Friday, August 20, 2010

The Preemie Prism

When we parents of twins think of things to panic about, most of the time, the term "panic" is not meant entirely seriously.  "Ack," we say, how are we going to "..." at exactly the same time?  Fill in the blank with "feed two babies," "chase down two toddlers," or "put two kids through college."   In reality, however, behind our surface panic is an inherent self-satisfaction.  "Heh.  We've got twins.  Awesome."

I think the primary source of true panic for parents of twins is premature labor.  The dangers associated with premature birth are real and scary, and there is a great deal of correlation between multiple birth and premature birth.  Some of the twin books I read just assumed that twins would be born prematurely.  (The rate is actually around 50%.)  We were fortunate enough to end up with "late-term" preemies, so their issues have been relatively minor.

After a long day of twin wrangling on Sunday, I wanted something to read for a few minutes before going to sleep.  I pulled out the Washington Post Magazine, and my eyes fell on the article The Preemie Prism by Tracey A. Reeves.  It was not exactly the light reading I was looking for, but it provided a nice perspective that even with 29-week preemies, things can turn out great.  (Although there are no guarantees.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Needful Things

My neighbor is expecting. Granted, she's "only" having a singleton, but we're very glad for her, and admire her wisdom in easing into parenting with just one starter child. Plus it'll be nice to have another baby on the street come October; we may borrow her baby and pretend to have triplets. But, like many inexperienced mothers (including myself), she had little idea what items were necessities, in what quantity, or when to buy. With twins, this conundrum seems more dire, as twinfants come early and you've less time to plan, let alone shop.

So, here is my list of items I've found absolutely useful in the first month, and just prior. Starting with the most helpful reading materials.

Baby Bargains: Ok, so it costs $18 unless you catch it on sale or at a thrift store, but it claims to save you at least $250 or your money back. I did the math, and lo and behold, can account for at least that much in savings based on direct advice from this Bargain series gem. Of note to twinfant parents: most baby hauses will give you a 10% discount. We bought two cribs at Great Beginnings (a Germantown store recommended by Baby Bargains), which qualified us for 10% off anything and everything else we wanted to purchase there, whenever we felt like driving 20 miles for it. We saved at least that much by visiting Great Beginnings, partly because we encountered a 20% discount over a holiday weekend. So that store recommendation alone brought us to $200. We also amassed savings by not buying many items which BB pooh-poohs as needless, even dangerous. BB is also a ratings book, which ranks and grades most popular baby brands. I bought this book early and lived by its due diligence. My only complaint are the cutesy puns and asides which are more useless than a diaper stacker.
Checklist for your New Baby: Now, this one is out of print. I first read it at my local library, and found a used copy at Amazon. They have several. It's concise, direct, and yes, actually provides checklists of items in different categories (furniture, bath time, etc.). Although it's a good workbook, it is out of print, and a bit out of date (last revision 1998); you'll have to make corrections as you read (think "Internet" instead of "Mail Order"), but the shopping lists are still totally relevant.

Now, just about everyone knows what to get for a baby. Clothes, someplace to sleep, blankets, some bottles with formula) and a few toys or books will get you pretty far into the first month.

1. Clothes for baby. We've done well enough with 25 onesies (12 for a singleton), 6 (3) pairs of socks, a few (3) hats, and about 24 (12) receiving blankets. That's all a newborn baby really needs, and it's enough to keep you from doing laundry more than every other day. Don't overbuy -- babies add about half a pound a week, which means most of those adorable outfits you dithered over won't last two months. Hats and socks don't really get dirty, so again, don't overbuy.

2. Clothes for mom: see prior post on Plus-size motherhood. Add nursing bras, night bras, and nursing tops and PJs as appropriate.

3. A place to sleep. Technically any four-sided, sturdy box with a soft-ish (but not too soft) lining will do. People have used dresser drawers, and if you think that will get you in trouble with Social Services, read pg. BLANK of BOOK. More usually a crib, bassinet, moses basket, or co-sleeper is purchased.

