A letter to my boys

Before your sister arrives….

Dear Andrew and David:

I have been thinking about this letter for a while now. I get choked up even thinking about it. I’m not really sure what to even say, exactly, but THANK YOU.

**Thank you for sticking in my womb when I wasn’t sure it was ever going to happen. It was beyond scary and exciting to know you both were in there.

**Thank you for growing in my womb amazingly the entire 34 weeks we spent intimately together. We didn’t have one major complication besides an early birth.

**Thank you for trusting me (and your daddy) to take care of you in the most scariest days of our life after you were born.

**Thank you for forgiving me when I was suffering from postpartum depression/anxiety and didn’t know if I could do this. Sometimes I still don’t.

**Thank you for teaching me how to overcome some of the hardest and darkest days of my life. I am stronger now because of you.

**Thank you for smiling at me even when I don’t feel like I deserved it.

**Thank you for loving me after I painfully have to discipline you.

**Thank you for your strength and relentless spirits because I know one day those will drive you to reach whatever dreams you have in your life.

**Thank you for being my first babies, my hearts. I will always treasure this time we’ve had together before your sister.

**Thank you for being born together. Watching you together is something magical. A privilege. You will make amazing older brothers.

Thank you for it all. The good, bad, and ugly that has come because of our new adventure as a family. I want you to know that no matter what happens in the next few weeks, you are my boys, my hearts, and the loves of my life. I have learned so much from you in the past 3 years that I ever could have imagined (and we are only beginning).

Just please continue to be patient with me (and your daddy). We have absolutely no idea what we are doing but we know we love you.

 

With all of my heart,

Mommy

The NICU

Part 2

***Side note: This one is a long one. It’s taken me awhile to write this post because of its vulnerable content. Reliving these moments are bittersweet. But it’s the bitter I hate to be reminded of. I’m reliving it because I need to for myself, for my daughter, for my boys and especially for my husband. I need to get this out because if we have to go through this again, I need to remind myself that we survived. That we are strong. And that we will be okay. We will all be okay.***

The next 12 hours after the boys were born were some of my worst (so I thought at the time). When you have a c-section, they insert a catheter to make sure your bladder empties appropriately. Well, mine wasn’t. All I kept asking for was this thing to be removed so I could see the boys. Now yes, I could have been wheeled down while the catheter was in but it was SO UNCOMFORTABLE! I wanted it out and I wanted to see the boys. And these nurses don’t waste any time teaching you how to pump for your milk. I got no sleep that night. I was up every 2-3 hours pumping away. Nick was checking on the babies. It was crazy. I literally felt like I was in a twilight zone just moving and doing but not really processing what was happening.

My block was wearing off by the early morning so it was getting pretty annoying. My night nurse was really less than helpful. It wasn’t until the morning shift of nurses that they discovered I didn’t have the proper locking on my leg so the catheter was pinched and therefore I couldn’t go. By the time the nurses had discovered this, I had already had 2 bags of IV fluids in me and had drunk a ton of water. My stomach was hurting so bad. I thought it was from my incision but nope – it was my bladder on the verge of bursting. Once they figured this out, I was fine! I could PEE! Praise the Lord!

**Side note: I loved my hospital minus the catheter experience. Who would like that anyway?**

I was so anxious to see the boys. Nick had been going to the NICU all night long, bringing me back pictures, but I needed to see them. I needed to know they were okay with my own eyes. Leaving my hospital room for the first time, headed to the NICU, was when I realized a little more how my birth experience was going to change me. I was surrounded by a bunch of new moms who had their babies in their rooms. I could hear them. The babies. Crying. Being with their mothers and fathers. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, I guess. It’s not like they have a wing dedicated to freshly cut open NICU parents who have no idea what’s going on or what will happen. I envied them and I didn’t know it. I actually hated them if I’m going to be honest. Why did they get to have that experience and I had mine? How was that fair? I may still hate them.

Although the boys were breathing on their own, they were temporarily placed in a level 3 NICU pod. This meant that they were with much sicker babies then they were. Talk about a humbling experience. And slightly scary. Have you ever seen a baby with spina bifida? We did. At the time, that mom looked so strong to me. And I’m sure she was. You have to be in the NICU – there’s not really another choice. But her strength came from a long time of being there. It’s not exactly a strength I wanted if that was the price I paid for it.

