Deaths and (Re)births Part 2: The Fall

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.

“Guess.”

“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.

§

Part 3: The Landing

Comments

  1. Beautifully written and horrbly chilling, both this and part one.
    Part of me is still yelling ‘what do mean subsequent deliveries?’

  2. This reminds me so much of my own experience having twins, although the level of pain isn’t nearly as bad as what your wife went through. My daughters are identical twins, but the challenges of parenting twins, with a two year-old older sibling was one of the most challenging things I have ever done.

    Thank you for the reminder that you should never ignore the promptings to ask for or offer a blessing. Heavenly Father loves us, and sometimes He gives us blessings that are instructions line upon line and precept upon precept. I would hate to think of what I wouldn’t have done without priesthood blessings or the guidance of the Holy Ghost in answer to my prayers.

  3. Thanks for sharing Julia. Yes, we were always grateful, as bad as it was for so long, that we didn’t have additional children to care for.

  4. Ron Madson says:

    Gripping!

  5. Well, I shouldn’t have read this. My daughter-in-law is expecting twins about the time of their first chld’s 2nd birthday.

  6. Thank you for these, Jacob.

  7. Course Correction:

    As you’ll see in future posts, one significant reason our experience became particularly brutal was that we didn’t have any help, either from our ward or from family (for reasons I’ll obviously explain). Your son and DiL will certainly be in for a very difficult experience but if you can see to it that they have regular assistance, their experience will be much more bearable.

  8. hilarycjohnson says:

    Seriously, I’m on the edge of my seat with this series — I am anxious to read the next installment . . .

  9. We had twin boys when our first boy was just 18 months old, and it was the most grueling experience I’ve ever gone through. The difficulties and pressures of trying to nurse them was so difficult. I know that’s an entire topic on its own but it only added to the perfect storm that hit us.

    I remember looking for excuses to go to the store to buy diapers or wipes or whatever. I just wanted to get away. It was an extremely difficult period. People use to try and console us saying they didn’t know how we did it, and I kept thinking “its just because we don’t have a choice”. And because I was defeated and resentful I didn’t feel like I deserved any credit for the choices I was making. I use to think when people said God helped them through it that he actually made them feel better during the experience and that it was got them through, but to be honest I never felt God help me in that way during that time.

  10. On a lighter note my favorite reply to use when people asked me, “How do you tell them a part?”

    I’d reply, “We only had one circumcised” :)

  11. racerxisalive says:

    I had a friend that was really hoping they’d get twins for their first kids. He had a theory that if he didn’t know any better how much work kids were, that he wouldn’t notice the difference. He compared it to a difference between a 1 inch cut on the arm and a 2 inch cut on the arm. I told him that was the wrong comparison- it’s the difference between having 1 hand cut off vs. two hands. Now, we’ve never had twins, but from reading this I get the feeling that my comparison wasn’t so far off…

  12. Carey #9 thank you for sharing that. Your thoughts here resonate strongly with my own experience. Part of what I am building to in these early essays is a kind of confrontation with faith and God’s absence in the midst of suffering.

    #11, Couples (both with children and without) still tell us how much they want or wanted twins. They know not whereof they ask. Frankly, we really never encountered parents of twins during that time that could relate to our particular experience, but everyone agreed it was extremely difficult to say the least. I can understand the sentiment, though. It was the same way I felt as described above. So much fun to tell people we were expecting twins; I imagined it would be so exciting to show them off…And it was to an extent, but the pain of the experience far outweighed that. If you desire twins and you’ve never had them, you simply do not understand what you are asking for.

    I will say that I’m not sure how well your comparison holds up because we never knew life as the parents of only one child. I would imagine, though, that parents for whom twins arrive in a family already populated by children, that your comparison of having 1 vs. 2 severed hands still doesn’t go far enough.

  13. Carey, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I can very much relate.

    Regarding your #10, I had a boy and a girl, and often people would ask us if they were identical. Um…US science education FAIL. If in a particularly impish mood (which was a lot of the time those days), I would reply, “No. One has an innie and one has an outie.”

