Its safe to say that 2011 has been the biggest year of our lives. Our family grew by three, and none of them even came from the SPCA. The year has certainly been defined as the year of the triplets in our house, and I imagine that it will be that way for many many years to come. Justin and I have been reflecting on the ever-expanding field of emotions we’ve experienced in our first year as parents, so I decided to write down my thoughts on a couple of topics that stand out to me as the strongest descriptors of 2011: Struggle, Joy, Love & Communication.
I didn’t know it yet on New Years Day 2011, but I wouldn’t be going back to work on Monday. The three babies who we had only known about for a few months were growing well, but a normal human uterus isn’t typically required to hold three babies at once, and I was already having contractions at 25 weeks pregnant (24 weeks is the beginning of “viability” which is not a comforting thought). It was pretty much decided for me by my husband and our boss (and soon to follow by my doctor) that it was time for me to start maternity leave. I didn’t get to clear my desk, or have a last-day lunch or say goodbye to anyone, but I was also relieved to be able to focus solely on being pregnant and staying that way for awhile longer.
Bed rest at home was miserable. Sure, I watched Seasons 1-3 of Gray’s Anatomy (it just got kinda awful after that, you know?) and a whole lot of TLC reality programming, but I was at a level of uncomfortable I can’t really explain. We didn’t have a great setup for me at the house, and I ended up having to make several trips to the hospital to monitor contractions. After the third or fourth time in as many weeks, my doctor decided that all the back and forth was enough and I needed to stay at the hospital until the babies were born. I was thankful to be there, and Justin was relieved to have nurses just a button away.
The two months of bed rest that led up to the babies being born were really nothing of a struggle compared to the 5 weeks they spent in the hospital after they arrived. At the time it was hard, but I didn’t spend much time thinking about it being hard. It just was what it was. But looking back on that period since then, I feel an immense heaviness. Oliver, Zoey, and Quinn were born 7 weeks early and were taken straight from the operating room to the NICU. As my doctor pulled them out of me and held them up over the curtain for me to see them for the first time I remember thinking “Remember this. This is big. Remember what they look like, what you’re feeling. Remember everything.” I remember trying to remember. I don’t remember who cried, if they cried right away. I don’t remember an overwhelming feeling of emotion, just relief that they were actually here and alive and going to be ok. I remember having a hard time breathing and that they were playing “Come Sail Away” on the speakers and I was thinking “The first sound my babies heard in this world is Styx? Really?”
When I think about it I still feel really emotional about the things I missed out on…holding my babies within minutes of being born, getting to know them in the quiet solitude of my room with only my husband there. Getting to just stare at their perfect faces for as long as I wanted without tubes and plastic walls and protective goggles. I hate that I had to ask permission to hold my babies. I hate that I had to wait hours before seeing them for the first time out of the operating room. I hate that every time I saw them for the first 5 weeks of their lives there were always a handful of strangers in the room. I hate that I was in so much pain from my c-section and subsequent infection that my mind was as occupied with that as it was with getting to know and love on my babies. I hate that I had to pump instead of breast feed and that pumping took up so much time away from my babies and that I had to watch everyone else who wasn’t their mother getting to hold them and talk to them while I was pumping. Given the distance of the last 10 months, I can say that to date, this was the hardest time in my life.
When I start to allow myself to mourn all of these things I remind myself that I have three healthy babies. I firmly believe that God protected and guarded my heart from worry during those months. Though their health was never guaranteed and I wasn’t naive to all of the possible complications, I somehow never questioned it. I prayed for them all the time, but not worried, pleading prayers. I prayed that Jesus was with my little ones when I wasn’t, that they felt His closeness and felt loved, and that they would know Him so deeply that it didn’t matter that they didn’t have a conscious awareness of Him.
Since becoming a mother I feel like I’ve heard countless stories of other families struggling with trying to get pregnant, trying to stay pregnant, trying to keep babies alive… mine is barely a struggle in comparison. It humbles me to remember this; every moment we have with our children is a gift to us that is not guaranteed.
