We are deep in November. The days are grey and cold, the branches bare, the mornings dark. It is possible to love November days, but it takes practice and insight. The beauty does not shout like that of the spring forsythia. It lies underfoot in the delicate frost on the leaf, overhead in the intricate patterns of the newly exposed branches, in the exhilaration of cold air filling your lungs and in the promise of warmth when you return home.
Mornings are especially peaceful this time of year. Most living creatures choose to stay snuggled until the sun comes up. My husband, my kids, even the birds are silent. The promise of solitude pulls me from my flannel sheets. This is not easy, but I know I will not regret it. I love sneaking out into the dark world, the moon and the stars my only witnesses. It feels sacred.
I bundle up and make my way out. My dog cannot believe her good fortune, though we do this everyday, sometimes twice. As always, I get a few steps in and am glad for it. By January my brain will have connected the appropriate dots: get out EVERY morning, no matter how cold, and move your body and you will find happiness. In November, I am still relearning the obvious, and every morning I am still a bit shocked by my discovery: I love this. I need this.
For me, physical movement invariably leads to gratitude. I breathe in the crisp air and start my mental list. I realize that Thanksgiving is in a few days. I feel that I should write something and then it comes to me: I need to write about my baby boys. I have written about everyone else and they are certainly the icing on the cake, the grande finale. So drumroll…cymbals crash. Here goes…
When you find out you are pregnant for the first time, you cannot wait to share the news. It bubbles from your lips during every conversation. Your exciting news is met with hugs and cheers and elation all around. By the second baby, Mom is usually just as excited, but public excitement has dimmed. Old news, they’ve heard this before. By the third and fourth pregnancy, people barely crack a smile, some even look at you sympathetically. If your pregnant for the sixth time and your history includes Down Syndrome, a life-threatening congenital birth defect and the death of a child, you keep your mouth shut. You sit on the toilet and stare at that little stick and think, “Fuck.”
The next thing I do is run away. I drive over 70 miles to a place where I don’t know a soul. When I know for sure I am alone I call an old friend who has no connections to my local life. I tell her my secret and together we process: How did this happen? Birth control malfunction. Did you tell Jeb? Not yet. How do you feel? I don’t know. What are you going to do? I’m going to deal.
The information is mine and mine alone for two weeks. I walk about in a daze. My husband and I go out to dinner. It is our first time alone since my discovery. During dinner he brings up his plans to have a vasectomy. The appointment conflicts with a trip we had planned. Here is my chance, my baby-brain thinks, why ruin our plans if it doesn’t matter anyway? I can’t get pregnant ‘cause I already am! I tell him so. He stares and the blood drains from his face. The waiter arrives with our food, but my husband does not turn to him, does not move his arms to make way for the food. He has not said a word, but it is obvious he is feeling the same: Fuck.
So we process: How did this happen? How do we feel? What are we going to do?
Terminating is not an option. What if we had aborted our other not-so-perfect babies? Unthinkable. I can’t help but believe that we were meant to have this experience somehow. I mean, how did those sperm sneak by anyway? Having this attitude makes it easier to deal somehow. We move forward. We have a secret.
One night the whole family is in the car together. From the back seat my oldest calls out to me, “Mom, how come you’re taking prenatal vitamins?” My hands freeze on the steering wheel. Damn. I’m not ready for this. When we get home we sit our son down. He has always been our most intense child and he wants answers. He is angry at the news. He has witnessed too much in his thirteen years and he wants it to stop. It has only been two years since his baby sister died. Stop doing this. He feels the same way: Fuck.
We move forward. The time for the trip we had planned arrives. We fly the whole family across the country. No one knows us here. I am now 16-weeks pregnant and a friend has arranged for us to have a free ultrasound. I need some answers. I need to know.
I go alone. Jeb stays at our hotel with the kids. We are both sick with anticipation. What could it possibly be this time? Is it even possible for us to have a “normal” baby? I am 42-years-old.
The ultrasonographer knows nothing of my history. He is just doing a favor for our mutual friend. He squirts the jelly on my belly and gets started. After a while he says, “Well, I can’t tell you much because its a bit early, but I can tell you there are two in there.”
Astonished, it slips out before I can think to be polite: “Fuck.”
I get in the rental car and have to laugh out loud. I look up to the heavens and shout, “Are you serious?”
The first bubble of joy floats up.
I drive back to hotel and Jeb greets me at the door, expectation and panic in his eyes. I lead him to the privacy of the bathroom. What? what? what? he pleads. Unfairly, I bait him: there is something…and you’re not gonna believe it. Twins, I tell him. Identical twins. They share a placenta. His mouth drops open. Nothing comes out. He drops to the toilet seat and puts his head in his hands. When he looks up at me, I see it: the beginning of a smile. I drop to my knees and let his arms wrap around me. We laugh together. What. The. Fuck. Our union is so strong. Life has tested us over again and again, but we remain solid, strong. We will do this. We will.
The trip ends and the prenatal train starts moving. I call our trusted home-birth midwife who has delivered four of our babies, only one of them an uncomplicated birth. She is apprehensive. She is not comfortable with a twin birth. She requests that we scheduled an ultrasound at the nearest teaching hospital over an hour from our home. She does not trust our small town hospital.
I am nervous for the ultrasound. I am further along and they can see more. What if? What if? What if? I am alone with my midwife, my husband is not there. The waiting if forever. It is crowded and sterile and serious in the waiting room. We are all waiting for the top-notch ultrasound; one that goes above-and-beyond the average sound waves. My past pregnancy history and my age have landed me here. I am the only pregnant woman here, the others have different conditions. There is no joy in this waiting room.
