If you have a moment, check out this Associated Press article about the insider attack in which Keith was wounded in Afghanistan. FINALLY, the truth about what happened that night. The only inaccuracy in this article? That Keith declined to be interviewed. On the contrary, Keith actually wanted to speak with the reporter about what went down.
October 8 marked the one-year anniversary of that horrible day when Keith got shot in Afghanistan. One year since we lost two great Americans, U.S. Army captains Josh Lawrence and Drew Russell. One year since our lives changed profoundly.
We didn’t do anything special on Monday. The twins, who were only 3 ½ months old when it happened and are now rambunctious nearly-16-month-olds, were getting over a stomach bug, which Keith had caught from them. So, we just hung out at home together. We spoke to Josh’s wife and Drew’s parents, who have now become like family to us, on the phone. We talked a lot about Drew and Josh, trying for the millionth time not to ask, “Why?” And we took a moment to thank God for letting us have this otherwise ordinary day together.
On July 4, 2011, Keith held each of our sleeping two-week-old boys for what we thought would be the last time for seven months, when he could get home for R&R. Neither of us voiced our underlying fears. It was such a bittersweet time: the overwhelming love and joy that came with being new parents, coupled with the deep sadness and anxiety about having to be separated. I have no idea how Keith held it together when he got on that plane. I have no idea how any service member holds it together when they leave their families. Their strength astounds me.
The next three months were a blur for both of us. We were both sleep-deprived; he from the rigors of deployment and me from taking care of two newborns. It sucked, and it was hard, but it seemed to be going by fairly quickly.
And then October 8 happened, and everything changed. On this very day last year, Keith was lying in a hospital bed in Landstuhl, Germany. I was at my parents’ house in New York with the babies, wanting desperately to see my husband. Then Keith was transferred to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
On October 15, the babies and I traveled to Walter Reed and saw Keith for the first time in over three months. The tiny newborns Keith had left were now smiling, bouncing infants with unique personalities. It was an overwhelming moment: We were full of relief and happiness, but also sadness and anger at what had brought us back together so soon.
Keith spent the next three weeks at Walter Reed. It was a humbling experience for both of us. Keith’s injuries were in no way minor: he’d had several surgeries, was in a great deal of pain, and had a long recovery ahead of him. But he was by far one of the healthiest patients in the hospital. His neighbors were double and triple amputees. I’d help Keith slowly hobble down the hallway with his walker, and they’d zoom by us on their prosthetic limbs, strong and smiling and determined. I met some of their wives, whose incredible optimism and sunny dispositions inspired me. I still feel amazed at having been in the presence of such heroes. They are some of America’s greatest.
We headed back home to Colorado on November 9. We spent the next several months bonding as a family; Keith getting to know his boys again. He had endless doctor appointments and physical therapy sessions. Sometimes he’d talk about what happened, and sometimes he didn’t want to. I’d listen and try to help him work through his feelings. Sometimes he’d do the same for me. When he showed me his blood-spattered wallet, and the sandwich bag containing the babies’ little socks and bib that he was carrying in his left pocket for good luck when the bullet tore through his leg, it really hit me how close we’d come to losing him.
One year later, Keith has come a long way in his healing and acceptance of what happened. Physically, he still does not have all of the nerve function back in his leg, and we don’t yet know if he ever will. It frustrates him that he can’t run as fast as he used to, and that he still can’t do certain exercises. But I think the fact that he holds himself to the same standards of physical fitness as his peers is commendable.
His emotional healing has been a lot harder. He misses Drew and Josh. He still wonders why they were lost and he was not. He still sometimes struggles with survivor’s guilt. But as the saying goes, “Don’t put a question mark where God has put a period.” That’s easier said than done.
What Keith doesn’t realize, but I can say for sure, is this: Every day, Keith honors Drew and Josh’s sacrifice by being the best father, husband, and soldier I know. We’ll never know for sure why he’s been given more time on this Earth, but we sure are not going to waste a single moment of it. We will dedicate ourselves to helping others, and to helping make this world a better place. It is amazing how tragedies like these can give you a much-needed dose of perspective, and a much deeper appreciation for your friends and loved ones.
