I wasn’t afraid of feeling pain. I was afraid they were going to be pulled from my body, lifeless. I wouldn’t hear them cry. We’d all wait, in an inhale. A technician would check a clock. They’d blink at a monitor, hoping for a blip on a flat line. Their legs would be lifeless, hanging, bent to the memory of my body. I’d deliver dead children, small lifeless corpses, specimens pulled onto a sterile table. They wouldn’t let me hold them. No one was with me. How would I explain?
While I was pregnant, I’d spent so much time worrying about labor, fearing blood and needles, but in the moment, when they warned it would feel cold and scratchy then burn and sting, I didn’t care. “Just tell me when it’s over.” Before I even became a mother, I changed. I didn’t matter anymore. It’s what everyone says it is, living with fear and hope for someone else, little ones who weren’t even here yet. You just don’t worry about your own pain when you’re that worried about their lives.
When I’d first arrived at Labor & Delivery at 6:30pm Thursday night, I walked calmly to the front desk and in a tone you’d use to ask where the ladies room is, I announced that my doctor had told me to come, my hand low on my stomach. A freckled young nurse with a chipmunk face and mousy brown hair asked what brought me in. “I guess I had a low dull ache, but I really always have a low dull ache, so I drank my water, stretched out on my left side, and emptied my bladder.” Earlier that night, at 5:00pm, after peeing, I noticed a bit of mucus in my underwear. It was tinged with a slight trace of brown blood. I collected it with a piece of toilet paper and was now showing it to the nurse. “That’s it?” she said while examining the sample, as if I were completely wasting her time. “Well, yeah. Maybe there was more,” I lied, “but this is all I brought.” She made me feel like my being there was a ruse.
I’d had mucus before. Two days earlier, at my regularly scheduled OBGYN appointment, I mentioned it to my doctor. “Globs of it,” I had said. He said it was normal, that it happens as the cervix thins. I thought “mucus plug,” but I didn’t use those words because Phil always tells me not to try to diagnose myself to a doctor. “Let them tell you what you have,” he says, “Don’t put an idea in their head.” And when Phil says this to me, all I can think of is a psychic. How you try to trick them, by not confirming anything, to see how good they really are. My doctor measured my cervix and sent me on my way. There was no talk of mucus plugs. Smiles were exchanged, and he joked that I should behave and not make his life difficult in the next two weeks, when I’d be at the 32-week mark, scheduled for our next appointment. I was on my way. Phil was on his way to New York.
When I phoned my doctor to tell him I’d found blood in my mucus, he said I’d need to go to the hospital. “Really?” I was certain it was an overly cautious request. “Really?” I didn’t know where the hospital was, where my ID was, anything. I began to laugh. “Can you believe this shit?” I said from the car as I phoned my sister. “I swear to God, if I go into real labor and have to fucking parallel park, Phil will never hear the end of this.” I laughed until it began to hurt again. My contractions were three minutes apart. I cranked up Feliz Navidad and sang to my stomach. “You can’t come now,” I said when the song ended, my hand on my stomach as I began to breathe the way I imagined women in labor did. Slowly, deeply, with some magical motherly purpose. I hadn’t packed a bag or picked out some fabulous hospital outfit. I hadn’t showered or brushed my teeth. All those things you plan for, hospital slippers, eye masks and your favorite cream, none of it mattered. I wouldn’t be staying anyway. “Man, if this is really it, my driving myself to the damn hospital, man, he’ll never live this down,” I said to Carol, my father’s wife. “Do you want to speak with your father?” “Nah, it’s probably nothing. Just let him know I’m on my way and I’ll call when I know more.” It was kind of exciting, the drama of it all. Nothing would really happen, I thought.
The freckled nurse left the room to collect some monitoring bands that would track the heart rates of each baby and also chart my contractions. Another young nurse named Jenny joined us and said that she’d be examining my cervix. “I was at 2.75 in length two days ago,” I said as she applied pressure. “Ouch.” I’ve heard the stories of other women in labor, listening as they’ve said that they screamed so loud the whole hospital could hear. I’m never vocal about severe pain. I’m so damn good at complaining when it doesn’t matter, but when I’m really in pain, I’m silent, trying to work through it in my head and breath, gripping down, guarding off the pain in silence. I was surprised at my “ouch” and didn’t recognize it as my own.
With her hand still inside me she asked if my doctor had mentioned anything about my being dilated. “What? No. No. I’m dilated?” I began to sit up. “You’re at about a two. I’m going to give you a steroid shot to mature the babies’ lungs.” “Will it hurt?” “I’m not going to lie to you. It hurts like—“ “A motherfucker, right?” “Well, yeah.” I called Phil. “I can’t believe this is happening. I’m actually going into labor.” I said the words, but I didn’t believe them. Part of me was just saying it for dramatic effect. There was no way I was having these babies yet. It was too early. It wasn’t happening now. But then my doctor arrived and confirmed it. “Phil? Your wife is going into premature labor.” There it was, the words strung together in a real band of panic. I wasn’t just going into labor; it was premature labor, the kind with statistics and warnings; the kind where they send you to preventative specialists, weekly, to avoid. And it was happening, now, with my husband and every bit of family across the country. Jenny said she could wheel a cot into the room. “Don’t you have anyone to come stay with you?” I hated that question. “No, I’m alone,” I said. And if I weren’t so scared, I would have cried.
