Daughters and sons

According to Facebook, it was National Daughter’s Day. It was sweet; seeing all the pictures of other people’s daughters and the lovely sentiments people wrote put a smile on my face. I love seeing my Facebook friend’s kids’ triumphs and mini-milestones: first days of school, dance recitals, homecomings and proms. And I don’t even hate made up holidays like National Donut Day (because, donuts!) and National Cat Day (because, cats!) But National Daughter Day hit me in a weird place.

Because I will never have a daughter.

I have an incredibly smart, talented, and beautiful niece who is my Goddaughter. I have anot her funny, spirited, and gorgeous niece who lights up my life. I treasure my time with these two lovely ladies like nothing else.

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But I will never have a daughter.

There was a time in my life when the boys were small and I was in a loving relationship when I thought that another child was surely in my future. I wasn’t 100% sure that I wanted another child, but in my heart I thought it was in the cards for me. It may not have been a daughter. But it could have been.

Now, I’m at the age where having a baby isn’t beyond the realm of possibility, but it is highly improbable. It is also improbable that were I to get pregnant that the pregnancy would be smooth and easy given my past history. This wasn’t something I thought much about or dwelled on until today. Until I saw what I wasn’t going to have.

Being the mom of sons is phenomenal. Nobody loves a mom like her son, right? Right. And wrong.

Daughters aren’t easy to raise. I should know, I was one of them. I even made it a point to thank my mom on my last birthday for not leaving me by the side of the road for the gypsies even though I am sure the thought crossed her mind once or a thousand times.

Girls have hormones and drama. Girls have attitudes and catfights. Girls spend a good part of their tweendom being ridiculously self-centered little creatures. When I found out I was having boys, I was relieved. Until I discovered that boys have all of the above too.

But I’ll never know what it’s like to help pick out that perfect outfit. I won’t get the joy and pride of seeing my baby girl do and be all of the things she will grow to do and be as she becomes a woman. There will be no mini-me. I won’t be able to sit and relate to that young woman as she slowly realizes what it has been like to be her mom, to be a woman, to do what we mothers do day in and day out. I won’t have late night confessions and conversations, I won’t cry on her wedding day. I won’t know the joy of watching my daughter grow into the woman I knew she’d be.

I have my nieces. And my cousins’ baby girls. I will watch them grow and love them fiercely. I will enjoy the quiet times of coloring and playing with dollies and learning about music and playing sports and listening about friends, and school, and makeup. I will take joy in their accomplishments. I will build them up and remind them that they come from a long line of super strong women in a family pretty much dominated by super strong women.

My role is to be the aunt and Godmother and cousin of girls, my surrogate “daughters”, but I am the mother of sons.

I know I am lucky to be a mother at all. I will not squander my blessings by wishing I also had a daughter to spoil and love. My two precious boys need to be raised to be strong, loving, creative, smart, funny, capable young men. They will learn this from me. It is hard though, sometimes, to admit that I long for the love of a daughter. That sometimes I feel ill-equipped to deal with the raising of sons that I so wantonly embraced. That maybe, just maybe, it would have been easier to have girl children. At least I would know a little more about what they were going through.

I’ve learned that being a tomboy as a child does not prepare one for the physical energy of boys. I’ve learned that as much as I love boys and love sports and the outdoors and Harry Potter and Star Wars, there are some things I just don’t understand about boys.

I cannot imagine my life without my sons. I would not trade them for daughters. I guess I always assumed my life would contain both. When I found out I was having twins, I kind of thought maybe there would be one of each and that would be that. I’m glad that God knows better than I do.

Apparently, I was not meant to be the mother of a daughter. I just need to work on being the best daughter I can be. And make sure I raise the best sons I can.

Perhaps, someday FAR in the future, I will be rewarded with a granddaughter. Until then, I will delight in the daughters of the world including my nieces–the sunshine of my days.

Happy National Daughter’s Day (because, daughters!)

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It’s the little things

Our 60 days of gratitude are winding down. We only have two weeks until the big birthday. This summer has been filled with a lot of ups and downs, but each night I whisper my prayer of thanks.

