Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Magic Babies's First Birthday Celebration!

As Oakleigh and Brioney's first birthday approached, I found myself obsessing over every little detail for their party. Although I design events for a living, I'd never put this much effort (or money!) into my own parties, and I began questioning why this was SO IMPORTANT to me. Eventually, it came to me: this was the first aspect of the girl's lives that I had any control over. My world basically spun out of control from the moment I discovered I was expecting twins... and it just kept spinning with our Twin-Twin Transfusion Syndrome diagnosis and subsequent surgery, my premature membrane rupture at 27 weeks and subsequent 4 week hospitalization, the infection that set in leading to an emergency c-section and the girl's arrival at 31 weeks (3 pounds 4 ounces and 2 pounds 7 ounces), the many, many, many obstacles they faced, Oakleigh's emergency transport to Children's Hospital Los Angeles, Brioney's 56 day NICU stay, Oakleigh's 129 day NICCU stay, both girls coming home on oxygen, Oakleigh coming home with a gastrostomy tube, the ongoing needs for feeding and occupational therapy... well, suffice it to say that I have not had one iota of control over any of this. It's been an incredibly rough year, and suddenly I had the opportunity to plan something for my girls and CONTROL EVERY ASPECT. The planning and design of this party were therapeutic for me. This was something I needed to do. It couldn't have been a sweeter, more special, or more beautiful day. Even the weather cooperated- there's nothing like a Southern California winter!

It was in the 80's and sunny on February 14th, 2015, Valentine's Day morning, as we gathered in a friend's backyard under a tent for this incredible celebration of Oakleigh and Brioney and all that they have accomplished and overcome in this monumental past year. A year ago we were told that Oakleigh probably wouldn't survive: today she is a healthy baby girl, full of energy and definitely full of life. These two fighters exhaust us every single day but also bring immeasurable joy to our lives. Twin parenthood isn't for the faint of heart, and there's no way I would have chosen it for myself- but goodness gracious I'm glad that it was so randomly sprung upon me. I can't imagine life without these girls, they truly make my world go 'round.

The loose "enchanted forest" theme was inspired by the girl's nickname, "The Magic Babies." They have overcome all the odds, hence they are "magic," and I wanted to evoke that magical feeling with woodsy elements, ferns, mosses, and toadstools. Since our time since the girls came home from the hospital has been mega-stressful, I never got around to sending out formal birth announcements. So for their birthday I designed a companion suite which included a formal birth announcement along with the invitation to their first birthday party. The custom crest was designed by my mother, Calligrapher Victoria Hoke Lane.


Upon arriving at the party, a banner of the custom crest and some festive balloons ushered guests into the backyard...

Detail of the custom crest.

Daddy and Brioney greeting guests as they arrive!
Once in the backyard, guests saw the lovely tent and table set-up, and then were encouraged to help themselves to coffee and doughnuts and to mix their own drinks at a "Make Your Own" bar featuring Oakleigh's Bloody Mary and Brioney's Peach Bellini.















 After some drinking, nibbling and mingling, guests found their tables via a beautiful seating chart, and then moved on to another tent where the brunch buffet was laid out: egg souffl├ęs, fruit salad, apple chicken salad, and an assortment of scones and breads. Yum yum!






... more to come!!!



PARTY CREDITS

PHOTOS: Krista Mason Photography
PLANNING & DESIGN: Lauryl Lane & Sarah Granger-Twomey
FLORALS & DECOR: Lauryl Lane Botanical Stylist
TABLETOP RENTALS: Borrowed Blu
LINENS: La Tavola Linen
TENT & RENTALS: Classic Party Rentals
CALLIGRAPHY & CUSTOM CREST: Victoria Hoke Lane
CUSTOM COOKIE FAVORS: A Cookie Jars
CUSTOM DOUGHNUTS: California Donuts 

OAKLEIGH & BRIONEY'S 1st BIRTHDAY PARTY
ON YOUTUBE!

Watch a mini-movie of the twin's special day on YouTube!


Saturday, February 28, 2015

Oakleigh's Right Main-Stemmed Lung Procedure

Oakleigh, fourteen days old on February 27, 2014. One day before being right main-stemmed.
You can see from the extreme mottling of her skin that she was not oxygenating properly.


