk about anything other than Motherhood and my twin girls ever again.  I feel like there is nothing else to talk about (and honestly, in my little world right now, there honestly isn't anything else), but that I MUST be driving everyone batty.  I mean, just look at the onslaught of photos I have been posting here.  Interesting to quickly look at, but kinda one-dimentional, no?

Just randomly thinking about when, if ever, I will be interesting again, and have something else to say. 

Until's gonna be posts about breastfeeding, poopy diapers, and two special angels who are the nucleus of my life right now.  Hope you are okay with that...

Monday, December 13, 2010

All about Alex - a.k.a. The Nipple Ninja

In all the hubub about Hailey and her stint in CHEO (almost seems like a dream, that first month, already), I have always had it in my head that I want to write a great blog post about our 'first born', Miss Alexandra.  After all, for the first days after birth, she was an extension of me - in my arms, on my boob or within eyeshot at all times.  She, while keeping me somewhat sleepless, was what kept me sane in those first days, and even now, she may have a strong personality and provide plenty of challenge, but she is strong (over 8 1/2 pounds already) and sweet and, um, a voracious eater.

Yes, my friends, Alex is cute as all hell, but feeding her has, from the beginning, kept this new Mom on her toes (or curling her toes, more precisely).  Very early on we dubbed her the Nipple Ninja, and boy does she earn that moniker.

The first 72
Let's go back in time shall we?  You have by now all read my account of the intense abdominal gas pains I suffered after the c-section?  No?  Well, it's a great read my friends - very elegant time of my life, let me tell you!

What that post didn't cover off is the first forays into breastfeeding.  What I have learned about breastfeeding, folks, could fill many pages.  All babies are different, of course, but you can expect I will write some sage words eventually about the entire experience with tips for new moms and especially moms of twins. But until then, let's discuss Alex on the boob (I'm sure later in life, she will love to know I wrote this).

Alex, from the start, knew how to suck.  Anything.  Hard.  Even today, she attacks anything that comes close to her mouth with the fervour of a water-deprived man lost in the desert.  She doesn't wait with an open mouth, close, and then sets her sights on the target and the minute there is contact, she's off and running.  That mouth continues to suck long after items are taken away. And if you stick your finger in her mouth, you may have a burst blood vessel or it may turn purple. 

So what did this do to my virgin nipples?  Tore them wide open my friends.  Like shards of glass being raked across the underside of the tender vessels, it took only one day for Alex to draw blood from one nipple and seriously risk the health of the other, even with all the nurses and lactation consultants' assistance.  It was quite the introduction to breastfeeding, and I laugh at the thought of the books upon books I read in preparation for breastfeeding.  Thought I had a good handle on things. HA.

Today, it's still comical to put her up to my boobs.  It's a bit of a dance we do, Mommy waiting to see the mouth start to open, and Alex ready to pounce and begin the fight for milk immediately.  Quite funny to see how I have to shove her into place and mash her into the boob all in the name of self-protection.  But.  She has no trouble eating.

Some shots of Alex from that time:

Chaotic environments do not breed happy babies
So yes, the first three days in the hospital were a nightmarish dream, but we got through it together, and although my milk didn't come in for four days and my little one was starving (it's insane to realize how biologically this all works - this is normal???), I was using a nipple shield and pumping like the dickens to try make things happen.  Then, we (three of us) went home.  And by home, I mean mostly CHEO. Actually, upon discharge, we went over there instead of home.  A sign of things to come.

Alex was a trooper.  For a full month she was carted back and forth between CHEO and my parents' place, loaded into her car seat, sleeping in her stroller bassinette, dragged over to The General for jaundice testing (yup - dealt with that too). We definitely got our money's worth out of our City Select stroller, which never missed a day with us. Good thing that babies don't see that far in front of their faces - what a dull, boring start to her life, those visually uninspiring hospital rooms!

How did this all affect her?  Well, for one, Mommy was exhausted and stressed, there was no real schedule to speak of, and I truly believe she was missing her sister.  She seemed to be very unhappy unless in the arms of one of either Mommy, Daddy, Grandma or Grandpa, and many a day ended up in the arms of the NICU nursing staff as I was trying to spend time with Hailey, and needed a break from her demands. 

