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breastfeeding twins: our journey

 

Warning: this post will most definitely be extremely long and quite possibly very jumbled.  I know most of you probably don’t care about all the details of my breastfeeding journey, but my experience is very close to my heart and I want to record it for myself as much as anything.

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I’ve been wanting to share about my breastfeeding experience for several months, but it’s such a loaded topic for me that every time I sit down to write I just feel overwhelmed and end up putting it off.  Breastfeeding the twins really has been an experience that has required so much of my mind and body, and while the physical aspect has been very difficult at times, the mental part of it has been the most challenging.

When I was pregnant I knew I wanted to breastfeed, and I felt really determined about it.  Hearing so many stories of how difficult it can be, I would have told you that I was open to the fact that it might not work for me, but when it came down to it I would have done literally anything to make it work.

Since Linc and Viv were almost 7 weeks early, when they were born I only got a quick glimpse of them before they were taken away to the NICU.  I had known for a few weeks that my dreams of skin to skin time and of nursing them right away were not going to happen, and while I mourned the loss of that dream, the babies being healthy was of course my biggest concern.  In the final weeks before bedrest, Jon and I took a class on breastfeeding and I read parts of a book or two, so I felt fairly confident about the basics (how to get baby to latch etc.).  I really wasn’t that worried about it.  What I didn’t research at all was how to have success nursing babies who were in the NICU.

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In the moments after they were born, I was taken back to my room and within minutes, the hospital’s lactation consultant was at my bedside with a pump and a schedule.  By the time she left I felt like I had a pretty good grip on how to work the pump and somewhat of an idea on how often/when to do it etc.  But I was so distracted by wanting to see my babies, that I didn’t really put a ton of thought into it.

In the hours and days following their birth I clung to pumping as a way to do something for my babies.  I could hold them for brief periods of time, change their diapers, feed them a bottle and sit beside their bed day and night, but otherwise the feeding tube and the nurses took care of their needs. Not only did pumping give me something I could do for them, but it gave me something to do.  Having babies in the NICU was the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.  It just felt so wrong that they had to be down the hall from me (I was able to stay in the hospital for all but a few days of their NICU stay).  That I couldn’t run and pick them up and cuddle them anytime I wanted.  So, pumping was something I could focus on.  It kept me busy and on a schedule, which I think I needed.

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It took about 4 days for my milk to come in, and that was one of the best days.  I’ll never forget how it felt to see that white milk collecting in the bag, and even though it was probably less than an ounce, I felt on top of the world.  But within a few days after that, I began to worry that I just wasn’t producing enough.  The babies were being given formula and my breastmilk was being used as a supplement.  Although, the NICU was adamant that the formula was a necessary part of keeping them growing and it would have been a battle to have eliminated it anyway.  But I knew the twins would be coming home soon, and I was determined to be able to produce enough milk to exclusively nurse them.

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On the second day that we were in the NICU, a nurse named Winter who I will never forget, asked me if I wanted to try nursing them. Until that point, I was inexperienced enough that I didn’t think I was allowed to try and nurse them, and I had never realized I could ask to do it.  So, when Winter suggested I try I was elated.  I’ll never forget her or the first moment I ever got to try and nurse my babies.  I remember looking at Jon with the biggest smile plastered on my face.  I was speechless and so full of joy.  I had never felt anything so magical.

In the beginning, I was allowed to try and nurse them for a couple of feedings each day, but most of the time we’d end up finishing with a bottle or the feeding tube.  As the days went by and the babies got stronger, I was able to try and nurse them more and more.  They were so tiny and still not super strong, so it was very slow going.  Linc was a bit stronger and did a little better than Viv, but it was a rare feeding that I didn’t have to supplement.  But it didn’t really matter to me.  All I cared about was that we were trying.  And we were making progress….slowly but surely.

17 days after Linc and Viv came into our lives, we got to take them home.  It was one of the best days of our lives.  The following weeks found me still pumping like a mad woman.  Starting in our second week in the NICU and continuing once we came home, I was on a crazy rigorous pumping schedule to try and get my supply up.  I was pumping about every 2.5 hours throughout the day and night.  In addition, I was doing a cluster pumping for three hours in the morning and then again in the evening.  It was insane trying to stick to the pumping schedule and also trying to keep nursing the twins for at least part of every feeding.  Add in diaper changes and washing pump parts, and I literally had no existence outside of it all.  But I was so determined, and it was so worth it to me.

