I Don’t Regret My Birth Plan: Notes From the Forever C-Section Mom

We all have the ideal plans for how we’re going to raise our kids and how they will turn out. Then life happens.

The pregnant woman sitting next to me at the park talks jubilantly about her upcoming birth and the way she hopes her labor plays out. I smile and nod, feeling excited on her behalf. I have four children, and the birthing days are solidly behind me.
“Did you write a birth plan?” she asks me.
“Yep. Every time.”
“What happened?”
I hesitate, always hating the answer. “I had three C-sections.”
I am the ultimate cliché, the woman who detailed her plans for birth, going slightly over the recommended limit of one page for a birth plan. My husband and I took a birthing class and watched “The Business of Being Born”, taking notes for later reference. I dreamt of unmedicated birth, immediate skin-to-skin contact, and going home quickly after labor.
Then, for three separate reasons – breech baby, three-weeks-overdue baby with no signs of labor, identical twins with TAPS – I was taken to a sterile OR to be sliced open, my children removed from my body that was numb from the waist down. I baked under the heat of the OR lamp while still shivering and wondered what I had done wrong. I was handed my babies before I promptly puked. Still, I attempted to cradle them in shaking arms, my body wrecked from all the medication.
It wasn’t until I needed a procedure to obtain a sample of my endometrial lining that l learned I have a defective cervix, one that simply will not dilate. It was a painful discovery, both in a physical and emotional way, but I chuckled maniacally thinking of my still-saved birth plan stored on my computer.
How the hell was this little discovery supposed to make me feel?
A friend said I should be grateful. In countries where access to C-sections isn’t promised, I would have likely been dead, an obstructed labor taking my first daughter as well. I tried on gratefulness and truly did feel thankful that all of my births ended well. However, I still felt like a fool, a woman who felt humiliated by my own body and its betrayal of me.
I’ve had a year to absorb the defective cervix news, and in that time, my feelings have changed. Today, my decision to write birth plans makes me proud. I’m glad I did it, that I trotted into my doctor’s office each time with my wishes spelled out in ink. I’m glad I was educated about childbirth, that I went from knowing nothing about having a baby to researching and planning for months for the birth I felt was right for me.
It was my first step towards mindful parenting, the process of weighing all my options and settling on what I believed was the ideal outcome for our family. Of course, the ideal didn’t pan out, but having a plan in the first place gave me a jump-off point to work from. What could we salvage from the plan? How could we adjust? What was best for everyone when the circumstances shifted?
This lesson, it turns out, is one that every parent will have to learn at some point. We all have the ideal plans for how we’re going to raise our kids and how they will turn out. Then life happens. We regroup. We save what we can. We find ways to be thankful along the way and fully grasp that none of this was ever truly in our control. We keep trying.
I also gained experience in standing up for what I believe is best for my kids. When I planned to VBAC with my son, I received a variety of responses. People laughed at me. They expressed shock that I wasn’t signing up for another C-section without a fight. Many questioned if VBACs were even a thing and if I was endangering my son by trying.
I held my ground.
I now do this regularly when people question my decisions to homeschool, to not dress our twins in the same outfits, or to try gentle discipline instead of spanking. I didn’t successfully VBAC, but I knew it was the chance I wanted my son to have, so I tried to give it to him. I wouldn’t take that back.
Writing a birth plan prepared me for looking ahead and making conscious choices. It taught me that I don’t have to follow the crowd or someone else’s way of doing things. I can chart my own course and do everything possible to navigate the experience and land where I want.
I can also live through it when life inevitably has other plans.