In that first two weeks, Alex, who started very sweetly, became at times inconsolable, staying up sometimes for 8 or more hours in a stretch, screaming for something, but we didn't know what.  Turns out the stress, exhaustion and rough start meant that slowly my milk was decreasing.  My little girl was getting hungrier and hungrier. 

Let me tell you everyone, it's a very bad feeling indeed to know that you have been starving your child.  The stress and the guilt is immense, and you feel so damn powerless to control any of it. 

Thus, we were forced to supplement with formula.  Hard not to see this as a failure, but I'm hard on myself sometimes... What happened next was yet another hiccup/learning in this crazy road.  We started OVER feeding her!  As aforementioned, Miss Alex loves to eat.  Anything. And doesn't seem to stop when she's full.  So then, we had yet another inconsolable baby with gas and stomach pains from overeating!  Thank god we figured that out and then scaled back.  Now, we have discovered what is a normal amount for her size and try to hold her to that as much as possible, although it is still a crapshoot when you don't know how much milk you have in your breast, then supplement.  But it seems to be working...mostly!

Moving out of the hospital and into Grandma and Grandpa's house, and shots of our times at CHEO all together:

Chapter Four
And so here we are today, on December 11, a little over 5 weeks since the babies were born, and we have finally moved home.  We did extensive renovations on our home, a new leather sectional and new shutter blinds were delivered and installed while we were living elsewhere, and we have our babies home with us. 

Alex is cosily ensconced in her new crib in the nursery, and has slept VERY well since we got home - a sign that she knows the bruhaha is done?  Time will tell, but she looks lovely tucked up in there, dim lighting keeping her company and her proud parents resting comfortably downstairs on the new leather sofa.  Sister Hailey is sleeping softly in her crib in our bedroom (the two girls are on very different feeding schedules and methods with very different sleeping habits at the moment, so we figured this would work best for now - we'll see moving forward what we want to do).

So Mommies - what have your experiences been with breastfeeding?  What personalities did your little ones have at first, and did those personalities continue to develop along the same vein, or did they change over time?  Just curious...

Monday, December 6, 2010

What's the word on the beach, you ask?

Oh, how I miss my blog!  As I sit here at my parents' dining room table, I have one baby not sleeping and starting to fuss in her playpen, another being fed with dual effort of Dad and Grandpa, and Grandma trying to get dinner going.  What am I doing?  Well, I am trying to cluster-pump to try get ahead of the game, as each 3 hour period, I try to fit in feeds to little Alex, as well as pump enough for Hailey's feeds.  I have been playing catch-up ever since they used all my frozen stores at CHEO for her overnight feeds.  It's stressful, since I absolutely HAVE to pump a minimum of a certain amount each 3 hours, and the stress has sometimes limited my supply (not to mention lack of sleep, lack of food and not always hydrating enough).

I will say this about that...breastfeeding is by far the hardest thing I have ever done.  Bar none.  It's worth it, but boy...with twins, it's a crazy, crazy never-ending job.

On Friday, December 3, exactly one month after the twins' birth, Hailey was released from the CHEO hospital. It was a long day, as the night before was a bad night for babies in the Ottawa area, and what was a relatively calm NICU became over-booked with new admissions.  This meant that morning 'rounds', where all the amazing medical staff (dieticians, resperatory technicians, nurses, pediatricians, neonatologists, etc.) review each case and discuss the treatment plans for the next 24 hours took an incredibly long time.  It also meant that the pediatrician who had to go through our Hailey's files for her release could not get to it until late in the day.  It was a long, chaotic day.  In fact...a long chaotic month, which I do believe has heavily affected Alex. More on Alex to come.

So yes.  Hailey was released, and by all accounts her recovery was remarkable.  The previous post that outlined her surgery reveals how extensive the abdominal reconfiguration was, and the fact that our only challenge in the end was to get her to gain weight through feeds is incredible.  One of these days I will chart the timeline and put it down to see the whole picture, but it is all testament to the incredible work of Hailey herself, but the incredible CHEO staff.  On our departure, we left behind a big gift basket filled with sweets and chocolates to make their shifts a bit better over the next few days, but nothing can truly compensate for what they did to save my little one's life.  Such an incredible team of selfless and loving people I have never met.  What they do is so hard, yet it makes such a massive difference.