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The babies both steadily got better at nursing, but Vivian was just so small; so for a long time I would nurse them both, then pump, then feed Vivi a bottle.  I was nursing them one at a time at this point and they each would take about 45 minutes, so by the time I got done with the whole process it would be almost time to start it all over again.  It really did take a toll on me physically and mentally.  Just the lack of sleep alone was so difficult.  With the babies being preemies, it wasn’t until they were 4 months old that our doctor allowed us to let them sleep at night without waking up to eat.  I honestly don’t know how I lasted 4 months getting up around the clock, but I did it.

Finally, after weeks of this routine, I decided I just had to start feeding them together.  Vivian was getting stronger all the time, and while they were still taking 45 minutes to eat I was having to give her a bottle less and less often.  So, I set out one day to figure out how to feed them at the same time using my twin nursing pillow, and it literally revolutionized my day.  Instead of taking an hour and a half to feed them individually, it took me 45 minutes total.  And while I really missed that one-on-one time, there was no arguing that it was better for everyone for me to feed them together.

But the struggles didn’t end there.  From day one we were concerned about the babies weight gain.  It was painfully slow, and I was constantly worried about my supply.  We ended up getting our own scale,  and we would literally weigh them every single night to see whether or not they had gained (dumbest idea ever – I do NOT recommend this!).  While I enjoyed the process of nursing my babies very much, the stress of whether they were getting enough and whether they were growing quickly enough had me in an almost constant anxious state.  I would wake up worrying about it and go to bed worrying about it.

At our 2 month appointment, our pediatrician at the time told us that we needed to start supplementing because he really wanted to see them catching up to the average growth curve already.  And even though I was scared about whether or not they were growing quickly enough, I just wasn’t ready to give up.  I truly felt that if I started supplementing I would never regain the ability to nurse them exclusively.  I felt that breast milk was the best nourishment for them, but mostly I was enamored with the act of nursing them.  I didn’t want to lose that after having fought so hard to get to the place we were.  So, we got a second opinion.  Our next pediatrician seemed more supportive and understanding of my breastfeeding goals, and she didn’t think it was necessary to supplement yet.  I was so relieved and I left that appointment feeling on top of the world.  From that point on, every check-up went well.  Even though the twins weren’t catching up to the average curve yet, they were maintaining their own curve, which our pediatrician was satisfied with.  But despite her giving us her encouragement and approval, I still worried day and night.

Another major struggle we encountered was a case of thrush.  The lactation consultant and our pediatrician were never absolutely certain that we had it, but my symptoms pointed that way so they treated us for it regardless.  I was in so much pain every time I nursed for about 2 weeks.  Jon would have to sit beside me and let me squeeze his hand while the babies latched; the first few minutes were excruciating.  The lactation consultant had told me that the babies both had high arched palates, so I honestly didn’t think there was anything that could be done about the pain.  Finally, one day I admitted to myself that the pain was bad enough that I might have to stop nursing completely if something couldn’t be done.  It hurt during feedings, before feedings, after feedings….pretty much 24/7 I was in pain.  So I made another appt. with my lactation consultant.  Upon her recommendation, we treated both the babies for thrush, boiled everything that touched me or their mouths after every feeding for days, I took an antibiotic, and I also used a cream after every feeding.  The thrush (if it was ever there) cleared up within a few days, but to this day I still use the cream after every single feeding.  If I don’t, the pain comes back; it really is an absolute miracle cream.  After that appointment I also started doing everything imaginable for my supply.  I began drinking 4 cups of Mother’s Milk tea each day, taking 12 fenugreek capsules a day, took a liquid tincture called Mother Love More Milk Special Blend 4 times a day, and ate oatmeal every morning.  I did this for about 2 months, and just last week I quit it all cold turkey.  I wanted to see if it really was even helping anymore or if my body had just become immune to it.  So far I don’t think I really see a drop, but I’m watching it closely.  The only thing I’m doing now in addition to nursing is pumping after their morning feeding and hand expressing after every other feeding. I’ve found that hand expressing is the best way for me to get any extra milk at all.

