There is a story that Timehop tells this time of year that makes me remember that I never really told it. Two years ago today, I posted pictures of my sons to Facebook. They were a couple of weeks old, and I posted a couple of weeks’ worth of pictures. I had not posted them previously. There was a reason. A dirty truth. One of those things that mothers rarely speak of but that many of them feel.
For the first few weeks after my sons were born, I was not happy. I was the precise opposite of happy. I was overwhelmed and broken. I felt that I had disappointed me and them and Saint Daddy and Sunshine.
I was not sure what I felt for them was love. In fact, I was not sure at the time that I would ever feel love for them.
It was something. It was awe at their existence. It was longing to feel something for them. It was responsibility for their lives. It was commitment to their protection.
But love? I do not think it was love.
That was strange for me. When Sunshine was born, I held her close and felt that immediate connection.
When Grumpy’s first cries filled the room, I cried real tears because he was real and alive and safe. I had done that.
But it was harder. Delivery was less painful but more difficult. The effects lasted for a while. I could not get out of bed. I could not hold both of them easily but I wanted to.
Feeding them was hard.
It was that last point that changed on this day two years ago. It actually changed the day before. That is the story that Timehop tells.
Neither Grumpy nor Sleepy was very good at eating. Of course I was going to breastfeed my sons. That is what good mothers do. That is what I did for Sunshine until she was eighteen months old and weaned herself.
As soon as I left the operating room and was wheeled across the hall to recovery, I was handed two absolutely perfect miracles and Grumpy latched on. Sleepy, of course, was too sleepy, but he rested his little head on my chest and we all knew that he would do it soon.
But he never did it well. It was really Sleepy that was the issue, but I did not know that. I would not know that for weeks.
Everyone told me to feed them individually at first. I was not ready to tandem feed them. But when you have two crying newborns and you are the source of comfort, the creator of the food, the pacifier, the only thing that they have every known, that is easier said than done. So I tandem fed from day one. When they cried, Saint Daddy brought me one at a time, I latched them on and waited, trying to enjoy these sweet moments with them as I had with their sister.
But they were not sweet, they were stressful. Only one position worked and I needed a million pillows. And I was sore. And I was tired. And I could not help thinking that I probably would not be able to tandem feed in public so we were stuck together in the house for the next four months or so until they could figure out how to wait their turns or could help me in the process of latching them on. And I would be sore until then because that is how long the vasospasms lasted with Sunshine.
They ate every 2.5 hours around the clock for 20-30 minutes at a time. That is what my Facebook status said two years ago yesterday, according to the story that Timehop tells.
I remember their cries waking Saint Daddy and I as we set about the process of changing and comforting, feeding and swaddling. Saint Daddy did diapers while I set up my nursing pillow in bed. I was sore from my incision and bone tired. He handed me a baby, letting me know which one he was based solely on the nail polish on his big toe. I recalled which side he had the last time and offered him the other side. Saint Daddy brought me another baby, and I latched him on too. Saint Daddy fell asleep for thirty minutes. I swaddled the first one, handed him to Saint Daddy to return to his cradle, and moved onto the second one.
That was just at night. While Sunshine slept, and I felt overwhelmed. I felt exhaustion in my soul.
During the day, this pattern took place on the couch. Except I would let them sleep on me in whichever position they landed after they stopped nursing.
Timehop showed me the picture I sent to my mom, who was in Florida at the time. Both boys curled in a ball on my lap, my shirt a little disheveled still from being quickly pulled down to cover my twin mom body.
And here is the thing, despite the constancy of it all, despite the exhaustion, despite the fact that it was all that I seemed to be doing, both boys were losing weight. Both boys were struggling with lethargy. Both boys were not eating well enough.
The nurse practitioner at the pediatrician’s office said she knew I was working hard. She held me as I cried. She told me she knew it would work. She sent me home with two formula samples and said to consider an ounce or two twice a day, just until they get up to birthweight. Then they would do it, she said. She knew they would.
I had seen lactation consultants. That is what Timehop tells me. I had seen five different ones before that tearful meeting with the nurse practitioner. They all said the same things: “They’re both latched so well. They’re little champs. Just keep doing what your doing. They’ll get it. Then it will be so easy.”
But it was not easy. If it was going to get easy, I wanted it to get there much more quickly than it was because I was suffocating under the weight of it all.
