Just four things.
Bananas, pasta, pasta sauce, and milk.
I can do this.
I glance down at my double Snap-N-Go stroller to make sure my usually red-faced, screaming ten-week-old baby is still asleep. She is. And luckily, for the moment, so is he — my second baby.
It’s taken me a little more than two months to leave the house with my infant twins. The hassle of packing up two babies and all of their necessary things seems overwhelming, not to mention the stress of trying not to attract too much attention from fellow shoppers. The decision was made more out of desperation than bravery – no matter what happens while we are out, it can’t possibly be worse than the hours of alternating boredom and sadness I am going through with the twins at home.
After two years of trying and almost 20,000 borrowed dollars, I finally had a successful pregnancy on my second cycle of IVF. My husband of three years, Michael, was giddy, always patting my belly and thinking up terrible names for the kids (Captain Big Penis was a long-running favorite). I couldn’t wait for this new phase in my life — I was happily married, turning thirty, and about to leave my part-time job training volunteers at a local hospital to stay at home with these two babies I had wanted very much. But despite all of that, despite the fact that I assured my doctor I was not going to need to go back on anti-depressants after delivery, once the babies came home to our small Seattle home, I became more miserable than I ever could have imagined.
Now deep into a bout of severe postpartum depression, late nights of unsuccessful breast-feeding have been replaced with cycles of bottle-feeding, bottle-washing, formula-making and bottle-filling that never seem to end. I’ve already spent the first part of my day crying. Keeping in mind that I still have another fourteen hours to go before putting the twins to bed and praying for a full two hours of sleep, a trip to the grocery store seems like the spur-of-the-moment, high-risk adrenaline rush that I need today.
I lug my two car seats, my steel and black-plastic stroller and my Skip Hop Duo diaper bag (stuffed with bottles, wipes, diapers, burp cloths, two changes of clothes for each child and extra blankets) into the local Safeway. With vomit somewhere on me that I can’t see but can smell, I speed through the aisles, grabbing the items on my deliberately small list as fast as I can, hoping against hope that the twins will stay silent.
I barrel through the store, keeping my head down, refusing to make eye contact with the strangers who I can feel smiling at me and trying to peer into my stroller. In the produce section, while my eyes jump around looking for the bananas, a woman with sagging pantyhose walks up to me. As soon as she asks me if they are twins, I bolt down the aisle. I cannot bear to look at her grinning face or summon the energy for a smile of my own. I didn’t take the time to look in a mirror before I left the house, but I know that the circles under my eyes are purple, I am wearing my husband’s college sweatshirt and track pants and every time my breasts shift, the shooting pain from mastitis makes my eyes fill with tears.
When I get to the cash register, I can feel sweat coating my body under Michael’s XL gym clothes. But I have gotten away with it. The twins are still sleeping! I feel like a shoplifter just a few feet from the exit.
Then, just as I pull my groceries out from the bottom of the stroller, the cashier, earrings dangling, eyes outlined in blue, stands on her tiptoes and peeks in.
“Twins? That must be so much fun,” she chirps.
I want to beat her to death with the twins’ Sophie the Giraffe teethers.
* * *
Michael and I didn’t plan on having kids right away. I didn’t even want to have kids until I met him. I think the topic may have come up once while we were dating.
But a month before our first anniversary, my period was late. I took a pregnancy test and remember seeing the lines on the First Response stick turn pink and feeling my knees buckle. I ran to Target and bought my husband a bib with the words “I Love Daddy.” I called my mom.
Then, at twelve weeks I had an ultrasound and learned that our baby was dead. In fact, for three weeks I had been carrying a dead baby. I went back home, sat on the floor of our newly painted baby room and wailed.
From that day on, getting pregnant was all I thought about. We tried again immediately, got pregnant again, and then lost that baby after a week. Having gotten pregnant easily twice, we were optimistic about our chances for a third try. But another year went by with nothing. My husband, ever the optimist, was sure that if we just kept having lots of sex we’d be successful.
Ten months later, after three failed intrauterine inseminations, one failed injectable cycle, and one failed IVF, we were on our last try, using the three frozen embryos we had leftover from our IVF cycle. This was going to be our last attempt. We had reached the end of our financial rope, as well as my husband’s willingness to go through any more shots and tests. I started reading about adoption.
And then, it worked.
And it was twins.
When we found out we were having a boy and a girl, I felt like I had won the jackpot.
Then I had the twins. And my life fell apart.
