I’ve been deeply wanting to write this piece for months, while simultaneously coming up with reasons to delay.
Words have always been my thing. I’m a talker. I’m a writer. Very much for both. Our daughters are two days shy of eight months old, and it’s taken me this long to scrape together my words to describe the night they were born.
A person brave or foolish or curious enough to Google “birth stories” will be swept away in a wave of personal accounts. Most of these narratives come from the women delivering their children, which only makes sense. If a woman grows a person and brings that new life into the world, more power to her if she wants to share the story with a wider audience.
This is a different kind of birth story. My direct physical contribution to the existence of our girls took place nearly three years before we finally held them in our arms. Auntie Pelican did all the heavy lifting of the pregnancy and the delivery, with the dedicated support of her husband. All I can do is tell you what happened from our point of view the night we finally met our twins, after six years of waiting and hoping.
Beginning in December of 2018, a complication of pregnancy caused increasing risks to the sprouts and to Auntie Pelican’s health. We were grateful that the obstetrician kept everyone’s safety a focus and ordered careful monitoring. By early January, non-stress tests were done every other day, thankfully by nurses through home care so Auntie Pelican could rest. Time after time, the testing indicated it was safe for our twins to stay put.
During the last weeks of our girls’ time with Auntie and Uncle P., I was a wreck. Rational me knew that the doctor was very cautious and that this pregnancy was as well cared for as the last time an English duchess was gestating. The rest of me was so afraid. Afraid that something would happen to our dear, brave friend who was carrying our girls, a wonderful mother of two little girls of her own, and wife to a fantastic man. Afraid that fate would deal us a hit and run, and steal our long-awaited and beloved children in the home stretch.
Spoiler: all humans involved, adult and infant, came through it safely.
Auntie Pelican set herself the goal of staying safely pregnant until 36 weeks, the minimum gestation delivered by her doctor at the hospital she preferred. Ever determination personified, she succeeded and was scheduled for induction at 36 weeks plus one day.
I was awake when the calendar rolled over to the new date, induction day, and many hours thereafter. Six years of cultivating our dream of a family were about to bloom with the arrival of our daughters. There was no way I could sleep on that kind of occasion. It was all I could do to sit still. I put my phone (volume way up) in another room so I wasn’t tempted to text the Pelicans every seventeen minutes to check in.
We did not share that our twins were two little girls during the pregnancy. The Pelicans kept our beautiful secrets with us until we could share the news of their births and introduce our daughters by name.
I waited at home for news from the maternity ward. Remember being a kid, filling a water balloon from the garden hose and pushing the capacity of that balloon? Those tense moments you weren’t sure if the walls would hold? My nerves were similarly tested that day.
The Electrician went to work with the knowledge that he could be called away. Things progressed slowly. My husband came home at the regular time in the early evening. He was considerably more relaxed than me. Excited, yes, but fathoms less nervous.
Our collective plan was for us to join the Pelicans at the hospital at a certain point in the process, when Auntie was comfortable with an epidural and the births were close. Both babies were head down: the ideal positions for a delivery by the standard exit. The Electrician and I earnestly hoped a c-section would not be necessary, as Auntie Pelican intended.
By quarter to six in the evening, labour gained enough momentum that we started our trip to the hospital in a neighbouring city. We planned to swing through a drive-thru on our way to grab some supper for us, and for Uncle Pelican. I couldn’t imagine putting food in my churning belly, but the men were ready to eat.
At 6:08, Uncle Pelican texted that progress was suddenly rapid. On his advice, we decided to skip the food.
I texted Uncle P. at 6:38 for the room number while we paid for parking. He responded that things were busy at the moment and he’d come get us from the waiting room when it was a better time to visit.
Seconds after we sat in the ugly vinyl chairs in the L & D waiting room, me twitching with nerves, The Electrician steady beside me, as always, Uncle P. texted again.
“6:42. Baby A is beautiful!!…Come on in and meet your daughter.”
We were barely in the building when Alfalfa Sprout was born. Auntie Pelican delivered her safely in a single contraction. I’m pretty sure our daughter happened while her parents were in the elevator.
As we all planned in the days leading up to delivery, The Electrician and I stood in the doorway of the delivery room, able to see our precious daughter while still giving Auntie privacy behind the curtain.
Alfalfa was the smallest baby I have ever seen up close. She weighed five pounds, seven ounces, a beautiful pixie of a new person. The neonatal team was working on her, assuring us that she was healthy but needed help with her breathing. As far as we know, it was a combination of (mostly) prematurity and (maybe a little bit) fast delivery, but little Alfalfa couldn’t inflate her lungs fully. Her skin stretched over her tiny ribs each time her torso heaved for air.
