Happy 2 Months!

Dear Phoebe & Xander,

Wow has time flown! You are now 2 months old! That also means you are technically “1 weeks corrected age…” It amazes us each day that you are still here. Truly. Our family is complete – even when you are both wailing as though we’ve never fed you in your life…

Daddy has officially gone back to work, which is sad for Abba. He misses him. And it’s also sad for Daddy as he misses you both throughout the day. Don’t worry, Abba sends him pictures and gives regular updates so that he knows how you’re behaving!

Phoebe – you’ve begun to fill out all of your preemie clothing, and even fit into some newborn-sized outfits! Totally cool! What’s not totally cool? How you’ve learned to cluster-feed. At 1am and 4am. But we got you! You’ve also filled yourself into a newborn-sized diaper and that’s pretty cool! You still have issues with suck/swallow and breath coordination, but going back to a preemie nipple has truly helped you. You’re taking more and more successful bottles (defined as how much she keeps down and no spit up!) and you’re filling out so nicely!

Xander – you’ve blown out of newborn-sized diapers and officially rocking a size 1. You also fit into 0 – 3 month clothing! You love to hold your poop for one or two a day – daddy and abba sure love to clean that mess up! And holy smokes you’re drinking 4oz bottles at a time, now! You’re such a big boy. You have also developed an unusual habit: crying in your sleep. And not little cries. Wailing as though you’ll never see milk again! They’re not quite night-terrors as you’re too young, but it is common among preemies. Never forget that Daddy and Abba are always right there for you. We’re never too far away!

Yeladim – we love you so much. These last two months have been emotionally, physically and mentally challenging, but it’s also the most rewarding job that there ever was. It’s an amazing paradox. We can’t imagine what our lives were like before you both were here…Until your third month birth celebration.

All our love,

Daddy and Abba

So we need two of everything!? Think again…

A friend of mine recently found out she was pregnant with a little boy. She posted up on facebook the question every new parents is burning to ask and seek answers: what do we need?

As a parent of twins this was a loaded question since most folks anecdotally assume that you need “two of everything.” I did my best to break down our experience: what is worth it, not worth it and what we’d do all over again if we could. Whether the advice is taken what I do know is that as parents of twins efficiency becomes the key. Many tasks have to be completed in duplicate. So the question for us becomes, “What makes this task a little easier?” And as parents of 6 month of boy/girl twins you can imagine I have a lot to say.

Pre-advice: parents like myself give advice freely. Take it with a grain of salt. Ultimately you are the new parents and will learn your child and what works. There is no set way of doing things. There are few things you will do that are wrong, I am sure. Actually, there is a lot you will do wrong. And it’s fine. There is no manual. No book. You both will learn and laugh from your mistakes. But ultimately your instincts will always guide you, even when you feel they are failing or non-existent. I promise. Try to enjoy every moment – even the ones you want to pass. You will soon see that each of those moments matter and have great meaning. I swear. In fact, I promise.

