My babies have become men. Today is Devin and Cody’s 21st birthday. They are away at college so in lieu of re-telling them their miracle birth story, I thought I would share it on my blog. Besides, they would likely roll their eyes at me and start laughing if I told them this story again. They’ve heard it so many times over the years!
At the same time that we are celebrating their birthday, my mom is mostly incoherent, quarantined and bed-ridden with CDiff again, a very contagious infection of the colon. I have to wear a disposable gown, mask and gloves to visit her. She has barely eaten anything this week and is struggling even to drink water. I was able to feed her a small bowl of ice cream in honor of my Boy’s b-day today though. Ice cream has always been her favorite!
I feel as though she is symbolically passing the baton to my boys. She has surprised us many times before though. She could sit up tomorrow, completely lucid, and ask for pancakes!
I wrote this story, The Plus Sign, ten years ago:
The little white tray sat on the bathroom counter as I nervously waited. I had never actually seen a plus sign but I had been in this position, waiting for results enough times to be familiar with the routine. Usually I would try to visualize a plus sign; then I would tell myself it didn’t really matter. I would put my make-up on and try not to peek at the tray out of the corner of my eye. After the requisite three minutes, I would take a deep breath and force myself to look. Then countless times over the last ten years my next step was to throw the tray into the trash can, forcing myself to push forward as if I had done nothing more than scratch off a non-winning lottery ticket. This time was different. Unbelievably, there was a clear pink plus sign. At 38, I was finally pregnant.
I ran outside to find my husband, Rocky, who was working in the garden and we did a little happy dance between the tomatoes and the peppers. Then we raced back to the house to make phone calls, playfully arguing about who we would call first. Before I could get the address book out, our dogs came running in to see what all the fuss was about. I turned to Pila, the Border Collie, and told her in my best high squeaky “you’re going to get a treat” voice that she was about to get a sister or brother. I added, “Bark once if I am going to have a boy and twice if I am going to have a girl.” “Woof”, she said. “A boy!” I confirmed. “Woof!” she added. “Two boys?” I exclaimed. “Woof, woof!” she said once more. “and a girl, too?” Grinning and crying at the same time, I dialed my Mom.
“Mom? I am pregnant!”
“Liz?” she answered.
“No, Mom. It’s Jeni.” After ten years of marriage, even my mom had apparently written off our chances of having kids and assumed it was my younger sister calling. In spite of her initial blunder, Mom wasted no time flying out to help us celebrate. It was too soon to start decorating the nursery or even buying onesies, but we managed to feast on every “perfect for your pregnancy food”, and plan and laugh throughout her visit. We made more than one celebratory toast: mine, sparkling water and theirs, cabernet. I was still on a soon-to-be-mom high when we put her on the plane back to Charleston. “How’s our baby going to manage with “Grandma” living all the way across the country?” I mused.
Later that afternoon, I miscarried. Again. I had lost count of how many times this had happened in the last ten years. Most of the time, I had miscarried before I actually knew I was pregnant. This was different.
Once again, I found Rocky working in the garden but this time there was no celebratory dance. I sobbed while he simply held me, not knowing how to make me feel better. That night I abandoned my high nutritional standards and inhaled a whole bag of bar-b-qued potato chips and some chocolate chip cookies. When Mom called to say she had arrived home safely, Rocky broke the sad news and asked her to let the rest of the family know.
The next morning we made an appointment to see our OB. He wanted to do an ultrasound to see if I would need a D & C. Before we left for the hospital, Rocky told me he had a “good feeling” about this whole thing. Nothing could have upset me more. He was crazy if he thought anything good was going to come from this experience! He confided that he thought I was still pregnant. He said, “There is still life in you. I can feel it. I know it.” I, of course, knew he was delusional. Our baby was gone. I told him to “get real” and to keep his thoughts to himself. I knew that, once again, we would have to accept that we weren’t pregnant and might never become pregnant.
