The first picture I saw of them, they were tiny little blobs of cells. No bigger than the head of pin, there was a pulsing center and their hearts beating like the wings of a hummingbird. The background is black and grainy, the future as unclear as the moment the ultrasound captured.
The second picture we have of them they are formed, just barely, and are arranged like shoes in a box. One’s head down near the other’s feet, twisting and bobbing in amniotic fluid, resembling a lifelike yin-yang symbol. It was the way I always envisioned twins growing inside me, a textbook representation of the perfect fit.
But it was the third picture of our sons that would finally capture their lives outside my womb. They had shifted and their heads now drifted toward one another’s, their hands close enough to touch if their amniotic sacs would allow it. Drawn to one another, their attraction never waned from that moment, inside my body or out of it.
It still never ceases to amaze me, the way that from the very beginning one would wait on the other. In the NICU it was the simple acts of sucking, swallowing, and breathing where one would pull ahead and then slow down, anxious to have his brother catch up. We ended up bringing them home only hours apart despite one’s slower progress. In separate incubators their heartbeats would beat in time with one another’s on the monitors. I would watch in silent awe as their bodies matched themselves from separate places.
We brought them home and swaddled them tightly, laying them as far apart from each other as we could in the crib, as neurotic newborn parents are apt to do. But it seemed to make no difference. One five-minute trip to the bathroom or down to check the laundry was more than enough time for our sons to fight their way out of their blanket prisons and spoon one another.
Tears would roll gently down my cheeks as I realized early on that it would always be this way. They would always find and comfort one another, no matter the obstacle.
After a lengthy, miserable trip through infertility, high risk pregnancy, and bed rest, I thought I was prepared for two of everything. I welcomed this parenting gig and this special dynamic duo. But a few short months in I realized it would be a lifetime of learning.
Soon it was clear that no book or article, no advice or empathy could have prepared me for the journey I was about to take with these two little boys. It changed my life as nothing before or after it ever could.
They fight and squabble as brothers will and that has made the simple act of mothering twins no different than parenting two separate and completely different little boys. But it’s the connection between them that confounds me. I’ve heard their shouts of, “Unfair!” and, “He started it,” turn into giggles about something I will never understand, their eyes glistening and bellies heaving, as they share their secrets.
I’ve stood by and watched their wrestling matches morph into a tickle fest; one moment I feared for their tiny bones and the next I walked away shaking my head at the sudden transformation. It’s all real: the secret languages, the finishing of the other’s thoughts, and the uncanny way one can know the other is happy or hurting.
They remind me of a true life romantic comedy where the characters try to resist and dismiss one another until they realize their cosmic connection and finally give in to it. I’ll find them on the couch, under the covers, sitting at the kitchen table with their legs tangled or fingers entwined, even as they squeal and whine about the closeness of the other.
I gave up saying things like, “Stop touching each other like that!” years ago when I came to the conclusion that it was the way in which they communicated; an unspoken love language between them as brothers and twins. They could say all they needed to with one well-planted kick or soothing caress, so who was I to ask them to refrain from it?
From the very beginning before they had words they clung to each other in a way that was primitive. They longed for the stroke of their brother and often it was that touch that soothed them more than mine ever could. So I worked to change my language and expectation. “Please don’t hurt each other,” I’d plead. But I allowed them the touches, even the pinches and punches, knowing that a hug was soon to follow.
When my sons were small they loved playing with magnets. From small ABCs they could barely fit inside their fingers to chunky colorful farm animals, they would spend hours listening for the telltale sound of those black squares finding each other and clicking. Sitting on the kitchen floor holding onto their favorite letter they would shift and sway, trying so hard to have the magnets resist one another only to fall into a pile as the black strips clanked together.
It reminded me of them. Sometimes they would try to stick the magnetic cow on our wooden kitchen cabinets and their attempt would be met with frustration and tears as it slid to the floor finding nothing there to adhere to. Just like when they found themselves alone or in a different group they went searching for their mate, for their “click.” It would happen almost immediately, subtle enough for others to pass over but so crystal clear to me. They were the small magnets that allowed a connection in a sea of plastic. Their pull toward one another was both scientific and magical.
So now when I find them curled around each other, one’s hand resting gently on his brother’s head, deep in sleep, I know I am witnessing a conversation, that magnetic “click” between them. So I pull the covers up and kiss their tiny heads, breathing in their mysterious attraction, and do my best to honor their specialness. They are, and have been since that very first ultrasound picture, miracles to me.
And everyone knows you don’t mess around with miracles, magnets, or magic.