  14. Cynthia, Yes. We would get that as well. It was funny to watch some people correct themselves after asking the question–{forhead slap} “Oh wait….”

  15. Since I am older, and still have a while to go before children I was counting on twins to allow me to have 2 children, but not have 2 pregnancies. Granted, we have no twins in my direct familial line, but one can always hope. These 2 parts of the story so far are making me rethink it in a major way, and it is making me very sad. I know real life isn’t a fairy tale, but I am hoping that somewhere at the end of this story is a happy ending.

  16. Kristine says:

    I think what’s so striking about it is that it’s such an _ordinary_ kind of suffering. It barely rises to the level of pain one is allowed to talk about in testimony meeting, and yet in Jacob’s description, the suffering is so real. We’re forced to confront the brute fact that life hurts, a lot, for a lot of people.

  17. This does not sound anything near like ordinary suffering to me. The ‘subsequent deliveries’ statement blew me away. What brave, brave people!

  18. Kristine says:

    Right, nr[2]–this is for sure a worse birth story than most. But there are a lot of pretty bad ones in the world… I was thinking more of the whole thing, about the ordeal some babies put parents through, the aggregate misery of sleeplessness, etc. I didn’t mean to minimize his wife’s suffering, especially, but only to say that this isn’t the result of some extraordinary illness or catastrophe–it’s part of the common lot of human beings.

  19. Jacob, having survived twins (as our first), this series brings back many memories. Sheer exhaustion, spiritual depletion, postpartum depression, nursing two at once, and most of all, trying to be polite with well meaning people who didn’t know any better. My favorite comment was when people would say something like, “We had two children 13 months apart. It’s like having twins.”

    Yeah, except… it isn’t.

  20. lindberg says:

    A good friend had quads. Even with both sets of parents nearby and helping out constantly, I’m not sure how she survived. In a stunning display of bravery, she later had one more.

    Thank you for this account. It brings back lots of flashbacks of some of the hard times (mercifully one at a time), and gives me greater respect and empathy for those who have had a more difficult time of it than I did.

  21. We didn’t have twins, but having first an Asperger’s boy and then a full-blown Autistic boy I can somehow relate. The most despised line that people tried to feed me and my wife (even the Stake Primary President), “God sends special babies to special people.” Ughhh!

  22. Yes, I took Kristine’s #16 as a comment on ordinariness to be one of kind rather than degree. In other words, the type of suffering was indeed ordinary, associated with giving birth and caring for infants, common human experiences. The degree of suffering, OTOH, might be said to be a little more uncommon. Ordinary suffering, regardless of the degree, is our common lot as humans. I think this reveals much about Christ’s suffering, for example. We might want to initially think his suffering was not ordinary, supernatural. But I think Christ’s suffering was thoroughly ordinary, though degree might be off the scale. If it was not ordinary I find it hard to see how Christ would be able to be with us intimately.

  23. Kris Wright says:

    I have thought about this essay several times today. The physical suffering, emotional pain, fear and exhaustion are heart-rending. But this passage:

    “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.”

    grabbed me by the collar and shook me to the core as only the best spiritual writing can. Thank you, Jacob

  24. In response to those who have shared experiences, I very much appreciate the disclaimers that perhaps your experiences were not so bad, but they were nevertheless difficult. I’m not sure we’re warranted in making those claims, or in other words, that I would be justified in assenting that our experience was “worse.” I recall Elder Maxwell saying once that only Jesus can compare crosses because he has borne all crosses. I think there is something right about this. I myself have watched what others have endured (with special needs children for example, which is often a lifetime in the making) and have thought that what I went through was not anywhere near as bad. And yet–where is the standard of measurement that would permit me to make that kind of judgment? Suppose, for example, that a certain couple has a baby (just one) and the experience is extremely trying. The couple finds it immensely difficult to be parents and balance the everyday of parenting with other responsibilities. Perhaps they see other families with many children and other people with other kinds of trials (maybe in the really reflective moments they notice the widower or the single person who desperately wants to be married) and they think that their “trial” is nothing in comparison. But how many potential factors constitute their situation? Maybe they are extremely poor. Maybe one or both of them struggles with some kind of psychological disorder. Maybe one or both of them had abusive childhoods that hinder them in significant ways. And on and on. Even they would not be wholly aware of many factors that contribute to the extremity of their situation, and we, certainly, would be amiss for assigning some video game level of difficulty to their hardships. Perhaps this is why, in the scriptures, we hear no mention of particulars when we are called on to comfort and mourn for others (we’re even asked to blatantly ignore particulars inasmuch as they get in the way of extending love and assistance [Mosiah 4:17] ). Others’ suffering is simply supposed to call to us, not explain anything. So God bless you in those hardships you’ve suffered. And even more–God bless me to hear you when you call.

