Noises from the nursery

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Here I am at another witching hour in the nursery, rocking a cradle with each foot. Natalie seems to be doing much better today, but both girls are a little restless. They’re making funny noises as they settle in to sleep.

This is the pretty, pretty nursery Dan and I made for them.

Walls: Martha Stewart Lagoon

Furniture: IKEA and La-Z-Boy

Quilts: mom

Curtains: me

Monograms and fox artwork: Etsy

Listening to them on our monitor has been a lesson in our girls’ many distinctions. We don’t have video, so Dan and I are learning their cries, who is who and what they want. 

The easiest one is what I personally call the Five Alarm Rose, in which Rosemary alerts us (and the neighbors) to the fact that her pacifier has left her mouth. It is loud and frantic and choppy – WAH, WAH, WAH, WAH!

Rosemary’s hungry cry showcases her dramatic tendencies. It starts with little sniffles and puffs and crescendoes quickly into long, drawn-out wails.

Natalie was a squeaker when she was tiny, and as she’s grown she has become a squawker. She doesn’t care for the pacifier so much, so when she cries from the nursery it’s usually because she’s hungry or lonely. Her cries are sharper and harsher, and sometimes she just lets out a big MAAAH!!! right as she’s falling asleep. We’ve learned that when this one comes across the monitor, there’s no response required. A series of squawks means she wants to be rocked.

They can both get pretty loud on their own; in stereo, it’s kind of ridiculous and sometimes I just laugh at how discordant and awful it sounds. But it’s funny how they can ignore each other and sleep right through the other’s worst howling. If they hadn’t given me written proof that they passed the hearing tests at the hospital, I’d seriously wonder if they were deaf sometimes. I can walk in here and see Rose screaming her face off and Natalie is just snoozing away, not five feet from her. What?

Today though, a funny thing happened. It’s the whole reason I’m writing this post about the noises my babies make. The girls aren’t very aware of each other yet – the mystic twin bond has yet to make itself obvious to us – but this afternoon I think Rosemary talked to Natalie.

Natalie was fussing and snuffling in her cradle, getting louder and louder. I walked back to check on her and as I came into the room, Rosemary opened her mouth and let out a big squawk. She kept her eyes shut and went promptly back to sleep. It’s like she was telling her sister “Natalie, shut UP!”

Natalie’s eyes clamped shut and she closed her mouth. I didn’t even need to rock her.

Right on, Rosemary. I’ll let you handle it next time. 

Adventures in Snot-Suckery

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The sniffles have been making the rounds in the Cowin household – first Dan, then me, and now Natalie. Two out of three of us have the reflexes and motor skills to blow our own noses. The third has prompted me to add a new weapon to our infant first-aid arsenal.

Natalie had a rough night – she’s grown so much, but she’s still got such tiny nasal passages that they clog really quickly. This makes eating and burping pretty difficult for her, so we had a few pukey messes in addition to the constant gurgling and snuffling. We weren’t having much luck with the saline drops and the bulb aspirator, and it sounded like the stuff that was hurting her was a lot further back. Poor little bug really sounded like she was struggling to breathe, and with the tummy troubles on top of that, I thought it warranted a call to the pediatrician this morning. 

Dr. C checked her ears and lungs – all clear, no infections and no signs of pneumonia. Just lousy sniffles making her breathing and eating quite uncomfortable. I told her about our inability to clear the mess, and she whipped out her notepad.

“You totally need the nose vacuum,” she said.

“Nose VACUUM?”

“Electric nasal aspirator, whatever – that thing is goooood.” She said it like she was saying a wine is good, or a decadent dessert. This thing is goooooood. ”You can get one at Walgreens for 20 bucks. Use that with your saline spray and you’ll have a much better time keeping her nose clear.”

We are now the proud owners of a Graco NasalClear battery-operated nasal aspirator. Not only does it sport a handy collection canister with a “max fill” line, the thing even plays music – your choice of 12 soothing tunes to placate your little one who surely does not want that thing up her nose. What I imagine will happen with this music is instead of soothing her, she will develop a Pavlovian response to that tinny version of Brahms’ Lullaby and just scream her face off every time she hears it, anticipating the evil machine coming to suck out her brain for the zombies.

Well, we tried it. And since I don’t want to end up on STFU, Parents, I will not be posting pictures of the results. But for science, let me tell you – the music does not soothe, but the vacuum SUCKS in the best possible way. Natalie hated every second and made sure to let us (and everyone in a three-block radius) know it, but some serious gunk came out when I cleaned out the vacuum. And we were nowhere near the max fill line!

She’s still struggling a little, but her nose sounds so much clearer and she’s eating all right and keeping most of it down. I put Vicks VaporRub on her feet and the humidifier is filling the nursery with Sleepytime Vapors. 

