Deaths and (Re)births Part 3: The Landing

Part 3 of 5. 

Part 1 here. Part 2 here

Deaths and (Re)births Part 3: The Landing

I was not going to graduate.

I was nearing the end of my final semester at BYU, approximately 14 or 15 months after the twins’ birth. Predicate logic. It was predicate logic that was finally going to close the lid on my academic coffin. To this point I had been able to skate by in my other classes; a “B” in a relatively easy Marriage and Family course, a “C” in a more difficult philosophy class; even a “D+” in Personal Finance, which I almost never attended—I probably should have failed that course outright. But Predicate Logic was a required course for my chosen Major, Philosophy, and you couldn’t get anything lower than a “C” for a Major class. Once you dropped below a “C” you would have to retake the class. I was well below a “C,” and scheduled to graduate the following month. If I didn’t produce that “C” I would not graduate.

That I even had a 3.0 GPA by the time of my final semester was nothing short of miraculous. I had a full load of classes at BYU, but I also worked a full time job in Midvale, about 45 minutes away. I would attend my classes in the morning (scheduling the first for the earliest time slot available) and by late morning be on the road to my job. I would arrive home every day around 7 or 7:30 pm. I could either do homework at that time or arise extra early in the morning. Either of these options proved to be essentially impossible from the moment we brought the twins home, dragging along a host of medical complications with them.

The problem (and all other problems associated with their entrance into the world—of which there were many—paled in comparison) was the babies’ sleep patterns. Or rather, their complete lack of any kind of sleep pattern. One of them was almost always awake. Neither of them slept for more than 40 minutes at a time. Try as we did (and oh how we tried!) we could not harmonize one with the other. We attempted everything in the book, read other books, sought advice from doctors, and then wrote our own book to replace the old, clearly flawed books, and that book was a failure as well. We would eventually discover some wheat and dairy allergies; Amanda spent some weeks tinkering with her diet until she at last found one compatible with nursing (she was determined—driven by an unseen force she would later say—to exclusively breastfeed them at all costs) but this only slightly improved the situation.

I recall one day/night, Ethan stayed awake (with intermittent short, fitful naps) for almost 20 hours straight. I recall placing him in his bouncy seat to play with some toys. It was around 3 a.m. I sat down on a kitchen chair and immediately nodded off. Amanda had gone to bed 30 minutes before with Mylyn, who had finally fallen asleep. I was awakened minutes later by his sudden screaming; the poor little guy had also nodded off and hit his mouth on a plastic protrusion on his seat. Amanda came running out from the bedroom, anxiously asking what had happened. My explanation angered her and we were now hysterically screaming at each other. Our nerves were shot, every physical and emotional reserve totally depleted.

The first 6 months we got at most an hour of sleep every night. Survival only came because it was so consistent: the body will eventually adapt to extreme situations, given enough repetition. Not that the mind necessarily follows it. By the time of their first birthday, that had gradually improved to 90 minutes. By their second birthday we could plan on about 4 to 5 hours every night. I would try to spell Amanda on weekends when I was around so she could get a nap, but it wouldn’t last long. When both babies would cry and I couldn’t console them she would inevitably get up to help.

Amanda’s mother had come to help for a couple days at the very beginning. But she and her family had recently moved to Idaho, and she still had several young children to care for herself (Amanda was the second oldest of several). Besides, things were…complicated with her. She would not be available to assist us. My own mother offered to fly out from Indiana to help. But there were issues on that front as well and Amanda felt at the time that it would be better if she didn’t come. Feelings were naturally hurt, and communication between myself and my parents dried to a trickle. Neither of us had any other family nearby. As for our ward, well, we lived in one of those “newlywed or nearly dead” wards. The “nearly dead” Relief Society president had sisters in the ward deliver two meals, and that was that. Looking back, I should have been more assertive in asking for help and pleading our cause. But as it was, no one wanted to hear about the hardships, they only wanted the stories that made having twins as romantic and adorable as they imagined it should be. And besides, do you know Sister Jones? She had two sets of twins, and then two more children besides. Now that’s tough.

