I’ve heard stories of parents whose children take a little too long to learn to talk, walk, or do any of those other things most people do. These folks take their babies to the doctor to see what’s wrong, and get told, “Relax. They’ll learn when they learn.”
It’s true, of course. For the vast majority, the story isn’t that the baby hasn’t learned to talk. It’s that the baby hasn’t learned to talk yet. She’ll do it when she’s ready.
That doesn’t appease people, though, If your baby isn’t talking, but one three months younger is speaking in full sentences, that’s stressful, no matter what reassurances a doctor might offer.
I’ve had similar feelings of stress during my wife’s pregnancy. As she got gradually bigger, she’d be sitting on the couch or lying in bed and pressing at her midsection, and then she’d grab my hand and put it on some certain spot. “This twin is kicking,” she’d say, or “That twin is punching my ribs.” Any number of things.
I wanted to feel the babies moving. When Laurie first started showing, she was talking about how everyone has felt some pregnant lady’s baby kick at some point in their lives, and I had to tell her that no, I hadn’t. So whenever those moments happen, she’d come sit next to me, grab my hand, and try to help me feel.
To no avail. I’d put my hand where she told me, and sit there and sit there, but nothing. These babies were like Michigan J. Frog, singing, “Hello my honey, hello my baby,” to Laurie, and then I’d show up and they’d just sit there, plain old frogs.
It’s not a huge deal, but I feel that it could be the thing that’ll ground all this for me. Laurie’s obviously pregnant – 26 weeks with twins, you better believe she’s showing. I keep dreaming of that moment when I’d feel a hand or a foot, but they kept refusing to indulge me. Empirically, it’s obvious that if she feels them, and she’s getting bigger all the time, then eventually I’d feel them too, but in the moment, it’s honestly deflating.
It’s things like that that I’d felt all along were missing in this pregnancy. (Please note that this isn’t a complaint or a problem, but just an example of a thing that is true.) It’s Laurie’s second pregnancy, my first. I always thought my first child would also be my wife’s, and we’d be learning all the new weird things together. It hasn’t happened that way. As a result, in some ways I’ve felt a bit behind the curve in the pregnancy, following Laurie’s lead, and wondering if I’ll just wake up knowing more things than I knew before. (In case you were curious, that’s not how it works.)
The thing is, though, that even if I was prepared for a normal pregnancy, I wasn’t prepared for Monday. You couldn’t be prepared for Monday. No one could.
Monday was when we saw the specialist.
Clichés exist for a reason, and seeing the fetal cardiologist Monday fit the entire cliché. There was the scan in the comfortably-decorated exam room, the nice, soft-spoken nurse, the patient advocate with the lilt and a sympathetic head tilt, the very clinical and plain second waiting room. Of course, there was also the super-tall doctor with colorful diagrams, bad handwriting, excellent bedside manner, and a bunch of confusing terms to throw at us as we sat with lapfuls of tissues, me reaching out to hold Laurie’s hand as the patient advocate made sympathetic noises off to the side.
Twin B is fine. Far as we can tell, li’l homeboy is ready to come out and run wild right away. His brother, though, Twin A, has problems. There’s a narrowing of the aorta, they told us, a gap between the heart ventricles. A persistent left superior vena cava that normally goes away but hasn’t, not for him. The ventricle gap could fix itself, the vena cava could still go away, there are several weeks left in the pregnancy. But the aorta is going to need surgical intervention, and if the other issues don’t go away, that surgery could get more and more complicated.
It means we are going to have to move from our home to the Cincinnati area for the last month of the pregnancy. It means we’re planning for work absences, inquiring about insurance coverage, and making arrangements for childcare. It also means we’re terrified. I’ve taken to carrying a pack of tissues with me, lest Laurie find herself tearing up when tissue-less. Then I realized I was using the tissues too.
You can’t help but feel like you did something wrong as the parent, even though you obviously didn’t (just like those parents who wonder if they’ve screwed up because their little baby isn’t crawling around yet). You wonder if you’re going to have to be living away from home for a few weeks or a few months, and if you’re one of the ones who has to set up a GoFundMe just so your child can survive. You consider if you really need to be scared or maybe you’re overrating the danger, but then you remember that it’s freaking open-heart surgery on a newborn, and you tell yourself there’s no real way to overreact to that.
You tell your friends, your coworkers, and your family. You get the sympathetic texts about people praying for you, sending you good vibes. “It’ll all be okay,” they write, “Please tell me what I can do to help, even though I live across the country and we’ve never actually met in person” (even if they don’t say it quite that way).
I’ve been going through all those emotions and frustrations for 36 hours now, and I wager I’ll be going through them for months to come. Last night was tough. There was staring off into space and there was exhaustion. I spent the evening wondering if my son, little ol’ Twin A, would be okay, whether I’d ever get to hold him, and whether he’d have multiple surgeries and a life of problems. I wanted to pick him up and protect him, even if he was still inside Laurie and I obviously couldn’t.
I got into bed, feeling helpless, wanting just to take care of the little man and knowing I had no way to do it. Right as we turned out the light, Laurie grabbed my hand and pulled it to her midsection. I put it there for just a second, and suddenly I felt it: a clear, distinct movement.
It was my son’s hand. The thing I’d been missing. His hand was hitting mine, like the world’s smallest high-five.
There’s still a lot to know, a lot to learn, and a lot to worry about. But that? That was the exact thing I needed, right when I needed it. So if nothing else, Little Dude has timing.