The Power of NOT Negotiating With Toddlers

The other day, I snuck one of my triplet toddlers – the one sitting in the shopping cart seat facing me as the other two sat in the plastic car, facing away – a Krispy Kreme cruller.
The only one without a corn allergy, she’d been denied all her life such packaged treats, eating only home-baked cookies and cakes on rare occasions, like birthdays and playdates.
“Mmmmm,” she said, her eyes widening. “I like these cookies.” She gulped the cruller down in three bites. “Another.”
“Shh,” I said, not wanting the other two to catch on. They would’ve wanted one, too, but they couldn’t. I’d read the crullers’ ingredients: corn, corn, and more corn. “You only get one.”
“Another!” she screamed, pounding her fists against the shopping cart, kicking her legs, and shaking her head. Of course, my daughter was no stranger to complete meltdowns, though luckily, until then, I’d escaped the public ones. “I want another butter cookie! I want it now!”
Thinking about the lesson I’d just read about ignoring whining and fits in Dr. Catherine Pearlman’s “Ignore It!”, I gathered my strength, looked away, and laid produce on the checkout belt. The clerk’s eyes widened.
The doughnuts floated by, and my daughter screamed again, “I want butter!”
“Do you want…?” the clerk said, holding up the doughnuts, knowing, at least, not to conjure them by name. Still, her eyes begged me to give my daughter another, anything to quiet the screaming imp now throwing her head back and kicking my waist. I shook my head.
“Nope,” I said. “No way.”
I must admit, when I read the title and the premise of “Ignore It!” – including logic, such as “…negotiation is almost always initiated by the child for the benefit of the child” – I said to myself, “I’m a high school teacher at a rigorous Catholic school. I stick to my guns. I don’t negotiate.”
Nonetheless, my triplets had just turned two-and-a-half and were starting to win about half of the arguments they waged with me. In any given moment, one child might be lying on the floor tattling on her sister who’d just touched her and, wanting to be picked up, another might be lobbing her lovey and demanding I go retrieve it, while a third might be scheming for a pasta dinner once again after I’ve spent all afternoon making lemon chicken.
It wasn’t until I’d read halfway through Dr. Pearlman’s book (subtitled, “How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction”) that I started to realize just how much negotiating I had been doing with my three toddlers:
“You can have more milk if you eat just one bite of chicken,” or “I’ll stand in your doorway until you fall asleep, but I’m not lying in bed all night with you,” and “Just one more cartoon, as long as you’re quiet.”
I was exhausted, dealing with one child who no longer napped and two who did, but went to bed late, demanding my presence until they fell asleep. I was getting only minutes of down time a day, my husband and I clambering to catch up on our lives before one of our children needed us yet again.
It was in that moment at the grocery store checkout, my daughter throwing herself in four opposing directions, that, ironically, life became a bit simpler. When my daughter’s “butter cookie” tantrum produced no attention (or doughnut), she stopped screaming. In fact, she became quite sweet, the rest of the day whispering in my ear, “Thank you, Mommy, for the treat at the store,” at which point I followed Dr. Pearlman’s advice again, re-engaging my daughter and showering her with attention for good behavior.
Pretty soon, I started ignoring other, less tantrumy behavior, as well. Instead of yelling at my child to go back to time out, I let her wander into the kitchen while I kept chopping vegetables, until eventually – to my disbelief – she returned on her own.
Instead of standing in my daughter’s doorway until she fell asleep (which seemed to get later and later each night), I told her I’d tuck her in, go rock her sister, and be back to say goodnight, at which point I’d leave. After one night of listening to her yell for me a few times, she accepted my absence and went to sleep. Then my husband and I climbed out from under our rocks and started watching the first season of “Game of Thrones”.
I hate to make blanket statements, like “my children became more enjoyable,” as the book promises. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. Like all kids, they have good and bad moments, days, weeks. They can change from darlings to monsters and back again in mere seconds. I do know that I have stopped wasting energy trying to force them to be more enjoyable, however.
I let them whine. I allow them to resolve more disputes on their own. I don’t negotiate. Most importantly, I am more rested and connected to my spouse, which helps me handle the bad days when ignoring all their schemes would otherwise seem impossible.
Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned implementing Dr. Pearlman’s strategy is that my role as a teacher at a rigorous high school, where I maintained clear rules and boundaries with my students, does not make a perfect educator at home. We may know what is best for our children and for us, but we still need constant reminders (and step-by-step instructions with dozens of real-world examples, as Dr. Pearlman gives) on how to implement that knowledge.
In our exhaustion, we make mistakes. We yell, we negotiate, and we skulk around the house, making us no better than our screaming toddlers. But, maybe, if we “Ignore It!” (in my case, all three of it), we will at least be more effective than our toddlers at getting our way.

The World's Tiniest High-Five May Be Just the Thing I Needed

I spent the evening wondering if my son would be okay, whether I’d ever get to hold him, and whether he’d have multiple surgeries and a life of problems.

I’ve heard stories of parents whose children take a little too long to learn to talk, walk, or do any of those other things most people do. These folks take their babies to the doctor to see what’s wrong, and get told, “Relax. They’ll learn when they learn.”

It’s true, of course. For the vast majority, the story isn’t that the baby hasn’t learned to talk. It’s that the baby hasn’t learned to talk yet. She’ll do it when she’s ready.

That doesn’t appease people, though, If your baby isn’t talking, but one three months younger is speaking in full sentences, that’s stressful, no matter what reassurances a doctor might offer.

