Deep Grooves

I blinked hard, bleary eyed. Sleep was creeping in and taking over my consciousness. I toppled over onto my pillow and covered myself with blankets for a nap. Later, as I woke and stretched, my hand brushed the skin on my hip. My fingers lingered in two deep grooves, then moved on to other ragged scars surrounding them. Crevices so deep my fingers used to catch in the tender spaces between them when I dressed. The pain no longer accompanies them, but still I sometimes catch those prominent features of my self. 


After my first child was born, I had one or two little shallow stretch marks on my belly. I was pleased with how they virtually disappeared. But as my second pregnancy progressed, tears, blue and red, ripped across my delicate pink skin making it look like a map of the human circulatory system. There was no stopping them, and more appeared weekly, sometimes daily. They shocked me as I surveyed myself in the mirror.  At one appointment my doctor looked at my belly and said, “Lady, you lost the war.” 


There were two babies inside me, squirming and kicking away. My tearing flesh was evidence that they were growing. That was good. But there’s always, always another side of the coin. 


These babies were rare, and after the initial ultrasound, where no dividing membrane was found “but we probably just couldn’t see it”, subsequent exams moved me to the rare and extremely high-risk category of twin pregnancies. These babies were floating around in the same space, in their own little universe, where they could dance together in fluid atmosphere. Only they weren’t supposed to. Not in that space, not yet. Not until they were outside. They were supposed to be nested in their own little ocean cocoon, their own tiny orbit around the placenta, which was their life source. 


Too much fun and freedom made their orbits around each other extremely dangerous. My anxiety spiked as the specialist looked at us seriously. I felt the words, “There’s a 50% chance that one or both of them will die” echo through my brain. 


People didn’t quite know what to do with me. The Georgetown doctors consulted each other and specialists from wider circles. Monoamniotic twins occurred only in 1% of all identical twin pregnancies and .1% of all pregnancies. Insurance didn’t want to pay for the care the doctors determined was necessary. They agreed upon home visits a few times a week, where a nurse would check the babies’ heartbeats.


Then my grandfather died. 


He lived all the way across the United States and I asked my doctor for permission to go to the funeral. The day before I was supposed to leave, my first home visit was scheduled. The woman who came gave the frazzled impression of someone with too much anxiety to be involved in that kind of work. She fussed as she tried to figure out where we would do the testing. She worried as she set up the machine. She lost her mind when she said she detected one of the heartbeats decelerating. She paced back and forth. I asked, are you sure you’re not detecting my heartbeat? No, she said the baby’s heartbeat was decelerating. I had to get up to show her where the phone was and she tried to shoo me back to the bed. But she was a mess and I had to get up several times to help her figure things out, like what my address was for the ambulance.


I felt an out of body calm as they came in to get me on the stretcher. I assured them I could move myself and even walk, but the hysterical lady was insistent. I don’t know why it mattered. For all I knew laying down could have been the problem in the first place.


In the hospital, over the weeks that the doctors kept me there, specialists came and did highly sensitive ultrasounds and murmured over me. The babies were entirely entwined, and I was on a monitor 24/7. Alarms would sound every time a baby moved out of range. The nurses got lazy about coming to check quickly. The babies were quite active. I learned that they had a window between day 7 and 9 after conception to be created the way they were. Any earlier and there would be fewer complications, and any later, they would be cojoined.


For 3 weeks I watched way too much Judge Judy. There were two pictures of my family pinned under the TV on the wall. Little Alice, who couldn’t even come see me. My heart ached for her. The doctors were holding me hostage unless insurance agreed to every day monitoring. But the home health people refused to come to check me anymore and I would have to drive myself to Georgetown University Hospital. In the end, insurance said they would cover 3 days a week. The doctors were not pleased. But what if something happened on an off day? Anything could happen once I was off the monitors, even on a day I was checked. I wasn’t supposed to walk far, but the Georgetown hospital garage was a very long distance from the office. Contractions came and went, tightening and irritating my abdomen while I walked. They would comment on that, check the babies, and send me home…walking back to my car. 


