I’m Still Here, Just Overwhelmed

Caveat: I have no idea what it’s like to have one baby (if you’re reading this and you don’t know me, I have 7 month old twins). In my imagination, it’s impossibly easy, and I know that’s not accurate or fair. I also know that anyone with more than one young kid at a time / kids who are close in age experiences some of the same daily challenges that I do.

But I want to explain a few things. Mostly, because I’m terrified that people don’t get where I’m coming from. When someone asks something of me these days, I have an intensely hostile reaction that is a combination of panic (if I say yes, I’ll let them down eventually), guilt (because I want so badly to say yes much of the time), anger (because why doesn’t everyone understand that I -can’t- right now?!), and fear (by the time the twins are one, all of my friends and family and colleagues will be fed up with me). I know that right now I am forgetful, flaky, but above all, well-meaning.

I’m prone to making grand sweeping post-mortem announcements after something has gone wrong: “We’ll never do THAT again.” “This is why we always need to…” and I don’t even mean these things. It just makes me feel better to say them.

I can’t run errands efficiently- this must be true of people with more than one kid, period. I don’t have one of those “double baby wearing” harnesses, so I have to take the twins in either the mammoth stroller, or their heavy car seats. Some days, dealing with either or both seems too daunting to me. We don’t move around easily, so I try to combine my errands into half-day binges. This introduces different problems.

I’m always on edge if I’m by myself, because of a situation that happens often at home- one of the boys is crying, needs something. And just as I am tending to his needs, the other starts wailing too. I have to suffer through a lot of despondent tears while taking care of one baby and then the other. If this happens in public, it can spiral out of control quickly, and I usually wind up super stressed out.

The boys don’t really want to be on the same schedule, or even eat the same way. I find it really difficult to plan around them, because I don’t know what to expect on a daily basis. Even if one naps well, the other might not.

It’s really difficult for me to carry both of them at the same time, particularly if picking them up from their cribs. So, I often have to make two trips up and down the stairs, leaving one crying while I do. This makes me feel terrible.

I can’t competently feed both at the same time, although I do it sometimes anyway. Feeding both solid food takes about 90 minutes these days. That’s an intense 90 minutes, and I don’t usually get a break after. If one starts melting down while I am feeding the other, the whole process gets derailed and takes even longer.

I have a choice to make when someone asks me to meet up with them- if it’s a weekend I can try to get M to watch the twins for me (unless it’s an activity for both of us). But I spend much of the time away from home panicking, because I don’t want anyone to feel the way I do when both babies are sobbing at the same time, and I have to decide which one to soothe first. I can only fully relax, when I know the adult-to-baby ratio is at least 2:2. That said.. my sanity hinges on these breaks.

If it’s a weekday, I have to bring the twins. They will probably fuss, and disrupt the activity/meeting/appointment, but I can’t afford to always pay a babysitter to cover hours beyond my teaching blocks. I’m trying to pretend that I’m doing academic work in addition to all of this babycare, so colleagues sometimes ask me if I can meet them for meetings big and small. I can’t. Not without about a week’s notice.

I am mostly exhausted, so by the time Friday evening rolls around I want to lie face down on my floor for a few hours. Then I feel shitty for not being up to socializing.

When the babies do fall asleep at the same time, I go into panic mode- okay, I MUST work. I must get something done. (Note: not a conducive state to getting work done.) Often it takes me 20-30 minutes just to de-stress enough to focus, and on the bad days someone wakes up by then.

I sacrifice weird things in my attempts to get focus either on work, or on babies. I’ve needed to go to the doctor for months. I skip showers.

What I need from people is not requests for me to do things for them- I want to help, but I can’t. I want to so badly. This stage is temporary, I swear. If you come over and bring food (and drink), so I don’t have to cook or run errands, that’s a lifesaver (I’ll pay you back!) If you invite me over and respect that I’ll have to take a break around 7pm to put the babies down somewhere in your house, that’s also a lifesaver. If you do anything- anything at all to borrow me time to work or for myself- that’s the kind of thing I don’t forget and will file away to pay you back somehow when I am more functional.

In the meantime, don’t give up on me please. My desk is littered with post-it notes reminded me to even return text messages. Anything bigger may actually not get done.

***

Why am I telling you all this? Because someone with one baby was teasing me earlier for “not just strapping the babies to me and getting on with my day!” and it set me off a bit. I imagine it would be a whole other world if I just had one I could baby wear everywhere.

