Oh, And Hey, Did I Mention…? [Bloggin' on the ETC]

If this post seems disjointed, that’s because it is. That’s because I am.

A month ago, I went into the bimonthly appointment with my therapist unsure of what I should talk about. I was in a pretty good mood and nothing had been bothering me as of late. So I talked about my second fiction book, which I was rewriting and the non-fiction book I’d recently finished rewriting. I worried a bit about my daughter, and talked about my plans for getting my third fiction book done in 2013.

My therapist asked about another issue, to which I responded, “Yeah, I’m getting a little freaked out about taking time off from writing next year. I’m wondering how quickly I can get back to work.” Then I talked some more about the third book, which is due next December.

At the end of our time, my therapist said to me, “Ernessa, as much as I love hearing about your career, I think next time we should focus on the fact that you’re five months pregnant with twins.”

My therapist is a gentle person, but to me, this felt like nothing less than a full-on confrontation. On my way back to my car, I considered dumping her. I was in a great mood. Did I really need a therapist any longer? Especially one that was going to stomp all over stated great mood with her unreasonable demands?

I might have continued down this road, except the terrible thing about being a writer is that it makes you overly self-aware, and even without a degree in psychology, I could tell that my anger with my therapist might have less to do with her suggestion and more to do with the fact that I was beginning to suspect I had crossed a line from managed expectations to sort of crazy. Shit.

THE THING THEY DON’T TELL YOU ABOUT MISCARRIAGES is that they’re not bombs, they’re nuclear explosions. A bomb blows your shit up. But a nuclear explosion, blows your shit up, then you have to deal with the fallout. Some people rebuild like Hiroshima. And some people are left devastated forever like Chernobyl.

I spent the year following my second miscarriage, trying to be Hiroshima but feeling like Chernobyl. There were days when I felt optimistic that one day I would get over this, and then there were days when I wondered what the point of it all was. We live and then we die and we try to have children and we set ourselves up for all kinds of hurt, why? To pass the time?

Then there was the social anxiety. This was where it got a little weird, because people are lovely and people are so understanding and people all have huge, painful stories of their own that they’re more than willing to share when they see you are suffering. But for the first time in my life, I became really scared of people. Not the normal introverted stuff. More like I would force myself to go out with friends — at my therapist’s urging — and I’d have a really good time, then for days afterward I would be racked with anxiety, thinking of all the stupid things I said, that so-in-so hated me, that everyone thought I was ugly and dull and horrible, because really, that’s what I was.

So I didn’t see people as much. I kept to myself. I worked on projects. I thought more and more about becoming a recluse. Agoraphobia is in my genes and one of the sirens of my calling. I began to think things like, I should close down my Facebook account, give up blogging, convince my husband to move somewhere new where we didn’t know anyone.

THE THING ABOUT DEPRESSION THAT’S HARD TO FATHOM is that it feels absolutely real. It makes total sense. It’s the most logical thing that’s ever been said. It’s the opposite of what looks like crazy.

THANK GOD FOR FERTILITY DRUGS. In a burst of New Year’s optimism, I booked an appointment at a new fertility clinic, so that we could start our second full round of IVF. I’d sold three books. I was actively trying to deal with the social anxiety. I was about to turn 35. It was time to try again. So we met with a fertility doctor at the swanky offices of a clinic that was within walking distance of us. Unlike my last fertility doctor, this doctor was like my therapist, gentle, encouraging, and optimistic. He looked at our history and declared us good candidates for a second full round of IVF. We went home, looked at our finances, and agreed to start again.

Then I kept putting it off. I didn’t want to be embroiled in IVF on my birthday in January or on Valentine’s Day. I had a big trip to a writing conference in March and a dear friend’s bachelorette party in April.