I’ve had similar feelings of stress during my wife’s pregnancy. As she got gradually bigger, she’d be sitting on the couch or lying in bed and pressing at her midsection, and then she’d grab my hand and put it on some certain spot. “This twin is kicking,” she’d say, or “That twin is punching my ribs.” Any number of things.

I wanted to feel the babies moving. When Laurie first started showing, she was talking about how everyone has felt some pregnant lady’s baby kick at some point in their lives, and I had to tell her that no, I hadn’t. So whenever those moments happen, she’d come sit next to me, grab my hand, and try to help me feel.

 
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To no avail. I’d put my hand where she told me, and sit there and sit there, but nothing. These babies were like Michigan J. Frog, singing, “Hello my honey, hello my baby,” to Laurie, and then I’d show up and they’d just sit there, plain old frogs.

It’s not a huge deal, but I feel that it could be the thing that’ll ground all this for me. Laurie’s obviously pregnant – 26 weeks with twins, you better believe she’s showing. I keep dreaming of that moment when I’d feel a hand or a foot, but they kept refusing to indulge me. Empirically, it’s obvious that if she feels them, and she’s getting bigger all the time, then eventually I’d feel them too, but in the moment, it’s honestly deflating.

It’s things like that that I’d felt all along were missing in this pregnancy. (Please note that this isn’t a complaint or a problem, but just an example of a thing that is true.) It’s Laurie’s second pregnancy, my first. I always thought my first child would also be my wife’s, and we’d be learning all the new weird things together. It hasn’t happened that way. As a result, in some ways I’ve felt a bit behind the curve in the pregnancy, following Laurie’s lead, and wondering if I’ll just wake up knowing more things than I knew before. (In case you were curious, that’s not how it works.)

The thing is, though, that even if I was prepared for a normal pregnancy, I wasn’t prepared for Monday. You couldn’t be prepared for Monday. No one could.

Monday was when we saw the specialist.

Clichés exist for a reason, and seeing the fetal cardiologist Monday fit the entire cliché. There was the scan in the comfortably-decorated exam room, the nice, soft-spoken nurse, the patient advocate with the lilt and a sympathetic head tilt, the very clinical and plain second waiting room. Of course, there was also the super-tall doctor with colorful diagrams, bad handwriting, excellent bedside manner, and a bunch of confusing terms to throw at us as we sat with lapfuls of tissues, me reaching out to hold Laurie’s hand as the patient advocate made sympathetic noises off to the side.

Twin B is fine. Far as we can tell, li’l homeboy is ready to come out and run wild right away. His brother, though, Twin A, has problems. There’s a narrowing of the aorta, they told us, a gap between the heart ventricles. A persistent left superior vena cava that normally goes away but hasn’t, not for him. The ventricle gap could fix itself, the vena cava could still go away, there are several weeks left in the pregnancy. But the aorta is going to need surgical intervention, and if the other issues don’t go away, that surgery could get more and more complicated.

It means we are going to have to move from our home to the Cincinnati area for the last month of the pregnancy. It means we’re planning for work absences, inquiring about insurance coverage, and making arrangements for childcare. It also means we’re terrified. I’ve taken to carrying a pack of tissues with me, lest Laurie find herself tearing up when tissue-less. Then I realized I was using the tissues too.

You can’t help but feel like you did something wrong as the parent, even though you obviously didn’t (just like those parents who wonder if they’ve screwed up because their little baby isn’t crawling around yet). You wonder if you’re going to have to be living away from home for a few weeks or a few months, and if you’re one of the ones who has to set up a GoFundMe just so your child can survive. You consider if you really need to be scared or maybe you’re overrating the danger, but then you remember that it’s freaking open-heart surgery on a newborn, and you tell yourself there’s no real way to overreact to that.

You tell your friends, your coworkers, and your family. You get the sympathetic texts about people praying for you, sending you good vibes. “It’ll all be okay,” they write, “Please tell me what I can do to help, even though I live across the country and we’ve never actually met in person” (even if they don’t say it quite that way).

I’ve been going through all those emotions and frustrations for 36 hours now, and I wager I’ll be going through them for months to come. Last night was tough. There was staring off into space and there was exhaustion. I spent the evening wondering if my son, little ol’ Twin A, would be okay, whether I’d ever get to hold him, and whether he’d have multiple surgeries and a life of problems. I wanted to pick him up and protect him, even if he was still inside Laurie and I obviously couldn’t.

I got into bed, feeling helpless, wanting just to take care of the little man and knowing I had no way to do it. Right as we turned out the light, Laurie grabbed my hand and pulled it to her midsection. I put it there for just a second, and suddenly I felt it: a clear, distinct movement.

