Multiplicity: Wrapping My Head Around the Idea of Twins
We sit in firm, angular chairs in the grey-carpeted waiting room of Duke Fertility as smooth jazz wafts from speakers in the ceiling. My husband checks work email on his phone while I scribble updated contact information on a medical clipboard. My stomach is bloated and the top button on my jeans is jabbing into belly rolls I would generally rather pretend do not exist.
My body is lethargic, heavy, the way it feels the morning after I’ve taken sleeping pills and the grogginess has yet to wear off. My mind, however, is alert, anxious, awaiting the next set of data to determine if our first pregnancy, at six weeks in, is still a go.
“Kathleen Straight,” the nurse calls, poking her head around a heavy wooden door to beckon us back to the land where dreams just might come true. I feel a bit like Dorothy being let in to see the Wizard–if Dorothy were bloated and nauseous and about to lose her lunch.
We hop up and scuffle through the doorway, down a bright hallway shellacked with pictures of newborn babies with thank you notes taped beside. “Our little miracle! Thanks Duke Fertility!” I read quickly as the nurse ushers us into a darkened exam room. Two chest-height machines topped with computer screens flank a tissue-covered table, beside the table another chair.
“Here’s a robe—it opens in the front,” the nurse says. “Go ahead and take off everything but the robe and I’ll be back.”
Quite sure of our places, my husband settles into the chair while I change into the starched sheet with armholes and lie on the exam table, crinkling the paper below as I adjust to get comfortable. The nurse reenters, confirms my date of birth while staring into the computer monitor, clicking the little mouse every few seconds with her index finger.
“Your numbers look great,” she says, “We are going to take a look and see if we can’t find a nice heartbeat.”
She squeezes what looks like a ballpark condiment bottle of clear goo onto a long grey wand with a cord that trails back to the machine beside her. Noticing my breathing is shallow, my heartbeat quick, I force a deep breath in and out and make a feeble attempt to relax my lower body as she inserts the machine wand up into my uterus.
Indiscriminate motions flash on a black and white screen as the nurse adjusts the wand, searching for life. The machine speakers emanate indistinguishable shushes and slurs, much like the sound of the old home videos my dad used to take directly into the wind. This moment, with the screen like a black ocean and the white noise of a microphone searching for sound, this moment lasts forever. My breathing freezes somewhere halfway into an inhalation.
“Wup, there’s a nice heartbeat!” the nurse finally says as she zeros in on a tiny black dot I never could have found in a million years amid an ocean of dark grey on the screen. “Let’s see if there’s another…”
And before we can exhale, before we can celebrate the first, the sound of a second heartbeat fills the room.
“Oh, there it is–twins! Let me just see if there are any more…”
In a split second upsurge, every conceivable emotion rockets its way from the bottom of my gut, through my heart and up into my head. Joy, fear, shock, trepidation, insecurity, wonder: all of them at once explode like a giant Fourth of July firework trapped in the space between my ears. My eyes fill with involuntary tears.
“What?! Twins!?” Justin exclaims, smiling, as the weight of tears in his eyes, too, gives way and trails down his cheeks.
We look at each other to ground ourselves, check in on a reality too surreal to grasp without each other’s witness. In this moment, we are mirrors reflecting back at one another the same kaleidoscope of emotions: we smile, eyes wide and watery, each shaking our heads to somehow let the news settle where it needs to in our brains before it can be classified as reality (much how that little disk plinks its way to its final category in the game of Plinko.)
“Twins?!” I finally say, ever late to the party when it comes to formulating words in the midst of intense emotions. “Twins?!…Twins.” My brain has found a tiny space. The news begins to settle in.
“Looks like your uterus dropped two eggs: see here, and here,” the nurse says as she somehow identifies two small dark spots amidst the sea of near blackness.
“Almost certainly fraternal. They’re di-di–each have their own sack and placenta–which is good, statistically lower risk…”
Nothing she is saying makes any sense to me except that there are two little lives with beating hearts growing deep inside my body.
My mind races to a conversation I had just two days earlier while walking with a friend. “What if you have twins?” she asked.
“Ha! Well, I know there’s a chance…I guess we’ll just have to figure it out, won’t we?!” I replied, laughing all the while as if there really was no chance, as if we’d never really have to (get to?) figure it out. “We did go to a prayer service a few months ago at our church and out of nowhere this lady says, ‘Lord, I feel like you’re asking me to pray for twins for this couple.’ So there’s that! Ha!” I say, again dismissing it all as the over-spiritualized fancy of a well-meaning cat lady who volunteers to pray at church and goes home to keep company with 15 felines and a basket full of crocheted cat sweaters.
Now, sprawled on the crinkling paper of the exam table with a (seemingly magic) wand waving around my uterus, it appears that cat lady may have been on to something. I rub my hand over my bloated belly and wonder how my 5’3, 115lb frame is going to grow and carry two little babies around for the next 8 months without constantly tipping over front-wise.
