My Twins’ First Birthday

This is a piece written for us by a member of the infertility, loss, and adoption community on Twitter.


I’ve waited so long for this year to fly by. When becoming a mommy was still just a dream that I thought would never come true, I created secret Pinterest boards for my future kids’ birthdays. I made them secret to avoid the question of “Are you pregnant?” because answering “No…” would be too painful.

I had different boards for different scenarios: if I had a boy; if I had a girl; and if I was lucky enough to have twins. Seven years later, here I am. Diving into the Pinterest-first-birthday-party world. People have said to me, “Why are you putting so much into this? They won’t remember it.” The truth is that this birthday party isn’t just for my twins, it’s for me. I have survived! This is reason to celebrate. I fought hard for this moment. I endured years of struggle. I endured 34 weeks of pregnancy, which I thought was amazing. I endured six weeks of the NICU. And I endured a year of being a twin mom. It has been the hardest year of my life. I prayed for this life, I cried for this life, and now I have it. I am so grateful for it. So yes, I will go all-out for our first year together.

As we approach our big birthday party, I reflect on our first year. I find it strange that it seems to have flown by and it feels like just yesterday that they were so tiny. But it also feels like that was so long ago and maybe spending six weeks in the NICU was just a dream. When I was putting together the slideshow to display at the party, I looked through thousands of pictures we have taken over the last year. I relived the NICU experience all over again in my head. The other night, I went to visit a friend who just gave birth to her rainbow/unicorn baby at the same hospital I went to. I stepped off the elevator and looked at the NICU door, and this overwhelming emotion came over me. I literally felt sick. It was a very weird and unexpected feeling. On their actual birth date, we plan to visit the nurses who cared for them. I hope I can keep it together.

So the NICU was the first six weeks, and then they came home. They were all mine! Oh shit! Now what do I do? We had very colicky babies who gave us a run for our money. The first six months were downright brutal! It was hard! I questioned my ability as a mother. I thought that maybe I wasn’t meant to be a mom and maybe that was why it took me so long to have them. Maybe God was saying, “You want it lady, you got it!” But I kept pushing through and found it amazing how my body just went into survival mode. And I got it done. After the first six months, things started being like I had imagined. They were happier, I was happier. I had a routine going. We celebrated that ½ birthday. It was a huge milestone for us.

I’ve spent the last six months making my babies laugh and looking at that Pinterest board I created years ago for my hypothetical twins. We’ve been making memories together that they won’t remember—but I will, and I plan to tell them all about it. The only thing that has been easy about this first year is loving them. But every day has been easier than the last. We have made progress. We are alive. We will celebrate.

Little Fighters

This is a piece written for us by a member of the infertility, loss, and adoption community.


She came home on their due date, three days before they were 11 weeks old. She was barely 6½ lbs and looked like a newborn. She wasn’t even wearing newborn clothes, still swimming in preemie clothes. We fought for this day. I cornered the doctors and let them know, in no uncertain terms, that I could take care of my baby. She wasn’t doing anything in that NICU that she wouldn’t do better at home. The stress of being in that hospital was killing me. I knew her brother needed more time, but she was ready. She, in her own way, told me that she wanted to be with her mommy. She ate better with me; she had fewer spells when I was feeding her. I could pull her out of the spells quicker than the nurses. The doctors were concerned that she was still dropping her heart rate when she ate; they said she was still choking and needed to mature. They were watching when the nurses fed her, not when I fed her. I asked to take them home on a monitor to prove to them that I was capable of caring for my daughter. There were two nurses on my side. They knew me and trusted me enough to back me up. I was still going to bring her in almost every day to be with her brother, but there was just so much more healing that could happen at home.

Seventy-four days before we walked out those doors, I had already been admitted to a hospital forty-five minutes away for ten days. My water had broke late in the evening when I was 28 weeks exactly. I know “exactly” because everything had already been controlled by doctors. From the growing and retrieval of my eggs, to the sperm meeting the egg, to the 5-day embryos being reintroduced to my body, everything was assisted by a doctor through IVF with ICSI. I was closely monitored from the moment we saw two sacs and two heartbeats. I was happy to see the babies so frequently, but I was getting tired of the doctors. Then my water broke and I was put on hospital bed rest. I was discouraged from moving around too much in order to keep me from furthering labor. They tried to stop my labor three times during that stay. The third time, it was not stopping. But I was okay. I knew in my heart of hearts that at 29 weeks and 3 days, my babies would have a fight, but they would be okay. And they fought, and fought hard.

My husband was not in the room when they were born. I had to be put under because my spinal block didn’t work in time. Once they were born, though, he was brought in. He said he was never so worried in his life. He said they were both blue and lifeless. The doctors worked feverishly to get them stable. Both had to be intubated, but he took pictures with his phone anyway. I’ve only looked at them a few times in eight months. Those photos scared me, even though they were pink by that time. I thought, maybe I was wrong, maybe they wouldn’t be okay, I shouldn’t have pushed so hard for the doctors to just take them because I was in such pain and didn’t want to be on magnesium anymore after this. I didn’t get to see them until that afternoon because I was still recovering from surgery. Though still groggy, and in severe pain, I begged to see my babies. They wheeled me upstairs and awkwardly maneuvered my bed next to theirs. I was instructed to stop stroking their backs, but to just lay my hand on them. Their bodies were barely longer than my petite hand was wide. It was weird to touch them, their skin felt so fragile, their limbs were so thin, almost like twigs. But after seeing them, my fears melted. They were strong, they would be okay.

