Friday, December 29, 2006

Nature versus Nurture

Who ever said that genetic tendencies are learned and not inherited ... needs to come spend an afternoon at our house. We have our own personal experiment in nature versus nurture going on every single day.

For the record: I treat our daughters no differently than I treat our son. At least I don't think I do.

Yet, the way that our girls watch me, even when I don't think they're watching, and emulate my every move ... is astounding. Carolyn and Elizabeth will hold their baby dolls tenderly, attempt changing their diapers, swaddle them in blankets, softly pat their back, give them gentle kisses, read them stories, tuck them in their cradles and whisper "I you" [translation: I love you] in their ears.

That's not to say William isn't compassionate. While wearing his sister's headband and a pair of my high heel shoes (that he ambushes my closet for every morning) he will tenderly hug his teddy bear. But then he will promptly throw it on the floor and back his toy truck over it, while his sisters stare in horror.

Numerous times.
For the record: I have never once embraced my son and then thrown him on the floor and backed a toy truck over him.

Never once.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A Very Merry Christmas

I don't know if I should be sharing with the world that as I sit updating my blog at 10:30 PM on Christmas night, I am still in the same pajamas I had on this morning. However, before I go to bed, I will most definitely put on a new pair of pajamas ... because I couldn't possibly sleep in the same pajamas that I've had on all day. In case anyone needed to know about that little idiosyncrasy of mine.

Christmas is always exhausting for me. I am a bundle of energy and enthusiasm leading up to the big day, but once it arrives, I fall into a coma. The amount of effort that it takes to prepare for Christmas is staggering ... the 150+ cards, the decorations, the shopping, the wrapping, the Goodwill donations, the baking, the Christmas church services, the shipping when I am ahead of the game (rarely) and buy presents for family afar, the parties, the caroling, the big dinner - the excitement of Christmas morning, and the massive amount of cleaning up that follows.

This year, I've decided Christmas is especially exhausting when you have 2-year old triplets and are expecting another baby ... and everyone is sick with a monster cold that we picked up sometime last week. But even with those minor details notwithstanding, it isn't unusual that I can be found in the same pajamas Christmas evening, that I wore to bed, Christmas Eve.

Some people have a huge celebration on Christmas, with lots of friends and family, and a grand dinner. We always have a fancy dinner on Christmas Eve - with English Poppers, a gift on every plate, and an elegant meal. This year because we didn't have family in town, we entertained four of our good friends - who are like family to us. We said goodnight at 11:30 PM and then stayed up for the next two hours getting ready for today. For as long as we have been married, we reserve Christmas day for a time that we can hang around in our jammies, play with the new gifts that we've received, take random naps throughout the afternoon, and watch the movie "It's A Wonderful Life".

This morning, the children were awake at 7:00 AM and while I tried to contain them in the nursery, Charlie got the camera set up so that he could record their expressions as they rounded the corner and experienced their third Christmas morning. Because I had removed almost all of the toys from the family room late last week because I was tired of picking up Legos a million times a day, especially since we were hosting several people over the weekend and I wanted the house to look somewhat decent to make room for the new toys they were receiving ... they went beserk to see all the presents Santa left them.

William instantly gravitated to an oversized panda bear. He threw his arms around it and remained that way for the next ninety minutes. Meanwhile, Elizabeth and Carolyn were enamored with the real shopping cart, bassinets for their baby dolls, red bouncing balls, train table (and huge assortment of Brio and Thomas the Train accessories - thanks to Auntie Beth!!), vacuum ... and every toy Santa brought - except for the panda which their brother was hovering over like a mother bear guarding her cub. Charlie surprised me with a beautiful coat, and I surprised him with a bike trailer. The bike trailer is not just for Charlie - but for me the children, too. Since Charlie loves to cycle, and will leave for a few hours at a time ... now when he takes off on these wonderfully aerobic outings - he can bring two of our kids with him.

Initially, I was extremely apprehensive about my babies being carted around in a trailer attached to my husband's bike. I was particularly concerned about their safety and when Charlie first told me that he wanted to get a trailer last year, without hesitation, I replied "Absolutely NOT. Are you insane?!!"

But then ... the children turned two.

They figured out how to escape from their cribs, they take pleasure in peeling wallpaper off their nursery walls, they frequently take off their clothing and remove their diapers, they scale almost all the furniture in our house (including a 6-foot high bookshelf) and they quickly destroy almost everything they touch. Which is almost everything.

I reconsidered my position.

Charlie can keep up with his cycling, with an added aerobic component that comes in the form of pulling two todders. The kids get lots of fresh air. I am left at home with *only* one child for several hours, at least once a week. Most importantly, my husband and children are happy. Isn't that what's really important?

It was because of my former, pre-two-year old position, Charlie was completely shocked when he opened his brand new bike trailer this morning, equipped with safety accessories that included a fully enclosed compartment with two five-point harnesses, roll bar, a bright orange flag, a rearview mirror and flashing lights for the front and back of his bike. I also purchased top-of-the-line helmets for our kids. With a smile and reminder to stay safe ... I bode them farewell, waving happily from the front door in my pajamas. At 3 PM.

My decision to purchase the bike trailer was a great one. Today, I had a peaceful afternoon with one child, while a happy Charlie took turns riding two of our happy children around the neighborhood. Infact, we all had such a good time that we will probably do this again tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. Probably every single day, until the 100-pound weight limit for the trailer is exceeded.

Watching Charlie ride off with our gleeful toddlers this afternoon, I was struck, yet again, by how fast our children are growing up. Two years ago, our Christmas tree was fully decorated and our premature infants were swaddled in blankets around the base. Last year, the Christmas tree was only 3-feet tall and perched on top of a table so that our fledgling toddlers couldn't reach it. This year, we were only able to decorate the top half of our Christmas tree with ornaments (which didn't deter the kids from standing on the arms of our couch and chair and perilously reaching out to grab that which they should not touch) ... but the children are fully aware how to turn on the switch every morning to make the "Twismas twee" light up and they took great joy in scaling ladders to help decorate.

Christmas was amazing. Our children are amazing. And the slide show I pulled together, set to Gary Hoey's "Away In A Manger", shows just how amazingly fast they grow up.

May everyone feel as blessed as we do on this Holy night.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 22, 2006

We Believe in Santa Claus

Christmas is my absolute favorite time of year. I love the festive decorations, I love the spirit of good will, I love Santa Claus … and I love that this holiday exists to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Growing up in Massachusetts, Christmas was always cold. Usually there was snow – always there were hats and mittens. In San Diego, there is never snow. Usually there are temperatures in the low 70’s and typically, short sleeve shirts.

In Massachusetts, I remember my parents having a bright red spotlight on top of our 100-year old colonial house that would be the beacon for Santa to land his sleigh. In San Diego, we have a bright red spotlight shining on our new Spanish-style casa so that Santa doesn’t miss us when he flies past.

In many ways, Christmas is so different now than when I was a child. But the magic of Christmas is still there. Just like when I was a kid.

Ever year Charlie and I celebrate Christmas with absolute reckless abandon. We decorate our home inside and out, we bake cookies, we sing carols, we attend the Christmas Eve church service where we hold white candles and listen to “Silent Night.” For as long as we have been married, the first words out of our mouths Christmas morning are “Did Santa come?!” Once we get out of bed, there are mimosas with champagne and fresh squeezed orange juice … homemade Pillsbury cinnamon rolls … luscious juicy pears … lox and bagels … all served up on our finest china and crystal. We begin opening our stockings at 7 AM and quite often; we are not yet finished by noon. Sometimes, it is late in the day before we finish opening the remainder of our presents. It’s not because there are a huge number of gifts, but because we savor each gift that we give and receive.

We savor Christmas day.