Help us honor Captain Josh Lawrence and Captain Drew Russell, who made the ultimate sacrifice to help protect us and our great nation, by being the best person you can be.
Ack! It’s been yet another month (OK, more than a month) since I last posted, and so much has happened! Allow me to fill you in:
1. We took yet another trip—already the twins’ third round-trip flight—to New York for the boys’ Baptism. It was something we planned pretty last-minute (as is the case with most things we plan) but it turned out to be a wonderful day! The babies looked adorable, they hardly fussed throughout the church ceremony, and we had a really fun celebratory dinner afterward with family and a few close friends. (The plane rides were another story. Let’s just say they’re only getting to be more difficult as the boys get bigger and more mobile!)
2. My parents came to town for a week to celebrate Matt and Nate’s first Easter with us. We did some fun touristy things—visiting Seven Falls, hiking in Red Rocks Open Space—but it was all of the holiday things we did with the boys that were really special. We took them to meet the Easter Bunny at the mall, and not a tear was shed. We dyed Easter eggs. We had a little egg hunt on Easter morning, which was really just a bunch of plastic eggs strewn around the living room. And, we opened baskets from the Easter Bunny himself. A pretty successful first Easter for the boys, if you ask me.
3. Keith was finally cleared from the Warrior Transition Battalion and returned to his brigade. Now that his work hours have increased, it’s been quite an adjustment for me and the babies. It doesn’t help that Nate has developed a severe case of separation anxiety. Every time I leave the room now to go put Matt down for a nap, or to make the boys’ bottles, or—for Christ’s sake—to use the bathroom, he screams bloody murder. Also, there are many things I just can’t do with the boys myself, such as Gymboree classes (each child must be accompanied by an adult) or grocery shopping. And forget about trying to get any work done.
So, we’ve hired a babysitter to help me out a bit during the week. Her name is Tracy, and she’s a Godsend. Right now she only comes two days a week for five hours a day, but we’ll probably increase her hours once the summer comes. Tracy stays with the boys while I go grocery shopping, get my hair cut, and run any other errands the babies can’t accompany me on. She comes with us to Gymboree, and she entertains the boys while I finish work assignments or send emails. They—and I—love her!
4. The twins sailed through their 9-month birthday and turn 10 months old tomorrow (April 19)! I can’t believe how much they are learning and thriving. Nate finally started crawling, and now he zips around the house and is starting to get into nearly as much trouble as his mischievous brother. Matt climbs everything. He’ll pull himself up onto his alligator clacker toy and push it all around the living room. Both boys are talking up a storm, laughing at everything, and interacting more and more with each other. Matt even learned his first baby sign: He puts his fingertips together when he wants “more.” Matt has four teeth. Nate only has two, but the doctor said he has six more working their way through. And at their last checkup, Nate weighed 19 lbs. 11 oz. and Matt weighed 16 lbs. 11 oz.
5. We found out Keith would not be returning to Afghanistan with his unit. In a way it’s good, because he gets to stay here with us, and it means his unit will be coming home soon. But at the same time, it was a huge disappointment for Keith. He has worked his butt off for the past six months to return to his guys and come home with the team. His physical recovery has been tough, but his emotional recovery has been even tougher. Keith lost two good friends in the attack: Captain Drew Russell and Captain Joshua Lawrence. They were amazing soldiers, and they are heroes. We have thought and talked about Drew and Josh often, and Keith really felt like he needed to return to Afghanistan to honor their memory and their sacrifice. He also wanted to be with all of the guys he had trained and fought with for so many months. Unfortunately, by the time his doctors deemed him healed enough to return to combat, it was too late.
I think it will take a while for Keith to get over the fact that he wasn’t able to return. He feels, in a way, like he failed Drew and Josh and like he let down his team. But I know that is not the case at all. I’ve seen firsthand how hard he has worked—and how hard he continues to work each day—to get back into “fighting form,” both physically and mentally. The fact that he even got cleared to return to combat only six months after receiving such an extensive injury is so impressive to me. I think Drew and Josh would be proud of him. I know I am—and our sons will be, too.