The following weeks, we all fought. I had a tough recovery, I fought to wake up to pump, I fought through getting sick the week after they discharged me. My husband fought to keep the household going, but even with my mother helping, it was still a struggle. Our oldest fought through confusion, why things were so different. NICU life was two steps forward and, depending on the day, one or three steps backwards. My babies were known as the naughty ones. Always keeping the nurses on their toes. I was there 8–12 hours a day, doing everything I could to help care for my babies. Then, at 6 weeks old, we fought to get them transferred to a closer hospital so it would be easier for us to visit. My being there more often was helping. I was able to better connect with the nurses. We worked better as a team. They heard my concerns and they better understood my kids. They fought for my kids. They knew my kids needed to be pushed, not coddled, to make strides. Especially our boy. We quickly found out that we had to give him a goal and show him where he needed to be in order to reach that goal, not just wait on him to show that he was ready. They allowed me to be more of a part of the care team, not just an outsider to hold and visit. They saw the strides my kids made when I was there, and the backslides when I wasn’t. They celebrated the accomplishments more and made me feel more secure that I did know my kids. They encouraged me to tell the doctors my concerns and backed me up, but they also kept me grounded when needed.

We made it through with only a handful of true scares, mostly caused by my puny little boy who just wouldn’t behave. My daughter would have her moments, but Momma could straighten her out with a stern talking-to. After 11 weeks, she was ready to come home. She would misbehave for the nurses, but do very well for me. This was her way of telling us. The doctors didn’t believe me, but the nurses knew. They helped me bring my case up to the neonatologist.

With the nurses backing me up, my point was heard. It was arranged and we came home with our daughter. She did fantastic. We went home with a monitor, but we went home! She only set it off when she was mad and her heart rate would get above their parameters. She had to be held just so to eat, but she would eat best with me. After 13 weeks, he got to come home, too. He was over 7lbs, but still so tiny looking. He did much better, still setting off of his alarms when he got mad, but he was calmer than his sister. He seemed more fragile, but was calmer and almost easier.

It was like we were bringing home newborn babies. Two tiny little beings, who thought being 3 months old meant acting as if they were just born. It’s like time stood still those 13 weeks. They were growing and fighting and being oh-so-very naughty, giving the nurses a run for their money, but when they came home, they were not 3-month-olds. They weren’t starting to coo or trying to engage in the world around them. At 6 months old, they acted 3 months old. When we finally went out into the world, people asked how old they were and the looks we got (and still get) with the answer was almost comical. One person even asked if we were sure about their age.

I now just say their actual age, and immediately follow that they were very premature so they are actually supposed to be such-and-such age. Hopefully this will also register in people’s minds to not touch the babies with their nasty, germy hands. They are now 8 months old and are ever so slowly starting to catch up. Little girl has had a growth spurt and actually has chunk, while little man is still a tiny bean pole. But we are petite people and, as my grandma always says, you plant peas, you get peas. They are acting like 6-month-olds and aer now only two months behind instead of three.

Things are going smoothly, but it’s still a fight. We’ve still had our struggles, with a few too many ear infections and with them really not yet the size they should be. But they are fighting. We are still celebrating every milestone with Facebook posts and cheers from those who love us. I’m still tired of the doctor visits, but they are far from being done and I have to relinquish that. I have to be in the moment. I still get to enjoy the milestones, the kids are chronologically older, but I still get to see the progression that everyone else gets. We are blessed that they are extremely healthy for what they could be. There’s a post going around Facebook about couples getting married young and they just say they get more time together. I claim that same sentiment. I’m not missing the milestones, I just got three extra months with my babies that most people don’t get. I had to fight for them and they had to fight for themselves, but we still got to have that time together. My husband gets to hold them a whole three months earlier than people who carry their children to term. It was scary as hell to see them that fragile, and I never want to do it again. But, it did happen, and we are on the other side and we are okay.


We are sharing stories on premature birth out of respect for Prematurity Awareness Month, which runs for all of November and is coordinated by March of Dimes.*

“November is Prematurity Awareness Month® and when the March of Dimes focuses the nation’s attention on premature birth. The awareness month kicks off with the release of the Premature Birth Report Card. November 17 marks World Prematurity Day, and the March of Dimes and [their] partner organizations worldwide are asking everyone to help spread the word on the serious problem of premature birth.”

For more information, please visit www.marchofdimes.org orwww.marchforbabies.org.

*Disclaimer: Rainbows & Unicorns does not necessarily endorse March of Dimes or any of their services, products, or opinions.

Being Thankful

thankful (adj.)

: conscious of benefit received

It’s pretty clear that the ALI community knows what it means to be thankful. In some way or another, we’ve all fought hard for the children we’re parenting today. Our thanks for the means by which they came to us—doctors, medicine, birth parents, donors, surrogates—is instinctual, automatic. We don’t need one day to represent those feelings; we experience them every day.

Over the last few weeks, we asked the community what they are thankful for this year. From the most basic—sunshine, chocolate, laughter, wine—to the more ALI-specific—IVF, modern medicine, surrogate—to the broader spectrum, perhaps influenced by recent global events—safety, shelter, health—the community answered with their words. Below you can find the collage we created with the responses.

(Note: Click on the image for highest resolution.)

 

© Rainbows & Unicorns 2015
© Rainbows & Unicorns 2015

From our families and homes to yours, we wish everyone a very safe and happy holiday!

— Rainbows & Unicorns Team

 

Miracle Babies, in Every Sense of the Word

This is a piece written for us by a member of the infertility, loss, and adoption community on Twitter.


I didn’t even have my hospital bag ready (despite being told to do so ‘just in case’) when I went into labour at 30 weeks, 5 days. I always knew that I wouldn’t make it to full term with my pregnancy, as I was carrying twins, but I never expected them to arrive quite so early. To say I was in shock when the consultant in triage told me I was 3cm dilated is an understatement. All I could do was burst into tears. I wasn’t ready for this, I didn’t have a birth plan, I didn’t have any belongings with me, but, most of all, my babies weren’t ready for the world just yet! Cue more tears when I was told that I had to be transferred to a hospital nearly two hours from home to give birth as my own was oversubscribed in NICU. I have to say I have never been so scared in all my life. I just wanted my babies to be okay; it’s only natural to start fearing the worst, and all sorts of bad thoughts started to enter my mind.