I know without at doubt that the way we feed our babies is not the most important part of being a mom.  Even though science now says breast milk is technically best, breastfeeding is not necessarily the best route for every family.  There are so many other factors involved that are different to every mom and every baby.  Even though I don’t have any judgment or negative feelings toward moms who don’t breastfeed (I was a formula fed baby!), I personally was so attached to the idea of nursing the babies exclusively that I could barely see straight.  Any night that they had a loss I would get so upset and become so stressed out at the thought of having to start supplementing.  Part of my stress stemmed from the fact that I really believe breast milk is best form them, part of it was from how much money I knew formula would cost for both babies, but most of it was just the loss of something that I held so dear.

 

 

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Looking back over the last 8 months, I can see how in some ways nursing made life a lot harder.  For 8 months, I’ve rarely been able to go more than 3 hours without nursing or pumping, which means I can never get a break or get away.  I barely make enough milk for both babies, and I’m not able to pump any extra, so the small freezer stash that carried over from pumping in the NICU (replaced by new pumped milk when that milk was bottle fed) is just enough to be away for one feeding here and there.  For months I was sleep deprived beyond belief because I was the only one who could feed them (or I would have had to get up and pump anyway).

But I wouldn’t change anything.  Aside from the occasional concern about weight gain, nursing has gotten so easy.  The twins empty me in about 7 minutes flat now and those minutes are the best of my day.  I LOVE nursing.  I have given my body and my life to it since June 19th, and I would do it over again in a heartbeat.  I plan to nurse the twins until they are a year old, and I’m definitely considering continuing at least for awhile beyond that.  I do regret becoming so fixated on their weight gain.  If I could do it again, I would NOT have weighed them every night, and I would have just taken my doctor’s word for it when she said they were doing fine.  And while I have spent hours praying about the twins growth and eating, I would have tried a lot harder to really give my concerns to God and trust him and his plan for us.

If we are blessed with another baby, I will definitely plan to nurse again.  And I hope that I’ll be able to carry our next baby to full-term and have those precious first minutes nursing him/her in the delivery room.  And I hope that will make the rest of our nursing journey much easier than it has been with preemie twins.  In the same way that my delivery was not the delivery I had dreamed of, neither has our breastfeeding journey been.  But we’ve toughed it out, and it has made us stronger.  And even though our story is not what I envisioned it to be, it is our story.  I am so proud of myself for being committed and for sticking with it through the hard times.  I’m thankful that things are easier now, and I’m so grateful that I still get to spend time nursing my babies every day.  I don’t take one second of it for granted.

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a perfect pair

sooooo, i was just browsing through some old posts when I realized that I wrote about the twins’ first halloween, but i never posted it.  how does that happen??  anyway, so this is extremely random, but i’m posting it anyway….

halloween was the most fun this year that it has been since we were little kids all dressed up and on a sugar high. the twins of course had absolutely no idea what was going on, but they were such good sports anyway!  we debated and debated what they should be, but in the end we went with simple, somewhat homemade, and super cute.  get ready for photo overload.

i had a little mini photoshoot in the morning because linc and viv were wearing the halloween outfits their gramma and papa mccoy got them.  i’m telling ya – getting good photos of two babies this age is not easy!

but first we woke up in our halloween pajamas from aunt karen and grammy.

sissy is in a phase (or not) where her hands are constantly in her mouth.  and i really mean constantly.

then of course we changed into costumes later that night.

grandma mary stopped by and joined in the fun:)

even thought they didn’t get any candy this year, i think they still enjoyed their first halloween.  until the end, that is.  vivi might have hit her breaking point with the photoshoot by the end of the night.

during our college years, jon and i always dressed up as inanimate objects – a fork and spoon, iPods, and lamps.  wonder how many years we’ll be able to carry on the tradition through the babies before they start wanting to be action figures and princesses?

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over the weekend

How do the weekends go by so fast?!  This morning as I was getting Viv ready to go down for her nap I couldn’t help but think how it seems as if I was just finished putting her down yesterday.  Same thing at night when I’m rocking them.  It never seems like another 24 hours really could have gone by.