4. Bottles and food. Baby needs only milk (yours) or formula for the first six months. Bottles are purely for the convenience of the breastfeeding mother who wants an occasional afternoon off . Formula-fed babies will need formula, and water with which to mix it (or premixed). I use distilled water and organic powdered formula because that's who I am.

5. Toiletries: Soap/shampoo mixture, diaper cream, and skin lotion are necessary, but don't forget that cute little bag of toiletries and medical supplies, which include hairbrushes (probably not needed) and thermometers (definitely needed). Buy more than one nasal aspirator bulb, though you'll get some from the hospital.

6. Diapering goods. Diapers. Diapers. More Diapers. The average newborn gets a new didy about 14 times a day. Seriously. For our boys we go through at least 20 a day. You'll need wipes, too (on average, two per change), and a surface to change the babies on, whether it be a changing table (IKEA has a decent one for about $60) or a spare bed; even a dresser top will do. Whatever you choose, cover it with something waterproof.

Of course, the baby industry will try to convince you-- using long lists of registry items to accompany their scare tactics-- that you need a plethora of items that your grandma did just fine without. However, here are a few admittedly odd items I do not regret buying for pre or post-partum, which improved my quality of life to the point that I'm listing them on a blog.

A. Multi-purpose cloths: One friend told us you can't have enough baby wash cloths, saying "We use them for everything." Others claimed that muslin cloths or flour-sack towels were the indispensable clean-all. We found that a few Gerber cloth diapers (24( serve various purposes, from burp cloths to "pillows" for the diaper changing station, towels to dry their hair after a bath to, well, emergency diapers. They are thicker in the middle making them great pillows for hard surfaces where you change baby, and dirt cheap.

B. A glider/rocker. Mine got me through the last several months of pregnancy, being a plush recliner as well as a rocker. We'll move it to the nursery as soon as I feel comfortable peeling it away from the TV.

C. A Nifty Nabber. Call it a grabber, a nabber, a senior-citizen utility-picker, a trash plucker, this little claw on a stick helped me clean, straighten, and pick up all those things dropped because of pre-natal carpal tunnel syndrome. After the C-section, it continued to be useful. I'd pet the cat with it if she didn't run when I pick it up. Now that I'm wearing at least one baby, it's earned it's value again.

D. Swaddlers. These shaped swaddling cloths are to receiving blankets as pre-folds are to a diaper square. Buy a couple. Use them when baby gets antsy. (There is no reason not to swaddle a baby, provided you don't do it 100% of the time.) Kiddopotamus is one popular line.

E. Medical-grade pump with properly sized flanges. Multiples often come earlier than your milk, and a stay in the NICU no matter how brief means your babe will undoubtedly be fed by bottle at best, intravenously at worst (our twins had both). A medical-grade pump is covered by insurance if medically necessary (such as your babes are in the NICU), and is certainly a needful item if your milk is slow to develop. You can rent these at some hospitals or breastfeeding centers. Most hospitals with a Lactation department can get you a free pump kit (flanges, tubing, etc.), up to a $50 value, but the standard one-size-fits-all flanges will likely need to be replaced with ones sized to you (about $10 for two flanges).

F. Wubba Nubs. These little stuffed animals with orthodontic pacifiers attached at the mouth are a favorite of NICUs such as Johns Hopkins'. Babies as young as a month can hug the stuffed animal, thereby retaining the paci as well. Because every baby wubs their nubba.

G. Lactation Consultant. Line one up. Ours, Pat Shelley from The Breastfeeding Center in DC, has taught me not only tips for breastfeeding preemies, she's taught me how to really swaddle a child, how to bottle feed for maximum enjoyment (of the babe), and how to wear a baby. Her services as a lactation consultant and baby-care expert are invaluable. You can request a meeting at the hospital if you need help, but if you have real issues breastfeeding (many multiples do) you'll need help fast, as the first 8 weeks are crucial.

