I had envisioned March going one of two ways—either I would simply be pregnant until March 29, when the scheduled C would go forward, or I would go into labor earlier and have earlier surgery (and maybe have to deal with the whole preemie thing). Either way, I figured I wouldn’t have to experience much “labor.” And I certainly didn’t anticipate having to deal with labor pains for at least a week before the babies came.
Is this normal? (Is there any “normal” when it comes to pregnancy?) For more than the past week, in late afternoon or evening, the contractions begin. Mind you, I also have contractions during the day. But they’re not regular, and they tend to be brought on by activity. In contrast, the evening contractions are coming every 8-10 minutes. Or maybe even closer, because I’m still having trouble figuring out what’s a contraction and what is just—for lack of a more precise term—pain. Dude, it hurts! The contractions tighten my abdomen and speed up my heart rate, and sometimes I whine and whimper as they get intense. But then there are also all these other pains in my abdomen—sharp stabbing pains, like one of the babies (okay, let’s lay blame where it’s due—it’s always Baby A) is trying to cut his way out from the inside. And then there are the pains in my even-lower torso (sometimes across my lower back or butt, sometimes in what feels like the bottom of my bladder, sometimes in more unmentionable places). And these extra pains aren’t on a schedule, they just hover around and in between the contractions, sometimes making it hard to tell the difference. Do I count those when I’m trying to figure out how far apart the contractions are? Who the hell knows?
But none of this really matters, because the one clear truth is that none of this is “real” labor. How do I know? Because it eventually goes away—sometimes by midnight, sometimes not until 4 or 5 in the morning. If it were “real” labor, I would have real babies, by now, right?
And so I wait. I hurt, and I wait. The one bright side is that at least I know the babies are coming out Monday morning no matter what. I can’t imagine wondering if this was going to keep going for weeks on end.
I guess I’m going through some figurative labor pains as well, which are a lot more interesting. This morning J and I went to a breastfeeding class. I had signed up for one weeks ago, but missed it (along with most of my other classes) due to hospitalization and recovery. When J mentioned that we could take a make-up class today I jumped at the chance (though I wasn’t even sure I could sit through the class). It was kind of funny to be going to a class like this when we’re going to be putting this very information into use the day after tomorrow (unbelievable!). I’m so glad we went. It seems like feeding the baby is about 80% of caring for the baby, and I was feeling frantic at my lack of knowledge about how it all works (especially with twins). Now I’m feeling a lot more confident.
In between all this whining, fussing, and desperate last-minute preparation, J and I are finding some excitement creeping in. Every day this week J has announced that this is our “last Thursday,” or “last Friday” before the babies come. Or he’ll mention, casually, “Did you realize that in three days our lives are going to change forever?” And then we’ll start giggling in disbelief, because neither of us really can get our heads around this idea. “Really,” we’ll say to each other (a la the SNL Weekend Update segment), “Really. We’re going to be parents on Monday. Really. They’re just going to hand us two babies and expect us to take care of them. Really.”
We started trying to conceive in June 2005. I was only 33 years old—the ideas of infertility, repeat pregnancy loss, adoption or IVF or the use of donor gametes never seriously having crossed my mind. In the past last five years, this naivety has been stripped from my soul. As I told a friend who was afraid she’d scare me with her high-risk-pregnancy stories, I’ve seen the boogeyman. J and I have been through three IUI cycles, one FET cycle, and five IVF cycles. We’ve had intense battles with the blood-sucking HMO over coverage for infertility, surgery, treatment for J. I’ve negotiated a shared-risk contract with my fertility clinic and taken out a second mortgage to cover the costs. I’ve had dozens of sonos, close to a hundred blood draws, and have lost track of how many sharps containers J and I have filled with our various injections. We’ve seen five pregnancies, and four miscarriages—one of which was an especially heartbreaking ectopic pregnancy. We’ve researched adoption, even gone so far as going to an international adoption meeting at a local agency. We’ve seen me through major surgery, and we’ve spent hours in front of my computer choosing a donor.
And god only knows how many tears I’ve cried. Huddling behind a closed door in my office, trying to regain control long enough to escape down the stairs (because waiting for an elevator is just too exposed) without anyone noticing, or praying no one would knock on my door while I waited for the xanax to kick in; hiding behind sunglasses while I walked through a neighborhood full of happy, screaming kids—playing basketball in the street or running through the sprinklers or the inflatable pool in front of their houses; rocking back and forth in my bed, wondering how long I could let myself go before giving myself a migraine. And the one time I heard J cry when I had to give him the bad news over the phone—just one cycle where we got a negative beta and it was just too much for him—when listening to him sob on the other end of the line broke my heart all over again.
I’m 38 years old now, and while I’ve been beaten and battered by the last five years, I wear my scars—literal and figurative—with pride. I would never wish this experience on anyone, but I’m not sorry about who I’ve become as a result, or what this has done to my marriage. I once thought that when I finally made it through this phase of my life (and that’s how I always made myself look at infertility—just a phase I had to get through, one way or another, to become a parent) I would look back on these years as “lost” years, years wasted on tears and obsession and desperation. But I don’t. I’m not even sure that they were the worst years of my life. Certainly infertility has been the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. But in these years good things have happened, too. In some ways, I feel like I’ve finally grown up. I finally feel like a real lawyer in a job that could well satisfy me for the rest of my career. I finally took the steps necessary to heal my chronic lower back problems, and I feel more confidence in my body’s ability to cope with aging than I have in years. And J and I have grown to love and appreciate each other’s strengths more than I ever thought possible. I couldn’t have chosen a better father for my children, and just thinking of him holding one of my babies makes my heart ache.
I’m scared about next week. Scared that, no matter how good our intentions, taking care of two babies is going to overwhelm us beyond our ability to cope. (It doesn’t help that much of the support promised from various friends has evaporated in the cold reality of their own job schedules and family obligations. And I can’t blame them—annual leave is precious and free time is hard to come by these days.) Scared that when neither of our needs are getting met, J and I won’t be able to maintain the cohesion we’ve achieved over the years. Scared that being stuck at home with two babies while J escapes back into theatre la la land (which will happen about three weeks after the babies are born) will make me bitter and resentful, or lead to post-partum depression.
But underlying that fear is a confidence that even if the beauty and magic of parenting doesn’t show up right away, even if J and I start sniping at each other, even if I get depressed and bitter and angry, this is going to be wonderful someday. We will get through this and still love each other, and we’ll love our babies more than anything we ever imagined. And I’m not sure I would have this confidence in myself—and in J—if we hadn’t traveled through hell and back together.
The day after tomorrow it all starts. I’m going to be a mommy. J’s going to be a daddy. And we’re gong to be a whole new kind of family. As J puts it, on Monday our lives change forever. To which I can only add: Hallelujah. It’s about fucking time.