Coming off a long, long silence with a mouthful about life with twins as I know it. Its a long, long one. Thanks (or no thanks!) to my favorite family editor and her one-thousand-plus word assignment for Working Mom's December issue.
We are all aware of the saying about life sometimes throwing us curve balls. We are also told we have a choice to simply swerve or hit them back like there’s no tomorrow. I don’t like curve balls. They come flying at you when you least expect it, and just as your life is going exactly as you’d hoped.
But that’s exactly what came my way when I was diagnosed with an advanced stage of breast cancer shortly after Miguel and I were married. My life in the next few years was nowhere near anything I had ever planned. My suddenly ‘cancer-charmed’ life involved the drastic but decisive removal of one breast, high-dose chemotherapy cocktails, dates with doctors that are just too many to count, a sudden complication where the surgeon was forced to remove an ovary and a stark realization that I may never have any children in my lifetime.
Peas in a pod
While most newly-wed couples make life-changing decisions and make strides to start a brand new family, I took some steps backward. Every day for five years I swallowed a tablet that gave my body a better chance to fight the cancer. Deep down I also knew that every day that I took it I was possibly reducing my chances of ever having children. It is strangely ironic that the one word a cancer survivor dreads is the exact same word a mom-to-be dreams of. Positive. I hoped really bad that I would one day defy the odds. That is exactly what happened just weeks after I got the “baby green-light” from my doctor. But there they were. The two blue lines. Pregnant. Weeks later , on my first routine ultrasound, and after I smugly thought nothing could surprise me anymore, life threw me the best curve ball yet. I was expecting twins.
I wish I could say that I was instantly overjoyed and ecstatic the way Miguel was. Minutes into that “shocker-of-a-checkup” he had already embraced a life with twins. My mind was on overdrive. Two strollers, two car seats, two cribs, two yayas!? I was in a state of shock. I knew that there were risks involved simply from it being a multiple birth. I was also well aware there were other issues to deal with. The sudden surge of estrogen many of us breast cancer survivors fear like the plague would be double the level as a direct result of carrying two. I also worried that I wouldn’t be able to cope with the challenges of mothering twins. Being a new mom seemed frightening enough. Two in one go seemed so much more than I could take on.
Luckily, carrying two babies was as easy as a pregnancy with multiples could ever be. There were discomforts but no major complications. Both boys were ideal weights and sizes (for singletons!). Some of my favorite photos to this day are moments captured during ultrasound. Like a game of Twister they would be elbow to forehead, butt to butt. I especially love the one with one foot right smack on his brother’s cheek. One boy giving the other a boot. A definite sign of things to come.
When that day finally came and I held Mikael and Matteo in my arms, I knew I was ready. Mikael was a spitting image of his dad. Matteo looked like me. Life was very good. It was also very fair.
The first few months were nothing short of crazy. The logistical nightmare of a mom breastfeeding two starving infants with one breast is everything you would imagine and more. Sleep deprived though deliriously happy, there were many evenings spent cradling one in my arms while using my foot to rock the other in his bouncer.
When they were two years old, I enrolled them in a gym class. I was your typical first-time mom eager to let them try new things. As expected, they loved the class. On the final day each child was asked to stand up in front of everyone while the instructor said a little something about each child. Everyone would cheer and the little gym rat would get a little gift for completing the class. When it was the turn of one of my sons, the gym instructor started with something like “M is a happy, energetic boy. He learned how to tumble and use the balance beam before his brother…” and went on and on. My jaw dropped to the floor and I was thankful only for the fact that they were too young to understand and cared about nothing else but being handed the prize.
I went home and tore up their “graduation” certificates. They would never get the chance to read them. They needed, and will always need to be recognized for what each can do without diminishing the other. It is easy to fall into that trap with twins but I wish people would see that they are not each other’s yardstick. More importantly, I hope they grow up knowing that.
“Mama?” Mikael asked once. “Who do you love more? Me or Teo?” “Mik, Mama loves you both very much. And I love you exactly the same.” “Oh ya.” Mik said. “I love me and Teo the same too”. And they really do. So, yes, they do fight like cats and dogs but the bond is so strong, so palpable that when its just the three of us, there is no mistaking I am the third wheel.
One day one of them came to me and asked “Isn’t it I’m the handsome one and he is the smart one?”Secretly seething and wondering where in the world he got that, I told him “I am your mom so I think you are both smart and handsome kids.”
I have come to accept that I cannot isolate them from a world where people tend to compare. It is human nature, after all. We do not live in a bubble nor do we want to. I am preparing myself for many more of these in the years to come. As for those that have had the chance to know them, it is easy to see how wonderfully different they are. How wonderful they each are. And I want them to grow up knowing that.
I recall once asking Matteo: “Can you bring me the book Rainbow Fish? Let’s read it for bedtime.”
“I have to ask Mikael if we can borrow it.”
I remember distinctly that that book was given to both of them.
“Huh? Why do we have to ask permission?”
“Because if the book has animals they’re his and if it has dinosaurs and cars they’re mine.”
And I instantly got it. In my illusions of a perfect world they would just throw everything they ever received to the pot, and it would be communal heaven. But in their own real world where they are made to share so much more than usual, they need to own things. They need to say ‘This is mine’. At times I find their favorite books and toys hidden from each other under each of their own beds. I am amused but understand how serious it is to them. And I respect that. They are five. I am thirty-something but I learn so much more from them.
Uncoupling the Twosome
Today, they are enrolled in one preschool but attend separate classes. The separation wasn’t a walk in the park in the beginning but we now all see the wisdom in it. They have their own teachers, their own friends, their own time, their own space. Matteo took “his” friend home once and I will never forget the heartbreak evident all over Mikael’s face. He got over it eventually and has had a few of his own friends over as well.
Another thing we’ve had to deal with is having only one child invited to a birthday party. I took my cue from the boys and ignored the first few invites until I figured they were ready. Matteo went to his first party while Miguel and I spent the afternoon with Mikael. Matteo was reluctant at first, Mikael seemed like a lost puppy without his brother but everyone - including us - had such a refreshingly good time. When it was Mikael’s turn, he backed out in the last minute unable to deal with leaving his brother behind. A week ago he finally went on his own and just as we assured him he would, he had a blast. Miguel and I are realizing more and more that we need more moments like that. They aren’t always the most cooperative about being separated but we will keep trying for their sake - and for ours as well.
Last year they celebrated their birthday together with a small group of friends in one of their favorite spots. The next day, they had a little party in each of their classrooms. The big grins on each of their faces that day were one of the widest, brightest smiles I have ever seen. I remember looking at each son thinking: His celebration is all his. His friends are his own. He gets that chance to shine alone.
And I understand completely how important this is, especially for two little people who had to elbow each other for room from the get-go. And I think they are blessed. They get to have it both ways.
And as a life ridden with curve balls go, mine isn’t anything I had ever envisioned. I have slashes and scars and missing parts but I walk holding one boy in each hand and have never felt more whole. I know that I am the most blessed. I have them both.