When we left the pediatrician’s office that day, I called another lactation consultant. I begged to be seen as soon as possible. It was not an emergency, but it was an emergency. I had twins. I wanted them to eat. I wanted to feed them. I wanted them to live.
And under these circumstances, how can the word be called love? Responsibility for their lives is not the same as love. I did not feel love. I felt weighed down by the responsibility of being the one who gave them life.
That lactation consultant worked with me for two hours the next morning, according to Timehop. She weighed my sons before and after a feeding. She watched me latch them (perfectly) and watched them suck. She checked for ties and felt their little sucks with her pinky.
“This one doesn’t have a very strong suck. That’s probably the issue. I bet this one is working really hard to make enough milk for both of them to eat, and it’s not working. That’s the problem. He’ll get better when he gets stronger. Birthweight will change him. But you’ve got to get him there first.”
She asked me what I wanted.
“To sleep. I want to sleep. I want to breastfeed my sons for as long as I possibly can. But right now, I want to sleep.”
Saint Daddy came back and she told him that she wanted him to let me nap. As soon as we got home, he was to let me go to our bedroom and let me nap.
She handed him formula. She said that if they needed to eat during my nap, to give them the formula but not to wake me until I woke on my own.
Then I was to pump. I should pump every three hours or so and bottle feed them when they were hungry. She told me how much they should eat at a feeding and we should supplement with the formula until my supply met their demand and in a week, if they were at birthweight, I could try to latch them or I could pump forever until I felt I had met my goal but nipple confusion is a myth and babies will latch and she knew I could do it. I was in the right mindset.
She hugged me. She gave me her personal cell number if I needed her for anything.
She sent us home, and I… I napped.
I woke up and I pumped. I fed my babies, who were finally getting enough milk during a feeding that they also slept. We slept.
And the weight, almost immediately, lifted off of my shoulders.
We did not sleep long stretches, they were newborns after all. And I needed to pump regularly. If that was the thing I intended to do, I needed to pump every three hours around the clock. Eight times a day for the first twelve weeks.
The lactation consultant did not tell me that. My sister in law, who was pumping for my niece at the time, added me to a Facebook group where I learned that. I learned all about exclusive pumping. I learned about what supplements might help and about water intake. What I really learned from that group was that there were thousands of women out there breastfeeding their babies through bottles. It was not easy, but they were doing it.
And the next day after that nap and the feeding and the sleeping? That very next day? I posted pictures of my sons to Facebook. Not because that is what new mothers do, which was the case with every picture I had posted previously, but because I felt that maybe I could love them. Maybe I did love them.
The next year of my life was filled with ups and downs when it came to breastfeeding. Saint Daddy and I bought a chest freezer to store my milk because I was overproducing by more than fifteen ounces a day for a while, but then their demand went up and I watched that supply dwindle. They needed more some days than others and I became nervous that I might not keep up. The stress of returning to work hurt my supply, and I had to give up middle of the night pumps and running and the very notion of losing weight. I pumped on work breaks and lunch breaks. I missed meetings. I pumped in my car in many parking lots. I pumped in a restaurant booth. I was a pumping mom and that meant battery backs and sanitation and labeled bags.
But the year went quickly. And exactly one year after that meeting with the final lactation consultant, I fed my sons the last bag of frozen milk. I had stopped pumping a month prior to that bag being used, but we made it to more than a year of breastfeeding.
I never thought we would. When I met with that lactation consultant, I had already told myself that if I made it to six weeks, I was a winner. But I made it a full year.
And you know what? I love my sons.
I love them with every fiber of my being.
I love the way they like to tickle my toes. I love the way that they call my name. I love the way that they stare out the window at the cars. I love the way that they laugh at each other when they should be sleeping.
I am glad to see this Timehop story each year. It reminds me of how far we have come. It also reminds me that new motherhood is harder than any of us can imagine sometimes. It is not just soft blankets and warm snuggles. It is sometimes desperation and hopelessness. It is anxiety and fear.
One of the comments that I make in my Timehop story is that my pressure was both internal and external. I wanted to breastfeed my sons because it mattered to me. But it was so necessary for me to not look like a failure to those witnessing my motherhood from the outside.
Motherhood is full of judgment. It is full of people who know how to do it better than we do. People who have never experienced our struggles but insist that they would know how to handle them if they did. People who are forthcoming with their criticism masked as support. People who think they have the solution.
Sometimes the solution is not the one we had hoped for, but it is the one we need. Timehop tells me that. I am glad that it does.