Of Motherhood & Friendship

As most of my friends have kids now, I am surrounded by awesome women doing their best to raise the next generation. From my advantage on the sidelines I know that raising kids is not easy.

This Mother’s Day my friend, C, celebrates her first one, and I want to talk about her becoming a mother, and our friendship. We have been friends for over a decade. She is my rock, my family – essentially the Diana Berry to my Anne Shirley. In the decade plus that we’ve been friends we have grown a lot as people, and our friendship has grown with us. We used to go on late night trips to Port Stanley, and now we go to bed early and marvel over the fact that she’s a mum.

C is not like most people I know. She has this innate goodness that my jaded self has a hard time making sense of. She does not speak poorly about people, and she will always try to meet you where you’re at. She does not expect you to be anyone other than yourself. C is one of the few people I’ve felt comfortable being vulnerable with. She never makes me feel weird about my quirks, and is the only person who can make me eat my veggies.

The last five years have not been easy for either of us. We’ve both had to endure the loss of significant people in our lives. The grief from these losses have changed both of us in different ways, and our friendship has strengthened as a result. I know that I could have not gotten through it without her steady and constant presence.

The last five years haven’t been all crap though. C was there to watch me graduate university, and I was there to watch her get married. With chagrin, I will admit that when C was planning her wedding, and subsequent move to Toronto panicked a bit. In my experience when I, or my friends moved away it meant the end of your friendship, and my friendship with C is woven so tightly into the fabric of my life that I couldn’t fathom how I would be okay without her.

Both the Husband and my Psychiatrist, told me to have more faith and stop being such a drama llama. They were (as they almost always are) right. Our friendship was fine – and it just gained more layers to our experiences. I felt silly for my teenage angst.

A few months after C got married she told me that she and her husband were going to start trying to have a baby. Shortly after telling me that, C came to London for a visit and we got together to watch a film. Sitting there, I got the feeling she might be pregnant. However, I thought nah, it’s too soon. Then C told me she was indeed expecting. There was going to be a baby!

Well.. so I thought. In true C fashion however, she can never do anything halfway and a little while later she let me know she was not just having one baby, but two. Twins is a word that is terrifying to me, but C was overjoyed and had been secretly wishing for twins.

C’s pregnancy was not the easiest, but you would never really know that unless you asked her probing questions. She always errs on the bright side of things, preferring to keep focused on positive rather than any negative that comes into play. She told me on one of our visits that she was having what is called Monochorionic/Diamniotic or “mono di” twins. This is where the babies share the placenta, but have separate amniotic sacs – which means they will be identical twins. She also told me that there could be complications with something called Twin to Twin Transfusion. This is in very basic (and non medical person terms) what happens when the babies share a placenta and one twin gets more nutrients/blood than the other which can cause one twin to thrive and the other to wane.

When I went home after this conversation I was worried and wanted to know more. I started to research TTTS, and felt a little better. Yes, it’s dangerous. Yes, it’s complicated. However, I knew that C was in Toronto, near an excellent hospital and would be receiving the best care she possibly could.  My psychiatrist explained it to me in laymans terms and helped ease any fear that I had.

After doing my research and talking to my doc I hoped I could be a better friend for C during her pregnancy. I hoped that everything would be okay. I knew that if any babies brought into this world would have a chance at a good life, it would be these babies. C already had enough loss in her life, she needed these babies to be okay.

Due to C’s pregnancy being a high risk one, she had a lot of ultrasounds.  I was blessed with an opportunity to attend one and see the babies in all their grainy black and white gloriousness. They were feisty, and attached even in the womb. I was so chuffed for C and her husband, and I could not wait to meet them.

Meeting them happened sooner than was ideal. The babies decided to make their appearance when they were only partially baked. They were born June 17th 2018, weighing less than 2lbs each. When C let me know that the babies came early I was full of mixed emotions. I was happy for her;  but I was mostly terrified. How could they survive? 26 weeks was so early, the ideal for twin pregnancies is 36-37 weeks.

I went to visit C a week after the babies were born. Seeing them in their incubators was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to witness in my life. They were so so tiny, with a legion of machines, wires, and other devices keeping them going. C was obviously tired, and you could see how scared she was. My heart ached for her, and for what I could only imagine was going to be a very difficult journey.

The gravity of the situation really hit home when the doctor was discussing the fear one of the girls may have Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). Now, I did not understand what enterocolitis meant, but necrotizing I was very familiar with. Flesh eating disease has necrotizing in the title and I knew that this was bad. I learned later through my own research that NEC is one of the common causes of death premie babies, it can happen when the “… tissue in the small or large intestine is injured or inflamed. This can lead to death of intestinal tissue and, in some cases, a hole (perforation) in the intestinal wall (link).