Our home had become a prison cell, one whose walls closed in around us a little more each day. We rarely went anywhere with the babies. Even after the RSV danger had dissipated with the coming of Spring, it was mind-numbingly exhausting to go anywhere with them because they would never stop crying. I dimly recall one day, walking the paths of campus, feeling like I was surrounded by ghosts, pale, wispy imitations of immaterial beings who could not help me, could not even hear my cries. They weren’t real. But that’s why I liked them, why I craved their spectral, wraithlike presence. Because the only thing that was real was the hellish nightmare living inside my apartment, a nightmare that I sentenced my wife to every day while I feverishly escaped every morning out the front door. Sure I would dive in when I returned home and we staggered through the nights side by side. But I knew that the vast majority of the burden of their care fell on her. And the guilt would eat me alive that I was leaving her behind each morning, guilt at the relief that would wash over me as the howling of the babies and her piercing silence faded into the distance. I sometimes sobbed to myself in the car as I drove away, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” But I never turned around.

Oh, so many things to have done differently in hindsight! Take a semester off. Insist at gunpoint that a parent or two take up residence in our apartment, relational issues be damned. Switch to bottles. Tell my professors I was suicidal and take Incompletes in my classes. Funny thing about hindsight, though. By definition it only appears after–usually long after– the events it claims to be able to so clearly see. And it isn’t even 20/20. Far from it. Hindsight is completely reconstructive, more a way of protecting oneself from the horrors of the past than a way of seeing it truly. I remember my brain turning to mush, not being able to type a coherent sentence for the first time in my life, forgetting co-workers’ names, nearly driving into bridge pylons on the highway multiple times. No, those commonsense things simply would never have happened, not in this universe or any other one. We were kids having kids, unaided and scared, groping for the light, making it up as we went along.

I realized, distantly, at one point, that I had landed. I had reached some kind of bottom, some kind of ground floor, though in the hazy back of my mind, there was a voice telling me that all lowest points are only deceptively temporary. There is always further to fall, another low to collapse into. I marveled that my initial fall, so brutal and sudden, had become a gradual, seemingly never-ending descent, a descent so deep that I could no longer see the top, and one so gradual it hadn’t occurred to me that I was still falling. And then the landing, with this realization, a realization I had had long before but had not allowed full access to my mind: There would be no one to rescue us, to even give us a brief reprieve, no one to even to say that things would get better.

We were utterly alone.

§

Part 4: The Reckoning

Comments

  1. This is absolutely grueling. I’m feeling really anxious and trapped after reading this and I really need you to finish the series so I can know you’re okay. The thing is, though situations may differ, your story is everyone’s story and we are collectively descending with you as you tell us our own stories through yours. Get us out, Jacob. Remind us how we ascend.

    (But I also want this series to go on forever.)

  2. This post hit me in so many ways. As the one being left at home, there were times I wanted to beg my husband to trade places, to let me write the papers, work the night shift, anything but having three little people who needed me to keep functioning whether I had a cold, the flu, a migraine or a sprained ankle.

    We were lucky enough to live close to my mom and stepdad. The are both full-time teachers, who had stake or bishopric callings, so they weren’t able to be there everyday to help. They did take the twins on Friday nights, so we could get some sleep, and they were very generous bringing meals and taking my toddler with them on shopping trips so that he got some special time.

    I was also blessed with a wonderful visiting teacher. Our RS president had about the same view on twins that yours did. (Sge actually told me once that it drove her nuts that parents who had kids with special needs thought they should get more help than other moms. She never said it directly about my twins, at least not to me, but the sentiment was there.) My visiting teacher didn’t get the memo apparently because she came by most nights on her way home from work to read a book or two to my son. Sometimes she had enough time to hang out and help with other chores or to watch the kids while I got a shower. It was great when she could help longer, but I was so grateful that she gave that priority to time with my son, since most days I didn’t have the energy to do it.

    I am sorry you didn’t get as much help from your ward or family. I don’t know what I would have done without a few breaks here and there. I realized just how much I needed them when my parents were out of town for a weekend, and I didn’t get my one night of sleep. I was even more of a shrew than usual, and I slept so hard that next Friday that I only woke up to pump (breast milk) twice between 9:00 pm and 10:00 am the next morning.

    You haven’t said how old your twins are now. Maybe that would give away the surprise ending, but I know that the older my twins get, the more I am aware of young families with twins, and I try to make an extra effort to help when I can. I don’t ask, I just do whatever I feel prompted to do.