Rocky has always been intuitive. He “knew” when we found the right house to live in just by pulling into the drive-way; he even mysteriously “knows” within a few dollars what the total will be when we are grocery shopping. I often teasingly encourage him to audition for the Price is Right Show. This time though, I was sure he was affected by his own grief. When he got to the hospital waiting room, he had another clear vision. He desperately wanted to tell me about it but I shut him down. I begged him not to talk to me about it again. I tried to lose myself by flipping the pages of the trashy magazines in the waiting room.
Once in the treatment room, Rocky’s confidence disappeared. He later told me that the ultrasound machine waiting for us was not the one he had seen in his vision. He finally started having his own doubts that I was still pregnant. He felt like a jerk and thought, “Obviously I’ve just been making things up.”
Then a crazy thing happened. The Doctor couldn’t get the ultrasound machine to work. He said he had just used it on the patient before me but he couldn’t even get the machine to turn on now. He had the nurse wheel in another one. At that point, Rocky’s face lit up. This was the ultrasound machine he had “seen” in his vision and he was convinced that the doctor would find a heartbeat. I couldn’t read his emotions and thought he was just putting on his fake smiley face for the doctor. As the doctor lubed my belly with the gel and began to move the ultrasound wand over me, I turned away. I did not want to see the screen or my husband looking strangely giddy, and I definitely did not want them to see my tears. I was thinking how strange life was and how fast plans can change when I heard the doctor say excitedly, “You may have lost one baby, but you have two more!”
We were stunned. Nothing we had done to increase our chances of getting pregnant was associated with multiple births, other than being an older mom. Nothing had prepared us for the roller coaster of this moment. My tears turned to laughter and Rocky kept saying over and over again, “I knew it, I knew it!” We called my mom from the lobby of the hospital, not wanting to even wait to get home.
She was immediately wary of the call when she heard my voice. I said, “Mom, you better sit down.” “Honey, what now?” “I lost one baby but I have two more!”
The rest of my pregnancy was almost text book. I spent eight months throwing up; woke up at 2 am almost every night to raid the fridge; gained 54 pounds; went from a size 7 to a size 10 shoe; and developed varicose veins. I was enthusiastic about almost every single minute…well, maybe not the varicose veins.
At 37 ½ weeks, Dr. Girolami said, “You can have those babies anytime now. By the way, I’m going on vacation tomorrow morning.” My water broke at midnight that night and I immediately called Dr. Girolami at the hospital. He was just washing up after his last delivery. I begged him to wait for us and he agreed as long as we would bring him some Starbucks coffee. Devin and Dakota were born 1 minute apart on March 10, 1998.
The boys are 11 now and I have been their Mom for longer than I spent trying to become a Mom. I look back on those ten years and wish I would have been able to trust more fully that our dream of being parents would really manifest someday. I wish I wouldn’t have avoided so many of my friend’s baby showers and later their children’s birthday parties. At the time, it seemed too difficult to face what we didn’t have but I’ve read since then that I should have jumped at every opportunity to sniff a baby’s head! Who knew that baby’s pheromones can promote fertility?
The silver lining for me is that since becoming a parent, I have been more fully present for every precious moment. I value being a mom in a different way than I would’ve if getting pregnant had been easy and had happened early in our marriage. I have a stronger faith now and feel surer about being able to manifest my dreams in all areas of my life. I feel like I am more patient with everything that parenting brings with it in a way that would have eluded me if I had gotten pregnant in my late 20’s or early 30’s. Through sleepless nights, colic, teething, potty training and the “not-so-terrible” twos; through homework, messy rooms and braces, I’ve managed to keep smiling, always remembering the incredible gift I received when I gave birth to these two boys.
And by the way, both my Mom and my Mother-in-law live with us now, so there is no shortage of Grandma time for my boys. And Rocky…he is still very “knowing.” According to him, I’m going to write a book someday.