One year ago today, Oakleigh underwent the most dangerous procedure she would face: the main-stemming of her right lung. It was a risky last-ditch effort to save her life as her left lung was on the verge of rupturing. The division chief of the NICCU, Dr. Friedlich, had visited us in Oakleigh's room late the previous night to deliver the dire news that Oakleigh's conditioned had worsened. After four days at Children's Hospital with intensive care, her oxygenation continued to deteriorate.  She was not responding to any of the three different types of ventilators they had tried her on, and despite dozens of respiratory therapists and seasoned neonatologists trying every adjustment under the sun, including positioning, high-frequency ventilation, etc., her extreme case of pulmonary interstitial emphysema had caused her left lung to over-inflate to the point where it was pushing on her heart and causing early signs of cardiac distress. Since her lungs were both full of holes, there was no chance that she'd be able to survive with just the right lung if her left lung did indeed rupture. 

Dr. Friedlich had one last trick to try, however. He said it was extremely risky and he'd only seen it done twice in his 22 year career in pediatrics and neonatology: in one case the baby survived, and in one case the baby died. He said Oakleigh's case was far more advanced than he'd ever seen, and there was no guarantee that she'd respond to this even if the actual procedure were successful.... But it was literally their last hope. He did say that premature babies have powerful self-healing abilities, so if they were able to give Oakleigh a chance to heal herself, she very well might do just that.

When a baby is intubated, their ventilator tube is inserted into the mouth, down the throat and through the vocal chords until the tip of the tube rests in the trachea (windpipe), right above the division into the right and left lungs. What Dr. Friedlich proposed was to push the ventilator tube IN to Oakleigh's right lung, bypassing her left lung entirely. The hope was that if her left lung were allowed to completely deflate and REST, unused, it might heal itself. Of course actually pushing the ventilator tube into the right lung was a scary proposition- if it accidentally went into the bad left lung she wouldn't get any oxygen, and if it slipped at all while going into the (better but still bad) right lung, it could cause injury or even rupture THAT lung, effectively leaving Oakleigh with two injured/ruptured lungs. With two ruptured lungs, we could make her as comfortable as possible, but death would be inevitable and rapid.*

Knowing that this was Oakleigh's last chance and she would most certainly die without this procedure, we gave Dr. Friedlich our consent. He said that he would wait until the last possible moment in the hope that her lungs might respond to the continued work the respiratory therapists were doing and the ever-changing ventilator settings, but that he needed us to be prepared for the procedure to happen within the next twenty-four hours. And of course, we also had to be prepared for the more likely scenario, that Oakleigh would not survive the procedure. We refused to believe that Oakleigh might not make it, but we definitely felt the full weight of the importance of this procedure working. Since we were going on practically no sleep since Oakleigh had been admitted to CHLA, we decided to go home. I was waking every 2-3 hours to pump breastmilk for the babies, so we got home around midnight and it seemed like only a few minutes had passed when Dr. Friedlich called around 5am. He said that it was time. We asked if we should come in and he said no, that he couldn't wait for us and needed to start immediately, that we wouldn't be able to be in the room anyway, but that he would call us when the procedure was finished.

I don't know if it was 30 minutes, 45... maybe an hour before he called back. It was still dark, so it couldn't have been long. I was awake in the meantime, so I called over to Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center to check in on Brioney. She had self-extubated just a few days before, and the doctors were carefully working on her ventilator settings to try to keep her on nasal cannula rather than re-intubating her. Her night nurse said she was sleeping soundly and was having an uneventful night. I remember feeling relieved that Brioney was doing so well, despite feeling totally jittery about what Oakleigh was going through. I just kept thinking, "hold on, Oakleigh, you can do it." When the phone started ringing, I picked it up immediately. Dr. Friedlich has a thick accent that somehow makes his voice comforting no matter what. He said that the procedure was successful. They had put Oakleigh on a paralytic since even with sedation she tended to fight her ventilator tube, so they were able to "right main-stem" Oakleigh's tube. He said her oxygenation remained the same, so for the moment, we just had to wait. The left lung would deflate over the next few hours, and as long as Oakleigh remained stable, they'd also keep her paralyzed to allow her lung to rest. He anticipated they would keep her in this state for approximately a week.

