Tandem Babies: My Almost-Twins
Common wisdom in the medical field these days is that a child really only NEEDS to be nursed until 12 months old, after which there's no measurable benefit to the child to continue.
Anyone who postulates this theory has never met Abby. Nursing is her security blanket, her favorite thing, her reward. If she had her way, she would still be nursed every two hours like clockwork and would have raisins or macaroni and cheese as a snack between bites. I considered weaning her when my milk supply ran out in the middle of Susannah's pregnancy, but put it off when I began trying and she was absolutely resistant to the idea. Oh well, I thought. There's still time.
Then Grandma Lila got sick, our house was completely torn apart and I had absolutely no ambition to make the determined effort to convince Abby to stop nursing. Poor baby - her whole world was being turned upside-down in every way possible and I wasn't so sure it was worth depriving her of nursing on top of it.
Tandem nursing is usually something reserved for twins or parents who really super-seriously believe in the benefits of mother's milk for their growing children. While I've heard lots of good things, I think I'm probably more of a lazy believer. I believe it's good because not only did God make a convenient way to feed babies that is perfectly geared toward their immature digestive systems, but it's free and comes easily to me. I can't give you statistics and studies and a breakdown of what's actually in the milk that makes it perfect for babies, but if nothing else I'm very happy with the convenience of it (except when I would like to wear nice dresses again). If Abigail had easily weaned before Susannah's birth, I would've been fine with that.
But she wasn't. So when Susannah entered the world, I learned a lot about tandem nursing. At first, every time Susannah needed to be fed, Abigail would be right there. She was so ecstatic there was milk again she pretty much quit eating real food for the first two weeks (and got fat in the process...go figure). This meant I spent much of Susannah's earliest life with my lap constantly full to overflowing with babies. I would wake up in the morning usually under a pile of babies. While Susannah usually only woke up twice in the night to nurse, Abigail still wanted to get up once or twice too. Logistically speaking, nursing two babies at once can be a little comical. It requires patience, a good tactical sense ("Now if I get Susannah settled first, Abigail can just squeeze in here...")...and extra pillows to make up for not having enough hands to hold everyone.
Most nursing moms of newborns feel as if that's all they're able to do. In my case, that really was about all I did for at least six weeks. Eat, feed babies, change diapers and sleep.
In the middle of this time-consuming process, something very special happened: Abigail started holding Susannah's hand while they were nursing. I would see two little sets of eyes looking at each other, one little hand clasping an even littler hand. Talk about a way to melt a mother's heart.
More than their ages, I think this decision - to nurse my babies together - has caused them to be more like twins than single babies. Abby is now always concerned that I do everything with my "two babies". She uses the phrase all the time. "Mommy hold two babies? Mommy nurse two babies? Mommy read to two babies?"
I have no idea what this extended nursing time really does for Abigail physically. Maybe pediatricians are right that there's no measurable benefit to the extra reassurance, cuddling, time and maybe even nutrition Abby is getting. But one thing is for sure: if I had followed the guidelines and weaned her at 12 months, we would've all missed out on a lot of particularly lovely moments and I doubt my two girls would be anywhere near as close as they are. It was a decision based on Abigail's spirit more than her body and I think that's ultimately what has been nurtured as a result. It's not something I planned to do or ever saw myself doing until it was time to do it, but tandem nursing my girls has been absolutely worth the extra effort.
Now to convince Abigail that she's getting to be a big girl and she really can eat plenty of delicious food without needing "milk for Abby" too..
I've done some website reorganizing and put pictures of both girls up for their one month and eighteen month birthdays. Abigail is here and Susannah is here - both tabs are under the "our blog" heading.
Abigail's slideshow is pretty long this time since it's covering six months instead of one...and what an eventful six months they were! She went from a crawling baby to a little girl who can walk, talk a little, feed herself, and now has curly hair. Not to mention becoming a big sister. Susannah's last six months have been just as eventful (hey, she managed to get big enough to survive on her own, which includes all her organs and such developing!), but since we have no photos of her for most of it, her slideshow is much shorter.
