I had a couple different plans, actually. There was one for the year leading up to getting pregnant—switch to organic foods and all natural soaps and lotions—and there was a plan for during the pregnancy, which was all about glowing, gentle yoga, and cute maternity clothes. I had a birth plan too, of course, which involved no drugs, perhaps a water tub, and a general celebration of birth and my body’s abilities. I also had a plan for after the birth day, which was a bit vague. I knew it involved breastfeeding, but I didn’t think much beyond that.
Everything was going according to plan, right up until about the tenth week of pregnancy. I had a blood test that showed elevated levels of hormones, which hit my internal panic button. In an effort to allay my fears, my OB sent me in for an ultrasound. My husband and I were waiting anxiously to hear the confirmation that our baby was ok, and there was nothing to worry about.
“Do twins run in your family?”
I didn’t think much of the technician’s first question. I figured it was routine, something she asked everyone. So I answered,
“Because I see two babies in there!”
At first, I thought that exhilarating news meant the end of my best-laid plans. My OB began tossing around words like “elevated risk”, “c-section”, and “prematurity”. I realized that I had two choices: I could acquiesce to her plan for me, or I could find a way to create a better reality for myself and my babies. So, I signed up for a natural-childbirth class, fired my old OB and found a new one, one who had conversations with me instead of talking at me.
I Attended My Childbirth Classes . . .
Le Leche League meetings and kept practicing yoga. I befriended a midwife, and collected positive twin stories. I got acupuncture, prenatal massage, and super-fruit smoothies. I visualized the birth I wanted, I talked and sang to the babies who were stretching my womb and my imagination. I woke up every day of my second trimester smiling and rubbing my burgeoning belly. My original plan was altered but still basically intact.
Because my husband and I decided to stay within the medical establishment, I also saw a perinatologist. He was a specialist in caring for mothers of multiples, and he won my trust with honest answers to my copious questions. So when Dr. M dropped the “b word”, I listened. Bed rest?! Bed rest would ruin my hope for an active pregnancy, but I decided to plan for it accordingly. I squared away everything at work, found a substitute for my class, and checked up on my short-term disability policy. I honestly thought that if I worked so hard at preparing for bed rest it would never happen. However, right before I hit 24 weeks, I was put on modified bed rest due to a structurally unsound cervix.
I was devastated at first, but I decided to roll with the punches and enjoy the quiet weeks I had before my babies arrived. I had a lot of weeks to go, but I truly enjoyed my first Friday of bed rest. I rested, reflected, and fidgeted. I was feeling “off”, but attributed that to the fact my professional life had just ended for awhile and I was anticipating being bored. I spent that Saturday turning and readjusting myself on the couch. I was irritable and short with my husband. When, around seven pm, I started cramping in my low back and getting a feeling of heaviness in my uterus, I called my midwife friend. I explained how I was feeling and she told me to go the hospital. Really? Well, if the midwife-who-hates-hospitals tells you to go, you go.
Once at the hospital, getting hooked up to a contraction monitor was the first step in a nightmarish journey through pre-term labor. I learned all about—and experienced—terb, mag, and the chilling dread brought about by a visit from the neonatologist who told us what to expect if our boys should be born so devastatingly early. At this stage, all my energy and focus went inward, to convince my body to keep those precious baby boys on the inside. They were not done cooking, and I was determined to let them finish.
For The Next Ten Weeks I Stayed Still . . .
Literally and figuratively. I prayed and bargained and hoped against hope that we would make it to 38 weeks. I kept up the visualization, but after every subsequent visit to the labor and delivery floor, every new plunge of the needle, every time I hooked myself up to the home contraction monitor, I grieved for what I was losing. I knew I would not have a peaceful drug free birth. I had lost the pregnancy I wanted, but I still had my babies, and for that I was grateful with every fiber of my being. I clung so hard to that fact that I didn’t allow myself to feel much else.
Just before I hit 34 weeks gestation, I had to go back to the hospital. Never in my wildest dreams did the drugs not work. All of my imagined scenarios told me that if I had to be readmitted, the magnesium sulfate would work and the contractions would stop. This time, they did not. I was delivered of my babies on February 9, 2010 at 2:07 and 2:08 pm via c-section. It was everything I did not want. The next three weeks were a blur of pain, hormone-driven despair, leaving my babies in the hospital NICU when I was discharged, endless visits to that very same NICU to see my babies, and pumping.
My mother—my angel, my guide, my support, how many names do we have for mother?—made me pump my breast milk for my babies every two hours, day and night. My supply soared, and I delivered the “liquid love” faithfully to the nurses to give my boys. I latched on to breastfeeding as eagerly as a baby to a breast. It was the one thing I had left, the last shred of my plans that I could accomplish. I was grieving the loss of the pregnancy and the birth I had so desperately hoped for. I realize that this may sound selfish or petty. My babies had been born successfully, and barring some serious reflux issues, were healthy. I had everything to be joyous about, but try telling a post-partum mom how to feel! It would have been easier to scale a mountain than regulate my feelings at that point.
Pride Was One Positive Emotion . . .
That permeated the cloud. I was so proud of being able to pump 6 ounces per session! My husband and I learned how to feed premature babies from slow flow bottles, and we brought each of them home in due time. My babies were getting optimum nutrition, but I still felt something was missing. That something was undoubtedly sleep, but it was also a stronger bond with my babies that I was craving. Finally, one day my mom told me, in essence, to “Sit down and nurse your babies.” Their mouths were big enough at this point, and they were more than eager. My some miracle of chance, there was no nipple confusion at all. Both of my squally squirmy squeaky baby boys took to the breast like pros. Because they were! They wanted the comfort and fullness of mama’s breasts. And it gave me unspeakable joy to give it to them.
I nursed my babies when they were hungry, when they were sleepy, and when they were hurting from the reflux. Nursing became the only thing that soothed my fussier twin, so we had marathon nursing sessions, the longest of which was four hours straight. I was a zombie shell of a woman, but my children were thriving and growing. I was a mama.
Now, seven months into this crazy adventure, I am still nursing my boys, day and night, although we are all sleeping more. My confidence grows with each day, as do my boys. I have become very adept at juggling two wiggling bodies when it’s time to nurse, and I’ve managed to accomplish tandem feeding just about everywhere we’ve been, including in the (non-moving) car and on the beach. But my favorite nursing sessions are the quiet ones at home, with both boys snuggled around me like commas.
Their sighs and hums are my favorite music, and my heart melts every time one of them stirs to check and make sure I’m still there before drifting off again. The miracle of hormones, those that I cursed just a few short months ago, is that nursing makes me feel so good. The love-chemicals get released each time one of my boys latches on, and they go to work, easing the tension of the day and softening the ragged, visceral edges of my memories of the early days.
I didn’t get the pregnancy I wanted, and I certainly didn’t get the birth I wanted, but I got the children I dreamed of. I got two healthy, happy boys, and I get to nurse them every day. Breastfeeding has eased my heart while providing for my children. I am lucky, I know I am. It couldn’t have worked out better if I had planned it…
*Photo graciously provided by Michelle Monk Photography