Oliver and Zoey came home with us on April 2, just one day after they turned 1 month old. It was terrifying and wonderful at the same time. Quinn came home on April 4. Justin and I agreed that though having them at home meant no nurses to help us, no breaks from feedings round the clock, no monitors to assure us that they were indeed still breathing, that having our babies at HOME with us was the best thing ever. At last, our family was all together under one roof.
Yes, having triplets is a handful. There are a lot of difficult moments and times when I think “This would be so much easier with one,” but there are so many more joyful moments than difficult ones. Seeing them grow individually and develop relationships with each other has been the most incredible thing. They have each other, and no matter what else happens in their lives, they always will.
I think the biggest thing I’ve taken away from this year is that when no one else is, your family is there for you. That’s not to say that we haven’t been the recipients of an incredible amount of generosity from friends and even strangers (thank you, you know who you are), but who else is going to sleep on your couch and help you feed your babies at 5am, and then make you coffee and wash your dishes? And keep coming back to do it for weeks and weeks and when that part is over they STILL want to come hang out with those screaming little food pits and let you and your husband go on a date? Our parents have been incredible to us this year and we are so thankful to have them close by. Seeing how much joy our babies bring to them and to the rest of the family is beautiful and makes it worth us not moving to Portland, back when we had options (just kidding, just kidding).
There are so many little things about the babies that make me smile, here are just a few off the top of my head: dancing in our living room to Justin’s freestyle beatboxing (Zoey and Quinn get the biggest smiles on their faces when we dance); the weight of Oliver’s body as he wraps himself around me when I pick him up; Zoey’s babbles that seem like she is really telling us something very important; Quinn’s stubborn bottom lip; Oliver’s enthusiasm for new gross motor skills (the breathless laughter, the mischief in his eyes, his clenched fists shaking in anticipation of new opportunity); the way Zoey points her toes like she’s a ballerina; Quinn’s toothless grin; Oliver’s need to jump when you hold him on your lap; Zoey’s shyness in large crowds; Quinn’s old man belly laugh; Oliver chasing the dog and the dog running away but then coming to sit right in the middle of everyone; Zoey’s dancing whenever she hears music; Quinn’s need to bang on Oliver’s head if he’s within arm’s reach, and the smile she gets on her face while she does it; the looks on their faces when Justin comes home; how happy they are to be home with just us after a long day out of the house; Quinn’s pointer finger; Zoey’s periodic thumb sucking; Oliver’s runny nose face; the way Quinn halfway closes her eyes and lifts her arms towards me when I move my face close to hers and shake my hair back and forth; the way Zoey leans back to get a better look at you when you hold her; Oliver’s two front teeth…
There is so much of this year that I desperately want to remember but when I try to recollect what’s happened just in the last week I find myself at a loss. I’ve taken literally thousands and thousands of pictures and several dozen videos and I stare at the kids every day, willing myself to remember the subtlety of their faces so when they’re 12 and obnoxious I’ll remember why I like them so much. It feels like a losing battle, this attempt to remember every nuance and detail of their infancy, and sometimes I wonder if I’m trying too hard to document and missing the joy of the moment. I just hope when they’re bigger that they enjoy all of these records and have an idea of how much we love them.
You can flip through a calendar’s 12 pages in just a few seconds and as you mark anniversaries and birthdays you realize that time really is going by as fast as you’re flipping those pages. Just a flick of the thumb and a year is gone. All of a sudden 80-odd flips doesn’t seem like that many. Justin and I have talked a lot this year about our lifelong desires and goals and the things we’d regret not doing when we come to the end of our lives. We’re striving to enjoy every bit of life we have together and with these kids and not get hung up on things like time and money.
