“Don’t you think you’re too old to be having twin babies?” my neighbor asked me, punctuating her remark with raised eyebrows. She was serious. Babies needed mommies with the energy of 20 or 30 year-olds, she intimated. But there I was, holding twin newborns on my lap, having turned 40 two months earlier. Oh, no! What should I do? Take them back to the hospital? Did she think that I had picked them up on a whim at Wal-mart that day and I ought to have the sense to take them back to ‘Returns’?
Gertrude (not her real name) had come to check out the twins and then she brought out her offering. Four ragged, cloth diapers. Had she saved them from her last baby, who is my age? Thank you, I managed to respond weakly, I’ll be needing plenty of those. Together as newborns, they were going through two dozen diapers daily or 148 weekly. Mrs. McCaughey, the Iowan mother of septuplets estimated that each child goes through 4,500 diapers total. 9,000 looked like a humongous figure to me. Trying to make our budget cover our family of 7, I was using cloth diapers. My neighbor Gertrude and her husband didn’t have a large income either. In fact, I knew it to be the same as ours, though of course it didn’t have to stretch as far since their children were long grown.
I tried to sort out what happened that day. I was offended, but did I have a right to be? The diapers have felt right at home in my rag box. Maybe I should have appreciated the thought and learned from her thriftiness; after all she did live through the Great Depression. I wonder if perhaps Mary had had only four ragged swaddling clothes for baby Jesus? God, I truly am grateful for all we have here in America.
But deep inside, it wasn’t Gertrude’s gift that was bothering me. It was her question with the raised eyebrows. I was afraid. Maybe she was right and the baby girls would prove to be too much for my creaky bones. At my pre-natal check-ups I was “diagnosed” with, “Advanced Maternal Age” (let’s call it AMA for short), due to age. Whatever! Why didn’t they just come right out and call me “Gramma Carol?” In fact, my age was their basis for sending me to have my first ultrasound, 20 weeks into my pregnancy, at which time I discovered that I was carrying twins.
In the hallway just before the ultrasound office, I stopped to look at a large picture on the wall – twins totally dominated it. I thought to myself, “How unusual….well, I guess some people do have twins.” I shrugged, but never had even one fleeting moment of self-application there. Minutes later, when the ultrasound technician said she had a “little surprise” for me, “there’s two in there,” I turned my head to look at this young, pretty thing and with great skepticism asked, “How long have you been working as a technician?” All I could see was white snow on the screen.
She obviously wasn’t old enough to have the authority to make such a sweeping announcement that would so profoundly change my lifestyle. Graciously, she just smiled. My 16 and 6 year old daughters were with me and screeching with excitement, they practically flew over me (just skimming the surface of my protruding belly) to get a better look at the monitor! Well, thankfully I could count on their support. We got in the car and two blocks later stopped at a Dairy Queen to….“celebrate”. Actually, I was shaking so hard I thought I’d better do something to buy some time in which to calm down before trying to drive home.
At home, I broke the news to my 13 year old son. “There’s two in here,” I said. What!?!! “Yes. Two girls.” “Oh. [brief silence] Couldn’t even one of them be a boy??” he bargained. What was God [or I] supposed to do at that point? Switch one out for a boy?
I was so grateful for my husband’s response when I called him that night in Mexico where he was teaching at a seminar. “How was your midwife and ultrasound appointment?” he had asked. “Are you sitting down?” I countered. “Actually, I’m lying down.” “Okay, good. The doctor said the babies are doing fine.” A brief silence ensued while he caught his breath and then, knowing full well that the plural form of babies was no slip of my tongue, he said enthusiastically, “Praise the Lord! ‘Multiplication’ is the word the Lord gave me this year! And here He is illustrating it before our eyes!” That was the right answer – I very much needed his support.
We had planned a 2-week trip to Brazil, leaving a week after this big news and since I was in my 2nd trimester, it was the best time to go. I learned one Portuguese word I’ll probably never forget that I used most every day there while pointing to my stomach - “gemeos” – it means twins! It was a great trip and I’m glad I went ahead, visiting this wonderful country.
As the months dragged on, I didn’t know where my strength would come from. I vomited regularly, throughout my 1st trimester and then again in my 3rd trimester. Simultaneously, I was so exhausted I can remember times sitting on the bathroom floor and laying my head right down on the toilet rim for a little rest between heaves. I started to swell all over. I was down to wearing sandals extended to the widest notch in the middle of winter, with no visible signs of ankles remaining. I couldn’t breathe freely, especially if I tried to sit up to the table on the straight back chairs, so I would dish up my meal and take it to an easy chair in the living room. My table? My belly. My teenage daughter took a photo of me with a plate perfectly balanced there with a muffin on top – no hands. I was into XXL maternity pants. At my last pre-natal appt. my belly measured 48”!
Indeed I had wondered during my pregnancy if I was going to make it, if I wasn’t “too old” for this. And now this “AMA” mother had 18 years looming before her of raising these twins.