Keith is now looking forward to his unit returning home. I know it will be so good for him to see all of the guys! And I will be thrilled for all of their families, especially their wives. These women held down the fort and took care of the kids for almost an entire year while their husbands were off fighting. They are some of the strongest women I know, and an inspiration to me.
Well, I am now three days shy of 34 weeks pregnant! Seeing as how my OB said, “I’d be very happy if you make it to 36 weeks,” time is quickly winding down! I, on the other hand, am not.
I never realized how much of a workaholic I am until I began to freelance full-time. Now, assignments are like crack to me. I can’t bear to turn down a project—and the money that comes with it. I suppose it’s good to work as much as I can until the twins arrive, after which I’ll definitely take a couple of months “off.” On the other hand, it’s been quite difficult to work so much, AND prepare for twins, AND prepare for a deployment, AND get ready for a mini move back to New York while Keith is away. People can have nervous breakdowns doing just one of those things at a given time. Doing all four at once will turn you into the frenzied mom-to-be that I’ve become.
Not that I am looking for sympathy. Plenty of women have done it before me and come out the other side with smiles on their faces. I am so proud of them—and of myself! At my May 31 appointment, my doctor told me, “There’s no doubt in my mind that your great attitude is the reason you and your babies are doing so well.” Granted, she hasn’t seen me frantically sterilizing baby bottles at 11 PM while crying about looming deadlines and reminding my poor husband that he’s got to sign us up for recycling pick-up before he deploys. But she is right—despite all of the stress, I do feel deliriously happy and excited about what’s to come. After all, I have two baby boys on the way and the best husband ever. What more could a girl ask for?
Well, I suppose I could ask for more dates with said husband before I don’t see him for about 10 months—dates that don’t involve trips to Babies ‘R Us or filling out paperwork to add the babies to our wills. I suppose I could ask for more time to soak up the sun at the community pool and to lunch with pals before my days are consumed with feeding and burping and diaper changing.
But you know what? I’m not too concerned about what I’ve been missing. I’m just focused on what these challenges have unexpectedly added to my life. Last night, for instance, we were going to plop down on the couch and watch the Rockies/Dodgers game. Instead, we had a blast spending way too much time at the store picking out a musical stuffed panda for Keith to take with him to Afghanistan. That way, he can play it for the boys on Skype all the time, and they will begin to associate the toy—and pandas—with Daddy. (I apologize to any of Keith’s comrades who have to listen to this thing.)
And on Sunday, we left the park on a gorgeous, sunny, 85-degree day to go buy a towel rack (yes, a towel rack) to match the boys’ bathroom. But then, while at the store, Keith found a Nerf basketball game for the boys that will thrill him for years to come.
And finally, let’s not forget all of the comedy that being eight months pregnant with twins brings about. I have gained 25 pounds during the pregnancy. Yes, that’s very little weight—but every single one of these pounds is in my stomach. My belly enters a room about five minutes before I do. When I waddle down the sidewalk, I’m like a zoo exhibit—drivers break their necks to get a closer look. I’m pretty sure I’m going to cause an accident soon.
And then there was Sunday evening, following the towel rack-buying excursion. Keith pulled the truck into the left side of the garage, like always. Our Acura was parked in its usual spot on the right side. I opened the passenger-side door to get out of the car, like I always have. Except this time, I got wedged between the open truck door and the Acura. I tried to move away so I could close the door, but quickly realized I was not going anywhere. I was officially stuck—too huge to fit between the cars. Keith burst out laughing, which prompted me to start laughing, and pretty soon we were in tears. I had to get back into the truck to free myself. Now, every time Keith pulls the cars in, he goes as close to the walls of the garage as he can, so his whale of a wife will be able to get out. If you can’t laugh about these things, what can you laugh at?
And finally, another sign that everything’s going to be OK: Yesterday evening while having dinner on our deck, we noticed two identical robins (or were they sparrows?) sitting in our tree, watching us. They stayed there throughout the whole meal.