We are all getting giddy with excitement for our vacation and I suspect that there will be great floods of gratitude pouring out of us as we embark on our trip. A trip designed to really highlight the “little” things (which are, of course, the big things): nature, beauty, our active bodies, time with family, a slower pace, sunshine, water, peace.

But gratitude isn’t always about the big, little things. Sometimes it is about not hitting too much traffic on the way home. Or having some time to take an unscheduled bath. Or finding just the right word to express how you are feeling. And tonight my gratitude is about…

Our backpack.

Backpack

It’s an ugly old thing. Army green and black, it is actually a diaper bag. And it was probably the best thing I registered for when I was pregnant.

I had help when I was registering. Kind of ironic, looking back, that I allowed so many decisions to be made by someone who wasn’t sticking around to actually use any of the stuff, but at the time I was so happy to have a partner, I probably would have agreed to just about anything. And there it was in the diaper bag “dad” section. Filled with no frills bags in bland colors, so that no dad would be embarrassed to be carrying a bright, polka-dotted diaper bag around town. And though I looked longingly at the pretty bags, I’m nothing if not practical and not only did a backpack seem like a great idea, I would have bought anything that would ensure help from the dad of the twin tornadoes who were on the way. So, we registered for the backpack and a matching messenger bag which could be used on a quick trip to the store or whatever and it was a done deal. I was never a particularly frilly girl anyway.

Alas, no dad ever wielded that bag. But, I found as a single mom of twins, it was actually super handy to have my hands free at all times. And considering that leaving the house meant taking a shitload of diapers (pun intended) and wipes and pacifiers and bottles and changes of clothes and then as they got older, snacks and bandaids and first aid and…well, that damn bag was just about the most perfect gift I could have received.

From our first trip on an airplane (have you ever tried to change a baby in the bathroom of an airplane? It’s a treat!) to our latest trip to the beach just a couple of weeks ago, the backpack has gone everywhere with us. Affectionately known as “the family backpack”, it has grown from diaper bag and airplane carryon to daypack and overnight bag. It’s our go-to, our right-hand, our partner-in-crime.

I know it seems silly to have such an attachment to a bag. As discussed, it isn’t pretty. There have been many times since the baby years passed when I’ve thought I could find a more attractive alternative, but then I feel like I’m thinking of trading in my faithful mate for a younger, sexier model and I scoff at myself. Good looks aren’t everything, after all. I should know.

Ten years this bag has been there through thick and thin. Through diaper explosions and delayed flights and trips to the ER; through parties and picnics and camping trips, it’s been our constant companion. It’s solid. Strong. Dependable. Versatile. Sometimes over-burdened, but never quits on us. So much more than a pretty face.

And even though its original destiny was to be a “dad bag”, I’d like to think that it has received more use and love as our “family backpack”, proving that even the destiny of an inanimate object can change and find true purpose beyond the supposed-tos and could-have-beens.

Now, as the boys tenth birthday draws near and we prepare for one of our greatest adventures to date (both our trip and our entrance into the double-digits of life), I find myself appreciating this bag anew.

Thank you, old friend. I’m so grateful you’ve stuck by me all this time.

Why Mother’s Day is complicated

Since motherhood takes up a lot of space in my head, it seemed right to re-enter into my blogging for Mother’s Day. As all the thoughts about moms and Mother’s Day and parenting and expectations swirled around in my head while trying to decide how to approach the topic on my blog, I realized how complex my feelings were about Mother’s Day and then quickly followed up that realization with the thought of “Duh! Of course your feelings about the day are complicated, look at your feelings about motherhood!”

On my drive home from work tonight, knowing I would finally sit down and write this post, I tried to conjure up the words in my head as I often do. I started thinking about my niece telling me the other day how she wanted to have six children, 3 of each gender, and me telling her that when I was young I wanted to have eight children. I’ll let that sink in for a second. Eight. Five boys and three girls. At some point, with a boyfriend too young to be making such plans, we named these eight future children. Looking back on that I can only shake my head at young, foolish me.