  25. Thank you Kris. Your responses to this have been particularly meaningful to me.

  26. StillConfused says:

    I have hyperemesis gravidarum…. a condition which my daughter now has. I don’t remember anything major about the delivery (since I do epidurals) but the months before that sucked. Luckily my memory has since faded but I was well into my 8th month before I hit my pre-pregnancy weight

  27. I think that having twins, after having a singleton (that is only one child per birth, but usually is only used in communities where multiple births are part of the norm), made me realize just how different it is to have two children with EXACTLY the same needs at EXACTLY the same time.

    My twins didn’t start tandem nursing (nursing at the same time) until they were a little over 6 months old. I was pumping milk for the first two months while the twins got strong enough to learn how to breastfeed. This meant that I pumped for 20-30 minutes, quickly washed the pump parts so they were drying and ready for next time, changed diapers on both of the girls, then hoped that the twins would be willing to take a bottle in their bouncy seats. If they weren’t willing to, I simply had to listen to one twin scream while I fed her sister, and then listen to the other twin scream when she was put down so that I could feed the hungry one. By the time all of that was done, I was lucky to get a bathroom break and get one other thing done. At least once a day during that break time I tried to: brush my teeth, put on deodorant, comb my hair, read a book to my toddler, change a load of laundry. Needless to say, I was a stinky, disheveled, cranky, lonely mess a lot of the time. And since the twins were preemies that still struggled with some medical issues, the days with doctors appointments were pure hell. When they started nursing singularly, but not in tandem, the time commitment was about the same, since they nursed slower than the pump would pump, and I still had to feed them at different times.

    In response to the difference between twins and singletons, I am not sure that it is the hands that get lopped off, it is that you get half your brain, all of your energy, and half your testimony cut off. Part of that comes from lack of sleep, the monotony of constant crying (the screaming crying got a little better when the twins were put on reflux meds, then they only cried when they were tired, hungry, had a soiled diaper or their brother hurt them in some way or another), and the isolation that comes when you only have time to check your email once a week.

    Most of my friends and family communicated with each other by email, so even when I could check it, I was often overwhelmed with the 500+ emails to sort throuigh. At one time I sent out an extremely cranky email to EVERYONE in my contact list telling them that anyone who forwarded me any joke, funny story, amusing picture, or great idea, would be shot. That especially included inspiring stories about twins, parents of twins or jokes about twins or their parents. A friend who was included in the group of 100+ that got that email said she sat down and cried for half an hour because she realized that I really was going through hell, and there was no way she could do anything from 2,000 miles away. She had been one of the “worst offenders” in sending me what she thought were encouraging emails.

    She called me the next day and apologized. I had calmed down some by then, and told her that it had been an especially difficult day, but that the basic message was still valid for where I am at. We talked for a few minutes until one of the twins started crying. A week later I received a package from that dear friend that included several weeks worth of supplies so I wouldn’t have to go shopping as much, and an account for Safeway’s home delivery service that had a balance that I could use to have the groceries delivered. In with the box was a note that I still have today. It simply said, “I love you Julia. The Lord loves you. I hope these few physical gifts will help fill in some of the empty places. I won’t ask you what you need anymore, I will simply ask the Lord. Love, (Friend’s Name).” I found out later that my mother had quite a bit to do with the actual items included in the box, but the idea and sentiment came as an answer to her prayers about how to help me.