I think I finally took the plunge in May because I had grown exasperated with all of my waffling. I was put on a course of fertility drugs, and immediately plunged into the worst social anxiety I’ve ever experienced. For a week, I was convinced that everyone hated me, the teachers at my daughter’s school, my friends, online and off. I became afraid to leave Facebook comments in fear of judgment. Instead I read and read and tried to stay out of both the real world and the online worlds, which doesn’t leave much. And as I was walking home one day from dropping of my daughter at daycare, I wondered anew at the point of my existence since I was a terrible mother, a terrible wife, a terrible writer, and a terrible human being –

But then I literally stopped on the street and scrunched my forehead. This seemed like an extreme reaction to my life, even for me. In fact, I hadn’t had a single optimistic thought in days. “Fertility Drugs?” I wondered . “Is that you?”

And in a moment of clarity, I realized that this depression had a different quality than the one I’d been dealing with off and on for almost a year. It rang false, almost like I could feel the hormones spiking into my brain. What if, I wondered, the drugs had turned me into an unreliable narrator? I was reminded of a Marian Keyes book in which you think a character is completely trustworthy and having a hard time making motherhood and career work, but then about halfway through the book, you find out she’s an alcoholic.

I came up with a solution: how about if I put off feeling bad about myself until after I was done with fertility drugs?

Fertility drugs set me free. I loved being on them. I loved only trusting my good feelings.

I had so many thoughts on them. Good thoughts. Like why are we here? Answer: It’s a goddamn miracle! Q: Why do we have children? A: Because they keep us here, even after we’re gone. Q: Why do we set ourselves up for pain? A: Because pain makes us better people. Q: What’s the point? A: Who fucking cares? Either embrace life or get off the fucking pot!

I also started cursing again. It felt great. I felt great.

THE PASADENA MARATHON WAS GOING PAST OUR TOWNHOUSE THE DAY WE WENT IN TO RETRIEVE MY EGGS. Like right outside our complex. We couldn’t drive to the clinic which was less than a five minute walk away, but we also couldn’t cross the street, because miles and miles of runners were jogging past our house. If this sounds surreal, that’s because it really, really was.

Finally my husband and I joined the marathon. Just long enough to get past the police presence blocking off the road and get to the other side. We showed up at the clinic laughing.

I was 31 when we did this the last time, happy that we had options after what I can see now was a relatively short struggle with infertility. When I was thirty-one, they got fourteen eggs. When I was thirty-five, they got five. When we showed up at the clinic for the transfer, we were told that they had pulled two A+ embryos and one B embryo. The doctor suggested implanting all three. For a woman my age and with our fertility history, they would have implanted two anyway. And quite frankly they didn’t think the third one would make it through the freezing process. He was suggesting all or nothing.

“There’s a less than five percent chance that all three will take,” our doctor told us.

CH and I who were both making a living in rare ways, who had found each other despite being from very different backgrounds and living thousands of miles apart for most of our lives, looked at each other.

“YOU KNOW WHAT, LET’S NOT TALK ABOUT IT, OKAY?” I said to CH during the moment they had given us alone to make our decision. “If it doesn’t work out this time, let’s just consider it fifteen-thousand dollars spent on something stupid that we never discuss again.”

“That’s A-okay with me,” he said.

So we didn’t talk about it again, except to relay the news that I was indeed pregnant and that I was still pregnant after the subsequent series of blood tests. Then after we saw two sacks on the ultrasound, we decided to talk about it only for the span of our walks to the clinic and our walks back home.

But then three months passed, and CH insisted on telling his mother. “For practical purposes, she should know we’re having twins.” And his sister. And a few of the people at work. He began encouraging me to reach out to a friend who had twins. He brought up the subject of me calling my sister, who I was planning to visit in September.

It wasn’t quite a betrayal, but I did realize that he had quietly stepped off the crazy train, and was actively encouraging me to deboard with him.

“DO THEY HAVE HEARTBEATS?” we asked at every ultrasound appointment after the twin reveal. Then CH would apologize for us. I’ve always been the forthcoming one in our relationship, but it seemed that he had taken over that role for me while I laid there mostly silently, bracing myself for the worst. There are a lot of ultrasound appointments for IVF twins. A lot.

