My pregnancy was hard. Not the cliché kind of hard that builds character but the kind that would’ve ended me if not for the lives inside that kept me fighting. In many ways I am still not ready to talk about it. But recently I’ve become bothered by people who, upon seeing my twins, offer unsolicited advice like, “Don’t worry, it gets easier,” and, “Hang in there. This will be over before you know it.” Hearts are in the right places as each person offers encouragement that really means to say, “I know how you feel,” or, “You are not alone.” Most mothers probably soak this in like the dry and cracked ground of Death Valley. Not this one. I instinctively respond, “I am in no rush,” and, “I am enjoying every moment.” I’m also thinking, “They almost didn’t make it. This is the easy bit.” Don’t get me wrong, I am just as sleep deprived and stretched thin as the next mommy, especially given that I have multiples and medical issues that have recently required hospitalization (cue violins). But I’m alive and my boys are fat and happy and here. They are here. And we are soaking each other in, ignoring words that would try to make me believe that I am supposed to hurry these sacred days and treat them as if they are to be feared instead of honored. So I honor them.
It seems like yesterday I was only 24 weeks pregnant and being rushed in ambulance from one hospital to another as my cervix was dilating with contractions in an unwelcome countdown at less than two minutes apart. “It’s too soon,” playing annoyingly on a loop in my head. All the website articles I should never have read and pictures no person is ever intended to see flashed before my eyes. “Damn you internet and bed rest. A little over a pound is not big enough!”
The blare of the siren sang to me a sad song. I thought I just needed fluids. “Why was everyone whispering?” When they told us the boys were coming my hand gently slipped into my husband’s and our eyes met in a silent stare. I had never felt closer to him. And in a moment when I knew I deserved a nervous breakdown, I became the very definition of calm. Amazing because, as if my raging circus of hormones weren’t enough, I am also bi-polar and a recovering addict.
Mental illness can be physical and require medication, not unlike someone with asthma needing an inhaler or a person with diabetes needing insulin. My chemical imbalance requires my “happy pill” to keep me healthy. Unsure of the potential harm of the meds on our babies, we decided to forgo them during this time. Un-medicated, I was like a frog in room temperature water with the heat rising to boiling, inexplicably remaining in the pot until it meets its own end. It was a long slow death and I couldn’t even see it coming. I have never been more ill or depressed in my life as I was during my pregnancy, but in the most critical moment none of that ugly could touch me.
For hours the doctors tried everything to stop the seemingly inevitable; the babies were coming. In preparation for the worst, I was given massive doses of steroids for the boys’ lungs, a whole slew of injections I was told were to help prepare their entirely incompetent bodies, organs, and brains for the world. My body did not cope well with the interventions and the magnesium I was given made me vomit black for over 10 hours straight as my husband held my hair and wiped my tears. There was no reprieve. “God, how was this happening?”
My issues started early. From the terrifying bleeding to finding out that my body was essentially rejecting the pregnancy due to my blood type. It saw the boys as a foreign infection. And don’t let me forget the Spina Bifida scare. All you expectant mothers go ahead and file that one under things to never look up. Ever. The internet is not your friend right now. The internet is the enemy. I had to make a marital vow to my husband that I would stop looking things up. I also drank approximately 14 gallons of milk of magnesia and became all too familiar with an enema. And then there was the insomnia and nausea, sweet baby Jesus in the manger, the nausea.
Nine hospital visits included one pediatric nurse of over 15 years telling me I was the worst case of morning sickness she had ever encountered. I was admitted at the same time as Princess Kate in England. She was in the hospital for one day and left looking like a Vogue model. During our coinciding pregnancies if I had one more individual tell me, “Oh, you have the same thing as the princess,” I might have punched them in the throat. She threw up half a bagel and got her hair and make-up done by someone else. We have nothing in common.
My general appearance during that time closely resembled that of a homeless woman sans shopping cart. I did not experience ANY of the so-called “magical” moments of being with child. Beautiful skin? No. I became an acne ridden pre-teen again and the rest of me resembled a pasty creature from the abyss. Flowing locks? No. Try bird’s nest. The amazing movement of child in womb? No. Think the Titanic. Over a toilet bowl. Nesting? No. What time was not spent in hospital was spent on a hospital bed in our living room. The. Entire. Time. Thank God for the Ellen show. And my baby shower had to be rescheduled three times.
While most women dream of not gaining “too much” weight during pregnancy, my problem was the opposite. With twins there is an expectation that you will gain more weight than a single pregnancy. I lost weight. Let me be clear; this is NOT a healthy diet plan when the lives inside you are dependant on your weight gain. Eventually my diet consisted entirely of these nasty protein drinks that had me considering the alternative feeding tube or even the PICC line. No. You do not want to know what a PICC line is.
For months I endured constant steroid treatments to battle nausea. As a result, my muscles atrophied and I developed osteoporosis and what we now believe to be arthritis. Awesome. I also have a new rogue chin whisker that thinks it’s on a man’s face, so that’s cool. For now I ignore the pain with every step and the fact that I still shake a little every time I pick up one of my boys. I struggle daily but then I remember, I am alive and the boys are here.
I will never forget Nick saying to me, “We can have other babies.” A big fat bucket of no. “I don’t want other babies,” I said. “I want these babies.” They already had names. In my mind they were fully grown, graduated, married and had children of their own. In my mind I was already a grandmother. And I loved them with an indescribable love that raged in a part of me that I had not known existed.
So when the new doctor and nurse at the level 3 NICU came in to prepare us for what was about to happen I boldly stated, “I’ve had a conversation with my cervix and they aren’t coming.” And I meant every word. They tried not to laugh as my husband asked me if I was in denial. I was not. I was already a mother. There is a difference. All in all I think it was a good conversation. After a long and hard fought battle, ten weeks later Avery and Bennett arrived six weeks early. After a short time in the NICU we brought home the two most amazing souls I have ever known. I know that so much of what kept the boys inside were the hundreds of prayers being offered up by family and friends. But I also like to think that a mother’s desperate yet commanding conversation with her lady parts had something to do with it as well.