Muslin Sucks and Other Motherhood Realizations

A librarian, a researcher, a Ravenclaw… when I was pregnant, I did all the research. Having avoided all things baby during our fertility troubles, I felt wildly unprepared to take charge of two tiny lives forever. So, for nine months I studied the risks, benefits, and likelihood of vaginal delivery versus cesarean. I read up on schedules, sleep training, and milestones. I watched YouTube videos on diapering and swaddling and taught myself lullabies. I read list after list of must-have baby and twin items and cross-referenced them with online reviews. I did all that I could to prepare myself for all of the emotional/bodily changes and the impact of newborn multiples on my marriage and social life. Now, here I am, the mother of eight month old twins and these are my findings.

Muslin sucks.
I did more research on the things I shouldn’t buy than the things I should, because I’ve always considered the baby industry to be quite predatory. While the wedding industry sells a “perfect day,” the baby industry markets your child’s safety and well-being, heavily implying that if you don’t purchase that $200 sock, they’ll die. So, I was pretty choosey with my purchases and regret very few of them.

My husband was right, the Dock-A-Tot is an over-priced dog bed. Two full-sized high chairs would have been expensive and taken up way too much room. We didn’t need two changing tables or really two of most things. The off-brand double jogging stroller is amazing. The simplest bottles are the best bottles. My preemies did need long-sleeved onesies. The Baby Brezza was worth every penny… and muslin sucks. For years, I have seen women heaping praise on muslin swaddles, muslin blankets, muslin changing pad covers, claiming they’re so soft and that they get softer with every wash. I didn’t even think to research this miracle fabric when building my registry, since it had been sold to me as remnants of the shroud that covered Christ himself. I wish I had, though, because apparently someone over at Muslin Inc. sold his soul to a crossroads demon to convince moms everywhere that this stuff is anything but gauze for bandages.

Y’all, muslin is the worst. Since it’s basically low thread count cotton, after just a few washes, it becomes scratchy and those beautiful and vibrant colors you love noticeably fade. The weakest Velcro, which is found on a lot of baby items, will destroy it and it shrinks and shrivels, in a way that is entirely unique to these overpriced dollar store bath towels. As much research as I did, I never found a “muslin sucks” rant, so here’s mine: muslin sucks.

I sleep and pursue self-care.
When I found out I was having twins, I was prepared to never sleep again. In fact, during those last couple of months, I would often burst into tears over this assumed inevitability, as leg cramps and round ligament pain would wake me during the night. I was even angry at Jake, because he could sleep and I hadn’t slept well since before Covid-19.

When you leave the hospital with multiples, you’re given a schedule with strict instructions to maintain it. So that’s what we did, in part because I left the hospital very sick. Not only was I recovering from major abdominal surgery, I wasn’t even supposed to stand for long stretches of time, due to heart complications. Responding to every noise the girls made wasn’t a possibility. Still, those first few weeks were a blur of feeding babies every two hours, because the actual feeding took an hour or more. As a result, it was time to eat and snuggle, only when it was time to eat and snuggle, not out of heartlessness, but self-preservation. This wasn’t a problem, because our 35-weekers slept so much we actually worried about their hearing. I’d read that it was best to develop healthy sleep habits early by maintaining normal volume and lighting in the home, to help differentiate between day and night. Nothing woke those girls.

For us, this all seemed to work well, because other than the four-month sleep regression, our babies have slept through the night since they were 12 weeks old. Rather than following the wisdom of Google, we followed the cues of our daughters and dropped all of their night feedings a bit earlier than conventional wisdom suggests. First, we nixed the midnight and then the 8:00 feedings. As a result, my plump little ladies eat three times a day and we sleep. Some nights they both fight going down and others they’ll wake up crying. Our response lies somewhere between Cry it Out and the Ferber Method. If they cry in earnest, they get a snuggle and a song and return to their cribs. If they cry for more than a few minutes after, they get the same treatment. This happens maybe once every few weeks and between instances, we all sleep through the night.

I won’t claim that this is all the result of our amazing sleep training skills. I’m sure there’s a good deal of luck involved, since both of our girls have always been healthy and have never had reflux or Colic issues. Some babies just don’t sleep and that doesn’t make anyone a bad parent, but it’s not necessarily the norm to never sleep again, as we’re all told when preparing for children. Even when the girls woke every two hours to eat, Jake and I traded off on taking feedings alone, so the other could sleep longer. It might have been broken up a bit more, but we did sleep. Today, the definition of “sleeping in” has certainly changed with babies who won’t entertain themselves past 8:00, but we are not the exhausted zombies of parenting memes. In fact, I’d say I sleep much more now that I have children, than I did when I worried I’d never have them.

