Twins Did Not Destroy My Body (Hope for Preggo Moms Who Can’t Stop Googling)

Author’s Note: (Hey, that’s me!) I wrote this post two years ago, but never published it. I sat on it for TWO YEARS. I have always pushed it back, deep into the drafts section of my blog. I have worried that it is inappropriate to discuss body image, or that it could sound like whining, or that it could sound like bragging, or, of course, that it could be too personal. I am still struggling. I won’t be able to be 100% open here because this is not a completely anonymous blog. I have decided, however, to post a portion of the truth. The reasons I want to do this are:

1) To help (give hope to!) other women currently pregnant with twins or recovering from twin pregnancy
2) To help (remove blame from) any women who are struggling with post-baby body crap
3) Because someone did this for me and I want to pay it forward.

I am an LDS (Mormon) woman who keeps her body covered from shoulders to knees while in public, unless swimming. My husband and I made this formal commitment during our temple marriage. So I’ll spare you the “before and after” picture nonsense. Anyway, it is extremely important to me that I convey what I have to say in a manner that adheres to the fact that I consider bodies to be sacred. It is also extremely important to me that I say what I have to say in a humble way. I hope I get this right, y’all. Here goes. 

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Twins did not destroy my body.

Well, yes they did. But not in the ways I expected. My twin boys are two years old now, their little fat bodies asleep in their cribs. It’s the middle of the night and I can’t sleep from the adrenaline of another day of keeping up with them. My handsome husband, unaffected by child-chasing adrenaline, softly snores beside me. I flip back the covers suddenly and wander into my bathroom. I look at my reflection in our huge mirror. I take off my clothes and I don’t know why.

The house is still, and for the first time in two years, I am still too. I have been in fight-or-flight mode for two years. I feel like I’m seeing my own body for the first time since the hellish pregnancy. I am having flashbacks to the way I needed my husband’s help to undress near the end of the pregnancy, and to the way both of us would gawk at my daily changes before he helped me into the shower. Sometimes my body looked like a freaking miracle in that mirror, and sometimes it reminded me of a vampire pregnancy from a popular young adult novel: grotesque and progressing too quickly. My naked body in the third trimester of a twin pregnancy was a speeding train that I couldn’t stop (despite the fact that it could barely walk or roll over). Even though six years of infertility treatments had answered all my prayers, and my twins were healthy in my huge womb, I was still enough of an ungrateful jerk to worry about stretch marks and permanent weight gain.

I snap back to the present. I focus my eyes on my current body. Two years have passed in a haze of sleep deprivation. My body has not been the focus for so very long. All I have known about my body was that it was always very tired. Now I am focusing my lens right into this mirror, right onto this body. This body that couldn’t get pregnant, and then did, and then carried twins, and then almost died during childbirth, and then came back to life, and then raised two newborns into toddlers. My body is…. fine.

The twins didn’t destroy my body. Well, yes, they did make me gain 80 pounds during the pregnancy. They did almost kill me during the birth. They did leave my belly as floppy as a waterbed. They did do some pretty wonky things to, well, some of my insides (you’re welcome for the generalities). And, we recently found out that the weight of them, both in my belly and on my hips, did give me scoliosis.

However, none of those things were the things I panicked about before they were born.

I did not get stretch marks.

I did not have trouble losing the weight.

I want to share what I have learned: genetics and circumstance are to blame or to praise for these things.  I want women to quit beating themselves up for problems that they have less control over than they think.

I did not get stretch marks because my mother did not get stretch marks. It is as simple as that. There are no secrets, no creams, no magic remedies. It is just genetics. It’s not a woman’s fault if she gets stretch marks, and it’s not to her credit if she doesn’t have stretch marks.

I lost the baby weight because my dad is thin. Yes, I mall-walked and trail-walked and ran on fumes like all mothers do, and I carried babies until my spine bent, but my metabolism is a genetic gift from my father. (Along with migraines.) I have no secrets or magic cures. It’s not a woman’s fault if she can’t lose the last of her baby weight. It’s also not to her credit if she did lose it all.

It’s just the way it is.