The struggles that we experienced with infertility were always the most painful during Christmastime. Every year for Christmas, we receive over 100 cards and I remember, just a few years ago, sitting on the couch in our living room with a bottle glass of wine in my hand and sobbing as I opened more and more cards with pictures of newborn babies … happy toddlers … and families that were announcing “one more on the way!” For a couple who had longed for children for years, this was the worst form of torture imaginable. It was salt in a wound, but it was also hope that one day, we too would have “one” of our own. Little did we know they would come in such large numbers, over such a short period of time…

We learned on Christmas Eve, 2003, that our second round of IVF was not successful. I hadn’t gone in to the second cycle too optimistically, so I wasn’t terribly surprised – like I had been when our first cycle was a bust in October of 2003 - and I couldn’t get out of bed for two days. Still, I remember wrapping presents with tears streaming down my face – splashing in my egg nog – and listening to Bing Crosby. For the first time in our married life, we had all but given up on celebrating the most wonderful day of the year.

Yet, low and behold, the Spirit struck us. My mother and her good friend, Lea, who at the time, were both staying in San Diego at the OHI, came to celebrate Christmas with us. Lea had just recently lost her husband Bill a few months earlier, and this was her first Christmas without him. Suddenly, our entire focus shifted from the sadness we were feeling, to helping Lea get through her first Christmas without Bill, the husband she had loved for 30+ years. Although it certainly didn’t start out that way, the Christmas of 2003 turned out to be one of the most incredible yet, because it was full of love and kindness that warmed each one of us, heart and soul. The present that Santa brought to us that year ... was the gift of friendship and compassion. God obviously knew that was what we needed more than anything else.

This will be our third Christmas as parents. But this is the first year that our children have the slightest inkling what’s in store. The fact that we can now share our excitement about this most glorious of holidays with our children, is the most incredible gift I could have ever given to Charlie … or received for myself.

Santa Claus will most definitely be coming to our house this Sunday, Christmas Eve. Our stockings will be hung by the chimney with care and before our children are tucked in to their cribs, which they will undoubtedly jump out of 20 times before they go to sleep for the night, we will read to them “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Charlie’s family has a lot of traditions, but reading this famous poem by Clement Clarke Moore every Christmas Eve is ranked high among my favorites. Another of my favorite Christmas traditions is to read the letter that appeared in the New York Sun on September 21, 1897. I appreciate that there is justification that Santa Claus exists.

Even though I knew it in my heart, already.

***
Dear Editor: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says “If you see it in The Sun it’s so.” Please tell me the truth: is there a Santa Claus? Virginia O’Hanlon

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.


Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.


You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world, which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.


No Santa Claus! Thank God he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Francis P. Church
The New York Sun

September 21, 1897

***
Yes, Santa Claus exists.

Although, it looks like the man deserves a raise.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Dear Santa

Dear Santa:

You might remember me, I came to visit you at your San Diego workshop last Friday. I was the woman with the two-year old triplets who screamed blue bloody murder when they saw you, and created such a stir that people within earshot stopped their shopping and peered their heads inside your cottage to see what was wrong. "Was Santa torturing the children?!"

Certainly you remember us. We came to see you last year, too - and similar to last year - our children scared you almost as much as you scared them.

This year, while we stood in line, our children tried to pull off as many ornaments from your lovely decorated trees as they could get their little hands on. When they weren't diving for ornaments, they were trying to eat the pseudo holly berries on the garland around the door. When we finally arrived for our picture, and my little girls realized that you were real, and not some huge stuffed Santa like they've seen around our house, they grabbed their brother around the neck and pulled him so hard that all three of them fell in to a heap on the floor, screaming "No! No! No Sansa!!!"

Yes, we were the family that finally consented to a group picture only after the photographer recommended it for the tenth time. I was apprehensive to have my picture taken because I have honestly been too busy to shower for two days? three days? a day or so. But, I was really glad that I decided at the last minute - before dashing out the door in a crazed state to the mall - to put on a Christmas sweater (and convinced my husband to do the same) in the off-chance we all had to be in a picture together. It's interesting that I remembered to put on a festive sweater, but didn't remember the diaper bag that was sitting by the front door.

You smiled at us when we were leaving. Remember? Your belly jiggled like a bowl full of jelly when our tiny tots, who moments earlier had almost stopped breathing they were crying so hard, graciously blew you kisses and waved "Ho, Ho, Ho! Bye, bye Sansa. Bye, bye!"

Anyway. Now that you know who I am - and you had a 7 minute glimpse in to what my life is like - I wanted to write you a note and see if perhaps The Father of Christmas could spot me a few things this year.

First, I would like to ask that my 26-month old son stop using his crib as the palette for which he exercises his artistic license with the contents of his diaper. This was an absolutely horrible thing to walk in on yesterday and the fact that he was able to manuever his way around the most secure of clothing - and was having such a great time - makes me fear that this will not be the last time he decides to do his best impression of Monet.

Second, I would like to ask for another 2, 4, 6 10 hours in the day. I've read that people shouldn't complain about how little time they have in life, considering we have the same number of hours in the day as Alexander Fleming, Galileo and Marie Curie. I'm not even going to try drawing a parallel between the importance of discovering penicilin, inventing the telescope or nuclear physics and say, doing a load of laundry. However, not a single one of the aforementioned ever had two-year old triplets. If just one of those great minds had been the parent of toddler triplets, I think that they would have used some of their time wisely to discover a way of keeping their children securely contained in a stroller, and hence preventing them from eating popcorn off the floor in Target. (On second thought, it's probably a good thing we have penicilin after that experience...)

Third, if at all possible, I would like to ask that the Christmas gifts we were up ordering until 2 AM this morning, be delivered before the middle of February. It was only after I filled my virtual shopping cart to the brink with all of the items necessary to convert our garage to "A Children's Playground Fantasy" ... and shelled out the equivalent of a mortgage payment and a half ... that I received the message none of the items would ship for 5 weeks. (See, I really need those extra 10 hours in the day. Theoretically, I could have completed my Christmas shopping back in October...)

Fourth, I would like to ask that our children PLEASE remain in their cages cribs. If that's not possible, I would ask that the only time they attempt climbing out of their cribs is when Charlie and I are wide awake or at least, semi-conscious. It's preferrable that they not pull an escape after their parents have only had three hours of sleep from staying up until 2 AM Christmas shopping. I've decided nothing wakes you up from a sound sleep faster - or in a more panicked state - than having a little finger jutted up your nose at 5 AM and a teensy voice sing "Mommy, jooce!"
Fifth, I would like to ask that if the UPS drivers have a package to drop off ... in the middle of nap time ... they kindly leave it on the step and not ring the bell THREE times and bang on the door like our house is on fire. OK, I wasn't planning to ask for that, but it happened not once, but twice today.

Sixth, we really need a bigger house, a maid or two, a cook, and a personal assistant. We've come to the conclusion that we've outgrown this house. I'm not entirely sure where the new baby is going to go come July - the only place that I can think of is in our new roll-out pantry nestled between the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and peanut butter. So not only do we need more space, but we need professional help with the preparation of decent meals. Surely toddlers can't live off of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and peanut butter alone. Can they?!

Seventh, as you complete your world-wide trip this Christmas Eve, could you please keep your eyes peeled for Bunny? He has been MIA since Friday and I fear he was thrown in to the trash can by one of our toddlers - who adore throwing things away - and hauled off to the dump. Fortunately for us, we have a back-up Lamb that Elizabeth has moderately accepted, but our heart aches for The Original Bunny.

Now, because I'm asking for a lot ... I also want to give some thanks for things received.

I know you have connections, so I'd appreciate you passing on my sincere gratitude to the Powers That Be for the little voice that whispered in my ear as I was ordering 150 pictures online for our Christmas card ... that maybe I ought to send in the picture of our family with Santa - in addition to the picture we took, ourselves. Not many rational people would attempt something like trying to get 3-2 year olds and a dog to pose for a picture taken by a camera on a tripod with the timer set.

