On my last day of maternity leave last month, I was looking forward to a relatively peaceful day with the twins and some quality time before the stress ratcheted up a few notches.
The morning began with our almost 4-year-old, Jackson, throwing a 20-minute fit at the bottom of the stairs at 6 a.m. because I hadn’t carried him down the steps. When we finally made it through that one, another tantrum quickly followed after the piece of candy I gave him for holding his bladder overnight (I’m not above bribery) wasn’t “big enough.” He ultimately had to be wrestled into his clothes and carried screaming into the car for school. I took a breath and opened the door back up and was met with a cacophony of screaming from the twins–prompting a string of expletives from me.
Throughout the morning, I enjoyed four diaper blowouts (two each! Gotta keep things equal.), seven pukes from Avery just during her first feeding and another three while we went on a walk, including one that impressively shot into the air from the stroller like a geyser. Once I got her cleaned up back at home, I turned around at the ominous sound of gurgling and found August puking to the side and summarily rolling his head in it. Off to the bath! Only to be followed by even more bodily fluid accidents.
Factor in preparing, giving and then washing eight bottles a day each (which for some God-awful reason have about 6,000 pieces), changing diapers and the biggest challenge of all of stopping the incessant crying, I was ready to run back to work (though, unfortunately, as a remote worker, I can only run so far as the dining room table). Day in and day out of this frenetic pace can truly be crippling, and one of the only things that has kept us somewhat on the sanity wagon has been the incredible circle of family, friends and complete strangers who have helped us navigate this messy and overwhelming time. We certainly tapped into our circle for help as Jackson has grown but that need has exploded tenfold in the last few months. While many parents will likely agree that asking for help is deeply uncomfortable, I think it’s time to normalize the fact that parents both need and deserve a helping hand.
Here are just a few of the ways others have kept our family’s crazy train speeding forward when we felt like we were about to go off the track:
A team of babysitters
When Jackson was a baby, we called in babysitters sparingly: for an anniversary dinner, work party, birthday celebration out with friends. Knowing I was expecting twins, I figured we wouldn’t be in need of babysitting backup for quite some time, since we’d have no time, money or energy to go anywhere! Little did I know…
With babies in NICUs in separate states for months and a 3-year-old, we couldn’t have gotten through the first few months of the twins’ lives without a dedicated team of family and friends who took care of Jackson when we were speeding up and down 95 to be with the babies. When each got out of the hospital, we had to tap sitters every time they had doctor’s appointments and Jackson wasn’t in school (and micropreemies have A LOT of specialist appointments). Our parents, siblings, friends and neighbors have all spent time playing dinosaurs and trucks with Jackson, or changing a twin’s diaper, and that has been vital to helping the babies get the care they need.
More times than I count in the last seven months, we’ve called loved ones in a panic and they’ve dropped everything to help. Earlier this month, Avery’s newly placed feeding tube in her stomach fell out and, before I started speeding down to the hospital in Delaware, we each quickly called our moms to ensure we were covered for the boys since Ashlee had class that night. Even when we’re home, it’s been an enormous relief to have helping hands stopping by frequently. My mother-in-law signed up to help me during the dinner and bedtime hours twice a week while Ashlee is at night class, and my mom swings by on Ashlee’s late night at work to crash some cars with Jackson while I take the babies and dog for a walk or slap together a toddler dinner while popping binkies in mouths. Friends have planned outings for Jackson and our favorite neighbor just walks in a few nights a week and picks up a screaming baby and starts bouncing.
That level of familiarity has been a lifesaver but it’s definitely required us to embrace humility like never before — we need help and we’re trying to not be too proud to say it. If you have parents in your lives who are drowning in diapers and spend most of their days and nights surrounded by a child’s screams, don’t wait to be asked to step in and give them a break, just show up and don’t give them an option! Thankfully, we have an incredible circle of family and friends who can see what we need and show up for us to help us see it too.
Tips and tricks
Throughout our five-month NICU journey, we learned a lot about preemies, and so did our family and friends. After every diagnosis, surgery, setback or small win that we shared with our loved ones, they often turned to Google or even their own friends or co-workers to cull as much information as they could to send back to us. From tips on managing Avery’s severe reflux to words of encouragement and success stories found online after her hydrocephalus diagnosis, we’ve fielded enough positivity from those in our circle that it’s at times put a damper on the constant worry.
That worry that started way back around week 16 of my pregnancy has never abated, and it has challenged us to enjoy some of those typical new parent moments — but our loved ones helped us see the joy through the fear. With our baby shower canceled amid my pregnancy complications, we fielded diapers on our doorstep and digital gift cards galore, and when the babies arrived and we were crazed running back and forth to two NICUs, barely a day went by where a family member, friend or neighbor didn’t stock our fridge with a home-cooked meal. When we finally brought Avery home from the hospital, we pulled up to find that our neighbor had decorated our front door with “Welcome Home” signs. Most recently, amid the baby formula shortage, folks have been scouring the shelves with us. We’ve gotten formula mailed to us, dropped at our house, passed along from a friend of a friend whom I met up with at a carnival like a covert drug deal, and plenty of texted photos saying, “Is this the kind you use?”
Navigating the newness of multiple kids, particularly twin babies, can be quite isolating for parents; but at every turn, we’ve been surrounded by advice and assistance.
Beyond our circle
It hasn’t just been our amazing community of people who’ve helped make parenting a possibility: We are incredibly fortunate to be supported by numerous structures and systems.
Take, for instance, our health insurance. Avery is, quite literally, a $3 million baby. I once glanced at the “Total Amount Owed” box in one of the near-weekly bills we get from the hospital she did her NICU stint in and just about fainted when I saw more than $2.9 million — not realizing that would be the amount owed without insurance. Granted, we still owe quite a fair amount of money but not yet to the extent that we need to resort to bank-robbing to settle our debts.
We are both employed full-time by organizations that have allowed us the flexibility to care for babies in the NICU for months, and we’ve been able to tap into FMLA and get connected to Early Intervention programs. Jackson’s preschool has been flexible with his and now August’s hours to enable our crazy schedule and Avery’s endless doctor’s appointments, and we’re fortunate to live near and have access to some of the best pediatric specialists around.
All of these elements work together to allow us to care for our kids in the way we want to. It’s not lost on us, however, that so many of these pieces are not working for so many people. From broken systems to systemic biases, societal obstacles make the already formidable job of parenting near impossible for some. Access to healthcare, quality employment, equal pay, affordable childcare, safe housing and more are all pieces of the puzzle of parenting. As a whole, far too many families in our country are missing many of those pieces.
That reality makes me lean toward gratitude on the toughest days. Life is hard right now with a toddler and two babies, a wife in her final semester of nursing school, several jobs, considerable medical concerns for our daughter, and more. But we are beyond privileged to have considerable access to comprehensive support systems and to be stood up by so many generous people, all of whom have given us countless helping hands logistically, mentally and emotionally. The “It takes a village to raise a child” saying may be a bit cliche, but I’m seeing its truth in action every day, and our family is so grateful for our wonderful village.