About franziskaschwarzmann

Grad Student at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy

Twin Update: Welcome, Aria & Kiana

On July 3rd at night we were able to welcome our twin girls. I was told they entered this world screaming – a positive sign for preemies.

They weighed a smashing 1300 & 1600g and from the very first day were showing the nurses and us quite some attitude given their size 😉.

The names: Nope, no game of thrones fans

The first thing people asked when they hear the names is whether we are big game of thrones fans. Their full names are Aria Eleonore and Kiana Elisabeth. We have chosen these names for two reasons: They both have Persian & European meanings and are easy to pronounce in English as well as German.

Aria means “air” in Italian, “noble” in Persian and is also used in Hindi, Hebrew and Albanian.

Kiana means “elements of nature: water, wind, earth, air” in Persian. It is also quite common in Hawai where it means “divine”.

Obviously, Pouya and I are thrilled. Both girls were in the hospital for a couple of weeks and I will write a separate blogpost on our experience in the Neonatal Intensive Care unit (NICU).

In the last two months it was our biggest goal to bring both girls to weigh more than 3Kgs (which would be normal birth weight) and we have achieved this task as of this week. They have strict eating times every four hours and Papa & Mama are getting used to not sleeping too much anymore.

As with all preemies we do not know whether they have suffered from the surgery, their feto-fetal syndrom (TTTS) or prematurity, but so far it all looks positive. The city of Munich is home to special doctors & newborn physical therapists that take excellent care of us.

For now please enjoy some pictures of the our girls. Thank You again for your messages and support, it has been wonderful to receive so much love from our friends ❤️

Twins after twin twin transfusion syndrom and intra uterine selective growth retardation

The first couple of weeks we spent kangorooing the girls in the NICU. They were not able to eat and had to be on breathing support.

They are both at home now and cannot protest yet against being put into matching outfits 😉.

The everything will be fine-people

Twin-Update: We have made it to full 31weeks of pregnancy. Both girls are tiny for their gestational age, their dopplers are within range (not great, yet not concerning). They are very active in my tummy which, in general, a good sign. Within the next three weeks the doctors will get them. Since they are still so small there is no chance for a natural birth. It looks like we will have to have a planned c-section.

In the meantime, we moved to a bigger apartment in the South of Munich with a lot of support from family and friends. Watching other people agonize over IKEA instructions is even worse than when you are doing it yourself :-). Aside from reading a lot I signed up for in an investing class and on good days I have been more active again doing things I usually do not do when I am busy with work and working out. We have been to the Ballet, to the Munich antique flea market and to the “Alte Pinakothek” where I saw my first DaVinci (they rent out wheelchairs at the Museum).

I have noticed something in the course of this pregnancy that has been rubbing me the wrong way consistently and I wanted to share it with you. At one of my classes at Harvard Business School we had a couple of lectures on the idea that well developed brains are capable of holding antagonizing ideas without needing to choose one over the other, neither rationally nor emotionally. Achieving this capability would take years of experience.

I am not yet sure if this pregnancy can be applied to this idea. However, as a matter of fact we are expecting twin girls which is a reason for excitement and joy. As another matter of fact these babies have been hit with two bad conditions, a growth restriction and a twin-twin-transfusion-syndrom, and what that has done to their development only time can tell – which is a reason for caution, being prepared for the worst cases and at the very least it is for us to know that we are looking at long weeks of NICU visits and unforeseen challenges.

After a couple of weeks without emergency clinic visits and only standard bad news here and there (which you learn to cope with very fast and we also do not share) we have been receiving a lot of messages like: “I knew all along everything would be good.” Or: “So then now all is well with you and the babies.”

These statements are hard to take, yet I understand where they are coming from. Uncertainty is not something that is easy to deal with. Yet, it is a reality that many people have to face. I usually respond that I do not know whether everything will be ok. And then something happens that makes me very angry at times: People tell me I should not be so negative, or sad.

My personal learning from this is that I have often fallen into the trap of telling people how to feel instead of listening, and telling them that is is ok. From now on I will be much more sensitive towards this. I also understand that black and white thinking is much easier than anything in the middle, but I am trying to eliminate absolute vocabulary.