Rosemary doesn’t seem to be affected by any of this, and we’re all sanitizing like mad around here. I wear a mask when I hold either one of the girls because I’m still feeling crummy.

There’s something so incredibly scary about hearing your baby fight to breathe – I think it’s scarier than having her in the NICU in some ways, because here there are no experts with all the answers and tools. There’s just our little family and a musical nose vacuum.

Somehow, we’re surviving. 

One month: Reflections

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I know it’s technically been five weeks now, but it’s been a month since we came home. And I’m still hormonal and cranky, so cut me a little slack.

It looked for awhile like we might luck out and escape the hospital with no NICU time, but we weren’t that fortunate. Natalie was having a lot of trouble keeping her temperature up. It’s a pretty normal issue for preemies – they don’t have the extra fat that term babies use for thermoregulation – but that didn’t make it any easier when they had to take her away from me and put her in an isolette. This happened three days after they were born, which I am told is when the postpartum hormones really make a hellish cascade.

So of course I BAWLED.

Rosemary and I were discharged from the hospital the next evening, so for a few days Dan and I were back and forth from home to the hospital several times a day – sometimes with tiny Rosemary in tow, sometimes leaving her with grandparents.

It was NO. FUN. But Natalie made progress every day, from the isolette to the open crib and finally to her car seat. And Dan and I got the interesting experience of having just one newborn at home – something not a lot of twin parents get. It helped break us in a little, and just over a week after the girls were born, we finally had our whole family together at home.

One Month at Home

Rosemary, the big sister, is keen to set a good example about feeding. When we first came home we had to wake the girls every three hours to feed them since they were so tiny. Rosemary now wakes US to demand her bottle every three hours on the nose. She’s an efficient eater and occasionally burps so loud she scares herself. Her favorite place to hang out is the big cradle swing that, even on its lowest setting, looks like it could catapult her across the room. My mom and sister scored it at a yard sale for $35 and I swear, if it ever dies, I will pay cash full price for a new one just to keep this kid quiet. Rosemary has some dramatic tendencies – LOUD ones – and the swing helps keep the peace.

She’s not the best sleeper just yet – very dependent on the binky, and if the thing falls out then God help you until you put it back. But binks are important for preemies who have to work a little harder on their suck-swallow-breathe reflexes, so it’s at least serving some purpose. 

Natalie takes her time with the bottle. She drinks a bit, then stops and looks around, then blows some bubbles, then gives you a goofy smile with her tongue out. She doesn’t always finish the bottle, but her weight gain has been steady so the pediatrician is not worried. It’s just her little way. Natalie isn’t so interested in the big swing – she seems to prefer our small swing or bouncer because they have toys she can bat her hands at. She’s very physical, always punching and kicking the air, contorting herself into these strange superhero poses and making shrill, baby-velociraptor shrieks. It’s frustrating when you’re trying to get the kid to take a bottle or a nap, but seriously – kind of hilarious.

We’ve begun working on tummy time. Rosemary is anxious to lift her head up and can already turn it from one side to the other while she lays on her belly. Natalie seems content to do a push up or three and then curl into a ball and try to snooze. She goes at her own pace.

They are SO DIFFERENT. In looks, in temperament, in habits – they are very much individuals.

But they are both little fighters, and they’ve come so far. We had our one-month checkup at the pediatrician and she’s thrilled with their progress. Both girls are officially on the growth chart for full-term babies now. Rosemary weighed in at 7 lbs 6 oz and Natalie at 6 lbs 15 oz. 

I suppose I could reflect more, but I hear a velociraptor in the nursery. Time to go play Mom.

A very special day, times two

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Back in February, there was a period of several weeks between the time I found out I was pregnant and the time that we had our first ultrasound and learned we were expecting double trouble. During this time I was plotting cute, Pinterest-worthy ways of telling people our news. 

My mom and dad both have February birthdays, so it seemed appropriate to let them know the good news when the family got together to celebrate. A little math revealed that my due date would land on their wedding anniversary, so instead of a birthday card, Dan and I picked out an anniversary card and added a message:

Happy 35th Anniversary! Special delivery due to arrive October 7, 2013

They were both suitably confused reading the front of the card, followed by a few seconds of stunned silence when they read the extra note on the inside. It was kind of awesome. Everyone was excited and there were hugs all around.

Later in the evening, my mom and I were talking about ultrasound pictures and how people use them to announce pregnancy news and baby’s gender, etc. “I can never tell what’s what in those,” she confessed. “They mostly just look kind of fuzzy to me until you get really far along.”

I agreed. 

Two weeks later, I sent her a text message from the waiting room at the OB’s office:

Can you tell what this is?

Today is their anniversary, and instead of waiting at the hospital for a newborn to arrive, my parents are cuddling four-week old twin granddaughters (conveniently born on Grandparents’ Day) and giving me and Dan a much-needed break. They stayed over last night and took ALL the night feedings so we could go out to dinner and get uninterrupted sleep for the first time in a month. Bless them. 