I was given steroidal injections to help mature the boys’ lungs and was also put on a drip to try and slow the contractions, as we wanted the babies to hang on in there as long as possible! But this didn’t help for long, as thirty-nine hours after I was informed that I was 3cm dilated, my beautiful babies were born at 30 weeks, 6 days at 9:00pm. They were taken straight from us to the room next door where a team of about ten NICU doctors and nurses were waiting to give the boys the helping hands they needed in those first few minutes of their lives. Most women cry happy tears seconds after they give birth and have their babies in their arms. I cried sad tears. I had no idea if my babies were stable or what they looked like. It was a long four hours before I was told that my babies were both stable, but they were requiring lots of help and we couldn’t see them until the following morning. Our lovely midwife did however take my phone to capture some photos for us to see. That’s when I cried my happy tears. We had produced two beautiful babies and even though they looked so vulnerable with a vast amount of tubes and wires attached to them, they were here and they were mine.

The time came when we were finally allowed to go and see the boys. I felt excitement shadowed by fear. Yes, I knew they were stable, but that didn’t mean they were well or that there wouldn’t be further complications along the way. I had no idea what to expect of NICU and didn’t really take much in when we first entered through the doors to meet our babies. I just saw two incubators, still surrounded by nurses and doctors, and sobbed. I was taken into the parent room by the nurse-in-charge who was shortly followed by the consultant who had been caring for the boys overnight. They sat my husband and I down to talk to us about how the babies were doing and what had happened since their birth. We discovered that Twin A’s heart had stopped for 4 minutes and he needed resuscitation, and that’s when it really dawned on me that we could have lost one or both of our babies. What I took from that meeting was that I had two very poorly boys but that they were in very capable hands and everything was going to be okay. Once I had composed myself, we went back to the incubators and I got to see how precious my boys were. I had never seen a baby so small (Twin A, 3lbs 10oz; Twin B, 3lbs 5oz) and all I could do was sit and admire them through the plastic of the incubator. It broke my heart that I couldn’t even touch their skin.

NICU were very accommodating to us as parents, and we had access to the unit 24/7. The only time we couldn’t visit was if they were performing any medical procedures. So over the next few days, my husband and I were at the boys’ sides for as long as possible, just looking in awe. It wasn’t until after three days that I was asked if I’d like to hold my babies. Of course I did, but I was so frightened of hurting them that I was quite reluctant. My husband had to return home that day, so it felt unfair that I couldn’t share the moment with him, but I was bursting. I couldn’t wait any longer to have my first cuddle! I can only describe that moment as magical and a moment I’ll never forget.

After a week, the boys had come on enough for us to be transferred back to our nearby hospital. I almost didn’t want to leave, as they were settled and being so well cared for where they were. Why change things? But it had to be done, so in came the special transportation team and the boys were taken in mobile incubators to the place they were supposed to start their lives. I found this change very unsettling. The hospital had different ways of doing things and seemed less caring towards us and our babies. The boys, however, were fine! I spent four weeks driving back and forth to the hospital every day, and most days I’d be out of the house for over twelve hours. The nurses repeatedly told me to stay home and rest, but I couldn’t spend one day away from my babies. I wanted to change nappies, I wanted to help with feeding, I wanted to have special skin-to-skin time, I was their mummy after all! The boys seemed to have a few good days and then face a setback, have another few good days followed by another setback, but with every big step forwards they did have came moments of pride and thoughts of home time being closer and closer.

The day finally arrived when we could take the boys home. Five long weeks in hospital were over and we were on our own! We hadn’t told our family and friends that we were coming home and surprised them with FaceTime calls or photos of us at home with the boys. More special moments that I won’t forget! I remember feeling so worried about the boys that first night they came home. Were they too hot or too cold, were they breathing? I don’t know if that’s a preemie thing or just a new mummy thing. When I look back now at those five weeks, I still get very emotional. I never knew the best time of my life would also be the hardest, but I am so grateful for NICU as without them my babies wouldn’t be here. They are amazing teams of people and I couldn’t thank them enough. I now have healthy and happy 10-month-old boys. They were always going to be our ‘miracle babies,’ but the term takes on a whole new meaning after what they had to go through when they entered the world.


We are sharing stories on premature birth out of respect for Prematurity Awareness Month, which runs for all of November and is coordinated by March of Dimes.*

“November is Prematurity Awareness Month® and when the March of Dimes focuses the nation’s attention on premature birth. The awareness month kicks off with the release of the Premature Birth Report Card. November 17 marks World Prematurity Day, and the March of Dimes and [their] partner organizations worldwide are asking everyone to help spread the word on the serious problem of premature birth.”

For more information, please visit www.marchofdimes.org orwww.marchforbabies.org.

*Disclaimer: Rainbows & Unicorns does not necessarily endorse March of Dimes or any of their services, products, or opinions.

There is Hope

The Kenyan college massacre in April, the Russian plane crash over Egypt at the end of October, and, most recently, dual suicide bombs in Beirut and a series of attacks in Paris have caused understandable concern and anxiety. I have heard many people in the last several days talk about “what the world is coming to” and express fears about living in a time and place where terrorists can strike anytime, anywhere.

In reality, living in this world is precarious, but with social media we are made immediately aware of any travesty occurring in the world in real time. People’s anxieties and fears spread at lightning fast speed with the click of a button.

A hundred years ago, I imagine what my great grandparents must have thought. In 1914, at the beginning of World War I, nations on six continents were forced to choose sides for the first time in human history. At the end of WWI in November of 1918, deaths from the conflict reached 17 million people. Beginning in April 1918, the Spanish Flu infected 500 million people, 27% of the world’s 1.8 billion population, and killed between 50-100 million. If I was living in 1918, watching the world fight each other while Influenza wreaked its havoc, I would wonder about bringing a child into the world even if news traveled more slowly, across telegraphs and oceans.