  3. Yes… this is everyone’s story, at the same moment being excruciatingly painfully personal. You’re writing about the decent of your soul from the vantage of the twins. My reciprocal, nearly identical fall was from the vantage of a child born with autism. The story is the same.

    Thank you Jacob, for your intense bravery and vulnerability.

  4. Jacob, you have dragged me into my worst memories in a terrifying way, and yet I also feel healing coming into my life as I read this. It is especially mending to see this from the father’s POV. Perhaps many of the behaviors I experienced as rejecting or otherwise hurtful were simply helpless expressions of his own flailing torment. We were both headless in the dark–how could we help but bump and elbow each other.

  5. Corrina says:

    Jacob, just last week I listened to your Mormon Matters podcast on Prayer, and you talked about these depths after the birth of your twins. Of course, as a fellow twin parent, my interest immediately peaked. How powerful it is to read the details of these dark, dark days that somehow transformed you for the better (or hopefully, so we shall read?).

    I relate to what you said about people just wanting to romanticize twins…Many, many times, I have felt just plain grief over having had twins. It’s so hard to articulate, especially to some singleton parents (and of course, these thoughts make me feel extra guilty esp. when thinking of my infertile friends…) It’s taken me some time to work through some of my “anger” (I don’t know if I can call it that exactly) of having had twins. Please don’t misinterpret; they are a miracle and blessing, just that I sometimes wish they had come one at a time. At times I felt that I was supposed to simply be “happy” about it all (b/c “Twins–wow!”), when I was feeling the opposite.

    My heart goes out to you and your dw, as your situation was so. very. hard. You’re right about hindsight, and I appreciate that you give full weight to this and its warped clarity.

    #3 Great comment!

    P.S. Props to Amanda for sticking w/ her desire to breastfeed. Go tandem nursing!

  6. These stories are breaking my heart. Also, I don’t have twins but I see so much of my own parenting experiences in your writing. Thanks for sharing.

  7. This series is breaking my heart.

  8. Jacob, please tell me that you were given breaks from callings and h.t. & v.t…or just gave yourself breaks! I remember that there were days with newborns and toddlers that I would think I would sell my soul for 2 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

  9. Don’t know about Jacob, but my husband was EQP and did not get released during or after the twin pregnancy. He would constantly get calls to go do little home repairs at a single sister in our ward’s house, meanwhile, for the whole pregnancy, our upstairs bathroom didn’t work, so I had to waddle and teeter down and up the stairs 4 times a night to use the bathroom. He was gone 3 nights a week with that calling, between his high-needs HTees and stake-mandated super frequent PPIs and missionary splits. Often I thought about calling the bishop and saying I knew of a sister in the ward who needed many thongs and whom the EQP should step in and take care of, and then reveal it was me. But somehow snarking the bishop like that just never seemed right, even though it was true, and I didn’t know how to ask for help directly. My visiting teachers just dropped off cookies and a printed message if they did anything at all. Aren’t they and the EQP supposed to be the bishop’s eyes and ears? I know I could have done a better job asking for help, but, like Jacob describes, I was so low and exhausted that I didn’t have the energy or rational thought process to know how.

  10. Yes, Cynthia, you one surely can’t have enough thongs :)

    But more seriously, that certainly would have compounded your situation. I was YM secretary for a while, but mostly didn’t have a calling those first two years. Neither did my wife. It was a mixed blessing, though far more on the side of a blessing. At the same time, we weren’t plugged into the ward in any significant way and so remained as isolated as possible. I wouldn’t, however, have been able to do anything for long, I’m happy I never had one.

  11. Oh dear! That’s what I get for trying to type a fairly long comment on a phone while walking the dog…

  12. Sunny and Tracy, I couldn’t put it more perfectly. Thank you dearly for your comments. Stories like these are only accessible because they have some kind of universal texture to them that everyone can reach out and touch. That’s why we all need one another’s stories, and, therefore, why it is essential that we think carefully about how we can tell our stories and who needs to hear them.

  13. Julia, Corrina, anon, I am grateful you shared a little of your own stories. For my part it has been surprisingly therapeutic to hear these kinds of responses. To this day there are not many that I have shared this with. It took me years (and weeks of writing) just to get it down on paper. Thank you for accepting and reaching out to me and my wife in this way.