 

I was terrified. We were terrified.  We just had two babies that now needed hospital care for, God knows, how long and now we had to make decisions for them, medical decisions for them. The boys were born late Friday evening and the hospital had them on a feeding tube essentially giving them nutrients until my milk came in. By Sunday or Monday (this is a tad hazy) I could tell the boys were HUNGRY. Their calm demeanor shifted and I could tell. I wanted my babies fed and it didn’t matter to me HOW. It never really did matter to me but I was going with the flow (haha no pun intended) and trusting the nurses and doctors knew what they were talking about. There was one thing I knew for sure by Sunday (or Monday) – they were hungry and they had to gain weight to leave the NICU and waiting for my milk to come in wasn’t going to help.

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Something inside of me shifted when the boys became hungry. I could tell something was different with them and with me. That MOM instinct was kicking in. We waited for the doctor team to come to the NICU. Umm wow. Another crazy experience. Here a lead doctor comes in and assesses each baby MEDICALLY. I capitalize this because it was so STERILE and NOT PERSONAL. They don’t come alone either – like 10 other people, doctors in training, join in. It’s a big teaching hospital in the Med Center so I understand but it was nuts. I don’t blame them for their sterility (is that what I mean to say here?) but as a first time parent, fresh into the NICU, it was overwhelming, to say the least. Now, my hospital is great – BREAST IS BEST – BLAH BLAH BLAH. I get it. And it’s great and all. I was pumping and giving them what I could when I could but there’s not time for that shit in the NICU. No time when my babies were hungry. No time to wait. And definitely not a time to be prideful. Every calorie counted. Every ounce of energy the boys wasted on being hungry and upset burned calories. And if you burn calories without getting very many, you lose weight. Not good. **If you disagree with me, fine. I’m not about to get in a boob war with you about it.**

I was still overwhelmed about all that was going on but the NURSE in the pod helped me voice my opinion for the first time. She helped me voice my mothers instinct. What I would have done without that nurse, I do NOT know. Nor am I glad I never found out (I hope that makes sense. My emotions are hard to sift through here). I essentially had to DEMAND them to start feeding the boys formula (GASP!). My boys got put on a feeding regimen and they instantly changed. I still pumped and began producing some milk that I split between them throughout their stay there. But overall, FED IS BEST.

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Nick and I spent as much time as possible with the boys between my medication times and my own check ups. We did kangaroo time as much as we could. The problem with skin-to-skin with a premie is that sometimes it can hurt more than help. In our case, the boys had a hard time regulating their body temperature so initially we couldn’t hold them for long periods of time. **We would go through cycles of this through our time in the NICU.**

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It wasn’t long until the boys were moved to a level 2 NICU room that they shared. This was definitely a privilege for them to share a room. This was one of the reasons we were in the level 3 initially – waiting on a room. I couldn’t imagine spending my days split between rooms. It was hard enough going back and forth between mine and theirs. It was nice to see them together. **They never were actually together (side by side) until their first night home. That was weird for me since they had spent their entire lives to that point in the same location.**

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When you’re in the NICU you learn about all the noises. Oh so many beeps and alarms that sometimes mean scary things and other times it means a lead was dislodged by the baby kicking. It’s absolutely incredible how closely these babies are monitored. And it’s absolutely terrifying hearing all the beeps and alarms (until you become numb to them).

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Then the day came.

I was to be discharged. I don’t think I could have dreaded that day more than the funeral of someone I love dearly. But it came and I couldn’t imagine not being in the same hospital with them and commuting to the hospital daily. I didn’t want to “leave them” at night without being super close by. The nurses were wonderful – they let us stay as long as we possibly could in our room and luckily they didn’t need the room urgently. They knew the hardest thing we were about to do was about to happen. They were kind and thoughtful but we still had to do it. By the late afternoon, we made our last visit to the NICU as residents of the hospital. Even though we were going to return the next day (and however many days following) our hearts smashed in a million pieces when we left that hospital…. childless.

I have never been more sad in my life to leave the hospital without my babies. This was NOT how I pictured it. This is NOT what I wanted. THIS WAS NOT SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN. I wasn’t supposed to spend the drive home from the hospital with my husband looking at empty car seats and listening to each other cry. Because we both cried, we both broke that day, we both didn’t know what would happen or how we would manage whatever was to come. We both went numb.