It was my son’s hand. The thing I’d been missing. His hand was hitting mine, like the world’s smallest high-five.

There’s still a lot to know, a lot to learn, and a lot to worry about. But that? That was the exact thing I needed, right when I needed it. So if nothing else, Little Dude has timing.

Science Says Toddlers Are Smarter Than Apes, Barely

In early infancy, kids and apes aren’t all that dissimilar in their physical and communication milestones. By toddlerhood, it’s shifted, but only a little.

Having two children pulled out of my uterus seemed barbaric, but I kissed their goopy heads all the same. Once they were clean, sleeping, and smelling of milk and the doctors had put me back together again, I thought the barbarity was over and that we were on our way to becoming civilized. Silly me.

I’ve just spent the last three years trying to make something human out of these two. As twins go, they could be a species unto themselves. They’ve got their own language, manner of dress, favorite haunts, feeding times, and nocturnal habits. They even groom each other if a particularly enticing booger is stuck in the other’s hair. However, it’s not the twin thing that sets them apart from the rest of humanity, it’s the toddler thing. Toddlerhood is the jumping-off point for children as they begin to use reason, even as it disables our own.

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Any parent of a toddler becomes a sociologist for a time, if only to ask: what am I doing here and how do we all get out alive? In his book “A Natural History of Human Thinking,” psychologist Michael Tomasello argues that children in this early stage of cognition finally begin to deviate from their natural similarities with the chimpanzees, meaning less poop throwing and more conversing. In early infancy, children and apes aren’t all that dissimilar in their physical and communication milestones. They develop different cries and learn to move and self-feed at comparable rates. It’s not until the toddler-phase that kids begin to participate in “shared intentionality.” As Tomasello puts it, this “‘we’ intentionality, refers to collaborative interactions in which participants share psychological states with one another.”

Basically, this is the age that kids begin to learn to work together for the benefit of the group. They begin to intuit and to show signs of sympathy – all the things they need to prove they’re not little sociopaths, or apes. As an inherently competitive and autonomous species, chimpanzees do not feel the need to cooperate in the same way. But we humans need each other. Cavemen hunted better together. The colonists couldn’t have survived New England winters without creating a solid collective. Thriving in the modern world means possessing the ability to express oneself in a manner the rest of society can understand.

I can see glimpses of this in my own kids, albeit at a painstakingly slow pace. I see it when they team up to climb the pantry shelves to get the jelly beans. I see it when they look to each other before explaining what happened to the now-beheaded flowers in the yard. I see it when they help each other unbuckle their car seats on the highway. They’re learning to work together and often to my downfall. However I also see it when they help each other strap on their bike helmets, introduce themselves to other kids on the playground, and Velcro each other’s shoes. We’re getting the good stuff too.

A chimp will steal the banana right out of your hands if you let him. So will my children, but they might also decide to share. That’s a step in the right direction. As they are now, they’re only starting the path to full-blown rational adulthood. They’ve just begun to diverge from the monkeys. The little glimmers of lucidity tell me that the signs are there, and they are enough to keep me pushing forward – at least enough to keep me from leaving them at the zoo.

The More the Merrier: Why I'm Supersizing My Family Like the Super Rich

If celebrities and wealthy Manhattanites are any indication, big families are trending with the super rich.

Tina Fey may have said it best in her New Yorker article, “Confessions of a Juggler.” When asked if she was going to have more kids, she gave them this: “All over Manhattan, large families have become a status symbol. Four beautiful children named after kings and pieces of fruit are a way of saying, ‘I can afford a four-bedroom apartment and a hundred and fifty thousand dollars in elementary-school tuition fees each year. How you livin’?”

The truth is, the wealthy are beating the odds in more ways than one now, making more money and more children than the rest. The trend used to follow a predictable pattern. Way back before we went industrial, more kids meant more hands to work the land and earn wages to contribute to the family fund. Farm life doesn’t work as well with the standard 2.5 kids. All the other species on the planet tend to be more prolific only when safety and stability are well-established. They get to the top and then relax, secure in the knowledge that their offspring will thrive. We were the opposite, hoping more kids would bring that stability. “Stability” is not my word of choice when I think of life with children.

However, that trend is changing. With recent developments in fertility treatments and increased control over our own reproduction, more women are establishing careers before children and then having those children later in life when income is steady. The result? More kids born into families with more money.

This is where my brain stops computing, because I can’t make the numbers make sense with what I want as someone decidedly not in the top 2 percent. As a mother to three children, I’m contemplating a fourth and, apparently, I’m breaking the mold. I mean, I’m couponing it at the grocery store and using my Mapco app at the gas station, yet I still want more kids. Does that now place me on the fringe? If Tina Fey can rebel at the top by sticking with a singleton, I’ll rebel a little lower down with my own litter.

