on “pregnancy abs”: NOPE

Being pregnant is a very strange experience. I would say “out of body” but it’s really the opposite: it’s deeply embodied. The physical reality of gestating two humans inside of my rapidly changing body radically and forever altered my relationship to myself. When we saw that second blob on an ultrasound screen and learned we were having twins, my husband’s oh-so-charming first words, with tears of joy in his eyes, were “you’re gonna get SO BIG.” He squeezed my hand supportively. I did not murder him because I was in too much shock.

Thus began a 9 month funhouse of physicality. There was never a moment in all that time that my body, my physical self, wasn’t somehow on my mind. I watched my belly and boobs expand, smeared my stretching, itchy skin with lotion, and wondered if I’d get stretch marks. I saw my belly button pop out, never to go back to its innie state. I felt surges of hormones and nausea. In my sleep, I snored like a chainsaw and drooled like a fountain. I discovered that restless leg syndrome wasn’t invented by a drug company but is in fact a very real thing that makes you contemplate DIY-amputation in the middle of the night just to get some relief and rest. I felt my sciatic nerve like never before. I had some of the best hair days of my life. I discovered two babies is enough to make a uterus officially, diagnostically “irritable.” I was constantly aware of the fullness of my bladder and its relationship to my insatiable thirst. I discovered that literally everything caused heartburn.

Strangers noticed my physicality, too, and decided I was an object fit for comment. By mid-pregnancy, everywhere I went, people looked at me like a baby might just FALL OUT at any moment. Sometimes they stopped in their tracks and just said “WHOA” as I waddled by.

But this experience, as mortal as it made me feel, was also deeply liberating. I was both bound by my oh-so-human frame and completely freed from many of my previous hangups. I focused on my diet more than ever before, not in an effort to lose weight, but because I was worried about preterm labor and wanted to grow my twins as big as I could before they would arrive, however soon that might be. I largely relinquished control over my looks and just reveled in my midsection’s seemingly unstoppable growth. I actively tried to gain a pound a week, which felt downright radical in a culture that seems to think women should constantly and forever be working to lose weight.

And then when my babies did come, I was far too busy and too tired to give a flying fig about “losing the baby weight” or “getting my body back.” Thank God.

All of which to say, screw the idea that “pregnancy abs” are something any gestating human should be worrying about. There is now literally no point in a woman’s life where she’s given a break from cultural expectations about her appearance. I went from “too tiny to be having twins” to “so big I must be about to deliver any minute” without a single “acceptable” moment in between. But most of the time, I didn’t even care, because I was enjoying a hiatus from listening to or caring about those voices. I got to experience my body as a body, just doing its bodily thing in a way that was life-changing. I am now more in touch with my physical self, and more admiring of its ability to do what it has to do to keep me and others alive and growing, and I feel downright ragey at the idea that any other woman needs to spend a single precious second of her pregnancy (or any of the rest of her life) worrying about her ABS.

If you’re one of those women who can run races while massively pregnant because that is what you love to do and it makes you feel good in your body? More power to ya. If you’re like me and pregnancy is hugely exhausting and physically draining and just managing to walk feels like winning an Olympic gold medal? More power to you, too. Our bodies are unique, amazing, and OURS. How they should look isn’t anyone else’s business.

Why I Go Red for Women: I’m a Survivor

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Today is National Wear Red Day for the Go Red for Women campaign from the American Heart Association. I’m wearing my red, not just because I think heart health is important, or because I know that heart disease is the #1 killer of women (heart disease and stroke kill 1 in 3), but because this fight is personal for me: I’m a survivor. Not just in a Beyonce sense, but as a literal actual survivor of a congenital heart defect, a cardiac pregnancy complication, and heart failure.

On April 1, 2012, I was three days post-c-section. My recovery had gone slower than most, and I was still in the hospital, a fact for which I now thank God. In the wee hours of the morning, I woke up and finally felt strong enough to try to walk the few feet from my hospital bed to the bathroom. It felt triumphant. My husband assisted me, one of our new babies nearby in a bassinet*. But as I inched my way back to my hospital bed, every inch of my recently-ripped-apart abdomen screaming in pain, I found it hard to catch my breath. “I can’t breathe,” I said to Jon. He’s an ER doctor, and his mantra is generally “if you can talk, you can breathe,” so he helped me back into bed and told me to relax and catch my breath. But even after sitting down, it was getting harder and harder to fill my lungs with air. Continue reading “Why I Go Red for Women: I’m a Survivor”

the #1 thing I want you to know about Spina Bifida isn’t about folic acid

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It’s apparently folic acid awareness week. Which means I’m on my soapbox again.

It started when I saw the posts from the Spina Bifida Association on Facebook, again letting their audience of people who already have SB in their lives know that SB can sometimes be prevented by making sure women of childbearing age are getting enough folic acid even before they become pregnant, as neural tube defects happen so early in a pregnancy that by the time you miss your period and start taking your prenatal vitamins, it’s too late. But I have a feeling if you’re following the SBA on Facebook, you already know that.