But we did. At least 40 times.

And although the picture that I had on my camera looked pretty good - the pictures that were developed by the Costco Photoshop didn't look so great. So thank you for not having the picture below, be the only one available for our 150 Christmas cards.

I'd also like to thank the Powers That Be for the little voice that whispered in my ear to check the weight of the 150 Christmas cards that Charlie and I were up finishing until 3 AM on Sunday morning. If it hadn't been for that little voice, I would have had all 150 cards returned for insufficient postage. This year, the fancy designer cards + Christmas letter + picture with Santa wound up costing $0.63 ... a standard stamp AND a post card stamp. I can't tell you what a bummer it would have been if a week from now, I opened the mailbox only to see 150 of OUR cards sitting there.

However ... more than any of those things, I'd like to thank the Powers That Be for making this the best Christmas ever. It is a bit crazy at our house, but being able to see our beautiful children experience the wonder of Christmas ... well, it's positively magical. (The poor baby doll doesn't look to be having too good of a time though, does she?)

Thanks Santa. I promise to leave cookies out on Sunday night ... although ... I might skip adding nuts to the batter, if that's alright with you.

With much love & hopes for a safe flight, Jen

Friday, December 15, 2006

the beginning of the end

I've received a few phone calls over the past 24 hours from friends and family indicating that they are going to boycott our blog if I make them cry one more time. So, I'm taking a quick break from our NICU experience to tell you what our once 3-pound premature infants are up to, currently.

Last night I talked to my good friend Lorie, who informed me that her little girl, Shayna ... aged 2 ... is potty trained. She is also doing long division and knows all the capitals of foreign states, but I was expecially interested to hear that she has made the cross over from Pampers to Charmin. Following this call - I did something that I know I shouldn't have done.

I told Charlie.

This morning, I decided to work out of the house. So while Charlie was on "baby-duty" I was set up in the dining room with my laptop. It's always a pleasure working from home because I love hearing Charlie interact with the children and eavesdrop on how he does things when it's just him and the kids. At one point, I heard him corral everyone in to the bathroom.

What made me snort hot tea out my nose is when I heard him say "OK kids! I'm going to potty train you today!!"

Charlie doesn't read my blog so he is not aware of my plan to let the kids remain in diapers until they are old enough to tell me that no one else on the school bus wears them. Unlike Charlie, I'm in NO rush. Even if my slothful strategy for potty training means that we'll have four children wearing diapers one year from now ... I'm not afraid.

While I tried to suppress my laughter - because the absolute last thing I want to do is discourage a man with good intentions - I could hear Charlie talking each of the children through what they were about to do. "Daddy puts your potty seat on the toilet and now, you will sit up here and go pee-pee. OK? Ready to try? Who wants to go first? William?"

After enjoying this dialogue for five minutes or so, I was eventually pulled back in to work and wasn't paying attention to Charlie coaching our three 26-month old children the art of voiding in the toilet.

Several minutes later, I heard a particularly loud raucous emanating from the den. I could hear our gardner's lawnmower in the backyard, but I could also hear two of our three children screaming in glee. I decided to get up from my workstation to investigate. The sight that met my eyes coming around the corner, were William and Carolyn ... without their diapers ... jumping off the couch.

Charlie was no where to be seen.

As I ran over to grab them before they ran to our sliding glass door and played exhibitionists for our gardner and his crew, I noticed that not one ... but BOTH of the kids were standing above soggy spots on the rug. Charlie had taken their diapers off before giving everyone a chance to sit on the potty and had not moved fast enough to get the diapers back on (or close the door), before the kids heard the lawnmower in the back yard and ran away to see the "mowa". Afraid to leave Elizabeth unattended in the bathroom, perched on the potty, Charlie weighed the risk and figured two naked toddlers could do less damage to themselves or the house.

He clearly wasn't thinking about our rugs.

I helped to clean the kids up and put them down for a nap. As I went back to work, I could hear Charlie folding laundry at the back our our house. The kids were not settling down as quickly as they usually do, so at one point, I heard him walk in to the nursery to see what was going on. Seconds later, I looked up from my computer to see Charlie standing above me with a terrified look on his face.

I slowly asked "What's wrong?"

He replied "Oh God, Jen. When I went in to the nursery, Elizabeth was IN Carolyn's crib. I didn't put her there. Did YOU put her there?!"

I looked at him incredulously and responded "Why would I do that?! What did YOU do?!"

"Well ... I put her BACK in her own crib. Maybe it was a fluke, you know - a one time event."

Yeah. And maybe we can potty train our two-year old triplets in a day.

A couple minutes pass and the two of us are standing in stunned silence outside the nursery, listening to laughter and kids frolicking. I quietly pull back the curtains and immediately spot Elizabeth in Carolyn's crib.

As I walk in to the nursery, she looks like a kid caught with her hand in the cookie jar. She gives me a sly smile and then reaching down, picks up bunny and waves her lovey in the air. Oh, of course! Why, I'll bet she was just going in to Carolyn's crib to retrieve her bunny. Surely she had no intention to stay there...

I change three dirty diapers and exit to the kitchen. Minutes pass. Again, I hear frolicking and kids laughing. I pop my head in to the nursery and see Elizabeth running free, just as Carolyn is hoisting herself up and over the side of her crib. William is standing in awe, watching his sisters easily escape from the bars that have contained them for the past two years.

My legs go numb and I suddenly forget my own name. This day wasn't suppose to happen for at least another 12-months. Maybe 18.

While we were in South Carolina, the kids became escape artists from their pack-n-plays. I still fall in to a fit of laughter thinking about the night Charlie and I went out on a date and came home to my mother sitting in a pitch black house. The kids had all climbed out of their PNP's and mom thought if she turned off all the lights, and made Jim stay in his room, the kids wouldn't come out. She was sorely mistaken. Instead, there were three children running around, three hours past their bedtime, wild and free in a dark house. It was the best time of their lives!

Fortunately, since we've been home, they haven't once attempted to climb out of their cribs. I honestly didn't think they could, without hurting themselves. But to see them today, the way they carefully eased themselves over the side ... you'd think they've been practicing for months.

I rounded the girls up - put them back in their cribs - gave them my sternest look and told them that they had to stay put. For a while, the house was silent. After another 30 minutes or so, Charlie peeked in the nursery to see Elizabeth, once again standing outside of her crib, and attempting to brush her sleeping brother's hair through his crib slats. Since a 2-year old doesn't have the most finesse when it comes to brushing hair - within seconds, William was wide awake and howling.

Nap time, like potty training, was a complete bust, which makes me certain that we've reached the next Hurricane Level.

With no time to clean the rug, or get himself mentally prepared for the second half of the day, I could hear Charlie's exasperated sighs as our over-tired children wreaked havoc. At one point, I got up to get a drink of water and noticed that the house was unusually quiet. As I walked around looking for everyone, I found Charlie sitting on the floor outside of our laundry room catching a quick nap. He was on one side of the door, the kids were on the other.

My husband gave me a sly smile, similar to a kid getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar - or a toddler climbing out of her crib - and said "How funny. Who would have ever guessed that they like playing in the laundry room with the door closed?!"

Well, I suppose that's one way to contain them. And maybe if we put a potty chair in there, they'll train themselves.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Part VIII: A Waddle In Time

If they would have let me, I would have remained in the NICU right next to William. However, Charlie, a man who not only appreciates a good night sleep - but also appreciates a good meal, convinced me to take a break after having sat next to our son's bedside for the past 16 hours. For the second night in a row, we joined Alex and Kathleen for dinner.

