When I was pregnant with twins, I had mild sense of panic bubbling under the surface at all times. While on the surface I might have come across as cool as a cucumber, I can guarantee you that my mind was as busy as Grand Central Station. The research (oh the research!); the doctor's appointments; the planning; the worry. Will I make it to full term? Will I be able to work until the end? Will I have everything I need before they arrive? These thoughts continued to swirl around in my brain on a low simmer as the weeks marched on… and on… and on! My fears of not making it to full term were washed away as I realized I was nearing the twin finish line! Only now a new fear that had been hiding in a closet in the back of my mind suddenly peeked out and was the main topic of discussion at my OB appointments: To vaginal or to c-section? That was the question.
One of my biggest fears was something that not a lot of twin moms like to talk about (or even think about): The possibility that going for a vaginal delivery could possibly end up in Baby A delivered vaginally and Baby B delivered by c-section. The “Double Whammy”. The twin birth that makes strangers and friends alike cringe and offer sympathetic looks, with a subtext of “Yikes…better you than me.” As I neared my due date and both boys were still in the head-down position, my OB made it quite clear that it was totally up to me to make the call. She would fully support my decision to try for a vaginal, or she would schedule a c-section if that's what I preferred. It was my first pregnancy and things had progressed perfectly. Besides a raging case of heartburn since conception (thank God for Zantac!) and some early Braxton-Hicks contractions (which disappeared by increasing to 1 gallon of water intake a day), these puppies were good to go and so was I. I made the decision. I was going to go for it! Vaginal or bust!
There's a Yiddish proverb, “Der mentsh trakht un Got lakht.” Man plans and God laughs. Or in this case, woman plans and God laughs. You can probably tell where this is going. Here's what happened on the day I went into labor.
- 11 pm: Water breaks; Natural labor! Woo hoo!
- 1 am: Arrive at hospital.
- 2 am: Epidural… ahhhh… Only 1 cm dilated, babies doing fine, but I'm having steady contractions. Pitocin is given.
- 12 pm: 10 hours later, cervix check #__??? Almost fully dilated!
- 1 pm: 10 cm! Let's do this! I bear down and begin to push.
- 3 pm: HOLY CRAP WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME HOW DIFFICULT PUSHING IS? Has it really been 2 hours of this?
- 4 pm: You're freaking kidding me. I've been pushing for 3 hours? Is it supposed to take this long?
- 4:30 pm: My amazing OB says Baby A is SO CLOSE but he's progressing slowly and if I opted for vacuum extraction she thinks it'll do the trick. Let's do this! I'm wheeled off to the OR and hubby is prepped.
- 5:01 pm: With an incredible team of all-female doctors and nurses literally cheering me on (and the help of a Dyson), my Baby A, Desmond, is born. I see him for a moment but am too tired to really soak it in. I'm so ready for Baby B to be out. I push some more and he's not advancing, but he's not in any distress. Several people try to turn Baby B so that he's feet first so they can just pull him out by the legs, but no dice. This kid is LOVING having the penthouse to himself and has no plans to evacuate (a foreshadowing of his wily personality.) My OB suggests I take a break and I agree. I'm wheeled back to the labor room, so exhausted I can hardly move. How the hell am I going to push out the other guy?
- 6 pm: An ultrasound is done and he's still head-down. Somehow, I rally. I am determined to pop him out. I have worked too hard for this and have pushed too long to give up now. I muster up a second wind and begin pushing again.
- 6:30 pm: I am finally getting the hang of this pushing thing! I'm gonna do this!
- 7 pm: Is this really happening? I thought the 2nd one was supposed to slide out like on a water slide? What the F, Baby B???
- 7:30 pm: OK, this is messed up.
- 8 pm: My OB starts looking at me like I've grown a third head. I can tell she's worried about me. She checks in and I confirm that I've still got it in me. It ain't over yet.
- 9 pm: I'm beat. I look at the clock. OMFG it's almost tomorrow. And tomorrow is the first day of the next month. If this doesn't happen soon I will have twins born not only on 2 different days but in 2 different months.
I check in with OB. She lays it out. “He's advancing with each push, but then he's backing in after each push. So it's one step forward, one step back.” I ask her for her honest opinion. She tells me that it's my decision and that she will keep going if I want to keep going, for as long as I want, and as long as the baby and I are safe. And then she looks at me and, with the kindness and care that is usually reserved for a close friend, she tells me that I've done an incredible job, that she is blown away by the stamina and effort I have put in, and that she knows how much I wanted this. But that if I choose to stop pushing and go for the c-section she would support that decision. We both got a little misty, and I looked at my husband. He was there helping me push the whole time and I could tell he was exhausted too. But he said he would support whatever I wanted to do. I turned to my OB, took a deep breath, and said, “Tell me about a c-section.”