Both girls are doing well - Susannah is sleeping a lot, which is good because Abigail requires a lot of attention right now and it would be quite a handful juggling two busy kids at once. I'm a lot more relaxed with this newborn than the last one, something that comes from experience or just a different time in life (I don't worry Grandma is going to get upset about the baby crying this time...), though I can't really tell which. Whatever the case, though I am still getting quite a training in having patience, it is easier handling the two kids than I thought it was going to be. Though my state of mind on that does definitely depend on how many times the girls have gotten up before it was really time to get up!
We began sanding the wood floors at our house on Sunday, June 15th. Our goal was to get stain down by Thursday afternoon and allow it to dry over Saturday so we could put the first coat of finish on by Sunday morning, maybe even get a second coat on by that evening. The goal was to have the house airing out so we could get back in by the end of June. It was cutting things really close, but it seemed doable especially if the baby wasn't born until a week or so into July.
Then no one was able to work on the floor as anticipated, setting us back to staining on Friday - which would still work with our original schedule but we were a little concerned since we'd heard the stain sometimes didn't dry as quickly as it ought to. After running around looking for different (faster drying) stain, we eventually came to the conclusion that we should stick with our original color and type and accept the extra day. By Thursday we were doing the last sanding and moved next door to Mom and Dad Turner's house so that we wouldn't drop anything on the floor between the last sanding and the staining.
Friday morning we encountered a snag. One of the sanders being used on Sunday had apparently developed a problem with the drum and had been sort of bouncing during the sanding, which had caused a series of small trenches or divots in the floor. It wasn't very visible normally, but when we applied stain or finish it was going to be a big problem because both things would puddle in the divots and make them very obvious. After some debate, Aaron and Benjamin and Elizabeth spent a whole day resanding the floors. We were going to try to squeak in the coat of stain before sundown but eventually had to admit there was just not enough time. There was some talk about not doing the stain until Sunday or Monday, but I basically begged and pleaded for the staining to be done after dark on Saturday - which was no small request considering it was the longest day of the year and would mean we would be staining 900 square feet of wood floor starting around 10:00 at night.
It should be noted here that I was feeling very antsy about the time and concerned we weren't going to be done anywhere near in time for the baby to be born in the house. I was uneasy about the other options that we'd have to go with if we couldn't use our house. Ben began saying that perhaps it hadn't been a good idea to try to get the floors done, but at that point everything was moved out of our house and we were pretty committed; and there was still the issue of what we were going to do if we DIDN'T try to get the floors done. It could be another two months before we did anything and that would be two months of wear on an unfinished floor. I basically pushed the "what-ifs" out of mind and firmly decided the baby was going to be born on time or late. A person's mindset had a lot to do with what happened during labor or even when a person could go into labor, I told myself. And I was pretty determined not to have that baby if things weren't ready.
Thankfully, God had the timing of this all in hand. I was upset about an extra day of sanding. God was saying, "No really, let me handle this. You need to delay a day."
However, I wasn't really listening. I was pushing to get done. So on Saturday evening around sundown, I went next door and began doing the one part of the job I hadn't been banned from: using the swiffer to tack-cloth the floor one last time in preparation for staining. My family arrived around 9:45 and got to work, which included Benjamin running back to his house and cutting and preparing a lintel piece for the basement doorway since we'd forgotten it and it wasn't something that could be easily inserted after the staining and finishing was done everywhere else. Ben and I did a quick run to Meijer for snacks and more brushes since we didn't have enough for the number of people working. I was feeling very large and uncomfortable and tired, but that's par for the course at 9.5 months pregnant after having packed up and moved an entire household of stuff out of a house. I did not feel about to go into labor, though in retrospect I did have some clues that I ignored or chalked up to strain from doing a lot.
The stain was completed around midnight - and Ben was the last person out of the house in spite of the fact that it turns out he is unusually sensitive to the fumes from both the stain and the finish and he spent the night wheezing and coughing. We turned out lights and got everything set for the night and Ben said he hoped all the activity wasn't going to put me into labor. "I'm not going into labor," I said firmly. "I'm fine."