Rather than drive too far from the NICU, we dined a few blocks away in the restaurant of the hotel where Alex and Kathleen were staying. There was a Halloween party in one of the ballrooms, and there were people dressed in outlandish costumes, everywhere. I was amazed that on this scariest day of my life, while we were clinging to hope that our child would be healed, people were out celebrating.

For the rest of the world, this was just another ordinary day.

When we returned to the NICU an hour or so later and were scrubbing up in the intermediary room, I happened to notice that the door leading to the high-risk side opened and our neonatologist was walking out towards me. I was just about to inform her that she'd be proud of me because I'd taken a break and eaten a real meal, when I noticed that she was looking very somber with her eyes cast down. It was then that I saw the family, walking behind her.

I had seen this family before in passing to and from the NICU, they had a baby girl who was born at 25 weeks and before our children had been transferred to the low-risk side, had been in the bed next to our girls. As our neonatologist and the family walked two feet past me, I saw that the mother was holding their tiny baby in her arms. At first I was surprised and wondered why in the world they would be taking her out of the NICU ... but then I realized that she was free of all wires and lines. It took only a moment to register what had happened.

Their baby girl had died.

So long as I live, I will never forget the look of sadness on their faces. I will never forget the way the mother held her child close to her chest and the tears of grief washed down her cheeks. I will never forget feeling so much compassion without trading a single word, for the loss that this family had just endured. They would never be the same, again.

After everything that we had been through within the past 24 hours ... this family was living my worst possible fear. Had it not been for the lingering uncertainty that our own son would survive his illness, I don't think I could have fathomed the depth of despair that this family was feeling. While I held on to the fear that we might lose our baby ... this family had just lost theirs.

October 30, 2004 was not just another ordinary day for them, either.

As they exited the NICU and went to the apartment that Charlie and I had stayed in earlier that morning - which was now being used as a place for saying goodbye - I broke down in to sobs. Gently, Charlie took my hand and led me in to the high-risk side. We walked passed the baby's bed that had just died. The items that her family had brought from home to make her environment more cozy - the small stuffed animals around her bed, the photos of her mom and dad, the hand made blankets and lovingly crafted name tag were all still in place. But the monitors were silent.

What if.

What if ... the pregnancy had lasted just a few weeks longer? What if ... the baby had been born closer to full-term and had no complications? What if ... this baby girl grew up in to a woman who would have children of her own? What if ... this baby girl was a person who would one day change the world?

Sometimes, it is so hard to understand why things happen.

Sometimes, it is agonizing when we realize that we have no control.

The nurses were teary-eyed and told me that losing a baby is always terrible. It's especially heart wrenching when the baby has been under their care for the past several weeks. I hugged the nurses that had been taking care of her and told them that they were angels sent by God, walking this earth and performing miracles.

Twenty five months later, I still believe that the majority of doctors and nurses that work in the NICU are some of the most magnificent people on this planet, and as far as I'm concerned ... they all have a place in heaven. Twenty five months later, I still think of that family and their baby girl, almost daily. Since that sad night in the NICU, I have come across a saying that there is no footprint so small that it does not leave a mark on this world. The baby girl that shared a space with our children for the first two weeks of their lives, certainly left a mark on me.

When we approached William's bed, his nurse gave me a big smile. She told me that the most recent round of x-rays showed that the pneumatosis had almost completely disappeared. Equally important, his c-reactive protein levels were on the decline and he actually woke up at one point crying because he was hungry. The heavy levels of antibiotics were working but due to his sensitive state, food was being with held for at least the next few days to allow his intestine an opportunity to heal. In the meantime, he would receive intravenous fluids.

We stayed with William for a few minutes longer and then went to visit the girls. They were sleeping soundly and I was so relieved that they were growing and thriving and not having any apparent complications.

A few days later, my mother arrived in California. Although I was coping, I hadn't realized just how difficult the past few weeks had been. The final days of my pregnancy, the delivery, my engorged breasts, the NICU, the NEC episode with William. I was so extremely grateful that mom had finally arrived and I did not know that I was like a time bomb waiting to explode. When I first saw her standing in the lobby of the hospital - I cried like a baby. It was such a relief to have her here - I felt like all of the burdens that I'd been carrying around for the past month were instantly lifted off my shoulders.

Mom was here. Surely now, everything would be fine.

We walked to the NICU and I brought mom to the low-risk side to meet the girls first. I could tell that my mother was in disbelief that since she had last seen me during Christmas ... we conceived and delivered three babies. I fully expected that my mom would gasp in delight when she saw her beautiful granddaughters. I did not expect that my mom, a retired nurse - mother to seven and grandmother to 18 - would be afraid to touch them. But she was. Whereas I had grown accustomed to our children's small size, the wires and monitors - my mother had never been around a premature infant before.

When we walked over to the high-risk side so that I could introduce her to William, mom was even more shocked. Even though our son was on the mend and breathing on his own, he was still hooked up to several IV's and lay on an open bed, clad only in a diaper, beneath a heat lamp. It had taken a few days for the Blood Bank to process the donation, so one of the IV's William was receiving the day my mom arrived, was Charlie's blood.

Our baby was literally "pinking" up before my very eyes.

The nurse who had been caring for William came over to talk with us. She told me that he was doing considerably better and he would be reintroduced to food within the next few hours. They planned to only give him small amounts of my stored breastmilk, using a bottle, and would evaluate how well he tolerated the feeds.

Never in a million years, did I imagine that less than a week after mom arrived - would I receive a call from the NICU telling me that William was doing so much better that he would be released from the hospital that afternoon. The nurses and doctors credited William's fast recovery to his dad's "Super Blood" and the transfusion he had received a few days before. William came home just in time for Charlie's 38th birthday. Mom baked a cake and Charlie held William on his lap while he blew out his candles. We bathed him, we put him in our bed and laid for hours staring at his tiny features. Once we had William at home, we wasted no time removing the wrist bands, from his wrist and ours, and we reveled in the fact that we now *only* had two babies remaining in the hospital. We were over the moon with joy.

But then.

Never in a million years, did I imagine that the day following William's release from the hospital, we would receive another phone call at 5 AM to tell us that our baby Elizabeth had been transferred back to the high-risk side of the NICU and was seriously ill with NEC.

I thought that we had already been through the worst of it. Turns out, the hardest part was yet to come.

... to be continued ...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Part VII: A Waddle In Time

When the phone woke us up from a sound sleep at 2 AM and we heard the news that our baby boy was struggling for life ... the absolute last thing that we could do was roll over and go back to sleep. I could hardly control my breathing and thought for sure I was having a heart attack.

I remember a ringing in my ears ... I was freezing cold ... I was shaking furiously ... and I couldn't help but think that this was the worst nightmare imaginable. Was I still asleep? Was I dreaming?

I could not understand how our baby could be seemingly fine one day ... a bit fussy ... and then hooked up to a ventilator within hours.

What happened and how could his condition deteriorate so quickly?!

Before Charlie was off the phone, I was out of bed and dressed. I remember I had on a pair of ragged sweatpants and one of Charlie's worn sweatshirts, which I threw on over my pajama top and night-time bra. I pulled on a pair of wool socks and my sneakers. By the time Charlie was hanging up, I was standing by the front door with my pumping supplies in hand.

"Let's go."

There was no question that we were going to the hospital. I was going to stand by my baby all night long and look at his monitor, ask the doctors questions and make sure that I understood exactly what had happened and more importantly, what was being done to make our son well. I had to have SOME control in this situation and the only way that I could possibly have any resemblance to control is if I was there.

Asking questions.

Seeking to understand.

Touching our child.

There was no one on the road at 2:15 AM. It had just rained, again, and the streets glistened from our headlights. Charlie and I were silent on the drive to the hospital. Everything was quiet except for the sound of our tires on the pavement, the heat that was blasting from the vent to warm my frigid body, and our deep sighs and murmurings to God.