They gave me drugs, basically Botox for your uterus. And while they made me sweat and feel as if my face were aflame, they were ineffective. In ten minutes, I dilated to a 4. My father was on the phone with me now. “Holy shit. I’m at 4 already.” I didn’t know what this meant, only that at 10, babies come out. “I’m so sorry, sweetie,” Jenny said as she changed my IV, “but these babies are coming.” My doctor confirmed it. “You’re kidding, right? There’s nothing else you can do to stop this?” No. There was nothing else. The kids were coming whether I liked it or not. “But I was just instant messaging like an hour ago. And Grey’s Anatomy is on soon.” I tried to make light of it as the doctor spoke to Phil about my options for delivery. I called my mother, who was trying to convince me they were Braxton Hicks contractions. “I’m dilated to four, Mom!” I was shouting. “I have to go,” I said, frustrated. The second twin always does better, with premature babies, when delivered via c-section. Less trauma and stress. All the benefits of a vaginal birth wouldn’t apply with my children. I wouldn’t be able to hold them or feed them. The trauma of a vaginal birth could hurt one of them. We couldn’t risk it, Phil and I agreed. “I so can’t believe this is really happening.” I imagined Phil at a bar, with his friends, stepping out onto the street so he could hear me better. I never asked where he was.
An anesthesiologist came in to explain the epidural, saying something about Egypt, I was certain. I couldn’t understand anything. “Morphine,” he said. “What’s your name again?” I didn’t know what was happening. Everything fuzzed around me. And that fucking chipmunk nurse was at it again, rubbing my belly, searching for one of the babies’ heartbeats. “One of them must have moved around, that’s all.” There she was, combing my body for a fetal heartbeat while a masked anesthesiologist told me not to worry if I didn’t feel myself breathing. “Sometimes you feel numb and might worry you’re not breathing, but you are.” Then Jenny came over with a look of panic on her face. That was it. They couldn’t find the heartbeat because one of the babies had died. I was sure and began to sit up. I needed to leave. Jenny told me some preemie nurses would be by to speak to me about what to expect. Phil was on the phone. “Phil? Now I’m really scared,” I trembled. “This is really happening. This shouldn’t be happening. I didn’t even do anything. I sit on my fat ass all day long. I didn’t go running or take step classes. All I do is sit on my ass and watch you clean. How can this be happening?” It was my fault, I thought, and can’t help but still think it now. They found the other heartbeat.
I don’t need to know everything. I don’t need to prepare. I need to just go through it and deal with things as they come. I don’t like “if”s. “Listen,” I said to the anesthesiologist, “I haven’t heard one word of anything you’ve said.” I swear, I thought he was talking to me about mountains. He mentioned some extended-release morphine, and I was certain he was telling me about the origin of the drug, as if he were talking about mountain-grown coffee beans from Colombia. “So if you’re just telling me all of this because you legally have to, then fine, but do I need to understand anything you’ve just said? Because I can’t focus on you when she’s on me searching for one of the babies’ heartbeats. And please, don’t let any more people in here to tell me about warnings or expectations. I don’t want to guess anything. Let’s just do this already.” I worried that because we chose to go ahead with the c-section that I was missing a chance for my body to stop everything. If I’d chosen to have a vaginal birth, there would have been more time to see. My doctor, though, assured me, it wouldn’t work that way. “Stephanie, these babies are coming!” And this is from a doctor who never speaks in exclamations. When I said we could go ahead with the cesarean births, I felt like I’d just said the correct answer to the question. Jenny nodded her head. It was the right decision.
My body wouldn’t stop shivering. They covered me in blankets. “I’m not cold,” I said as I shivered uncontrollably. “I think I’m just scared.” It’s normal, they said. And then we waited for me to numb out behind a sheet. “The doctor just poked the hell out of you, and you didn’t feel it, so we’re ready now, okay?” I couldn’t believe this was happening. I began to sweat, and then said aloud, “Is it okay that I’m sweating like a whore in church right now?”
When the doctor pulled out “Baby A,” he said, “Okay, the first baby is out, and he looks just like his dad.” I had a son and was convinced he had a brother. A team of five people was assigned to him, rushing him beneath lights, cleaning him off; I could see him and hear his faint lamb cry. A minute later: “Okay, and here’s the second baby, and it looks…” I had another son. “Just like you. You have a daughter.”
I squealed. “Really? Oh my God, really? My head lifted up. I wanted to be closer to it all, to see her. “Really? Oh my God. A boy and a girl? Oh my God!!! I really have a daughter? I began to laugh and cry, then gasped for air. “Oh my God. Thank you. Thank you so much. Can we call Phil?” Jenny handed me the phone. “Oh my God, Honey, we have a son. And… we have a daughter! Can you believe it?” “Really?” “Oh my God, I love you so much.” “How are you?” “I’m okay. They’re sewing me up now. There are like twenty people in here. Each of the babies has a staff.” “Wait, they’re sewing you up now, with me on the phone?” “Yeah.” “Cool.” “And I get to name them whatever I want because you’re not here.” Then we both laughed. “How about Beckett for his middle name?” I said. And Philip agreed. “Lucas Beckett Klein,” I said. “Wanna just cut my balls off right now?” “Lucas Beckett Beer,” we agreed. But as long as they’re in the hospital, they’re “the Klein babies,” because I’m Stephanie Klein, their mother, and they’re mine. And when my husband Philip Steven Beer calls the hospital for an update on their progress, he announces, “Yes, this is Mr. Klein, calling about the Klein babies,” and I giggle each and every time.