The lights floating overhead formed a halo of calm and chaos in the room. The rolling trays, clanking instruments and the distinctive swishing sound of cotton pants walking in deliberate circles created a confluence of serenity and urgency. The walls were sterile with just the slightest hint of grey. There were eleven people occupied in pastel colored scrubs, hair nets and surgical masks. Five to my left. The other six just passed my feet. Everyone was busy, and I and my twin boys were the centerpiece of their business.
Lying on the operating table, I was both present and far away, a strangeness that can only be explained from the sequestered side of the surgical curtain. I tried to still my senses long enough to defy the anesthesia, to feel when the world changed. And it did. The world span faster, three months faster, three months before I was supposed to have it all figured out. Three months before I was supposed to be telling jokes through the seamless and charming birth of my twin boys, like if one of the bridesmaids from Bridesmaids were having a baby in the movie’s sequel, which of course would be a blockbuster hit. But there I was without a single joke, lying on a bed of grace and anticipation, ascending into the most profound experience known to mankind, motherhood. My tactile sensitivities were numbed, but all of the sights and emotions were completely lucid. Sounds seemed both muted and blinding, but nothing rang clearer than the first utterances of life from my baby boys.
Avram sang his song first. It was light and staccato, just enough to reassure me that though he had left the security of mommy’s belly, he was still with me. I cried. It was one of those soft whimpering cries that wouldn’t disturb the doctor’s scalpel… Sure, I was having twins, but I didn’t want to end up as one of those magic tricks gone wrong… I did not anticipate that tiny Avram would be big enough to comfort me the way he did, to tell me it was ok with the first streams of his breath, when I wasn’t sure if I had failed him and his brother, or not. Sagan responded to Avram’s call just 30 seconds later. He too held me with his voice, his presence gently pacifying the tears from my face. Like a hymn beckoning God’s attention, the sounds of their life resounded throughout the room. But there appeared to be something wrong.
The screen, hanging just above my head, linked to cameras over the two receiving stations for my twin boys, did not show my firstborn. I looked to my left where Avram’s receiving isolette was, but could not make out his tiny body through the blockade of nurses working on him. Sagan, small and beautiful, was confidently displayed on my screen, and his nurses were quick to encourage me with signs of his good health. But from Avram’s corner, silence. “Where’s my baby?” I cried over and over again with a voice barely strong enough to be heard over the rustling of the room. My mother was trying to inspire my faith, heartening that everything was fine. But I saw her searching, asking the nurses questions with very little reply. The minutes felt eternal and I was completely helpless. Finally, Avram called to me with a reprise of his sweet song and reassurance from before. His nurses turned their faces towards me for the first time. They were smiling. And for another first, after months of high-risk doctor visits and being told that my precious little Avram could be a stillbirth and Sagan an only child, I completely relaxed into God’s favor and knew that everything was indeed going to be fine.
The next thing I remember is waking up in my hospital room being greeted by a nurse scheduled to take my vitals every few hours. Grabbing my phone to check the time, I discovered photos of me with my boys in the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU. There were pictures taken from a third person perspective with me on a hospital gurney wedged between my twins’ isolettes. And then there were a few selfies. Nowhere in my mind could I locate any evidence of these moments, but thank God for the innate impulse to selfie.
Caught up to reality, I had to get in touch with my fiancé to tell him about the sudden but exciting news. Their father, now my amazing husband, is from the Ukraine and issues with his visa did not allow him to be present for our sons’ unexpected, premature birth. Becoming a father with so many miles between us, he was both elated and torn by the news. We both struggled and even suffered a bit, but we were still bound by untamed love, still sown together with eternity closing in the gap. We are a strong family, each of us with our own formidable and striking spirits. And still, the next 63 days marked the most difficult and truly awe-inspiring days of our lives.
After three days in the hospital, I was discharged and told to rest. Sure. Rest while my boys were being cared for by medical professionals, who were wonderful but were not me. The doctors said I had 6-8 weeks before I should drive. A week after my cesarean surgery and hitching rides with my mother, who worked at the same hospital my boys were in, I took the doctor’s should as a mere suggestion and started driving.
My days and nights transpired with no borders between them. I pumped milk every three hours. Sanitizing. Pumping. Bottling. Labeling. Repeat. I had to strategize, leaving just enough time to get dressed, drive to the hospital, see our boys and pump again. There was no time for the basic stuff. Sleeping and eating made me feel guilty, taking time away from my main objectives, Avram and Sagan. But there was no time for guilt, sleeping, eating or anything outside of being a mother and advocate for those precious little beings fighting to gain the strength to come home.
After a while, I became like a part of the staff. Laughing and greeting everyone, and keeping such close record of my children’s conditions and reports that I was often asked by the doctors making their rounds if I was a nurse.
I was not a nurse. I was absolutely exhausted. Most mornings would begin with me fighting to identify the day, after a sleepless night of pumping and calling the NICU for updates and friendly banter with the night nurses around 4 a.m. I would spend the next 12 hours at the hospital staring into the most divine faces I believe I’ll ever witness on this earth. The best memory of our NICU experience, besides taking my boys home, was getting to hold them together for the first time. Skin-to-skin is a therapy medical advisors encourage the parents to engage in with their premature babies. The physical contact is proven to encourage growth, healing and overall wellbeing for the premature baby. But truly, it was therapy for me. For my own wellbeing and sanity, I needed to feel them close to me.
After delivering Avram and Sagan three months before their due date, I was taken back by how much I missed my baby belly. It surprisingly bothered me when someone would compliment me on how slim they thought I looked after just having twins. They almost laughed in disbelief. I would awkwardly try to explain why I seemed unbelievable, “You see, they are premature. I didn’t have time to…” but the story became too long, too arduous, too painful to tell. I never anticipated that. Reading baby books, researching all of the sites and forums, I still never knew to anticipate the things we went through. But there is strength and awesome wonder in the middle of uncertainty.
Avram was discharged from the NICU 51 days after birth. With just a few hours notice, I was told I could bring baby Avram home, and it completely blew my mind, another thing I did not anticipate. I had become a well-oiled NICU mom who created a little world within their little world of medical jargon, wires, equipment and procedures. I spent most of my time watching the monitors to see if our sons were breathing. When either of the twins would have a bradycardia occurrence, the monitors would beep, and I and the nurses would know to stop everything and run to restore their declining heart rate. Not to mention Sagan having to remain in the NICU after developing high blood pressure, sometimes a symptom of prematurity. What was I to do when I got them home? How was I to know when to beat and breathe for them?
The first night Avram came home, I slept with my eyes level to his chest. He was so small and innocent I couldn’t take my eyes off of him, out of sheer awe and fear. Going back and forth to the NICU with Avram to see Sagan was another tug-of-war on my heart. Was I neglecting Sagan the hours I could not be with him in the hospital? Was I stressing out Avram by bringing him back and forth to the hospital? Needless to say, the epitome of relief and happiness came when I hugged the necks of the NICU nurses, who lovingly cared for our boys, for the last time. We were finally going home and life was starting all over again.
Now 9 months old, Avram and Sagan are thriving. Their intelligence inspires, their personalities tickle, and their spirits strengthen me, my husband and everyone they meet. The tearful moment my husband was able to be with our little loves for the first time, marked the completion of our little family, and filled my soul to no end. We are truly blessed beyond measure and living with a fortified faith in God’s mercy and love upon witnessing one miracle after another.
In the end, this is only the beginning. The learning and growing continues for all of us, as well as the dirty diapers. Though I cannot say when both boys will finally sleep through the night, I am confident that there will be a selfie to remind us all of the amazing places we’ve been and enough grace to get us to the next, together.