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Learning and trying to be kind and living my life as fully as I can stand it.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

If this blog were a pen, it would weigh one million pounds. That's how hard it's been to pick it up and write this past week. Or has it been longer? It's all been a blur.

When you think about it, it's pretty amazing that I've never shit my pants. Eww. That is such a vile statement and yet it truly describes some things in a way that prettier language could not. Last Tuesday I got on Bart to head into San Francisco for dinner and a movie with two of my best friends. Such a treat to get to do that. I sat down on the train, listened to the doors close and felt a familiar wave sweep through my body. It wasn't the normal poop chills, it was the colitis chill. The sudden, certain need to find a bathroom in a very urgent way. Except I was on a train, with no bathroom, with an hour ride ahead of me. So I focused my mind on my insides in a way I've done too many times to count and I willed my bowels to hold firm. And they did.

When my brother lived in Ghana he and his Peace Corps buddies took it as a right of passage that one day they would eventually poop their pants. It happened to almost all of them I think.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A snapshot

It rained this morning and we could look out the kitchen window at sheets of water falling into the dandelion forrest that is our front courtyard. The stalks of  some of those plants are so tall and thick that little birds can rest on them and frequently do. The sun still shone as the rain fell but I didn't see a rainbow.

I felt a little sad as I drove the well-worn route to the NICU. No specific reason.

I'm now sitting in the half-light of Room 3437 with a sleeping baby girl on either side of me, each in her own crib. My breasts ache because it's time to pump or nurse by neither one of them is waking up yet. Someday soon we'll work together to get on the same schedule but for now I have no say in the matter. It's peaceful in here and just being near them soothes me. I hope they come home soon.

Friday, July 18, 2014


I am having a feeling today that I haven't had before. It's tempting to say it's too hard to describe but then isn't trying to describe things the point of writing? It's tempting to make a bulleted list about what it is or isn't like, this feeling I'm having. But this feeling isn't fragmented, it's whole. Bullets would split it up and that wouldn't do it justice. If I close my eyes and go quiet, breathe in and out so that I can feel the feeling, it comes to me in a wave. A bubble. A creamy pan-full of melted butter. A fullness.

I think it's richness that I feel. The deep richness of the love in my life that fills up my chest and rolls out from there.

The post I wrote yesterday made other people check in with me about how I'm doing today--how I'm handling not being at the wedding. In fact, someone who reads this blog whom I've never met was brainstorming about how to get me to Vermont so I could be there (Hi Vanessa and thanks!). I so appreciate the empathy--not only because it's nice to be consoled and taken care of but because it shows me the power of this writing. That makes me feel great.

I feel a longing to be there at my brother's wedding. I so wish I could be there. It makes me sad knowing I won't be there--won't get to see all the moments that make their day special. Won't get to be a part of the stories. Won't get to see his face. Won't get to see her in her dress. I love my brother in a way that is totally different than the way I love anyone else. It's not parental, especially now that we're both older and our 5-year age difference doesn't seem noticeable at all. But it's in the realm of parental. I remember the day he was born. He's the first person in the world whom I've actively known from his day one. I remember him as a baby--this unbelievably cute, white-blonde haired boy. I remember him from so many different phases in his life, and I also know there were long stretches of time when we didn't know each other well because I was away at college and the age gap felt enormous.

I haven't watched him grow up as though he were on stage and I was a spectator. I've gotten to be around as he's grown up and I've had the luck to be a little bit older and able to notice big changes, big moments of him coming into his own. There have been moments when I've felt such fear for him, about him. When he left to go live in Africa to be in the Peace Corps for almost three years and I burst into tears while out to dinner with my friends talking about it. It surprised me to realize how afraid I was that something would happen to him. It's not that I've ever been in an actively protective role or been much of an advice-giver. I don't really know why it's like that but I know it's he alone that brings out that unique combination of immense love/pride/worry/gratitude.

These days we are good friends and that is the best of all. I got to pick him up at JFK on a mini break from the Peace Corp when he came to check out possible MBA programs. We walked the entire length of Central Park and talked about love. We talked about how challenging romantic relationships can be and were surprised to realize we share a lot of the same feelings about the subject. Walking with my brother who was living a life I could only barely imagine in an African village with no running water or electricity was a gift. Getting to be the one who fed him and listened to him and laughed at the many absolutely hysterical moments on that trip was. . .a lot. So much. So good.