When I arrived at the hospital couple of hours later, Oakleigh looked much the same as she had for the past several days. Basically, apart from the weird quick shakes of breaths the ventilator gave her, she looked dead. She was pale and unresponsive. I was told not to touch or stimulate her in any way. She was completely paralyzed and needed to remain so, for even the slightest movement she made could dislodge the tube and cause a rupture of her only working lung. I remember standing at her bedside, gazing at her through a tiny crack that I made in the fabric cover that swathed her incubator, with tears streaming down my face as a silently begged her to hold on, to keep fighting, to let her lung rest and heal. The next five days I would spend hours upon hours upon hours sitting in her room, keeping vigil. I would leave and go visit Brioney at least once per shift (7am-7pm was one shift, 7pm-7am was the other), but for the most part, I stayed in Oakleigh's room. I tried to work, I tried to read, but I mainly pumped and focused all my energies on Oakleigh's healing. I believed that Oakleigh would survive, that she couldn't have survived TTTS surgery, been brought back to life multiple times at birth and throughout the night after she was born, just to have her lungs fail her now. I felt that she had a purpose on this earth and that she WANTED to be here. She already felt like such an old soul to me-- someone who had probably lived thousands of lives before and who had a strong will to live this life as well. Sometimes I felt like she was older and wiser than me. If you don't believe in reincarnation that probably sounds very strange, but she gave me that feeling. None of this is to say that I wasn't absolutely terrified, because I was... but I was scared shitless and 100% trusting that Oakleigh would make it, all at the same time


* a few edits were made to clarify the procedure thanks to the keen eye of my younger brother, Gabriel Lane, M.D. 

On March 1, 2014, one day into being paralyzed and right main-stemmed.
Looking at Oakleigh with my Dad on March 1, 2014, while trying not to stimulate her in any way.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Correction

If you found this site after receiving our birth announcement in the mail, I am mortified to say that there was a mistake on the announcement. Despite countless edits, I didn't notice it until everything was stuffed, stamped and sealed, so it was too late to correct the error.

Apologies especially to Brioney! Her birth length was stated as 16 inches, which was her sister's birth length. Brioney was only 13 inches long at birth. Oooops.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Brioney's Last Night on O2

Tonight, right before putting Brioney into her crib, I turned on her oxygen concentrator, slipped the nasal cannula over her head, slid the cannula into her nostrils, tightened the cord around the back of her neck, and carefully taped the cannula tubing down on her cheeks. As I did this, the same thing I have done every night since she first switched from continuous oxygen to only oxygen when she sleeps, I realized that this was the last time I would undertake this ritual.

Tonight is Brioney's last time on oxygen. I don't want to jinx things and say she'll never need any O2 support again, but at her last pulmonology appointment, her doctor said to take her off the oxygen completely two weeks before her next appointment. He said that he'll check her oxygen saturation levels at that appointment, but that he doesn't anticipate that she will need any more O2. That appointment is now two weeks away.

It's not exactly an end of an era, since Oakleigh is still on oxygen and may be for some time, but it still feels like a weighty moment. Brioney has had oxygen support every day of her life. In the beginning, a ventilator breathed for her. Eventually, she was able to breathe on her own, but her underdeveloped lungs have always needed a little help. She is just three weeks shy of her first birthday, and she has needed O2 EVERY SINGLE DAY

I'm feeling rather emotional right now. I think I should be elated that she's no longer going to be dependent on oxygen. It will certainly remove an irritant from my life. And I am happy, overjoyed, that Brioney is ready to take this step. But I'm also a little terrified. It feels like bringing home my not-yet-five-pound, two month old preemie from the hospital. It was one of the happiest days of my life, and also one of the scariest. When your baby has been hooked up to half a dozen monitors every second of every minute of every day since birth, when you know what every monitor is measuring, when you recognize the different sounds of the alarms, when you know what to do to help with a low heart rate or a high heart rate or an oxygen desaturation or tachypnia (too rapid breaths), it is one of the most frightening things in the world to have all those leads removed, and be handed your unencumbered baby to take home. Suddenly you don't know what her heart rate is, or her oxygen saturation, or her rate of breaths. The only way you'll know if she has an apnea episode or a bradycardia, is by watching her. Just a week before coming home, Brioney had a brady while I was holding her. She'd fallen asleep at my breast and stopped breathing, resulting in a dangerously low drop in her heart rate. I didn't notice what was happening until the alarms went off, even though I held her in my arms. Thus, taking her home with no monitors was terrifying. 