    I look back now and see so many examples of people who cared, but didn’t really know how to show it. Sometimes when I was asked I could articulate what I needed, but most of the time I simply couldn’t find the words to say, “I think I am losing my mind, my testimony and my sense of self. I am scared that sometimes I feel a deep anger at my children, and at the Lord for sending them to me in this way, at this time.” I was afraid that if anyone knew how helpless I felt, that they would think less of me, and so I kept most of my feelings bottled up, even with my husband and parents.

    I know this is kind of rambling, it is in some ways a response to other comments, and in also some thoughts that came after dreaming about this last night, after I had read and commented (#4) on this post yesterday. (Who says things that happen during the day don’t sneak into our dream?)

    The last thing for now is how I respond to people who say they have always wanted twins or think that would be the best thing in the world. Oftentimes I will first let them wax poetic about having fewer pregnancies while having more children, or about what a special thing it would be to have two kids “exactly alike.” (For #5, #11 and #14, the next two paragraphs are for you.)

    I simply say part or all of this, “No, you don’t want twins, you want to be a twin. Being the parents to twins is hard work, constantly challenging and emotionally grueling. When you see twins who are adorable babies or toddlers, or who are best friends in middle or high school, you are caught in the romance of what you think twins ARE. However, as a parent of twins, you do not get that romance. If you were born a singleton, you can’t change that fact by having twins as your children. So, enjoy the children you have, or will have, but don’t get all romantic about having twins. It is more than 4 times the work and in the end they are still their own little people with their own personalities and challenges. I wouldn’t wish twins, or other multiples on my worst enemies. So, if the Lord decides you need the trial of twins, accept that graciously, but for heaven’s sake, don’t bring it on yourself.”

    One last word of encouragement for those who are expecting twins, or have young twins they are struggling with, you will survive it. My twins are 10 now. They are potty trained. They eat with a spoon and fork and don’t require too much prompting to get them to clean their room. They very rarely spit up/thrown up on each others’ clothes. Even though they are identical, I can tell them apart, even when their hair is wet and I can’t see the difference in the way they have their bangs cut. My stomach never went back to looking like I didn’t have twins, but I am almost the same weight I was before I got pregnant with them. Your life isn’t over, just over as you knew it. That is true with any new baby, but especially with twins.

  28. #26 I had the same issue with my last pregnancy, luckily a singleton and not twins. I think I hit prepregnancy weight about month 7, but had a PIC line in so get fluids and nutrition through IVs at home. Even with as hard as that pregnancy was, and my daughter had a lot of medical issues for the first 18 months of her life, it felt easy coming after I had earlier had twins, and with my older children around to help. My perspective on life and pregnancies was certainly changed by the difficulties with the twins. Maybe more than anything, each challenge we have gives us a better perspective on future trials, and makes it easier to lean on the Lord, since I had to in previous challenges.

  29. “I wouldn’t wish twins, or other multiples on my worst enemies”

    Actually, once our twins got through their colic and starting sleeping through the night (at about 8-9 months), I felt like they were a bargain. We did a lot assembly-line style (my wife managed to nurse both at once — we didn’t call her the Dairy Queen for nothing!), and some of the extra work was compensated by the fact that they tended to entertain each other. I felt like we had 2 for the price of 1 and a half. And at that point, I would have matched my diaper changing skillz against not only any man in the quorum, but any of the sisters.

    But the colic was awful. Traumatizing enough that I wonder why I read Jacob’s second post. Yeah, the writing’s great, but it’s triggering my PTSD…

  30. Martin,

    No offense, but it sounds like you got an easy set of twins. That is great for you, but not anything like most of the families in my “real life” twins clubs, or the only forums I have been part of.

    My twins usually slept through the night by the time they were two. They couldn’t sleep without having something physically touching something on their sister, and I still was having nights with no sleep at all, at 18 months.

    I am glad to know there are parents who enjoyed the first two years with their twins more than we did. For me, like Jacob, it was one of the most trying times of my life.

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