(End Note: to even write this, I put the twins in their bouncers for a few minutes. I haven’t had a break yet today and I needed it. I also just nearly drank from a baby bottle rather than my coffee cup. This whole entry was going to be even longer, but they’ve been fussing the whole time I’ve been typing. Finally, I am covered in baby food squash.)

I Broke the Reasonable Bone in my Body

(Let’s see how easily I can type with a baby on my lap.)

I have two kinds of reactions to annoyance these days: overreactions, and massive overreactions. It doesn’t take much to push me from “anxious, but basically okay” to “why did I just punch the car radio?”

The other day M asked me which is the closest Home Depot to our house- we were already driving up the street, but it wasn’t as though WE WERE ALL GOING TO DIE IF I DIDN’T FIND THE ANSWER IMMEDIATELY.

Siri didn’t cooperate. Google Maps seemed angered by my failure to call it THE Home Depot. I had nothing and we were almost to the stop sign at the end of the street already. I started yelling at the phone, and not in a reasonable “Oh shucks, technology” sort of way.

Yesterday, I had just showered while C2 was crying- he didn’t want to be put down, fed, etc. And he’d just had a nap. Clean diaper and all that stuff you check. I gave up and decided I would jump in the shower anyway. But my nerves were rattled (I forgot to shave one leg… I accidentally put on a dirty, stinky shirt) I got out of the shower to various time-sensitive demands on my attention – I hadn’t sent a package off at the post office last week, the insurance wanted me to resubmit a claim, a copy of my finalized syllabus was due to the university. And little C2 was not having it. Just then I saw it- a half a Nutri-grain bar smooshed into the couch, leaving crumbs and fake fruit filling everywhere. I did not have a reasonable reaction.

I felt like one of those stock photos of “overwhelmed woman”. I think they use the same images for “woman who needs to go on meds” too.

Sigh. I’m teaching again, in an adjunct sort of way- leaving alone that I said I’d never adjunct (again) because it’s slave labor, supporting a system I don’t want to support. Great for retirees who need to “stay active” though!

But, my stress is so high that it’s been… challenging. I’ve had some of my worst anxiety moments of all time trying to teach this week. They’re big classes, for seminars anyway (40 students), so it just feels like a lot of eyes on me.

Finally, our local Toyota dealership is fired. I dropped my car off for repairs on Monday- they said 24 hours. I can’t get anyone on the phone there who won’t 1) Hang up on me 2) Tell me they’ll call me back, and not do so 3) Burp in me ear (okay, that happened once). I’m about to take my overstressed, unreasonable self over there and behave badly ….

Ha, can you imagine, really? I’m so non-confrontational. The worst I get is “mildly stern” in situations like this. Very… mildly.

Ok… I’ll try to work. Just not in much of a state to do so today.

Some Sorta Way

Hello Blog.

I really do love you. But I have to admit that I’m only writing in you right now because the twins are fussing loudly and I can’t concentrate on anything I really want to do. It’s a pretty long list, and I know how fulfilled and good I’d feel if I could tackle something on it. But they’re fussy, and maybe part of that is because I give up too easily on feeding one twin when the other is crying, and maybe it’s that I’ve been at this all day so I’m not on my A-game anymore.

Ok, enough pity party.

Lately my life has revolved around poop. Like, what can I give babies in order to make it happen? They’ve been a bit crazy, but not in any ways that would surprise anyone who has ever had one. (I made up a song about them the other day called “Babies are like people, but stupider”) Charlie won’t stay on his back, but screams when he rolls on his tummy at night. He was waking up every time the paci fell out of his mouth, so we eliminated the paci. Eliminated the swaddles because… safety. Temporarily removed the lovies because… rolling onto face.

I need a plan- not just the vague intention to improve my system (which lifts my spirits, but is a lie I tell myself). Plan which involves knowing when I have work time, social time, and baby time in a given day. Is that possible with 6 month old twins, with me as full-time caregiver? Am supposed to be moving towards professional life plan, but I gain about an inch a day, on the good days.

Been working on academic book proposal. At least I’m doing it.

Dammit, okay Charlie’s fussing is reaching a crescendo so off I go. I will come back and tell funny stories about most recent trip to the baby vet, and how my stepsons got me playing Pokemon Go despite my attempts to resist. Now I will own them.