However, if Jackie Robinson, Nat King Cole, Sir Edmund Hilary, JD Salinger, and Henrietta Lacks had not been born in the years 1919 and 1920, the current realms of baseball, jazz, exploration, American literature, and biology, respectively, would look much different today. Many of these brave souls knowingly fought through physical and/or societal barriers. What if their parents had been afraid of having a child because the world seemed to be falling apart around them in years before?

I am not one to say that “everything happens for a reason” because it is an incredibly cruel turn of phrase to anyone suffering grief or unfortunate circumstance. I will say, though, that because of the death and destruction caused by the Spanish Flu, Alexander Fleming—the future discoverer of antibiotics—was intent on finding the cause of the virus in an attempt to stop anything like it from happening again. The development of antibiotics would be revolutionary and save millions of lives. From exceptional devastation can come tremendous improvement.

Humans push forward, even when they’ve seen the worst that existence and humanity has had to offer in just the last 100 years. The Ukrainians who survived Stalin’s Holodomor in the 1930s went on to have children. Survivors of Nazi concentration camps went on to have children.  The Chinese who survived the great famine in the 1950s went on to have children. Survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia went on to have children. Survivors of the War in Darfur went on to have children. People in parts of the Middle East and Africa are currently struggling to survive, traveling vast distances to protect the families they have and will continue to have.

Growing our families and having hope for the future is a common thread throughout many of our stories. The smallest threat of one person possibly infiltrating a group of thousands is not a good enough reason for me to turn my back on those seeking a better life. There is potential risk in everything we do. When we step back and rationally analyze our chances of being involved in a terrorist attack over a car accident, we realize that we are much bigger risk-takers than would be terrorists could ever know.

The truth is the world is actually safer than it has ever been. Worldwide, there is less war now than at any other point in modern history. It is hard to believe this based on how we are inundated with terrifying news on the radio, television, and internet. The few places where war is occurring, it is raging with a vengeance, and we need to help those involved. The world is not perfect, but overall it is safer. There are still problems to solve like pollution, social injustice, climate change, worldwide income inequality, gender inequality, LGBTQIA rights and protection, and water scarcity. Some people would point to the fact that we should stop having children. It is not a feasible solution to suggest that people stop having children altogether, but the choices we make in the context of our survival can have a profound impact on the world. I choose to believe that there is always hope in the next generation.

In the last 100 years, we have seen the advent of radio and television broadcasts, the internet, artificial hearts, kidney dialysis machines, helicopters, jet engines, smoke detectors, digital cameras, and cell phones. We have put a man on the moon and explored the solar system and outer universe. The rate of innovation seems to speed up with each generation, and I can only imagine what the next generations will be able to do. What if a child born tomorrow is the one that figures out an inexpensive way to desalinate ocean water? Discovers a magical way to get all babies to go to sleep without crying? Discovers a pollution-free, sustainable, and efficient form of energy? Discovers an antibiotic that can take on Superbugs? Is an influential, kind, and just peacekeeper that can bridge one or more communities of people?

Each generation hopefully learns from the generations before, what to do and what not to do. It is our responsibility to teach our children to be sensitive to the plight of others, to be aware of the issues in their microcosm and globally. It is easy to come from a place of fear. We are hardwired to fight or flee when faced with a circumstance that tugs at our anxieties or reminds us of our mortality. When we stop, though—take deep breaths and remember what the risks are for actual occurrences—hopefully we can make decisions from a place of empathy and compassion instead of fear and isolationism.

Hurt, pain, and loss are inevitable elements of the human condition, but for a large majority of us—so is hope.

There is always hope.

Aching Hearts

I ran across a story called Where the Children Sleep on a photo project by Magnus WennmanIt is gut-wrenching, tear-inducing, and made my heart heavy.

Seeing these photos made me realize just how much privilege we truly have.

The first photo is a 5-year-old girl, her pigtails wrapped with ribbon, striped socks peeking out from below her blanket. You could likely come across a similar photo from a friend in your Facebook newsfeed. The only difference? This girl’s asleep in the freezing woods along the border of Hungary.

The second photo is of a 1.5-year-old little boy, and his long eyelashes remind me of my son’s. His face is so peaceful. This little soul has never known a home without war around him. They used water cannons and tear gas on his camp the day after the photo, and I can’t help but wonder if he’s okay.

Scroll more, read more, the tears flow. A 9-year-old with Polio…a preventable disease here, one we’d never think twice about. She can’t move much now; they can’t afford medication to treat her.

A 5-year-old, terrified of pillows because she associates them with air raids that happened in her hometown at night. Air raids? Have you ever had so much as a passing thought of the possibility of air raids in your town?

Two young girls, puffy coats and rain boots, but they are asleep on cardboard. Protected by only their father, because a grenade killed their mother and brother. They are afraid of the “bad boys.”

Another 5-year-old, alone in a hospital after he was injured by a car bomb. A car bomb that killed his mother as he held her hand. Can you even fathom that pain? One second you’re holding your mother’s hand, and the next she’s gone.

A 20-month-old, born as a refugee. A baby who has never had toys, never had any of the things we take for granted for my son. A 20-month-old who doesn’t even speak. Will he ever make it to saying his first words? Will his life be taken, by war, by hate, by the elements, before he can even say “mama?”

A 9-year-old who witnessed a stillborn baby thrown from a refugee boat. I know mothers who have given birth to sleeping babies. Can you imagine the anguish of having your child, your baby, tossed overboard because there just are no other options? Can you imagine seeing that as a 9-year-old child? How do you recover from that? How do you stop seeing that over and over?

I complain about my life, we all do. But in reality, we have it good…better than good, we have it great. Yes, I struggled to build my family, but they are here. They are safe. I have a crib that’s never been slept in because my son curls into my arms at night, nestled into the safest place he knows.

How do we ever help those children feel safe again?

How can we sit here in our oasis of safety, our 3-bedroom, 2-bath subdivison paradise, and deny help to those who need it? How can we sleep at night, in warm beds and on cool pillows after a hot shower and a full meal, and know they are there and not want to help?