Continue reading “the #1 thing I want you to know about Spina Bifida isn’t about folic acid”

I wish the SBA would shut up about folic acid

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One of the most important things I want to instill in Claire is a confidence that she is healthy and whole, just as she is. Spina Bifida, while not something we chose, has been part of her life from the beginning, and will always be part of her life. We can’t change the past, but we can focus on the present and the future, which are both bright, full of joy and discoveries and yes, also challenges and pain– just like everyone else’s life, too, with or without SB.

What frustrates me is, it seems the Spina Bifida Association doesn’t always share this mindset. I follow them on social media, and I regularly see these kinds of posts pop up in my feeds:  Continue reading “I wish the SBA would shut up about folic acid”

so, you just found out you’re having twins…

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Dear couple staring in disbelief at an ultrasound image of TWO babies,

Hi. You might be feeling a lot of feelings right now, and those feelings may be giving you other feelings too. Like, maybe you’re a little bummed out and the difference between how you feel and how excited everyone else seems to be about this twins thing might be making you feel a little guilty on top of the whole feeling bummed thing. I know.

Continue reading “so, you just found out you’re having twins…”

the heart of a mother

On Mother’s Day, I had the amazing experience of reading part of my story in the Listen To Your Mother Show here in Little Rock. Now, even if you weren’t there, you can see my story and the rest of the amazing stories from around the country, thanks to the magic of the internet and You Tube. Today, I’m posting my story here, but I encourage you to watch some of the other videos too, from Little Rock and around the country. And, coming soon, for the first time, my husband will share his version of this story, both from the perspective of the man who was holding our baby girl next to my bed when I went into heart failure, and from the perspective of a doctor, who probably would have intubated me himself while we waited for the code team to arrive, if there had been a crash cart nearby. Luckily, he didn’t have to. Blessedly, all was well.

Here’s the story of how I discovered I have the heart of a mother:

Call Professor X, I’m a Mutant

Many of you are probably aware of the fact that I almost died three days after I had my babies. I experienced an often-fatal complication called peripartum cardiomyopathy, something I had never heard of until it happened to me, but according to The Daily Beast is actually on the rise. The first sentence of that piece, where the woman describes feeling like her head was being held underwater, just felt so true to what I experienced as well– I often describe it to people as feeling like I was drowning inside my own body. As my heart went into failure, my lungs literally began to fill with fluid, and I could actually hear it crackling as I struggled to breathe, before I was sedated and intubated and moved to the ICU. Thank GOD I was still in the hospital 3 days postpartum, because there was a code team ready to save me. If I had not asked for one more day inpatient to work with the lactation consultant on breastfeeding, I could have very easily been at home, where I might have died. (After my near-death, I was put on some serious medicines which meant my breastfeeding days were over, but you could say that my desire to breastfeed saved my life!)  Continue reading “Call Professor X, I’m a Mutant”

two years ago, there were TWO

On this day in history, Jon and I went to my first prenatal appointment. 8 weeks pregnant, and so excited to hear our baby’s heartbeat and get the official confirmation that we were indeed having a baby.

Because the doctor was a friend, she gave us a quick ultrasound so we could peek at the baby. She jiggled the wand a bit and showed us a little blob inside a bigger blob on the screen. “There’s your baby,” she said. We heard the thump thump thump of the heartbeat. We watched the blob for a bit, tears in our eyes, and then she jiggled the wand again and said the words that I will never forget:

“And now we’re going to take a look over here at baby number two.”

I said: “SAY WHAT?”

And sure enough, there was another little blob inside a bigger blob, thump thump thumping away.

My sweet husband, who had suspected he saw another blob before the doctor showed me, well, his first words on the subject were, “You’re going to get soooooo big,” squeezing my hand.

I just kept saying “WHAT?!”

Twins had not even been on my radar. It never even occurred to me to think or fear the possibility. On the way out of the doc’s office, we started calling friends and family, and to a person, they all thought we were joking. I kinda felt like the universe was joking.

To anyone newly pregnant with twins out there, let me tell you, the shock is normal. I think we just kept saying “Holy shit,” to each other for a couple of months. And let me also say, it’s normal, I’ve learned, to have many complicated feelings about the whole twins thing. I really think I had to mourn the loss of a normal pregnancy, of the images I had in my mind of one newborn and a lot of snuggling and gazing into each other’s eyes. I only ever typed or thought of the word as “TWINS?!” for months. And some days I still can’t believe that I have two babies.

Mostly, though, I can’t imagine not having twins. There has never been one without the other, from the minute I saw them on that ultrasound screen. There is no Claire without Etta and no Etta without Claire. While I can honestly say that there is much of the exhausting early days I barely remember because of the mind-numbing sleepless HARD of it all, this twin gig keeps getting better. They ask for each other. They wake up talking to each other in the mornings. They tickle each other and hug each other and kiss each other, and yes, bop each other on the heads and steal each other’s toys and pull each other’s hair.

It’s been a crazy ride from blobs to baby buddies, but it’s also been a beautiful one. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

twins ultrasound 8 weeks

 

 

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looking back, seeing signs

A picture of me from the very start of my pregnancy, guzzling water, a pregnancy book beside me.
A picture of me from the very start of my pregnancy, guzzling water, a pregnancy book beside me.

