After three years of trying to get pregnant, Chris and Kerri were expecting twins. The twins, born 12 weeks early, would remain in the hospital for almost three months. When they finally came home, it made the most sense for Chris to stay at home with them and for Kerri to go back to work. Six months after the twins came home, Kerri was pregnant again.
Here is a bit of their story.
What were those years like when you couldn’t get pregnant?
Kerri: I was raised in a very achievement oriented environment and I think that really became absorbed in my personality. Getting married, getting pregnant and having kids were items on my tick list. I planned to be married by 30, have my first kid by 32 and my second kid by 34. I had my life all planned out, but infertility was something I did not have control over. That lesson was difficult for me, but it was one I needed to learn.
How did you get through that time?
Kerri: You get your hopes up every month. You get blood work and take ovulation tests and then you get your period. Every month is a roller coaster and it is painful.
I could write a book about the things people said to me, ‘You just need to relax.’ ‘You need to have more sex.’ ‘You shouldn’t drink coffee.’ ‘Maybe you shouldn’t eat dairy.’ ‘Well if he just looks at me, I get pregnant!’ I was doing everything I could possibly do. I was doing acupuncture, yoga, taking herbs. People started feeling sorry for me and I didn’t want the pity. I was invited to baby showers and it got to the point where I just couldn’t go. I would be in the grocery store and see a woman with a baby or who was pregnant and I would just have to leave. It was really, really hard.
Is there a social stigma with infertility?
Kerri: There is. People in conversation would allude to the fact that I was married for so many years and didn’t have kids yet or people would allude to the fact that they were trying to get pregnant, but it was very rare to have someone come out and say, ‘We are having a hard time getting pregnant.’ It’s like admitting i,t is admitting failure.
What effect does infertility have on your marriage?
Kerri: We went through this very hard part of our marriage where I got crazy about it and thought if we couldn’t have kids maybe it meant we weren’t supposed to be together. But, because my husband is an absolute saint – we made it through all that.
When you learn you are going to have twins is that elation? Terror?
Kerri: I never had the terror. We were thrilled. We were so happy. We had tried to get pregnant for so long.
Then, Kerri’s water broke at 25 weeks.
Chris: It was really frightening. We had come all this way and then this happens. It was a heart wrenching time. The doctors told us we needed to make it to the 28 week mark and we did. We made it to 28 and a half weeks.
Then the twins were in the NICU for 77 days.
Kerri: This is probably the part where I will cry. I think there is a lot of trauma from that, which we were never able to process. We were in the Level 1 NICU for 10 days, which is the scariest because they were on ventilators, but when they were born, they were almost three pounds each. Three pound twins at 28 weeks is huge. So they did have that advantage.
I couldn’t nurse them until they were 34 weeks. Somehow, Jett got Influenza A while he was there. He had a high fever. I knew he could die from it. They were in isolation for 10 days. I asked a nurse, who had been there for 19 years, what it looked like when a premie got Influenza A, and she told me that she had never seen it. Then, I talked to this asshole doctor and the only thing he told me is how many babies in Colorado had died from it the previous year. But, Jett came out of it ok. We are very lucky.
How was it decided that Chris would stay home with the kids?
Chris: Mostly it came about from the work schedules. I play music and teach drum lessons. I teach from 3 pm until 8 or 9 at night. Me staying home was something that naturally made sense. It was nice to spend time with them. We both make good money, but Kerri makes the bulk of it and it just made sense.
What is your perspective on gender roles?
Chris: I feel if something makes sense for a family then you do it.
Kerri: I think a man has to be very secure in his masculinity to take on such a non-traditional role of stay at home dad and to be the one who cooks and cleans. I think my husband is a total stud. He doesn’t buy in to mainstream societal expectations.
Then you had a daughter 17 months later after you gave birth to the twins.
Kerri: Six months after the twins came home, I got pregnant naturally. When I was six months pregnant with her, I got laid off from my job. I was the bread winner. I lost my job while pregnant, with two 14 month olds at home, and in the middle of building a house. The stress was ridiculous. It was later determined that I was laid off because of pregnancy discrimination.
Do you think as a stay at home dad there is anything you inherently do better with the day to day stuff than maybe mothers do?
Chris: I don’t know. I guess if anything we stay really active. They have been riding two wheelers since they were three years old. We are always doing something – swimming, hiking, biking.
Are there other stay at home dads in your community?
Chris: It is not very common.
How do you think your experience bringing home twins is different than bringing home one baby?
Kerri: We had our daughter after having the twins and we thought it was a lot easier to just have one infant. When we brought the twins home — it was heaven. It certainly wasn’t the whole time, but we were happy they were finally home. They needed to eat every two hours. I would nurse each one for twenty minutes, burp them, change them and then I would have 45 minutes until it was time for them to eat again. It was ridiculous.
Having twins would have been really, really hard in and of itself. With three babies and then three toddlers you are in survival mode. It wasn’t until our youngest was three and our boys were four and a half that we felt human again. We had some really fun times with three babies, but we were so tired for so long.
What was the change like going from two to three?
Chris: I think that was the hardest thing. If you can take any kid out of the mix the remaining two are easy to manage, but when you add the third one in it is more difficult for some reason. We are outnumbered. We are playing a zone defense instead of man to man. Definitely three is harder than two or one or maybe even four.
How many diapers were you changing in one day?
Chris: When the twins were newborns, it was 20 per day. After that, I would say 10 to 12. We had three Diaper Genies in the house.
Was it isolating to be a stay at home dad?
