Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Secret to the Universe

What Have You Learned, Dorothy?

Chiara and I have been on a whirlwind tour this November.  Multiple flights, multiple visits to various family members in various time zones. My mother came along, as part of her own [lengthier] whirlwind tour.  She had just flown from El Paso to Philadelphia to visit her sisters, one of who will be a grandma in February.  (Congrats, Aunt Nancy!  I mean, congrats Cindy & Tim!)  Then, my mother flew from Philly to Oakland on Tuesday afternoon, just 13 hours before Chiara and I were scheduled to fly out on Wednesday morning.  My mother had it in her mind that I shouldn’t lift anything heavier than my laptop, so she traveled the rest of the way with Chiara and me, helping us get ourselves and our luggage through the airport. Truly heroic, and she is good company, to boot.

Our first stop was to St. Paul, Minnesota, where I nearly ate my brother and sister-in-law out of house and home (see previous post ) and looked for real estate (Hey, Matt!  In Minnesota you can buy a house AND send your kids to college!).  Then, after nearly a week at the Bryan/Kramers, I suggested that my mother stay behind to take care of all three of her grandchildren while I skipped town to visit my sister and relive my college days. 

I flew to El Paso on Monday where I actually ordered take-out FROM THE RUNWAY (Landing runway in El Paso, not departing runway in St Paul) and then made my dad and stepmom pick it up on their way to fetch me from the airport.  (Tortilla soup from Jaxon’s—YUM!)

On Tuesday I flew to San Antonio where upon landing, I made my sister take me to Mexican food.  She brought me to the place that—in her words—has the only decent Mexican food in San Antonio.  Then we went wallet shopping (my wallet, a gift from Jackie 5 years ago, was stolen just before Halloween.  I wrote a whole blog post about it but you probably didn’t read it because the words didn’t quite make it from my head to my laptop). 

At the wallet store, I bought the one wallet my sister (unbeknownst to me) had been eyeing for the last two months.  After that, I made her watch me eat a 12oz steak, (Texas red meat is so tasty it makes me tremble), some ice cream and the rest of her granola before co-opting her bed and making her sleep on the floor.

On Wednesday, I followed Jackie to her classes (We didn’t learn such cool things when I was in college).  We went back to the wallet store because it turned out that Jackie really really really wanted that wallet.  Now we have matching wallets except hers has scrunchy crinkly leather because I took the last good wallet.  That afternoon, on the way to the airport to fly back to El Paso, partly out of guilt, I switched wallets with her and now I am the proud owner of the second-best wallet in San Antonio.

Back in the west Texas town of El Paso, I met my mom and Chiara at the airport (they arrived from St Paul just as I was arrived from San Antone) and we spent Wednesday AND Thursday night at my Mom’s.  Friday through Monday we stayed at my dad’s.  Tuesday we went to my friend, Tessie’s, for green chile soup—YUM—and briefly discussed El Paso real estate (Hey, Matt!  In El Paso they have two-for-one deals: buy one house and get one free!). 

Wednesday morning I left Chiara with my stepmom, Marian, and had breakfast with one of my oldest friends, Sofia.  (I mean, our friendship is old, not that Sofia is old).  Wednesday night, our last in El Paso, Chiara and I had dinner with my mom, my stepdad and my cousin and her family, back at Jaxon’s for more tortilla soup.

Thursday we—Chiara, my mom, my stepdad and me—flew back to Oakland.  And on Friday I drove to Mt. Madonna for a weekend yoga retreat—just me and the peas.


Mt. Madonna is just ninety minutes away from Oakland if there’s no traffic, two hours away if you get lost, and three hours away if there’s rain and you have to stop twice to go to the bathroom and once for doughnuts.  It’s a national park near Watsonville.  It overlooks the ocean and is littered with campsites.

