We spent sixty-four days in the hospital. It should have been closer to forty-five. We had twins, though, delivered at thirty-four weeks instead of at our due date, in March and the usual forty. Two lives, premature and fragile as babes and even more so, if only because they still are and were, and were so early; twin fates, identical genetics, six weeks early and held up in the hospital for six more and some change; twin fates, separating before birth.
The sperm and the egg combine to form a zygote, a single cell containing all of the genetic material that a grown adult will likely ever have, their entire genetic potential; this cell, in a singleton, divides once and then again and again, until that single cell becomes ten, a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, then ever so slowly billions and then, in the blink of an eye, trillions as an adult.
In identical twins, deriving from one cell, one pregnancy, somewhere along the line that single mass of cells splits into two, and it is here, before my wife and I even knew they were here, that those paths diverged.
Delicate structures formed, dividing from stem cells into slightly more specific cells, into more and more specialized cells. Differing concentrations of proteins and molecules slowly but surely induced this and that type of development in this cell here and that group of cells over there; and in the two separate embryos, the same development didn’t quite happen.
We knew at twenty weeks. Not at birth, not after. I had seen both of my daughters a good five or six times by then; as twins, the pregnancy was classified as high risk and our insurance provider and OBGYN sent us to a maternal fetal medicine doctor in addition to the regular appointments. Better ultrasounds there, more dedicated care for the various issues that can arise from mono/di twins.
We needed it.
Weeks went by from our first appointment to our second to our third, and while we adjusted to the idea and prepared as best as we could, we watched them grow in our bi-weekly appointments. Baby A, the big one; Baby B, the feisty one.
I still tell anyone who will listen that Baby A is fat and happy (not at all an insult), and that Baby B is small but mighty. Baby A would sleep during ultrasounds, not moving much; but Baby B would kick and flail her tiny arms in protest.
I’d laugh when I’d see it. Feisty. Good. These were the things I would think to myself.
At twenty weeks, the doc detected an abnormality on an ultrasound. Previous ultrasounds had shown Baby A to be growing well; Baby B was smaller, but still very feisty. I had decided not to worry about her.
A heart defect, the doctor said, and needless to say I was concerned, my wife even more so.
There’s no telling exactly what goes through your head when you hear those words.
You have this idea in your head, when you’re expecting a child – a picture perfect image, rivaling Hallmark cards and driven to unrealistic heights, hopefully, by the positive memories of your childhood. We didn’t have much, I would tell people when talking about my childhood, but we had love. This was far from the truth, and at times said with more than a little sarcasm.
I’d already been thrown for a loop when weeks earlier we learned the two babes in my wife’s belly were girls; I’d been sure they were boys. I’d hoped they were boys, really, for the simplicity of raising them. I was a boy, once, and I knew what boys would and could do.
My parents gave me sticks and mud to play with, I would tell people, they gave my sister everything. She had all the Barbies. All of them, I’d emphasize.
When I learned they were girls I worked harder and more seriously than before. I dropped hobbies; I disappeared, without a word, from some parts of the earth.
When I learned Baby B had a heart issue, a congenital heart defect, a potentially fatal condition – I did the only thing a rational, emotionally well-adjusted person would do.
I went into shock.
Not the hypovolemic, blood-loss shock, or the shellshock of soldiers in World War I. Just plain, disconnected disbelief and simultaneous acceptance. My mind struggled to grasp what my emotions couldn’t.
My baby wasn’t perfect, apparently, this is what they were telling me? My mind said she was. Looking at her ultrasounds, the only pictures we had of her, my heart told me she was.
She’s perfect, I thought to myself, this doesn’t mean anything.
The doctor mentioned in hushed and emotionally neutral tones that twenty-three weeks was the latest you could have a pregnancy terminated in Colorado. We decided to have more testing done.
Your mind can go to weird places in a time like that.
Being a parent is a strange thing. It’s a choice but it isn’t, in a few ways. When you’re a man, you don’t have to stick around, though I did. You don’t have to stick around when they’re born and after, either, though I did. You don’t have to actively participate in the lives of your children, although I do. You don’t even have to keep them, and you can give them up to be adopted; I definitely didn’t do this.
Life is full of choices and even if you don’t choose to actively parent (as an action), you are a parent. It’s not a question. You don’t have a choice; the choice is what kind of parent you want to be. Are you always going to do what is your self-interest; will you make sacrifices for your children, to give them a better life; are you willing to make the hard choices that will be better for them long term, or do you spoil them without measure or thought for the future, not only yours but theirs. . .
Life is full of choices.
There is an easy way, and a hard way; there’s a way out, and a way through.
I’m not raising some lil’ bitch kids, i tell friends in private and off the record. . .
Life is full of choices, and life is full of potential. You’ll never hear that children don’t have their whole lives ahead of them. You’ve probably heard talk that human life has potential and children have potential, that a random child could be the next Albert Einstein or Amelia Earhart, and I’m not trying to convince you of that – but hopefully we can agree that every life, each and every one, has a potential to be greater than it is. My life and yours, and doubly so a life with twice as many years ahead of it.
My wife and I found out one of our perfect, identical twin girls had a heart condition that was fairly serious and could be, at the least, a minor inconvenience, and at worst, an impediment her whole life; however, her fetal ultrasound placed her in the middle of the road, not too bad, not too great. It would be a rough start for her, and tough for us especially as first-time parents.
We had a choice to make. We had a choice to make that would define us as parents and individuals.
It was an easy choice to make.
We chose what was best for her.
She was born second, by a minute; she was born second, but we put her first.