The baby boom for the rich has become a joke of sorts among Manhattanites. Wednesday Martin, author of the memoir, “Primates of Park Avenue,” claims that “[t]hree was the new two, something you just did in this habitat. Four was the new three – previously conversation stopping, but now nothing unusual. Five was no longer crazy or religious – it just meant you were rich. And six was apparently the new town house – or Gulfstream.”

Trust me when I tell you that I’m not having more children to keep up with the Joneses. I’d just buy some Lululemon gear and a Lexus SUV for that. I want another child for the same reason I wanted the first three. I want the chance to love some more people and bring them into our weird family so they can be weird too. I want them to have loads of siblings to fight over food at Thanksgiving and stand in honor at their weddings and be aunt and uncle to their own kids. I want a little place we can all converge on in summer – a knock-off Kennebunkport.

Maybe this is what everybody wants, rich and poor, to be connected forever with the ones we call family. They are, for better or worse, our people and who, rich or poor, wouldn’t want more of that?

Why I Don't Count My Blessings

I am not about to attribute certain aspects of my life and successes to being blessed. I would much rather contribute them to hard work and perseverance.

I was strolling through the garden shop the other day when a kindly Grandma stopped to chat with me.

Okay. It didn’t exactly go like that.

I was chasing my wild, unruly three-year-old twins down the garden aisle as they ripped flowers and leaves from any plant within their reach, sweat dripping down my face, back, and inner thighs, when a woman looking to be in her mid-sixties stopped to engage me in a full-on discussion about my life, my children, and my marriage.

Were the twins my only children? Four girls! What are their ages? What are their names? Why, her Great Aunt had that name before she passed away and, oh, what a battle that was. What does my husband do? We must have married young. On…and on…and on.

The twins ran circles around us and the sweat continued to trickle down my skin. Finally I had answered all of her questions and she ended the conversation with, “Well, the Good Lord has blessed you beyond measure. Make sure you count your blessings, dear.”

I smiled, said goodbye, and took off for the veggies and herbs. At least there the twins could eat the foliage and be certain not to die. As we piled in the basil, thyme, and rosemary, I couldn’t help but feel miffed. What was my problem? I stop and chat with random people all day long. Having twins is like wearing a giant, blinking sign that says, “Please stop me and ask me about my uterus.”

Was it the sweat? The toddlers? The mental tally of how much money I was spending on plants that will die in a few months?

No. It was that last line that bothered me: “Make sure you count your blessings, dear.”

Here’s the thing, I am not an overly religious person. In fact, I am not a religious person at all. Faithful yes, religious no. Our family no longer follows an organized religion and has made sense of faith and life in a way that we are comfortable with. That is my particular choice and path and if yours is different, I am good with that. In fact, I am great with that. 

Life can be hard as all get-out. It throws you curves, kicks you in the bazooka, and makes you claw and scratch your way out of the darkest of shadows. It’s not always a pretty picture and many people depend on their religion to help them through their struggles. Religion gives them peace, comfort, and solace. It can be a really beautiful thing. It’s just not my thing.

So I am not about to attribute certain aspects of my life and successes to being blessed. I would much rather contribute them to hard work and perseverance. My marriage isn’t still intact because it’s been “chosen” or “blessed.” That sounds far too easy. We’re still standing here together because we work at it every single day. We’ve certainly had our fair share of blows over the past 16 years. To attribute the strength of our union to a blessing feels diluted and, dare I say, generic. (While I am on this particular soap box, I don’t believe that the Lord brought my husband and I together. I cannot wrap my mind around him choosing a dirty, drunken frat party as our fated destiny.)

The children I have brought into this world: also work. I worked my butt off to carry them and birth them, and some days I feel like it’s even work to like them! I don’t attribute religious powers to pulling me out of the darkest corners of my mind those five months when I suffered from severe anxiety and depression in my second pregnancy. That was all me. Me, Zoloft, and the best therapist money can buy.

I think that the kindly lady in the garden store was nothing if not well-intentioned and outgoing. I assume that she said what she said because she believes in her heart that my life has been blessed by her God and that makes me the most fortunate of people in her eyes. (Or maybe not. Perhaps she uses “blessed” interchangeably, synonymously, or absently. People do it all the time.)

Regardless of how it was meant, it was certainly not said in malice, and I appreciate kindness in any form, really. The initial irritation faded pretty quickly once I understood what the word meant to someone else.