This also marks my girls’ entrance into the world of actual and adjusted ages. For the first few years of life, preemies’ ages are often adjusted to account for their early birth. Adjusted ages are used to measure how well they do in meeting “typical” milestones in development. (Example: a full term baby may be walking by 12 months, but a 12-month old baby who was born 2 months early may not walk until he is 14 months.) Tomorrow, my girls will be one month old (actual), or one day old (adjusted). They are both at a healthy weight for a full-term baby, eating well and working on holding up their heads. Rosemary in particular is very intent on building lung capacity and maximizing her vocal strength, while Natalie is perfecting her repertoire of baby velociraptor screeches and superhero poses.

Actual or adjusted, I’d say we are right on track.

Happy anniversary, mom and dad – thank you for everything :o )


Welcoming our girls

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We knew all along that the likelihood of a “normal” delivery (carrying to term, going into labor, all that) was pretty slim. One thing pounded into our heads early and often throughout this pregnancy is that multiples have a very different normal and we had better get ready for it. Between my blood pressure issues and the fact that Natalie was causing us a little concern, chances were pretty good that we’d become parents well before the typical 40 weeks.

September 2 was my first day of maternity leave.

September 4 I was in L&D for fetal monitoring because Natalie didn’t look so hot on her biophysical test.

September 6 I was admitted to the hospital for a bunch of labs, overnight observation, and a maternal-fetal medicine consult. My OB was concerned about the blood flow in Natalie’s cord.

On September 7 the lab results came in: my protein levels had skyrocketed, indicating the start of kidney trouble and winning me a “severe pre-eclampsia” diagnosis. And since our little flipper Natalie had once again somersaulted from a convenient head-down position to a side-lying transverse presentation, I was added to the OR schedule for the next morning. We weren’t even going to mess with an induction.

It was a long night. Dan and I had done as much homework and preparation as we could. We knew what to expect from the C-section surgery, the pre-eclampsia treatment, the recovery process. We were visited by a neonatalogist who went over the potential complications the girls could face after birth and how the medical teams would handle them. Based on what we knew from the most recent ultrasounds and other tests, the NICU was a very real possibility.

It didn’t matter. We were so ready to meet our girls. I ate a lot of ice cream and cookies and slept like a baby.

I was 35 weeks and 6 days pregnant and weighed nearly 150% of my pre-pregnancy weight when I waddled into the operating room on September 8.

Dan had to wait outside while they administered the spinal anesthesia, but after that was done (and goodness, isn’t anesthesia WONDERFUL?), he was brought up to sit by the head of the table so I could see him and hold his hand. We just looked at each other and smiled and talked for a few minutes, and suddenly, we were parents.

Rosemary June Cowin (right) was born at 10:03 am, weighing in at 5 lbs. 1 oz. and measuring 18 inches long. She was followed by Natalie Claire Cowin at 10:04 am, at 4 lbs. 6 oz. and also 18 inches long.

Because of the concerns for their health, I didn’t get to hold them right away like some moms can with full-term babies. I was ok with that – I could hear them yelping and Dan was allowed to go over by the warming tables and gave me a play-by-play of what was going on. It turned out that our little Acrobat Natalie had managed to tie her cord in a knot with all of her flip-flopping, so it was such a huge relief to get them both out safe and sound when we did. Dan took some photos and brought them over to show me while the girls were being checked out. For their size and gestational age, they really couldn’t have been more perfect. In just a few minutes, I had them both with me.

Recovery was a little difficult. Dan and I were obviously elated to see our girls doing so well and thrilled that they could stay with us instead of being whisked off to the NICU. But the pre-eclampsia diagnosis still had to be dealt with, and I got the dreaded magnesium sulfate drip. It’s great for preventing seizures and organ failure, but it kind of sucked that our cuddle time was cut short by me begging someone to quickly grab my babies before I threw up on them.

Rosemary was born hungry, with a head full of dark hair and round eyes that she opened right up on the way to the recovery room. Her middle name, June, is in honor of Dan’s late grandmother. (Both of the girls’ first names are just ones we liked.) Our pediatrician says Rosemary has the most expressive face she’s ever seen on a preemie. Natalie was born with a dusting of blonde fuzz on her head and kept her eyes screwed shut for most of her first few days. She’d open one just a little bit to scope out her new world now and then, and she always had a very serious look on her face. Her middle name, Claire, is in honor of my late grandmother. The hospital staff put tags on their hats for Baby 1 and Baby 2, but their physical differences are pretty pronounced – we’re 99% certain they are fraternal and we’ve never had any trouble telling them apart.

They have already changed so much, it’s incredible. It’s taken me nearly a month to write this but I hope to get a little bit better about updating on a regular basis. I’ll tell our NICU and coming-home stories soon – you know, in my free time.