But the worst kept on not happening and eventually I was taken off all fertility drugs, transferred to a regular OB, and sent on to get my first trimester screening. “Do they have heartbeats,” we asked at both our first OB appointment and our first trimester screening ultrasound.

THEY BOTH HAD HEARTBEATS AND THEY WERE BOTH GIRLS.

To my surprise, even before the fertility drugs worked their way out of my system, so had the bad feelings. I think I had done a pretty good job of coming to terms with being sad and having almost crippling amounts of social anxiety, but when it went away, it felt like a dance party. “I really enjoy not being depressed all the time,” I told my friends. I met up with people and had a good time and if I said or did something embarrassing, I figured if they really hated me they wouldn’t keep on accepting my invitations and asking if I wanted to do things.

The universe, I thought, is ultimately rooting for you and it’s fascinated to see how you’ll get through the bad times. Life wants us all to win. This seems utterly logical now. I was glowing with my newfound happiness. I never wanted it to end. I told my friends as much, but somehow the whole pregnancy thing didn’t come up.

My optimism had fully returned, except, it seemed to be on a year delay, an old version of itself from prior to the miscarriages, which stubbornly refused to update to include the twins.

I concentrated on my daughter, who had just started preschool full time. I concentrated on my work, making intricate plans for front burner and back burner projects alike. I used our official due date as an end point for planning out my writing schedule.

And eventually I began to show. This is when things got a little awkward.

“WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME YOU WERE PREGNANT???” my sister asked when I got off the plane from St. Louis, four months pregnant.

My extended family was ecstatic. Twins run in our family and though I kept on explaining that these twins were the result of IVF, not genetics, they celebrated it as a genetic tradition.

And when I got back from St. Louis, it was like everyone I encountered figured it out.

“Can I ask, are you pregnant?” asked my daughter’s favorite teacher at preschool, a dark-skinned black woman like myself.

“Yes,” I said quickly.

“Congratulations!” she said.

“Thanks,” I said. Then I went and signed my daughter in. By the time I came out another teacher was calling, “Congratulations!” across the yard.

When CH and I both dropped my daughter off the next day because we had yet another doctor’s appointment, one of the teachers said, “So I hear you’re pregnant.”

“With twins,” CH informed her. Then he proceeded to have an actual, non-monosyllabic conversation with her about it.

So I started talking about it at home, where it felt safe to talk about such things. In the real world, people often asked how I was feeling and many of them started showing me the tremendous kindness that strangers show pregnant people.

Meeting up with friends became a little weird. Halfway through gourmet burgers with my friend Kyle, he said, “Did I miss a blog post, because it looks like you’re pregnant.”

At this point I began to feel more than a little crazy. While it’s logical to want to hold on to peace of mind, especially when you’ve gone without it for a year, it felt like I had swapped my social anxiety for another.

After my therapist insinuated I might be in denial at the five month mark, I determined that I would write this overdue post. I would make announcements, I would call friends after my second trimester screening.

“DO YOU SEE THIS SPOT ON BABY B’S HEART?” asked the doctor at my second trimester screening, running the ultrasound wand over my belly. “That’s a bright spot that your other baby doesn’t have and it’s considered a soft marker for Down Syndrome.

Right before this ultrasound we had gotten our genetic consult during which it had been discussed that we could get an amniocentesis, but it came with major risks and even if something was found that would make us want to end one of the pregnancies, then getting one baby out would put the other baby at an even bigger risk.

No amnio, we had decided quickly. Then the doctor found a soft marker for Down Syndrome less than fifteen minutes later.

I lost two days worth of work, obsessively googling EIF. I read blogs written by parents of babies with Down Syndrome, including one written by a mom who had twins with Down Syndrome and was left by her husband soon after. I looked at statistic after statistic  and eventually came up with, “Well, I guess we’ll see.”

CH and I aren’t big fans of leaving stuff up to chance, but what could we do?

No, seriously, what could we do? Sometimes you have to live anyway, even when you’re really terrified.