I remember thinking a big family would be so ideal. There would be this fantastic sibling bond and everyone would look out for each other and my husband and I would be the perfect parents and we would have big, loud, happy family dinners and it would be like the Brady Bunch. Plus two.

As I got older and began to understand myself and the world a little better, I accepted that a big family was probably not in the cards for me. I still hoped for the fairytale romance and figured once I had satisfied my wanderlust and my big dreams that the family part would fall into place. But each failed romance took me further from my ideal until I began to believe I was maybe just too selfish to have a baby (or eight).

Cue the song on the radio as I get off the exit toward home this evening: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need…”

That about sums it up for me. Motherhood hasn’t turned out to be at all what I wanted. Or rather, this version of motherhood isn’t at all what I envisioned. I am not the mom I dreamed of being. My pregnancy was not the joyous event  I longed to have. My family doesn’t come close to the idealized fantasy I had as a young girl.

But maybe this life is what I really needed.

Maybe having two needy babies consuming me (almost literally) from the beginning was what I needed to become a less selfish person.

Maybe doing it all on my own was what I needed to believe in my own strength.

Maybe the difficulties and the loneliness are what I needed to have more compassion and understanding for my own mother.

Maybe.

My first Mother’s Day occurred when I was pregnant. One of my best friends had sent me a gift; it was a prayer necklace that had a tiny container in which you could write down a little prayer and put it in the silver tube and keep it close to your heart. It was so lovely, but I remember thinking, “I’m not a Mother, yet”.

Even at that time, pretty big with twin boys in my belly, I didn’t truly feel like a mother. I didn’t understand what being a mother was. I can remember sometimes just wanting the babies to come out. I felt like I could truly be a mother if I could hold them in my arms and know that I was taking care of them. Meanwhile, the best thing that could happen was that I didn’t hold them in my arms, but in my womb. That I stay pregnant as long as possible. Luckily, God made sure that my fever dreams and wishes and prayers went unanswered…

I think the prayer I wrote down was that I would be a good mother and that the boys’ father would come around and be a good father to them. I pried the necklace open tonight to see if that is what I was thinking nine years ago, like my faulty memory believes, but the prayer was just pale blue ink spread on yellow aged paper. I wore that necklace every day and didn’t take it off until the day I had my boys. I then wore it for years after until I think I realized that at least part of my prayer had been answered.

I am a good mother.

I am not the mother that I thought I would be. I am not the mother that I wanted to be. But I am a good mother.

The next Mother’s Day of which I have a clear recollection was maybe when the boys were three. We went to my sister’s house for a while and took some pictures underneath her lilac tree. After some breakfast and visiting, I went home and broke down sobbing at the kitchen sink while doing dishes.

I was grieving for the loss of an unattainable ideal. For the Hallmark commercial of a dad and his kids making mommy breakfast in bed and telling her how much she was loved. That would never be my reality. I was grieving that I couldn’t have one day off from the thankless job of keeping a house running and keeping my children healthy and fed and giving up my own desires to do so. And I was lamenting that on MOTHER’S day, the only thing I really wanted in that moment–was a break from being a mother.

When I think back on it now, I feel a little sick.

There are women out there who would trade their souls to hold a baby in their arms and be a mother.

There are women who have lost their babies, their children, and their adult children, who would give anything for one more day.

There are women who had to say to goodbye to their own mothers too soon.

How could I possibly wish away the most incredible gift that I had ever been given?

Of course, I didn’t really wish it away. That would be like wishing to stop breathing. I just wanted a break. I wanted someone to see me. To see that I was trying to be a good mom. I wanted a fairy godmother to swoop in and take care of my chores and my stress and give me beautiful comfy pajamas and a haircut and a massage and let me snuggle up with my babies for an afternoon of naps and movies.

A fairy godMOTHER.

So many ways to be a mother.

Ironically, some of my very best friends are not mothers. Some want to be. Some don’t. Some don’t say if it is truly something they yearn for deep down, but feel or fear they can’t have. Some of these women are the most giving, selfless, amazing, MOTHERING, people I know. I want to celebrate them this Mother’s Day for all the ways that they are mothers without having or adopting children of their own. They are the fairy godmothers of the world.