Now, for the first time ever, we are back at Grandma and Grandpa's house, and I haven't had to go ANYWHERE for the last two days.  It feels GREAT to just be here, in the moment.  Later this week we begin the move back to our home in Kanata and by the weekend, we will finally be in our home.  It will still be really hard, but it will be normal.  Gawd I love the sound of that. 

And who knows?  Maybe I will be able to blog once in a blue moon, if all the stars align and I have a free moment.

Thanks to everyone for all their support, love, prayers and congratulations.  What a ride!

Here are a few shots from our last day:

New socks for both Hailey and for Alex (outfits came later, but ultimately, Hailey ended up in a fresh sleeper.  There was, uh, an incident, let's call it, with Grandpa on the scale which we were using as a change table...) Can you tell who is who?

Dylan the dragon and some friends all packed up and ready to go.

Grandma in the isolation room (our 'hotel' room over the final three days where this Mom was trying to ensure Hailey got enough nourishment to grow and gain weight in order to go home).

Mommy holding Hailey just before her release.

Hailey loaded into her car seat for her first trip out of the hospital - the air is good there, but fresh is best!!!

Daddy ready to roll with both his little girls. 

What all parents of CHEO babies pray for...

And when we got home, Mommy gave Hailey her first bath, then wrapped her in her duckie blanket.  The heart melts...


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pump up the jam, baby!

So it finally happened. Sometime last night they ran out of my breastmilk to feed Hailey, and had to give her her first dose of formula. She didn't like it.

Neither did momma, who thought there was plenty in the freezer at CHEO as a backup, but apparently they had been going through it like an undisciplined, unsupervised child opening gifts on Christmas morning.

I was upset.

Crazy to be upset about this, I know, since the nurses infirm me it's almost unheard of that no supplements have been needed so far with twins in different places, but still...I was annoyed. And frankly? I've kinda had enough of the pumping. It's uncomfortable - borderline painful sometimes, and you feel like a cow hooked up to a Beatrice milking machine. Hell, if I WERE a cow, at least I could go to the washroom while being pumped!

But... We are in the homestretch now. Hailey is doing great, and is either being fed a bottle with MOSTLY breastmilk overnight by the nurses and is exclusively on my breast during the day. We are really close to blowing this Popsicle stand...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

When gas leaks are good things

Or, alternately, what I didn't know about c-sections going into the surgery.

Last night, while feeding little Alex (because really, if I'm not feeding her, I'm pumping or trying to sleep), we finally connected our video camera to the big screen tv in my Dad's man-cave to view the footage taken of the delivery. Wow. Powerful stuff...and surreal too. Something we'll keep within the family, likely, but it also called to mind the first 72 or so hours after the delivery (or shall we just call a spade a spade and say surgery?)

You see, no one told me that abdominal surgery can often be accompanied by intense gastro-intestinal distress. No one said "you will have trouble with gas and be unable to poop, causing potentially mind-alteringly alarmingly painful cramps, so horridly powerful that they spread up your back, through your entire torso and even up to your shoulders where, ultimately, you won't be able to even lift your arms for the shooting pain."

Yeah... No one told me about that.

Flashback to 1992. I was playing varsity waterpolo at Carleton University. What does this have to do with that? Well...I was notorious for gulping water and air during games, and then, after a night on the town with teammates drinking gas-inducing beer, holding onto my farts, causing intense gas-pains so bad that by night's end, I would curl up in a fetal ball on my bed and cry, waiting for the air to move through my system and come out the appropriate end.

So. It stands to reason that, Uh, the after-delivery experience for me was characterized not only by issues learning to breastfeeding, stress worrying about a sick baby in CHEO, but also an indescribable pain from built-up gas emissions that only started to clear out a bit the day of my discharge from the hospital. Not fun, my friends, not fun.

Still, worth it, of course, but I don't think I will look back on the first few days as an amazing time. Just necessary to get to the real fun.

You will be happy to know that mommy is now filling the atmosphere without hesitation with gaseous outputs. All is good.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

My daughter: My hero

This post was supposed to go up yesterday, the one week anniversary of baby Hailey’s surgery. As per the norm these days, I couldn’t get to it, and likely won’t finish writing this in the time I have allowed for it today either, as I have to run shortly to take baby Alexandra to her 2 week doctor’s appointment.