You take a look at your closet and complain you have nothing to wear, but what would you grab if you had to flee your home? You complain there is nothing to eat, when really you mean there is nothing you want to eat, or nothing close to eat. But have you ever been without food? For days? For weeks?

What would you do if tomorrow, this was you? Your home blown to rubble, your company folded and gone, nothing but the clothes on your back and your family in your arms. Where would you go if the entire country was collapsing around you? Would you run for the border? North, to Canada? South, to Mexico? Would you make the trip if every street was demolished by air raids? If the gas stations were empty? Could you walk that far in your discount store flats? Your red-soled pumps? How long would you last if you were literally running for your life, your families’ lives? And tell me, how would you feel when you were met at the border by guards, guns, dogs, and fences, when all you want is safety, a place to sleep, protection for your children, a meal? What would you do if they turned you away? If no one was there to help, if they refused to help?

The state of the world makes my heart ache. It’s not the war that will define us; it’s our response to those in need.

What Do I Pass On?

Making the decision to create a family with the help of an egg donor was straightforward. The hard part was getting used to the idea that I wouldn’t pass on my genes. Part of me was relieved that I wouldn’t pass on certain negative family traits, but it also meant I’d never look at my child and recognize familiar features. Most difficult for me was knowing that the genetic tie I wanted my children to have to my great-grandmother, Nanny, would be permanently severed.

Nanny was the best grandmother you could ever hope for and the beloved matriarch of the family: kind, loving, generous—but with a wicked sense of humour that seems to have been passed down through the generations. Who else could I have inherited my sense of fun, dreadful face-pulling, bawdy sense of humour, and wacky dance moves from? She was my mother’s mother’s mother, and I am the very proud bearer of her mitochondrial DNA, so knowing I would not pass on her genes to my children was a real loss. We were the best of friends until her death when I was thirteen. Today, November 14th, marks the 24th anniversary of her death.

But there are other ways in which I honour our—Nanny, my daughter, and me—connection.

When I was only six weeks pregnant, my husband turned to me and shyly confessed he’d already thought of a name for our baby. “You have?” I asked, incredulous. “Well,” he stammered, “if it’s a girl, we should call her Violet. After Nanny. Because if you can’t pass on her genes, you can pass on her name.”

I have never loved my husband more than in that moment. And so our daughter would be named Violet.

The rest of my pregnancy was filled with some of the anxiety you’d expect after a miscarriage and infertility, but two dates stuck in my head: February 26th was the day of the embryo transfer and the first anniversary of the ultrasound where we learnt our first baby, Bean, had no heartbeat. November 13th, my due date, was the day before the anniversary of Nanny’s death. It was close enough that I marveled at the coincidence. It was like a wink from both of them. Here we are, watching over you both, together. I liked thinking of Nanny and Bean together. It gave me a lot of strength.

I don’t remember the first time I met Nanny, or even the first time I was aware she existed. When I reflect on my childhood, she’s just there. All I remember is love. My happiest childhood memories are all with Nanny.

Whenever I eat ice cream cones, I think of her; before finishing hers, she would always break off the bottom of her wafer and scoop a bit of her ice cream to present me with a new, tiny cone. It was a ritual I loved and, one day when she’s allowed sugar, I will continue the tradition with my daughter.

I remember Nanny’s hugs. As a child I travelled a lot, but with Nanny I always felt like I was home. It sounds cheesy, perhaps, but she was the compass in the storm. When I was with Nanny, I knew I was safe. I want to be that predictably calm and loving person in my daughter’s life.

There she is with us in southern Spain and Los Angeles, floating on a lilo and marvelling at how confidently my younger brother and I were splashing around, because she couldn’t swim a stroke. I hope to instill the same sense of adventure in my daughter.

And there I am, standing in her doorway in her modest house, watching as she gives a few coins to a thin boy in dirty clothes to buy penny sweets. I didn’t understand then just how generous that was of her but want to teach my daughter to be so loving.

One of the things you inherit from your family in a non-genetic way is sense of humour. Nanny made me laugh and laugh. She’d jut out her false teeth, kick up her heels, hitch up her skirts and dance wildly, and playfully stick her bum in my face. Already Violet seems to have a playful sense of humour, and I love that she makes me laugh, and I love that she consciously tries to make me laugh!

Now that Violet is a year old, she has a pretty good understanding of language. She’s never been a good sleeper (I think it’s because she’s easily excitable) and even books get her all fired up, so I rock her and tell her stories. Usually I recount the events of the day, but there are two stories in particular that I often share. One is the story of how Violet came to be. I tell her about the special lady who so generously shared her cells with Mama and Daddy so they could have her. Then I tell her about the other lady, “Nanny Violet,” and why she is also so special to me. And when Violet’s eyes are heavy-lidded and she shudders contentedly in my arms, I softly sing her a Welsh song I used to sing to Nanny:

My love is a Venus, a goddess so fair,
No flower more lovely, no jewel more rare:
Wherever you wander, no other you’ll find
So gracious and gentle, so tender and kind.

My darling is merry, my darling is free,
A spirit of beauty, a bird in a tree.
I’ll love her forever, she knows it full well—
But whether she’ll have me, I never can tell.

So this much I know: somehow, in the most unanticipated of ways, through her Nanny does live on. And even though I haven’t passed on her genes, I also know that the mitochondrial DNA that Nanny passed on to me through her daughter and my mother has helped shape the woman I have become; and I, in turn, have biologically shaped my daughter. My genes, my womb, this is the environment that influenced the expression of my baby’s genes.

More importantly, if Nanny were alive to meet her first great-great-granddaughter and namesake, I know she’d love little Violet exactly as she did me: kindly, patiently, with humour, and—let’s be honest—far too many sweets. I try to nurture on the first three qualities and be mindful of the last.

© 2015 @onfecundthought | www.onfecundthought.com All Rights Reserved.
© 2015 @onfecundthought | www.onfecundthought.com All Rights Reserved.

