Like the commercial says, everything changes when you have a baby. But nobody really talks about the seismic event that shakes your life to the core when you have more than one baby at the same time. (My guess is that mothers of multiples are simply too busy chasing after their children to sit down, much less put pen to paper). When you have twins, your world narrows to the twilight zone between half-sleep and the fugue state of waking fatigue. Days are indistinguishable, and you’re never sure whether the baby you hear crying is real or a figment of your remaining brain cells. Decisions are an impossibility, pain and a hospital grade breast pump are constant companions, and your skin shines taught from swelling and is constantly sticky from night sweats, leaking breastmilk, or spit-up.
My friends and family thought I had it all together. Postpartum depression felt like a shameful secret that I only began to share when the worst of it was over. During those dark days, I cried with no provocation, suffered from panic attacks, felt like a failure of a mother, and was ashamed. What right did I have to be miserable when I had two beautiful, healthy babies? I learned to put on a pretty good show and act like the supermom I thought I should be, but most days I felt like a mosaic of my former self, held together by caffeine, Touche Eclat concealer, Spanx, and Valium. I suspect at least some of my friends, even those with singletons, were in the same boat, but admitting that mothering is difficult to the point of tears is to feel inadequate, so no one talks about it. It is disconcerting to suddenly find yourself fat, leaky, blurry-eyed, and at the beck and call of tiny infants that seem to excrete ten times their body weight a day, and with no one to talk to about how, while wonderful, this experience is incredibly hard. We are the daughters of first wave feminists, raised to believe we could do anything and everything we wanted, raised to expect that we could have it all, do it all, achieve it all. To stumble seems disrespectful to our mothers’ generation, who fought so hard to claw their way up corporate ladders with business plans in one hand and baby bottles in the other.
To be honest, the first month of my twins’ life is a sleep deprived blur, punctuated by vivid memories in which I can smell the sweet warmth of their silky hair and milky breath as they were cradled to my chest, but I can also still feel the pain of a fresh c-section incision and the mental agony of a traumatic birth with complications. My body felt alien and the engorged breasts and constant pumping left me extremely sympathetic towards and slightly jealous of dairy cows. They at least had someone to clean their pump equipment! My feet were so swollen that I had to wear slippers to my follow-up ob appointments, but I hardly noticed—I was too busy trying not to cry when my doctor asked me how I was doing. I was shocked at the blast of icy air that greeted us when we left the hospital. Thanks to three months of bed rest and a week in the hospital after the birth, I had no idea fall had given way to a harsh winter. The world had gone on without me, and from that moment, I felt a little bit behind and totally unprepared. What followed was a year full of the highest highs and the lowest lows. Somehow, we got through it. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
During the first 18 months of their lives, writing (not to mention a saintly husband, antidepressants, and a very good therapist) saved me. When your baby dumps the dog’s water bowl on the floor for the fourth time of the day and he, his sister, and the dog end up soaking wet again, you can cry. Or you can laugh. Mostly I chose (or at least tried) to laugh, but it was often laughter through tears. Each time I found myself in the middle of a twinfant crisis, I’d get through it by thinking how I could transform it into a funny story to email to my family, or in letters I wrote to my babies.
Now my “babies” are three years old. I have been flogged by postpartum depression, but in the end I’m proud to say I kicked its ass. But my father died in September, so now I’m in the business of dealing with grief so that I can one day kick it to the curb.
My tools are assembled: I have my husband and family, my faith, my writing, a therapist who pushes me to rip off the band-aid by writing more, and last but not least, I have bourbon.
God is good. All the time.