A wedding is a big deal. Making the decision to commit to a marriage with someone is something I am so glad I've done and am doing, even though there were and still are times when it's really scary and hard. I have very little, in fact no, advice to give. And he doesn't need advice from me. He doesn't need me there, even though I know he would prefer it if I were, just as he knows I would give so much to be there. My heart breaks a little to know that I won't be--that I'm missing it.

The richness comes from all of that and from knowing that I am where I need to be. Yes, I need to be here because I'm practicing breast-feeding with one of my little daughters. And I need to be here because my husband is here and we have all these little kids who need us. We need each other to lean on and take care of one another as we navigate the *$#!^ NICU again. I need to be here because my big little kids are so glad to see me in the morning and they're changing so much and even in the four weeks since their sisters have been born they've transformed into older siblings who actually seem to get it in a way that is hard to believe. I need to be here because I'm pumping breast milk every two hours and it would be a true pain in the ass to figure out how to do that and store it and blah blah blah if I were flying to Vermont for a few days. There are all of those reasons and yet I know that had I chose to go, everyone here would have been ok. They would have more than survived and they would have been glad for me to get to be with the rest of my family. Well, the babies might not have been glad but they would have been well-taken care of and probably not all that concerned at my absence.

The reason I need to be here is because this is where I belong right now. With my husband. With my children. I feel at peace, even though it was a hard decision and it's painful to not be able to be in both places at once. The richness comes from the realness. It is real and hard to not be able to do everything you want to do. To have to make a decision and choose between two wonderful, important things. I will never get over missing my brother's wedding. It makes me cry even typing those words because I want to be there so badly. But how lucky am I to have all that love there and all this love here and to feel it all well up in my heart, marking me forever. How lucky am I to know that I am part of the story there, even though I'm not there. And he and his wedding are part of the story here, part of the story of our girls' births. I know they will be glad to hear about it when they're older.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ode to a place

There are things I want to write about, like how completely frustrated I am by the NICU. Beyond frustrated. I want to scream and smash things and just get the hell out of there. Instead I will write about a place that sits in my heart all the time but that is particularly on my mind these days.

My family, my family of origin, is gathered and gathering in Vermont in preparation for my younger brother's wedding. The wedding and the fact that my brother is becoming a husband in two days time deserves its own post. Seven months ago when we discovered I was pregnant again, before we even knew it was twins and we were still reeling at the news, I burst into tears realizing that I would miss my brother's wedding. I knew I'd be too pregnant to get on a plane and I could not believe that such an important moment would happen and I wouldn't get to be there.

Vermont. My siblings and I grew up going there almost every summer from the time we were very small. I didn't realize what an unusual thing that was until I was older and wondered why I'd never spent a summer in Tahoe or met people my age who had never been on a plane before. I knew it was special in the way it made me feel, though. We usually drove up from Maryland after vising my grandparents and, even as a young person, even though the state is full of green mountains, I'd get excited when I started to recognize OUR green mountains. The smell of the fields and of manure. The feel of the air. Route 14 stretched and rounded its way to my family. I felt filled up.

We stayed in different places over the years--my family takes up a lot of space in Vermont. Good thing there always seems to be more space. . especially since there also always seems to be more family. Each destination, each separate house, brought with it its own daily habits--different rooms in which to sleep, different kitchens in which to eat. Different creeks for walking and exploring, different barns for working or visiting, different roads to walk down or to cross. Different places to sink into and be quiet--under trees, in fields, up waterfalls, in hay lofts, on couches. The group was always different too. My mom's side of the family is big. Very big. At last count I had around 25 cousins and that was a few years ago so we've probably added a few. By proper definition we aren't all exactly first cousins but we do away with the 2nd-cousin-once removed stuff and just say "cousin" or "What up, cuz?" depending on who you're talking to. My mom's generation is made up of many siblings and cousins and step-siblings and spouses and outlaws (which is what we call in-laws who have technically left the family through divorce but who don't actually leave the family because. . .well, family is complicated, isn't it? But love is worth sticking around for and we like to keep people.) All of this is to say that each summer gathering was made up of different members because of soccer tournaments, summer camp, family obligations, perhaps some family feuds, different schedules to work around, money or lack thereof, and various other reasons that I can't come up with because I'm limited to my own perspective of things. Whoever came together arrived and left in a stretched-out way, so there always seemed to be the anticipation and excitement of another mini-reunion.