Thankfully, the babies did not develop NEC. They did however, develop and have complications of a number of different issues with the over 100 days they were in the NICU. They fought every single day to make it to the next, and there were some really close calls. I cannot fathom the depth of pain C felt during those months, but she never showed it.

She approached every single day with a determination and positivity that they were going to make it to the next. Taking comfort in the small successes like being able to hold them skin to skin, and breast feeding them. She immersed herself in their care and educating herself on what was happening. She was never a passive participant, and always a fierce advocate for those babies. Their survival was just as much because of her, as it was because of the doctors and nurses who cared for the girls.

When the babies moved from Toronto, to London’s NICU I got to see them, rather than just the photos and updates I got from C regularly. It was such a surreal experience to see them in person after last seeing them when they were a week out of the oven and less than 2lbs. They had grown so much. As much as I saw the difference in them, I also saw the difference in C. It made my heart clutch a little to see the difference just a few months made.

Before her babies, C has always had this lightness about her that made her such a joy to be around. She embodied this dichotomy of old soul/new soul; very grounded and realistic – but with none of that old soul weariness. It always made friendship with her interesting. One one hand, C could be seen as a good girl who does only good things. Get to know her a little better and you understand that yes, she is a GOOD person – but a good girl? Nah, she’s was way too vivacious for that. She definitely knows how to have a good time, and not take herself too seriously.

The C that returned from Toronto with her babes though had definitely developed that old soul wariness, and the lightness had dissipated some. She was still this amazing human being I’ve known for over a decade; but she now embodied mama bear fierceness. Definitely battle weary from her time helping the girls in the NICU; but her positive attitude never wavered. There was this strength and determination in her that I had never seen before.

The London NICU was vastly different than the Toronto NICU and there was a major struggle to come to terms with the move, and worry that it would mean the girls would backslide in progress. C advocated for those girls, and fought for them to receive the care they needed to thrive. She never backed down, and no matter how hard it was on her – she never took a step back.

Through it all though, I got to visit and watch the care that went into helping those girls through their daily routines. I learned things, and have a better knowledge of babies than I ever thought I would. One of the harder things being there everyday was seeing the cuteness that was her babes, and not being able to touch them.

The first time C gave me permission to hold the babies my heart just about burst. I felt like I was given this beautiful gift, which I am sure sounds lame. I almost cried, I went home and I DID cry. It was this overwhelming feeling that they’re okay. If I was allowed to hold them – that meant they were okay. That C would be able to bring those babies home and start a “normal” life.

Through miracle of miracles, they both went home in October, 117 day after they were born. A came home two? weeks before E, as she was a little bit ahead of E in her development, and was able to breathe without respiratory support. When they both came home they did so without needing any respiratory support.

Now, almost a year later – you would never know that they were preemies. They’re chubby, healthy babies who are thriving. They’re closing in on 20lbs, and loving life. A is quick to laughter, and gives the biggest smiles. E has a cockeyed smile, and is more serious than her sister – but always ready to have a good belly laugh.

In the time since they’ve been home, I’ve seen C’s wariness lessen and the lightness return. She is still a fierce mama bear, and provides the best care for her babes – continuing to educate herself on the best method of care and keeping her babies healthy. The battle scars linger, and there are struggles. However, seeing her interact with her babies, and encouraging their laughter you can see that vivaciousness return.

Over the last year I feel like the fabric of our friendship has shifted, and taken on a new pattern. We may not be able to watch as many Hallmark Christmas movies as we once did; but our time together is no less enjoyable. Nothing makes my week better than visiting with C and learning about all the new ways her girls have grown. Getting to cuddle the babies, and feed them as they look up at you with their big eyes and sweet faces. Also getting to see what amazing outfits C has put the girls in (C has style, and those girls? Flawlessly dressed always).

It has been so empowering watching my dearest friend on this journey of motherhood and how it seems to be the perfect fit for her. My mental health , as many of you may know if you’ve read any of my other posts is kind of shit and a struggle to manage. Seeing C, and these girls over the past year? It has bolstered me in ways I did not know to be possible, and given me perspective I did not know I needed. I can honestly say that for the vast majority of my life I have been waiting to die, and day dreamed about the grim reaper just extending their hand and taking me away. Now tho? I think I am at a point where I would hesitate to take his hand. Seeing those girls fight so hard has given me pause on wishing so hard for my own shuffle off the mortal coil.

This Mother’s Day I wish all mums the best, and give them props for the struggle that is motherhood. I know it isn’t easy. To my dearest friend C, you are an inspiration and an amazing mum. It has been an absolute joy to be your friend over this past decade. In the words of Kelly Clarkson (because I know how much you love pop music 😉 my life would suck without you. I love you and your babes (and your mum!!!!) so very very much. Keep pushing forward, keep being an awesome mum. I look forward to seeing what the next decade of our friendship looks like.

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