Similarly, Jake and I both find time to use the bathroom alone, shower, shave, and wash our hair. I’m a bodily private person and having children hasn’t changed that. I’m not going to do private things in front of my children, even as infants, if it makes me uncomfortable. After the invasiveness of infertility, I deserve bodily autonomy. My girls rest from 10-12 and from 2-4 during the day, whether they choose to sleep or roll around in their cribs and play with their feet. This is my time for self-care, ranging from exercise to grooming and basic hygiene. Maybe that will change when my twins are more mobile, but considering the number of people who insisted I’d go days between showers now, maybe not. Even during the fourth trimester, which only one person warned me would be an absolute bitch, I found time for basic hygiene every single day.

The fourth trimester was a bitch.
Despite the complications we had getting pregnant, I had a good pregnancy, until the end. Sure, I struggled to breathe with asthma and masking. Sleeping became progressively more difficult and my round ligament pain was fierce at times, but I wasn’t miserable. Though pregnancy hormones might have made me a little more sensitive, it wasn’t over-powering. I found myself a little… confused, because I was pregnant with not one, but two babies and I was actually enjoying it. Jake and I had so much fun planning for a future we had feared we’d never see. I loved feeling my babies kick and seeing them grow. In general, it was just so much easier than I had expected. I felt so fortunate to have side-stepped many of the side effects other women experience… you know, until I almost died.

I was five or six months pregnant the first time I heard the term “fourth trimester,” from my extremely even-tempered sister-in-law. She mentioned that she’d had a surprisingly difficult time post-partum, crying at the slightest provocation. I did some research of my own, but found reports varied widely and decided I’d fight that battle when I came to it. Well, a fight it was and the fear that I might have health issues for the rest of my life did not make things easier. Some days, I went from looking at my twins and feeling so blessed to have two healthy children to hysterically crying because I wasn’t going to get to see them grow up. I broke down every time a cardiologist appointment was coming up, adamant that I wasn’t going. I swung from devastation that I might not be able to have more children to insistence that I wouldn’t even try if I could.

My situation was quite unique, but the fourth trimester kicked my butt, even though I passed all of the post-partum depression tests. Despite all my research, the fourth trimester was probably the instance where I felt the least prepared. After two rounds of pandemic IVF, I finally felt as thought I’d gained a little bit of control of my emotions. Having that stripped away with minimal warning was devastating in itself. I wanted to enjoy those newborn days. I wanted to be happy and grateful, if fatigued, at all times. I was so frustrated with myself for having those negative feelings and potentially tainting such fleeting moments.

I have more sex now than ever.
For as long as I understood the reference, I knew that having children would kill a couple’s sex life. Before my girls were born, sitcoms and the single mom pals from my 20’s had me convinced that Jake and I would never have regular sex again, a particularly disheartening idea after infertility. For all of the awareness of infertility that’s arisen in our society, no one really talks about the havoc it can wreak on a marriage, particularly sexually.

When Jake and I were first trying to conceive, the sex was… regimented. Folks, as attractive as I find my husband, timed intercourse was somewhat unfulfilling. Still, scheduling sex around the blue days on an app was the steamiest scene from a romance novel in comparison to sex after we found out we’d have to pursue IVF. On the off-chance that I could get in the mood, I’d end every session crying, because it couldn’t make a baby. When I was finally pregnant with twins, things got awkward real fast. Sick until 14 weeks, I only had a few more before I became too cumbersome for comfortable intercourse. In fact, Jake deserves a ribbon for finishing the last time we were together before the girls were born, because I laughed the whole time. At 33 weeks with multiples, I was quite large for a land mammal. The angle was all wrong. It kind of hurt. It was just so bad.

I was not this subtle.

Despite my traumatic birth story, I was ready to reconnect just a few weeks after the girls were born. I missed my husband and looked forward to sex without a calendar or tears. It’s a damn shame no one told me that sex after childbirth hurts, but after one painful, failed attempt and a few uncomfortable sessions, things weren’t just good. They were better than ever.