I was just reminiscing on social media that this day two years ago was the day I woke up and confirmed what I suspected: I was pregnant. I had told a friend, Savannah, that I thought this might be the case, what with the sudden onset of fatigue, extreme thirst, and sore boobs, and she called me while I was still staring at the plus sign, which appeared IMMEDIATELY, completely freaking out. This is how she came to know I was pregnant before my husband did, because he was out on a 30 mile bike ride. I also believe I hung up on her abruptly when he walked in the door, and I remember saying “We’re having a baby!” and insisting he go look at the test on the bathroom counter. He took a picture of it, but don’t worry, I’m not the sort who posts pictures of things I’ve peed on online. That picture exists in one place now: a book I made for the girls about my pregnancy.

I remember the anticipation and excitement of that day. I sort of laugh at myself then, blissfully unaware that in a few short weeks, the TWINS?! bomb would be dropped on me, and all my visions of myself with my ONE BABY would go out the window.

I’d like to think I was picturing mornings like the one I just had two years later: waking up with the girls, bringing them into our bed for snuggles and bottles, moving to the den for playtime, getting Claire to her preschool where she went smiling into her teacher’s arms, returning home to Etta eating cereal with a spoon like a grown person while wearing red monkey pjs and watching Dumbo with her daddy.

I fired  up my laptop to write a blog post about the crazy ride I’ve had since then, and was slapped in the face with a great big SIGN.

Google is my homepage, as it is for zillions of people. And today’s Google doodle is a beauty– you should check it out. In honor of composer Claude Debussy’s birthday, his piece, “Clair de Lune” plays over a short animated film.

I had no idea it was Debussy’s birthday, but of course it is. Of course the day I found out I was pregnant is the birthday of the man who wrote the song that gave my Claire her name. You see, when we thought we were having ONE BABY, we were going to name her Etta Laine, after my grandmother LeaEtta and Jon’s grandmother Elaine. When we found out we would be having TWO girls, we decided to give each one a grandmother’s name, so they’d be Etta and Elaine. But I didn’t want them to have the same initials, so it was decided that we’d use Elaine as a middle for “baby B”. While we tried to think of a good first name, Jon sat at the piano, playing Debussy, a favorite of ours. He was playing “Clair de Lune” when he stopped and said, “What about Claire?” I loved it, thought Claire Elaine sounded lovely, and it was settled. (Etta’s middle name is Jane, for Jane Austen, a favorite author of mine who shares my birthday.)

And now, two years later, I find out the man who gave us the song that gave her her name was born on the day that my journey as a mother began.

It’s just perfect. It’s just a sign. It’s a little window into the story we’re living, often unawares.

These days, I hear “Clair de Lune” almost every night– it’s on the girls’ lullaby playlist.

Color Me…Bieber

Disclosure: The kind folks at Color Me Rad gave me a free spot in their colorful 5k, as well as a hat and a pair of socks. I was not required to post anything, and I haven’t even run the thing yet. Everything I’m about to say is 100% from me.

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I’ve come a long way in the last year. Just over 14 months ago, I had just birthed my two beautiful Bufflo Gals when I stopped breathing and wound up in the ICU on a ventilator. My official diagnosis was ultimately a congenital heart defect called left ventricle non-compaction syndrome, a defect in which the chamber of my heart that squeezes blood out into my body didn’t form correctly, so it doesn’t pump blood as efficiently as it should. This defect, which had never reared its head before, though I have had it since embryohood, apparently, was exacerbated by the stresses of twin pregnancy, pre-eclampsia, a c-section, and the fluids and blood I was given after surgery. Basically it was a perfect storm that landed me in congestive heart failure.

Still, over a year later, regularly taking my old man meds (seriously, I’m on a beta blocker and an ace inhibitor, the type of thing usually marketed to old men via commercials that feature things like fly fishing), and I’m doing great. My heart is functioning at a range that puts me into the “normal” zone. And as I keep up with two babies rapidly heading into toddlerhood, I’ve been thinking that I’m ready to be more active.

Enter my friend Kyran with a fun opportunity for some of us Little Rock bloggers to participate in a fun little thing called Color Me Rad. It’s a color run. It’s not a marathon, it’s not for a cause, it’s just for the joy of it. And for me, it’s a celebration marking an end to a year in which I considered myself sick, and a step into a life of health. I know I don’t have the stamina to run the whole thing at this point, but this is my kickoff. I plan to effing frolic, man, and I’m pleased to be doing this thing with the rest of team Rad News Bears: Kyran, Kerri, Amy, Sarabeth, Alison, Whitney, and Jacklyn.

If you’d like to join this little celebration, you can still sign up online for the Little Rock race through tonight, and after online registration closes tonight, you can sign up in person on Friday 10-7 at: Cardinal Health, 5426 Landers Road, Sherwood, AR 72117 (Next to the Tractor Supply Company).

Special bonus? I tried on my swag, and well, let’s just say I found my doppelganger:

bufflo and the biebs