  1. Getting organized before baby gets here is not worth it. You’ll soon realize everything isn’t where you actually want it. Resist finding “final” places, accept that you’ll want to reorganize once baby is here.
  2. Do not, I repeat, do not open, wash, fold and store everything folks give you. Do not. Again, you’ll regret opening the 5 Moby wraps if you wind up not using them, $50 each, and you can’t even exchange for full retail.
  3. Get stuff to become organized. Wicker baskets. Folding boxes (fabric ones that accent the room). Whatever. Have them ready. All sizes. This was a lifesaver for us living in a small space with twins.
  4. Tissues. For you. Not baby. You’re going to cry (if you’re like me) when nothing seems to work. It’s ok. You’ll be fine. The moment will pass. And even if baby is crying they will stop sometime soon. At least they are breathing. I know it may seem harsh, but as parents of twins meltdowns happen (sometimes more frequently than we want to admit – we don’t post those pictures to social media!). And sometimes they just need to cry it out. It sucks. And you feel helpless. But the moment will pass and all will be good, calm and filled with smiles and coos!
  5. Diapers. Everyone will have an opinion. Ultimately it’ll be what you want. We started with pamper’s swaddlers as that’s what our hospital used. Our twins lived there for 25 days so we wanted to keep things consistent with what they were used to. I suggest starting a stockpile. You wont likely need as many “newborn” size as you think. But definitely have a box or two of size one and twos. You’ll thank me when you don’t have to run out and get them when baby boy blows out a diaper for the 3rd time that day.
  6. Bottles. We’re huge fans of Dr Browns. All the way. The money is worth it. But some babies are picky when it comes to the nipple. So great advice that was given to us (but we failed to follow) was buy one or two different varieties to see which works best for baby. If you do the Dr Browns do their Options line all the way!! Don’t get as many small bottles as you think. You’ll be moving on to the larger bottles for much longer. Oh, and soap – we love babyganics dish soap. But then again, with twins we often place our bottles in the dishwasher (Dr Browns has an AWESOME dishwasher “accessory” that holds all the parts. SOOO worth it). And, that brings me to bottle sterilizer and warmer. Bottle warmer: NOT needed. Ever. Bottle sterilizer – if you have a dishwasher built within the last 6 -10 years it may have a steam feature. That’s your sterilizer. And, if you really want to sterilize your pieces often (which I highly recommend) Medala makes SUPER CONVENIENT microwaveable bags that you add a few ounces of water to. Three minutes later and poof! Sterilized pieces! Seriously they are amazing.
  7. Swing. MamaRoo. Rock n’ Play. Likely your baby will love movement of sorts. See if you can get one, not all, for your place. Our kids LOVE the mamaroo and use it frequently (don’t worry, they love their tummy time and back time). We find that the mamaroo is an ergonomic solution to the swing with it’s multiple patterns of movement. But alas, some babies are not fans.
  8. Sleepsacks: YES! We love our halo sleep sacks. They are easy and safe to use. Have a few on hand. 5 – 6 this way if baby spits up on one you got another. And one can be in the laundry and another in the diaper bag for traveling nap time. I swear you’ll thank me later for this one. Now, there are other swaddle solutions – they are all pretty good. Halo is just our preference. And, once baby is able to roll over no more swaddling – ok? And don’t do what we did which was wait to the last minute to break them of the swaddle habit. We’re suffering the consequences now, but nonetheless managing.
  9. Diapering – we are fans of Bordeaux’s Butt Paste. We’ve tried desitin, triple paste and sensicare. None of them worked as well as Butt Paste on our kids tushies. But again, each baby is different. So get a small sample size of each to find out which is best. Don’t invest until you know it’ll work. That brings me to aquafor – it’s FABULOUS for bad diaper rashes. Literally it’s amazing. Oh, and if baby dribbles a ton and gets a formula/milk rash on their neck wash with warm soapy water, dry completely and apply aquaphor. But seriously – only apply to dry skin.
  10. Diaper bags – find one that works. LOL Be sure it has a place for extra bottles and all the stuff you’ll want to carry with you. We love our “diaper dude” which is a knapsack style bag and we have a more traditional black bag, too. We use the diaper dude for extra clothing, toys, burp rags. And the other only for diapering and medical supplies. That’s just us – again. #twins.
  11. Medical shit you need: infant Tylenol (do not use until your pediatrician approves), pedialyte (hopefully you never use it), children’s bendryl, nail cutting solution and soffffft emery board for filing infant nails before they harden and grown a bit. Oh, and those bulb syringes from the hospital. Ask for a few to take home…they are seriously the best!
  12. Burp rags – seriously have 40 – 50. Have them in all rooms. Both of our kids have baby reflux. They spit. Everywhere. Anywhere. And knowing a burp cloth is stashed somewhere? #SpitUpSecurityBlanket You’ll thank me later. I promise. #BabiesSpit
  13. Bath Time – save your money and don’t get a tub. Get the blooming flower that goes in your sink. Save your back. Save your knees. Or, better yet, do what we do – taken them in the shower with us one at a time. They love the running water and as infants hated the bath so much!
  14. Bouncy chairs saves live. We have a cheap one that vibrates. Seriously though, they save lives.
  15. Play Gym for tummy time – any one really. They all do the same thing.
  16. Bobby Pillow – get extra covers and a liner for over the actual pillow. Again, #babiesspit. They are amazing for feeding when they are small (breastfeeding or bottle feeding) and will become an instrumental part of tummy time and supervised playtime. Seriously, though, have I said they’re awesome?
  17. Pacifiers – everyone will have a thought on them. We didn’t have a choice but to use them as they are instrumental in teaching a baby how to “suck” when they are born as prematurely as our twins. Not all pacis are created the same and not all babies take a paci. One thing I will say is that those clips and cute stuffed animals that come with some of them? I’d personally avoid them. The occupational therapist that worked with us in the NICU brought up some very valid points – they are choking and strangulation hazards, especially when we may have our heads turned the other way. I am not one that “freaks about everything,” but this one got to me. So it’s just a plain ole paci and nothing more in this household.
  18. Change table/pad. Definitely get a pad that is waterproof, has lips/edge to prevent rolling, and multiple covers. You are having a boy. Prepare yourself now to be baptized many times. Many. Times. And whatever you do – do not buy a peepee teepee for baby boys. They just shoot right off their penises when they pee. Dumbest invention ever. Clearly it was designed by a man that was never a father/parent.
  19. Stroller. Get one that fits your lifestyle. If you are going to walk a ton then get something like the citymini. They are great. Have infant car seat adapters for most major brands. And, they grow with your child.
  20. Car seats. We love our graco snugride 40. It fits babies as little as 4lbs (thank heaves as our baby girl was barely 4 lbs when she was released from the hospital!) and has great adapters for strollers. And, the click connect bases are SUPER EASY to install. Definitely have an extra base for other vehicles.

