Today I feel like crying —for no reason, for every reason. For joy, for grief long past, for frustration, for my son, for my life. I’m sure it’s a combination of factors such as sleep deprivation and hormones (gotta love PMS), but the feeling is so overwhelming that I am afraid to give in to it; I am afraid that once I start I will be unable to stop. I want to wallow but I cannot go there today. Nik needs me to not go there today. Still, I cannot shake the feeling. Maybe I need to let it out to move on.
I have read and re-read Jennifer’s post on ParentDish about her twins, Bennett and Avery. It is a beautiful post about their brotherly bond and the ways they are changing as they grow. It is also evocative of the anxiety which ensues upon coming home from the NICU with more than one vulnerable baby. It is, truly, a wonderful post. I hated it.
It made me cry —hard. Not from the beauty of Jennifer’s words or the images of her boys falling asleep, limbs tangled together. For me, it was like ripping a scab off of a wound I have buried so deep within my soul that I had nearly forgotten its existence. Nik had a twin.
Somewhere in the transition from my first to my second trimester, Nik’s twin simply vanished. Gone as if it had never existed yet I have the ultrasound pictures to prove that it had been very, very real. I was crushed. Niksdad and I had tried for so long to achieve a successful pregnancy —riding the roller coaster of infertility treatments and multiple early-term miscarriages —that we had nearly given up on our dream of our “prefect” family of four. While we hadn’t intended to have two at one time, we had just started to get used to the idea of our “red-headed twin boys” which is what we were sure we were going to end up with.
I remember crying on the way home from the doctor’s office. Niksdad gently held my hand and whispered that maybe we could try for another one after “Poindexter” was born. But I knew in my heart that we wouldn’t; I was turning 40 in just a few weeks and I had already had a difficult first trimester out of work on limited-activity disability which might as well have been complete bed rest. What should have been a period of joyful anticipation for us was, instead, a time of intense anxiety and hyper-vigilance. I packed away my tears and pain over the loss and tucked it in the back of my heart. The baby living and growing inside of me needed my energy now. Grief would have to wait for another day.
As fate would decree, that day would have to wait for a very long time. Nik was born three months early but measured as if he had been four months premature. We hadn’t known until during my delivery that I have an anatomical anomaly — a septate uterus. A thin, membranous wall divides my uterus in two; the “wall” has no blood supply. Apparently, the placenta had attached itself to this membrane as well as to the uterine wall. The result is that Nik had less than optimal blood supply throughout my pregnancy. The doctors suggest that this is the reason for Nik’s prematurity and extremely low birth weight as well as the reason his twin vanished. No one can say with absolute certainty though.
With Nik’s very premature arrival and the resulting changes in our lives —on the order of some very significant magnitude —I’ve just never stopped to look back. The intensity of the early months in the NICU and the fears of whether our dearly wanted child would even live consumed our every waking thought. I couldn’t spare a jot of energy for anything or anyone beyond my husband and our son. I’m not sure Niksdad would even want another one after all we have been through with Nik; it has been like the tempering of steel in a very hot fire. The heat is exhausting and the fear of being burned is too great.
Bit by bit, I am coming up for air and discovering that life still exists in the “outside” world though it seems just barely on some days. My not-so-baby boy still needs me, perhaps now more than ever. He needs me to help him navigate his way through his day to day world, to guide the hands and hearts of those who teach and work with him, to stand firm in the face of ignorance, pettiness, prejudice, and a tightwad school system.
Having another child is simply not an option that Niksdad and I feel we could responsibly, or in good conscience choose; I have been told by my doctor that I would be on complete bed rest and face a pretty high chance of having another premature, medically vulnerable child. While I wouldn’t have terminated my pregnancy had I known what was coming with Nik, I would not knowingly risk a second; it wouldn’t be fair to anyone involved. So I don’t think about the twin that vanished or the idea of having another child anymore —when I can help it.
Still, there are quiet moments when I am caught unaware by an invasive sadness; sometimes, it sneaks up on me as I watch Nik playing —especially if he seems bored. It is sadness for what might have been. Not Nik as a “normal” healthy toddler without disability or challenge. I can no more alter my son, nor would I want to anymore, than I can call down the moon. Instead, I am filled with regret and longing for the brother or sister Nik will never know. For the sibling who could have—might have— taken the lead and taught him things, shown him things, played games, or shared secrets and tangled limbs as they fell asleep in the dark. For the brother or sister who would also learn from Nik —about strength and dignity and courage. About loving fiercely and unconditionally. About grace and acceptance.
If it is true that God only gives you what you can handle, then I must be grateful for the gift of Nik and God’s confidence in me. Frankly, there are days I doubt my ability to give Nik what he needs and I am convinced that God got it wrong. Still, there are days I wonder why God chose only one for me. Blessings and lessons come in unexpected ways.