Chris: I never felt that. I like having my alone time. The kids and I always had a good time plus there were three of us, so we always had a crowd.
I know with some women there is resentment towards their husband as the women usually do the cooking, cleaning, the shit work. Chris, do you ever feel that?
Chris: I don’t. Kerri and I’s roles are completely reversed. I like cooking, so I do most of it. I do all the laundry, clean the house and shop but she does all the kids’ schedules and financial stuff. I don’t have any desire to do the finances and she does not have any desire to clean. I am totally happy to do it. I just throw on the music and do it. I think I could step up and take more of a role in finances, but it is just not something my head goes to naturally.
What do you think of moms judging one another?
Kerri: I think there are moms who are insecure about their choices and they cover that up by judging other mothers’ decisions. I have been guilty of this myself. I thought it was such a waste for women to throw away all of their education to be a stay at home mom. I did not value what women leaving the workforce were doing at the time. But with time, I changed and then one day I wanted to be home with my kids, too. I wanted to be home when they get off the bus.
Over time, my career and my drive slowed down and I placed a higher value on my parenting, but it took me a few years to figure that out. When I saw women leaving the workforce to take care of their kids I judged them until I realized I was jealous because that was what I wanted. Now that I am self-employed, I work part time and also love being home with them in the afternoons and teaching them to read. It’s a really special time for us.
I think it is important that there is an appreciation of how different everyone’s situation is. What works for your family is not going to work for my family. How come there is so much judgment and controversy over other people’s decisions? A lot of us look to each other to see what is working and we pick up these things along the way, but it is just like everything else — you need to do what works for you.
How is working in Corporate America while being a mom of three kids 17 months apart?
Kerri: It is very hard to find a company who is supportive of a working mother. They are out there, but part time schedules for moms are hard to find. I had a conversation with an executive one time about moms in the workplace and he said, ‘We don’t have to support you.’ He was saying a mother could be qualified for the job, but if there is a guy who is qualified for the job or another woman that does not have kids that is qualified for the job, they see these people as being able to give more to the company. This is an unspoken bias in Corporate America against working mothers. I think the discrimination is crazy. I don’t know any working mother that is not dealing with the juggle. There is a great book called Torn that articulates this perfectly – it’s a collection of essays of working mothers in various stages of their life.
Kerri, in an email to me you mentioned motherhood being boring at times.
Kerri: When they were very little – it was like Groundhog Day.
Chris, did you ever wish you were the one going to the 9 to 5 job?
Chris: Sometimes I definitely did. Sometimes I do think I wish I would have been able to check out a bit just to get a break.
Kerri, in an email you mentioned the responsibility can be crippling. When?
Kerri: When you are in a job that you fucking hate, but you need it for your family. It is hard spiritually doing something you don’t believe in just to pay the mortgage — that sucks. I won’t ever do that again.
Chris, how do you think your relationship would be different with your kids if you weren’t a stay at home dad?
Chris: I don’t think I would have as close of a bond as I do now. I was home with them for the first six years. I am really happy to have had that time. I definitely feel a shift for myself now that I have my days again while they are in school. I think I am finding myself again. I am playing more music. I wouldn’t change anything about me being home with them, but it is nice to have a little time open up now.
Is there a twin bond with the two of them?
Kerri: Absolutely. They were in the same crib for awhile. They have always shared a bedroom. They always lay in bed on the same side they were on in my belly. They have bunk beds now. We put them in separate beds and five minutes after we leave they are in the same bed together. The other night I went in there and they were both in the top bunk, face to face holding hands and sleeping. I will never forget that image. It was so beautiful.
Have you ever had any negative reaction to being a stay at home dad?
Chris: I can’t say that I have.
Do you have any advice for fathers who are considering being stay at home dads?
Chris: Yeah, don’t have three right away. [Laughing]
One thing that really helped was when the kids go to sleep go you should go to sleep. I wasn’t the best at doing it. The nights I stayed up until 11, I felt it the next day. I think there is something about following the rhythm of the kids.
Also, I would kind of fill the backpack with stuff and leave the house and see what would happen for the day. Kerri is more of a planner. I think a balance of both of those is great. It is easy to think of all the things you want to show your kids and have them do, but it is also nice to see what organically develops and see where they take you and that [approach] helped me in getting through the day to day.
Is there anything as a father you think you struggle with more than what mothers would?
Chris: I am sure. Kerri is really tuned into them emotionally. I feel I am as well to a degree but not as much as Kerri is. I could definitely work on really understanding each of them individually. They are always in a pack and I think sometimes we treat them as a pack.
The pack. That is funny.
They are a pack. They are always together.
Do couples forget how to be together after you have had so much time with so many kids around?
Kerri: We did. You lose each other in those years. Your relationship – as strong as it was before having kids- is sometimes as strong as it is ever going to be. We made it through what I call the fog years and now our relationship has this amazing new life. Now they are in school from 7:30 – 3 everyday and I work from home — we have had a complete rejuvenation in our relationship. We found each other again, we have all that time together now. Finishing a conversation is a gift.
You can come back to your relationship, once you make it through those hard baby and toddler years. We’ve been through so much together and we are thankful every day that we have three, beautiful healthy children. We are a couple and we are a family. I believe kids’ happiness has a lot to do with how happy a marriage is. I think it helps that we are still madly in love after 18 years. You have to keep working hard at that. They are looking to you to see how it’s done.
To learn more about Kerri’s marketing communications consulting services see: www.monarchcomms.com
To learn about Chris’ drum school located in Louisville, Colorado: www.afterbeatdrumschool.com
To learn more about Chris’ band: www.soundrabbit.com