These days the gatherings are somewhat intense, by which I mean we are coming together for a reason like a wedding or a memorial or a graduation so we come together en masse and have lots of meals and activities and try to see everyone and worry about missing something or someone but do our best to soak it all up. Back in the earlier days of my life we spent summer days that melted and dragged, with no sense of having anywhere to be unless you were trying to be at the barn in time for morning or evening chores. Going to the library in town was a big event. So was going swimming at the Floating Bridge or going on a creek walk from the waterfall to the swimming hole. I picked many bunches of wildflowers, carried many little cousins on narrow hips down to the swimming hole or across the field. I was part of many conversations, sitting on the porch with the elders of my family listening to stories, playing Charades and learning who I was and who I wanted to be. We picked cows that were "ours" for the summer, usually those that were hugely pregnant hoping to be there when their calves were born. Our cows got special handfuls of clover picked on the way over and leisurely brushings and hugs. This summer is the fourth summer in a row I haven't been there and I really feel it in my skin and bones how much I miss it. I've never been away so long. I can close my eyes and picture everything so clearly with no effort at all.

It will be so different to go back now--I have a husband and kids, none of whom were in my life the last time I was there. I think that might mean I'm an official grown-up or something. Vermont has always been a good measuring stick in that way--marking the first time I drove myself up there rather than riding with my family. The first time I was involved in cooking a meal rather than waiting to be fed (though to be honest that probably hasn't happened as much as it should have!). The first time I drank a beer with a cousin whose diaper I had changed. The next time I'm there I will be the one with babies who get carried on younger hips away for adventures. I thought the next time would be now and I feel so pulled to be there. Through Facebook I get to watch the waves of family arrive and join the celebration. They sit on porches and play with babies and I know they are soaking it all up, getting filled up. Knowing that and getting to hear about it is almost as good as getting to be there myself.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A snapshot

The good news is that I think about writing this blog several times a day. The less good news is how hard it is to actually sit down and write. Partly because I'm trying something new which is that I aim to actually edit my first draft rather than typing full-force and hitting "Publish", which would essentially be creating a stream-of-consciousness online journal which is not what I want to do. And partly because. . .you know, many kids and stuff.

My older kids got up at 5:30 this morning. Considering that a few months ago our son woke up every day at four, this shouldn't seem too bad. But they've been sleeping until six or seven lately and losing that extra bit of sleep today made for a rough start. I'd also been up at 1:30 and 4:30 to pump because my breasts hurt and woke me up before my alarms. I am a nursing mama with no babies to nurse at the moment so there is lots of pumping going on.

My big littles and I played for an hour. I then had them crawl to the kitchen so I could fold them into their blue Ikea high-chairs and feed them breakfast--multi-grain Cheerios, blueberries and scrambled eggs with cheese. Oh and a last-minute addition of a toasted end-piece of sourdough bread spread with cream cheese. Note to parents--this ended up being perfect for teethers to gnaw on, despite my initial concern that I'd given them too much crust for their taste. The end of breakfast was announced by someone waving the rest of his toast around his head and flinging it behind him onto the floor. Done! Wiped cream cheese and eggs off hands and faces and carried them into our bedroom so my husband could watch them while I pumped again. Went and got them and brought them back to their room where we played some more. I implemented my soon-to-be-patented parenting move (invented during pregnancy) which is Lay On the Floor on a Blanket with a Pillow and Watch Children Play. This is very effective until one of your children gets into a biting phase and you have to be available to separate the kids any time a mouth approaches a body. It also puts you into prime injury territory what with 1-year-olds' tendencies to hurl themselves full out onto your sore breasts or curiously pull your hair as though it is a piece of rope or, you know, bite. So up again to supervise and play the game of throwing a red spiky rubber ball into an empty diaper box and shouting "Hooray!" every time I made it in. I shouted, they just looked excited.

Our blessed baby-sitter arrived at 8:30 and took over. I went to pump again and then went to take a nap. I felt momentarily guilty before laying down but then did it anyway because I was soooo tired. Man are we in for an awakening once we've got our little babies home and they're reminding us how truly little sleep one gets with newborns. So nap-time it was.

Woke up 1.5 hours later, kissed the big babies before they went out for a walk, made myself a sandwich and sat down to pump AGAIN. Now it is almost noon and I haven't been to visit our girls yet. I haven't showered. The dog has not been out. Many things to do. But a quick sit-down to say hello to anyone reading and to keep recommitting to getting words on the page.