My body in this mirror is… fine. It’s sore and it’s tired and it can’t sleep tonight, but it’s fine. I see my mostly flat belly. I see my mostly smooth skin. I see my strong arms from carrying those fat toddlers who are asleep in their cribs right now. It’s time for me to appreciate all of this stuff and get back in my own bed beside my warm husband.

I know there are wide-awake moms, pregnant with twins and a big dose of panic, presently Googling something morbid like “twin pregnancy belly” just because they can’t sleep. Why can’t they sleep? From the discomfort pain of an octopus of limbs in there? From anxiety about wondering how to burp one twin without detaching the other nursing twin? From just now realizing that she has TWO SETS OF GENITALIA inside her right now?!

Well, wide-awake panicked mommas staring into the bathroom mirror and/or their search engine in the middle of the night, I want to tell you something. I know it feels like you are on a careening train that won’t stop and you want to get off it sometimes. I know you think there is no hope and that only a plastic surgeon could fix what multiples have done to you. But listen to me: There’s a chance you will look the same afterwards. I do. I went from 118 pounds to 198 pounds to 117 pounds in the space of two years, and I am mostly the same as I was before.

The internet is flush with momma-pride articles, giving women with stretch marks and permanent baby bellies a voice. I celebrate with them when they take ownership of those “tiger stripes” and eschew any shame. I applaud them and even gain strength from their stories. Women should always stick together and gain strength from each other. Women should never apologize for bodies that have built and birthed human beings. I agree that it is not anyone’s “fault” when we end up with stretch marks and baby weight. It isn’t because you didn’t buy the expensive cream, you know?

But also, it isn’t to your credit if you didn’t earn those tiger stripes. Just as I wouldn’t have been the cause of stretch marks, I am not the cause of my lack of stretch marks. You see what I’m saying? It’s the genetic role of the dice. I hope that by sharing my story, I can actually further the cause of the mommas being proud of their post-baby bodies.

I am not bragging. I am trying to get you to stop Googling and go the eff to sleep.


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PS, I know there are regular pregnant moms (you know, the singletons ones, the ones with only one penis in there) who also can’t sleep and are also Googling stuff they shouldn’t. To you I want to say: My doctor said that multiple pregnancies are more challenging for the body than a multiples pregnancy. Therefore, since I had three children for the price of one mega-pregnancy (twins + adoption), I might have to eat this essay if I ever miraculously get pregnant again.

Something Haunts Me About Successful IVF

IMG_4072Sometimes successful in vitro fertilization has haunted me. Yes, you read that right. Successful. What could I possibly worry about? I am beyond grateful for my two-year-old IVF twin boys, but I can now see why some people may not feel comfortable with such extreme measures to create children.

The idea of “playing God” didn’t really worry me. After all, isn’t that what normal fertile people do when they create a baby in the bedroom? We had already done seven rounds of fertility pills, and six rounds of IUI (Intrauterine Insemination). We had had miscarriages and we had adopted. Wouldn’t all that also be playing with creation? We couldn’t see what we were doing, because it was happening inside my body, or inside our birthmother’s body, but we were still rolling the genetic dice.

The difference with IVF is that we were about to take the eggs out of my body and actually see – with our own eyes – what we were doing with them. We would subject them to microscopic scrutiny. We would sign legally binding documents to determine how they would be handled before, during, and after fertilization.

Those eggs, and later, those embryos, would be our property, but they would not yet be in my body. They would be our genetic offspring, but not yet our children. Some of those embryos would be dismissed for growing too slowly or too badly. A scientist or a doctor – and not my body – would decide which embryos were strong and which ones were weak. The weak embryos would be left to “stop progressing” and… discarded.

I think about the six embryos that didn’t grow during our second (and only successful) round of IVF. The ones that were… discarded. I often wonder what they would have looked like, had they progressed and finally grown into children. Would three of them have looked like my husband and Twin A? Would the other three have looked like me and Twin B? Would they have each have looked completely unique? Would they all have been boys? Would they have inherited my migraines or my husband’s allergies? Each of those things was written into those tiny eight-celled organisms.