When we arrived at the hospital, we ran in to the lobby. We quickly picked up our NICU visitor badges, and acknowledged the sympathetic look from the night time guard. This guard had obviously been a member of the staff for a long enough period of time to know that parents don't come running in to the hospital at 2:45 AM without reason. Something obviously was wrong with our newborn.

We scrubbed our hands in the intermediary room and made our way in to the high-risk side. Unlike every other time I have visited, the NICU was quiet and dark ... except for a bustle of activity around one small bed. I could immediately see where William was stationed. There was a team of doctors and nurses administering various medications and checking his newly inserted IV's. Just then, a portable x-ray unit was wheeled up to his bedside and as the technician strategically draped our infant son in a lead cover, everyone stepped away while a series of images were taken.

Our baby boy, who just hours earlier had a pink complexion and was squirming around, was completely white and motionless. The adorable little outfit that I had dressed him in was gone. He was wearing only a diaper and was hooked up to a venilator. He had a nasogastric tube in place, that was pumping all the contents of his stomach into a bag next to his bed. He did not flinch as the technician rotated him to different positions for additional x-rays. He didn't cry when his heel was pricked for blood, or when the third IV was put in to his foot.

He didn't cry. But I did.

I felt so helpless. There was nothing that I could do except stand there, sobbing and praying. I have never before, and never since, felt so vulnerable. People have said that when you have a child, it is like having your heart on the outside of your body. And so it was for me that night in the NICU. I would have given anything to trade places with him. If only I could be the one there, fighting for my life. I was bigger, stronger ... he was just a tiny, innocent, 4-pound baby.

Time passed. I stood by William's bedside and sang to him. Over and over again, I sang and prayed. I touched his tiny little hand, stroked his blonde hair and told him that I was here and I loved him more than the world.

Eventually, I don't know how much later, our neonatologist came to my side and gently putting her hand on my shoulder, told me that I needed to get some rest. Charlie was in a comatose state in a nearby chair ... and I was in shock. When I furiously shook my head and told her that I wasn't leaving my baby's bedside, she told me that she had a place, in the hospital, where we could get some sleep.

Within a few minutes, Charlie and I were led to a small apartment like room, directly across the hall from the NICU. How I had not noticed these rooms before, remains a complete mystery to me. I obviously had tunnel vision during my previous 14-day visits to the NICU, up until that point.

I would later learn that these rooms are used for a variety of purposes. Primarily, they are used when parents are preparing to take their infants home from the NICU. If the child is going home on a monitor (i.e. apnea monitor) the hospital invites the parents to spend the night with their baby before they are discharged to insure that they have a good comfort level with an alarm that will sound at 5,000,000 decibels at least 20 times in the middle of the night. These rooms are also used for parents who like Charlie and I, have a seriously sick child in the NICU, and do not want to be too far away. Sometimes, the rooms are used by families that have just lost a child - and this gives them a private environment to say their goodbyes.

Within our room there was a bathroom, a microwave and sink, a table and two chairs, an arm chair and a twin sized bed. While Charlie used the restroom, I dove on to the bed, next to the wall - because I knew that if I was on the outside, he would knock me on to the floor as soon as he fell asleep. If there was one thing I'd learned in ten years of marriage, it's that Charlie is a reckless sleeper.

As soon as my husband's head hit the pillow, he was asleep and snoring loudly. Hours later, I still could not sleep. I dozed off once, but had a nightmare that our neonatologist woke us up to say that William did not survive and would we be willing to donate his organs. Realizing that there was no way I could sleep, I climbed over Charlie and out of bed, just as the sun was rising through our tiny window. Making my way back to the NICU, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I felt like death warmed over and sadly, in my oversized sweat pants and shirt, I looked much worse than I felt.

The NICU was quiet, even the area around William's bed. I drew up a chair and just as I was sitting down, the neonatologist pulled up a chair to join me. She told me that William's diagnosis was necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), which typically occurs only with premature infants. It can strike suddenly and without proper medication, can be deadly. The good news is that they caught it fast and William was being treated aggressively.

The doctor reviewed the series of events that had transpired. Within a couple hours of my phone call to the night nurse, William had almost 100% green residual in his gavage tube from the late night feeding. Immediately following the realization that his stomach was not digesting my breastmilk, he began having bloody stools, his temperature dropped and he started having apnea and brady cardia events. Our nurse immediately clued in that there was a serious problem and called for the doctor.

It happened that fast.

While the doctor placed orders for antibiotics, they performed a series of blood work and called for the x-ray machine. William's c-reactive protein was elevated and the appearance of pneumatosis (bubbles) in his intestine were prevalent. The diagnosis of NEC was quickly made and treatment was immediate.

Our neonatologist, who by this point I absolutely cherished for her fast action, told me that they would continue to perform blood work to check his c-reactive protein, a good indication to how well his body was combating the infection. They would also continue with x-rays, several times throughout the day, to insure that the antiobiotics were working. If the pneumatosis perforated his intestinal wall, I was warned that emergency surgery would be likely.

As for now, we had to wait and see.

Around this time, Charlie had joined us in the NICU and was up to speed on everything that I had just heard. Our doctor took the two of us to the back of the NICU and popped William's first, second and third round of x-rays on the board. We could clearly see the pneumatosis that she had referenced, growing worse, with each successive x-ray. The doctor assured us that this was common and the response of the antibiotics would soon kick in. She then told us that one of the things that would help William to recover faster, is to receive a blood transfusion.

Without hesitation, I told the doctor that as a universal donor with my O+ blood type, I would go donate, right away. Alas, I was informed that because I had just had a c-section 2 weeks previously (wherein I lost over 2 liters of blood), I was not the ideal blood donor at that very moment in time. However, as it turned out, William and his dad share the same blood type, A+, which made Charlie the perfect candidate.

After picking Charlie up a cup of coffee at the small cart parked outside the hospital, we were off to the San Diego Blood Bank. On our way, I called my good friend and fellow triplet mom, Cheryl. When I was 12 weeks pregnant, one of our neighbors came running over to our house to tell me that she had met a mother of triplets at the local grocery store. I remember her gushing "What are the ODDS of meeting another set of triplets?!" Well, in our neighborhood with seven sets of triplets within a 3-mile radius, the odds are pretty darn good. But, neither my neighbor nor I knew that there was such a plethora of HOM's in the area ... so I was extremely grateful that she obtained this woman's telephone number.

And that's how I met Cheryl.

When Cheryl answered the phone, I couldn't hold back the tears. I was so exhausted and so afraid ... I unloaded everything that had just happened within the past 7 hours. The phone call at 2 AM, driving to the hospital, seeing our baby boy hooked up to so many machines ... the fear that he would need surgery.

The fear that he would die.

Cheryl, a devout Christian, sat on the phone listening to me and when I finally stopped talking, she prayed aloud. While I listened to her words, for the first time, since this whole ordeal began ... I knew that we were not in this alone.

While Charlie donated his blood on behalf of our two-week old son, I sat in the lobby and cried. I called my mother on her cell phone and left a message on her voicemail. Not due to arrive in San Diego for another week still, she was at the beach and probably out walking at that very moment. Within seconds of hanging up, my cell phone started ringing and wouldn't stop for the next several weeks.

Calls began flooding in from people that I didn't even know. But people that Cheryl, through her involvement with the church and community, knew. People that had children who had suffered NEC and had success stories to share. People who wanted to help in any way they could. Could they please bring meals? Cut our grass? Clean our house? Pray for us?