I'm working on a post about food and another one about snakes. Get excited!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Our bodies, our selves

Our girls are in a very nice hospital. The building just had a big remodel done three years ago and it is fancy. Walking along the sidewalk to get into the front door you pass a wall of mirrored windows, giving you the opportunity to check yourself out from all angles if you so choose. I imagine there are some people who can or would resist such a full-body peek but I am not one of those people. I like to look at myself in general but these days I really like it.

I like to see my body and how it is changing. Every day I look at my reflection and see that my belly is smaller. It's pretty remarkable. Just as I marvel, while holding my two little baby girls, that they used to live inside me when they were not much smaller than they are now I marvel at how my big, round pregnant belly is shrinking.

I don't feel in a rush to "get my body back". This is my body. I'm being deliberate in honoring my physical self and all it has accomplished lately. I know that this is the last time I will transition from being pregnant to not-pregnant and I want to pay attention. Soak it up. Watch the changes. It is also such a relief to not be pregnant anymore! I have so much more energy and am so much more comfortable in my skin.

My first pregnancy ended suddenly and I grieved.* I didn't think I would have any more kids and I mourned the fact that I hadn't said good-bye to my taut, full belly. One minute I was pregnant, thinking I had two more months to go. The next, they were out.  I missed feeling those little beings move around inside of me, missed their company, especially as they lay separate from me in the NICU.

Post-pregnancy bodies are funny. At least mine was and is. You feel so much smaller so quickly that you think "Oh, I'll totally fit into these old pants! I'm not pregnant anymore!" And then you try to put the pants on and they hit mid-thigh and won't go further and you realize "Ohhhh. Hmm. While not pregnant I am also not back to my previous size. Good to know, pants."

You keep wearing maternity clothes until they're laughably big. Even when they're laughably big your old clothes still don't fit. You also think maybe you want to wear pants with an elastic waist forever because I mean. Elastic. So stretchy and forgiving. The downside being that they fall down all the time and you're forever hiking your pants up like a teenage boy. What to do? Buy new clothes in a bigger size for the transition? It's a tricky situation.

At one point in my second pregnancy one of my new doctors asked what my pre-pregnancy weight was. That's an important question of course because they needed to make sure I wasn't gaining too much weight. I thought hard and was completely stumped. "Ummmm. 170?" I guessed. No clue really. My first kids were four months old when I got pregnant for the second time. I never got out of the transition zone. I don't remember how much I weighed when I got pregnant the first time. My body has been in this weird, perma-pregnant state for the past two years.

I'm 5'9''. I have weighed 220 pounds, during the month I was hospitalized for liver failure when I gained eighty pounds of fluid practically overnight. I have weighed 135 pounds, after the transplant when all the water weight came off and my body was atrophied from. . .lack of use probably? I'm not sure. At that point I realized that my bones essentially weighed 135 pounds because I was stick-thin--it was not cute. My frame can carry 150 pounds of weight or 170 pounds of weight and still look relatively the same. At least that's how I feel. When I look at pictures taken of me at different weights I can see the difference.

I've been lucky in my lifetime to mostly like how my body looks. There have been exceptions, of course. I have webs of thick stretch marks all over my thighs that I've had since I was 23. I went from the smooth-skinned, enviable, glowy, gorgeous legs of a young woman in her early-20's (I mean seriously. I am sometimes struck dumb by how stunning young women's bodies are in 18-24 range) to excess skin, ripped-up, slightly saggy thighs. Those thighs had seen more of life than 23-year-old thighs should. Ha! That sentence could be taken in many ways but I mean the experience of gaining 80 pounds in a week as a result of liver failure aged my body violently. That was hard to get used to. In the hospital I thought it would be my actual transplant scar that made me self-conscious in the future. Nope, it's always been the stretch marks. Similarly, a lot of it was grief. Mourning the fact that I hadn't gotten to say good-bye to my unmarked skin--that I'd been thrust into a new way of being without being prepared. I have some trouble with transitions if you couldn't tell.

What my ripped up thighs gave me was an invitation to just get over it. I lived. As my sister said while I was still in the hospital, the fact that we were even in a position to be bothered by stretch marks was a miracle. I still wear bikinis. I have moments when I look at a woman next to me and envy something about her. But I love that my body shows the marks of the life it has lived. The life it has survived. I know many people, especially women, have a hard time loving their physical selves and I feel lucky to be able to do so.

