After giving birth, I wondered why I had heard so little about other women’s experiences. Had I simply not asked? Or were they not given enough space to be voiced? I can’t help but feel the compelling need to put mine out there for other women to read, so as not to contribute to the subject’s silence, so as not to reserve it to household conversation.
Part 1 of 3: The Ones that Slipped Away
One afternoon over coffee in the city, my husband and I talked about the possibility of becoming a family of three. That Sunday at brunch I ordered a decaf espresso, marking my journey into motherhood. A slight burning sensation recalling an incipient UTI a few months later alerted my body that something was different. At one day late in my cycle, I woke up at 5am to pee on a stick. Two bright blue lines emerged almost immediately confirming I was pregnant!
I’d heard so many women say to wait until the end of the first trimester to announce the news to be sure nothing went wrong. But that wasn’t me. It wasn’t my husband either. Each time we shared, I heard myself preface it as if by popular demand with “it’s still too soon, but…” In reality, it wasn’t too soon. The life inside me had already begun.
Eight weeks out from my missed period I went in for a trans-vaginal ultrasound, the first of many invasions into my vagina. Before getting pregnant, routine pap smears were unpleasant, albeit infrequent. With pregnancy, my vagina suddenly felt like a public window, open for viewing by whomever walked in Dr. B’s office. It no longer belonged to me. It was merely a direct route to my uterus. Its mystery died with the presence of new life.
Dr. B showed us a 3D image of our baby, and then checked to see if there were more than one. Routine practice she said, upon hearing me stifle a laugh. A quick look around and she turned to confirm there was another. We were pregnant with twins, identical twins. In fact, Dr. B had recently had a dream about a patient having twins. It must have been us, she said. I looked back at my husband with a mix of excitement and apprehension, telling him it was all his fault, even if biologically it was more likely linked to me.
My first thought was, how would two babies fit in my slender frame? And how would I possibly be able to endure the pain of delivering two? I was barely able to endure a blood test (though in retrospect, by the time I had given birth I could nearly sleep through one). Dr. B assured me most twins were born by cesarean section. I hardly found the thought of surgery and anesthesia reassuring.
Fear aside, having identical twins sounded wild to me, mystical even. It meant two little people to play together, to sleep next to each other and that resembled one another. By the time my imagination had picked out matching suspenders and had gone on walks in the English Garden with a double stroller, I was back in Dr. B’s office for our second prenatal ultrasound. This time my husband had to wait outside with COVID-19 regulations in full effect.
She probed my vagina with the transducer once again. From my perspective, all I could see was an inert blob hovering in a pool of black. Dr. B continued moving the thing around. Her silence alarmed me, confirming what had seemed lost on the screen. Were there still two? I recall asking, with an air of unconvincing hope. “There were still two,” she replied, before turning to say she was, “so sorry but it wouldn’t work.”
“It wouldn’t work” sounded so technical, as if it were repairable — as if there were something that could still be done to fix it, to fix them. Even if there was nothing that could be done, I somehow preferred Dr. B’s grammatical ambiguity to the definitive sound of the present tense form with a past participle.
Between the silence and the screen, an undesirable visitor propped open the office’s adjoining door — the gynecologist whose picture took up the office’s entire home page. I looked at him with impending ferocity. His eyes reverted to the screen, then to Dr. B and back to the door handle, slamming it shut. This image still haunts my memory to this day, imprinted in my mind as an intrusion into the life and death of the twins. The truth was, death didn’t pause to wait for anyone. Life, for better or worse, kept on going.
“It happens every third pregnancy,” my D&C surgeon told me matter of factly about miscarriages, as if that would console me and make it right. It didn’t, however; it did make me wonder where all of these third experiences went. Resigned to each woman’s internal world? The more I talked about my own, the more I heard others open up about theirs. Nearly everyone I spoke to had their own story to tell.
Talking might not make it easier, but it does make it a shared experience that normalizes the pain. If there was a positive side to my own experience it was that it heightened my desire to become a mother. Each time I walked by a mother with her baby, I looked at them differently. Having children wasn’t a given. It was now a miracle in my mind.
As it happens, I would have to see the gynecologist who walked into Dr. B’s office once again. Though the next time would be in the light of day when he delivered my daughter. His intervention was nearly as brief as it had been at the site of the twins, yet it had been the one that brought her to life. In a way, he completed an open circle, connecting life and death.