But I had a lot of trouble going to sleep since I was unusually uncomfortable. I tried getting up and taking some Tylenol and went back to bed, but by 3:30 knew that I was feeling a lot of achiness and cramping that had nothing to do with being tired and wasn't something benign like Braxton-Hicks contractions either. At that point I was so scared by the possibility of being in labor that I stubbornly closed my eyes and went to sleep telling myself that I was just tired and everything would be back to normal in the morning.
Abigail got up bright and early at 7:45 and climbed into bed to nurse, like she usually does. I was pleased and relieved to open my eyes and feel pretty good, even back to normal. "False alarm," I thought. "I really was just tired."
Then she started nursing and it triggered three very strong contractions back to back. Ouch. Not so normal after all.
I was still trying to ignore it, though. I finished nursing her and got up and got my bathrobe on and tried to get going on my usual morning routine. I didn't feel very good, though, and there was no denying I was having real contractions. Which, by the way, in my opinion are not the most painful thing I've ever felt but there's no denying they're uncomfortable. "I need to just take some more Tylenol and sit with my feet up," I thought. I'd had two episodes of false labor with Abigail and had tested it that way - and the contractions had stopped those times. So I tried it again this time. Ben realized something was up when he saw me taking Tylenol and got concerned when I had to admit what was going on. "Maybe it's just false labor," I said. "I'll just sit for a while and everything will probably just die down. I don't think I'm going to work on the yard today, though." (That'd been our plan for that day, since we couldn't do anything inside the house.)
"Do you think we should tell Mom and Dad?" Ben asked. I didn't want to. I really wanted the whole thing to just go away. But I reluctantly agreed that we ought to and I was relieved when Ben volunteered to take Abigail and make sure she got breakfast and was changed and dressed, etc. Ben brought me a pen and some paper and I began tracking the contractions. After about an hour, I finally had to break down and admit that with contractions every 7 - 10 minutes even after taking Tylenol and resting, this was no false labor.
At that point, plan B had to go into effect.
We'd prepared our room at home so that the birth supplies were organized and ready and the room itself was most ready except for the two large armchairs and the kitchen table, which could be easily moved. Ben and Dad went next door and began moving things around and putting paper down over the just-barely-dry floors. They opened all the windows and collected every fan they could get their hands on, including some from the neighbors, Dad went to the store and got an air purifier, and I called my mom and asked her to go to the store for the few things we still needed for our birth kit - including newborn diapers, which I'd planned on getting when we went grocery shopping that week but hadn't gotten yet. I had washed all the baby clothes and the covers for the swing and bouncy chair and so on, but we didn't have any diapers. Figures.
We also had to call our stand-by midwife, since our midwife still wasn't back from the short vacation she'd gone on. We'd thought there'd be plenty of time, but now it was clear there wasn't.
By the time I went back to our house - around noon - the stain smell in the house was barely noticeable and it was an absolutely beautiful Sunday afternoon. Part of me was actually a little regretful to be missing out on such a beautiful day since I was way too busy to be paying attention to it. Mom Turner didn't really believe me at first that I was having strong contractions, I think, because I was behaving relatively normally; but by noon things were starting to get serious and it looked like we were on track to have this baby much, much sooner than we'd had Abigail. As a matter of fact, by 5:00 we were just at the point of birth when we encountered the same problem we had with Abigail: the baby was stuck behind a bubble of the amniotic sac that refused to budge or break. At 9:30, after going through four hours of very strong contractions that weren't noticeably doing anything, I finally had to summon the gumption to work on forcing the birth to happen even though things weren't really cooperating. Someone took a picture about the time I was sitting in the birthing pool having to make that decision - I don't really remember sitting there with my head against the back and my eyes closed, but I do remember being so very tired and just wanting to lie down and take a good nap and knowing I had to have that baby first. I could hear my sisters talking to one of the midwives in the other room and had been fuzzily aware of most of the family sitting on the patio next door having pizza a few hours earlier. I thought, "Okay, this has gone on long enough. Time to be done now." It had been about 18 hours since I first started thinking I might be in labor.