So I check myself out in the fancy mirrors on my way to visit my daughters. I use it as a chance to watch my body changing. I also look myself in the eyes and acknowledge my here-ness. I am walking into and out of this hospital. I am going to see my daughters or I am leaving to go home and see my first twins. The days and evenings are warm. There is a mountain behind me or in front of me.  My heart aches. I feel the air on my skin after being closed up in the artificial NICU environment. This won't last forever. I await the transition.

*I want to acknowledge how lucky I am that the sudden end to pregnancy resulted in two living babies. I know many people aren't so lucky.

Sunday, July 6, 2014


"One of them sticks a finger up my nose and drools on my forehead while the other pounds on the diaper pail drums," said my husband.

We were both laying on the floor of their bedroom, our evening tradition of helping them wind down before bed. Except lately they seem to get wound up rather than down.

Our big kids turned 13 months old today. They're still babies, crawling not walking. Compared to our little girls they seem more like kids. Making all sorts of sounds, earnestly chatting in a language we don't understand yet. Long, leaner limbs than they used to have. They scramble over the mountains of our stretched out mom-and-dad legs, tumbling to the floor and giggling. They steal each other's bottles. We try reading a book and their noise level increases, the story an invitation to kick up their pace to a gallop. They are wild and wonderful. This time last year they were in the NICU at a different hospital. We'd set our sights on having them home by the 4th of July (based on who knows what) and were deflated when we realized we wouldn't be getting out in time. This year we took them to a parade where we sat on a blanket in the street and watched cars, bikes, trikes, ponies and one dog riding a pony march by. They loved it, though the sight of the ponies lit a fire under one of them who decided it would be better to be IN the parade.

Today was the first day they really saw their little sisters. We'd taken them to visit before but it's hard to make the leap from a plastic box to a baby sibling when you're one. Pointing into a incubator and saying "There's your baby sister!" didn't make much of an impression. The room full of cords and wires was pretty interesting though.

When my husband brought them in this afternoon I had one girl asleep on my chest. I watched as my son's eyes widened as he noticed her. When I held our big girl in my arms above the other open isolette she pointed in at her sister. I have no idea what they think when they see these two tiny babies. I know they won't remember a time in their lives without two little sisters. I'm not sure how much we'll remember, though I hope we'll remember our first year as a family of four. We have a lot of pictures showing how much they've grown, how small and sick they were when they were born and how they are bursting with health and burnished by the sun now.

It's hard to imagine what our evening routine will be like once we have them home. I can't wait. And while we wait I am soaking up the time with our first babies knowing it will be different soon.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Pants on Fire

Wow. What a reception. A few nights ago my finger hovered over the "Post" key for a minute as I wondered whether I was really ready to share this blog with the world. Or with Facebook, which reaches into many corners of my world--work, old friends, new friends, family. There was a time in my life where the mere thought of bringing different groups of my friends together gave me anxiety. I just didn't know how to be and over time I realized that was because I showed different parts of myself to different people. It was an identity collision when people met each other. At least it felt like one to me. Probably most of those people saw me better than I realized and it was only a big deal to me. Incidentally that was another thing that made me sweat--the idea that people would see me in a way that I wasn't aware of, that they'd know parts of me that I didn't know I was showing.

I've been a world-class liar in my lifetime. Is that a thing? Does world-class suggest the title is a good thing? Something to be proud of? Or does it just mean I was damn good at it? That's how I mean it. I was never proud of it but it was a skill that came easily to me. I'd lie if someone asked me a direct question I didn't want to answer. I'd lie if I'd done something I wasn't proud of, wanting to preserve my good girl image. I lied about where I'd been or what I'd done. It's not that I was never truthful. Mostly the lying had to do with wanting people to see me a certain way. It wasn't one specific certain way either. I was good about figuring out what people liked and finding ways to be that way. What a weird thing to admit. What a strange way to live a life. Blech.

I was not a pathological liar. I didn't lie for the sake of lying. It was about hiding. It really felt like I needed to hide the "bad" parts of myself, because I was trying to hard to eradicate them entirely from my life that why admit to them in the meantime?

There were two big exceptions to the lying times. The lying game.