My day started out overwhelmed with the fear that God was no where to be found during our most dire time of need. This feeling of loneliness and helplessness soon gave way to a greater strength and outpouring of support than I had imagined possible. My spirits were literally lifted up to the heavens, by absolute strangers. The people at the blood bank, the people who called just to tell me that we were being added to their prayer circles. The e-mails that inundated my computer at home, the meals that appeared on our doorstep, and the cards and packages that began arriving, by the dozens, within days.

We returned to the hospital and resumed our place next to William's bed side where we continued to sit the rest of the day. Somewhere around 4 PM I realized that the reason I was in such excruciating pain is not only because my heart was clenched with fear for the well being our our baby boy, but because I hadn't pumped in almost 18 hours. For a woman who was pumping every 3-hours round-the-clock, going 18 hours was not a good move.

Returning from the pump lounge (where I expressed almost 50 ounces of milk within 30 minutes), I stopped by to visit the girls, who were being held and adored by Alex and Kathleen. I'm not sure that I ever adequately thanked Alex and Kathleen, but I am so appreciative, that while Charlie and I held vigil over William's crib ... they held Carolyn and Elizabeth, all day long. This was so important to me, because I was (and am) convinced human touch was the most important thing we could do for our premature babies.

Up until that point, our baby girls were doing remarkably well. But even their stretch of good health would be short-lived. And thus, Charlie and I came to understand what the "Preemie Shuffle" was all about. In all truth, it was more like a roller coaster ride to hell and back.

... to be continued ...

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Remembering Julie

Long before I started my pregnancy, delivery and story of the babies in the NICU ... I knew that I had to remember my good friend Julie Maggi, on December 8th.

I met Julie my first semester in California, 1991. We sat next to each other in Geology 303 and became fast friends. When we would go on Geology camping trips, we always set our tents up next to one another and I would fall in to fits of hysterics whenever Julie would string clothes line up between two desert trees and hang her granny pants out to dry.

Julie lived on a farm with her parents, in Sonoma County. Her family raised sheep and had an impressive organic garden and as a friend to all plants and animals, Julie referred to herself as "Earth Mamma". I remember that on my birthday in April 1993, Julie informed me that one of her favorite sheep had given birth and to commemorate my 22nd birthday, she was naming the lamb Jenna. The fact that it was a male lamb was beside the point and I was deeply honored.

After I graduated from college in 1994, Charlie and I were married and moved to San Diego to begin graduate school. Even though we were separated by several hundred miles - Julie and I remained in touch. We would correspond the old fashioned way with letters and receiving mail from Julie always put a smile on my face. She would notoriously decorate her envelopes with drawings that inevitably included two desert trees and a clothes line, with a pair of granny pants blowing in the breeze.

With time, our letters gave way to e-mail ... and instead of corresponding a few times a year, we would correspond a few times a month. With all of the time that we spent writing to each other, Julie never told me that she was sick.

Last year, a few days after our babies first birthday, I received an e-mail from Julie wherein she informed me that she was battling Stage IV bone cancer, which had metastasized. What I didn't know, and wouldn't learn until two months later, was that Julie had been diagnosed with breast cancer several years before and had kept her diagnosis to herself ... because she didn't want to upset her friends and family. Always the eternal "Earth Mamma" Julie didn't want to subject her body to modern medicine, and instead, relied on an entirely holistic approach to treat her breast cancer. Unfortunately, that approach had not worked.

When I read Julie's words, it felt like someone had punched me in the gut. Tears sprung to my eyes and I sat dumbfounded ... reading them again and again.

Even though it was against everything she believed, Julie started an intensive chemotherapy regiment to combat her cancer in October of last year. Feeling desperate to help in any way I could, I knit her a thick Irish-wool scarf for her to wear to her treatment sessions. I mailed her a stuffed bunny, because she had once told me that when she was a child, she had a lovey bunny - just like our Elizabeth - and her her heart was broken when it was lost. I also mailed her a package of peanut M&M's, my ultimate comfort food, and my copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Julie and I continued to e-mail each other for the next several weeks and I continued to pray that she would overcome this obstacle.

On December 16, 2005, I received a Christmas card from Julie. It was a simple card, with a picture of a wreath and three stockings hanging from a mantle. She dated the card December 6, 2005 and inside had written the following note:

"Dear Jenna - How special you are, your bright light and enthusiasm - God knows you are walking this Earth as an angel for sure. Enjoy your three beautiful blessings - how cute they are. Thank you for being such a good friend to me - I cherish you and the relationship. All the best to you. I love you - Julie."

In the same batch as Julie's card, came another card, also from Sonoma County. The sender of this card identified herself as Julie's sister and she requested that I please contact her at my earliest opportunity. Her telephone number was included. My first thought was that her sister was planning some kind of surprise for Julie. In my Christmas card, which I had sent earlier in the month, I had told Julie that I was planning a visit to northern California in January around the time of her birthday. Since we hadn't seen each other since our graduation in 1994, and I would like nothing more than for her to meet our children - perhaps we could connect.

Surely that's why her sister sent me a card - they were planning a surprise party for Julie - and the thought of seeing my dear friend again made me giddy.

For the next several days, I traded phone calls with Julie's sister. We finally spoke on Christmas Eve. Just as I was about to launch in to how excited I was to see Julie again ... her sister told me that Julie had passed away on December 8th.

I was confused.

How could she have passed away on December 8th? That made no sense. I told her sister that I had received a card from Julie on December 16th ... and the card was dated December 6th. Apparently, Julie spent her last days writing Christmas cards to her closest friends and family. Before she died, Julie's sister promised that she would mail all of the cards out - could Julie not be able to do so, herself. The handwritten note that I received from Julie were among the last words that she wrote.

That evening, once all the children were nestled all snug in their beds, I sat outside by myself. I looked at the moon and the fog that was slowly rolling in to our neighborhood on a chilly Christmas Eve. Our Christmas lights were illuminated and cast the most beautiful glow I had ever seen. I could feel Julie's presence ... she was right there with me ... touching my heart as I grieved her passing.

A year later, Julie's Christmas card still sits on my desk ... inches from my hands.

A year later, the tears still spring to my eyes whenever I think of my good friend.

A year later, Julie's spirit is still with me. She is a part of my soul.

I miss you Julie. And I love you, too.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Part VI: A Waddle In Time

My purpose in life was defined by spending every waking minute as much time as possible in the NICU with my babies. When I would wake up in the morning, I would pump, eat breakfast, shower, get dressed and determine out who was going to take me to the hospital since I was recovering from my c-section and unable to drive.

For the first couple of weeks, there were only two options for transport.

1) Charlie, who had returned to work. He did not plan to start his 12 weeks of paternity leave until the babies came home from the hospital. (We were lucky that he had stockpiled vacation time and was able to take advantage of the Family Medical Leave Act in California.)

2) Rowena, a good friend who had been my right-hand person at work before I went on maternity leave.

Sometimes, Charlie and Rowena would come in to the NICU with me to visit for a few minutes before they had to leave for the office. But usually, they would drop me off at the front door to the hospital and promise to pick me up at the end of the day, typically 9 to 10 hours later.

When I would arrive at the NICU, I would scrub up - make sure no one was trying to sneak extra family members inside - turn whatever milk I had pumped over to the nurses for them to store for the next feeding, and settle in for a long day with my babies.

This was my job, seven days a week, and there was no place more important for me to be. When I wasn't at the NICU, I would get panicky. A few days after the babies were born and I was enroute to the hospital ... it was pouring rain and we were stuck in traffic. At first I worried that if we were ever in a car accident - we would leave behind three orphans. No one, not even us, knew what we wanted to have happen with the children in the event Charlie and I perished. The longer we sat in traffic, the more panicky I became ... until the point that I was gasping for breath and crying uncontrollably.

Maybe it was hormones or maybe it was because I had three premature infants in the hospital. I think it was a combination of the two factors. But the only time I felt like I could breathe normally and my heart didn't pound out of my chest, was when I was sitting in the NICU with my babies.