H. Party Bulbs. Every night is a reason to celebrate in the nursery! At least at our house the twins party all night, requiring frequent feedings and changes. I spent far too much time vainly searching for something beyond a plug-in mini light (to provide ample light for spectre-like adults at 2 am feedings) mild enough to differentiate night and day for the small fry (not a large lamp) without lighting the room like daylight. I liked the Turtle constellation one, until a book pointed out that electrical appliances should not resemble toys. Finally, in desperation, I got the Tyke Light Jr. in blue and green (to go with the color scheme). Despite being fun and functional, they provide little light to change a poopy diaper by; but they did give me an idea. Instead of a night light, we put a blue bulb in a table lamp we already owned. It provides ample light (you can't read by it, but can clearly see everything in the room) without evoking a daylight atmosphere. In fact, it's quite the lovely nighttime lighting scheme.

I. Boppy and a Nursing Pillow. With twins, you really need two. The EZ Nursing pillow we got as a gift holds two kids, but until you are an experienced feeder you'll need somewhere else to stash a kid awaiting his turn: enter the Boppy. You can use the Boppy as a prop for the child (do not leave child unattended), or as a support around the waist of an in-law or other assistant. If you only have one child, get a Boppy and at least two covers. Do not waste money on a Boppy for Newborns or a Newborn Nurser, as they are quickly outgrown, therefore useless.

J. Rubber Sheeting and Disposable Puppy Pads. Arm & Hammer makes disposable changing pads to include in yor diaper bag. They are also invaluable for late-night changes where you may not want to swab down a plastic table or change a terry cover on your diaper station. We had some puppy pads left over from our Teddy's last days, and they proved useful. Also cheaper. Despite being made by the same corporation (A&H), the baby pads are up to $1 EACH. Puppy pads -- essentially the same plastic-backed, lightly scented pad -- are available for as little as 20 cents each, about the cost of a cheap diaper.

Some sources recommend buying "Dry downs," waterproof pads to lay on your lap, changing table, wherever you need proofing. These are essentially rubber sheeting: rubber between two layers of fleecey cotton. You could spend a fortune on these small squares, or take a coupon to JoAnn's Fabrics and buy it by the yard. ($7 per yard x 36 inches wide, with coupon).

K. Color-coding Gear. If you're having identical multiples, good luck. At first they may not resemble each other at all, but as they grow, they'll grow together. Even if as a parent you can always tell them apart in person and close to hand, some parents of identicals say that even they are flummoxed looking back at photos from a distance of years. And no one wants to deal with the sibling issue of who belongs to what or vice versa. So we decided to color-code our gear. We decided on green and yellow for the boys, but yellow is an unfashionable color just now, so realistically it's more green and blue, or green and not-green, or blue and not-blue. We bought hats and socks in those colors and try to stick to what's who's, especially for photo ops. We also bought some color-coding filing stickers to mark items such as Baby Record books, and a four-way pen to mark things green or blue with less fuss. Later I envision identical backpacks in green and yellow, shoelaces, car seat covers.... the possibilities are limited only by our color choice. Even Target pharmacy has a color-coding system for meds, and we've already signed them up.

So, if you're having identical twins or higher-order multiples, don't fret. Just vow to make your life easier through new technology, because tool use has been making humans great for millenia.

Great Fathers of Twins: Paul Cohen

In my attempt to strike a balance between twin fatherhood and work, I am working from home today catching up on reading math publications.  I started out by reading a fascinating article on Paul Cohen, one of the great 20th century mathematicians.  One of his great accomplishments was showing that two of the major open questions of the time could neither be proved nor disproved from the accepted laws of mathematics.

Partway through the article, I ran across this picture:

Those boys look about the same age. They couldn't be...twins, could they? Yep. This later picture makes it clearer that they're identical:

My wife, Christina, could tell that they were identical from the first picture. I don't know whether her powers of twin motherhood also enable her to tell them apart. She also noticed Paul Cohen's wife's name in the caption.

Of all the distractions of working from home, I did not expect this one.