What’s in a Name?

First, I would like to say that in being a part of this community, I know how lucky I am that I was able to carry my children. So many mothers do not have that as an option. I appreciate and respect all of those fierce, warrior mommas that create their families, regardless of however it happens.


When my girls are older, I might tell them—ever so briefly—their birth story. Forty-eight hours of painful memories, full of regret, are so infinitely small when juxtaposed to the rest of their lives that I will honor it, but not dwell on it. Instead, I will probably tell them over and over about how I chose their names, what I knew about them before I met them and how I was right—and that I will always be right.

I will begin by telling them:

  • I was expecting you around Thanksgiving.
  • My mother’s favorite holiday was Christmas. Subsequently, it became my favorite holiday. (Despite the fact that the girls will probably be really confused when they find out Christmas is connected to the birth of some kid in the Middle East over 2000 years ago, at least the year we are in will make more sense to them.)
  • Their grandmother, the one that helped take care of them when they were babies, had one request: names that are easy to pronounce.
  • I was a teacher for nine years, and anyone that has ever taught knows that coming up with a name that doesn’t make you cringe or have small PTSD flashbacks can be difficult. I am also acutely aware of how names can be manipulated by children and I didn’t want to set them up for being teased.
  • I didn’t want them to have three other people in their class with the same name. I wanted them to be just a little bit removed from popularity.
  • I knew there were two, and it was easy for me to come up with male names. I liked Daniel and Jake. My father affectionately refers to himself as “Jake the Snake” and it is a name that I have always been drawn to—so that was it. It was settled.

However, my girls had other plans.

My husband, fearing his extremely hormonal wife, said that he would be fine with whatever I came up with, but we agreed he had veto power.

At first, I wanted to include some Cantonese aspect to their names to honor their Chinese heritage. Perhaps a middle name? I could only find Mandarin names. I asked my husband and his mother for suggestions. They said, “don’t worry about it.” My husband pointed out that their last name is Chinese. He would later encourage me that we should give the girls my maiden name as their middle name so that they could carry a part of my heritage also.

I liked the name Ruby. It was short, sweet, classic. Easy to pronounce. I had taught a student named Ruby whom I remembered as nice and that  she made me smile, not cringe. I picked this name for Twin B, my little girl that never turned her head toward the ultrasound—she was shy, repeatedly kicked by her sister in utero (and would have her hair pulled repeatedly on the outside), dropping down into position at 30 weeks and staying there. Later on in the pregnancy, I would worry about her more because I wouldn’t feel as much movement. She would reassure me by kicking me back when I poked my belly where she was. She would be my precious gem and my dad joked that she could be my blues singer.

Choosing the other name became more of a problem.

Immediately, I couldn’t choose any other gem or precious stone name. I had known an Amethyst—that name was out. Diamond and Sapphire weren’t going to work.

My other little girl—Twin A, as she was usually called because she was determined to be first—posed a bit of a challenge. I have multiple ultrasound pictures of her. It was almost as if she knew she was having her picture taken and smiled for the camera. I also envisioned her smiling as she moved from breech to transverse to “close enough” for her to come out easily. I never worried about her in utero because she was constantly moving.

I took to the name Zara. My husband balked at it but would have gone along with it. Despite its history in middle eastern cultures, he kept saying, “…but it is the name of a clothing company, are you sure you want that name?” And I would respond,”But it is a beautiful name and it feels like it would fit her.” I could always sense my husband’s uneasiness with Zara and then, within the week, that clothing company made a serious error in judgment. They manufactured a toddler outfit that resembled the uniform of concentration camp prisoners.

Okay universe, we won’t call her Zara.

I flipped through a few books and came across Holly. Hmmm—Ruby, red, and Holly, green. Holiday season, Christmas.

I knew someone awesome named Holly! Although I had never met her

When I first joined Twitter and the infertility community there, I became friends with a sassy, funny woman named Holly.

I had no idea what I was doing on Twitter and inadvertently sent her a tweet with no message. She responded with, “You rang?” and I figured out how to send a tweet explaining that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. When I joined, I was in flux—struggling with personal matters, as I tend to do. Holly offered her email address and cheered me on—she was someone that made me feel more comfortable on Twitter when I really felt like I didn’t belong there. That initial interaction would be something that would stay with me. One of those moments that she would never think of again and I would remember forever. We never really know when we are making a difference in someone else’s life.

So it was settled. My sassy, charming, always-on-the-move little girl would be named Holly.

Throughout the first year, my girls held true to their names and personalities.

Holly started out as my more vocal child, screaming and crying most nights as she struggled with colic. Always on the move, she would bounce herself out of her bouncy chair at 3 months, crawl at 7 months (seemingly overnight), start climbing EVERYTHING at 10 months, and take her first steps at 11 months. Holly smiles in pictures, charms people in person, and wins over hearts quickly.

Ruby is my beautiful soul that smiles and laughs a lot, but rarely for the camera. She practiced crawling for weeks, wobbling back and forth on her hands and knees—she is tentative. She is my singer—we can hum back and forth mimicking each other’s tunes until I stop and say, “Now say ‘momma.'” Met with silence, I know she will want to practice for a while on her own before she is ready to share with me.

I am thankful that one was born first while the other is taller. That one will practice something in order to show the other one how it is done. That they are unique, wonderful, lovely, curious, and adventurous individuals that will be bound together by sisterhood, complemented and contrasted by their names.

They are my lovely daughters that I *know* with every fiber of my being, and yet strangers to me with their own unique, emerging, developing personalities. I look forward to getting to know them more each day.

Every Baby is Worth the Wait: A Preterm Labor Story

This is a piece written for us by AJ Clark, a member of the infertility, loss, and adoption community on Twitter.

Publisher’s Note:
The writer wanted us to add that her daughter was born safely last week at 38 weeks, 4 days.