Above all baby needs love. More than half the crap available is gimmicky and designed to elicit the response of, “Oh my! How can I live without that?!” When in reality most of that stuff causes more wasted time. We stick to basics and what allows us to survive. To all those preparing to welcome a new baby into their household: buckle up! Life is about to get much more interesting and exciting!

Your Past is Your Present – an origins story and beyond

It’s been an incredible journey arriving to this place we called parenthood. After almost 13 years of being together and nearly 2 years legally married we finally welcomed our twins into the world. We went through a process called gestational surrogacy, and via this process we were blessed with the most incredible twins: Phoebe Lily and Xander (Alexander) Isiah. They were born 7 weeks premature and spent several weeks in the NICU in Fort Worth, Texas, where our surrogate lived. We chronicled our time with daily letters to our children. Day and night we were there – sometimes 14 hours. It was in these moments we knew as a couple that we were meant to be parents and that our children were strong fighters. And as they should be – they carry their ancestors with them not only in their blood but in their names.

You see, in the Jewish tradition we name our children after relatives no longer with us. We honor their memory by passing on either their name as is, or a letter as their namesake. This was a very important tradition for us as without our past we would not be in this present.

Our son, Alexander Isiah was named after my husband’s amazing Grandma, Arlene. She passed away thanksgiving day two years ago. Even given her generation she was accepting and loving, having raised a gay daughter, and also unconditionally loved my husband and me when I joined the family. She was a strong woman and a woman of dignity and pride. His middle name is for my maternal grandfather, Irving, who was a refugee of World War 2 and escaped to Sweden. He grew up in southern Sweden, taught himself 5 languages fluently, played the guitar and was a prolific writer and artist. Sadly, he passed away two days after our legal marriage. Its these two amazing people that our son will carry with him throughout his life.

Our daughter, Phoebe Lily, was named for my Great Aunt Perla. She was murdered by a suicide bomber while celebrating Passover in Netanya, Israel. She was a strong woman and family matriarch. She was my grandfather’s sister and she went on to have two beautiful children who in turn had 5 children between them. Those five children now have 6 children between them – she would be so proud of her family. Her middle name, Lily, is named after my grandmother Luba (Irving’s wife), who herself was a survivor of the holocaust. She witnessed atrocities no person should bare. She lived through one of the darkest periods of human history and despite it all found love, married, immigrated to America and bore a daughter, my mother.