  14. Cynthia, when my husband was in grad school for psychology and frequently coming home at 2 a.m., I repeatedly threatened to call the student psych clinic where he was seeing clients and make an appointment with him just to get an hour of his undivided attention. Never actually did it, though, which is just as well.

  15. AS I’ve read these last two installments, I’ve had a very peculiar feeling. If I’ve done the math correctly, When this was all happening, I was wrapping up grad school and I was in the same ward as your parents. I had a calling where I worked with you father. I’m not sure what to call the feeling, but to have been in a place not far removed from your family at the same time as being completely unaware of this suffering is…chilling. And how often is that the case?

  16. Great series, Jacob. My first child was a single birth, a calm, easy baby who had no medical problems besides some jaundice at the beginning and who always slept regularly and peacefully. But for me, it was a total descent into postpartum hell. I got through that year feeling as if I were hanging onto a cliff by my fingernails. Only after I finally emerged from it did I begin to realize just how bad the depression and anxiety had been and how deeply they had warped my thinking and my perceptions. Reading your posts brings it all back–but in a good way.

  17. I’m a little bit concerned reading this. I don’t know if I’ve hit the bottom yet or if there’s farther to go. (There’s always farther to go, right?) There was a point where I was holding a screaming baby for more than 20 minutes when I just completely broke down and started crying and trembling. At that point, my wife told me I needed to go see a therapist for my anxiety around the children.

    At 9 months, they’re sleeping better and I’m getting close to 7 hours – my wife gets closer to 6 hours, which is so much better than the 2-4 hours she got the first 6 months. I honestly do not know how she does it. Her best guess is heavenly assistance and I’m inclined to agree. I have prayed more on her behalf (and the boys) than ever in my life. Maybe it helps her, maybe it helps me. Even with my limited involvement, I’m still a mess and she’s only slightly mussed. It’s a miracle.

    Jacob, your situation sounds so much worse than mine. I think your pressure would have broken me, maybe permanently. I’m glad to see you’ve survived. =)

  18. J., this would have been from late 2003 through 2005. 2004 in particular was the year from hell. I’m pretty sure my father was a bishop then. Sounds like the times match. That is pretty uncanny.

  19. ZD Eve, nothing is easy and everything is hard within the merciless vise of depression. My heart goes out to you, and to others who we don’t understand are simply not ok after giving birth. We didn’t know my wife’s postpartum was so terrible until her second birth. Then we realized it wasn’t just the brutality of the situation alone that triggered certain things in her.

  20. So sad to read this. I had three children within 2 and 1/2 years. Child #2 wan’t walking when #3 was born. X-DH was in military, just getting out. Back at BYU had child #4, oldest was 4. Then had children #5 & 6, oldest was then 7 and 1/2. Many many many many many many nights I got little sleep. X-DH worked, went to school and NEVER spelled me off unless it was a dire emergency. He had leadership callings and always managed to do them, usually leaving me alone with kids. At the time, 1973 – 1979, I thought this was the way it was “supposd to be.” I was constantly exhausted, someone was constantly sick, and it was just damn difficult. People at church thought we were a wonderful family for doing the “right thing” and having so many kids. Then I used birth control, whcih X-DH hated) and #7 & 8 were born three years apart – much better. #9 was born when #8 was 8 yrs. old (whole new story.) My point is that I never realized I could ask for a break from my calling, or from X-DH’s callings, I rarely recieved any help, My journal entries are pitiful – I was always so tired yet managed to keep everyone healthy and safe and happy. I also had self-diagnosed PP depression a couple of times but did not recognize it at the time. In hindsight, what we did was insane but I didn’t know any different. My grown children have NOT repeated my pattern, thank goodness. Having so many children so fast, and having #9, when X-DH wanted me to have more (i was 43) was a huge factor in our divorce. Birthing children is the easy part compared to struggling thru babyhood and beyond. I wish someone would have seen my torment and volunteered to help, and I wish X-DH would have been told by a priesthhood leader to help at home and I wish the church wouldn’t have idealized large families. I love each of my children dearly but I NEVER would do it the same way again. It’s a wonder I never abused my babies or kids in my sleep deprived and stressed state. Having kids so close together strained our marriage in the sex department to the extreme. I knew sex = babies and I so wanted a break. I am GLAD younger couples seem to be taking a more balanced and reasonable approach to having children – taking time off form school, helping each other, fewer children, asking for help. Thanks for letting me vent – my memories of those years are not really happy ones.