Yes, of course there’s more.  Like I would go camping!  Mt Madonna is also a yoga commune where people live and work and pee in outhouses.  They depend on their own wells for their water (hence the outhouses) and have their own schools and fire department.  They also have guest rooms (with bathrooms down the hall, thank goodness) and a m†assage center and a community building where all the meals are cooked (always vegetarian, mostly without peanuts, gluten, wheat or dairy) and some other buildings for yoga retreats and classes.  I think it’s the perfect balance between hippie and comfortable.

I had signed up for a Qi Gong and Yoga course that focused on creativity and healing.  I thought it might be a nice way to build my repertoire of active and positive practices to help me through the pregnancy.  And I thought it would be nice to get some more sleep and eat some more food that I didn’t have to plan, prepare, or clean up afterwards.  And I thought it would be even nicer if it were all me time instead of shared me time.

It was a very interesting experience.  I didn’t learn anything new and spent the whole time thinking about my family and imagining how much fun they would have had if they were with me.  All of which was very comforting.  I felt like the characters at the end of the Wizard of Oz when they all are told (or realize, rather) that they have always had that which they had been seeking.

(There was one very new thing that was offered in the weekend retreat: specific and powerful visualization techniques for positive thinking.  They were in the form of four affirmations that we repeated to ourselves while lying down.  They were so powerful that I—and everyone around me—fell asleep, which means that none of us knows just what those powerful affirmations were.)

The really really interesting part of the weekend was that I gave in to the dark side and told people the dramatic part of the pregnancy.  You know, with words like, “high risk” and “50% chance of death or complications.”  Not because I wanted their sympathy, but I guess I wanted people to know that I was there for VERY SERIOUS REASONS. 

It kind of backfired, not in a bad way, just in a non-productive way.  For example, during our round-the-room introductions, I didn’t tell people why it was high-risk which meant that I was always getting cornered by some curious and well-meaning participant and bombarded with questions.  Some thought I was concerned just because it was twins and that it wasn’t that serious. 

And for whatever silly reason, I felt compelled to assure them that, yes, it was that serious.  Which meant that, being well-meaning people, they felt obligated to say something “helpful.”  Like, “Well, are you taking vitamins?”  Or tell me the story of the sister-in-law who was six months pregnant with a baby with Trisomy 18 whose heart was on the wrong side of his body and probably wouldn’t live a week. 

“See, some people have it worse than you!” the woman said, cheerfully.

That’s when I realized how far I’d come in the thinking positively department.  I no longer focus on how bad things can get.  I focus on what I can do, which is basically just sleeping well and eating well and spending time with those in my life who can accommodate my sleep and eat lifestyle.

There is no doubt in my mind that these babies are going to make it.  Time will tell if they are born at 32 weeks or 34 weeks, but now that I know that I have the support of the doctors, I’m gunning for 34 weeks or more if I can.  In my mind, I see the Peas coming home from the hospital when I do.  Time in the NICU just isn’t part of the picture.

So I was a little bit sad to realize that on this, my meditative retreat, I’d given into the Drama That Could Be.  And after I’d talked about the Peas like we were all part of some Lifetime movie, I couldn’t very well backtrack and say, “But I’m not really worried about it.  I have a great support system through my family and friends and feel confident that everything’s going to work out just great.”  Consequently, I got sucked into a world of fear that I don’t really feel anymore.

I realized something else, too.  That there’s something very “busying” about wallowing in worry, almost like a comforting way to preoccupy your mind.  And in many ways, it’s much easier to wallow, to talk about how awful things could get than it is to shut up and take action to make them better, particularly when that action is just the same thing day after day. 

You can always create new and exciting things to worry about.  There isn’t a lot of thrill in the diary entry that reads: “Day 147: Same old, same old.  Ate all my vegetables and all my cheesecake.  Took two naps and all my vitamins.  Hugged my kid, laughed with my husband and rubbed my belly.”

I’m not sure what I expected from this retreat: some great secret to the universe or something.  And what I learned was that I already know these secrets.  They come in the form of friends like Ang, who is living proof that you can make it through the most difficult situations and triumph, and friends like Kara, who say things like, “Eat, get a second opinion, and don’t look back.”  It comes in the form of friends like Lara, Dr. P, Sofia, and Tessie who all said the same thing to me: “You know, I have a good feeling about this.”

