We moved to Ireland to be able to spend more time as a family and travel with our twins.

Kristina’s Birth Story

I realized in my senior year of undergrad that I wanted to be a nurse. So, after graduating with a double major in psychology and liberal arts for the human services, I got a job as a care assistant in a nursing home to gain experience, and I also completed necessary prerequisite courses for nursing school. I had been planning to apply to a post-baccalaureate nursing program at the U of M, but I had a good friend who was living in Boston, and she urged me to move in with her and go to nursing school there instead. It was that same friend who suggested that I apply to Nurse Practitioner school, to a 3 year program where you earned a BSN and became a NP, and who dragged me to the Hong Kong, a nightclub, one fateful night in November 2007 where I met my now husband. We actually realized that night while chatting that our apartments were in buildings right next door to each other and we could see into each other’s kitchens, it was bizarre. We got married in 2011 and then moved to Northern MN in 2012 when we both got jobs in my hometown.

We started to try for a baby sooner after our move, but life had other plans. We underwent infertility treatments for two years and three months when a pregnancy test finally showed a positive result. It was after our 9th medicated cycle with intrauterine insemination (IUI) and 1 day prior to our consult for IVF. Blood tests that week confirmed that my HCG level was good and rising quickly. I thought we were definitely pregnant with twins based on the HCG levels, and that was confirmed on US at 6 weeks gestation.

At 30 weeks and 1 day gestation I had a regularly scheduled US and antenatal check up with my OB. I walked from my office to the OB clinic and everything look great on US, the one comment the tech made was that twin A’s head was so low she couldn’t get a good measurement. When talking with the doctor after the US I mentioned that I’d been having some discharge for the past few days so the doctor checked my cervix and found that I was 2.5 cms dilated. I was given a steroid shot to help mature the babies lungs “just in case” and sent over to the birthing unit for moitoring. I actually argued with the doctor a little bit saying “Oh no, I have to go back to work, I have patients to see!”  It made him laugh, but didn’t change his mind. 

On the monitor the contractions were coming quickly, but I felt no pain from them. I was given some oral medications and IV fluids, but about an hour and a half later I was dilated to 4cm. Then came the big guns with magnesium sulfate and other labor stopping treatments, but nothing worked. When the doctor checked me a couple hours later he noted that not only was I now 6cms, twin A’s umbilical cord was sitting right at the opening of my cervix, so if her bag of waters broke, her head would compress the cord and she wouldn’t get any oxygen and we’d have an emergency on our hands. So I was wheeled into the OR for a C-section about 20 minutes later. The room was packed with people and equipment and the neonatal team was there and ready to assess the babies when they arrived since they would be born premature. 

We were able to hold the babies briefly and then they were transferred to the NICU. They didn’t require intubation, but were on CPAP and under the bilirubin lights and had IVs inserted into their tiny limbs. They had nasogastric tubes and heart monitors and oxygen saturation monitors. It was a very scary time for us. Little by little they made steady progress with weight gain and the ability to take breast milk orally. The twins were in the NICU for a total of 6 weeks before they were discharged to home. They are currently healthy, happy five year olds who never cease to amaze us.

Current Life & Parenting During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Ireland

In 2018 we made a big move from the USA to Ireland so we would be able to travel as a family more easily and try to create a better work/life balance. Up until July 2018 I was a nurse practitioner in a urology practice working 4 full days a week. We moved to Ireland in August 2018 and I’ve been at home with the kids since then. I have a few volunteer writing commitments which is nice to create some structure, but no current job that I get paid to do.

A typical day (pre-pandemic) used to look like: walking the kids to school at 9:10 am and then having 4.5 hours to exercise, grocery shop, clean, write, run errands, reply to emails, and all those other tasks that need to get done. Then I’d collect the kids at 2pm and feed them second lunch. We would play or read or do homework and then typically one of them had a class or a sport at 4pm. Then at 5:30 pm the kids could watch TV while I made dinner. My husband would be home from work at 6:45 pm when we’d sit down to dinner. After, we’d divide and conquer one cleaning the kitchen and one putting the kids to bed. Then we’d enjoy our glorious free time together for 3 hours or so before going to bed. Prior to coronavirus crisis, we would typically travel about once every 6 weeks, either within Ireland or abroad. It’s something we love to do as a family, and it’s been disappointing to cancel trips and not plan new ones. So far, we’ve canceled a trip to Sweden, but were able to get a full refund which was nice surprise. There are obviously far more serious issues going on for so many families so we’re just counting our blessings to still have income and to be able to stay at home.

On March 11, 2020 the Prime Minister of Ireland, called the Taoiseach, announced the closure of all schools and universities at the end of that day. It was so sudden; I was in a meeting with my International Women’s Group and a friend walked in and announced, “the schools are closing today.” Teachers had hardly any time to gather materials for kids. Then more and more closures were announced from that date. The closure of schools and office buildings and the gym that impacted our normal routine the most and they all happened in one fell swoop.