An open letter to some random women

Dear random women I have encountered recently at the grocery store, and the doctor’s office,

We have to talk.

I didn’t talk to you in the moment, because I tend to have an extremely long hang time when startled, and particularly when people behave badly. Especially when I’m upset. And I was really pretty upset. Let me explain.

I’ll address you based on the order in which these things happened.

First, ladies in the grocery store. I feel like twin babies are not.. uncommon. And when I go to the grocery store with them I have become used to the nonstop comments. I’ve even developed strategies to avoid having endless conversations about their age, gender, means of conception, or identical vs. fraternal status. Or whether twins run in my family. And the twins you’ve met before now.

I honestly don’t mind these interactions (except when I’m trying to be efficient in the store), and I thought that’s where our encounter was going when you approached me and the boys. You said something, but I didn’t get to respond before you were in the stroller taking photographs of the babies.

I was so shocked I knocked over a glass bottle of kombucha (shaddup) and made both a glorious mess and commotion. You were not deterred. Why did you want pictures of my babies? What were you doing? What will you use the photos for?

I will never know, because by the time I had collected myself enough to speak words, you were scurrying off, with photos of my babies on your phone. I was rattled for the rest of the night.

***

This brings me to you, woman-trying-to-help, and mean woman.

I didn’t want to bring my twins to the doctor’s office on Monday. Not even a little bit. But I’m not working (for $) right now, and I can’t afford a baby sitter. And I feel very guilty bullying my in-laws into doing it all the time. But I digress. I was with the babies, and they were not happy.

In their defense, they’re 23 weeks old, and the appointment was smack in the middle of a feeding time.

By the time I was done with the doctor– an hour long event that basically entailed her rocking one of the babies and trying to talk over their wailing– the babies were really fed up with… not being fed. I had only one bottle with me, because I am a sleep deprived mess, so I proceeded to feed half to each baby. This satisfied neither, and they both kept wailing.

In desperation, I ran to the bathroom and began filling up the bottle with warm tap water. You came out of one of the stalls. “Tap water?” you (stranger #1) asked, horrified. “Oh no no. You can’t use that. Let me get you some bottled water.”

I looked down at my already-ready bottle, and my screaming babies, and I sighed. You were trying to be nice. So I waited while they hollered, trying in vain to soothe them with pacifiers. After what seemed like a year, you returned with two small bottles of icy cold water.

I know the babies won’t take water that cold. But you hovered, and I sighed, and gave it a shot. And of course, the babies would not drink. As I futilely tried to persuade them, that cold would be “refreshing” you fussed and interfered. And then you, stranger #2, exited a bathroom stall.

You saw the canister of formula on the counter- the result of countless hours of ingredients research and obsessing and self flagellation. And you made a sound of disgust: “Formula, really?”

I just looked at you.

“Don’t you know ‘breast is best’?” You tsked.

Oh good, that old chestnut. Said by someone who has no idea what my baby feeding journey has been like, no regard for the challenges multiples introduce. Said when I was already a hair’s breadth away from crying in public. I was too shocked to speak. So were you, stranger #1, so you fled that shit show. Said something about “leaving me to it”, and bolted.

This is probably the part of the story where I’m supposed to digress and give my readers a sob story about why formula has entered my life. I’m supposed to try to shut down criticism anyone might have. I’m not going to do that, because it’s nobody’s damn business.

After having a good cry about it all in my car on the way home, and later that night, I’m just … disappointed in all three of you.

Like asking someone who isn’t pregnant when she’s due, I was shocked to be confronted by people out in the “wild” who really behave this way. Shocked as I am about people asking me if the twins are “natural”. I do think these people are outliers- I don’t subscribe to any “decline of civilization” narrative.

But I read every week about women being abused for breast feeding in public, and being abused if they don’t. So clearly, there are plenty of people out there who need to get the message that some things are just none of their business.

That is all. Carry on… differently.

(And if you see photos of my twins anywhere… let me know, okay?)

Maybe I should start a think tank

(Tangentially, I wrote a Scary Mommy article recently: 10 Things That Surprised me About Having a C-section. Let me know what you think. More on that front to come.)

***

After a lengthy, meandering series of patio discussions recently with M, it was actually two conversations with friends (you know who you are!), a job posting, and a scheduled job interview that pushed me from aggressive hedging (it’s not just an oxymoron, it’s a lifestyle!) into the realm of needing to act.

This is about the job thing again.