Taking her off oxygen isn't quite the same, but I have come to rely on the O2. When Brioney sleeps with her face smashed into the mattress, and she does this quite frequently, I don't worry about it since she has a cannula in her nose and a steady source of oxygen regardless of whether or not her nose is obstructed by the mattress. I don't worry that her sister will roll next to her and block her face, I don't worry that she'll get smothered by her blanket or her dolly or anything else-- she has oxygen. And now, suddenly, she won't. I know her pulmonologist wouldn't have me take her off of the O2 if she wasn't ready, he's pretty conservative in regards to oxygen therapy, but it still seems abrupt. Abrupt after eleven+ months? I know that probably sounds insane, but that is how it feels. Abrupt. All this time on oxygen, and then, *poof*, all done. I have to remind myself that we've been moving towards this moment. She was weaned down in the NICU from 100% oxygen to only 25%. She came home on that quarter liter and has remained on the same amount of flow ever since, but after her first sleep study she was able to take 2-3 hour breaks from the oxygen every afternoon. When she was still healthy and had avoided sickness after her second sleep study, her pulmonologist said she could be off the oxygen anytime she was awake. And after her third (and final) sleep study, the doctor said, "take her off it completely two weeks before our next appointment." So we've been taking steps to get to this point, and the steps have been long. It is time. 

I will not miss having to take her oxygen tank with me every time I go anywhere. Carrying it to the car, putting the cannula on her once she's in the car seat, just in case she falls asleep while I drive. Keeping an eye on her with the infant mirror to make sure she doesn't pull the cannula off. Often having to pull over and go back there to readjust things because she does pull the cannula off, frequently. Putting the tank into her stroller. Putting the cannula on her every time she begins to doze off. Using the key to open the tank, turning the dial on the regulator to .25. Turning it back to 0 when she wakes up and using the key to close the tank. Making sure I always have a key with me. Checking to make sure the tank has enough oxygen in it to last with whatever outing we're going on. Calling the medical supply company to get replacement tanks.

It's a whole thing. And I won't miss it.

Here's what I'm most excited about: holding my baby and letting her fall asleep in my arms. And holding her. Just holding her. Holding my sleepy baby without having to run to her room and put her cannula on. Letting my baby fall asleep in my arms anywhere. Letting my sleepy baby rest on me in the Baby Bjorn. I've never been able to hold my baby (either of them!) while she sleeps without her being hooked up to oxygen.

One of my friends was over during the holidays, and her four month old baby fell asleep in her arms. It was then that I realized what a normal thing that is for most people, how abnormal our situation is. Sometimes I think about how I was robbed of so many "normal" steps of pregnancy and birth and parenthood. How when I was wheeled out to my car after giving birth to my twins, I wasn't holding my bundles of joy and taking them home like all the other mamas. I was going home alone while my babies remained, fighting for their lives, in the hospital's NICU. Well, my baby may be nearly a year old, but you'd better believe that tomorrow night, I will hold her until she falls asleep in my arms. I will press her precious little head into my chest and cuddle her, and I won't run to her room to put her on oxygen. I'll just hold her. And let her sleep. In my arms. 

I can't imagine anything sweeter at this moment in time.

The "Calm" Before the Storm

While the news that we were having twins was pretty thrilling, our lives were changing rapidly, and it's probably good that we were blissfully naive about the risks of the pregnancy since we had so many other things we were dealing with.

When we'd moved back to Los Angeles from Denver, we were able to rent a tiny bungalow in the same community we'd lived in for several years before moving away. It was wonderful to be back with our old neighbors, and in no time it felt like we'd never left. Then one of the neighbors (formerly he had lived directly across from us, now he lived directly next to us) came back from a job out of state, and began terrorizing us. I won't go into the whole story of the nightmare this guy inflicted on our lives (it was a DAILY occurrence for nearly a year), but here's the short version:

We'd known "Dude" during the three years that we'd lived in this community previously, and were aware that he dabbled in the recreational use of crystal methadone, but apparently in the year that we'd been in Denver he became an extremely heavy user and began spiraling into extreme paranoia. I mean extreme. We were no stranger to the signs, for another former neighbor and friend of ours had also had a crystal meth addiction and essentially ruined his life over it. He too had experienced extreme paranoia and although his family swooped in and moved him back to the East Coast, got him into rehab, etc., he had been a close friend of mine and I'd had to cut him off when he turned on me during his paranoia and I realized that I wasn't necessarily safe with him.