We imagined they were there to remind us of what all of our hard work and preparation is for—Matthew and Nathaniel, our two precious twin boys. They beat fancy dinners, cocktails, and swimming pools any day!
Ever since our scare a few weeks ago, both of my doctors have been monitoring the twins closely. I now go for a weekly fetal non stress test (NST), which measures the babies’ movements and heart rates for about 20 minutes using three monitors strapped to my belly. The pressure on my abdomen seems to bug Matt and Nate, because they start moving like crazy as soon the monitors are strapped on, thus knocking them all over the place and making the test unnecessarily difficult. But it sure is fun to watch!
I also go for a weekly biophysical profile (BPP), which involves a lengthy ultrasound that measures the babies’ breathing, movement, muscle tone, and heart rate, as well as my amniotic fluid. My latest BPP was on Monday, May 23. I was 32 weeks and 1 day into the pregnancy.
Matt, our little guy, now weighs 3 pounds, 8 ounces! It seems he is more eager to enter the world than his brother. His head is so far down in my pelvis that the ultrasound technician could not get an accurate measurement. She had to call in the perinatologist, who proceeded to manhandle my belly and slowly guide the baby up higher so she could do her thing. (Pregnant women, don’t try this at home—you can rupture your amniotic sac if you don’t do it properly!) We also could not get a good picture of Matt’s face, since he is facing backward.
Nate, our big boy, is tipping the scales at 4 pounds, 3 ounces! He has settled in behind and above his brother, and not quite head down—which means he will definitely be born second. It also means I will almost certainly get a C-section, since Matt won’t be able to make enough room for him to make his entrance. But, we were able to get a 3D scan of his face. The only problem was, he decided to play Peek-A-Boo and hide behind his little hand. I guess he doesn’t want to reveal himself until he makes his grand entrance.
The doctor said that both boys have been growing well and their biophysicals look good. He is not as concerned about Matt’s smaller stomach because it has grown substantially over the past few weeks.
However, Matt’s breathing rate is slightly fast. While the doctor is not too concerned yet, he does want to check it again in two weeks. The appointment will be on June 8. If the breathing rate is still high enough to cause alarm, I will be hospitalized and given steroid injections to stimulate growth of the boys’ lungs … and then the twins will be delivered! If the breathing is slower, they will likely wait another two weeks before delivering the babies.
So, in two weeks’ time, Keith and I may be a mommy and daddy! While that would mean he’ll deploy a bit sooner than we’d hoped, it is overshadowed by the sheer joy and excitement we feel about welcoming our little boys into the world. We are beyond excited to meet them and to become a family … so excited, in fact, that in the two days since the BPP we got the car seats inspected (and learned that Keith installed them like a champ), threw the last few necessities into our hospital bags, and put the final touches on the nursery. Stay tuned for photos!
The past few weeks have been a whirlwind, which began with our first melodramatic pregnancy moments.
In mid April, my OB decided she wanted me to start having bi-weekly fetal fibronectin tests. The test is given to women who are at high risk for preterm labor. (Being pregnant with multiples automatically places me in that category.) It looks for a protein secreted by the cervix as it prepares for labor. If the test comes back negative, you are likely not going into labor in the next two weeks. If it comes back positive, that’s when things get tricky.
My first fetal fibronectin test came back negative. I had my second test on April 27.
Friday, April 29 began as a great day for me. My mom was flying in that night for a long weekend, and Keith and I were planning to go to a Rockies game while we waited for her to arrive. First, Keith had to go in to work for an important pre-deployment meeting with his brigade commander and a few others.
At 9:05 that morning—only five minutes into Keith’s meeting—my OB’s medical assistant called. “I have some news!” she announced. “Your fetal fibronectin test came back positive!” As my heart began to race, she informed me that I needed to get to my perinatologist’s office “as soon as possible” so he could start me on steroid injections. The steroids would help the twins’ lungs to develop in case they had to come early.
I flew into a complete panic. First, I called my mom, hysterical crying. “I can’t give birth this weekend!” I shrieked. “I’m only 28 1/2 weeks along!” Then, I began to think about all of the things I hadn’t yet done. I had not yet packed a single item into the hospital bag, or even purchased the cribs!