In my heart, every Mother’s Day, I hold those women who have lost their children. It is something that I cannot imagine. I hold those women who have lost their mother. I hold those women who grieve for the mother they wish they had growing up or as an adult. I hold those people for whom this holiday is nothing but a reminder that they don’t have someone to call Mom.

I truly am blessed to be a mom. It is nothing like I imagined it would be. I don’t deserve it. But I work hard to become deserving of it.  I hope my sons one day realize how they changed my entire definition of an ideal family. And that they know if I achieve nothing in this whole world other than making them feel loved and giving them the tools to create that ideal life for themselves, I will have succeeded.

Happy Mother’s Day to all you women out there who are mothers in body, in heart, and in spirit.

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Full-disclosure Fundraising February

Full-disclosure February on this blog has turned into something more closely resembling fully-withdraw February. It happened kind of naturally and I’m not beating myself up for it, but I will make the observation that despite all my detoxing and positive thinking and lofty goals for spending this month improving my health and writing daily, I am just as tired and cold and inclined to hibernate as I am every single winter.

The good news is that I’m not necessarily depressed about it or feeling like the winter will never end. I even giggled with joy when I discovered that it was still light out at 5:30 when I left work the other night. This is progress.

Yes, my boys are pushing boundaries and climbing walls because of all the time we spend inside. Yes, I have many stories written in my head that I haven’t translated onto the screen. Yes, I think I will always feel like I should be doing more and possibly even different things than I am doing in parenting, in my career, and in my personal life. C’est la vie. At least, ma vie.

In other good news, I have thrown myself once again into fundraising for a cause that is near and dear to my heart. I’ve turned February into Fundraising February and I’m almost a third of the way to my goal. So, I figured that I could feed two birds from one hand and combine my full-disclosure and my fundraising on this frigid February morning.

If you knew me, you’d know I have twin boys who were born prematurely. Thankfully, they were born without much of an ado, other than me being terrified. They only had to stay one extra day in the hospital for jaundice and have only had moderate respiratory issues that we can trace back to their early birth.

If you knew me, you’d know that I now work for the March of Dimes, an organization that is committed to ending premature birth, birth defects, and infant mortality. Before I began my work with the March of Dimes, I didn’t realize how serious the problem of prematurity was, nor how many families it affected. I didn’t know how many babies die every year because they are born too soon or because of a serious birth defect. I didn’t realize that preterm birth was the leading cause of death for children under 5.

Now if you really knew me, you’d know that when I found out I was having twins my doctors told me that I would likely have them early no matter what (this turns out not to be true, lots of twin pregnancies go full term). You’d also know that I began having complications around week 20. I had spent the day not feeling well and feeling almost like I was getting my period; achy, crampy, and just generally sick. My doctor directed me to the hospital where it was determined I was experiencing pre-term labor. I received several shots of terbutaline to stop my contractions and was sent home to strict bed rest for a couple of weeks. No work, no nothing. Bed rest. At 20 weeks. Half-way to the finish line with babies that would not survive if they were born at that time. No one said that to me though. No one said, “hey look, bed rest sucks but if you go into labor again and we can’t stop it, which is a very real possibility, your babies will die.”

If you really knew me, you’d know I didn’t come home from that first hospital visit to my own apartment and my cats and the loving, supportive father of these babies who would do everything in his power to ensure that I was able to get us all safely to the finish line. You’d know that instead I went to my dear, loving and supportive friends’ house where they had taken me in a month before because intervention-style they and my cousin decided that I shouldn’t live alone. They basically felt that I couldn’t take care of myself properly, and since aforementioned loving, supportive father of the babies had up and moved out of our apartment and was neither loving, nor supportive at that time, I had very little choice but to agree.