No, not everything is fine and yes, that is totally ok.








Couch Rest, week one: A Recap

Baby Updates first: Given we only had laser fetoscopic surgery last week the babies are recovering as good as they could. Fetus 1 is alive, has a normal amount of amniotic water for the first time. By no means does this mean they are out of the woods, but it does give us cause to relax a little and stay positive.

My decision to be more open about this has been rewarded with lots of friends from all over reaching out and to me it makes all the difference. As many of you know I am clearly an extrovert getting energy out of human interaction and I have not been able to have so much because I have been put on couch rest, or conditional bedrest. I am allowed to wash myself, go to the bathroom and lay on the couch. In the case of imminent danger of cabin fever I was told that I can be driven to a park to sit outside for a little while.

Since April my movements had been restrained, but I was able to walk through the city, go to the gym to do something resembling sports, go swim at least once a week and be slightly active. Couch rest is a new thing, though. As always it is life’s conundrum: When you’re overworked, in full training, overcommitted to social activities the only thing you want is a day on the couch. When you have an unlimited number of days on the couch ahead of you, it can be daunting. Here is my week one recap:

  • Letting things happen – hard lesson for the control freak

I always thought I am excellent at handing over tasks, but – really – I understood this week I am not. We have lots of decisions for our new apartment to make, like kitchen, lamps, colors, organizing the move and so on. While my first reaction used to be “why don’t I come with you?”, but this is a good opportunity to either make a decision from the couch or give it entirely out of my hands.

  • Disengaging from the German angst

It’s been almost two years in Germany and I cannot say that a week has passed without me wishing I had not moved here. Once these emotional moments pass the realization kicks in that I needed this experience to understand what is important to me, what’s bearable and what makes me drive. One thing that continuously rubs me the wrong way is what I am now calling the German angst: the obsessive-compulsive need for things to be in order, clean, in line, taken care of, not risky, insured, safe, planned, organized. For most people here these words create comfort, to me they create a feeling of constantly being pressured into being how I am not, into feeling bad about taking risks, into feeling like I don’t have my life under control because I choose to live without a closet and more bikes than household knives. This week my mom and stepfather were here and I cannot count the amount of times they said something like “You cannot live like this” ; “the kids will need this…” ; “But in the new apartment this situation cannot continue” (referring to us having light bulbs as lamps). What would have rubbed me the wrong way and annoyed me for the first time simply amused me. I do not want to discourage anyone from honoring any of the German norms, but I am padding myself on the back now for every moment that I am able to see how unimportant most of these norms are to me and that I will not abide by any of them unless I feel they make sense to me or us as a family.

  • I am a total real crime podcast addict

After the third season of Serial I fell into a hole thinking there is no other podcast like this. As it turns out, there are many and I am listening to all of them. My personal recommendations are Over my dead body as well as Up and Vanished. While still well done, I stopped listening to Atlanta Monster and To live and die in L.A. due to serious nightmares.

  • Sports subscriptions are awesome

Eurosport is showing every leg of the Giro d’Italia in full every day, and TVNow shows all free trainings of the Formula 1. I am not talking about Netflix and Amazon Prime because everybody knows the concept of binging…

  • IKEA rents out wheelchairs


Thank You for all the book recommendations, I will get to them hopefully soon! Let’s see what next week of couch slouch brings.

Twin Update: acute twin-twin-transfusion system…

Something seemed wrong on tuesday. I called the hospital, they instructed me to come straight into the delivery room. When I arrived there were 6-8 of people waiting for me, assuming that they had to deliver the twins.

Up until that point I had not been too worried, but after my female doctor had told me that both heart beats were positive, she looked at her male colleague and said: “it looks very much like a TTTS.”

I peaked at the sonography screen and fetus 1, the name which we have resumed to for the smaller baby, was pressed to the uterus wall with almost no more amniotic water and space to move. Fetus 2 already had more than 10cm of amniotic water and not only are these the criteria for a laser fetoscopy, it became clear that we had yet another life threatening situation – only this time for both babies. As I had written in one of my last blogs, one baby basically starves, the other one drowns if this complication remains untreated.