In this life I have certainly been lucky, hard-working, and determined. Blessed is debatable.

A Brainstorm of My Worst Parenting Ideas

I’ve never done these things, I will never do these things, I don’t want to do these things. They’re just interesting thoughts.

I wore sunglasses a lot in high school. For example, I spent one summer at a camp where more people knew me as “Sunglasses” than as “Daniel.” I wore my sunglasses far more often and later in the day than it made any sense to, because heck with it, I’d spent a lot of money on those things and I was getting my money’s worth.

There were only two places I didn’t wear them. One was in school, because Mr. Fletcher would confiscate any and everything, and he wasn’t about to get those. (I did wear them on my head in school, because I’m determined.) The other was when I was hitting in baseball. I was only a marginal hitter as it was, and wearing sunglasses made it hard to pick up the rotation on the ball. I didn’t need to make it any harder.

Then I had a thought. I had (have) really good vision. Like, 20/20 looks at me with jealousy. In high school, I was 20/5 in my right eye, 20/7 in my left. It’s not that good anymore, but it’s still my best quality by several miles (and I can see all those miles). Well, what if I doubled down on the sunglasses? What if I wore them at all times, like 24 hours a day, seven days a week? As it was, I struggled with the curveball sometimes. If I wore the sunglasses 100 percent of the time, got my eyes completely used to slightly-impaired-because-of-sunglasses vision, then when I took them off, I’d have the vision of a superhero. Surely then I would know the curve was coming that much earlier and be that much better of a hitter.

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I never did it, of course. It’s silly. But it’s the kind of thing I think about. Here’s another one:

(Caveat, because if I don’t include this someone will take me seriously: I’ve never done these things, I will never do these things, I don’t want to do these things. They’re just interesting thoughts.)

Being drunk decreases your coordination. We all know that. So imagine you take a small child and keep them drunk all the time. Children struggle with coordination as they grow and learn as it is. Imagine a kid who learns coordination through a steady haze of drunkenness and gets drunk-coordinated. Sober that kid up at, say, age 16 and let his base level of coordination adjust to sobriety? That kid is a dang superhero.

Yes, yes, I know, addiction, cirrhosis, brain cells. It’s obviously not a good idea. That’s why it’s obviously not a real idea. It’s just the kind of thing I think about. Now that my wife is pregnant, I think about that sort of thing that much more.

My wife’s having twins, and that gives me a control group. Again, I’m never going to do any of these things, but with twins I could, in theory, really experiment. Left-handed relievers make a goldmine, what if I let one kid use whichever arm they want and take steps to make the other a lefty? Can I engineer a major-leaguer?

Or raise one of the kids with all the modern trappings – playing with a tablet at a young age, DVR their favorite shows, whatever. Raise the other without technology. Is our screen time really killing imagination?

Raise one kid as a vegetarian, one as a meat-eater. Take one to church, teach the other to be atheist. Speak Spanish to one and not the other. Again, (I promise) I’m not going to do any of these things, and don’t want to, but darned if they aren’t things I think about.

How about you? Tweet me your ideas at @danieltkelley. What crazy experiments would you do on children if you had a control and a variable and no conscience?

Holy crap, that last sentence is probably enough to get me on a list.

Paying With Your Life: the Cost of Motherhood

When, at 38 years old, I heard four heartbeats at our first ultrasound, I imagined not the patter of little feet across a crowded house, but my own death: the chaos of the delivery room, blood hemorrhaging from me as doctors raced to save one, two, three, maybe even four babies, each weighing no more than a cantaloupe, each no bigger than a guinea pig.
My heart raced, my breath seized. It was the first time I’d had a clear threat to my life.
“I don’t want to die,” I cried into my husband’s arms.
“You’re not going to die,” he reassured me.
 
