28 May 2013

Are you aware? National Multiple Births Awareness Day

Today is our day to celebrate and share the fun and the freaky when it comes to raising multiples. Of course people are “aware” of multiples…but are they really aware? My personal experience after having hundreds of conversations with people who do not have multiples is that it is safe to say they just really… are not. No offence to them. It is hard for people to understand and make appropriate conclusions when they haven’t lived the life or walked two or three miles in a multiple parent’s shoes.

If you’re a multiples parent, how many times have you heard “It’s no harder than having two single babies”? In my head I may sometimes be yelling, “Bite your tongue! Bite your tongue!” I usually choose the high road. Usually. Depending on the situation and who I am talking to I might paint a picture of the very early days, the NICU stay, the outright crazy fears we lived with daily for weeks at a time, then the awesome NICU graduation days that came and of course all the amazing things that have taken place since. I might be able to sum it up in 15 minutes. Do you have time to spare?

What I do find hard about being a MoM is that sometimes, without knowing it, people tend to diminish or downplay the experience of having twins. It can be like a slap across the face. On the average day do I care if people are aware that I have twins? No. But on those days when I have two little guys freaking out in a grocery store because I had no choice but to bring them along and someone says something completely silly at the most inopportune time or smiles and says “double the trouble”…I wonder what possesses them to say such an unhelpful or quite obvious thing to a mother who is obviously struggling, probably mortified and just wants to get out of there without feeling like a circus show?

This is where other parents of multiples come in. They get it. Definitely. No doubt about it. They know what it’s like to be adamant about nursing two babies at one time. Yup, us multiples moms do try it…some stick with it…others make the decision that best suits their family’s needs. And that’s okay! There is no judgement, just a lot of positive support and advice. Try this. Do that. This worked for me. Did you hear of this new product for twins?

There is a huge level of camaraderie in the multiples world. It amazes me! Mothers and Dads (we need more Dads in on this action) across Canada unite through Multiple Births Canada, local Chapters and other fun, supportive groups with multiples on the mind. They are communicating on Facebook groups, Twitter, networks and email, all in order to create friendships and bonds with other multiples families. We celebrate each other’s triumphs, like NICU graduations or starting JK, making it through those first hard years without going bonkers. We lift each other’s spirits when sometimes life just seems to be too stressful, messy and tiring when it comes to raising multiples and sometimes more. We take photos of awesome double and triple strollers we find in consignment shops and garage sales, uploading them ASAP to our social networks. “Check this out twin moms! Hurry before this awesome stroller is gone.” We stand in grocery store aisles and message our social networks, knowing that at any given moment someone will be there and can look up a recipe for you because you actually forgot your grocery list at home. We send out mass emails to let our MoM friends know where the best deal on diapers is for that week. I had a singleton and I can reflect on that experience and confidently say there just wasn’t the same type of support going on between “singleton” moms (maybe that’s just me.)

So today I thank all the multiples parents I’ve met, who have supported me along the way, had a laugh with me and shared a hug when I needed it. You are an awesome bunch of people to have something in common with and I’m grateful to be part of such an inspiring “club.”

Happy National Multiple Births Awareness Day!

15 May 2013

Cuddle Time: Kangaroo Care and Your Preemie

Today is International Kangaroo Care Awareness Day. Honestly it seems to be each week there is something to bring to the forefront of peoples’ minds when it comes to the world of prematurity and to be quite honest, I think that’s perfectly okay!

Last week I got the amazing opportunity to speak on a local radio station during a radiothon for a local child development centre and I discussed how the parents of preterm infants really end up thinking about all the smallest, finest details of how to parent and care for their small, fragile babies. From the moment they are born we are on alert and want to protect and do anything we can to keep our babies from harm, as well as do anything we can to help them grow and progress in order to go home.

This is where Kangaroo Care comes in. Kangaroo Care is not a new concept, but it has been growing in practice in North American neonatal intensive care units. As the years go by there is more research indicating the close skin-to-skin touch between a mother and baby or father and baby really does wonders for the well-being of the preterm or NICU baby, as well as for the mental health of the parents. When babies are held in kangaroo fashion, which is usually just in a diaper and held snuggly against the parent’s bare chest the babies are found to have more regular breathing (less apnea) and heart beat (less bradycardias) patterns and therefore less desats(low blood oxygen) episodes. It seems that this close contact with the parent stimulates the baby’s body and neurological system, making it seem as though the baby is protected as it would have been had the baby still been in utero.  This is one mom with three preemies’ thought anyway.

I recall the first time I got to “officially” hold my baby as though it was yesterday. It was actually 5 years ago, but I remember the setting, the sounds, the whole surreal feeling I was having in this place we were suddenly calling home; The NICU. In that dimly lit, private room I was finally able to hold my baby and get to know him, while reclining in a chair and holding my baby snug as a kangaroo (a bug?), close to my skin and tucked in for a nap for the first time. He was 5 days old, but finally Mommy and Baby were together as we were meant to be. I ended up snuggling with him for close to an hour that first time. My husband was giddy with excitement to finally get to hold him like this when the next turn came around.

The Kangaroo Care experience was peaceful. When we were sitting like that in the early days, getting to know our baby, that is when we were able to accomplish much of our much needed bonding that had to be put on hold for a few days anyway.

Two years later we were well-versed on the value of Kangaroo Care and you didn’t have to tell me twice that it was time to begin Kangaroo Care with the twins when they were finally healthy enough. I mentioned how great Kangaroo Care is for the mental health, but it is also helps parents release the tension they may be holding in their bodies. I remember walking around feeling tense; this tension in my chest (real or imagined, whatever) and as soon as I was holding each baby closely I could truly feel that tension release.

So if you find yourself in a NICU and questioning the point of doing Kangaroo Care or if you feel shy or embarrassed for whatever reason, I suggest giving it a go anyway. Talk to your baby’s nurse about wanting to do Kangaroo Care and to discuss when the time is right. Then when it's time, pull that curtain closed, have your own comfortable button up shirt (that you’ll wear backward) ready and waiting, which you’ll use to wrap the baby in, rather than a hospital gown. It’s worth a shot and you might be surprised how relieved you feel and you’ll see your baby respond practically immediately.

A couple of special notes to be aware of: Sometimes babies will need additional time to mature and be well enough to take out of the incubator to do Kangaroo Care. Be patient and don’t give up during that waiting process. The opportunity to bond with your baby in this way is not one that should be dismissed. To put it in perspective: I didn't get to hold Preemie 1 until 5 days old, Preemie 2 until 14 days old (hey, today is that anniversary--3 years ago!) and Preemie 3 really had me in a holding pattern, because I didn't get to hold him until he was 24 days old! The waiting periods were worth it! The first time I held each of my babies it was for formal Kangaroo Care.

Nowadays you can buy a snug wrap, which was purposely designed for Kangaroo Care. I didn't have that option at the time and I used a backward hospital gown or my own button up shirts worn backward and they did the trick. Once your baby is tucked in, you can also ask a nurse to tuck a blanket over you and your baby for additional warmth if needed. To avoid "boredom" while doing Kangaroo Care, bring a book to read.