It all happened very fast, I was given a very painful shot into my leg muscles to speed up lung development, plus an infusion to stop my contractions and after another Doppler sonography I had one minute to give Pouya a kiss before walking into the OR.

I had to be awake for the duration of the surgery. Luckily enough I was accompanied behind the curtain by a wonderful young female anesthesiologist who totally chimed into a drug-infused shittalking session with me. We agreed that it is basically Yoda with a laser sword fighting off the dark side that had gripped both babies. The surgery was very painful to me, and I can honestly say that my body has now started to take a toll. We are approaching 26 weeks, crazy to think that a normal pregnancy would last 14more…

After the surgery the doctors explained that Fet 1 really has only a third of the placenta and we would have to wait & see how she’ll react to her new circumstances.

It has now been 48hours and both are alive, recovering as good as we could possibly wish for.

Thank You everyone for your texts and love! I really appreciate every single message. It goes without saying that there are some very sad moments sometimes, but I am trying – as always – to resume to Rilke: Why would you want to exclude the negatives, maybe they are the ones that will heal you.

If you have some, I am taking all the book recommendations I can get, currently I am attacking one piece of literature that has been on my bucket list for a long time: War & Peace 😁

Ending with some new observations:

  • these long, agonizing animalistic screams one hears out of the delivery rooms do not convince me that one can forget as soon as one sees the newborn…
  • Having now been in two different hospitals rooming with different females and their own stories my overall feeling about pregnancy has not changed. On the contrary, I am happy to have met multiple women my age that consider this time as the ultimate sacrifice, that want to punch all writers in the face when they describe pregnancy as this “wonder that is happening inside of you” or remind you in a condescending way “not to loose perspective. It will be such a short time.” Just today I had a conversation with like minds, one of them had to endure a postnatal depression, the other one described pregnancy as totally giving up her body and life. There might be and are multiple females out there that have the time of their lives and obviously having more than one child speaks for them not hating their first pregnancy as much as I do, but I am just very happy to be surrounded by women that have an attitude towards motherhood & feminism which I can identify with.
  • The entire team of doctors, midwives and nurses at TU Munich is absolutely great, friendly and encouraging. I feel in very capable and loving hands.

Twin-Update: sIUGR – the new vocabulary to learn

Dizzy sunrise over Kassel

It is early Tuesday morning and as I am writing this I am eagerly awaiting the doctors’ rounds in the hospital to convince them to release me today.

It is not a normal Tuesday, today my step sister is getting married which is the only reason I am in my home town Kassel. The babies gave me yet another scare and I was put on bedrest for the time being. One would think that is gets easier, but as time goes on, my tummy grows and this pregnancy wears me out more and more.

I have been receiving a lot of love and support in the last weeks and I am truly thankful for all of it. I have decided to be more open about what is happening no matter the outcome because I am hearing and seeing lots of people struggle: with getting pregnant, with complications, with loss, with postnatal issues such as career nose-dives.

And as many of you know I am not planning to become a stay-at-home mom, I am not planning to give up triathlon training and my active lifestyle, I am not planning to stay in Germany for too long. Yet, being pregnant comes with many people throwing their opinion and advice at you (or even better: German folks knowing already what I am going to do and how I am going to feel) and even without weekly visits to prenatal specialists and the constant fear of potential loss on mind I am finding myself in a mudpile of feelings questioning a lot of things, especially the role of women and family policy in Western countries.

Selective Intrauterine Growth Restriction

Before getting into that rant, however, here are the facts: I am in my 24th week of pregnancy, both girls (yes!) have active heartbeats. While we had been prepared for a complication called “Twin-twin-transfusion-syndrom” where the blood exchange between the babies is becoming one-dimensional with one baby being the donor and one the receiver, it has turned out that the babies have a very rare different condition called selective intrauterine growth restriction (sIUGR). For reasons unknown, one twin is not getting enough from the placenta, thus staying behind in development. So far we have a 28% growth discordance. Some twins are born with one being half the size of the other.