The following days were hard – REALLY DAMN HARD. I would sleep on our couch because I just couldn’t imagine coming to bed – a bed where I spent 34 weeks holding my stomach and feeling them move inside of me. It wasn’t right. I cried a lot in those days. My heart literally ached. I woke up early to pump and I would call the nurses around 6:30am every day (before the shift change) to speak with the night nurse. I would obsessively write down their vitals and weight and then asked whatever questions I needed to that morning. My mom usually came to take me to the hospital (I was on driving restrictions because of the surgery and medication) and I would sit in their room for 10 hours a day or longer. My sister would visit during her lunch hours and spend time learning how to be an aunt. She worked in the Med Center so it was nice to be with family when they could come. Nick would come towards the end of his work day and we would go home together. My heart would leap at the sight of them every morning and shatter every night as we walked to our car. Nick told me one time my demeanor just changed as we walked further away from the NICU and he was right. Every day I relived leaving them. Every day my heart broke. Every day it was mended again. It was a horrible cycle.

Overall, we were lucky – the boys only spent 15 days in the NICU and both came home on the same day. Compared to the other NICU residents, it was a short period of time. Talk to my heart and it shouldn’t have ever happened. We had a few ups and downs. That’s simply how the NICU is – a constant roller coaster. It’s a roller coaster I never want to be on again. It’s a ride I wish NO one would have to take.

But we are stronger for it. In hindsight, I was able to heal much better from the c-section before the boys came home. And when they came home, I needed to be the best I could be since they were premies and TWINS! I learned, we learned, so much about caring for our babies. I knew quite a bit but it helped Nick be a more confident dad as he learned from the nurses. It helped us learn about being a parental team to our boys.

**The nurses. They turn scared parents into confident ones. They are vital to the growth and strength of the moms and dads that walk in and out of that place. They are the reason we can care for our children and continue to do so well after the NICU.**

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Despite the hindsight, I would like for this experience to be my only one. I’m praying this girl stays in a few weeks longer.

 

But if she doesn’t, we will be okay.

 

We will all be okay.

Rachel

 

 

Moments

Hold them close

Moments. We all have them multiple times a day. We have good ones and bad ones. Many times we miss moments. We don’t miss them intentionally; it’s really the hustle and bustle of life that causes us to just let them pass by.

Personally, I feel like I’m so busy some days that by the end of the day I don’t even know if I actually SAW my children (even though they were around me all day). Other days, I’m just trying to survive this moment or that moment. Do you ever feel like that? Maybe it’s not with your children but with work or your spouse? When I was teaching, there were definitely days I just trying to survive. It’s honestly DRAINING to stay in survival mode. I absolutely can’t stand those days because I usually feel more exhausted than if I had one full of activities. I don’t want to just survive life, I want to LIVE it. Don’t you? But how do you live every single day IN THE MOMENT? Is it possible? We could all learn to take a step back and “smell the roses” sometimes. It’s so insane how fast time flies, yet, we tend to let a lot of life pass us by. Sounds sad but it’s the truth.

For me, I do wish I was better at living in the moment. There are times I put my phone away or I’m not checking it as much but I could always do better in that department. We probably all could. It’s so easy to drown yourself in mindless searching or reading articles. Then there are times I turn the TV off – I like it for background sound but it tends to even eat up the moments with all the sound, too. Plus, the twins are paying more and more attention to it these days so it’s a good habit to scale back.

The moments I really love watching are the ones where my boys are playing. Now I do mean all 3 of my boys but watching the twins play is becoming more fun too! They are really trying to talk and they crack me up! And of course, they are becoming more fearless – see evidence in the above left picture. They REALLY LIKE READING and lately I’ve been catching them sitting together with a book “reading”. It’s so cute! They also really love telling Dakota she’s a “good gurl” – haha! Oh and they are masters at saying “NO” or “NO WAY!”. But either way, they do keep Nick and I on our toes. We couldn’t have more of a stubborn pair of children but we knew it was going to happen. My guess is that this little girl might be surpassing them all! Stay tuned. 😊 Lately, the boys, specifically David, really hates wearing clothes. It’s either shorts or a shirt or nothing. Tonight, he went to bed in his diaper. I just usually pray I don’t wake up to pee and poop everywhere because they do like to take their diapers off.

