It's even more fun when your wide-eyed, uncomfortable-in-his-own-skin husband decides to accompany you at the last minute, and you feel responsible for his nervous fidgeting of foreign design. The only fixation taking his mind off his discomfort is studying the breast exam posters in the room, every so often uttering a collegiate giggle. I sigh, wondering why he is there, yet strangely enjoying his camaraderie.
Waiting to find out if our baby was alive and kicking made me more than a little anxious. Discovering we were pregnant a month prior, we arrived to ease our fears of a potential miscarriage. A condition, known as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) wreaks havoc on my reproductive system, and some studies claim the disorder to harbor a 45% chance of losing a pregnancy. I was a little worried. Hell, I was freaking out.Even though we needed no help in getting pregnant, PCOS also causes massive rates of infertility. If this baby didn't make it; well, let's just say I worried for the state of our future family.
We waited, surrounded by patients, cracking nervous jokes. We poked fun at the whole idea of pregnancy and kids; nothing was sacred. At one point, he looked at me sharply and said with mock horror on his face,"What if it's twin girls?" I involuntarily gasped. Thinking about twin teenage girls in our household one day did not sound appealing; coming from a house with just my sister and me; many shared, destroyed belongings and vicious fights ending in dismembered Barbie dolls.
Quickly regaining my composure, I reacted as I knew best - I threw the horror back at him. I put my hand gently on his arm, feigning a dramatic and somber tone. "No, no, honey. See, my grandmother was a triplet, and with something like that running in our families, combined with our 'luck,' it's going to be three girls! Just wait and see!" He did look genuinely shocked then, for the first time pondering the family history and the actual feasibility of it all. I only giggled in satisfaction because I had just won the shock contest. He looked up at me, a little green in the face and seemed as though he was about to ask me a serious question. Luckily, we didn't have to wait around to contemplate our imagined fate, with the nurse calling us in.
Ultrasound underway, the nurse blithely asked me, "How are your nerves?" I thought she was having a problem with the machine. I wondered if my nervous trembling was interfering with the readings; the trembling only a moment of truth could bring; was our baby alive? Lying through my teeth, I told her I was fine and she only looked at me, turning the monitor our way. She traced her finger along the black and white abstract on the screen and calmly delivered the word, "twins."
I don't think my brain wrapped around that description, that we were having twins, because I knew in my heart that this was not the real thing. It hadn't clicked yet. Looking at the two circles, each holding a jumping bean, the wonder of it all seemed to be waiting for the other shoe to drop; curiously, I don't know why I was immediately questioning their existence without another look. A momentous weight hovered on the air and both of us instinctively knew that there was more to the story.
We looked at each other, eyes locked, both recalling the recent joking conversation with bated breath, and respectfully asked if she was sure there wasn't another one. I had instantly felt "three" in my heart and soul after her discovery, I knew it already, there on the exam table, and wasn't leaving without confirmation of our eerie premonition. It was all too coincidental to be unrelated; the family history, the waiting room jokes, the long wait for a family, not knowing if there would ever be more.
Mike delicately pointed to the monitor and underneath the connected circles of two sacs was an elongated and curved black hole. It looked like one of those long, thin balloons made by a traveling clown, arcing into a smile just after inflation. It wrapped under the other two, like a cupped hand, cradling them. He asked if maybe that might be another baby, just waiting to be discovered. She looked perplexed and skeptical; maybe thinking to herself how she could have missed it, but more likely just how rare three really was. She moved the wand around a bit to placate us, unimpressed. Trying for a difficult view, she broke out the heavy equipment, the internal ultrasound; Da-Da-Da . Via this new (and awfully invasive) toy, she immediately realized that he was right. From a different angle, there bounced Baby #3, directly beneath the other two.
In one swift movement, her hand flew to her mouth and she croaked loudly. I remember that she was in the throes of laryngitis, and her voice sounded painful. The Frog Lady was yelling, I realized, in her diminished and damaged voice, yelling "Oh, my God!" over and over. It sounded downright awful and I wondered why she was getting so excited.