The first was the year after my liver transplant. I would never wish a transplant on anyone. To clarify, I wish for people who need transplants to get them and I am completely and totally grateful for the transplant that saved my life. But I wouldn't say to someone "Have a transplant! It's great!" It was scary and painful and a surreal experience. Like falling down the rabbit hole. It took me a while to recover physically and longer to recover emotionally but it also launched me into the most incredible year of my life. It felt like God reached down and pulled the curtain back and showed me what being a person was all about. My eyes were so clear. I was so utterly myself, unapologetically and with total calm. It was a hard year in many ways and I wasn't happy all the time but the experience of being 100% me was mesmerizing. I suddenly understood that no one had it more figured out than I did. No one before or after me would ever know what it was like to be me. And rather than feeling isolated or lonely because of that I felt so free. Oh! I thought. This is the point. I am me and I get to be me and that is my job, my gift, my opportunity. It was intoxicating. When that feeling started to fade away I could sense myself losing it and tried desperately to hold on to it but it left me. I mourned it for a long while.

The second started about six years ago and is still in progress. I plan to keep it going for the rest of my life. I ended a major relationship in my life and decided to take as much time as I needed by myself to figure out what I wanted. One of the main decisions I made at the time was that there would be no more lying. Not even little lies. It was too easy for me and too safe. The slope too slippery. The next three years were full of radical self-discovery. The day a long-term love/friend/in-all-ways-complicated person in my life suggested I go to therapy, I listened. I started seeing a therapist expecting to talk about one main issue and ended up continuing the work I'd already started on my own. Listening to myself and letting myself be heard and seen, in all my glory. In all my ugliness.

It was a relief to start telling the truth. It felt too sad, too wasteful, to heavy a burden to be dishonest. What was the point? My life was passing me by and I wasn't actually letting people see me, who I really was. I'd spent a long time honing my ability to mold myself into someone I thought other people wanted me to be. It was a surprise to discover that I had been losing myself in the process.

Ha. I'll tell you, I did not expect these words to present themselves on the page when I sat down to write. After sharing my blog I spent the next day thinking about what to write about next. Something funny would be good, I thought. Lately I've been feeling the day I did when I quit drinking for a few years after my transplant. The super-serious, intense person at the party who scares drunk people away with the lack of small talk. "SO, let's talk about LIFE and the MEANING OF LIFE and things like that! Oh, no? Too much? Hmmmm. I miss beer."

Small ideas flitted in and out of my head throughout the day and when I sat down, I didn't have a clear sense of what I wanted to say. I knew wanted to say "Thank you" to everyone who read and commented. All of you have been so generous in your support. Starting to describe how I felt about sharing I thought I'd say "I felt scared but I decided to do it anyway." The truth is, I didn't feel scared. I felt free. I hesitated for a second, wondering what people would think, who would read it, who on my friend list I actually didn't want to share my thoughts with. I tried to remember what I'd written about before and couldn't so I really had no idea what the reaction would be.

I'm 37 years old. I've given birth to four babies in the last thirteen months. I definitely still worry about what people think of me but I'm working hard to let that go. I care what these kids think of me. I don't want to write anything that will hurt them, or hurt my husband, along the way. Those are my main concerns.This is me. See me. I want to be seen. Even if it's not pretty. Sometimes it won't be and I hope I'm brave enough to keep writing anyway.

Many thanks friends.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


At the hospital there are about fifty spots right out front, the prime spots. I'm learning the times to avoid, when there's no chance of snagging one of those spots and you end up driving to the 6th floor of the parking garage with the neon signs flashing SLOW DOWN at you with exclamation points if you drive faster than 10 miles per hour.

The parking spots in front of the hospital say Patient/Visitor in each one. On one of the few times we went together my husband said "I AM a patient visitor" as we parked. Now that's how I read the words each time. I'm not a patient visitor.

Our girls were born ten days ago at 33 weeks, 3 days. They're in the NICU and I really hate that.

I started that week feeling low. Drained and sad, lonely, looking ahead at the seven weeks that remained of my pregnancy and wondering how in the hell I was going to make it. I was itchy almost all the time, scratching my arms, legs, hands, feet, belly, back obsessively. I was exhausted. Picking up my kids to carry them to the next room took it out of me. Picking myself up off the floor was a several step process. It still took a while to sink in that I really did not have the energy to do anything. Not grocery shopping. Not cooking. Not bathing my children. Not working on a project. I essentially abdicated care of my kids to our baby-sitter and spent a lot of time sitting on the couch or napping. Or going to doctor's appointments, trying to figure out why I was feeling so crappy. Cholestasis, when the liver doesn't clear the bile your body makes and it makes your body itchier than all get out. Maybe pre-eclampsia but not definitely because I only had some signs, not others. Whatever was going on I finally had their attention. One of my doctors called me on my cell phone to chat and said "I read through your ENTIRE chart and I can't get you out of my mind."