SIUGR is categorized into three different types depending on the blood flow pattern in the umbilical cord. When the minimum criteria were met for our baby to be called a growth-restricted twin the doctors were under the impression that we are dealing with type 1. Type 1 means that both babies have a good chance of survival and they can make it beyond 30 weeks of pregnancy.

Right before Easter the doctors noticed a connection between the babies that had a blood flow pattern that was all not too great. We were sent home with the option of terminating the growth-restricted twin (that’s what I mean when I talk about little scares).

One week later, after we had taken a break in Croatia, soaked in some sun and rested a lot, the little one’s heartbeat was much better.

Treatment of sIUGR

We are now doing something called “expectant management”: monitoring the babies each week, taking it day by day. The next four weeks will be critical. Technically, the babies have reached liveability, but since the little one is almost two weeks behind her chances are pretty daunting currently.

The doctors & staff at TU Munich’s hospital have been very helpful, explaining everything to us, comforting us, always making time.

I will give more updates soon.

Infant Care for Dummies – an entertaining evening

The last diaper I changed 18 years ago. Googling things like “taking care of twins” usually lead to Mami blogs that basically tell you that your life from now on is on the constant edge to suicidal, that you will never sleep again nor get your body back and that your friends are only good friends if they bring you food…

I stopped googling. 

Instead, Pouya and I spent a “night out” at the Red Cross Hospital in Munich where a wonderful nurse with 35 years of infant care experience teaches inexperienced grown-ups how to not kill their infants. It was hilarious. Some of my leanings:

  • How to spot young parents? Just look for people with puffy eyes and vomit on their shoulders. Our cute nurse was the only one in the room heartily laughing about this joke.
  • She warned us not to come back to the hospital if we think the baby has fever and instructed everyone to better learn how to measure temperature in the behinds.
  • Obviously, it is not a good idea to hold a conversation when changing boys’ diapers. Any distraction might result in you getting peed on. She also pointed out that, albeit being very small, little boys do have the ability to pee right into your face…Did I mention we’re expecting girls?

All together an entertaining evening which I can totally recommend to anyone. In case you run out of fun stuff to do, I would suggest to sign up for a “Säuglingspflegekurs“. Not more expensive than a movie ticket, and you’ll get free massage oil ;-).

A test of enduring uncertainty: my twin pregnancy

TTTS, IUGR and a whole lot of waiting

It was after two hours of sonography that the prenatal specialist closed his eyes as if he was going through his knowledge, repeating the observations. He summarized his findings in a rather sobering way: “That is the shit with identical twin pregnancies, they are never just easy.”

There was a size discrepancy between the twins that was hinting at a condition called Twin-twin-transfusion syndrome.It is a rarely occurring condition where blood is transfused unequally from one twin to the other. Left untreated it is lethal in the majority of cases. Treatment, according to this doctor, was not possible for the next couple of weeks. Hence, nature was control.

One week after the initial diagnosis, I assumed the worst. On the contrary, though, things had stabilized. All of a sudden, the doctor considered another condition, the so called intrauterine growth restriction.

It has now been multiple weeks, countless specialist appointments and hours over hours of Googling. Talking about it has become easier: We simply do not know what is going to happen. It has also taken me some time to internalize that there is nothing I can do but to accept faith and to keep stay positive.

Being open about it was very hard for me at first, showing vulnerability does not come easy at all times. Once I opened up I learned from other people who had lost twins, received recommendations for other specialists and felt an abundance of wonderful, encouraging vibes coming our way.

During the ultrasounds I see two kicking and curling not so tiny fetuses. They sometimes wave, suck on their thumbs and they are definitely restless, especially when the specialist is trying to measure them. It is hard to imagine that we might have to undergo laser surgery and that we are dealing with the risk of loosing one of them.

Accepting something that is out of one’s control has so far not been my strong suit. This time that is all I can do: trying to get comfortable with uncertainty.

Solo road trip from San Diego to LA

Let’s face it: in our daily lives time is mostly directed by others. So much so that I find it hard to listen to my body and remain mindful. A solo trip that let’s me go about days in my own rhythm is my source of reconnecting with myself.