As I mentioned, our girls slept a lot when they came home, even if it was intermittently. So, when I was still on maternity leave, Jake and I had plenty of time to be alone. Even when we were both back at work, the girls were usually asleep by 6:00, leaving potentially hours for someone to initiate sex around dinner, chores, and the 8:00 feeding. Now, our babies sleep from 7:00pm -7:00am and rarely wake up. Since I’m staying home, all of the chores get done while Jake is at work. We have all the time in the world for intimacy and we take it. I won’t go into detail, but contrary to modern wisdom, as the new parents of eight month old twins, my husband and I have more sex than we ever have in our marriage, averaging 4-5 times a week.

I have hobbies and a social life.
As a former librarian, one of my favorite things to do is read… high fantasy, romance, horror, good books, bad books. I’m actually in the process of finishing my blog series reviewing the 26 classics I read during the worst of the pandemic. As much as I wanted a family, I was saddened to think that it might be years before I could read again. If I wouldn’t have time to read, surely crochet, cross stitch, painting, paper crafts, and sewing would all be a distant memory as well. Since we met, Jake has been trying to get me into XBOX and PC gaming, so he would have someone to play with and we might share and bond over another hobby. I wasn’t opposed to the idea, but felt that surely I’d struggle enough to pursue the hobbies I do have, let alone new ones. Well, I was mistaken.

When Jake and I purchased our home in 2018, I found the inoffensive shade of Rental House Beige nauseating and painted every single room. Y’all, painting a 2300 square foot house is time consuming, so I decided to finally train my brain to listen to audiobooks. It was a game changer. I was able to finish two to three times as many books and I could read at rodeos and my nieces’ sporting events. I’ve loved audiobooks ever since and that affection has transitioned well to motherhood. I can listen to a book when I do laundry, clean, run errands, or take the girls for a walk. I can also listen while crafting. For Christmas, I made everyone mugs with my mug press. I used my Cricut to make the girls’ New Year’s Eve and Groundhog Day outfits. I resumed a cross stitch I started at the beginning of Covid. I’m catching up on the photo albums I make every year on Mixbook. Every day, I get an average of four hours of napping babies (or babies babbling and rolling around in their cribs), and several hours of babies who have gone down for the night. During that time, I get to pursue hobbies with a steady stream of stories in the background. I’ve already finished more books this year than I did in all of 2021. Jake even bought me a gaming PC so we could play together, when they girls have gone to bed.

As for maintaining a social life, Jake and I don’t really have any nearby friends with children. His buddies from high school have little ones, but they live in his hometown three hours away, in a neighboring state. Were we not in the midst of a pandemic, I’m sure we’d have strengthened the church connections we’d been cultivating before Covid. As it is, we stopped going to Mass in March of 2020, only returning to have the girls’ baptized. I assumed it would take a few more years before the twins were old enough to broaden our social network, through story and play times. Until then, I supposed it would just be the four of us. Although Jake is blessedly the most extroverted person I’ve met in my life, I still worried that this might be isolating. I needn’t have worried, because Dungeons and Dragons saved the day!

Just before the pandemic hit, I had really hit my stride as a teen librarian. I had almost 20 regulars attending homeschool programs weekly and had just started to see a payoff in my pursuit of a public school crowd. It was 2019 and the latest and greatest thing in teen librarianship was Dungeons and Dragons. Daunted by the steep learning curve, I’d dragged my feet on starting a campaign of my own, but my teens were begging for DnD. I knew my old friend Nikki actually lived a town over and had played with her husband, Percy. As a favor I asked if Percy might DM a game for us in exchange for dinner, so I could learn firsthand and invited my coworker Sarah for the second session. That was in February of 2020 and though there have been breaks for rises in cases, we’re still playing the same campaign. While I feared Jake would find the whole thing too nerdy, he took to it even more than I did. Right before I quit my job, he began DMing his own campaign with Percy, Nikki, and two of my other coworkers, Grady and Dawson. As nice as it will be to develop friends with other parents, it’s wonderful to have friendships that are completely independent of our role as parents, doing an activity that has nothing to do with our children. It’s even better that it’s regularly scheduled.

This isn’t that expensive.
Jake and I had several reasons for waiting until we did to start a family. We hadn’t lived together before we got married and wanted to enjoy some time alone. We dreaded the thought of moving with children and wanted to own our own home before they came along. Jake had left oil and hoped to advance a bit in his new field. More than anything, though, we wanted to be financially secure when we started having kids. For us, that meant reaching a minimum income and paying off specific amounts of debt. After learning we’d have to pay $30,000 to get pregnant, money was an even bigger part of our plans. Would we be able to afford daycare, diapers, and formula, let alone clothes and toys and family outings?