It comes in the form of family who have opened their homes and their refrigerators: from moms (and stepdads) who travel halfway across the country to dads (and stepmoms) who make impromptu fast food runs to brothers who cut 12 minute slices of cheesecake, sisters who offer to sleep on the floor and daughters who bring you “a favorite toy” when you say you need to nap. 

I think it started when we were still in Lifetime movie mode, scared and worried and calling our siblings.  When we told Cathy our scary details, she just kept repeating, “I think it’s exciting!”  Our first thought was, “Did she not hear the part about death and sickness?”  Our second thought was, “Maybe that’s how you see life when you have five kids.  Maybe we should get us some of that.”

It seems like we should say, “It wasn’t always easy.”  But it kinda was easy.  Granted, we’re only halfway there, but once we reached out and got this outpouring of support, our positive outlook just kinda snowballed. 

So thanks to everyone for all the calls and emails and comments and prayers.  That’s the key to creativity and healing; that’s the secret to the universe.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Next Post: the details behind our most recent visit to the doc’s (Short version: twins are doing great!)

© 2010 Janine Kovac 

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Eat, Like, A Pig

This post was guest-blogged by my brother and sister-in-law, whom Chiara & I went to visit last week.  They were stunned at my capacity to shovel large quantities of food at frequent intervals and quite frankly, I was a little stunned at their shock.  After all, whether I am trying to gain weight or lose weight, I only stick to two principles:
1) Only eat when you're hungry
2) Only eat until you're full

I don't know what all the fuss was about, so they spelled it out for me.

Eat, Like, A Pig

As we see it, the mantra you use to gain five pounds in approximately five days, is: eat as often as a newborn, but as much as a linebacker.

When our baby (yes, he’s still a baby even if he walks and weighs 25 pounds) woke up at midnight for a bottle, there was the Pea Momma, eating cereal in the kitchen by herself.  When he woke up again at 3 am, crying, there was the Pea Momma, drinking water and eating.  Pea Momma was eating around 6: 30 am when the baby woke up too.  Then she ate breakfast with everyone at 9 am, a snack at 10:30, lunch around noon, a post-nap snack by 2:30 or three, a little something around 4:30 to tide her over until dinner and then dinner around 6 and a pre-bedtime snack at 9 pm. 

Eating that often creates some interesting logistical problems.  Basically, if you are going to be away from the house for more than 60 minutes, you need to have at least a pound of food with you to satiate Pea Momma.  And if you are going for multiple hours, there should be an entire duffel bag devoted to food.  I am not even kidding when I tell you that upon arrival at our house, Pea Momma unloaded from her carry-on the following: a turkey/cheese wrap; a large freezer bag full of cashews, a bag of granola, a freezer bag full of cold pizza slices, two baby bottles full of whole milk, two large bottles of water, a block of graham crackers, two snack packs of cookies, at least twenty sticks of string cheese, a baggie of grapes, and a half-finished bottle of strawberry Odwalla.  AND THAT’S JUST THE FOOD THAT DIDN’T GET FINISHED ON THE PLANE!  To be fair, of course, Pea Momma also had to be ready to feed Pea Girl, who is a frequent snacker, and Pea Momma was loaded up by Pea Daddy, who is an over-packer.  But still.  It was impressive.

Here are two instances where the quantity of food cannot be blamed on toddlers or daddies.  One night, around 9 pm, we were enjoying those first magical moments of “adult time,” after the children were in bed and we could hear ourselves think.  Pea Momma’s brother stood up and announced “Can I get anyone some tea?”  In response, Pea Momma said: “I will take two slices of pizza, preferably olive or ham, and a piece of cheesecake.  Oh, and a glass of whole milk please.”  When she was served her glass of whole milk, she went back to the refrigerator, scooped the cream from the top of the jar onto the lip of her glass, and proceeded to eat her snack.  Even a salad became, um, modified.  After everyone else had finished dinner, Pea Momma went rummaging through the fridge – again.  She emerged with a bowl full of salad, already dressed with Italian vinaigrette, and added to it a bowl full of popcorn (not microwaved, but old-school air popped) and at least three large spoonfuls of peanut butter.  “No, I don’t want to try any.  Thanks.”