In the beginning, I was terribly afraid of all the wires and monitors, and would frantically call for the nurses whenever an alarm would sound. But with time, I navigated around the incubators and cords like a professional. If an alarm would trigger, I would do a quick scan of the screens to identify which baby was having the issue and then I would determine whether the alarm was sounding because a wire had come loose - or if there was an actual problem.

I could identify if the reason the alarm had sounded was because the oxygen saturation levels had dropped ... or if the babies heart rate had dipped. When we were still on the high-risk side of the NICU and the ratio of nurses to babies was 1:2, a nurse would immediately respond to an alarm before I could stand up. But when we transitioned to the low-risk side of the NICU and the ratio of nurses to babies was 1:4 ... there might be a slower response time for a sounding alarm. (i.e., 6 seconds as opposed to 2.)

There were many times I would evaluate the reason for the alarm and make the necessary adjustments to my baby. If the oxygen saturation levels dropped or their heart rate dipped, I would gently nudge them so that they would arouse from their deep slumber and take a breath. If a lead had slipped loose, I would secure the line. Usually, this would stop the alarm immediately, but if it didn't ... I would scream summon for a nurse, who by this time, was typically standing next to me.

I gingerly learned how to change diapers, through the tiny incubator door, and was amazed that even the preemie sized diapers, which were no bigger than a Kleenex, were huge on our 3-pound infants. The babies were removed from their incubators only when they were able to maintain their own body temperature. Pic lines and umbilical catheters were removed when the babies started receiving their nutrition from gavage tubes.

A week after they were born, Elizabeth was transitioned to the low-risk side of the NICU ... followed by William later in the day ... followed hours later by Carolyn. Even though William was on the low-risk side, he continued to receive oxygen via a nasal cannula until he was almost two weeks old. Although I was excited that our babies were no longer considered "high-risk", I was concerned that they would not be getting the same level of nursing attention that they were before. We had known and come to trust all of the nurses on the high-risk side and I was uncertain if the level of care that they were going to receive would be consistent with what we had experienced.

After getting to know the nurses on the low-risk side of the NICU, I quickly determined who I liked and requested that we be assigned to a specific few. There was Jen, Somer, Marcela, Nicole, Pat and Pam - our favorite night nurse. Each of the babies were given a small book while in the NICU and the nurses that would care for them would jot a note as they had time, during their shift. These books were a wonderful gift while our babies were in the hospital, because we could later read the thoughtful notes people would leave when we were not present. Charlie and I would add our own thoughts and sentiments to each of the babies books during their hospital stay. (When I look back and read our words from that time, I am instantly transported to the feeling of our NICU experience. To look at our children now, and see how far they have come ... is impossible to believe. I know that we will treasure these books forever.)

Before our babies had mastered the suck, swallow, breathe reflex ... they were receiving all of their nutrition from their gavage tube. I credit the NICU for helping to establish a routine, because from the first day of their lives, our babies were on a 3-hour feeding schedule. Even though I couldn't feed them with a bottle, I would hold each one of them as they would receive breastmilk through their gavage tubes. At first they were only receiving 4 cc's of milk at a time. Still, it might take 10 minutes to complete a feeding, check the gavage tube and verify that there was no "residual"milk that had not been ingested by their little tummies.

I would rotate through all three of my babies and made every attempt to hold each one during their feedings. Even when I wasn't feeding them, I would hold each baby as much as possible. I would sing to them ... read them stories ... and do Kangaroo Care. But mostly, I savored being near our perfect infants and continually pinched myself to check if I was dreaming.

Just as I was starting to feel comfortable around our babies, the transition to a bottle began. Even though feeding a newborn a bottle may not seem like a big deal ... feeding a premature infant a bottle is colossal. Our babies were just learning how to suck and swallow, and sometimes they would forget to breathe. I never will forget the night Charlie was feeding Carolyn and I watched my baby daughter slowly turn from grey to three shades of blue. Charlie quickly pulled the nipple from her mouth, leaned her forward and started to firmly rub her back ... hoping that it would stimulate her to take a deep breath.

Instead, she turned purple.

I jumped out of my chair and yelled for the nurse, who had already reached for an oxygen mask. She took Carolyn from Charlie, put the oxygen mask on her face and while rubbing her back, softly coaxed "Breathe, baby ... breathe." It was only when I saw my infant's complexion return to pink, did I realize that I had stopped breathing, too.

Sometimes, the babies would tucker out from trying to take their feeding and would need to receive the remainder of their meal from the gavage tube. Each and everyday, I thought about how lucky we were that our children were born in a day and age when modern technology not only brought them to us ... but would help them to survive.

While the babies were being transitioned to the bottle, my trusty lactation consultants reappeared and began encouraging me to try nursing. Even though I eventually did go on to nurse all three of the babies successfully, we never got the hang of nursing while we were in the NICU. Still, I continued pumping. During my visits, I would take a 20-minute break to pump, every 3-hours. Usually, I packed lots of healthy snacks and water with me for my full day in the hospital, so I didn't have to leave for lunch. While I was hooked up to the pump and with the help of my hands free pump bra, I would enjoy cheese, granola bars, graham crackers, carrot sticks and fresh fruit. Sometimes, I'd knit and used my pumping sessions to create small chenile blankets for each of the babies.

All things seemed to be going well with our "feeders and growers", until October 29th.

I was visiting the hospital that day with Alex and Kathleen, who had just arrived from Arizona for the first time to visit the babies. While I was holding William during his feeding, I noticed that he was particularly fussy. Unlike the times before when he would contentedly take his bottle, he was squirming and appeared unable to get comfortable. I summoned the nurse, Brandy, a woman who was filling in for our chief nurse, and who I had not met before. She suggested that we feed him the rest of his meal via gavage tube, which was still in place.

While I held William on my chest, he continued to squirm and began crying. With the exception of the times our babies had to receive an IV or have their blood checked via a prick on the heel ... I never heard them cry. This was highly unusual and my maternal alert was sounding.

I called for Brandy and told her that something was wrong. She suggested that perhaps William was just being fussy and needed to sleep. In my heart, I knew that wasn't the reason. When Brandy checked William's gavage tube and noted that he had approximately 50% residual in his line, I requested that a neonatologist be paged. Unfortunately, it was getting late in the afternoon and a shift change was coming up. We were required to vacate the NICU during shift changes - and since Alex and Kathleen were visiting - we all had prior plans to go to dinner that evening.

By the time we were leaving the NICU, the neonatologist had not yet appeared. I spoke with the charge nurse and told her that I was concerned about William and asked if she please have the nurse on duty that evening call and give me an update. Only after she convinced me that everything would be fine ... did I begrudgingly leave the hospital.

Still, I had an uneasy feeling.

We enjoyed a nice dinner and my cell phone didn't ring once. Following our meal, I told Charlie that we needed to return to the hospital, my instinct said I needed to be with our son. It was 9:30 at night and we were 30-minutes away. A man who has always appreciated a good night sleep, Charlie suggested that we call and talk to the nurse and find out how William was doing. If his condition warranted a visit - we would go. Otherwise, we would get a good night sleep and visit first thing in the morning.

Only moderately convinced, I made the call.

The nurse on duty was one of our favorites and she said that William had been a little fussy earlier, but was sleeping well at the moment. She recommended that we stay home and if his condition changed, she would call us immediately. Unlike Brandy, I trusted this nurse. I thanked her for looking after our babies ... changed in to my pajamas ... pumped ... and settled in to bed.

The phone woke us from a sound sleep at 2 AM. My heart instantly sunk and I felt horribly nauseous as I heard Charlie on the line. William had been rushed back to the high risk side of the NICU where he had been re-intubated and was receiving high levels of antibiotics. Our baby boy was suddenly very ill and fighting for his life.