Of all the surprises parenthood has brought us, Jake and I have been most shocked by the fact that this isn’t that expensive. Daycare was ridiculous, because we have so many government regulations on the industry that it’s impossible to find even a rundown center for a reasonable price. Of course, we weren’t actually willing to send our girls to a subpar facility, so with twins, we were paying $1600 a month for childcare in a low cost of living state. That’s more than our mortgage for a 2300 square foot house on over an acre. One of the many reasons I quit my job was the knowledge that one more child would take more than my entire paycheck in daycare alone.

Childcare aside, though, the most we’ve spent on formula for two babies, has been about $20 a week, after the NICU pediatrician confirmed that the Sam’s Club brand was chemically the same as Similac. We buy our diapers in bulk and spend around $100-$150 monthly. Now that the girls are eating solid foods, we likely average another $100 on that, but our formula budget has decreased by about half. Currently, we spend around $300 on these priciest of necessities and for two children that’s… manageable.

When I found out I was pregnant at 21, not knowing I’d miscarry at 11 weeks, I worked part-time at a movie theater. The managers told me that if they’d waited until they were ready to have children, they’d have never had them. That makes sense, in hindsight, considering their financial situations, but the security that Jake and I aspired to was never beyond reach. We just wanted to own a comfortable home without drowning in debt. Still, we feared we wouldn’t be able to afford children, after being told for so long how unimaginably expensive they are. Well, here we are and right now, with two babies under one, it’s not that bad, financially. As they get older, they’ll have more needs and wants and we’ll have to reassess the budget, but right now, it really is okay.

Jake and I have only been parents for eight months. We have no idea what we’re doing most of the time… but that’s alright, because parenting has been wonderful. Even the rough moments haven’t come close to level of misery and negativity society projects on the institution. Our girls are not a physically and emotionally exhausting financial burden wreaking havoc on our personal lives and sex life, They’re a gift and a treasure and even when it does get tough I still feel like the rhetoric surrounding parenthood is inherently wrong. We sleep and shower. The post-partum tears have dried. We have sex all the time. We have good friends and fulfilling hobbies. We’re not drowning in debt. Some of these things will surely change as our babies grow and I’ll update you when they do, but I know one fact that will remain constant: muslin sucks.

Four Reasons I Shouldn’t Breed

So, I’m really not a maternal person. I used to think I was, but then I miscarried and Gail’s daughter, whom I adored, died six months later. Now, babies make me completely paranoid. I don’t even like to hold them, because they might choke on something and die in my care. If I’m invited to a baby shower, I don’t even look at the registry. I just buy glass bottles so your baby doesn’t get brain cancer from the plastic ones. I understand that you’ll probably return it, but whatever. I’m not contributing to the death of your kid and that’s just the same as giving a gift card. I hope that, one day, if I ever give a guy a second date and it eventually leads to marriage, he’ll be confident in my mothering ability and pressure me to breed, because I generally think I’d like to give that another go… when I’m like thirty… two. In the last few years, however, I’ve become convinced that I’m completely incapable of being a mom. It’s not even because I don’t like kids all that much. I’m sure it’s just other people’s kids I don’t like. Rather, I’m focusing on the trivial, background moments in life as a sign of something greater. For example…

I can’t keep a cactus alive.
That is not an exaggeration. I’ve killed several… and some ivy. For years, the weather would warm up and I’d think “Plants! Plants would look great on my patio!” So I’d spend $30 on the prettiest little full sun flowers Lowe’s had to offer and they would look great… for four days. Four days y’all! Inevitably, day five would hit and these pretty pink flowers would start to brown and wilt just slightly. I’d water them more, because the Southern sun was just too severe on the west side of my apartment complex. By day seven, they would be pitifully shriveled and I’d still be someone who worked two jobs and was in graduate school and I’d ultimately just say “Fuck it. It’s just a stupid plant.” A part of me, however, wouldn’t want to give in, so I’d just leave the flowers on the patio. I mean, I spent $30 on them! So, my pretty little patio with its white southern rockers and discount wind chimes was also adorned with dead plants. A year ago, I figured out the solution. I’m upstairs. You can barely see my patio plant life. That means you can’t tell that I just bought some fake flowers from The Dollar Tree and shoved them in some soil. You can’t do this with babies, y’all. You can’t just let them die and pretend they’re still alive and then replace them with dolls. People are going to notice.

dolls
My son and daughter… no really.

