There we were—the hubby and me—in the sonogram room at our obstetrician's office waiting to see that little eight-week-old blob that would be our baby in 32 short weeks. The tech kept looking at the screen and moving the wand around my goopy belly. Finally, she uttered the words you never want to hear—especially from your sonographer—"How are you with surprises?"
Let's take a pregnant pause for a little bit of background. Not too long ago, my husband Ron and I, happily married for six years, were the parents of two kids under the age of four, one big dog, and living in a cozy row house in the city. We had talked about maybe one day, down the road, possibly (if the stars aligned and we won the lottery), having a third baby. But weeks earlier, an anniversary trip to the Four Seasons in Washington, D.C., plus a forgotten birth control pill, had resulted in a missed period. Four days, a few glasses of wine, and a whole lot of denial later, I took a pregnancy test. Then I waited another eight hours to tell my husband.
For the next few weeks we let it sink in—yes, we were going to have another baby and we would make it work.
And then the bombshell. The tech turned the screen to face us and pointed out two little embryos. "Twins." As in, not one more baby but two. As in, not a family of five but six. As in, our SUV wasn't even going to cut it anymore.
My husband looked lovingly at me and then—never one to mince words—turned back to the tech and said, "Are you shitting me?" She was not. I went to the bathroom and stared into the mirror—my face a mix of elation and sheer terror.
The staff at the obstetric office was ecstatic. "We love twins around here," one of the nurses told me. "What a miracle!" said another. Ron and I exchanged another look. Glad they were so excited about it.
The car ride home was a mix of hysterical laughter and blame. And then we didn't speak about it for a few weeks.
Ron and I moved from D.C. into a two-bedroom row home in Canton in 2004, the fall after we got married. We figured we'd enjoy life as a childless couple for a while in an exciting new city. So much for our best laid plans. A little over a year later—the week I started my job as lifestyle editor of Baltimore magazine, coincidentally—I found out I was pregnant.
Our second bedroom, at the time an office/guest room, was promptly converted to a nursery, and Milo arrived in October 2006. In January 2009, Willa joined the family. When she was six months old, we moved Milo into a toddler bed, she got the crib, and the room sharing began. No big deal. Sure, our family room had slowly lost the good (i.e., hazardous) objects—no more glass coffee table with deathtrap edges, trinkets, and a big bowl of matchbooks—and we had to buy things like outlet covers and gates for our stairs. And yes, our rooms were taken over with their stuff—bins of toys, a baby swing, a high chair, and a playmat. Still, manageable.
But four kids in a two-bedroom row house sounded like the makings of a reality show. (My working titles? Janelle & Ron Lose Their Minds. Or Diamonds in the Rough. Not as catchy as Jon & Kate Plus Eight—but hopefully a happier ending.)
"Who has four kids anymore?" Ron kept asking me. I would mention a friend of a friend. "They have three kids," he retorted. Right.
It got better once we told family, although we did it in a sneaky way. We put Willa in a "Big Sister" T-shirt at the beach and waited to see who noticed.
"Wait, what is Willa wearing?" my sister finally asked.
"A baby?" squealed my aunt.
We sent out an e-mail to friends in mid-August: Well, we have some news. We are expecting a baby this winter. And another one. Yes, TWINS. Yes, we're still in shock-and-awe mode. Yes, we realize we need a minivan. Yes, we are aware we'll never eat out again. We just started our second trimester. We saw both babes last week—and two good heartbeats. Holy crap.
The responses flooded in with lots of exclamation points and all caps. Friends without kids would squeal, "TWINS!!!!!!! WOWOWOW. So cool." Friends with kids would say, "Oh, wow. Are you okay?" We became an urban legend: Trying for one more baby? First, let me tell you about my friend Janelle. . . .