Albeit fast, this weekend was also pretty epic in the McCoy household.  Jon and I each went out with friends on Saturday, the twins turned seven months old and tried solids for the first time, I started and finished a really great book, and Jon worked about a hundred hours.

We started out thinking that the husband was going to be heading out of town on a camping trip on Saturday, and my best friend was going to be hanging out with the twins and I.  But unfortunately some things blew up for Jon at work and aside from a quick lunch with the guys he was relegated to the house to work.

Which means instead of hanging at the house, this mama went out!  Let’s just say it was only the 2nd time I’ve worn a non-nursing bra since the twins were born.  I take the twins with me and do lots of lunches with friends, but it’s just so hard to peel myself away from the husband and babies on a weekend.  He and I both need to make it happen more often though because what is life without a little Saturday night fun with friends?

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After a late night out, Sunday morning came so early.  We opted out of going to church.  With the twins getting older, bigger and louder we have come to a bit of an impasse.  With flu season so bad this year (and sickness in general) we’re not ready to take the twins to the nursery yet.  They have yet to be sick, and I’d like to keep it that way, especially since they haven’t had a flu shot, and they’re still so tiny.  So, we’ve been taking them with us to our Sunday school class, which has been very hit or miss.  Many times I have to leave with one of them, but this past week they both did great!  However, I overheard a comment made about someone being distracted by Linc, and while I don’t really feel like it was merited (he had barely made a peep!), I just feel so paranoid now.  There are obviously other options, like one of us staying home with them and the other going…and we might resort to that.  But I’d really like for our family to be together on Sunday mornings.

ANYWAY.  Sorry to get off on that tangent, but the point is that we didn’t go to church because we still don’t know what to do.  With our extra time home the husband made the most delicious chocolate chip scones out of Vegan with a Vengeance, and we decided to let the twins get their first taste of some real food!

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I’d call the overall experience a successful failure.  Successful in that no one choked and at least they didn’t just spit it straight out.  Failure in that I’m not sure any food actually made it to their tummies.  I knew it might be slow going, so we’ll just keep trying!

With V and L having so many milestones this weekend, our camera got a LOT of action.

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Happy Monday – we hope you had a really great weekend!

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the story of lincoln and vivian’s arrival. part IV.

Part I
Part II
Part III

On June 19th, 2012, 10 days after checking into the hospital, I woke early after a long night of contractions, interruptions from the nurses and treatments to stop my labor.  I was in pain.  My doctor came in to do his routine morning check and I welcomed him, eagerly anticipating some kind of answers.  I’m still not really sure what I wanted him to say, but whatever it was – he didn’t say it.  “Well, we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing” he responded casually as he patted me and turned to go.  I knew he couldn’t give me answers because there were no definitive questions even, but it was still hard to see him come and go with no new news.

Soon after, around 8am when the nurse came in for her morning rounds, I told her that I was having contraction pains.  She checked the computer to see what the contraction monitor was picking up, but didn’t see much action going on.  This made me feel like maybe my pains weren’t really contractions.

As soon as she left my room, the husband came over and sat with me, letting me squeeze his hand through the pain and trying to soothe me. I recalled something I had heard once about submitting to the pain, and so I tried to embrace it.  Feeling the wave come over me…slowly tightening over my midsection. Within minutes I was hurting badly enough that he insisted I call the nurse back in.  After trying to convey to her again that I was really hurting pretty badly, she said she was going to call the doctor and see what he wanted her to do.  Around 9:30 am, after what felt like hours but was really only minutes, she came back saying that he wanted to have my cervix checked to see if I had progressed at all.  I vividly remember looking her in the eye and telling her that I thought I might die if she checked my cervix.  I was already in so much pain I honestly couldn’t imagine adding another check.  But there was no option.  She brought in another nurse and after checking me she declared that my cervix was basically gone and all she could feel was the baby.  I started to freak out..I think it was just the overwhelming emotion of thinking our babies were about to be here, the fear of whether they would be okay or not.  It was just so much, and it felt strangely unexpected.  Fortunately…and unfortunately the nurse quickly explained that she wanted to have someone check me again to make sure…so in came nurse #2 who the husband and I often refer to as Cookie but whose real name was actually Pepper.  Pepper didn’t hold anything back, and the pain was almost unbearable.  But she also came up with a much different result…I was still only dilated to a 5 and hadn’t actually changed much since 10 days before.