If you really knew me, you’d know I spent those weeks on bed rest in my friends’ home, alternating between feeling extremely lucky and grateful and feeling completely miserable and terrified. You’d know that I blame myself for the complications that continued to plague me throughout my pregnancy. You’d know that I would continue to fight with the father of the babies stressing myself out to the point that my friends once again had to give me some tough love, essentially telling me to cut the shit because they had taken me in to make sure I was safe and healthy and birthed these babies, not so that they could watch me self-destruct and take the babies with me. You’d know that I thought I had it all under control, but in reality I had nothing under control. You’d know that I cried at least a little every day.

If you really knew me, you’d know I eventually got my shit together and realized everyone around me was right and I needed to distance myself from the emotional drama that continued to unfold with the babies’ father and focus on the boys and getting them to the finish line. With the help of my friends, I moved into the home that I would make for the boys. I was reunited with my kitty babies. I was able to work from home, as long as I didn’t overdo it. I finally felt like everything was going to be OK.

If you really knew me, you’d know that I never got to “nest”. I never got to set up our little home. You’d know that my little army of personal angels had to take care of all of that for me because when I drove myself to my perinatal appointment for my 3-D ultrasound–I didn’t come home until 3 months later. You’d know that my cervix was incompetent and that my body was ready to go into labor even though my babies were only 26 weeks and would have a low chance of survival. You’d know that I was admitted into the hospital that day and the father came to show his support and I once again believed everything would be OK. You’d know that when he left, he didn’t come back for eight weeks. You’d know that all the medications they were giving me to stop the labor weren’t working. You’d know at one point I was feeling so sick and I was trying to explain to the nurse that I felt like I was going to pass out, that I couldn’t fully sit up and I couldn’t lay down and I couldn’t catch my breath. I told her I felt like you do when you have swallowed too much water. It turned out the medication had given me pulmonary edema. But you’d know that I had to have an chest X-ray in the middle of the night because they were afraid that I may have an embolism. You’d know that I was terrified that the radiation would harm the babies. You’d know that the technician, who was probably the first person who was able to drive home the seriousness of what was happening, told me that the slight radiation would be better for the babies than me dying during childbirth because of an embolism.

If you really knew me, you’d know that after the first week of absolute mayhem, of trying all the different medications and giving the babies steroid shots so they would have a fighting chance if they were born; the doctors tried a calcium-channel blocker called Nifedipine to stop the contractions. It worked. For the next seven weeks, I waited. I prayed. I took my pills. I let myself be prodded and poked. I took joy in listening to the babies’ heartbeat each day. But I was incredibly lonely and scared. And I forgot all the seriousness of what had landed me in the hospital to begin with. I thought I was out of the woods. I wanted to go home. The doctors ignored me (and probably hated me for continuing to ask if I could just go home now). I had no idea how lucky I was that all the measures the doctors took got me safely into my 35th week of pregnancy. I had no idea what our lives would have been like if my babies had been born in that terrifying 26th week. I had no idea how close we had been to death or to life-long health issues.

If you know me, you’d know our story has a happy ending. If you really knew me, you’d know the survivors guilt I often feel. Especially at work where I have the honor and privilege to work on a support community that the March of Dimes provides for parent and families who have experienced the unthinkable; parents who have watched their babies’ struggle and fight for life in the NICU, who have had to leave their babies in the hospital every day not knowing if they would survive, who have had to hold their lifeless newborns in their arms.

Each year during the March for Babies walk, the boys and I talk about the story of their birth. I’ve told them how scary it was to think they were going to come too soon, but mostly I focus on how lucky we are. Someday they will be old enough to hear the rest of it, if I am brave enough to tell it. Someday maybe I will forgive myself and their father for the undue stress we put on my pregnancy. But every day I am grateful for my friends who were the ones who got me to the finish line, even when they had to drag me there and that is part of the story I tell. Every day I am grateful to the doctors who took zero chances with my sons’ lives. Every day I am grateful to the March of Dimes for the work they do to end prematurity.

If you are so inclined, we would be very grateful for your donation. It is tax-deductible and the research and programs that the March of Dimes funds with your money is nothing short of life-saving:

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And it is because of the tireless work of the March of Dimes that I experienced this moment:

holding my babies for the first time

holding my babies for the first time

Please consider making a donation: marchforbabies.org/caramclaughlin