I find it kind of ironic that World Prematurity Awareness Month is in November. I have been pregnant twice, and both babies’ due dates happened to be in November. My first child, now 5 years old, decided that he wasn’t interested in waiting until November to make his debut and was born 5 weeks premature in October 2010. As I sit here typing this at 34 weeks pregnant with my second baby, I am fighting an ever-growing fear that she, too, will join our family too soon.

October 16th, 2010 started out as normally as a Saturday could at that point in my life. Due to the fact that I was 35 weeks pregnant and had been on modified bedrest for the past 4 weeks, my parents were here for the weekend to help my husband do things that I couldn’t, like putting together baby furniture, cleaning, and shopping. My mom was doing laundry and bringing the loads from the dryer to me for folding. I was looking forward to dinner that night; it was becoming a monthly tradition to go to this little hole-in-the-wall restaurant for seafood when my parents came to visit. I was excited to get out of the house and I hadn’t had any seafood in 3 weeks in order to satisfy my quota of “pregnancy seafood” in one sitting. One pound of peel-and-eat shrimp, and one pound of snow crab legs. Yes, one pound of each for the pregnant lady, please, and no one dared bat an eyelash.

We had a great dinner, and by the time we got home, I had to pee—again. So off I waddled for the thousandth time that day. I sat down, trying to determine if my bladder was indeed full or if it just felt full and I wouldn’t be able to go…and then I saw it. My panties. Blood. I wiped. Blood. At 9:00PM on a Saturday night, I knew my only option was to go to the ER. I was not considered full term and I knew this couldn’t wait until my scheduled OB appointment on Monday.

And so began a 3-day string of trips to different hospitals across Central Florida, including an ambulance ride across Orlando in rush hour traffic. I’m going to do my best to portray the terrifying whirlwind that is preterm labor without going into too much detail…otherwise this would be a novel, not a blog post.

Back to Saturday night at the first hospital. I was obviously concerned about the bleeding, but a couple of hours on the monitors and a cervical check revealed that I was not in active labor and there was nothing they could do for me. I was sent home on strict bedrest until my OB appointment Monday.

All through the next day, I was only up long enough to shower, use the bathroom, and move from bed to couch. I was still spotting, and Sunday night I thought I noticed my Braxton Hicks contractions becoming longer and perhaps regular. I waited very impatiently until the OB’s office opened at 8:00AM on Monday to call and relay the weekend’s events to the triage nurse. I was advised to return to the hospital rather than coming to my scheduled appointment in the office. We grabbed our (hastily packed) hospital bags and headed out, making the “be on standby” phone calls to our parents on the way. Here’s where the real fun began.

Once again back in Labor & Delivery, I’m strapped to the monitor and told that “someone” will be in to check my cervix shortly. One thing about giving birth, whether it’s premature or not, is there will be several different “someones” with their hands in your crotch. A nurse came in, did her thing, and announced that I was about 2cm dilated. She was going to talk to the doctor on duty and see what he “wanted to do with me.” This was the moment that I knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep this baby in much longer. Technically, I knew that some women walked around dilated for weeks before going into active labor, but I was also recording contractions on the monitor and still bleeding. This all added up to a bunch of “what-ifs” running wildly through my mind while waiting on the doctor. What if something was wrong? At 35 weeks, he could be just fine…but, what if he’s wasn’t? What if, what if, what if?

It was ultimately decided that I would be given 3 shots of a medication called terbutaline to try and stop the contractions. An ultrasound was done to make sure baby was doing okay, and I was held in triage until we knew if the medication was going to work. The standard policy at my OB practice was that at 34 weeks, they will take several steps to try and stop labor, but at 36 weeks, they will let you go (as long as there are no complications in either scenario). I was 35 weeks, 2 days, so the doctor took a 50/50 approach. If the terbutaline shots didn’t stop my contractions, they were going to let things progress naturally.

Not having any answers was scary, and the medication gave me major jitters and shakes, so that was a nice, relaxing time. A few hours after the last shot was given, my cervix was checked again and it was decided that I needed to be at a hospital equipped with a NICU, “just in case.”

At around 5:00PM on Monday, I was loaded into an ambulance and transferred across town to the “better equipped” hospital for my “just in case” baby. Is this really happening? To me? This is not the way this was supposed to go! I know lots of women have their babies early, but I wasn’t supposed to be one of “them!” These were just some of the thoughts racing through my mind as I bounced along on a stretcher in the back of an ambulance. Aside from the all-consuming fear that something would go wrong, having no answers was the worst part of this whole experience. Nobody could tell me if I was in active labor or not, so I was given several different scenarios as to how it could play out. This left me and my wild imagination free to roam, and by the time we reached the next hospital, I was shaking with anxiety.

What happened next is kind of a blur, but I was basically kicked out of the hospital as the doctor there couldn’t admit until I was at least 4cm dilated. This hospital delivered micro-preemies all the time, so I’m sure my 35-week belly and baby seemed like no big deal to them, but I was terrified and so let down that I was being sent home again. They were kind enough to give me a shot of something in my butt before I left that would help with pain and my nerves, and I was on my way.

When I got home, my parents (back in town at this point) and husband tried to get me to lie in bed, but I was too uncomfortable. I set up camp on a recliner in the living room and told them all to get some sleep. The shot was making me feel like I could actually sleep for a bit, so I closed my eyes and dozed for an hour or two. Once all of the meds that had been pumped into my body wore off, I was in agonizing pain. It was the middle of the night and I was not going to go back to the hospital just to be sent home again, so I labored away in that recliner most of the night. By 5:00AM, the rest of the house was awake and begging me to go back to the hospital. I was so upset by the way I was dismissed at the second hospital that I told them I’d only go back to the hospital where I was supposed to deliver. The woman in labor had spoken and the decision was made: back to hospital number one.

I was at the hospital for the third time in as many days, and when the nurse who checked my cervix announced that I was 5cm and would be admitted, I cried with relief. As terrified as I was about having my son at 35 weeks, it was obvious that he was coming and I knew I needed to be there. Boy was I right. Only 3 hours and 20 minutes after being admitted, I gave birth to a bright red and screaming 5lb, 7oz baby boy. There were so many people in the room because of our “just in case” status, but our little guy blew everyone’s expectations out of the water and was sent home with me 48 hours later.