The inconsistencies left me speechless. I was supposed to be on bed rest, but I had to walk half a mile (it felt like) from the garage to the office and back 3 times a week. I was supposed to be monitored constantly at the advice of my doctors, but in actuality it was only 3 days a week for half an hour. Why was the insurance company allowed to make medical decisions for me?


During one of my appointments, a tech began questioning me again about my due date. I was certain of when I conceived, I said, because I was out of the country for 3 weeks before that. He said, “Are you sure you didn’t conceive in France?” “My husband was at home,” I said. He said, “That doesn’t mean something couldn’t have happened in France.”


 What the hell? That was not okay. 


My doctor, the one who told me I lost the war, was actually a decent person. I interviewed many doctors and offices to find him. At every appointment the wait time was terrible, but he listened to me. Specialists were trying to have the babies born at 32 weeks, but I negotiated with my doctor. He believed me about my conception date and pushed my delivery date out. Then, week by week I asked for more time. He agreed three times and then put his foot down at 35 weeks. No, I couldn’t have any more time. They were going to be born. 


I had been on steroids to help the babies’ lungs get ready, which also helped me turn into a giant puffball. I seriously couldn’t see my feet and putting on shoes was an enormous task, as it required bending. I was not only protruding farther than I could have imagined, but I was also double wide. Once, I had to waddle to the grocery store and two people kept whispering and following me from isle to isle. I was bent over to get something from a lower shelf and stood as they passed, after they had been stalking me for a while. “Oh,” I heard one of them say. “She’s pregnant.”


What?! That was not okay either.


There’s a special place for that snarky tech and those judgmental and nosy humans.


John went out and bought car seats, I’m not sure why we didn’t have some already. I remember sitting on a chair in the front room, in the dark, when he brought the boxes in. It sank in. Tomorrow they would be born. It was hard to sleep that night.


I didn’t have the option of anything but a c-section, and they kept me awake while blocking my view with a curtain hanging in front of my face. I didn’t feel the pain, but I felt my body being heaved from side to side and up and down, then a very tiny cry, followed by another 3 minutes later.


They were breathing on their own, the steroid medication had done its job. They were tiny, around 5 and a half pounds each. But big for being 5 weeks early. They were in heated incubators with wires and tubes, and I was sent to rest. However, rest was impossible. I was in pain, which increased in increments until I was writhing on my bed. The nurses couldn’t give me more meds, they said. I was maxed out. It wasn’t until hours after my operation that they discovered that there was a kink in my IV that made the meds not reach me, and a leak, which made it seem like I was getting my medication. I felt like I had been run over by a Mac truck. It was the worst pain ever, as I was simultaneously given medication that was supposed to shrink my uterus, making it contract. But I could feel all of that with my completely brand-new incisions and nothing to dull the pain. After 3 days I didn’t feel like I could possibly go home. I had barely recovered from the pain. But the babies were discharged and so was I.


I don’t remember the first two years much at all. I didn’t sleep enough. My body slowly adjusted to a normal center of balance and I stopped falling. However, my hip still gave out occasionally, and once I fell with the babies in my arms. The doctors kept my placenta for research. They said that at the base of the placenta, there was one normal bunch of cords, but as it approached the babies it split in two bunches. They never asked if they could keep it. I was thinking they should have at least asked. 


What I do remember is tiny baby voices, soft noises, four eyes staring at each other, fascinated as they talked back and forth. I can still see 10 fingers and 10 toes stretched, waving in the air. All of the hard stuff is gone. Pain is interesting, both physical and mental. We can remember that something hurt a lot, but we don’t remember the actual pain forever.


I lay there for a moment, washed over by the memories. Now these babies are almost 26 years old. They did dance together, staying, swaying, romping and totally entwined long after their entry into the world. Being physically close was the best way to sooth them. They slept in the same bed until they graduated from high school. We tried putting them in separate cribs and beds, but they always ended up together. We gave up and bought them a queen-sized bed. The cord that tied them together was severed at birth but not until they were 19 years old did their relationship begin to pull apart. Now the distance continues to widen between them, their respective spouses pushing the wedge in further, enlarging the gap. And all I can do is dream that they will dance together again one day.