The weeks started to fly by. Soon it was fall. My belly was growing. At 20 weeks, Baby A and Baby B became two boys. I felt great. I've always had easy pregnancies. This one was only slightly different. I was hungry constantly the first trimester, felt great the second trimester, and started to expand greatly the third. We saw the boys every four weeks via sonogram to make sure they were growing at the same rate (they were) and that my body was happy (it was). During one of the appointments, the boys were head to head—already plotting against us. I was constantly being kicked and punched by eight limbs. We put our house on the market, with no success (if anyone is interested in a well-loved two bedroom in Canton, call me), and made lists of what we needed.
At what ended up being my last doctor's appointment before I delivered, I was measuring roughly 16 weeks "bigger" than what I actually was. Sleeping became a chore—between my girth and heartburn, I was up constantly. My last pregnant week, I had my spring fashion photoshoot for the magazine. I had circled that date in my calendar, telling myself I just wanted to make it to that shoot. And I did. The following Saturday morning, my husband went into work and I was home with the kids. Around 8:30, I started getting some pain in my lower belly. I sat in my glider with my two-year-old on my lap (well, what was left of it), and slowly rocked. I knew what was happening, but was in denial. Was I ready? It was January 22—one day short of 36 weeks.
Just before 2 p.m., Zeke Gray entered the world weighing a respectable 5 pounds, 14 ounces. And a minute later, his little brother Gideon Levi, two ounces lighter. They were healthy and perfect. Zeke looked just like his brother Milo had—a shock of black hair, little almond shaped eyes, and a look that said he wasn't entirely happy with the situation. Gideon looked like Willa—a sweet face, a decent amount of hair, happy and content.
It's been eight weeks since we became a family of six. We've all had several good cries. I'm exhausted—it's hard to remember what sleeping more than a three-hour block feels like. I can now feed two babies at once, burp two babies at once, hold two babies at once, and apparently type while nursing and simultaneously rocking the other baby with my foot.
We're in what can best be described as survival mode. We say yes to anyone who offers us anything—food, a sleepover for Milo, taking over carpools, holding babies, dog sitting. At times, I've been almost overwhelmed by all the generosity.
My big kids have adjusted amazingly. Milo likes to hold his brothers (briefly) and promises them his toys because "when they are bigger, I'll be in college." My daughter is now surrounded by three brothers (poor girl will probably never be able to date). She likes to show them her princess dresses. "Look, baby, look," she'll say, spinning. She thinks of them as her own personal dolls, pointing to one baby and saying, "Mommy, I want to hold that." And she thinks they are both named Gideon.
Going out of the house with twins is hilarious. We're like some sort of novelty act. You would think people would be used to twins (they're not that rare), but no matter where we go—the supermarket, the mall, the park—they flock to our stretch-limo sized stroller. And so many questions. Are they twins? (Umm, yes.) Fraternal or identical? (Most definitely fraternal.) And are they from fertility treatments? (Not that it's your business, but no.)
People keep calling me a super mom. But truthfully, I'm not sure what the alternative would be. To fall apart? Never leave the house? This is our new normal. It helps that I already had kids. I already knew how to feed a baby, change a diaper—it's just learning to do it two at a time. Now it's about the small victories—showering, surviving a night by myself with all four kids, making the house look like a minor bomb hasn't gone off.
The babies now have little personalities. Zeke is the loudest baby I've ever encountered. He sleeps loud, eats loud, breathes loud. It's like he has a microphone attached to his onesie. He has the most beautiful smile—already flashing it liberally at Mommy and Daddy—and his Great Grandma Stella's gorgeous lips. Gideon is our well-mannered runt. Slightly smaller than his brother, he only cries when hungry or wet. He likes to mimic some of the noises his brother makes and has a beautiful face including fat little cheeks.
The other night, everyone was asleep. Milo and Willa in their room, Gideon in our room, Zeke and my husband on the couch. I should have crawled into bed to get some sleep before their 1 a.m. feeding, but instead I watched TV and ate a bowl of ice cream, relishing the quiet. It'll be years before I have more than a few minutes of peace—so I may have to schedule some. Along with my husband's springtime vasectomy.