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Chances were good that I or my babies would not make it out of that pregnancy alive. Besides the risks associated with my advanced age, those of carrying multiple babies were numerous and high:
Miscarriage in quadruplet pregnancies is about 25 percent, neonatal mortality can be as high as 30 percent, and, according to the British organization Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, maternal death occurs twice more frequently in quadruplet pregnancies than in singleton ones.
It’s fortunate that I didn’t know at the time that my chances of death were probably higher, given that the U.S. has the highest risk of maternal death of all developed countries in the world.
I cried when I heard these statistics on NPR’s Morning Edition, which detailed a young mother’s sudden death. I was driving to work, having slept very little the night before, when memories of my high-risk pregnancy flooded back – of having lost the fourth baby in the twelfth week, of having almost lost the other three to Twin-to-twin Transfusion Syndrome in the seventeenth week, of experiencing the worst pain in my life after a caesarian, and finally of the weeks and months after when I could hardly make it through the days.
All of it could have gone so wrong.
“We don’t pay enough attention,” the NPR article states. Indeed, we don’t.
When my babies were several months old, a woman from my Facebook triplet mothers support group posted late at night asking about strange symptoms she’d been having. Very few of us saw the post. Even fewer answered her. We were busy feeding three crying babies, or enjoying rare sleep, or worrying about emerging cold symptoms in our premature infants whom doctors had labeled “immune-compromised.” We overlooked her concerns because we were absorbed in our own.
She died the next day from delivery complications. Our group felt so guilty. We had dismissed her, we thought. We hadn’t shouted from across the country, “Go in right now! Go demand care!”
I could have easily been her. I could have been just as overlooked. In the weeks that followed delivery, doctors rarely asked how I was feeling, except to note whether I had started making enough milk to feed three babies. The survival emphasis was on those monitored around the clock, fed by tubes, watched over by nurses, measured and prodded and weighed.
The mother of newborn triplets, I had no idea what to expect from my own body, which felt sent through the thrashers. I bled heavily and cramped consistently, though I thought nothing of it. In the hospital, the nurses had told me that my overly-stretched uterus would need to shrink – and it would be painful.
I felt like sludge, unable to focus, often losing my balance. But I was pumping around the clock and recovering from major abdominal surgery. I had no objective measure by which to judge what kind of tired was appropriate. Still, I had an instinct that something was wrong.
I made an appointment with my OBGYN, insisting that my healing wasn’t normal, that my cramps felt off. I was right. I had developed a rare delayed post-op uterine infection, which (if I had let go and allowed my doctor to rely on standard protocols) could have killed me.
Luckily, I was not overlooked. Luckily, I live in a thriving metropolis with access to excellent doctors, like my obstetrician, who had also spotted signs of pre-eclampsia late in my pregnancy and admitted me for an early delivery. Luckily, my husband works for a large corporation and we have comprehensive insurance, which paid for bi-weekly visits to maternal fetal medicine. Luckily, I listened to my body and advocated for my care.
Not all women are so lucky.
I shudder to think what kind of care we would have received had we lived in a rural area, if we’d had lesser insurance, if we’d been labeled as having too many pre-existing conditions. I shudder to think what would have happened to me and my babies if we’d been poor.
Would any of us have made it? Would this Mother’s Day have happened? The statistics say no. Our system’s neglect of mothers suggests no.
 

My First, Her Second, And All The Pressure

The other day, I was at my wife’s restaurant. It was slow. Like, no-customers-in-the-entire-restaurant slow. The bartender had a wad of plastic wrap he had made into a ball and was tossing it at a small trash can. Over and over and over. He missed every time.
Then, this kid, the son of the kitchen manager, asked if he could have a try, and from about 15 feet away, this kid, this seven-year-old, drained the shot. Perfect.
The servers and cooks cheered. I gave the kid a high-five and said, “You are not allowed to ever try that again.” The kid asked me why, and I told him, of course, “There’s no topping that. Go out on top.”
I always assumed that, when I eventually had kids, I’d be learning as I went, and my wife would as well. Of course, that was before I married a woman who already had a daughter. So when we found out we were going to have a baby, immediately I was at a knowledge disadvantage. I’d have a question, and she’d have the answer. What’s the point in buying a hundred different books when I have a veritable expert sleeping in the same bed? It wasn’t really how I pictured having a baby for the first time.
 
