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I stopped counting after eight miscarriages. I lost track after the number of in-vitro fertilization cycles climbed to the double digits. I confused surrogates with donors, agencies, doctors, and clinics. I learned to speak the new language of Assisted Reproductive Technology with its unfamiliar acronyms and long-forgotten terms from 9th-grade biology class. Days were marked by pills, injections, retrievals, and transfers. Weeks, months, and years of waiting followed.

This was my daughter’s life for ten long years. After a decade of trying with so much money spent you could build several houses, go on a world cruise or two, and buy your own jet. Buy everything but a baby.

“Was I  aching to hold a child of hers in my arms? Definitely yes.”

I grieved my daughter’s losses with her but suffered a different kind of grief as her mother.  Did her difficulties have anything to do with me? Probably not. I had easy pregnancies and uncomplicated deliveries. Was I  aching to hold a child of hers in my arms? Definitely yes. Could I share my own anguish openly with her? Some of the time. Too often I found myself at a loss for words. But the elephant was always there, big and heavy, waving its long trunk, emitting a pitiful, mournful cry.

My grandmother’s heart was breaking. My son’s two young children had introduced me to the exhilaration that is grandparenting a few years earlier. I was a devoted, doting, actively involved grandmother who taught them to swim, ride bikes, and ski. I couldn’t wait to do the same with my daughter’s children, and the thought of missing that opportunity saddened me terribly.

Once, I was heading down a local road and was pulled over by a policeman. When the officer approached my car, I rolled down my window and burst into tears. I looked up into the kindly face of an older gentleman who said, “M’am, are you that upset about getting a ticket?” I shook my head no and told him I had just received an upsetting phone call from my daughter who had suffered another miscarriage. He nodded as I imagined a loving grandfather might and offered that maybe this wasn’t the best time to be driving around. Then he held out his long blue arm, stopping traffic, so I could make a U-turn to go home. I cried all the way.

My life went on while she kept riding the roller coaster. Every phone call was a mix of hope disappointment or both. As much as she had shared over the years, there were periods when it was so emotionally exhausting for her that the topic was taboo. I understood. My husband and I communicated openly, but there were also periods when we commiserated in silence. Just one look at each other’s faces was all we needed to confirm our mutual pain, our hearts too heavy, our tongues too tired to speak it aloud. The elephant lived in both our houses.

And then, most unexpectedly, there were two. Twin A and Twin B, so named in utero by the medical team. When she uttered those words, “I’m pregnant,”  I could not believe what I was hearing. My husband and I  were visiting in early September when she told us the news. Stunned and speechless, we stood there trying to make sense out of what she was saying. My husband hugged my daughter. I froze, willing my brain to fire neurons from audio to visual to visceral. “What?” I gasped. “We heard the heartbeats,” she confirmed. “But how…?” I sputtered.

Explanations followed.  My husband and I walked around all weekend in a daze, looking at each other while shaking our heads in bewilderment, questioning how this was possible, how this could be real.

Ultrasounds proved it so. A baby shower at the end of 30 weeks was a truly joyous event, a celebration of something no one ever thought would or could be. Unfortunately, it was ominously overshadowed by the onset of Bell’s palsy the day before. My daughter had woken up that Friday morning to see one drooping eyelid in the mirror. By mid-afternoon, her smile had turned upside down on the same side. My husband is a physician and recognized the telltale signs immediately. Phone calls and photos to her doctor confirmed his suspicions.  The obstetrician approved watchful waiting overnight and advised going to the ER straight from the baby shower.

With the bravest- and most crookedly beautiful- face I have ever seen, my daughter held her head high and reveled in every minute of that special occasion. The love and support provided by family and friends provided just the right dose of medicine to get her through those two hours.  It wasn’t as simple for me; I felt as if I were on high alert, scanning her every movement. With a fancy plate of luncheon food in front of me, I sat and made idle chatter and tried to ignore the rattling in my head. What was going on here?  How would this day end? My husband was due to return to NY the next day, and I had planned on staying until Tuesday. Now what? I forced another forkful into my mouth. With coffee and cake still on the table, my daughter, her husband, and mine left for the hospital.

It didn’t take long for the doctors to diagnose preeclampsia and admit her for observation. The Bell’s palsy, we learned, was not that uncommon in pregnancy, but it certainly was complicating the circumstances now. My daughter was scared and uncomfortable. We were all anxious but hopeful that her condition would stabilize with bed rest and that she would be able to hold on to those babies, allowing them to continue to grow safely in her womb for a few more weeks.

That did not prove possible.  After four days on hold, her doctor walked into the room and announced, “It’s time to take the babies.” She had no choice, she explained,  but to induce labor.

In a reverse order of events, Twin B delivered first, naturally, weighing in at 3 lbs. 6 oz. Twin A didn’t make an appearance until exactly six and a half hours later, forced out by surgical intervention. He was a mere three ounces bigger than his older sister. The cheer that typically follows a newborn’s cry was restrained, tempered by the crisis of the moment. In a careful, smooth, swift sequence of motions, the preemies were rushed to the NICU, where the nurses and specialists on staff were gentle, compassionate, and competent as they tended to the newborns in the “suite” that was their home for the next six weeks. Though I was initially overwhelmed by the mere concept of critical care for newborns, I came to find the serious silence soothing. I felt hope in the air, measured by ounces of intake and output, blood values, digits readings on a scale- all numbers that now we were happy to hear.

The first time I saw my daughter in her hospital bed after the deliveries, tears came to my eyes. Our roles reversed swiftly when she asked me, “Mom, are you okay?” I nodded yes since I had no words to explain the fear, anxiety, and relief I had been experiencing the last few days. My own support system was only intermittently available; long-distance conversations were limited, depending on the hospital’s network and area cell phone towers, and sometimes factoring in the three-hour time difference was more than my tired brain could process. I relied on my own strength and resilience, meting out what I could to be present for my daughter.inconceivable

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so motherly in my life as when we stood side by side,  wide-eyed with wonder, staring at two miniature beings who lay on their backs,  naked save for a doll-sized diaper. Attached to bundles of wires, their tiny chests rose up and down in a slow and steady rhythm. Their heads were covered by white knit caps, their mouths taped over with a broad strip that held in place a device that pushed more air into their underdeveloped lungs. Soft, grey masks lay over their eyes, leaving little of their faces exposed. We couldn’t hold them, but we were able to touch them through the portholes in their isolettes. I reached in cautiously and felt five miniature fingers curl slowly around just one of my own. It felt surreal. I was afraid to move and unwilling to let go. My daughter was a mother now. Her dream had come true, as had mine. I would have a chance to sprinkle my grandmother’s fairy dust again, after all.

The twins at four

Four and a half years later, those three-pound babies weigh in at the very top of growth charts. Healthy, happy, heavy(!), they have turned my life upside down. The absolute marvel of nature that is twins surprises me anew each day. It’s so much more than double the delight. I feel as if I’m witnessing a living experiment: nurture versus nurture. The same loving, attentive, supportive environment has shaped and influenced two little minds and bodies in entirely different ways. They’ve reached developmental milestones- motor, verbal, cognitive- in their own separate time. They each have temperaments and behaviors, likes and dislikes, needs and desires distinctly their own. Side by side, two unique little beings are growing into themselves. And I have the privilege as their grandmother to hold their hands along the way.



About the author

Deborah Levin is a doting grandmother of four who enjoys writing and sharing stories about their young lives. Other essays have been published in earlier editions of GRAND.

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