Anyway, back to Dude. For some reason, he fixated on me and Samuel in particular, and started by complaining to our landlord that we were crawling under his house and and "unbolting the foundation." Then the claims were that I was poisoning him with Murphy's Oil. Then he thought we were holding his sister hostage in our house. And then he said that our washing machine was sending signals to mess up his brain and "throwing off his equilibrium." At first it was just harassment, but then he started threatening our lives, at which point we had to get the police involved. Then it got suuuuper creepy, as he told the police that Sammy and I had been drugging and gang-raping him. Not just once or twice. He'd throw out things like "they raped me 68 times!" It was equal parts hysterical and frightening. It was so over-the-top unbelievable- but scary since he actually DID believe it.

After he kept me caged in my house while he walked up and down the pathway by my front door swinging a baseball bat and taunting me to come out, our landlord realized how bad it was. He started the eviction process and went with us to court to file a restraining order. We were granted the restraining order, but it was tricky since he lived about ten feet away from us. The eviction process took months, and we just tried to avoid Dude as much as possible.  Once he tried breaking into our house through our (gated) back yard, and when I called the police in hysterics, they sent a search helicopter since they didn't have any squad cars nearby. Imagine an LAPD helicopter with a search light on your backyard, and yeah... that was us.

The best episode was when he tried breaking into one of the other neighbor's house because he thought one of his "friends" was being held hostage inside. When the police came out and asked him if he was "under the influence," he said yes, that Samuel and Lauryl were making him smoke crystal to get rid of the bugs in his head. And when the cops asked where his stash was, he went and brought it out. An enormous bag of meth. That's how far gone he was. He just brought a huge bag of meth out of his house and gave it to the cops, fully believing that he was giving them evidence that Sammy and I were forcing him to smoke the stuff. It was good to see him taken away in cuffs that time, but he was back about a week later and our vacation was over.

When the eviction finally went through and the county sheriffs escorted Dude off the property, we thought we could breathe a sigh of relief and move on with our lives. Unfortunately, it wasn't that easy. Dude continued to come back to the property, his latest delusion was that he owned the property and was evicting us. As far as we could tell, he was living in his truck and spent most days circling the property on foot and most nights parked on our street where he could watch our house. He broke the restraining order over and over and over again, but usually managed to run off before the police could get to us. There was one particularly scary night where he chased Samuel across the property screaming, "I'm going to kill you, Sam!!!"

So, all of this was going on during the first couple months of my pregnancy. Around the time that we found out we were having twins, I was working at the dining room table on a weekday afternoon when I heard an unexpected knock at my door. I was surprised to see cops, and confused when they started asking for Samuel and our landlord. After answering their questions, they revealed that they were following up from an anonymous phone tip they'd received, claiming that Samuel and our landlord were raping a six month old one-handed baby named Griffin, who was visiting from Philadelphia. They thought it was a truly bizarre and probably bogus tip, but they have to follow up on this stuff. We quickly put two and two together and I was able to show them the restraining order and tons of documentation regarding our ongoing stalker. As I was finishing up with one of the officers he said, "you should probably consider moving." I told him that we were in a rent-controlled home and really wanted to stay, but mentioned that we'd just found out we were expecting and maybe it was time to think about moving after all. He said that unfortunately, this guy knew where we lived, and as long as he knew where we lived, he'd continue to come after us. There was only so much the police could do. Unless Dude actually HURT us, they couldn't put him in jail every time he broke the restraining order. He said, "my advice, especially if you're having a baby, is to move. NOW."

