Part 2 of 5. First part here.
Deaths and (Re)births Part 2: The Fall
“Well, I have good news for the two of you. First, it’s a boy. Second—he has a sister.”
All it took was one perfectly timed and perfectly worded sentence from our ultrasound technician to cause my appetite to disappear completely for 48 hours. Twins. It was unimaginable. During that period I experienced varying waves of total euphoria and mind-numbing fear. Admittedly, it was mostly euphoria. The bragging rights were, after all, unparalleled. Not only naturally conceived twins on our first excursion into replenishing the earth, but opposite sex twins as well. Apollo and Artemis, just like that.
Surely, we were gods.
I’ll never forget calling my parents, for whom these would be their first grandchildren.
“Dad, we just got back from the ultrasound.”
“AND?” Dad’s voice sounded anxiously through the phone receiver.
“It’s a boy, like you thought.”
“Yes. It’s a boy.”
“That’s fantastic, son! We’re so excited for you!”
This was so delicious. “And he has a sister.”
Long pause. Then, “What? What do you mean? It’s a girl?”
Wait for it…
“OH MY GOSH! Are you saying what I think you’re saying?! TWINS?! I can’t believe it!” Now he was sobbing like a child, overcome with joy. I could scarcely believe that I was even more enraptured by my father’s reaction to our news than I myself had been. A supremely unforgettable moment.
Amanda’s pregnancy was difficult, as taxing as the ultrasound had been joyous. The usual symptoms of nausea and migraines, though these were particularly severe. But she also experienced dreadful cramping on one side of her abdomen, cramping that could only be assuaged by long walks. Dark 3 a.m. strolls around our sleeping neighborhood became commonplace for us. Many days she could barely move because of the pain and doctors were at a loss about the origins or options for alleviation. It was almost a relief when Amanda’s water broke at 31 weeks. Almost. Unfortunately, one of the babies was breach so she had to have an emergency cesarean section. She was frightened. We both were. Our OB Gyn was called to the hospital and arrived fairly quickly. We frankly didn’t like him—he was pushy, uncaring, and never listened to Amanda and her questions and concerns. But, since this was Provo, Utah, he also happened to be a stake president and he asked me if I wanted to give her a blessing before she went into surgery. I was grateful for that; in all the fear and commotion I hadn’t thought about it. He anointed her head and I gave a short blessing. A moment later Amanda was on the operating table.
The surgery went well and both the babies were whisked off to the NICU before I could really catch a good glimpse of them. Later I would see and hold them, of course, and they were beautiful, though so tiny; about 4 pounds each, a pretty good size, really, for having arrived 9 weeks prematurely. But my immediate concern was Amanda. Barely out of the recovery room, her medication seemed to be wearing off far ahead of schedule. She was in severe pain from the surgery and all the yanking and tearing that was necessary to extract the babies through the small incision in her lower abdomen. Nurses were called in, followed by doctors. She was gasping, crying, screaming. The consensus was that they had not successfully “gotten on top of the pain,” meaning, apparently, that the amount of the morphine administered after the surgery had not been enough. (She would have this same problem in subsequent deliveries). Now it would take some time for the newly distributed medication to take effect. It was like being strapped to a chair and being forced to watch your spouse being senselessly tortured. There was nothing I could do, and it went on for hours. I vaguely remember screaming at a nurse that if she couldn’t do anything then no one could. How was no one able to do anything to relieve her suffering? How could this have happened? It went on and on. I was a sweaty mess just from watching it, just from trying to be with her to the extent I could. But I knew my own exhaustion was nothing in comparison. Over the next several days, in fact, she would be in indescribable agony from her surgery. I do not know to this day if they were being too conservative in their pain management, but she experienced little relief almost the entire time she was hospitalized.
In the midst of all the pandemonium I remember a cousin of mine, whom I hadn’t seen in years, knocking on the hospital room door, a bouquet of flowers in her hand. By this time I myself was weeping over my utter inability to help my wife as she thrashed about and pleaded for relief. “Thank you,” I whispered as I took the flowers, my voice trembling. She could see that we were all in distress and that she would not be able to help. She squeezed my hand, smiling as her concerned eyes clearly conveyed, “I’m so sorry,” and she quickly left.
I was numb. This couldn’t be real. I had never had to be a helpless witness of such suffering. Something was not right, something bigger than the material suffering in front of me. Something cosmological and universal and foundational was quivering and trembling to the point of breaking. But I didn’t ask the question, the question that so often comes to the believer in the midst of intense suffering. Well. Other believers. Not me. I refused the question. I thought that if I was allowed to have it be set before me, comfortably but persistently gazing into my soul, awaiting my response, that I would crumble into nothing. No, it would not be allowed anywhere near me.
My father-in-law arrived soon after. He asked if Amanda needed a blessing. I mumbled between tears that I had already given her a blessing, much good that had done, but affirmed that one could be given again. Barely able to speak, I indicated that I was in no condition to pronounce the blessing and asked him to do it instead. This time I anointed her head and her father was voice. Nevertheless, it would be several more hours before sheer exhaustion from the strain of endurance overtook her and she fell mercifully asleep.
But it was only the beginning.