Let me just say that we were in shock. Who wouldn't be? In this slow, perceptive state, we were suffering from the effects of brain fog. Looking at our lives from the outside of the bubble, wide-eyed, faces pressed to the glass in rapture, right before it gave way and imploded from the pressure. We were simply watching an uber-exciting soap opera, or we were dreaming, surely. Nothing like this happens in real life! The mesmeric quality of the moment was surreal, we had to be watching someone elses' lives, or we were being "Punk'd", I was sure of it. I felt slow on the uptake, a blur of light following behind everyones' movements made me feel like I was suspended in a thick liquid. My brain was doing the equivalent of a "huh? say what?!" Understanding, even in its simplest form, had not yet arrived.
We said nothing, just watched the circus show with an air of detached amusement. Mike with his back pressed firmly into the wall for stability and me, trying to contain my own body parts under the thin piece of paper they called a gown. After a while, I felt like I was floating on a cloud, high up in the air, feeling nothing but slight curiosity. Wafting and delicate, floating closer to the precipice of a fathomless abyss, a major development, breaking news, but so far, all I felt...was numb. It seemed as though we were hearing and watching the festivities from the other end of a long tunnel. My vision was now only capable of black and white tones. The light had a texture bleeding on to the edges and sounds seemed ancient and crackly. I wonder now if this is what it feels like to almost pass out. People shouldn't ever have to get news like that lying on your back, half-naked.
They were screaming, grabbing our hands and squishing our faces, dancing around the room, as if someone had hit the lottery! Little did we know that we had hit a lottery of sorts. Spontaneous conception of triplets only happens in 1 of every 8000 pregnancies¹. Is that luck? If it is, I'm not sure of what kind. Strangely, I started to wonder what the other waiting patients were imagining of all this carrying on.
With our lukewarm desire and commitment to becoming parents, mostly unsure and conflicted, these 3 babies, this "all-in" development seemed cruel and unusual. I was hoping that this first look at our little hand in creation, residing inside of me, would instantly bring us both on board, would miraculously cure our worries and insecurities, and would right our life's picture frame which seemed so crooked without the inclusion of children. But three? Three seemed as harsh as a blow to the face, a KO from God himself, sending us some sort of encrypted message. We were so confused. But there we were, our path set and inextricably paced; from zero to sixty in 9 months.
Lying on the table, in a compromising position, all pride dropped, the screaming nurses had an idea. They wanted to call my doctor, who was attending a conference in NYC. He wasn't to be interrupted, unless there was an emergency. They figured this would make the cut. The clue for us that spontaneous triplets were rare, the piece of info that had us get on board the crazy train, was that he had only treated 1 other woman in the same condition in his fifteen years of practice.
Frantically dialing the phone and then connecting, First Screaming Nurse talked rapidly in what sounded like a different language. Then, she handed it to me, the cord stretched all the way down the long hallway, me lying on my back, just chatting on the phone, as if I wasn't half naked with an internal ultrasound still in place. I told you, surreal.
He was so worried, and happy, and shocked, but worried. His first comment after the high energy subsided was that we were definitely having a c-section now, no doubt. He continued that with my history of problems, my body might not handle 3 babies well. I was only 8 weeks along and 36 weeks is considered "full term" for triplets (since they develop at a faster rate than singletons) and that made for a long road ahead. 32 weeks is the average gestation, with many a mom found on hospital bed rest for the duration. Then he delivered the shocker; all of the babies may not make it.
He advised us not to tell anyone until the end of the first trimester, at least, since there was a possibility we may lose one of the babies in these early stages. He said, "go ahead and tell them you're pregnant, if you want, but save the big news for later, when we are out of the woods." He was cautiously optimistic.
We left that day, a flurry of emotions in tow; Serious Mental Baggage. We weren't going to be great conversationalists that day, and we had a family party to attend, pretending all was status quo in our happy life.
I was growing fast, too fast to not tell anyone, they all already suspected by studying my growing belly, even 8 weeks in.
Leaving the building, the most frequent thought we would have in days to come invaded our cozy shock. "What are we going to do?" I vividly remember sitting down (more like collapsing) on the steps outside the office, feeling too weak to hold up my heavy thoughts, trembling, the news starting to sink in a bit. The tornado taking up residence inside my head swirled voraciously.