Something I really enjoy are those fleeting moments, the ones you miss once you blink but if you catch them they are ingrained in your mind forever. I had one with Andrew today… It was so sweet. I broke down and gave the boys bottles this morning…. A Monday after a week of being sick is pretty slow going… They were drinking them while watching some Fixer Upper (it’s educational, right?) until Andrew just couldn’t calm down. I really don’t know what was going on. He had a BIG quiver lip and I just scooped him up and cradled him in my arms like I use to when he was much smaller. With the boys wanting to be more independent, holding him like that doesn’t really happen anymore. I barely get snuggles! 😭

He and I had a moment. I SAW him. He looked so much older but somehow I still saw my little fussy reflux baby. Maybe it’s the hormones or the impending new arrival of the girl but I miss them. I miss my babies. It’s incredible how much you forget along the way (and we’ve only just begun) but in a second you’re taken back to a moment. It sends a jolt in your body and you’ve time traveled to that memory.

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This picture is one of my favorites. I’m so happy I was obsessively taking pictures in the beginning because a lot of it is hard to remember between the reflux, feedings, and sleep deprivation. Nick was probably at RCIA working on becoming a Catholic so I had the evening with the boys. When they were much younger they both wanted to be near me ALL THE TIME. Makes sense, they were new to the world (the world is scary!). They needed mommy. (Oh how I miss those moments, too). They were also small enough I could have one on a boppy and another in my arms. In this picture, I got David to fall asleep on the boppy pillow and Andrew was in my arms. I’m sure at one point it was the opposite and I somehow creatively switched them without moving but I’m glad I captured this moment.

1. Because Andrew hardly took a pacifier outside of the first few months of life. Quite honestly, I don’t remember it much even then.

2. Because I need to remember I am a rock star. I definitely didn’t give myself enough credit at that time and I am not sure I do now. But I need to. I deserve it. I don’t mean for it to sound like I’m tooting my own horn here but I did a lot of things I didn’t know I was capable of including growing them in my body.

But how I miss holding them both so close to me. ❤️️ I probably needed to pee really bad and I was far from exhausted but they were so sweet to hold like this. I need to remember missing that when they are clawing or pushing at my leg or grabbing at my food. Or just when I don’t think I want to be touched one.more.time that day.

I imagine all parents have these moments. As a fairly new mother of young kids and I feel like we are in the trenches most days but I’m sure my parents have had these moments. I’ll never forget something my dad told me after I graduated from college. He said “Life only goes faster after this.” And boy, was he right. (Don’t let him know that though. 😉 ). I blinked and it’s been almost 11 years since high school graduation, 7 from college and 5 since our wedding day. Where has the time gone? What’s happened since you blinked? I bet a lot! Have you made the most of it? I’m not sure I have.

So I’m working on embracing my moments with my boys, even the bittersweet ones, because soon enough we will all have new ones with the little girl. I hate change, even good ones. However, I do learn to embrace the change, eventually. 😉 This transition seems like it will be hard for me but I am comforted to know she belongs with us. She is needed here for my heart to feel whole. I can’t slow down time or redo yesterday but TODAY I can do something about.

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Here’s to the moments,

Rachel

“Sisters, sisters….

…..nothing can come between sisters”

I am the oldest of 4 kids in our family. I have one sister, who is 16 months younger than me and then 2 younger brothers (4 years and 8 years younger respectively). I always wanted an older brother but that’s just not how life worked for me. Instead my parents brought home this sister. 

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One of my favorites of us

My boys are about to have a sister in about 4 months (I still can’t believe it) and there is just something about having a sister that is the most frustrating, at times, explosive, and most wonderful experience I have had in my life. I hope the boys feel the same with maybe a little less explosiveness but let’s be real, she will have TWO older TWIN brothers almost just like her daddy. I couldn’t be more excited her and nervous for them. Ha ha!

The explosiveness. When I think about growing up with my sister, I think about her stealing my clothes and being a BRAT. Seriously. I would have to label my clothes to get her to stop taking them. I would get so mad. And she still took them. 😦 Why did it matter so much? Well, I’m sure it’s all about territorial things when you are growing up, right? I wasn’t the only one dealing with this I am sure. I’m also sure I was a brat too but this is my version of the story, right? 😉 Then when things really got crazy between us, my dad would sing us the song from White Christmas Sisters (Check it out here if you don’t know the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trD3Kqf-g0w). Man, that would really get our blood boiling! But I guess it would get us to stop for that moment. So parental mission accomplished.