But after delivering this new piece of information to my doctor, he announced that he wanted to schedule a c-section for 11 a.m.  After much agonizing over the last couple of months, I had finally accepted that despite my desire for a natural birth, a c-section was most likely in my future.  Both of my babies were breech and with the new factor of being premature, a natural delivery just wasn’t in the cards if I wanted my babies to be safe and healthy.

Upon the nurses leaving the room to go get the anesthesiologist to give me an epidural, the husband and I were alone.  And full of both joy and fear.  He rushed to the head of my bed, grabbed my hand and with tears in our eyes he began to pray.  I don’t even remember exactly what he said, but I know our hearts were both asking God for protection and safety for our babies.

He prayed for maybe a minute or two, and the moment he said amen, I felt something burst and water gushed all over me. Shocked, I looked at my husband and exclaimed “my water just broke!” In a panic, he raced out of the room into the hall, shouting “my wife’s water just broke!”

I’ve honestly never seen nurses move so fast.  Suddenly everyone was in overdrive. The nurse wanted to check me one more time to make sure my water really did break…which at the time seemed completely silly.  What else might it have been?? Of course it was my water! As several others rushed in around me and began unhooking my monitors and cords, I shouted random orders at the husband. “Get the paper for the footprints!” “Don’t forget the camera!”  “Make sure the battery is charged!”  He was completely freaked out.  And suddenly time froze.  And I said to him “honey, I need you to be sane right now.”  And he was.  He was so good.

After confirming that my water did indeed break (shocker!) they began wheeling me out the door and down the hall.  Around a corner, through another door and into the operating room.  I was alone now.  They had to get me prepped before Jon could come in.  I was still in so much pain, and when they asked me to roll over onto my side and curl into a ball so they could stick the needle in my back, I truly didn’t know if I could do it.  With lots of help from the nurses, the anesthesiologist began poking around in my back asking me where I was feeling pain from the needle.  On the left side. On the right. In the middle.  What did this guy want to hear?? I wondered.  Finally it was in, and I began to go numb.  Jon was at my side now.  Dr. K came in.  I felt tugging in my stomach.  Jon and I squeezed each other’s hands.

Crying.  The absolute most unreal moment of my life.  My baby boy’s first cries.  I could only catch a glimpse of him, craning my neck to the side as they took him past me to the incubator.  And then another cry.  A different cry.  My baby girl.  Both of them born in the same minute.  10:06 a.m.  My heart exploded with joy.

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My babies were crying, and I’d never felt so much all consuming happiness.  Through the blur of my tears and swollen eyes I strained to see them.  I ached to touch them.  They were only feet away from me, but I couldn’t get to them.  I was seeing them and feeling them through Jon’s eyes and hands.  I was on my back, still being stiched up, and their incubators were behind me.  I twisted my neck as much as I could, desperate for a glimpse of them, as I tried to breathe.  And then suddenly, there was Linc.  Wrapped in a blue striped blanket, Jon held him close to my face, and I touched him.  I felt his face with my fingertips, and I tried to hug him to me as close as I could.  He was finally here, and he was safe.

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And then sweet Viv.  She was lowered down to me in the same way, and I traced her tiny face with my eyes and hands, trying to memorize her delicate features before she was taken away to the NICU.

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Lincoln was absolutely perfect. Vivian was beyond extravagant.  If he seemed small, then she seemed microscopic.  But they were both crying and pink and so beautiful and healthy.  The most surreal moments of my life were when I laid my eyes on them.  And then they were gone.

It was ten minutes from the time my water broke to the moment they were born.  And then within another half hour I was back in my bedrest room.  Quite literally alone.  I felt my belly to see if they were really gone.  Everything had happened so fast.  Finally my mom came in, and then the lactation consultant.  Something about how to pump was said, and as I tried to take in those details all I could think about was getting to my babies.  While the doctor said I could see them in a few hours if I felt up to it, I died a little at the thought of waiting that long.  Thank goodness for kind nurses, who offered to wheel my hospital bed through the NICU so that I could see them before I was taken to my new room.