Once I decided to work on having her - I had to break the water myself since it just wouldn't rupture and then had to really push her even though I wasn't having any urge to, which takes a lot more energy than normal - Susannah Mary Turner was born about half an hour later at 10:06 pm. My mom and sister Leah ended up being there when she was born, which we hadn't really planned but was pretty special; and then Elizabeth and Anna brought Abigail over right away. I somehow had asked Leah to get them without specifically including Mom Turner in the invitation so she was a few minutes later when we realized she wasn't there, but she was still present before Susannah's cord was even cut yet. By the time Susannah and I were all cleaned up and resting in bed, the room gradually filled up with a good percentage of our family - another unplanned but special event. Mom Turner weighed Susannah for the first time and she and my mom and Anna got Susannah dressed for the first time while Abigail sat on my lap and shared my oatmeal. Abigail had no idea what to make of this tiny baby who had just appeared but finally began pointing to her eyes and mouth and hair and saying, "Eye. Mouth. Hair." Generally acknowledging that Susannah was a person just like her, I think.
We still had the odd situation of having a completely bare house that was full of the smell of stain if the windows were closed and fans turned off. We came to the conclusion it was probably best for Susannah's newly-tested lungs to take her back next door to Mom and Dad Turner's house for the night. So once everyone went home and Susannah had nursed for a little while, we packed up our two little girls and walked very slowly next door at about 1:00 in the morning and went to bed. It was very early in the morning of the two-week anniversary of Grandma Lila's death.
And in a wonderful, special touch, Susannah's first few weeks were spent at Nana and Grandpa Turner's house, where we were spoiled and cared for and visited before we went to my family's house for another few weeks and were again spoiled and cared for and visited. What a welcome for our little peanut!
We're just able to think about getting back into our house now. Turns out Ben is extremely sensitive to the fumes from the finish. So if we were able to follow our original plan, there would've been a brand new coat of finish on the floor and Susannah would've had to be born on the patio next door or something. God made sure that silly sander didn't work properly; and he made sure Susannah was born right in the best time for us to be out of the house: while she's still in a newborn coma and I can rest and not be waiting for the moment when I could start thinking about packing up the house...in the middle of nursing all the time and still not being able to handle my normal workload. It was not what we had planned at all, none of it. Not Grandma getting sick, not Susannah being born two weeks early, not the house progress taking place as it did. But in the end, it all has worked together for good.
I've been continually reminded of a children's song I played often as a kid: "He gave us beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garments of praise for the spirit of heaviness: that we might be trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified."
God had all the timing perfectly worked out. He knew how we were going to handle having Grandma Lila and a new baby at the same time. He knew how it was going to work so we could finish our floors and have a new baby at the same time. He knew what we were going to need when and he made sure it all worked. All the things we couldn't quite figure out how to cram into the same period of time he already had planned, and in the end Susannah's birth was full of little things that made it very special and very wonderful, just as he took care of Grandma Lila and her gentle death. Thank you, Lord. You made things perfect, just as you always do.
Welcome to the family, Susannah! Yours is one birth we are certainly never going to forget.
Beauty Through Ashes, Part 1
I was going to post about our last few weeks all at once, but it got to be very long and I thought it might be better to break it into three parts and give myself a few days between parts.
Grandma Lila died June 9, 2014.
Even though we all knew it was coming, it was kind of a shock that it actually happened. For one thing, when we brought Grandma home from the hospital, it looked for all the world like she only had a few days left with us. She was nearly unresponsive, wasn't eating or drinking anything, and was doing steadily worse by the day.
Then she bounced back. She was more herself than she'd ever been, clear-headed and rational and wanting to eat. We could still tell she wasn't really on the road to recovery, but for a week or so there we were honestly doubting the doctor's opinion and even began making plans how to help her get better for a time.Things did go downhill from there. First there was a kind of happy delirium in which Grandma acted like a happily intoxicated person most of the time but was pretty clearly not rational. This continued for about two months until suddenly a week before she died she became very, very sad. I think some part of her knew she wasn't going to get better and that she didn't feel well but she wasn't really able to express those things anymore because her mind had become very much like that of a little child. She compared herself to Abigail all the time, spoke "baby talk" and had a list of needs that was pretty simple: "Squatch my back!", "I'm hungry", "I want to get up" and "take me to the bathroom" became her nearly constant litany. What became difficult about this the last week was that she became desperate about those things and didn't recognize when they were being given to her. She would say, "I want water! I want water!" and would continue asking like that even with the water in her hand or even on a sponge in her mouth. She didn't seem to be able to understand that she had been given what she required because I think she knew she needed something else but couldn't really identify what.