Did I mention she always ALWAYS got away with everything too? I mean life couldn’t get more unfair! Maybe she was just better at lying and hiding what she was REALLY up to – I have no idea but she seemed to NEVER get caught. Me, on the other hand, ALWAYS got caught. I was ALWAYS told I needed to be a good example. Totally UNFAIR. I mean she had younger brothers too!

I don’t think there could be two people living in the same house that were SO OPPOSITE from one another. She was into architecture and modern looks. I am more into history and traditional looks – we still are today. I mean, when it came to almost anything, we had a different outlook on everything. I’m sure our parents were so exhausted from dealing with us by the time my brothers came along – I don’t blame them. They’re probably still recovering. 😉 

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She still makes this face now.

Anyway, as we got older and I mean, out of college, things were better between us – not great but better. I guess the whole growing up thing really helps. Plus, I was living in Dallas and she was finishing up her Masters with Texas Tech while living at home. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? 🙂 She was very helpful when it came to planning our wedding festivities and she was so supportive! To be honest, I was a little surprised, at the time, at how she listened to what I wanted and she was there for everything. It was really neat and memories I’ll keep forever.

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At one of my bridal showers

But really our relationship took the next level of understanding was when I was finally pregnant with the boys. I say finally because that wasn’t an easy process (we will get to that later in this blogging journey). In the weeks leading up to the boys being born, she changed. She grew up. My little sister literally grew before my eyes. I don’t know if that really happened and maybe I was the one who really changed but I saw HER for the first time. I understood her for the first time. We were really friends for the first time in our lives. The sister thing clicked with us and it was magical. 

In the photo to the right, I was doing my usual thing laying on the couch (I was so incredibly pregnant and miserable) and she wanted to take a picture of her with her nephews – so sweet. I had no idea that when the boys were born, next to my husband, she would be the rock in all of our lives. 

The boys were born at 34 weeks and lived in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) for 15 days at Memorial Hermann Medical Center (again, another part of the story that we will definitely talk about later on). While we were there, I’m pretty sure she came every day – the days run together when you are in the NICU so I have a hard time remembering exactly. Lucky for us, she worked in the Houston Medical Center so visiting was easy for her and it was helpful for me to have another adult there just to get my mind off the babies (well, as best as anyone could) and pumping and all the healing that needs to happen after a c-section.

These pictures were taken early on in our stay at the hospital. Some of these memories make me laugh because she was SO AWKWARD holding them and trying to feed them. Now, to be fair, the boys were very tiny so everyone had to learn how to hold them a little differently. So not only had I watched my sister grow up, I was watching her become an aunt and hopefully one day training her to be a mommy. It was beyond the neatest experience and I know when this little girl comes, she will have a better handle on her (I hope). I hope we all will. 🙂

We came home from the hospital and my sister, with the help of my family, had cleaned and rearranged everything to help us transition better. In the days after the hospital, she continued her aunt journey with us. She lives in the Heights so it’s not exactly around the corner. But whenever she made it to Sugar Land, she would stop by. This was the best time because I got a break and the boys learned who she was and to this day, she almost makes weekly trips to see us. 

In January 2016, she became the godmother to Andrew when the boys were baptized. In March, she treated Nick and I to the rodeo for my birthday – a much needed night out. By April, she was on our first flight with the boys to Ohio to see family! I mean, pretty much when we need her to be there for us – she is and usually without a complaint (except for missing some sleep 😉 ).

When she transitioned jobs over the summer of 2016, she spent the time off she had with her nephews (me too, but let’s just be honest about who she really wanted to see). We went to the Houston Zoo and the Fort Bend Discovery Center and we probably did others things I can’t remember. It was so fun and I loved the fact she wanted to spend time with us when she could have done a million other things. Her aunt-y heart is so big – I know she will have room for more. 🙂

On July 11, 1989, my sister, Rene Louise Hoelker was born and I had no idea how she would rock my world but I’m glad she did. I didn’t know that when my parents brought home this little sister of mine that we would grow to have this special relationship. I truly believe all those fights (yes, even some physical ones) and all the misunderstandings brought us to this point of friendship. This sisterly friendship is one that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

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Rene’s Graduation from St. Agnes Academy May 2007

“Lord help the mister that come between me and my sister
And Lord help the sister that come between me and my man”  — Sisters, Bette Midler

Here’s to everything in between,

Rachel