While every detail of their birth is etched into my mind, the first moments I spent with them in the NICU are kind of fuzzy.  I remember reaching through the porthole to feel their tiny bodies and let their fingers wrap tightly around my mine.  And I remember the weight of my baby girl’s perfect little body as she was laid in my arms.  Her fuzzy hair against my lips as I kissed her sweet head.

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holding Vivian for the 1st time

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   Back in my room the hours seemed endless as we waited for the numbness to subside from my body.  Again my doctor said if I felt up to it I could be wheeled down to see them, and I honestly thought he was crazy.  Literally nothing could have kept me from being with them the first moment possible.  Nothing.

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 And so began life with our miracle babies, Linc and Viv.  I’ve never felt so thankful and blessed.  They are tough little babies, and though our journey through the NICU was the hardest 17 days of my entire life, they were so strong and inspired me so much.

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to be continued…

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the most wonderful time of the year. part II

Christmas has been more fun this year than it has in a long time.  It has gone by way way too fast…but there were so many times where I stopped and tried to seal the moment in my mind forever because it was so special and sweet. Having Viv and Linc in our lives has made everything just a touch sweeter, but when I held each of them in my arms on Christmas morning….seeing them look at gifts, lights, glittery decorations with wide eyes…it was just the best.  More than anything I used the day of our Savior’s birth to focus on everything we have to be thankful for – Jesus himself, and our sweet precious babies he has given us.

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It’s crazy how Christmas is no longer just Christmas Eve and Christmas morning – we’ve had Christmas in Duncan, Christmas in south Texas, and this week we’ll have Christmas in Harrah.  I have to admit, despite how worn out I am from traveling and whatnot, I’m pretty stoked that we get to draw it all out for so long.

Linc and Viv experienced their first flight on Sunday as we headed down for Christmas with Jon’s extended family in south Texas, and they did so great.  I think the pressure during landing bothered Linc a little bit, and I ended up having to feed him right as we landed, but otherwise everything went perfectly. After being picked up at the airport, we went straight to Grandma McCoy’s house.  Jon’s aunts, uncles and cousins were there, all waiting on pins and needles to meet our sweet babies.  My heart soared seeing them surrounded by so much love.

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We stayed with Jon’s Grammy and Aunt Karen that night, and the babies slept like angels.  In the morning the babies opened gifts from Grammy, Aunt Karen, and Jon’s Aunt Bev.  Lincoln just kind of sat back and took everything in, while Vivi really got after the gifts.  She loved tearing the paper, and then attacking the gift and trying to eat it.  It was precious how excited she was!

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The rest of the day brought with it warm, humid weather, and a trip back over to Grandma McCoy’s for more time hanging out.  I worked really hard to keep the babies on their normal routine as much as possible, and it really paid off.  They napped fairly well, and therefore were happy babies when they were awake! Later Christmas Eve night, the adults did our gift exchange and had the traditional Christmas Eve seafood dinner.  And as usual we ended the night with games around the table – a favorite McCoy family tradition.

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Christmas morning, we felt so much joy hearing our babies start “talking” in their bed and getting to pull them over into our bed and cuddle for a little while.  By far our favorite part of the day these days.  After feeding them and getting everybody ready we headed over to Jon’s Aunt Brenda and Uncle Ronny’s.  The McCoy family traditionally gathers there on Christmas morning to start the day off with hugs, lots of hanging out and pancakes.  The family has grown to be rather large over the years, and there is an element of comfort that comes with the chaos of Christmas morning.  After pancakes (which the twins slept through), everybody piled into the living room to open gifts.  This time Linc gave Viv a run for her money and did a little paper ripping of his own:)

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We spent the rest of the day just hanging out – passing the babies around, eating tons of food and even taking a little nap in the afternoon.  What a great first Christmas for the Lincoln and Vivian.  They won’t remember it, but they’ll be able to see in the pictures and videos how much love they were surrounded by.

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