Shortly, before the girls were born, my friends threw a baby shower for me/us. The last baby shower I had had was 16 years ago when Jenny, my firstborn, arrived. Would people want to come, or would they raise their eyebrows? Baby showers are not the custom in Minnesota for any child but the first. These would be #4 and #5! My first three had all been born an ocean away in the Philippines, so I had held on to none of their baby paraphernalia and was starting all over. I was totally overwhelmed by the generosity and the number of people who attended. Ninety (!) came and outfitted the babes in style, each bearing two gifts, one for each of the two girls, writing strong words of encouragement to me on their cards.
So silence that one lonely voice with the forlorn diapers. What gives the one negative word more influence on our thoughts than the 90 positive ones? No, I refuse to let it rule.
I clearly remember my obstetrician in the Philippines when I had gone in for my last pregnancy test with our third child. At that time, my older children were already 10 and 6, and now as I sat in suspense in the doctor’s office, I heard the question, “Wanted?” I caught my breath for a second at the implication of her one-word sentence and then replied from my heart, “We want all the children God gives us.”
Maybe these twins weren’t “planned” but come to think of it, I generally don’t “plan” on receiving gifts. One doesn’t have to expect to be getting a gift to be blessed and happy to receive it. Perhaps we might even enjoy a surprise gift all the more. Especially if we knew that the giver was always coming up with better ideas and plans than ours. My husband and I surely hadn’t come up with the idea of simultaneously doing ‘diapers and dating’ with stair-step kids, so I like to think then that they must have been God’s plan. I feel honored to think that He was pleased to add to our family. May we please Him with our lives.
My husband and I were traveling in China when these babies were made. Isn’t everything ‘Made in China’ these days? I think the God of Life must have smiled in triumph when he gave us twins from a land that requires women by law to abort any baby after their first. He gave us top-notch girls from a place that views baby girls as second-rate.
On February 9, 1999, Michelle and Megan Mae were born naturally without pain meds only 12 days “early”. It’s not that I have ever had easy, painless births, but I avoid the medications because I love being alert after giving birth so I can fully enjoy those very special first few hours with the babies. There are the deep-breathing tactics and such to use, and they help some, but I knew I was facing two births here. So this time, I took a Manila folder and wrote out a Bible verse in big letters over both insides of the folder and set it on the stand right next to my head during the births, to serve as an inspiration to make it through: “Jesus…who for the joy set before him endured the cross…consider Him who endured…so that you will not grow weary and lose heart”.(Hebrews 12:1) It helped! Other helps? My “advocate” sister-in-law Michelle who while feeding me ice chips, gently insisted that I could do this. She kept me posted on every detail of the process and coached me on how to breathe. (Somehow I lose my ability to remember how to do this basic body exercise when the labor gets intense!) Then there was my husband and 16 year old daughter who tirelessly rubbed away my intense back labor for 3 hours.
Michelle Kathleen (named after her sweet aunts), came out head first, delivered by my great midwife, guiding me through it all. But Megan Mae (named after a dear Filipina friend), was breech and so the hospital regulations stipulated that a doctor had to deliver her. He didn’t want to deliver a breech baby nor do a C-section at this point. So while a trainee doctor pushed on the outside, he pulled and shoved around on the inside, trying to get Megan to change positions for the next half hour. Ouch. I think I can now empathize with the rope in Tug-of-War. Finally, she cooperated and turned 180 degrees. One catch. She was jack-knifed – both head and feet were presenting. The doctor felt sure her head would pop out first if I pushed, so he gave the signal, I pushed and she popped out – feet first, out to her hips. They finally decided that she was determined to be breech, so they broke her water sac after she was half out and let her come out in her own style.
Michelle weighed in at 7 pounds and Megan at 8. Both were healthy and ready to go home with us 24 hours after their birth. I breast-fed them for 20 months – please don’t bother me with formula, they didn’t like it and it’s too much work to get up and get it in the night anyway. I got one of those wonderful “Arm’s Reach” portable cribs at Babies R Us where the bassinet part is level with my bed, making for a perfect bed-extension. A cry in the night and I’d prop myself up on one elbow, pluck the one up and plug her in and promptly fall back asleep….until the next one cried. I’d return the first, turn over on my other side and cradle the next one in place. This type of crib, nestled in close to me, was a lifesaver! Tim and I could both basically sleep through the night with just slight interruption. I highly recommend it!
Michelle and Megan Mae are five now and sometimes it’s been as sweet as can be to have these two little identical girls’ lives twirl around ours, and other times, well…I’d be reserved to say it’s been a wild ride! Will I have the energy to do this? I think of my own mom. She was also 40 when she had me, the youngest of four, the oldest being only 5 years old at the time! (Maybe AMA is in the genes?) I think she did a good job, since I like to think that I turned out all right and I know my siblings all did!
God knew how old I was when He added to our family. He wasn’t taken by surprise. He will also enable.
Many months after the gift of the four ragged diapers, I discovered that Gertrude had miscarried twins at 24 weeks. Decades had passed, but it is possible that she may still have personal grief and bitterness buried inside, that was jostled into flaring up when she saw my twins. God bless her and may He free her from her pain. I will hold nothing against this dear woman.
PostScript – of DNA, hemangiomas and one lonely freckle!