* * *
I have suffered from depression for most of my life and have been on medication since I was twenty-one. After I met my husband, I was so happy and stable that together we made the decision that I would go off of them. I did, and for a couple of years I was fine. I had wanted these babies so much. I couldn’t see myself being depressed after they were born. How could that be possible? Two months later, I thought I had ruined my life. Having twins was the biggest mistake I had ever made.
I had my C-section a week earlier than expected on a cold Wednesday night. The gentle haze of expectant motherhood abruptly cleared when I sat on the edge of the operating table, waiting for the anesthesiologist to administer my epidural. I realized I was no longer in the driver’s seat – these babies were coming into my life in the next half-hour, and for the first time I seemed to understand what that was really going to mean. Before I could ask the doctor if we could reschedule the operation, the epidural was in and I was being laid down on the table. The next thing I knew, my husband was holding our son, the doctors were helping my daughter breathe, and I was throwing up on myself.
We brought my daughter home first. My son stayed in the NICU for an additional week while my husband and I went back and forth between our baby at home and our baby in the hospital. By the time we picked up our son, I was already exhausted from caring for our extremely fussy daughter and trying but failing at breastfeeding. And now we were going to bring home another one.
Originally, my husband planned to take almost a month of paternity leave. He ended up going back after two weeks. That first week both babies were home was spent adjusting the schedule we had started to fall into with our daughter, because now everything took twice as long. Our sleep was cut from an hour and a half between feedings to about forty minutes. During the day, any free time we had was cut in half. We couldn’t even fathom leaving the house because neither of us had the energy. Before having the babies, I thought the children would be an addition to my life; I didn’t realize that my children would become my life. I would think about the days when I could just grab my purse and go to the store on a moment’s notice, and I would cry thinking about how I now was, and forever would be, trapped. My life as I had known it was over, and my depression started to take hold.
I spent my days at home, by myself, with two babies I had no idea what to do with, during the cold, gray Seattle spring. My husband went off to work and the house would become silent. I would sit on the floor with the twins and cry, hoping that one of them would need a bottle or a diaper change, any task that could be checked off a list as proof that I was taking care of them.
* * *
One afternoon, I call Michael at work and beg him to come home. That evening, he looks me straight in the eye and says, “Meredith, you wanted this.” And I did. We paid thousands and thousands of dollars for this. I had thought about nothing but achieving this dream of motherhood for two years. Now I feel like a spoiled brat who begs for a puppy and then gets two. What is wrong with me?
Being reminded of my good fortune by well-meaning strangers every time I leave the house only reinforces my feelings of worthlessness. What kind of person and what kind of mother could I be if this amazing gift can’t make me happy?
Twins, how lucky! A boy and a girl, how incredibly lucky! After dealing with infertility? I won the lottery. A year ago I would have wept with joy if I had seen my future. And I would have hated myself if I could have predicted the regret I now feel.
It’s at my six-week appointment that I finally break. As I am settling myself on the thin paper covering the examination table, the nurse practitioner remarks in an offhand way that I later realize was very much intentional: “Six weeks? Wow. Six weeks can be a really hard time.” I fall apart, and gratefully take the list of websites she tells me to visit. As little hope as I have right now, when I arrive home I get in touch with the Program for Early Parenting Support, or PEPS, which puts new parents who live in the same neighborhoods together in a weekly support group.
My PEPS group changes my life. Those weekly meetings with ten other mothers of infant twins shows me I am not alone in my worries and fears. I’m teamed up with other women who are just trying to make it through the day. The fact that we all manage to do it gives me hope.
Things get worse before they get better. There are many more days that capsize me. It takes almost a year before I can make it through a week without falling apart. Eventually, the anti-depressants, Michael’s support and my PEPS group bring me to a new normal — a difficult, tiring, infuriating and, sometimes, unexpectedly joyful normal.
Life with twins is never easy, but it gets easier as they get older. I start to sleep again, eat again, and laugh again. There’s the day I discover my son’s laugh, the one that ends in a squeal, and record it over and over to show my husband when he gets home. There’s the day my daughter tries to have a conversation with me, and her grunts and coos in response to my questions give me a kind of joy I have never felt before. But it’s when my twins start to play together, develop their lovely personalities, and tumble into my lap in a mess of hugs and kisses that I finally say, “I am so, so lucky I have twins.”
* * *
Meredith Bland is a freelance writer who lives with her family in Seattle. She is a staff writer for Mommyish and blogs at her site, Pile of Babies.