This is not how many premature birth stories end, and I am well aware of that. While I was one of the lucky ones, there are so many things that could have gone wrong and they haunt me to this day.

copyright AJ_Mommy Crazy 2015
©AJ_Mommy Crazy 2015

After fighting secondary infertility to conceive a sibling for our boy, I am currently nearing the end of my second and final pregnancy. As the infamous 35-week mark comes racing upon me, I find myself increasingly anxious. Since I am considered high risk for preterm labor, I have been on progesterone supplements throughout my third trimester and up to 37 weeks to hopefully prevent my baby girl from making an early entrance like her brother. This gives me some peace of mind to know that we are actively doing something to prevent another premature baby, but I have days where my “preemie paranoia” gets the best of me.

Here’s the thing: I had a relatively normal pregnancy. Yes, I was on modified bedrest, but it was 100% precautionary. If someone had told me the day before the whole ordeal began that I would have had my son in 3 days’ time, I would have laughed. Some women are aware from the beginning that they are at risk for preterm labor, and then there are others like me who are caught off-guard. It can happen to anyone, at any time, for any reason. As much as pregnancy should be a joyful time, I would caution anyone against being too carefree. It’s important for every pregnant woman to know the signs of preterm labor and what to do should they experience any of them. Listen to your doctor when he/she runs through that list of things to watch for at each appointment, and if your OB doesn’t do this—ask.

Pregnancy is a highly individual experience for each woman, and who knows more about your situation than your own doctor? While I hope you never need to use the information, it just isn’t worth the risk to not inform yourself.

I am forever thankful that my preemie story had the best possible outcome, and that I have access to medications that will help me carry my current baby closer to her due date. Each day that I can keep her safe inside is a victory all its own, because as much as I want to meet her, she is worth the wait. Every baby is.


We are sharing stories on premature birth out of respect for Prematurity Awareness Month, which runs for all of November and is coordinated by March of Dimes.*

“November is Prematurity Awareness Month® and when the March of Dimes focuses the nation’s attention on premature birth. The awareness month kicks off with the release of the Premature Birth Report Card. November 17 marks World Prematurity Day, and the March of Dimes and [their] partner organizations worldwide are asking everyone to help spread the word on the serious problem of premature birth.”

For more information, please visit www.marchofdimes.org or www.marchforbabies.org.

*Disclaimer: Rainbows & Unicorns does not necessarily endorse March of Dimes or any of their services, products, or opinions.

Dodging the Grenades

This is a piece written for us by a member of the infertility, loss, and adoption community on Twitter.


I never know when one is going to land on me. It might be a cliché picture of a specific spaghetti sauce, or an ultrasound photo; it might be casually dropped in the context of a growing family photo, or thrown in my face. Either way I always catch it like a brick to the gut, a grenade in my hand.

When I first started really struggling with getting pregnant, I lamented about how easy it was for others. With each disappointing cycle that passed, there seemed to be at least one pregnancy announcement to go with it. People would say, “There must be something in water.” And I would inquire, “WHERE IS THIS WATER YOU ALL ARE DRINKING?”

As IUI after IUI failed for us and baby after baby was born to others, as soon as I saw an ultrasound picture or equally explosive proclamation, I blocked the person from my Facebook feed. It was never personal toward them, nothing they did wrong. Then, I would make quick work of reinforcing the protective wall I was always in the process of building with the emotional bricks repeatedly being hurled my way. Eventually the towering wall insulated me and I didn’t care anymore about pregnancy announcements. Prior to my second IVF, I made peace with my infertility. “My family may or may not happen,” I told myself, without really knowing if I would find a way to be fine either way. The more I accepted that, the easier it was to ignore the ease with which others grew their family trees.

My children have stealthily chiseled away at that brick and mortar.

This morning, scrolling through my Facebook news feed, I came across a photo, casually and happily announcing the anticipated arrival of a third child. This woman is a lovely acquaintance, has never said or done a mean thing to me, is part of one of my communities—but it got me, right in the solar plexus this time.

I could feel my heart beat a little faster, with light sweat forming on my brow as my body prepared to fight or flight, looking at all of the congratulations by mutual friends. I “liked” the announcement myself and felt generally happy for her. I wouldn’t expect anyone for even a second to withhold the status of “feeling excited.” And then I turned inward and felt sorry for my own experiences—the losses, the treatments, the years of using all of my vacation days for doctor’s appointments, the money and hope spent. I could feel the weight with which I buried myself in self criticism—how my body and age had failed me and my husband year after year.

My anxiety clouded my perception of everything I saw for the next four hours. I was getting down on myself; everything I saw on social media made me feel like I was an outsider looking in on a world that I would never understand, nor would accept me as part of it. The anxiety and irritability built up until I was the grenade, blowing up in my husband’s face.

I put down the phone. I stopped looking at the screen that was reflecting back at me a distorted view of everything I saw.

I waited for the exposed nerves that triggered my anxiety to calm down, decrease their inflammation.

I don’t expect trigger warnings. Life doesn’t come with a trigger warning and I grew up in a time and place when they didn’t seem to exist. But I also grew up without social media. I also grew up in a time when someone’s random ultrasound picture wouldn’t show up out of nowhere—there was insulation from the onslaught of the sharing culture.

I happily shared my own pregnancy announcement; why isn’t it okay with me to see others’ announcements? Because when I am on the outside looking in on people’s lives and marriages, conceiving children is assumed to be as perfect as possible. It is the projection that I create and compare with my own experience, and I am envious that their perceived perfect pregnancy doesn’t equal the rigorous, heartbreaking, grueling situation I endured. I feel sorry for myself and I don’t expect anyone else to understand. It isn’t anyone else’s issue but mine, with which I need to make peace.