As I said in my last post, everything is connected. After my twins’ birth, my breasts were definitely in the loop. Overnight, I went from a bra size of 38C to 38J. We’re talking cantaloupes here! Up till then, I never imagined I’d wear an undergarment of that magnitude. Or that I’d develop such an intimate relationship with a breast pump. And who knew cold, wet cabbage leaves could bring down the swelling of said melons, allowing milk to flow?
Despite the discomfort—and the suspicion I’d morphed into a glorified cow—I pumped away. It was the only way to add breast milk to the formula the boys received through tubes.
I feared I wasn’t producing enough, but a male nurse put my mind at ease. “Anything you can do is great,” he said. “Every drop is like liquid gold.”
It must’ve been, for the boys did well. They moved quickly from the CPAP (a method of continuous respiratory ventilation) to the nasal cannula, then from incubators to a double crib. They still had a few nighttime “spells”—when, like most premies, they forgot to breathe—but overall, things looked good.
In the beginning, the NICU allowed us one short visit per day, and the only way we could touch the boys was by cupping a hand over the tops of their heads. But soon after Dan returned to the island, the NICU filled my days.
I moved into the attic apartment of my host family’s Victorian home in Brookline. They apologized repeatedly for the triple threat of staircases I tackled twice a day, but the stairs paled in comparison to bumpy taxi rides to and from the hospital. Dan’s absence was hardest to endure, but he came every ten days for a long weekend. In addition, his parents and my mom flew in for a brief, joint visit.
Being near the boys was my greatest comfort. I sang to them and held them as often as possible to reassure them of our love. But I questioned my ability to care for them outside the hospital, and my constant observation of their vital signs (via monitors) didn’t help.
The data was intriguing, though. More often than not, their oxygen saturation levels ran in tandem. If Connor’s levels dipped, Geoffrey’s followed suit. When Geoffrey’s rose, so did Connor’s. Their whole physiology seemed a joint affair.
Such behavior wasn’t unique to my premies. Whenever the nurses noticed it, they just smiled and said, “They’re doing the twin thing again.”
The staff was less encouraging when I asked if the boys could leave the hospital on the same day. They all had the same response. “That almost never happens.”
During the boys’ sixth week in the NICU, the nurses appeared to be right. Geoffrey progressed faster than his brother, and it looked like he’d be ready to leave in a day or two.
My stomach churned. I’d seen and felt the intense bond the boys shared. When one of them was taken from the crib, the other immediately reached out to the empty space. Once when Connor’s oxygen level dipped, Geoffrey touched his arm, and the readings shot up again. With such an attachment, I wondered how Connor would cope with being left behind. Worse yet, I was afraid he’d think I abandoned him.
I was alone. I didn’t drive. The bassinets, car seats, and other essentials were all on the island. How could I visit Connor if I was busy—and possibly botching the job—with Geoffrey? For that matter, how could I carry Geoffrey up and down three flights of stairs?
My body ached. My hormones were wacky. I was exhausted from pumping out milk every four hours. Let’s face it: I was the definition of overwhelmed.
In the end, Geoffrey orchestrated a solution on his own. The day before his proposed discharge, Dan arrived and together we visited the NICU. Because the boys had to master drinking from a bottle before their release, Dan took a stab at feeding Geoffrey. The NICU staff wasn’t always in the room during visits, but this time a nurse stood by and asked Dan about his work.
Free from all monitors, Geoffrey drained the bottle. Then Dan began to burp him, all the while chatting with the nurse.
For some reason, I glanced at Geoffrey. Then I got the strangest impression.
He’s not in his body. He’s floated off somewhere.
I interrupted the conversation. “Dan, Geoffrey’s not there.”
He and the nurse turned to me.
“Something’s wrong,” I said. “He’s not there.”
They looked at Geoffrey, who by then was turning blue. The nurse scooped him up, laid him on the crib, and worked on him until he started breathing again.
With a sigh of relief, she regarded us. “He’s going back on the monitors, and after a stunt like that, he’s not going anywhere for at least five days.”
Five days more, by which time Connor was ready to leave. My prayers were answered. The boys could leave the hospital together.
Even though both of them passed the NICU’s “car seat test” the same morning, I squeezed between them in the back seat of the rental car and kept a constant watch. I glanced from right to left, from Connor to Geoffrey, for the entire length of our drive to the Cape. I had to make sure they were breathing.
I continued my vigil during the 2½-hour ferry ride to Nantucket, after which our landlady picked us up and took us home. The boys were asleep, so Dan hauled them in their carrier car seats up the steps to our apartment. He placed them on the floor, and we shared a long hug. Then our gazes locked.
“What do we do now?” he asked.
I shrugged. “It beats me.”
As it turned out, the twins dictated our every move. They got the tiny bedroom, while we slept on the couch/double bed in the living room/kitchen of our shoebox apartment. We bottle-fed and burped them. We changed hundreds of diapers. We did load after load of laundry and barely slept.
Until one blessed night, five months in, when both boys slumbered from 6:00 p.m. until dawn. From that point on, they slept through the night.
Today is their thirteenth birthday. What a ride it’s been! Dan and I still don’t know what we’re doing, but we’re giving it our best. Those boys have taught us so much about unconditional love. Is it any wonder I added identical-twin boys to my cast of characters in the Guardians of Erin series? The first book, The Cauldron Stirred, will be released July 21, 2017. If you read it, you’ll see that Kian and Conall Donoghue have a little bit of my boys tucked inside them.