I have always had difficulty with what I saw especially in Hospice situations as the tendency to tranquilize a dying person right into death. I have a different perspective now that might help any other "me" kind of people reading: when we finally made a decision to begin giving Grandma stronger tranquilizers, we did it because of her desperation and how badly she was feeling. It was like watching someone in great pain only she wasn't really in pain. Her mind wasn't able to tell her what was going on. Causing her to become sleepy gave her relief much like giving pain killer would and while it felt a little wrong to do in some ways since we knew we weren't going to have many more days with her, her last few days were much more peaceful than the week that had gone before. Her last drowsy conversation with Ben went something like this:
Ben: "Hi Grandma. How are you feeling? Would you like the windows open?"
Grandma: "Yes...I'd like that."
Ben, after opening the windows and then stroking Grandma's head a little: "There, Lila. We're taking good care of you."
Grandma: "You sure are..."
Ben: "I love you, Grandma Lila."
Grandma: "I love you too, Ben..."
The next night Ben was up most of the night with her since she kept crying and calling for help. We couldn't tell what was wrong, but we did notice she was having a much harder time breathing since her skin was getting bluer and we were giving her oxygen for the first time. By morning, she didn't seem able to talk anymore and we gave her some medicine hoping to help her breathe easier. She eventually fell asleep to me reading Abigail stories while I sat next to her and never woke again. She slept all day and we could tell her time was very short since her breathing became very rapid and shallow and her color kept getting duskier even though we had the oxygen up as high as it could go. She was still much more peaceful than she had been all week, no longer trying to climb out of bed or making frantic requests we couldn't grant.
Later in the afternoon, I called the Hospice nurse and told her that I didn't think Grandma had much time and asked if they wanted to come by or if there was anything they needed done for their benefit, since they arrange calling people and taking care of things after someone dies. The nurse on call was a lady we'd seen once before and really liked and she came out to the house around 5:00 to see Grandma and assess what was going on. She told us that Grandma's heart was still pretty strong considering the condition she was in and that her breathing was at what was considered a normal rate with no pauses, so we were probably looking at being up that night with her but she agreed Grandma did not have much time with us. Mom called Jenny and told her what was going on and Jenny decided to stop here on the way home from work and I started the barbecue since it was time for dinner and it looked like we'd better feed everyone since it was going to be a long night.
It was a beautiful warm summery evening and we had all the windows open in the house since we don't have air conditioning yet. Jenny arrived and came in and rubbed Grandma's head and said hello to her even though Grandma was sleeping. Mom and the nurse and I were going to clean Grandma a little since she was having some issues with her insides and we wanted her to be as comfortable as possible, so Jenny took Abigail for a walk on the path in the backyard we call "Lila Boulevard" since we built it to easily get Grandma back and forth from our house to Mom and Dad's. As the weather had gotten warmer and the dandelions bloomed, Ben taught Abigail to pick them and bring them to Grandma, since in her delirious state she would make a big deal about the "pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty flowers" that "the little girl with the curly hair" brought her - she would even make up little songs about it. When Jenny and Abigail came back, Abigail ran to me with a dandelion held out proudly. I thought she had brought it for me, but Abigail pointed to Grandma's bed and said, "Wa-wa?"
"You want me to give this to Grandma Lila?" I asked her.
"I do," she said - lately if you ask her a question she wants to answer "yes" to, she says "I do".
"Grandma's sleeping right now, but I'll put it right here on her lap so she'll see it when she opens her eyes," I told Abigail.
Then I went and got Abigail some raisins. Our family was all sitting in Grandma's new bright room with the windows open, since we had kind of gathered together to hear what the nurse would have to say. We were chatting about how Grandma's last year has been, since earlier in the day Mom had been keeping her company and putting pictures in an album from the past year and it had been amazing all the things Grandma had gotten to do and participate in. Suddenly Jenny said, "You know, Grandma's head has been moving with every breath but it's not moving now. Is she breathing?"