  21. Oh, things have just finally in the last 4 months finally gotten back to a state of function in our household. And it is going to take a lot to have that third. PPD is the worst! I wish so badly it didn’t happen and that having a baby could be a more peaceful time, with both parents happy and well. And I wish more men recognized that it’s not just their wife that is susceptible to it.

  22. Jacob, I pictured a phone ringing and you and your wife hoping & praying it was help on the other line and instead hearing “Did you do your home teaching this month”? That would have been justifiable homicide in my book!

    Sherry, my good friend is the 9th of 9 children. Her parents sat each of their children down and said, “We love each and every one of you…don’t have 9 children….We consider each one of you a gift from God…don’t have 9 children”. She said that she never felt slighted by their comments because they prefaced it with love but she and her siblings got the message loud and clear. Until then, she thought her parents just loved being parents but was grateful for the practical advice.

  23. You know, when I reflect back on what happened to me over my painful period of loss and survival, one thing that went through it all was that I always was able to get almost enough sleep and only dozed off in parking lots or on the road once or twice. I was grateful then, I am even more grateful now.

  24. Reading this series makes my heart fluttery and all my limbs tense. Like many people here have pointed out, you often don’t realize how warped your thinking and perceptions are when you are in the middle of depression. Looking back makes things painfully obvious, but it’s so impossible at the time. While I didn’t have twins, I have had a similar experience. My second child arrived suddenly and traumatically in a late-night emergency c-section, the same week my ex-husband started working two jobs in preparation for us to move to another state for his graduate program. My son was fussy and I was too fragile to really do anything about it, so it became a horrible downward spiral of me with PPD, unhappy baby, busy husband who didn’t know how to deal with me and who was withdrawing from the Church and me at the same time, etc. We moved a few months after the baby was born and that was both good and bad. The ward we moved into thankfully had a very aware bishop and RS president who had seen similar issues in their large graduate student family population, but it took several months of patient persistance by a number of people in the ward before I opened myself up to letting anyone in to help me and my family. I think it’s hard for many reasons: wards aren’t always equipped to deal with these kinds of chronic (i.e. not acute and not easily resolved), multifaced difficulties, depression and anxiety make people much more self-isolating and paranoid about motives, and perceptions vary vastly based on personal experience. Having a RS president who had seen women hospitalized for major PPD meant that she took me seriously and I didn’t drive my car off a cliff like I had contemplated doing. For some people, their only experience with ‘having a baby is difficult’ is ‘I’m only sleeping six hours at a time and I don’t have time to make dinner some nights’, not a complete loss of the will to live.

  25. I’ve come to the conclusion that some people can tolerate sleep deprivation a whole lot more than others (I’d be reduced to a weeping, jibbering wreck at being kept awake for 21 hours even as a teen). Your scenario, Jacob (&Amanda), is by far the worst I’ve heard, dragging on for so long, and chills me to the bone…
    I’m the eldest of 7 children. I have 2 children, spaced 21/2 years. No twins. And that was bad enough. We didn’t have people help because I find socialising difficult at the best of times, and the last thing I needed was having to cope with other people as well as a baby. My mother did come down for a few days the first time, but could see her presence wasn’t helping, and went back home. We specifically asked people to stay away (though inevitably, some didn’t feel it applied to them). DH would carry the baby around in a sling for a couple of hours in the evening while I got some sleep. He had me released from my callings, because I’m just too conscientious, and telling me to get back to them when I felt up to it wasn’t enough to assuage the guilt I felt at not fulfilling them. Especially as I knew I wouldn’t feel up to it for far longer than they imagined. It would be weeks before I’d back at church, just about able to cope with all the interest, and fleeing at the end of the meetings. I’d compare myself to those animals, who, unless they are left alone, reject their young. Looking back, I’d say I was probably borderline psychotic for several months (just gritted my teeth and ignored it). I certainly didn’t start to feel anywhere near human until the 9 month mark, when they’d be eating solid food without difficulty, and way, way better once they were able to speak… And I did manage to bond with my children.

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