We decided to wait one more month to share the news, on Thanksgiving; for by then, I was hoping we would have come to terms with our new life and perhaps even be, well, thankful for it.
After a long visit in the vestibule, we headed out to the convenience store for a drink, feeling parched and cotton-mouthed, all available moisture rushing to lubricate the cognitive gears in overdrive. I stared at the ultrasound copies in disbelief, tears coming for the first time. These were our babies. These shapes were actually three lives inside of me. So momentous, I wished my grandmother were alive to see this.
We had some real shopping to accomplish, but we only hopped from store to store, never buying anything, just repeating to each other in different ways our newly formed mantra "What are we going to do?" And more, "How are we going to handle this?"
And like a flash of lightning, the obligation of multiplicity hit us, escalating out of control; three Halloween costumes, three learning to drive at the same time, three proms, three weddings - whoa. Three.college.tuitions.And then we really did wonder; "what if it is three girls?" Holy Crap! It was all too much to process standing up and even more, on an empty stomach. I was already suffering from "evening" sickness those days, with the multiple doses of hormones swimming in my system. Becoming very ill every night, I could not eat after a certain time. It was now past this certain time, but I desperately needed something in my belly. I needed to counteract the urge to regurgitate in response to the surprise God threw at us that day. So we ate. And we walked some more, searching for answers in the organic food aisle, hoping to unearth an epiphany behind a package of dried noodles or chocolate sandwich cookies.
We drifted aimlessly for hours, like mental patients wandering the neighborhood, lost in their own mind, speaking incoherent sing-songy sentences, wafting from place to place, not really accomplishing anything but remaining conscious. It's a marvel we even stayed side by side, each drawn inward, processing thought and emotion, perhaps drawn together by the wispy ties of our shared shock.
Telling our family and friends was only a little more exciting than it was exhausting, and by the end of it all, after a few weeks, the reality was beginning to finally sink in to the very core of us. Deep seated feelings started to root, feelings that if I were to be honest, were unfair to the children growing inside of me. We wanted to test the waters, not jump into the deep end! When will we ever have freedom again, to do the selfish things we want to do? Travel, go out to eat, play video games deep into the night, see a movie, make love, be us ...just us. How will our marriage handle this immediate taxing of resources and emotions? Will we have enough to go around and support our new soccer team? How will we be devoted to and deeply love all three at once, having the patience to teach and discipline them together and also the fortitude to handle the screaming and sicknesses and hard times? If we're not good enough, we run the risk of screwing up three kids, not just one; what.are.we.going.to.do?
Another month passed, and the healing ritual of Christmas shopping commandeered our lives. We let the season wash over us, trying to forget the difficult future in store, ready or not. Concentrating on our 22 nieces and nephews, we raided the toy store. 4 Tired feet and 2 sore backs later, we were still as elated as when we walked through the door; we were finally catching the bug! Inundated with toys for all ages, we started to move past the worst and imagine now the best of times; the times when having a family is all worthwhile; and it all began with Christmas. With the exhilaration, dawned a new chapter of our family and the worry abated, if only slightly.
Registering for our baby shower shortly after, we became aware of all that one needs to care for a baby or three and scanned away. Stopping at a seemingly innocuous bath toy, Mike paused and looked profoundly thrilled. Watching him act as a child would, stealing over me was the realization that he was picturing life beyond those tough infant years. In a flash, he had stolen a glimpse of the fun times we would have as they got older. This forgettable toy was an effectual dam, holding back the flood of terrible predictions and anticipated difficulties, the awful advice and the fear of failing. I laughed and cried witnessing this evolution because when he found it, the look on his face beamed pure joy and excitement. Even if triggered by a mere toy, he was now truly ready to be a Dad, even better; a dad of triplets.
In that instant, amid the fluorescent luster and warehouse air, I just knew everything was going to be... okay. We were ready.
¹The odds of conceiving "spontaneous" triplets (i.e., without the aid of fertility enhancements) is about 1 in 8,100. (Note: These statistics are estimates, gathered from several sources, including a 2001 National Vital Statistics Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Odds - Twins from BabyMed.com, Facts About Multiples: Twin Basics Page 2