Our children wouldn’t be here without this history. Without this undying love. Without this mix of rich, diverse backgrounds. They will grow up learning that we are stronger together, family matters and accepting our differences are where it’s at. I’m confident, that as gay fathers that we can imbue this to our children. I am confident that with their names and the lessons we’ll teach them throughout their life that this next generation will be better! And while our children are only six months old, they are our world. They bring us joy. They bring us happiness. They show us the pureness of emotion and that there should always be hope for tomorrow.

In parenting and bringing up our children we want them to be able to affect tomorrow’s future. We want them to know their past is rich, diverse and that many people had to work hard so that they could be here. We want to keep hope alive and keep moving forward towards a tomorrow where we are all accepted; where differences are cherished and not just tolerated. A future where when we see families of varying constructs, people of different races, those with disabilities and we don’t prejudge or discredit someone’s experience simply because it wasn’t your own. I am confident that with our village our children can do this and help make tomorrow that much brighter.

March 20th, 2017: Our Last Letter in Texas

Dear Russell Family,

It’s been almost two years since you read our letter “to a surrogate.” When you read that letter you glimpsed into our lives and saw who we were. You made a judgement call to agree and work with us to help Brian and I build our family. And as we write this final letter for this chapter, it will not be addressed to our kids, but the amazing family that helped us bring them here.

In our nearly two yIMG_5555ears before our kids arrived we Skyped, we texted, we cried, we laughed, we even took vacation together to explore New York and Pennsylvania. We did a lot. We bonded. Then on July 21st, 2016 we transferred our beautiful embryos and they started to grow.

In the next months, Ashly, you grew what would become our greatest blessings. On February 17th, 2017 you gave birth to Alexander Isiah and Phoebe Lily: two strong superhero fighters. They are simply beautiful. Perfect, even. And while they fought to grow in the NICU you witnessed just how strong Brian and I are. Just how committed we are not only to one another but to Xander and Phoebe. And in the month they stayed in the NICU something even more magical happened: we officially blended as one family.

Brian and I are beyond thankful for the month we had with you and your family. We’re beyond thankful that your family helped to keep us together as much as our friends and family back home. We’re beyond thankful you let us live with you, share in your home and family life. And when we said “see you later” this morning little did we know just how tough and bittersweet it would be.

And as we embark on our journey home with our children to reunite with our families up north all we can say is thank you, and we love you.

Ashly: you once called our children superheroes. You even gifted them onesies to remindIMG_5563 them of their power. But girl it’s you that is the superhero. Your power is helping to grow families. And we’re forever connected.

Until later this year when we see you face to face again we’ll continue to Skype and text. You’ll get pictures and everything and we can’t wait for the journey that lay ahead!

All our love,

Big Poppa, Abba, Xander and Phoebe

PS Brian didn’t get to say goodbye to Millie the pup. Please give her a kiss from him.

March 20th, 2017: A Note from Aunt Ashly

Dear Big Pappa and Abba,

37 night stay at our house = $3million dollars 😂

Being thrown up on three times = smelling like Breast milk and three loads of laundry. 😩

Jeff’s homemade meatloaf = one happy family 🤗

All the pumping, let downs, hugs, snuggles, kisses, laughs, baby noises, crying and family time = PRICELESS

I love you both… but I love Xander and Phoebe a little more. I am so happy to have your family as a part of mine. I am so excited for your next chapter to begin on this journey. This is in no way good bye just a see you later.

I am so proud of the daddies you both have become. You were strong for each other on the hard days and great at communicating and sharing your needs. The first hard part is over. Phoebe and Xander are here, healthy and ready to go home and make your life miserable, unbelievable, unimaginable, exciting, adventurous and unbelievably loved for the rest of their lives. There will be bumps with good times and bad but there is no other journey like parenthood. I am so proud to be the one to make you parents and get to see your lives unfold and grow.

I love you both like my own brothers and will see you later!