I keep my dog alive… because he reminds me.
Okay. So the plants are hopeless, partly because I don’t notice I suck at plants until they’re half dead, partly because of my “it’s just a stupid plant” mentality, and partly because I could kill a fucking redwood. I’m just a really busy person. I don’t have time to keep anything alive unless it’s cute. My dog, however, is five years old with the same energetic spirit he had when he chewed up a pack of pens at 9 months, happily giving me his puppy dog grin with ink all over his mouth. Clearly, I can keep something alive and healthy, right? You see, Jude and I have this little… routine… it’s more like a skit really. I go to wash my hands and he barks and howls at me. It’s fucking adorable. It’s also because I forgot to give him water. In my defense, I’d probably remember if it weren’t for our little play. At this point, I’ve just accepted the fact that if he’s thirsty, he’ll tell me. He free eats as well, meaning I give him a huge bowl of food and he just eats it as he wishes over the next several days. Then he bugs the hell out of me when I have food to remind me that he’s out… or that he’s just spoiled and wants table scraps. It’s an imperfect system. He may even get into my bag looking for food (even if he has some) and chew open a pack of bullets or eat my headphones. Yes, we’d make a great sitcom about an inept dog owner who let her puppy eat a pack of pens… and possibly a bullet. I can’t even imagine that ER visit with a child.

I abused an electronic doll.
The graduating class of 2006 was the first to try out the new Baby Think It Over dolls. The edition before this required the user to jam a key in the doll’s back with enough force that it couldn’t be duct taped until it stopped crying… just like a real baby? I don’t know. I don’t have children. Anyway, the 2006 version required diaper changes and bottles placed to the lips. It sounded like a real baby that eats way too loudly and only breathes periodically. Our school didn’t have a fantastic budget for this program, however, so we got to take it home for just one day, while the neighboring town requires four. It pretty much taught me that babies are absolutely fucking adorable and everyone wants to hold them, so I’ll get tons of attention for having one, too. Fantabulous. The point of the project was not to just stay inside and chill out with no other responsibilities, however. You were supposed to take the baby out and multitask to care for it while old ladies in the grocery stores gave you dirty looks. Since I lived for shock value at 16, Gail and I had a ton of fun with this assignment. Then I got my grade. If you’ve read anything I’ve written, you should know about the time I wept over a 98.5%… like six months ago. When I got my 92% on the baby project, I was upset enough to ask why.  “A low A?!?!?! Why did I get a LOW A?!?!?!” The teacher explained to me that while she’ll excuse one head drop (the baby had a wobbly head you had to hold up), she had to take off points for the second one… and the child abuse. Apparently, not only did I drop this child’s head twice, but in my attempt to quell the baby’s cries in the milk aisle, I tried to burp it too enthusiastically and the computer registered this as if I threw the poor thing up against a wall. While this project taught me that babies are the most fun a 16-year-old girl will ever have and child abuse isn’t that bad, I’m still a paranoid person. I accidentally abused a hypothetical child. What if it wasn’t while burping it? What if I blacked out? Oh, God, what if I have some kind of neurological issue that makes me hit babies?!?!

I killed my water baby.
Come to think of it, that wasn’t, in fact, the first time I abused a tiny pretend person. It could be neurological! Okay, I have to stop joking about that or I’m going to find myself crying uncontrollably in an MRI machine. The first time, I was four years old. Water baby was the most awesome toy on the planet after the umbrella we used to hold while jumping out of trees in an attempt to fly. I had a really unsupervised childhood, which might explain why I had free usage of dangerous kitchen equipment at fucking four. The best thing about Water Baby was that it felt like a real baby when you filled it up with warm water. I, however, couldn’t get the plug out of its back on my own (an admittedly ideal feature) and my mother wouldn’t just refill the baby every time it cooled down. Some mothering instincts she had, huh? So, I decided to take matters into my own hands. Please do not misunderstand this. No part of me was worried that my baby was feeling uncomfortable cold. I was just frustrated, because I wanted my doll warm. Purely selfish reasons. Ask any four-year-old how they make something warm quickly. The answer is obvious. Microwave it. Yes, yes, I did blow up my baby doll. Not only that, but I didn’t even realize until later when I asked my mother what happened to my Water Baby and she explained that it had a hole in it. I wasn’t even concerned. I just wanted a new one. Again, you can’t do this with real children. You don’t just get another one after microwaving the first.

water baby
Just add radiation.

Summary: If my baby can make it out of my hostile blender of a uterus, I may leave it out to die in the elements, forget to feed it, accidentally kick it in the head, and then pop it in the microwave. Anyone need a sitter?