Finally! I'd been waiting my whole pregnancy for someone to read my chart and actually open their eyes to me and the fact that I have a lot going on in the health arena. Despite feeling so bad, I also felt relieved. Like someone was finally taking care of me. I also rallied the troops as my mother said. My family took turns coming out to help me in the mornings before our baby-sitter got there. A friend brought us dinner.

I went to the hospital on Tuesday and Wednesday nights to get steroid shots to mature the babies' lungs, just in case they needed to be delivered early. Both cholestasis and pre-eclampsia would dictate delivery by 37 weeks "Though to be honest I don't see you making it that long," said the newly-attentive doctor. That's not fair to her. They have a group practice and she was the only one I'd actually felt seen by over the previous several months. She was good.

I drove myself into the hospital on Tuesday night, expecting to get a quick shot and a blood draw for some labs and then to be sent home. Instead, I was given a gown and a nurse who hooked my belly up to monitors and took my vitals. The weird thing about me is that I find being in the hospital somewhat soothing. Stepping out of my clothes, tying the strings of a gown and climbing under the starched sheet on the adjustable bed feels comforting. I know how to be a patient. Four hours later I drove myself home, having been told to return the following night at 10:30 pm to get my second shot. On Wednesday after another longer-than-expected visit, my nurse waved me off with a cheerful "Hope to not see you for a few weeks!"

I went to bed on Thursday night feeling like the drama was coming to an end. The doctors were on the case, I was starting a final test for pre-eclampsia (the kind of test that has you peeing in a plastic hat and collecting your urine for 24 hours--awesome). I felt calmer and like I'd gotten a second wind to see this pregnancy through a few more weeks.

When I woke up at 2 am to go pee, I stepped full force on our dog, pressing down with all my considerable pregnant weight. She yelped and I fell over, catching myself on my hands and knees and hitting a loud, plastic toy with my belly. The music started and my husband woke up. "Are you ok?"

"Yes, I fell. I'm ok," and I continued on to the bathroom. I sat down and my water broke like a torrent into the pee hat.

"Oh shit," said I. And we put the wheels in motion. I called our baby-sitter to ask if she'd come watch the kids. I called the doctor who sounded less than thrilled and asked if I was sure my water had broken. We drove the quiet 15 minutes to the hospital, remembering a similar ride the year before and feeling wide-eyed and wide-awake waiting to see how this would play out.

They called the c-section team in but then discovered that my surprising girls had flipped around since that morning and were now in position to be pushed out, if I wanted to try that. That's what I'd wanted the entire pregnancy, only recently coming to terms with the fact that it most likely wouldn't happen and actually feeling a sense of relief at how easy it would be to get a spinal and have them pull the babies out. My husband and I talked about it for a few minutes and decided to go for it. I felt. . .mostly so goddamn itchy that I couldn't focus on much else. But excited. And afraid.

About eight hours after my water broke our girls were born. I heard each one of them cry almost right away and it was such a relief after the silence of our son's birth that I almost didn't care about anything else. I got to see them both before they were taken away and then we got to hold them several hours later. All of that was so different than the last time. They were so much healthier, so much stronger.

And now they are swaddled in their isolettes in a different NICU than we lived in last time. Now we're the patient visitors. But I am not patient. And I don't want to be a visitor to my daughters. I feel like a wolf who walked the world pregnant for months only to have her pups taken away immediately after birthing them. Frantic, pacing, incomplete. Where are they? Why aren't they with me? I'm not someone who looks frantic. I get medical updates without much expression on my face. I lift the blankets that cover the plastic boxes they sleep in and peer in at their little faces and then go home to sit on my couch where I wonder why I can't really remember what they look like. I ache for them. I hate, hate, hate having them there. Hate having to drive to see them. Hate having to re-learn the rules and get to know all the different nurses and doctors and continually readjust expectations. I hate being asked when they'll get home. We haven't even asked that question this time because we know how all of this works. Getting discharged from the NICU relies entirely on tiny, premature infants learning how to do things like breathe and eat and the days move glacially, then speed up, then go backwards. No one could tell us anyway because it all depends on them. So we must wait. Impatient visitors.