When you’re bedtime snack is a dollop of pure cream, plus eight ounces of whole milk, plus a seven minute slice of cheesecake (Pea Momma taught me to measure all dessert slices in minutes – not the minutes it would take to eat the slice, but the number of minutes that slice would represent if the entire cake/cheesecake/pie was an hour), plus two pieces of pizza, then you too are ready to join the marathon known as gestating twins. 

Guestblogged by MommyTude and DaddyTude (

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Right on Track at 17 Weeks

Right on Track at 17 Weeks

So here’s a picture of the Peas.  It’s from Week 13.  Just four weeks later, the twins are already too big to fit both of them in the same picture.  We showed the ultrasound photos to Chiara.  Initially we had planned to keep the pregnancy a secret until we felt we were “in the clear” (whenever that is!) but then, at about Week 14, she called me out on it.  She is belly high, so I guess she has a pretty good view of the belly changes.  We were in the bathroom and she rubbed my tummy and said, “Hey, you got a baby in there?” 

To which I replied (slyly, I thought), “Maybe.  If I do, I think it might be two babies and they would be boys.  How do you feel about that?”

“I don’t want brothers.  I want a sister.”

As my brother says, “Well, today’s the day you learn you don’t get everything you want.”

Anyway, when we showed her the ultrasound photos, she was clearly devastated.  “They don’t look like babies.  They look like animals.”  Now, I don’t know for sure, but I do have two younger brothers of my own, and I have a feeling that this might be the first time—but not the only time—she compares her siblings to animals.

But back to the Peas.

Last Monday we had two doctors' appointments.  One was a high-resolution ultrasound, the other was our regular appointment at the Whipple Clinic. 

The ultrasound took over an hour, and thank goodness it wasn’t one of those that you have to have a full bladder for.  It’s the one where they take lots of measurements: head circumference, abdomen circumference, body length and cervix length.  They counted arms and legs and kidneys and heart chambers.  They checked heartbeats and heart rates and made sure that they checked each Pea once instead of one Pea twice.

And everything looked the way it should look.  The measurements put us squarely at 17 weeks and 2 days, with the Peas “weighing in” at 7 ounces apiece.  (I have no idea how they convert centimeters into ounces, but apparently they can and do).  Each Pea has two arms and two legs and two kidneys and four heart chambers.  And each one had a heart rate within the approved range.  The cervix measurement is to have a handy baseline measurement in case it looks like I am going into early labor.  And as of Week 17, I am not.  So far, so good.

The other thing the sonographer did was check the blood flow in the umbilical cords.  Really cool to see.  Artery flow shows up as red; vein flow as blue.  This also gives an indication of where the umbilical cords attach to the placenta.  To our untrained eyes it looked like the cords were pretty far apart, but the sonographer was hesitant to say for sure. 

Later on we had our regular appointment, this time with one of Dr. Whipple’s colleagues, Dr. I-cant-remember-her-name.  She was also reassuring and happy with the preliminary ultrasound report. 

My weight is up four pounds from my last appointment at 15 weeks, which the doctor labeled as the “upper-end of acceptable” until Matt asked a follow-up question.  (Was there “unacceptable” weight gain?)  She quickly back-tracked and said that in our case, “fat preemies” are our goal so actually all weight gain is good weight gain; it just means that there’s more to lose at the end. 

For the curious, I am up another 5 pounds since that appointment 10 days ago and have already reached my goal of 20 pounds before Week 20 (we are in Week 18 now).  What can I say?  I’ve always been an over-achiever.  My belly is like a huge basketball and my belly button is shrinking and I’ve already had to take my wedding ring off.  I look and feel like I’m six months along, not four.  Good thing I don’t have to go the full 40!

Next: How I Gained Five Pound in a Week—Without Counting Calories!

© 2010 Janine Kovac