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I don’t say this to complain. Not at all. I’ve really come out ahead in the whole thing. My wife’s daughter, my stepdaughter (screw it, my daughter), Abigale, is awesome. She will be playing a game or reading a story, or any number of things, and she’ll stop randomly, and say “Daniel?” and when I respond, she’ll say “I love you,” and go back to her game like nothing happened. She wants to help cook, she loves singing along to any song I want to play, and – get this, and I’m not kidding – she loves cleaning toilets. It’s her favorite thing. The kid is six, and it just makes her day when we give her sponges and Comet and maybe some yellow gloves.
I have friends whose entire knowledge of Abigale is seeing her at the wedding, or seeing pictures on Facebook. Even those friends will send me texts about how much I won the stepdaughter sweepstakes, how adorable she is, how they can only hope their kids will be as cute as she already is.
That’s a lot of damn pressure, guys.
Abigale is my daughter. That’s how I introduce her, and how I think of her, but she also doesn’t have, you know, any of my genes. She’s half Laurie, half her dad. Now Laurie and I are expecting. So if my offspring isn’t awesome, amazing, texts-from-strangers adorable and toilet-cleaner responsible? Well, it’s clearly my fault.
To be clear: I’m not unhappy that Abigale is awesome, I’m not unhappy Laurie is pregnant, and I’m not unhappy that I’m behind on the knowledge front, but when my sister was growing up, it turned out she had no adult, permanent teeth for her bottom fronts. Just a genetic abnormality. My mom blamed it on her ex-husband. But then mom got re-married, had me, and I’m sitting here as a 33-year-old who still has baby teeth hanging out in his mouth. Sorry mom, that’s on your genetics.
That’s it, then. If every kid Laurie and I would ever have shared all the same genes, well heck, anything awesome about them is because of me, and any flaws they have are her silly genes. That’s how that story goes.
No such luck, though. Laurie’s pregnant, and if I end up with some jerky, uncute kid, one who won’t clean toilets, well, that’s all me and my genetics.
It’s like that kid in the restaurant – he shot the plastic-wrap ball again, because he loved the success. Only, the next time, he missed, and he missed badly. No one ever goes out on top.
You know what else? What adds to the pressure? What adds to the chances that my genes get blamed for some non-toilet-cleaner?
Laurie’s pregnant… with twins.

20 Ways Living with Twin Boys is Like Living in a Frat House

Party with your pants off.

1 | Nakedness 

It is the norm. Clothing is always optional and rarely is it a used unless its parent’s weekend or grand mom is coming over. The penis is overpowering and I am in the minority. The penis has a magnetic-like property that forces them to keep their hands nearby at all times.

2 | Someone is always looking for food

Whether it is ordering a pizza (or pizzas) or ordering mommy to make food, food is always on the agenda. My boys spend most of their waking hours searching out snacks and asking me to make them mac n’ cheese.

3 | The smells

None of them are pleasant. I spend more time hunting out the source of foul odors then I’d like to admit. I feel like I also did this while in college at parties. Much like today, I was always confused how boys could live that way, with those smells.

4 | Sports  

Although the sports that my twins play seem to be a bit different than their twenty-year-old counterparts, they are still just as ridiculous. Whether it is mud wrestling or flag football the end result is always the same… injuries, dirt, and fighting.

5 | Terrible dancing combined with mosh pit like moves 

I have witnessed it twice in my life, once at a fraternity house in 1998 while listening to Sugar Ray and once in my kitchen last week. Both scarred me. Both made me sad. Only one I can be held directly responsible for. Mark McGrath is on the hook for the other one.

6 | Women get sucked in by their cuteness and promises of a good time  

They leave happy they made it out alive.

7 | Toys everywhere  

From toy trains and building blocks to snowboards and X-boxes, the toys may get more expensive but the lack of concern stays the same.

8 | Farting  

It doesn’t matter if is real flatulence or a man-made noise, it still is the funniest thing they have ever heard.

9 | The bathroom smells like a urinal cake

Mainly because standing and peeing is something that takes years of practice. Sometimes even after twenty years, more practice is needed.

10 | Binge drinking

Granted four-year-olds are binge drinking juice boxes but the premise is the same.  

11 | Floor food is completely acceptable  

The Five-second-rule is more like a Five-day-rule in both homes.

12 | Mom still washes all laundry  

The socks that are stiff should never be questioned.  

13 | Expiration dates are merely a suggestion 

If it’s not curdled then it’s good to eat. It may even get turned into a game.

14 | There is so much poop talk

So much. Honestly, I don’t even think the jokes really change all that drastically in twenty years.

15 | The competitive nature of boys and twins is like no other in this world

Twin boys can literally fight about anything. From who can put their socks on fastest to who can pee the farthest, it never ends. I also once witnessed in college two guys arguing over who farted loudest. So there’s that.

16 | Every single argument ends in a physical fight

My boys have taken to headbutting each other in the face when they disagree. Likewise, so did many of my fellow college male classmates.

17 | They egg each other on to do dumb things

Just the other day I had to stop my boys from jumping off the top of their swing set. I also stopped a college friend from lighting a firecracker between his butt cheeks.

18 | There is a lower expectation of basic hygiene at both ages

In the summer months, I literally hosed my kids off before they came in the house and called it a bath. I suspect most of my college friends did the same.

19 | Both are Momma’s boys

My two will always run to me when they have a scraped knee or broken tooth and my friends always sought the advice of their moms when life got hard. Mom is and was always number one.

20 | Both have huge hearts

Despite the gross behavior and the daily assault on my olfactory nerves, my twin boys and college boys (at least the ones I knew) have huge hearts.