It is finally my turn and my midwife accompanies me to the examining room. I try to make light conversation, but the technician is having none of it. Her actions make it clear that we will not be chatting. She will divulge nothing. This is the serious unit. She does her job and leaves the room. The “High-Risk” obstetrician enters to take a look. With a matter-of-fact tone she informs me that she suspects my babies have something called Twin-Twin Transfusion Syndrome. To her trained eye, the ultrasound is showing that one baby is receiving more blood flow than the other. She goes on to flatly explain that this is rare and only occurs with identical twins that share a placenta. She tells me that this pregnancy will be difficult and one or both babies may die. We will probably need to have specialized care in another state, perhaps Pennsylvania. She knows my last three births were very hard on our family. She recommends termination. She wants to schedule the procedure. We still “have time”.
I cannot speak. My midwife is my voice. Thank you, we will consider your recommendation. The doctor leaves. On to the next patient. There is more news to give today.
My midwife cleans off my stomach and helps me up. I look at her stunned. Let’s get out of here are her only words. She leads me to the car and puts me in the passenger seat. She will drive. On the way home, she calmly explains that she has studied a few of these cases. She has heard that bed rest and a high-protein diet can have an effect. I stare out the window.
At home, I take to the couch. My husband is given the news. We have no time to react before the children come home from school. My oldest asks immediately is everything is okay. Everything is fine, I say. Fine.
I try to stay away from the internet, but, of course, I cannot. I know from past experience that the news there is never good; even if there is hope, I will not find it here. The pages only breed more fear. I look away and look inside. I can do this. I can.
I spend the next week hardly moving and take in nutrients. I consume high-calorie, nutrient dense shake after high-calorie, nutrient dense shake. There is no desire for solid food, but I eat it anyway.
My husband takes me to the next ultrasound. We do not speak. The technician goes through the motions and we wait for the obstetrician. We get a different doctor this week. She looks at the screen and moves the wand over my abdomen. My husband is by her side, trying to decode the images on the screen. The doctor looks up and casually announces that “things look good”.
WHAT? I tell her that a week ago, I was told to terminate this pregnancy. What is going on? Do the babies have Twin-Twin transfusion Syndrome? She sees no sign of that. I tell her of my bed rest and diet, could that have been a factor? No, she says. There is no evidence to support that. On to the next patient.
We stumble into the hall. Joy tries to rise, but I cannot let it. Not yet. The fear is still too strong. Life is uncertain. I have learned this.
More weeks pass and I drink and drink. Food no longer holds any pleasure. Eating is a chore, but I am diligent. Hope slowly begins to smother fear. I have to start telling people I am carrying twins. At six months, I look as if I am full-term. I start with our own children. Joy tries again. I let a little in.
My prenatal visits to the teaching hospital continue. My midwife thinks it is best. I am 42 and this pregnancy is labelled “High Risk”. I am in the High Risk unit and I need to see the High Risk doctors because I am High Risk. I am trying to battle the fear, but I am not allowed. I am told that my babies will most likely be born premature. I tell the doctor that I am a fabulous incubator; my babies grow well inside of me, even when statistics say they are unable to. I am told this will not happen this time. Twins are different and I am High Risk. If my babies do decide to stay inside of me, they will take them out for me at 36-weeks.
My midwife tries to calm me again. These are just recommendations, she says. I tell her I cannot go back to the teaching hospital. I do not want another High Risk ultrasound and I do not agree with the High Risk doctors. I am strong. I can do this. I know it.
She agrees, but it is for the best. After all, I am High Risk.
Enough. I cannot continue to let fear lead the way. I decide to try our local hospital, ten minutes from home. The head obstetrician is the father of twins. My friends have been encouraging me to meet with him, but my midwife is resistant. We need a bigger hospital with more expertise. I am tired of expertise. My midwife wishes me the best. I feel free.
Our local hospital is not equipped with a High Risk unit. I am greeted with excitement. Everything looks great! Wow, those babies have a strong heartbeat! They are going to be big boys! Suddenly, I am strong, amazing, an inspiration! The only thing I feel is relieved.
The weeks pass by and I drink and eat and eat and drink. I am enormous. It is summer and it is hot. Week 36 comes and goes. My babies stay put.
I visit my small hospital weekly and get lots of encouragement. There is no talk of taking my babies. We are doing great. Week 37, week 38, week 39 come and go. Now, even I am surprised. And tired. And hot.
40 weeks and 2 days and I finally feel it. The boys are ready. They are born healthy and beautiful and plump. Relief+ joy+exhaustion+ hormones=indescribable. Later, when our four older children are allowed to come visit, my son with Down Syndrome will express my feelings in his simple, perfect way. He has been told throughout the pregnancy that we were expecting twins, but the concept was too abstract for him to grasp. When he walked into the hospital room he stopped and gasped. Two babies? Two babies? And then it clicked: Two babies! Two babies! Two babies! He jumped with joy and clapped his hands. Two babies.
That was exactly how I felt. Two healthy babies! Two healthy fucking babies!
These twin boys were a magical, healing balm for our battered family. It felt like all of our past hardships were just prepping us for the gift of this experience. Every single day of their six years I have taken a moment to thank God for the miracle of them. Even my teenagers are under their spell-the twins give them a reason to roll on the floor, to play, to smile. They bring joy.
So this November, I am indeed thankful. I am thankful for the same things, every single day:
Five beautiful, unique boys, one incredible firecracker of a girl, my amazing best friend and the privilege of sharing the deep, rich, magnificent experience of it all.