Someone arrived with oxygen, and apologized to the nurse for the delay in finding a full bottle. They held a CPAP mask over Alfalfa’s face that provided gentle pressure to ensure her lungs were actually filling. She didn’t cry or wiggle much, since she was working so hard to breathe, but the oxygen improved her colour quickly.
Most twin deliveries in our city take place in operating rooms. Even if a caesarian isn’t planned, one can be performed almost immediately in an emergency.
Auntie Pelican delivered Alfalfa in a regular hospital room. All the surgical suites were full that evening. There were several urgent c-sections happening to other women at the same time our girls were born. This is an important detail.
The Electrician and I were so intently focused on our first daughter that we didn’t realize how much time had passed without Broccoli arriving. I didn’t find out all the details until later, which was probably a good thing for my mental health that evening.
As soon as her sister was born, Broccoli performed a Cirque de Soleil maneuver and turned herself sideways. In this traverse position, delivery was impossible.
I heard the doctor telling Auntie P. that the baby was presenting ribs, and could not be delivered. Under normal circumstances, steps would immediately begin for caesarian section. We had no access to an operating room. Abnormal circumstances.
The medical team attempted to turn our baby, who I imagine was now doing a “snow angel” type move to celebrate her sudden increase in real estate. By this time, Auntie Pelican’s epidural had dwindled to almost nothing.
I heard the doctor, an obstetrical resident, say that she could finally reach a limb but was 95% sure that limb was an arm. Again, Broccoli was not in a deliverable position.
I didn’t realize just how urgent the situation was until later, or I don’t think my legs would have held me up in that doorway. As it was, my fingerprints are permanently squeezed into the wall rail outside Room 2.
The number and volume of voices inside the room increased. My husband squeezed my hand.
I heard a word I didn’t expect or understand in the context, and saw the doctor plant her feet. She shouted “Pipers!” repeatedly. Her shouting crescendoed and accelerated. There were more feet. Voices. I recognized Auntie Pelican’s among them.
Finally, cheering, and long moments later, a slightly larger baby was placed in the second heated cot.
Broccoli was delivered footling breech at 7:07 pm. She entered the world toes first because that was the only way the doctor could get her out.
Piper’s forceps, I learned much later, are used in breech births. Especially in footling breech deliveries, the risk of the baby’s head becoming dangerously or fatally trapped is very real. For this reason, footling arrivals are extremely rare where caesarians are an alternative.
Broccoli was not delivered by forceps. Late in what had to be the most physically taxing day of her life, the toughest woman I know glimpsed steel and decided she was not interested in a mechanical delivery. Somehow, she summoned superhuman strength and safely delivered all six pounds, two ounces of our upside down daughter.
This is the point I share, thank the Gods, the angels, and all things holy, Auntie Pelican was safe and well following our babies’ arrival. We will forever be grateful that she is healthy after carrying our daughters.
Broccoli arrived with the same respiratory distress as her sister. Perhaps because of her backward exit, she struggled even more to inflate her lungs. Another oxygen bottle for mobile CPAP care was not available; there were no extra wall hookups in the room. We followed our girls as they were wheeled to an awkward open area behind the nursing station, where each baby had a team of experts providing care and support equipment was adequate, including in-wall oxygen and the machines that go “ping.”
I stood as near to Broccoli as I could while the medical people worked. Her eyes were remarkably big and intense. At only minutes old, she was quickly engulfed by tubes and leads and wires and apparatus I couldn’t identify. My “momma bear” instincts wanted to protect the precious daughters I had yet to touch, but I somehow rooted my feet and fought to maintain my composure as they fought to start an IV in her delicate vein.
The Electrician was a few steps away, steadfastly watching over Alfalfa as she struggled through a parallel process. At this point, she appeared stronger than Broccoli.
I later learned from the RN who lead Alfalfa’s care that both our daughters were resuscitated in the minutes after birth. In my mind, that terrifying word meant death had occurred and been reversed. My only reference was the trope of the electric paddles restarting a silent heart. Resuscitation sometimes means life is sustained by treatment when death would be imminent without intervention. Knowing the second definition now doesn’t make the word scare me less.
The excellent maternity wing of this particular hospital delivered babies only 36 weeks of gestation and after because it did not yet have a NICU. Our twins needed intensive care, so plans began to transport them to a hospital that was equipped to help them.
Composing this narrative at last has used both more words and more energy than I expected. I will write and publish the second part of the story soon.
Love to you and yours.