With no plans, a pair of sunglasses, and a convertible I started my trip from San Diego. One can easily drive from here to LA in a couple of hours, depending on traffic. This quintessential Southern Californian strip of land is well known for it’s artsy beach towns, coastal life and I felt like reconnecting with the West Coast a little bit.

The Naval City: visiting the Aircraft Carrier museum

Large and majestic thrones the USS Midway at the San Diego waterfront. It is now a museum with a Starbucks in the rear, at the time of its deployment is was the largest naval ship in service.

Everywhere on the ship you’ll encounter former soldiers in their pilot jackets giving accounts of past times. how to take off or land on these monstrous ships and how deployment was like. All of them refer to their boat as their home. It is quite an impressive sight.

First stop: La Jolla – come close to the Sea Lions

For the first night I had picked an airbnb at the coast of LaJolla. It is known for its beach coves and lots of animals.

La Jolla, the sea-side village, turned out to be exactly what I had wanted and needed. Lots of wild animals, scuba divers, stand-up paddlers, a little overcast Cali sky. But its not that: It was the locals I met walking their dogs smiling at me and wishing me a good morning in a cheerful way. It was the waitress at the Pancake house telling me: “Honey, I’ll make you just what you want.”

Stop 2: Running into Lori

I left La Jolla towards Carlsbad. My high school exchange coordinator Lori happened to be on vacation there and we met for donuts and coffee in this wonderful place called The Goods.

While the donuts were to die for, it was a special treat to meet Lori again. She was my go-to-person when I came to California in 2002. I remember her house smelling like cinnamon sticks and apple cider, her having a bunch of kids in the house and Lori just being the kindest person.

That afternoon we sat and talked as if we had just seen each other the week before. She is a woman of God and I deeply appreciate her advice and her perspective.

Next Stop: The infamous Laguna

The hotel I slept in was right by the ocean and relatively early I was woken by the loud thunder-like sounds of the ocean. I put on my running shoes and explored. I met a lot of homeless and lots of scuba divers this early in the AM. As usual, ths weather was gloomy at first, but got better around noon.

Fittingly, I had a California bagel from the highly recommended bagel shop in town; it was so delicious and I got to watch some real California High School privileged kids, always a pleasure to sit back and see them show off the SUV’s they received for their sweet 16, walking around as if they own the city.

I had read about a hike in the hills, but could not find parking. A little frustrated, I then found a beautiful quiet beach. A good reminder that plans might not work out, but something better might just happen to come your way.

Obligatory: IN’N OUT

From Laguna Beach I decided to drive through “The Hills” towards LA. The weather was perfect, the day was overshadowed by the news of multiple fast spreading wildfires in Southern California and a bar shooting in a Thousand Oaks the night before. The other side of the US…

Whenever I am in California, there is one obligatory stop and that is at the iconic burger joint IN’N OUT to enjoy simply the best American burger with fries.

Finally: Surf City USA

I ended my trip in Huntington Beach, visiting my host sister Sarah who just had her second baby. The beach town of Huntington feels very familiar and a little bit like home. It has a great pier with lots of surfers, beach shacks and I can recommend to put it on the list for any Southern California trip.

Although it was only three days, traveling alone is still very special to me. It makes me find my own rhythm and connect with places or remain in moments differently than when with a friend or my husband. And doing that at a place on this planet that I called home for a little while was very precious to me – albeit a bar shooting, California wild fires and lots of homeless people.

What I would do differently:

From hindsight I think that Laguna Beach is overrated, and Carlsbad just wonderful. Next time I would just stay there for the night.

Tips to travel on budget: Southern California is very expensive, even simple hotels cost a lot of money. When I travel alone I need to feel save which is why I do not save on accommodation. However, I usually go to Whole Foods instead of mediocre tourist restaurants. They have a warm & cold food bar, fresh produce and I just take my food to sunny spots on the beach.

Since I did not have too much time I also did not get to explore all the hiking trails in that region, maybe on the next trip?