Once I repeated that conversation to Samuel, he immediately began looking for a new home for us. In late September I traveled to Aspen, Colorado, to execute a wedding design. A few days before I left, Samuel found a cute little rental house for us in Pasadena, and while I was gone, he moved us. I was feeling mega-sick pretty much around the clock and my O.B. had said I had to stop running immediately and be extremely careful not to do any physically demanding work since carrying twins already carries the risk of premature labor. So let's just say I was relieved and grateful when I returned home after my wedding to find that Samuel (with the help of my best friend and her man) had moved us into our new home and I didn't have to sleep another night in the bungalow, terrified that Dude might break in, but I also didn't have to pack and move as the job had been done for me.

On Monday, September 30th, 2013, just a few days after I returned from Aspen and started settling into our new house, I went in for my first trimester screening with a fetal specialist in Burbank. I was thirteen weeks pregnant. I didn't know what a first trimester screening was, or I would have had Samuel go with me. The State of California offers these screenings to help diagnose any birth defects that might be present in a fetus, so I went in for a standard blood work screening, but also had a very long 3-D ultrasound to measure the twin's development and determine if they were dizygotic (fraternal) or monozygotic (identical). These ultrasounds were mind-boggling to me, because although I was only thirteen weeks pregnant (aka first trimester), I was able to see my little twin fetuses developing into humans. They certainly looked more alien than human at that point, but I could clearly see where everything was going to be. It was one of the most strange feelings in the world. I watched the fetuses move around on the monitor as the ultrasound technician carefully measured them, and I was in awe that Samuel and I had made them and that they were going to be babies. Although I know reproduction is one of the easiest and most natural processes in existence, it's pretty amazing when you stop to think about it. After a good hour of fetal measurements, the specialist finally came in to introduce himself. He said that I was carrying identical twins, and they could tell that one of them was a girl, so that meant they both were girls (identical, d'oh!). He said that identical twins share a placenta and an amniotic sac, but need to have a membrane separating them. Our O.B. hadn't been able to tell if there was a separating membrane since it was extremely thin, but he was able to confirm that the membrane was there, ruling out the possibility of conjoined twins. He said that with a monochorionic diamniotic pregnancy, there was a risk that one twin could get more blood supply than the other, which was a pretty major complication-- but that he didn't see any sign of that yet and would just keep an eye on me. He wanted me back in 6 weeks for further measurements to make sure that the twins were growing at the same rate. Honestly, I don't think I even registered anything about risks. I was having twin girls! Identical twin girls! The idea of twins had never once crossed my mind in my entire life, so it was still a lot to take in, but as soon as he said girls, I knew our family was complete. Samuel and I had been saying it would be nice to have a girl and a boy, but I had felt from the moment I was pregnant that I was going to have a girl, and finding out that I was pregnant with twins didn't change that feeling, it just made me feel like I was going to have two girls. Frankly, I had hoped that I was right. I just thought of myself as a girl mom, and it made sense for Samuel to be a girl dad. It just felt right.

Over the next five weeks or so, I worked a lot. I tried to unpack and settle us into our new home. I popped anti-nausea pills constantly, battled horrible gas and constipation, and generally felt gross all the time. I was never sure if I was so sick because I was pregnant, or because I was pregnant with twins... but I quickly became grateful to be carrying two babies, because I knew I would never want to be pregnant again. Samuel and I started talking about potential names for the babies, we told our families and friends that we were expecting, and occasionally we did a little reading on "what to expect." For the most part though, we just continued on with life as per normal. And then, after a blood test at my third appointment with my O.B., she called me directly. She said that the blood from my second trimester measured against the blood from my first trimester had raised a red flag. I suddenly had an increased chance of Down's Syndrome for the twins, and she wanted me to see the fetal specialist again immediately and meet with a genetic counselor.

My follow-up with the fetal specialist had been scheduled for November 11th, exactly six weeks after my first appointment with him, but his office had later called to reschedule since they were closing for Veteran's Day. It was going to be another two weeks before they could see me, and my O.B. said no, she wanted me seen right away. So I made lots of calls and eventually was transferred to the Pasadena office where a different fetal specialist, a colleague of my first specialist, was able to see me  first thing on the morning of November 12th.

And that's when things started spinning out of control...

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Surprise! It's twins!