I called Keith right away, and he raced out of his meeting. We high-tailed it to the perinatologist’s office in a frenzy. We did not calm down until he walked into the room and we saw his face. “Relax,” he said. “This is likely nothing to worry about.”
He and an ultrasound technician ran a few tests to look for other markers of preterm labor. There were none present. “You’re fine,” he said. “Go home and relax.”
It turns out that a positive fetal fibronectin test result does not mean much. As the perinatologist explained, it could mean the expectant mom has a 30% chance of going into labor in the next two weeks, or a whopping 85% chance. Only the negative result is absolute. (It sure would have been nice for the medical assistant to share that tidbit with us.) Keith and I went home, collected ourselves, and went to the baseball game—business as usual.
The following Monday—May 2—I went back to the perinatologist’s office for my regular growth ultrasound. For the first time, Keith couldn’t get out of work to come with me. Luckily, my mom was still in town! The boys did not perform much for Grandma, but the doctor said they were looking great. Matthew weighed 2 lb. 8 oz., while Nathaniel was a whopping 2 lbs. 14 oz. (The little tubber!) Nate was also now in a breech position.
The doctor was, however, concerned about one thing: Matthew’s stomach was measuring small for his gestational age. To monitor it, he wanted me to return for another growth ultrasound in two weeks. If it still hadn’t caught up, he’d likely start me on the steroids in case the boys needed to come out early so that Matthew could get more nutrition.
Of course, this sent me into another bout of worry and obsession. Despite Mom’s and Keith’s reassurances, I couldn’t resist going home and doing Internet research to read about all of the horrible things a small stomach could indicate. (Lesson to all: Do NOT use the Internet to research symptoms, unless you want to believe you are dying when you really only have a stomach flu).
But my appointment with my regular OB the following week once again eased my fears. She said that many twins have small stomachs, and that they usually beef right up after birth and are fine. She also said that Matt’s body is doing what it’s supposed to be doing, which is directing the nutrients he is getting to all of his vital organs—his heart, lungs, etc.
So, Keith and I have been feeling quite a bit better about things over the past week and a half. But the scares did spur us to action. My hospital bag is now packed, and the nursery is almost finished. I can’t wait to post photos of it! I am now 31 weeks along, and we are ready for anything. Stay tuned for more updates!
As much as I swore I would not become one of “those” pregnant women, I have to fess up—I am in full-on nesting mode. I’ve already washed and put away about 10 loads of baby clothes, blankets, bibs, etc. I’ve gone to Babies ‘R Us on numerous whims because I just had to buy those nursery valances or pacifiers right that minute. I’ve spent days researching pediatricians.
So naturally, during Keith’s leave last week, he could not wait to get me out of the house and into a new environment for some much-needed relaxation time. I believe these little pre-baby trips are commonly referred to as “babymoons.” Seeing as I am banned from flying for the rest of the pregnancy, we decided to drive to the ski resort towns of Breckenridge and Vail. Nevermind the fact that the forecast called for cold and snow in the mountains and 70s and sunny here in Colorado Springs.
We spent the first night in Breckenridge at a wonderful bed and breakfast called the Allaire Timbers Inn. Since April is the low season, we had the entire place to ourselves! The owner, Sue, upgraded our room for free. We walked around town and had a yummy dinner. The next morning, we ate a delicious breakfast while enjoying a gorgeous mountain view.
Then, we moved on to Vail for the next two nights.We arrived at the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort around noon, where we got another free room upgrade after the guy at check-in got an eyeful of my belly. The view from our balcony was postcard-perfect.
Unfortunately, it was snowing quite hard outside. So Keith, bless his heart, signed me up for a prenatal massage at the resort’s spa that afternoon. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, given my rather large frame and the fact that I cannot lay on my belly.
That’s when I found out about the pregnancy massage pillow available at some spas. It’s a large, thick pillow with a cut-out for pregnant bellies that lies on top of the table.
