Eighteen years ago I lay on an operating table and pushed out my first twin girl baby. (Fraternal, since everybody asks.)
I had been in labor for five days. Thirteen weeks of bedrest atrophied every muscle in my body. The residual terbutaline in my bloodstream, designed to keep me out of preterm labor, made my initial contractions strong enough to keep me awake for the better part of four days and nights but not strong enough to deliver. Upon arrival we told the labor nurse that I was having two-minute contractions, two minutes apart. She did not believe me until she hooked me up to a monitor. By the time came for delivery I was anxious, excited and exhausted.
My first twin came down the pike headfirst, all business, pink and healthy, ready to meet the world. My second girl dangled down, a footling breach. I lay spent on the flat, hard O.R. table. I remember thinking to myself, “OMG, I have to push another one out.” I wasn’t sure I could do it.
My husband and I moved our grown twin girls into their respective college dorms. We started in Manhattan. The first baby out was, naturally, the first girl out of the nest. Her twin accompanied us. It was a logistical challenge, involving our entire luggage collection, several boxes, and a crazy trip to Bed, Bath and Beyond, where three colleges worth of people were buying up dorm stuff like ants raiding a sugar pile.
Somehow, in the sweltering 90+ degree heat, we managed to get her moved and unpacked in less time than it took for her to be born. She was all business, competent and energized, clearly ready for her next adventure. We stayed a couple more nights taking in shows and scenery. The last night we met up at a fashionable 10pm for a horse-drawn carriage ride from Rockefeller Center to Columbus Circle near her campus. We chatted and laughed quietly in the late summer evening, the four of us together one last time before adulthood officially began. She cried a little when we left, leaving us all misty eyed as she walked into her multistory highrise dorm looking small but determined.
And I thought, “OMG, I have to push another one out.”
Her twin’s college is in the Midwest near my husband’s family. It was even hotter and muggier. We rented a van, filled it full of the boxes we had mailed to the grandparents, and proceeded to college #2. I was doing well. I was on task, focused. I pushed hard and did what needed to be done. Dorm stuff, check. Orientation events, check. Gluten free food and snacks, check. She moved into the fourth floor of a limestone dorm with no air conditioning. I got heat exhaustion. But I kept pushing.
Twin #2 has a big head. This is not a metaphor for her ego. Her head was so big when she was a baby that her pediatrician thought she might have hydrocephalus. She looked at my baby, then my husband, then back at my baby. She pulled out a measuring tape for my husband’s head, and smiled. No hydrocephalus, just a genetically big head.
That head got stuck on the way out while her feet dangled out of my body. I lay on the flat, hard O.R. table with my head in my husband’s lap and realized something was going wrong. I wasn’t sure I had anything left to give. “Push.” The quiet fear in my husband’s voice, from a man who deals with life and death in his work on a daily basis, motivated me like nothing else could have. A couple of big pushes later baby was out. She wasn’t breathing, and I had torn what felt like every muscle in my pelvis and lower back. In the moment all I could do was lie there with baby number 1 on my tummy and wait for number 2 to breathe. Thirty long seconds of bag-mask ventilation later I heard her cry and knew she was OK. Our second of two had been safely born, our instant family.
Last night it was my turn to cry.
Towards the end of the final assembly and parental goodbye, I looked at my daughter and asked her if it would be better if we cried now or later. She said, “Later.” We kept it together, sang one last hymn and filed out. She turned right, and we turned left. As with my first twin, I could not help but sneak a peek as she walked away. My husband and I looked so bereft that parents we had just met the day before grabbed us and gave us big hugs. We pulled it together and walked in a daze back to our car.
I didn’t know what it would be like, if I would be doing the happy dance, be a worrywart or be lost. We were both just kind of numb. We thought maybe a good dinner would help. It didn’t. At 3am this morning I woke up and sobbed my heart out. My husband joined me.
Twins, when they are your only children, are a funny deal. Everything happens all at once, intensely, with no practice and no chance to use what you have learned afterwards. They exhaust you, entertain you and switch roles every few years. Yesterday, our instant family became our instant empty nest. As when they were born, I have no idea what to expect next. All I know for sure is that it has been my immense privilege to parent them. Maybe I’ll do the happy dance tomorrow.
Susan Pease Banitt, LCSW is the Mom of twin college freshmen. She is a social worker, Reiki Master and author of the award-winning book, The Trauma Tool Kit: Healing PTSD From the Inside Out. Susan lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and 7 pets. Find her on Twitter.
Photo Credit Top: Donnie Ray Jones