The morning unfolded like this:

  1. I received an email telling me I have a 3 hour job interview lined up for tomorrow. For the job that I was just telling M last night I think I may neither be qualified for, nor want.
  2. I told a friend that I couldn’t meet her for lunch tomorrow, because of it. She asked about the job and then kindly said that it sounded “intellectually beneath me”. That gave me pause.[1]
  3. I told a long distance friend about the job interview and she said “Great but… that’s not really what you want to do, right?”
  4. Money, I told them both. We still haven’t paid off the twins’ medical bills (etc.)
  5. I saw a posting by data & society looking for a research manager. My heart started beating faster. I’ve wanted to get involved with them for a while. I read through the entire posting, and when I made it to the bottom I saw the dreaded words: “This is not a remote position. You must be able to work full time from Data & Society’s offices in the Flatiron District.”  I must be in good company trying to find remote work…

I paced around my house, feeling depressed. Dropped a quick email to danah, who I went to college with and who sits on the advisory board for d&s – and who by no means has the time to reply to an email from me.

Then the twins started screaming, and I had to disconnect and try to juggle tandem feeding of two fussy babies. I may have sworn a few times.

IMG_7739

The twins were kind enough to do this while I wrote the blog entry.

Ok. So I’m in Houston. I have a PhD in anthropology with a focus on media/technology. I’ve spent the majority of my career in the academic world. There are no positions here for me, and only money buys me the time to work on my publications (need to not be doing other jobs full-time, including watching the babies).

Maybe I should start a research group. Or a think tank. Or freelance research until I can find enough work to start the group. I know so many underemployed or unemployed PhDs. Adjuncting is unsustainable, financially. Not everyone can move, so we could all work from where we need to be- providing on-site researchers around the world for our clients.

Please share this with anyone who might be able to help with this mission. Anyone I can connect with on this would be a valuable ally.

 

  1. I don’t like thinking anything is intellectually beneath me- but I know what she means. Not challenging enough, not aligned with my professional trajectory, whatever that is.

I Should be Job Hunting

But instead I am using the maybe ten minutes of time I can cheat from today to write in here. Because I need some unwinding, now! It’s really been a crazy day, and also a crazy couple of months. To the point where I can’t tell if the house being covered in my hair is postpartum shedding or stress shedding. Because I do the stress thing, but the postpartum thing happens to most women (I hear).

Anyway.

What can I write about here without getting into trouble or getting anyone else here into trouble? Ok, not going to talk about the M’s ex-wife situation because that’s going to lawyers and mediators soon. How about my ex-roommate suing me for moving out early (because I got pregnant and engaged)? Nope.

I never needed a lawyer before this year. Now I need a really good one, and a friend willing to start a successful gofundme (or ? site?) campaign to make that happen. Because I won’t beg for money even when I need to beg for money.

Adding to that issue, I got laid off this past Weds. (Hang on, crying baby…. Ok, back.) I guess I’ll tell you about that.

Since returning from maternity leave to find that all the senior management at my company had been laid off, I felt like my days there were numbered. I mean, they never really had any work for me there. I did mostly busy work, and that’s not what I got a PhD for.

But before maternity leave, well, I was super (duper) pregnant and not really up to job hunting, beyond academic job apps. The problem with those apps is that I was too tired to (Hang on, crying baby…. Ok, back.) get it together after a long work day and publish the articles I need to be publishing / write the book proposal I need to be writing… So I wasn’t a compelling candidate for a tenure-track position.

Anyway, I honestly tried to bust tail on the aforementioned busywork. Occasionally I was thrown tasks that I had zero background in and qualification for, and that would trigger massive anxiety. I was getting f’ed with a lot there, and would often find myself pacing the hall, furious, or trying not to cry.

So anyway, a week ago this past Friday I was assigned a task that was in no way finishable in one day. And obviously, I was supposed to do it in a day. I froze. I had a panic attack. After a weird convo with my boss, I ended up closing the day unsure whether I should be trying to finish it over the weekend. But that was no easy feat, because we have four boys of different ages in the house who need caring for, and just Martin and I struggling to stay on top of the chaos. I did check in on the task (twice), but heard no reply.

On Monday I was asked to do it by Weds. I cracked my metaphorical knuckles and (Hang on, crying baby…. Ok, back.) came up with a plan to get it done. And Mon, Tues, and Weds I missed pumping sessions, skipped eating and drinking and peeing and… finally at 3:45 pm on Wednesday, I finished. 15 minutes before I needed to pick up the twins.