All I can say is, it was divine. I thoroughly enjoyed lying on my stomach for the first time in months. And—though I am unsure whether it was due to the intense back pain I’ve been prone to getting since month six, or to the advanced skills of the masseuse—it was by far the best massage I’ve ever had. Afterward, I felt invigorated, content, and pain-free.
The rest of the trip was unlike any other we’ve had. My Type-A self typically wants to do, do, do when I am in a new place. But even though the next day was gorgeous, what could I really do? Skiing, snow tubing, and ice skating are not exactly the best activities when you’re expecting. With all the snow on the ground, the hiking trails were closed. You can’t soak in a hot tub when you’re pregnant.
So, we just chilled—something I hadn’t allowed myself to do for a long time. We walked around the village, window shopped, ate at delicious restaurants, checked out the Ski Museum. We ordered room service and watched American Idol. We sat on our balcony and watched the skiers coming down the mountain. And, we talked—not about babies or to-do lists or deployments. We talked about movies and books, we reminisced, we discussed places we wanted to visit in the future.
And, I have to say—our babymoon was one of our best trips ever! There’s a lot to be said for spending money just to relax—especially when your lives are about to get a whole lot busier. I’d always thought babymoons were overrated, but not anymore. Now I think they are a splurge that’s totally worth it—as are prenatal massages! I’d highly recommend both!
Did anyone else take a babymoon and/or have a prenatal massage? If so, tell me about it!
According to What to Expect When You’re Expecting, our twins can now hear and respond to noises and music. Experts say it’s good to play music for babies in utero because it helps them to develop their musical sensibilities. So if you want your baby to appreciate Beethoven and Bach when he grows up, play it for him while he’s in your belly.
Well, Keith and I have a different idea of the music we want our twins to love. So yesterday, we bought huge headphones, waited until the boys seemed calm, then placed the headphones up to my belly and hit “play” on Keith’s iPod. Naturally, this is the album we played for the boys:
Cue feel-good, beachy, genius California music! By the second song, Matt and Nate were making their daddy proud. We started feeling light kicks on both sides of my tummy, and before we knew it, there were full-on acrobatics taking place. It’s as if they were saying, “Yeah, Dad, play us more of that!” Keith didn’t even need to put his hand on my belly because we could see the babies flipping around in there. It was amazing!
As the album—one of our all-time favorites—played, Keith and I realized just how kid-friendly Brian Wilson and Beach Boys songs are. And we decided, who needs kids’ music when there are so many catchy, upbeat grown-up albums that little ones can also enjoy? Tonight, we are going to play the boys Brian’s latest masterpiece, Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin. We’re hoping the boys will love it enough that we won’t need to play gag-inducing Barney tunes—or whatever it is the kids listen to these days—on car rides. Instead, we can pop in some Brian when we need them to calm down, and we can all sing along and enjoy it. I also plan to play a lot of Brian Wilson—Keith’s favorite artist—for the twins while he is deployed so that they can feel closer to their daddy.
Parents: Did you play music for your babies while pregnant? And, did they seem to enjoy that same music after they were born?
Musically-inclined friends: Can you recommend any other kid-friendly adult albums we can play for the boys?
On Sunday I hit my official 22-week mark! That means if all goes as planned, the boys will be here in about 15 weeks. Whoa!
It seems my belly is getting larger by the day—but ONLY my belly. My perinatologist joked that I may stand up one morning and tip forward. Due to my clumsiness of late, he may be right!
Here I am at 22 weeks pregnant:
Lately, we’ve been trying to come up with ways to keep Keith connected to the boys while he is deployed. We want to get them used to his face and his voice right away. So yesterday, we went to Hallmark and picked out two recordable storybooks. That way, even though Mommy will be turning the pages, it will be Daddy’s voice reading the stories! Keith took his story selections very seriously, and those who know him well will not be surprised by his pick on the left. Here are the books he chose:
I promised Keith I’d stay out of his way while he records the books so as not to give him performance anxiety! We’d also love to hear your ideas for some other things we can do to give Nate and Matt a piece of Daddy while Keith is away. If anyone has any suggestions, please post them below!