Samuel and I started dating in college, and we were inseparable within weeks. From early on in our relationship, Samuel would occasionally mention how much he looked forward to being a dad someday. He was an only child and stressed how important it was to him that he have at least two children, as he had desperately wanted a sibling growing up, and wished even more as an adult that he had a brother or sister. I had grown up with my seven younger siblings and had two older sisters whom I established relationships with during college as well, so I came from essentially a polar opposite family background. Although I love every single one of my siblings and can't imagine life without them, I had played a mothering role with many of my younger brothers and sisters and wasn't entirely sure that I wanted ANY kids. I think there was a point in our relationship where Samuel asked me point-blank if I'd have children with him someday, and I don't remember the entire conversation, but I do know that I agreed to have two children, and he agreed that we'd wait until our early thirties. It was important to me that I be able to pursue my career without pressure from him, and he wasn't as worried about the timeline as he was about knowing that I'd bear his children, so we were able to agree and then carry on our merry way.

After three years together, we were married in 2005 at the ages of 24 and 25, and within six months we moved cross-country to Los Angeles to establish our careers and start a new life together. We struggled for many years, went without health insurance for a few years, I started a company, Samuel "paid his dues" in the P.R. world, we both settled into the jobs we wanted and started getting out of debt, we turned 30, and then we moved to Denver, Colorado, for Samuel's job... and that brings us to 2012. We'd been in Denver for about six months. We knew we weren't going to stay there long-term-- the frigid winter had already made us desperate to go home to California-- but we did think we'd remain in Denver for a few years. We were finally in a stable place financially and both had medical insurance, and I was actually working less than I had in a long time as I was trying to re-establish my business in a new location, so it seemed like good timing to start our family. We prepared ourselves emotionally for the possibility that we might not be able to have biological children: many of our friends were trying to have families and it seemed like most of them were experiencing fertility problems. Even our younger friends in their twenties were having to do fertility treatments or in vitro to conceive, so although we hoped to conceive naturally, we were also prepared to move towards adoption as a back-up plan. So, we both went to get physicals and got the all-clear from our doctors, I went off the pill for the first time in about ten years, and within a month, I was pregnant. We were a little shocked- my doctor had told me it could take six months to a year for me to conceive after going off the pill- so while thrilled, we were also a little cautious. We knew that miscarriages are extremely common early on in a pregnancy, especially a first pregnancy, so while I made my first O.B. appointment for 8 weeks, I didn't tell anyone and we waited to see what would happen. In retrospect, I think I knew from the beginning that something wasn't right with the pregnancy, and frankly, it was over before it had really begun. Within a week of seeing "Pregnant" on the home pregnancy test, I was in the Emergency Room because of bleeding and some of the most extreme pain I'd ever felt in my life. The E.R. doctors couldn't tell me if I was miscarrying or not, they only knew that from my HCG levels I WAS or HAD BEEN pregnant, but the next day I saw my O.B., had my urine tested again, and got confirmation that I had lost the pregnancy. At first, I was okay. I thought, it's no big deal, miscarriages happen all the time. My doctor said we should wait three months for my body to return to a regular cycle, and then try again. But in the weeks and months following the miscarriage, the hormonal imbalance in my body made me feel absolutely crazy. I went from being a woman who had never really cared about having children and was possibly even slightly ambivalent about being pregnant, to a woman who would see a baby in the grocery store and burst into audible, visible tears thinking, "why was that woman able to have that healthy baby and I wasn't???" Having the miscarriage but not wanting to talk about it with family (after six years of marriage, we didn't want them to know that we were moving towards children, and we definitely didn't want them asking us how we were doing or when we would try again) and not having any of our close friends nearby made us suddenly feel extremely isolated. We realized we couldn't stay in Denver a second longer than we had to. We didn't want to have children there, we wanted to be home in Los Angeles where our surrogate family was, where we felt we belonged. Within another three months, Samuel had secured a new job and we were moving back to L.A.

It took awhile before we felt ready to try conceiving again. We got settled back into our life in L.A., and then a few months into 2013, we decided to go for it. This time around, it took about three months before we saw "Pregnant" on the home pregnancy test. Those three months seemed eternally long, because now we knew that we were fully capable of conceiving naturally, and of course every month that we didn't conceive, we wondered what we were doing wrong. When we finally had confirmation of pregnancy, we held our breaths to see if this one would "stick." I had a good feeling about it, and continued running and eating a paleo diet, but I also started feeling sick VERY early on, and figured that was a good sign. I chose an O.B. who accepted our insurance, and made my first appointment for 10 weeks, figuring it wouldn't hurt to wait and get past the old miscarriage date before we got excited about a baby.