... to be continued ...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Little things that make me smile...

Charlie keeps referring to some book on early childhood development that apparently indicates at some point - in the near future - our children will become very distressed if the food they are eating gets 'disorganized'. According to Charlie, if the peas touch the chicken ... or if the spaghetti touches the bread ... everything could very well be ruined and our children's appetites immediately extinguished.

From what I am told, one day soon, our children will make a concerted effort to be neat eaters.

Quite honestly, I don't see this phenomenon of our children being distraught over a messy eating environment happening any time soon. I sure as heck don't know what book Charlie is referring to and although I've searched our entire collection and have come up empty - my husband insists it exists. Each day while I duck to avoid getting hit with a flying sippy cup, my husband is optimistic that this will be the day our children will sit with a napkin folded neatly on their lap.

My personal experience as an aunt to 22 nieces and nephews, and babysitter to scores of children, supports the theory that kids will continue flinging mashed potatoes across the room and wearing spaghetti on their head until they are at least 12. After watching Charlie attempt to catapult peas off his fork and in to his mouth tonight, I wouldn't be surprised if our children still have questionable table manners at the age of 40.

*****

Our children have really started to develop an opinion on matters lately. Just this morning, William insisted on what he would wear today. He went straight from being dressed in his race car pajamas, to a full-body temper tantrum when we tried to put him in overalls, to being dressed in his dinosaur pajamas. This is the outfit he wore all day ... to the park, to Lowe's to pick up more Christmas lights, and to Charlie's office this afternoon where he accompanied his dad.

Dinosaur pajamas.

With pink socks.

And his Tevas.

In public.

Fortunately, he didn't insist on wearing a diaper and his sister's black patent leather shoes to the hardware store - like he tried to wear for church while we were in South Carolina. Alas, it is moments like these that make me thankful for our trusty digital camera and which will make William think I am the worst mother in the world the evening of his senior prom.

*****

When our babies were younger and I was working hard to keep them on a schedule, I would log on to the computer during nap time. Because our house is small and I didn't want to be scurrying around cleaning and making much noise ... and because I knew that if I took a nap I might slip in to a coma and not wake up for two months have a hard time waking up ... I would sit down and update my journal.

Writing has always been a good outlet for me. It has been an especially good outlet to help me record the memories of these glorious, fleeting days with our young children ... and to see the humor in situations that might otherwise make me run for the hills.

Situations that would make me run for the hills at warp speed.

Needless to say, for the past nine months, this blog has been a catharsis for me. It began as a means to record the experiences that we have had in our journey to and through parenthood ... but it has doubled as a vehicle to keep our friends and family afar abreast on the in's and out's of life with triplets. Along the way, I have had a great time *meeting* so many people, who I may never actually meet, that have taken an interest in our family. (I must add that the comments received are truly a highlight of my blogging experience. You mean people actually read this stuff?!)

With that in mind, I was happily surprised to see a writeup in the San Diego Union Tribune newspaper this past weekend, about our blog. I knew that a story about family blogs was in the works, but I certainly didn't expect this.

This article was even more exciting than the time our little blog was listed as the Denver Post website of the week back in July. I was made aware of the Denver Post article only after someone left me a comment, but due to my lack of technical competence, I cannot find the link again now. (Unless you count a 30-minute layover at the aiport, I've never been to Denver.)

Unfortunately, Jane Clifford from the Union Tribune had sent me an e-mail while we were away on vacation asking for permission to use pictures of the babies in her story. Had I logged on to my computer once during the entire trip - I would have seen her note and given her my authorization.

Of course I wouldn't want for her to publish any pictures that might one day cause our children to blush. You know I'd never condone something like that.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Signs of Life

If the truth be told ... I am in complete disbelief that we are expecting a baby.

After all that we've been through, the fact that I am pregnant - without even trying, or realizing it for several days, seems impossible to me. And I'm not the only one.

When I called Charlie on October 27th to tell him that I was late, he was completely befuddled. "Late for what?" After I told him that I had a strange suspicion and I needed for him to pick up a pregnancy test, he challenged "Jen, that's impossible. We haven't even done anything."

To which I replied, "Oh yeah? What about your back?"

Since the time that I received a positive result on an expired test ... and the read-out "pregnant" result on the new fancy version test ... I have remained wary of my diagnosis. Of course, my apprehension that we will truly be growing by another two feet in less than a year, has not curbed my excitement and enthusiasm for telling anyone and everyone that we meet.

What I find to be humorous is the response that we receive when we inform people (mostly fellow passengers that we met during our recent travels or anyone who is standing near me in the grocery line) that we have another child on the way. Three years ago, we were about to attempt, and subsequently fail, at our second IVF cycle. I was at the lowest point of our infertility struggles, convinced that we would never become parents.

Three years later, we are the parents of two-year old triplets and I am spontaneously pregnant.

Never in a million years did I believe that this would ever happen.

When I tell people "It was a shock, definitely not something we had planned!" They will initially roll their eyes and give me a look like I am an irresponsible "breeder", a person who is popping out more children than they know what to do with - or could ever possibly care for.

Then, I'll tell them our story about ten years of marriage and monthly heartbreak.

On Thursday morning, the day after we returned from South Carolina, I had the first visit with my OB/GYN. Because I've been a patient at this practice for a long time - and have been their only triplet pregnancy in recent years - every single medical personnel in the doctor's office knew who I was and why I was there, the moment I walked in the door. They all gave me big smiles and asked how many beans I thought were in the oven this time. I told them that if it was any more than one ... they'd hear me screaming from the back.

The potential of four children in less than three years is crazy enough.

I was quickly ushered to an examination room where my doctor asked a series of questions and performed an ultrasound. While I lay on the table, I was voicing my doubt. "This can't be real. Really, there has to be a mistake. Perhaps it's early menopause?"

My doctor smiled and said "Doubtful. The high levels of HCG that you have are indicative of one thing ... and one thing only." Just then, I saw on the ultrasound monitor a little sack. Moments later, our baby came in to view. With it's little heartbeat flashing like a strobe light and a clearly visible head and limbs moving around, I incredulously asked if this was a video - or live footage.

Surely it couldn't be real.

When my doctor confirmed that this was live footage of the occupant within my uterus at that very moment in time ... I stuttered, "I don't understand. We weren't even trying. I didn't have a single shot of Gonal-F. I haven't done a single suppository of progesterone. I wasn't charting the dates or creating spreadsheets in Excel of my basal body temperature. For heaven's sake, I drank WINE up until the day I took my first pregnancy test. I honestly don't understand how this could have happened!"

My doctor sat up and with a very serious expression said "Well ... Jennifer .... when a boy and a girl fall in love..."

Yeah, yeah. He's a real funny guy.

Still, I'm in disbelief. But mostly, I'm in awe.

When you consider all the things that have to go "right" for conception to occur, it's mind-boggling. During the height of our struggles, I memorized Dr. Lennart Nilsson's book "A Child Is Born." I would study the pictures of the egg being released to the fallopian tube ... the sperm migrating to the egg and penetrating the zona pellucida.

Fertilization.

Cell division.

Hatching.

Implantation.

Development of the heart, brain, lungs, kidneys, bones, limbs ... tiny fingers and tiny toes.

Umbilical cord, blood, amniotic fluid.

Hair and skin.

Labor, delivery, birth.

When I would read the text and look at all the pictures in Dr. Nilsson's book of conception and childbirth, it was difficult to get my mind around how life exists at all. There is no doubt ... life is nothing short of God's greatest miracle. There are so many things that have to happen, at the right time and under the right conditions.

I proudly present the first picture of our fourth miracle baby, due to arrive on July 4, 2007. Let Freedom Ring!

If the truth be told ... we couldn't be happier or feel more blessed.