The nurse explains that our pregnancy is considered high risk and we will now need to pursue obstetric care through one of the established hospitals around Durham—UNC or Duke—as opposed to the zen birthing center I had my eye on (the one that lets you birth in pools of Alpine spring water blessed by the Dalai Lama while getting a henna tattoo and seaweed facial).
I push aside a split second of disappointment to take in our new reality: a high-risk pregnancy will mean bi-monthly doctor visits, frequent ultrasounds, and enough data about premature birth risks to make any expecting mom all but confine herself to a padded room for the duration of the pregnancy.
“Congratulations,” the nurse says, handing me a folder of photocopied pamphlets titled, “What to expect when expecting multiples.”
Thoroughly checked and deemed “all systems go” by a medical team for which hearing two heartbeats is a happy but routine data point, we are dismissed until the next follow-up appointment. I squeeze myself gingerly back into my jeans–leaving the top button undone–and walk with a new sense of caution out into the parking lot. The blinding sun bounces off hot black asphalt as Justin and I attempt to wrap our heads around our burgeoning reality.
It takes several weeks before the news begins to settle into all the parts of my brain, seeping slowly into the far corners, as my body rounds into curves. My chest, my hips, my butt, my belly—all the parts of my athletic, linear figure (that just sounds so much better than flat and angular, doesn’t it?) begin to plump and push outward. It seems my body is determined to share the happy news of my pregnancy before my words can get to it. But this pregnancy is young and high risk and Justin and I agree that we’ll wait to share after the first trimester is safely behind us.
Multiplicity: Wrapping My Head Around the Idea of Twins
This agreement lasts about one day before I am confronted with the reality that I have no self-control. I’m convinced I will actually explode like one of those gender-reveal balloons unless I can share our insane news with someone.
“So…how about I just tell my mom?” I say.
“Okay, that makes sense.”
“Aaaand, Lashelle. …aaaaand Kristen and Shey? But that’s it,” I say.
“Okay. I’ll tell Micah,” Justin relents (secretly busting at the seams himself).
I think of a clever way to share with my mom—a texted picture of two buns in an oven. Well, a bun and a bagel to be precise: the grocery was low on buns. She doesn’t get it, thinks I’ve taken up baking.
I call to clarify. “We’re pregnant! With twins!”
My mom, now a 69-year-old widow and mother of four middle-aged adults, has waited years for grandkids. To her credit, she never nags or pulls the passive-aggressive, “It must be so nice for all your friends’ moms to have grandkids already.” She hopes secretly, wordlessly, ready to pounce on all the baby clothes Target has to offer as soon as she’s given the word. With the news of not one but two grandkids on the way, my mom is at once thrilled and beyond mystified (and likely already in the car headed to Target).
“Where are you going to put them?” she says.
“Well…huh, I guess we’ll make the back office a nursery…”
“No, in your body! Where are you going to fit them?!”
That question is trickier than the back-office renovation. I’m not sure what to say. I have no idea where I’m going to “put them,” but I’ll do my damndest to stretch out a comfy little cubby somewhere between my neck and their eventual exit door.
There are so many questions–posed by others and myself–that I am suddenly fielding. How are you going to manage two babies at once? How will you breastfeed two? Is the fertility medicine behind the multiples pregnancy? Or is it simply (or not so simply) an act of God? Will I be put on bedrest? Can my body nurture and carry two babies to term? Sweet Jesus, will they make it? Will they both make it? Will I be a good mom? Will I ever sleep again? Where have these voluptuous breasts been all my life?
I do not have a single answer. I am in territory I have never in a million years imagined my life navigating.
What I do know is multiple doctors told me I would have a difficult time getting pregnant. Multiple doctors offered multiple diagnoses—from polycystic ovarian syndrome to hypothalamic amenorrhea—as the reason I have not yet been pregnant and might not ever be. And now, seven years into our marriage, seven years of not knowing whether we would ever have the joy of welcoming a child into our family, I am pregnant—with not one, but two babies.
I do not know how the story will play out, but I recognize the grace, the excessive giving of a Cosmic Mom who offers two funfetti smash cakes when I ask for a crust of bread.
“Lord, I feel like you’re asking me to pray for twins,” that cat lady prayed while Justin and I both resisted the urge to interrupt.
“Whoa, whoa. You’re off script, lady,” I wanted to say at the time. “That’s not what we asked you to pray for.”
It wasn’t. And I’m scared. But I’ve lived long enough to understand that life is so rarely filled with precisely what we ask for. And every so often, that’s a good thing. Sometimes, it’s the best thing.
Katie Straight is a writer, poet and stay-at-home mom of three: twin five-year-old boys and one two-year-old little girl. Previously, her professional work focused on international development and international education policy (Harvard, MEd ‘12). She lives in Charlottesville, VA, with her husband and kids.
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