On Love & Communication
This is the part where I talk about Justin. We’ve been married quite a short amount of time in the grand scheme of things. We celebrated our third wedding anniversary in June 2011 (its been six and a half years since we first started dating). Our relationship has never been hard. We just seem to fit together and it feels natural and easy. We share passion and interest in the same disciplines, spirituality and world view, where we want to live, things we want to do on vacation, taste in movies and tv, pets, you name it. Peas in a pod, as they say. As we prepared for the changes that becoming parents would inevitably bring, we both wondered how our relationship might be different once the babies were born. Justin in particular was a little concerned that I would love the babies more than him. It might sound sweet and silly, but I actually wondered if it would turn out to be true, too.
I get the sense from our culture that we’re supposed to love our children more than our spouses, and that if we don’t adopt this point of view that we must somehow not love our children at all. On the contrary, I think that real family problems emerge when a husband and wife aren’t devoting enough time, energy, and attention to one another as they do to other members of the family (or jobs, or hobbies, etc.). Until they were born, I didn’t know where my heart would naturally fall. Now I know though, and I can’t imagine going day to day parenting three children on my own, or with little emotional and actual support from my husband. We love these babies, but Lord they can wear you out in every way imaginable. If I had all but abandoned my husband by lavishing all of my affection and time on the babies and leaving none for him, how would he be able to support and encourage me when I need to be built back up? And if he didn’t help me meet the needs of the kids when he’s home from work, how could I feel strong enough to give him the encouragement and support that he needs to be a good employee and be motivated to stay committed to our family? We’ve learned what we suspected all along, that we have to love and serve each other well in order for us to be able to function as parents and love our children well.
Not that I had any doubts before seeing him in action, but Justin is the most amazing dad. He doesn’t “escape” to work on Monday morning after 48 straight hours of papa time; rather, he can’t wait to come home and see them all again. He’s sure to have one on one time with Oliver and Zoey and Quinn and truly enjoys everything about who they are as individuals. He rough houses with Ollie and gets him all wound up right before bed like dads are supposed to do, but he also gets up with him at 5am and cuddles him while he gives him a bottle. When we’re in large, noisy crowds and Zoey gets overwhelmed he takes her for a walk outside and whispers gently to her, kisses her head, and calms her down. When Quinn is pouting and upset he’s able to make her laugh just with the look on his face (he does the same thing to me).
He’s taught me that its ok to slow down long enough to make the babies smile when we’re trying to get out the door, its ok if we end up being 5 minutes late. I overhear him singing the most amazing made up songs while he feeds the babies or changes their diapers and I can’t help but laugh and tell him he’s a big nerd (but I love that he’s a nerd).
Around 6:15 every evening (when we’re right in the middle of the “witching” hour that all babies made a pact in heaven to have every day in order to remind their parents that we live in a fallen world) Justin comes home and the babies light up from head to toe when they hear his voice. They’re so happy to have their papa home it just makes everything right in the world. And the look on his face at seeing his kids is what I’ve always hoped for in a husband.
I’ve learned that having kids doesn’t change who you are, it just means you have to work harder at some things. We make more of an effort to tell each other that we think the other is doing a good job. Justin listens to my worries about whether I’m talking to the kids enough throughout the day and that I don’t take them out of the house enough and that I get lonely or miss our office and he shows genuine understanding and empathy. And that’s all it takes for me to feel better about all of it.
I love my kids, but my relationship with them is going to be different than my relationship with Justin. They won’t know my deepest thoughts and hopes and dreams the way he does. They certainly won’t share those same hopes and dreams and work for the rest of their lives on trying to achieve them with me. They’ll grow up and move out and go after their own dreams and meet their own people to go on that journey with and I will love watching them do it, but it will be their journey and not mine. Justin and I are traveling together.
We say “I love you” a thousand times a day and mean it every time, and I think Oliver and Zoey and Quinn will feel that love filling up our house and take it out into the world with them.
Here’s to a surreal 2011, and a hospital-free 2012!