❤Aunt Ashly

Your Last Night in Texas

Dear Phoebe and Xander,

Tonight is your last night in Texas before the final journey home. As we celebrate our family in Texas we are also celebrating the journey of our family back to our home in Pennsylvania. And in good ole Texan fashion we’re fixing to have our goodbye meal at IMG_5538Babes.

In the last month since your birth you’ve both learned so much (as your daddies we’ve also learned a ton!) But perhaps the most amount of learning occurred when we finally took you home and Daddy and Abba were left to their devices. We’ve managed your schedule, prepped your feed, taken you to the pediatrician and changed lord only knows how many diapers (and IMG_5532lord only knows how many more to come)!

This penultimate letter narrating your journey in Texas comes with more emotion than y’all can know. We love our family down here just as much as they love y’all. You can see it in many ways:

  1. How we’ve quickly picked up Texan jargonIMG_5509
  2. How they’ve let us stay with them and taken us in with open arms
  3. How we’ve all bonded and become even closer as family

This brings us to family. You’ll learn in your life that family is everything. You’ll learn that family isn’t always img_5535.jpgabout biological relationships (although you’re our biological children). Family is about people with a common bond coming together with similar goals in mind. Family is about love. Family is about respect. Family is about hugs. Family is about supporting one another even during the most difficult of times. We hope that as you read these letters that you come to understand just how important family is. And as y’all grow we’ll reinforce this every single day. It’s important to note that as gay fathers, we cannot have IMG_5514a family accidentally. It takes planning and a lot of love.

So as we begin this final journey home it was marked by the arrival of your Grandma Diane. She’s here to help daddies on the trek home to your Grandma Rose, Grandpa Charles and soon Grandpa Marc will be flying up, too. To say that they are excited is an understatement. They’ve IMG_5522loved you since before you were conceived.

And this letter ends with the words of your Aunt Ashly: “this is not goodbye but see ya later.” Until our next get together as one blended family.


All our love,

Daddy, Abba, Aunt Ashly, Uncle Mac, Kaisen and Genevieve

Happy One Month!

Dear Xander and Phoebe,

Today you are one month old! Happy Month-day!! It’s unbelievable how fast time has flown…

IMG_2210It’s been a few days now since Daddy and Abba have assumed all responsibilities for you both. We love it. And although we’re tired, it’s the very best kind of tired imaginable.

Xander – you are filling out and your cheeks are so adorably chunky! You absolutely love your bottles, and boy can you wail for them! While you love to nap in between feeds you don’t really like to nap between your 11pm and 2am feeds…it’s ok buddy, your clock will settle into a rhythm soon. You have the most adorable noises. Daddy and Abba just love to listen to all you have to squeak. In fact even at 2 and 5am while feeding it brings suchIMG_5444 a smile to both of our faces! You love tummy time, sleeping on our chests and most especially getting your hair washed!

Phoebe – you are making strides like we cannot believe! You’re getting so much stronger and consistent with your bottle feeding, and you’re like clockwork on schedule. You’re still imbalanced in your muscles so daddies continue with your massage you as your OT demonstrated. You ABSOLUTEY love them and they help you feel more comfortable. You also love the “I Love You” massage. You also have really adorable squeaks and noises, but one thing IMG_5478you do that is just adorable is pout. Your lower lip frowns and it’s seriously the most heart melting face ever!

These last few days since you’ve been home have been so special. Watching you both interact with Aunt Ashly, Uncle Mac, Kaisen and Evie has been nothing short of precious. This is amazing time with our surrogate family and we’re so thankful. So thankful. We’ve been able to bond together even more since we’ve been living here, but even more so since you’ve been finally living at home.

Yeladim – we love you with all of our hearts. It’s pretty unreal just how much our hearts have grown and how much we love you. We knew it would be strong but we never could have imagined just how strong.

All our Love,

Daddy and Abba

The First 24 Hours Post Release

Dear Xander and Phoebe,

It’s been over 24 hrs since you’ve been released from the hospital. Whoa! It’s crazy! And daddies even survived the night…albeit tired, with flying colors. It’s a direct result of being in the NICU. Here’s why:

– Daddy and Abba were there everyday helping and learning. We were as hands on as the staff allowed (and they weren’t afraid to let us help).