As I sit here in the ‘pod’ at CHEO, I can hear the not-so-coarse anymore cries of my little Hailey, who as of this morning is off oxygen and breathing room air for the first time since her birth. She is still being fed by a tube, but Mother’s milk at a higher and higher dosage every day. I found out today that it will be another 5 days or so of increasing this continuous feeding method before they will be looking at starting regular feedings (i.e. larger amounts all at once).

Alexandra is here in her bassinette stroller, sleeping, but increasingly restless – it will be again time for more boobage shortly, and so maybe this blog won’t be as detailed as I would like, and frankly, I want to hold my little girl one more time before I have to skip out.

So as this title says, my daughter is my hero. There is no other way to describe the fight she has in her, and her tolerance of all she has been through. The photos will show it all. What started as an initial cry and big deep breath at birth (great for Mom and Dad to hear, but VERY bad for Hailey and the nurses who then had to decompress the lungs and remove the air from her stomach and bowels) has progressed past a number of days of stabilization, surgery five days after birth on Monday, November 8, an initial feeding trial only two days after surgery (which was regurgitated several hours later), then continuous small feedings that Friday which have progressed from 1ml/hr at that point to now 5ml/hr with another 1ml/hr added every 12 hour period. Her ventilation tube was removed on Saturday, her medications were completely weaned down on Sunday, and all signs are very, very good.

Here are some shots before her surgery. The first was shot by Art in the OR right after she was intubated.

This shot is the first time Mommy got to see or touch her little hero. She was only there for what seemed like a moment, then carted off to CHEO. Daddy went with her. It was excruciating, but necessary.

Then came the first 72 hours after Mom's surgery.  Trying to nurse. Trying to recover. Trying to make my way over somehow to CHEO without being allowed to bring big sister Alex.  And the little I did get there, this is what I saw...a damn cute little helpless, but tough baby girl, with tubes coming out of what seemed like every area on her tiny body.  Hard to look at, and yet we knew this was what was necessary to save her.  To stabilize her for just long enough to get ready for a crazy 'work over' to come.  We didn't know how long she would need to be in this state, drugged and intubated, and waiting, but in the end it was only 5 days.  A small amount of time, a lifetime...

Then, surgery day.  What can I say about surgery day, November 8?  Hell on earth? We won't get into the emotional roller coaster, but here, in a nutshell, is the overview of what 'technically' happened.

The Surgery

The surgery was scheduled for 11 am on November 8, just 5 days (albeit long days) after Hailey’s birth. She had been stable almost continuously and so everything was looking great in terms of her readiness for what was to be a major reworking of her organs. We hadn’t met until then with the surgeon, and so it was literally right before her surgery that we met with our exceptional surgeon. We were shocked to see that he was younger than we were. Very soft-spoken, and when we asked for him to draw out a diagram of what the situation was and what he was going to be doing, he obliged. One day I will scan that image and put up a post about it, but in the meantime, we have something even more incredible…an x-ray of the before and after.

In the before shot (above) you will see that essentially all the bowels, stomach, intestines, and even the spleen and part of her liver are all stuffed up in her left lung cavity (the black masses). The left lung, inside the cavity, is collapsed in behind all the other organs, and her heart, which is supposed to be kinda in the middle of her chest cavity, has been squished over to the right, displaced.

And here is the after shot. All her organs have been moved down and into place, and if you see the left lung cavity, you can see the faint outline of her left lung, partially expanded. Eventually her lung will fill this cavity as it grows and gets stronger, and the heart has already started to migrate over to its proper position.
One of the biggest concerns of the surgery was the discovery of how large the hernia/hole actually was, and whether or not there would be enough surrounding muscle tissue to close up the hole without introducing artificial prostheses. If they were able to patch the hole without the artificial patch, her likelihood of re-herniation and complications would be greatly limited. Turns out, although the hole was considered quite large, there was enough tissue there to patch it together, and so the prognosis was excellent. From there, the next question was going to be “Are all the organs fully developed and functioning as they should be?” Time would tell on that front.

Oh, and I should mention that while meeting with the surgeon, I did ask him directly if he had had a good sleep and confirmed that he had not gone out for drinks with his buds the night before. Although asked in a joking manner, I was dead serious. We all have bad days at work, right? The nurse afterward was flabbergasted that I actually came out and asked that question.