On September 10, 2013, Samuel and I went to meet the obstetrician for a 9am appointment. We discussed dates and she agreed with my calculations that I was due on April 11, 2014. After we'd talked a little about her practice, she fired up the ultrasound machine, lubed up my abdomen and said she was going to take a look at the baby. She found a heartbeat right away and Sammy and I watched the screen in amazement as she pointed out the little blip on the screen that was our fetus. And then, she said in her thick Korean accent, "wait, I think there is another one in there." I laughed, thinking she was trying to be funny. But she repeated, "no, I think there are two babies." I was stunned. Sammy says my voice dropped about three octaves as I let out a deep and extended "Whhaaaaat?" Dr. Chan wasn't 100% certain there were two babies since she couldn't get them both to show on the screen at the same time, so she said she had to go in vaginally. I had a momentary freak-out since the only other vaginal ultrasound I'd had was during my miscarriage day in the emergency room, and it was excruciatingly painful, but Dr. Chan said she needed to do it in order to confirm that I was carrying twins. Fortunately, she was gentle, and within a minute or so we were seeing two tiny fetuses on the screen. We were in absolute shock. Dr. Chan kept studying the screen and moving the wand around, she told us that she couldn't tell for sure if the fetuses were in separate sacs but she thought they might be in one sac, which would make them identical twins. She said that they needed to have a membrane separating them, but she needed me to see a fetal specialist who could use more high-tech equipment to find out exactly what was going on. She said that if they were identical twins, there were a lot of risk factors, and she'd have a fetal specialist see me regularly to keep tabs on things, but she didn't go into much detail. She did say that based on the size of the babies, she'd need to change my due date a week forward to April 17th, 2014. We left that appointment without much information and in a general haze.

We didn't say a thing to each other as walked out of the doctor's office, into the elevator, out the building, into the parking garage, as we got in the car, or as we drove away. We were nearly home when we broke the silence together and said, "TWINS?!?!?" As we discussed, I actually remember saying, "maybe one of them won't make it. I think that happens a lot." Samuel said not to say such a thing, and I could tell that despite the shock, he was ecstatic. I was still just shocked. We immediately started googling to find out how people get twins since there were no twins in my family. Sammy's maternal grandmother had a fraternal twin sister, but we quickly learned that twins can only "genetically" come through the female line. We were a little confused about how we managed to conceive twins, but within a day or two, I realized how rare and special this was, and we both became completely smitten with the idea of being twin parents. We'd wake up each morning and look at each other in disbelief at the sudden and unexpected turn our lives had just taken.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Introduction

We are finally getting around to sending out birth announcements, nearly a year later. As I have been addressing envelopes, it struck me that many people who receive these announcements in the mail won't know what our girls overcame to be in this world. I was good about keeping our family and close friends updated during my fraught pregnancy, but once the girls arrived and were fighting for their lives for months in their respective hospitals, I didn't have the time or energy to continue with updates. It was overwhelming enough to be present and positive for the girls, let alone advocating for them through the medical system, and eventually becoming their full-time caregiver.

2014 was a bittersweet year for us-- it brought us our beautiful baby girls, but it was also hugely traumatic and it's sometimes hard to think about everything we have been through. But in retrospect, I believe it is important to have a record. Fortunately, Oakleigh and Brioney won't remember their NICCU experiences or the first months at home or therapy or any of the myriad of other awful parts of their early lives, but in a few years they may want to know more details about this time. I want to write it all down while it is still fresh and raw, so I can in some way capture all the emotions we have felt - the joy, the fear, the excitement, the terror, the confusion, the belief, the helplessness... and on and on and on. Perhaps it will even be therapeutic now that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. So, I will be culling through diaries and emails and texts and voice mail messages and pictures and videos and notes to put together a cohesive story of our journey since our tiny precious babes were conceived in July of 2013, through today, and in the days to come as we continue to grow and evolve and see what incredible things these fierce little magic babies will accomplish!