The blog post didn’t get written. No calls were made. I went back to concentrating on my writing work. Work seemed to replace alcohol. Before getting pregnant, at the end of a bad day, I would often say to my husband, “You know what, let’s open a bottle of wine.” Now, when I had a bad day, I’d say to him, “You know what, I’m just going to stop worrying and work.”

Meanwhile, the twins decided to start kicking, letting me know they were still in there even as I tried to go on with my life.

“GETTING PREGNANT AFTER A MISCARRIAGE IS A LOT LIKE LEARNING TO FALL IN LOVE AGAIN AFTER A HEARTBREAK,” my therapist said, when I was still waffling back and forth about whether to try again.

I really don’t want to be this person. I think I’m strong, but then sometimes I feel weak.

Did you know that I broke the girl’s chin-up record at my Lutheran elementary school? I’m only 5’3 but when I was skating roller derby I often got compliments for how hard I hit. Before I got pregnant, I was weightlifting and singing the praises of THE NEW RULES OF LIFTING: LIFT LIKE A MAN, LOOK LIKE A GODDESS. I was strong, strong, strong.

Right now I can’t pick up my daughter, and sometimes when she’s throwing a temper tantrum, I have to depend on others to take her to a quiet place where she can calm down. On the way back to L.A. from St. Louis, she had a particularly spectacular meltdown right before we got on the plane. I had to bribe her with an old cookie I found in my purse. I just finished co-authoring a natural hair book, but I no longer have the energy to do my own hair, so I took the book’s advice for when you don’t have the energy to deal with your natural hair and made a standing appointment to get it cornrowed for the next three months.

If I do anything that involves more than 30 minutes of walking or being out in the sun, I have to take a nap. I have real trouble staying up past ten p.m. I’ve had to give up hot drinks all together, because I overheat easily, which makes me prone to dizzy and near-fainting spells — after which I have to take a very long nap.

I can feel my muscles becoming weak. I can feel my heart speed up with anxiety when someone asks what I’m having. My best friend sent two large boxes of baby clothes to our new four-bedroom house that I left on the porch for my husband to take into the garage.

Two weeks after my therapist says we should talk about the twins, I spend the session confessing that I’ve done nothing to get ready other than go with CH to buy a commuter car for work, so that I can have the Ford Flex (which turned out to be a very prescient buy) when the twins come. Also, we’ve bought a new house, one that can hold a family of six, but other than signing some papers and packing up a few rooms, I had little to do with that.

I’ve technically read more pages about how the French raise their children than about raising twins. But I have gleaned one thing. Many of the twin books suggest getting as much done as you possibly can before the twenty four-week mark, because anything can happen after that. I’m twenty-two weeks pregnant.

There’s also the whole not really telling anyone thing.

“I hate feeling this weak,” I tell her. “I feel like I’ve done so much work to get strong again, physically and mentally, and right now all I feel is weak, weak, weak.”

“OH, DON’T CRY, DEBRA,” I say at a playdate. My friend Debra, who I haven’t seen in months, starts crying when she sees my belly and finds out that I’m expecting twins. So far, this has been the most surprising reaction.

“I’m just so happy for you.” she answers in the most apologetic tone.  And it makes me want to cry, too.

“What’s the easiest thing to do on your list?” my therapist asked at our last appointment.

I think about it. “I guess reading the books.” I explain to her about my ToDo app, how I break everything difficult down into smaller steps. How everything from packing for a trip to writing a new novel all starts with putting it in the ToDo app. She advises that I start with the books.

So when I get home, I make a list of ToDo items for various points over the next few weeks.

Read HEALTHY SLEEP HAPPY TWINS chapter

Read BREASTFEEDING MULTIPLES chapter

Read TWIN SENSE chapter

And I set them all to repeat.

Then I surprise myself by adding “Take a Belly Shot” to the list.

And then I really surprise myself by picking up the phone and setting up appointments to visit local daycares and joining a nannies wanted board.

And then I really, really surprise myself by adding a new project to my ToDo app at the 24 WEEK mark: Write Twins Announcement post. And for the first time in a very long time, I don’t feel weak anymore.