– NICU life helped you both attain a schedule and we stuck to it. This was the biggest blessing in disguise.

– We prepped for the night and were ready for each feed.

– We worked with one another and communicated. That was key.

– We got as much rest as we could. Albeit not tons it was great to get some shuteye.

Today you both had your follow up pediatrician appointment. Yeladim: y’all were the talk of the office! It was like you were little celebrities…but on the flip side we learned that you’re doing well!!! Daddy and Abba can actually do this! You both gained weight, you’ve both grown and everything about you both is perfect…we even made your one month wellness checkup appointment with your regular pediatrician. Holla!

Today we also learned that you LOVE the car. Both of you conked out the minute we started to drive…we had a hunch you would but today it was for sure confirmed.

Keep it up, Yeladim. We couldn’t be more proud of you both. Until the next letter keep burping, farting, poopin’, peeing, making cute freaking noises and being the best children ever.

All our love,

Daddy and Abba

PS – yeladim you’ve changed your Daddy in ways I’d never imagined. We’ve been together 12 years this May, and since you’ve been born he’s cried more times thinking about you both. Nothing but happy tears. He loves you both so much. It’s so sweet, really. So sweet. You’ve made your Big Poppa an emotional man – love you both for that

March 12th, 2017: Dear Village

Dear everyone that helped us get here,

This letter is for you. The amazing team of medical professionals and others that helped to bring our children here and make our dreams come true.

To Dr. Kaufman and his team at Fort Worth Fertility. Thank you for taking care of creating beautiful embryos, taking amazing care of our egg donor and even more amazing care of our surrogate Ashly. Meeting you all in September of 2015 seems so long ago. And when we transferred our embryos on July 21, 2016, our lives were forever changed.

To Dr Kutzler, Ashly’s OB that took care of her all pregnancy and delivered our twins: thank you. Thank you for everything and taking care of Ashly and our beautiful babies. We are forever grateful.

To the team of neonatologists and NPs at our hospital: you are all amazing. You helped take care of our twins and always kept their best interest in mind.

To our coordinator at Simple Surrogacy: Jennifer. Thank you for being there for us! You are just awesome.

To Ashly’s coordinator at Simple Surrogacy: Danielle. Thank you. Thank you for always being there not only for Ashly, but for us also!! We are forever grateful for the daily texts and the hours you spent with us in the hospital.

To Helping Hands and their coordinator Ashley – thank you for encouraging us to participate and become part of a greater purpose. You helped us connect with other NICU parents and even more with one another. You helped facilitate an incredible sibling day with our kids and our surrogate’s children and that will be a memory forever etched into our hearts.

To the team of Nurses and Occupational Therapists at the hospital: Paige, Sarah, Summer, Eddie, Ahn, Kristin, Kristen, Annette, Kara, Kaleigh, Alvina, Jasmine, Shirlee, Dottie, Ginger, Shanita, Emily, Faleigh, Layla, Laura, Laura (there are two), Laarnie, Krystal, Lauren, Kim, Hope, Natalie, Stephanie, Melissa, Courtney and many more I’M sure we’ve forgotten. Thank you. Thank you for caring for and watching over our children. Thank you for being by their sides. Thank you for being by our sides and imparting immeasurable amounts of information. We are forever grateful for your teamwork and dedication.

To our family and friends. Thank you for the countless texts and phone calls. Thank you for helping us with your words and following along this incredible journey. It’s been just under 2 years since we’ve started and it’s amazing that you are all still following along. We love you all! But most especially our parents Diane, Marc, Rose and Charles.

And lastly to our dear, amazing surrogate Ashly and her husband Mac. Thank you for choosing us. Thank you for believing in us. Thank you for becoming the most special part of our family. There truly are no words to describe what you’ve done in helping bring Alexander and Phoebe into this world. To say we love you is an understatement. Making families is truly your super hero power.

All our love,

Daddy, Abba, Xander and Phoebe

(Formally known as Brian and Jeffrey)