“How many kids do you have?”
I’m still not sure how to answer this. Without question, I have three – all sweet girls. It’s just that the middle one, Breley, died at two days old due to complications from extreme prematurity. Almost two years later, I still relish the opportunity to tell her story, how she took the brunt of an in utero infection and likely saved her fraternal twin. It’s just that, well, death has a way of bumming people out, especially when it pertains to babies. Sometimes, I spare them the details. Sometimes, I don’t have the strength to retell it.
And now we’re facing – with a tip of the cap to Yogi Berra – deja vu all over again. My wife is 10 weeks pregnant with another set of twins, conceived – like the previous tandem – through IVF. (Remember when people used to call them “test-tube babies?” Awkward. They should call them miracle babies because the technology is mind blowing or credit-card babies because that’s what most folks with fertility issues use to acquire them. Same goes for adoption.)
A vast majority of expecting parents assume pregnancy and childbirth will be relatively smooth, the toughest complication being getting a half-decent night of sleep in the hospital. We were the same way with our first, which led to regrettable and immature behavior on my part. But now, even though the pregnancy is hardly an accident, it’s hard not to fear the worst especially because we’ve been there and because the circumstances are so similar. The odds that we’d wind up with twins through IVF were about 10 percent. In other words, it was far more likely we’d end up without any more kids. If that turned out to be the case, we were prepared to move forward, view our family as complete. Instead … twins. (If they’re boys, we’ll name them DeVito and Schwarzenegger.)
The funny thing is that we’re not (overly) worried about the chaos that will ensue once we bring them home – the primary concern is what if we don’t get to bring them home? That question, or some variation of it, hangs in the air incessantly. The theory that losing something makes you more appreciative of what you have is entirely true in our case (although it doesn’t prevent me from being unreasonably moody, worried about finances and/or perpetually exhausted).
The doctors still don’t entirely know what caused the previous double pregnancy to change courses at 24 weeks gestation, but they also didn’t see any reason why we couldn’t give it another shot. And, yes, that decision was mind-bending, too. How could we view our family as incomplete, while also feeling like we weren’t trying to replace Breley? After all, we almost certainly wouldn’t have gone forward with this if she hadn’t passed away.
So that’s where we are – scared and seemingly frozen in time, the way our now growing embryos were for almost two years in a lab in Minneapolis. The wait from 24 weeks to 36 (the unofficial goal) is bound to be even worse. And, of course, my wife is feeling the physical effects atop the mental. (Sick as hell. Only way to put it.)
This is the part where you ask the obvious question: Why? Why tempt fate? Why risk having to take a terrifying walk down memory lane? Because being a parent is that worthwhile, I guess, even though I’m hardly Mr. Sunshine nor am I concerned about leaving any sort of genetic legacy.
To be sure, there are moments where I act like a brat and pout because I stepped on a piece of cereal on the kitchen floor, and I’d definitely sell my soul for 45 minutes of quiet. But then there are days like Saturday. It began with taking my oldest daughter to her first tennis camp and ended with a moonlight showing of The Muppets at a downtown park. We shared a bowl of popcorn and she almost fell asleep on my lap.
Meanwhile, we’ll never know the color of Breley’s eyes – they were still fused shut when she died. We’re thankful for the time she had, but greedy enough to wish for more.
Being a dad is a weird and complicated thing, surpassed only in difficulty by not being a dad whether by choice or by fate.