So here we are, 10 days after her surgery, and she is up to 9 ml/hr of Mommy’s breast milk. She is also being held by Mom, Dad and even Grandma and Grandpa these days, and as of this morning, I have been told I am allowed to put her to my breast to help her learn to breastfeed. I can’t say what this means to me, as I was so nervous that she would learn to feed through a bottle first and not know how to latch. I can’t wait.

So I guess that means I want to wrap this up. I have some feeding to do – both of Alex and of Hailey. Will try get another blog post done shortly, but given this took 4 days to finish (and I still have to format and upload pix), we’ll see.

Here are some more shots of Hailey at various stages after the surgery.

And then the ventilation tube came out, and stuff slowly got removed from her body.  Starting with the ventilation tube!

What a fighter. What a survivor.
My daughter: my hero.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

So...yeah...announcing the arrival of our baby girls!

Exactly one week later, I'd like to finally announce the arrival of baby Alexandra Patricia, 7 pounds, 6 ounces, born on November 3rd at 11:38 a.m., and her little twin sister Hailey Elizabeth, 5 pounds, 12 ounces, born at 11:39.

I'm sitting here as I write this at the side of little Hailey, in the yellow 'pod' in the NICU at CHEO, after a week that is almost indescribable, but that ultimately will be the most momentous of my life. Followed closely by each successive week to come, I'm sure. Already today, only two days after her surgery, I just had the heart-bursting privilege of feeding my lovely survivour her first taste of Mommy's milk. Although through a syringe and into her tummy through a tube, it finally felt like a contribution to her life outside the womb that no one else could offer. Love in liquid form. Overwhelming.

So. Yes. Let's be honest here. I'm in love with two different ladies and a man and have been trying desperately to manage all these relationships while still retaining some physical and emotional sanity. I have plenty of love to go around, but not enough physicality or time on the clock. Every day has been a day of firsts. Each crazy event is a blog post just waiting to happen, and each minute is another where I have been saying...oh gosh...I gotta remember this; it'll be a great story. But I have to find time. At this moment, I finally have a full afternoon to spend here at CHEO, and every second that I write this post is a second I lose from reading Hailey a story or holding her hand. Baby Alex is in the family lounge with Grandma and Grandpa, waiting sleepily for more boobage, and after that, Mommy will have to pump for more milk for Hailey before she can go back to 'hang' with Hailey again. Still haven't figured out how to nap. When Alex naps and still get some time with Hailey, but hoping to get a slower pace going now.

Wish me luck, andknow that I have a mountain of posts to come, and one day will find my way to a damn computer to get off this iPhone and get some writing done.

But let's just leave it at this. Life is a wondrous, magnificent, heart-wrenching and bursting journey. We are all blessed, and if we have love and health, we ought never to be unhappy.

And, it seems, on this iPhone, I can't go over this post to edit. Hope the typos aren't too bad... Will fix later

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A poem of love and welcome

Tumbling, squirming
punching, kicking
you grew from nothing
but the love and desire
of two who want you
love you
more than you will ever know

Inside, you two together
make me laugh
worry, pee and smile
so safe and cozy
but life isn't and so
you must join us, tomorrow
where we'll be here for you every day thereafter

You may not know it
but you are the core
of all that we are
and all that is beautiful
in life
worth any and all
heartbreak, fear, sacrifice, risk

Convinced of  your strength
and with our conviction
that you will fight
for every breath
for life
an army of love
is behind you both

Welcome, my twins
meeting you both
will be powerful
the biggest event ever to take place
in our lives, and the start
of your amazing journeys

Sunday, October 31, 2010

It's the Great DANCING Pumpkin BELLY Charlie Brown!

I made it.  I said that if I made it to Hallowe'en, there'd be a Jack O' Lantern belly painting session, and I didn't lie.  Here, as my first video post EVER, thanks to our new video camera. Enjoy the dancing, giggling belly...

And here are a few shots of the work in progress, the artist at work, and the artist and her muse together.  A fun afternoon and something to pass the time and celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime experience.  (And yes...the belly is literally the size of a large pumpkin - would fetch at LEAST $6 on the market!  And yes, I also realize that I could make a joke about cutting into it too, but I won't go there...)

(Scary angle)

Happy Hallowe'en everyone - may your candy be sweet and your cavities scarce!!!