I looked at Grandma, who didn't really look any differently than she had all day and said, "Um...I think so. Maybe her breathing has just gotten more shallow?"
But after a few more seconds, I realized I really couldn't see any sign of Grandma breathing. I got up off the floor where I'd been sitting and feeding Abigail raisins and went over to Grandma and put my hand on her chest. I couldn't feel her breathing, but I thought I could feel her heart beating. The nurse came back in the room from having made a phone call and I looked up at her and said, "I can't tell if Grandma is breathing but I think I feel her heart."
The nurse came and put her stethoscope on Grandma's chest and listened for a little while, then looked at me and shook her head a little. "I can't hear anything," she said quietly. "She's gone."
So Grandma left us on a warm summer evening with her whole family sitting around her visiting and talking about her life of the past year while her great-granddaughter who had never lived in a house without her laid on the floor by her bed humming and peacefully eating raisins after having brought a dandelion in especially for her. It was the kind of way a lot of people might ask to die if we were given the chance to make that request.
People have asked me over the past few weeks what I thought of Grandma's view on death and if she believed she would be with God someday when she died. I was never really able to tell exactly what Grandma thought, partly because she wasn't necessarily clear-headed enough to discuss it due to medications and forgetfulness issues and partly because I just wasn't able to really tell what she thought. I know she was very afraid to die, mostly because I think she was afraid it was going to hurt. Honestly, in the end I don't think it did. Most days Ben would ask her how she was doing and she would cheerfully say, "Oh, pretty good!" which is better than she usually said when she was actually in better health.
Whatever Lila thought, however, I do know God loved Lila very much and gave her some pretty incredible blessings in her life, especially in the part of her life I was present for. As we realized months ago when we realized Grandma was "dying", a person actually lives right up to the second they die. The question always is...what kind of life are they living right up until that second?
Grandma lived a special and comfortable life full of things and people she loved right until the second she left us. That was evidence of how much God loves her. Not only was her life very blessed with good things, but there were also bad things she was always afraid of that never came to pass. She always thought she was going to get cancer or that she would have another heart attack - she was terrified of those things. She was also afraid of being put in an institution somewhere until she died. One of the reasons she came to live with us in the first place was because our family decided together that we would do whatever we could to fulfill one of her most firmly-held wishes: to never, ever end up in a nursing home. That became one of our goals, that whatever we had to do to care for her, we would strive to do from home. In the moment that Grandma died, for me there was an incredible sense of peace because together our family had accomplished something good we had set out to do and we had not failed. It was like finishing a race for everyone and that meant we could all rest when Grandma rested. We were privileged to be given to each other and we were given the strength not to abandon each other.
So in a few seconds on the evening of June 9th as we sat together peacefully talking around Lila's bed, the number of days God had given her - a little over 91 years - came to a very gentle and quiet end.
Dad had visited the farmer's market a few days earlier and brought back some rhubarb with the request for a pie and I had made it the day before forgetting Dad was leaving overnight for a fishing trip. I hadn't had enough rhubarb for a straight-up rhubarb pie, so I used strawberries from the freezer and made a strawberry-rhubarb pie instead, then saved the whole pie when I realized Dad wasn't going to be there to eat it. Over the course of the day Grandma died, Mom happened to hear on the radio that June 9th was National Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Day and we had gotten a chuckle out of the fact we just happened to have one to share. After we had gone through all the formal things that had to be done after Grandma's death, like disposing of her medication and signing paperwork and making various other arrangements, we took the pie next door and sat on the patio together sharing pie and ice cream and talking about Grandma and Grandpa. Sort of like people would do after a funeral when there's a meal and people are no longer crying. Mom says this is probably going to be a new tradition, where we have strawberry-rhubarb pie on National Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Day and remember Grandma Lila dying so quietly and peacefully that beautiful June evening in 2014.
As a tradition remembering the end of someone's life goes, I think Grandma Lila would've liked that one. She surely did enjoy her ice cream, especially the last few months of her life.
Sleep well, Grandma Lila. We love you.
Wife of Benjamin and mother to two wonderful little girls who are getting bigger every day. Enjoys writing down thoughts and discussions we are having within the family and sharing them with whoever is interested in reading.
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