The next hour was a whirlwind of release forms, a trip back to the OR, increased sedation, surgical prep, and just pure exhaustion. I was done. Toast. It was the right thing to do. At 10:31 pm, my Baby B, Alec, was born. It was over — we were all healthy. The surgery was a success and after a quick look at Alec (in my drugged out haze), he was whisked away, I sent my husband to our room to get some sleep, and I was wheeled into recovery.
And that's where I lost it. The drugs, the hormones, the exhaustion, the pain… and the thought that I had worked so hard — SO SO SO HARD — and still had to have the c-section — was just too overwhelming. The tears came. I was SO GRATEFUL for a healthy delivery. Two healthy babies! And a healthy ME! I didn't have any complications and I made it through! Amazing! I should have been overwhelmed with joy! And then I felt so incredibly guilty for not feeling joy. What was wrong with me??? What kind of mother feels that way after her successful birth? I was wracked with guilt and sorrow and confusion.
I was joined in recovery by my OB and she stayed with me for over an hour, far past the time she was expected to stay (isn't she an amazing creature?) She and I talked about the crazy day, and she got a couple of laughs out of me, and I shared my feelings. She reassured me that I made the right decision. I nodded in agreement… but I still felt… off. It wasn't supposed to go this way. “I worked so hard.” I remember this thought swirling in my head as they wheeled me into my hospital room and I passed out.
Fast forward 2 years. It's really taken me that long to get the perspective I needed. After 2 years of twin parenting — including my husband's 13-month unemployment; a week-long hospital stay for Desmond where he was diagnosed with swallowing problems and put on a feeding tube; and 3 sets of helmets and a year of physical therapy for torticollis; plus all the highs and lows of raising twins — I can honestly say that my birth experience was a piece of cake compared to what I went through in the 2 years since then. That was just the pre-show. The parenting thing is the main event. My “double whammy” was my lesson in letting go.
When I used to teach kids how to deal with anger, my mantra was, “You feel what you feel; but what you do about it is your choice.” So I decided to feel what I felt. I was upset. I felt like I worked hard. I worked my ass off! And I didn't get what I wanted. And that's OK. Sometimes we can work really hard and do all the right things and make all the right plans and STILL it doesn't work out the way you wanted, even though you did your best. This is the crux of twin parenting. That double whammy taught me everything I needed to know about how to cope with raising twins. You can plan, and prepare, and work hard at ANYTHING — be it breastfeeding, transitioning to toddler beds, preparing your kids for college, whatever — and it just might not work out the way you wanted it to. Life is not a plan. Life is doing your best and doing what's right for you and your family and at the end of the day looking around and realizing, “You know what, I did good.” We're all feeling all the feelings, and trying all the options, and we're figuring it out as we go. That is twin parenting. That's parenting period.
Whatever it is that you feel, I'm here to tell you it's OK to feel it. Take it all in and soak up all the feelings like a giant sponge and process those feelings and feel them with all of your soul and being. And then make your choice. Choose to move forward. Choose to open a new window and let the light in. Yes, “let it go”… but never forget it. Your challenges are a part of you. They grow you… into the marvelous parent you are, getting better at this thing each and every day. We laugh and we cry and we win and we lose and at the end of the day we're doing it. We're still here. We're raising these kids and doing our best. And that's what it's all about.
Looking back 2 years later, I don't regret a single thing. I wanted to go for it and I did. It didn't work out the way I wanted it to, but I tried. I went with my gut, I rolled the dice, and… I still won. Two sweet, funny, incredible little boys. So I have no regrets. So to you, my dear, lovely, pregnant twin momma, know this: There are SO many moms who had their twins vaginally. And SO many who had them by c-section. And some who had both (high fives to my Double Whammy Club ladies.) If you choose to have a scheduled c-section, that is totally OK. And if you choose to go for the vaginal and you end up with the double whammy, it's going to be OK too. You are going to be OK. And maybe — just maybe — it'll be the best thing that could have happened to you.
Julie Burt Nichols is Twiniversity’s Dean of Parents, serving as Editor-in-Chief of Twiniversity.com, Account Manager, and Instructor for Chicago Twiniversity classes.
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The rate of twin births has risen 79 percent over the last three decades, and continues to increase. A mom of fraternal twins and a national guru on having two, Natalie Diaz launched Twiniversity, a supportive website with advice from the twin-trenches.
What to Do When You’re Having Two is the definitive how-to guide to parenting twins, covering how to make a Birth Plan checklist, sticking to one sleep schedule, managing double-duty breastfeeding, stocking up on all the necessary gear, building one-on-one relationships with each child, and more.
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