A typical day right now looks like getting up around 7:30 am (later than before!), getting the kids some cereal and doing either a 30-minute HIIT workout or yoga class on YouTube. My husband and I do it together which is really fun and definitely not something we ever did together before! Then the whole family gets ready for the day. I whip up a quick second breakfast around 9:15 am and the kids like to do a Cosmic Kids yoga class or PE with Joe on YouTube, not every day, but most. We try to do their schoolwork at 10:00 am and then they get free play time and I get time to write or sew. After lunch the kids have 30 minutes of quiet time with coloring or looking at books. Then we usually go outside. The kids are really resistant to go for walks or bike rides right now which I find frustrating. We’ve kept the evening schedule pretty much the same as pre-corona, TV at 5:00 pm, dinner at 6:00 pm (which is earlier than before, but it’s a change for the better), then the bedtime process starts at 7:00 pm. The days go smoother when we keep that consistent. Basically, we stay home all the time, except once per week when I go grocery shopping which is also a huge change. I used to go every 2-3 days just grabbing a small number of items.

Julian works from home full time now and begins work for the day at 9:15 which is a huge change! Usually he was in the car by about 8 for the 50-minute commute. I also love that he can come out to have lunch with us and play a quick game of soccer with the kids or have a cup of tea of coffee with me in the afternoon, it has been really nice. We hope that he will be able to continue working from home full time after things start going back to normal, the schedule really suits us as well as saves us a lot of money on petrol and tolls! We’d probably sell our second vehicle if he could work from home full time permanently.

I have less time to dedicate to writing and I struggle to write when there is a lot of noise going on around me, but I’m adjusting. I’m lucky that the twins are 5 and will play contentedly for ~45 minutes at a time. I have to be mindful to take those chances while I have them and not get lost in social media or use that precious time to clean the house. If I get some writing done, I feel like I’ve accomplished something for the day and like exercise it helps with patience and makes me happy.

Being a homeschooling Mom is definitely and interesting twist to this period of our life! About 4-5 months ago I had been thinking that I might like to homeschool the kids full time, who knew that I would get the chance to try it out! We’re planning to full time travel as a family for a 4-6-month period and this has been great practice for that. What I’ve discovered the past months, is that I actually have no desire to continue homeschooling for the long term. I can follow the curriculum set by the teachers to a degree, we’re not following it to the letter, but I just don’t desire to set up my own curriculum and to be responsible for teaching the kids everything they need to learn before they finish school. Plus, school is so much more than just book learning, there is a huge social aspect to it that my kids enjoy and that I think is very beneficial for them. So, we’ll get through this time and make sure we read daily, and do a little math and Irish and writing, but mostly they play and as soon as it is safe for them to do so, they will return to school.

I do worry that I’m getting more easily frustrated with the kids because I’m not getting any break from them (except when they go to bed at night at which time I’m exhausted from a busy day). On weekends I’ve been going to long walks alone which has been really nice! I also worry that while yes, we are spending the entire day together, I’m not carving out those moments to really connect with the kids because they’re always there and I constantly feel like I need a break. I used to be much better about getting on the floor and playing with them, and now I usually set up activities to occupy them and I just stay busy around the house so I can be alone. Also, if we do something together like bake or make a smoothie it takes like no time for me to feel like I’m on my last nerve and really stressed. I’m sure it’s a combination of not having that time to recharge, and the stress of the situation. It’s not like me and I feel bad about that.

I’m really happy now that I’m able to spend much more time with Julian and how much time he’s able to spend with the kids. I hope this doesn’t change when the world gets back to normal. Something that has really helped us (and this is all the time, not just during quarantine) is on weekend mornings over coffee we’ll tell each other our goals for the day. That sounds intense, but it’s not at all! It just helps us plan out the day so if I want to go for a family walk and spend 2 hours by myself and Julian wants to mow the grass and fix the tap in the bathroom we both know the plan and we can time it to fit it all in. Then we don’t get frustrated if we feel that our needs aren’t being met.

I’m a pretty classic introvert so periods of quiet time alone where I can just think, and plan are really necessary for me to recharge and I’m not really getting that right now. I think that’s been one of the biggest challenges for my mental health. It makes me irritable with my kids which then makes me feel bad too. Recognizing the problem helps and making sure to keep up with exercise and carving out time on the weekends to be alone has been helpful too.

I also spend a lot of time worrying about my parents in the US. If they catch the COVID-19, I just don’t know how their bodies would handle it. They’re over 65 so they’re in that high-risk category and if it would be challenging for me to get to them right now with the current travel restrictions and the need to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Those kinds of thoughts keep me up at night.

The Taoiseach has announced a 5-stage reopening plan starting with stage 1 on May 18. Outdoor workers like landscapers and construction workers will get back to work that date and garden centers and hardware stores will also be able to reopen. According to the plan, the pubs in Ireland will be one of the last things to reopen, possibly August 10. We will hopefully be able to travel around Ireland again on July 20 when hotels begin to reopen, but with limited occupancy. At this time we are unable to go further than 5km from home which is further than during the most strict part of our lockdown, prior to May 5th we were only able to travel 2km from our home unless going food shopping or providing care to a vulnerable person (or essential workers going to work). We expect that on June 8 we will be able to travel up to 20km from our homes and July 20 we will hopefully be able to travel around the whole country again which will be a great joy for us!

Kristina, Mom of Claire & Frank (Co. Galway, Ireland)

You can follow Kristina on Instagram @transatlantic_leonards

Read about her family's adventures on her blog: https://transatlanticleonards.wordpress.com

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