Boss called me into an office in the back- one of the laid off senior managers’ offices. He checked my work, told me it was complete, and then told me I was laid off.

I almost drowned in the weirdness.

Despite my boss’s suggestion, I didn’t want to go awkwardly out into the main room (the “bullpen”) and say “Hey guys, I got laid off. Nice working with you. Love you, bye!” I’d rather march into the main room with my pumping bra still up my shirt and accidentally drop it on someone’s foot. (Happened once.)

I opted to slink out and leave most of my stuff (including the day’s pumped boob milk) behind.

I was reeling. On one hand, I saw that train coming a mile away. On the other hand, I was ashamed to be laid off, and furious, and sad.

M and I stayed up until midnight drinking wine and postmortum-ing the whole scenario on our back patio.

I am holding a lot of details back (Tangent: I just shed a few hairs on my computer), but I’m not a total idiot- anyone could read this. I’m just mostly an idiot.

Onward with figuring out what to do with my life at 37 with a PhD!

 

Dressing for Abdominal Muscle Separation

Following a twin pregnancy, I ended up with the “to-be-expected” diastasis recti (abdominal muscle separation). Basically, my ab muscles spread apart so far to accommodate two huge babies, that they’re having trouble pulling themselves back in and up. I made an appointment for physical therapy today though (and you should too, if you have the DR).

In the meantime, I’ve been trying to figure out clothing. As anyone postpartum knows, fashion is a bit of a challenge while you’re changing size. My maternity pants are too large and baggy now, but I can’t fit comfortably into a single pair of my pre-pregnancy bottoms. So I’m putting together a bit of a checklist for myself, and thought I’d share the research effort- my finds are biased towards things I can wear during a hot Houston summer.

And I learned the hard way- don’t buy maternity dresses- they’re meant to accentuate the belly, and they’ll make you look like you’re still pregnant.

None of these are affiliate links, nor did any give me any free products to review (although, um, if any of you lovely clothing purveyors are offering I am for sale. Hit me up.)

  • Elastic waistband skirts – I love how many colors these come in, and I ordered the mint because it’s spring! (Or summer. Sprunger.)
  • Relatedly, I love how this top gathers just where I need to divert people’s attention. So many nifty colors, too.
  • This asymmetrical nursing top  – I actually have found that when I try to wear baggier tops, especially maternity tops, I look bigger. The cut of this top is really flattering on my torso with its giant paunch.
  • That said, I think tees along these lines would actually work too.
  • This link may not work for long, but there was a whole tunic category here.
  • These work / business casual pants that are also forgiving of a changing waist size (ordering a pair for summer!)
  • Basic shorts in a nice elastic waistband. Because: weekends.
  • That whole “dress yoga pants” thing? Made for us postpartum ladies.
  • More affordably, I shopped at uniqlo often when I lived in Japan. And they make so many pairs of pants that I can wear right now. Apparently they’re looking into a Houston store, which would be almost as confusing to my poor brain as the Japanese grocery going in around the corner.
  • I’m kinda eyeing some comfy shorts from H&M- and trying to decide if these would show more leg than my late 30s self wants to show. This dress might hide my tummy with its waist cinching action. Belted dresses in general could really work at the moment- ooh, I like this shirt dress too.
  • Dang, I wish these belly shaping pants would come back in stock in my size.
  • Plus: Don’t be afraid to try something tailored in the waist. I know, I know. But a lot of the large “tent garments” actually exacerbate the problem. <— I have clearly read far too many women’s mags during my maternity leave.

Ok, I need to stahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhp.

An afterword: This is in some ways a controversial topic. No, I mean it! On one hand, I don’t believe in feeling badly about my body on an intellectual level. On the other hand, I roll my eyes at the “tiger stripes” rhetoric about stretch marks. Truth: I can’t wait to heal my tummy muscles! Truth: I want to smile when I look in the mirror in the meantime AND be comfortable. Truth: the time I actually wore PJ pants to work in desperation was a day I hit peak “I am frumpy” inner monologue.

I actually don’t do well with fashion. I’ve never had much taste in clothing, and find the choices overwhelming. In some ways, having limitations is really working for me. But it’s a bit defeating to get dressed at the moment so, I guess I’d better go shopping…*

*M, if you read this, I’ll hold off for now because… vacation money