I’m not sure I really know (believe?) that eight-celled embryos have a soul. Even my conservative church has stated that we don’t know when a soul enters the body. And yet, my heart hurts for the six that never grew. They weren’t my children, because I wasn’t pregnant, but what were they? Maybe they are our children. Will we raise them in the afterlife? They didn’t die, really, but weren’t they alive?

And the most haunting part of all is my two embryos that did live to be implanted in my uterus. As I have written before, we made the decision to implant both with a shrug at the Roy Rogers when my doctor called with her recommendation. “We have two clear frontrunners, but they are growing more slowly that I would like. Therefore, I change my recommendation to two embryos, as long as you understand that your risk of twins is 40% at your age.” She told us that they were not strong enough to make it to freezing, so it was now or never.

Shrug. Okay. It’s not going to work anyway, so we might as well.

I am haunted by that moment. I will be haunted for the rest of my life at my shrug, at my casual decision. Yes, it’s true that carrying those twins and birthing them nearly killed me. You might think that I regret my casual decision to implant two embryos because it put my life in danger. No. I would have happily died to give them life, although it hurts me to know how much that sentence must hurt my husband.

What haunts me about that moment is how casually we could have just decided to implant one embryo. What if we had just as casually shrugged and said, “Nah. Let’s just do one.” We would have had every right to do that, legally, ethically, and otherwise. We would have even perhaps been considered wise to do that. It would have been a more sound financial decision, and my life probably would not have been in danger.

What if?

Which one would it have been? The idea that one of my precious two-year-old twins could have been left to “stop growing” in that Petri dish makes me feel like I can’t breathe. Like I’m going to be sick. Faint. I can barely go there in my mind. It even hurts to type it.

My precious Twin A, with his big Charlie Brown head and his big pouty lips and his horrible siren-like cry, and his big feelings and his crooked toes and his perfect hugs? My precious Twin B, with his long eyelashes and his fiery temper and his shrieks of joy and the smell of his baby-head that never seems to go away?

What if?

How could I have been casual about any of that? How could I have made that decision in the Roy Rogers? (Granted, we had one hour before the procedure and had to decide.) What other decisions have I made that have had such far-reaching consequences, both good and bad?

What if one of them wasn’t here? …Discarded.

It haunts me.

I Hit “Advanced Maternal Age” at Midnight

Omgosh. As the clock struck midnight on my birthday, I was officially “advanced maternal age”. Or, I would be, if I were pregnant.

&*!$)%!

Thirty-five.

I have been infertile. I have been in “spontaneous abortion”. I have adopted. I have been in a high-risk pregnancy. I have been pregnant with twins. I have been bedrest-ed. I have been C-section-ed. I have been on death’s door. But I’ve never been advanced maternal age before.

We hope for more children. We have been married for twelve years. We have three children, but none of them were created in my body. (One was created in someone else’s body; two were simultaneously created in Petri dishes.) All three of them belong in our home and in our arms.

Facing many of those issues when I was still in my 20s was … well, difficult. And important. It shines a light on the fact that I am now thirty-freaking-five. I don’t mind the number. I don’t mind the laugh lines. I don’t mind the squishy belly. But I do mind the fertility consequences of being 35.

We don’t know if we will be blessed with more children. We do know that I now would be in a completely different category if we were to attempt any more fertility treatments. We probably won’t, though, since 15 rounds is probably more than enough for a lifetime. We do know that egg quality goes down in a straight line from the age of 21 in a healthy female. We do know that endometriosis gets worse with time. We do know that the chances of conceiving a baby in any 35-year-old body decrease sharply.

If I couldn’t get pregnant in my twenties, the likelihood of getting pregnant when I am of “advanced maternal age” is ridiculous.

all three at sink

I am happy with my three boys. I am (finally) no longer sad each month when I realize I am not pregnant. However, I have the nagging feeling that someone is missing. I don’t know if that is from our miscarriage(s), or if there is really a soul out there who is trying to come to our family.

I can live contently with my three boys, even though I once wanted eight children! I am not always the best mother. I get terrible headaches. I am not always patient. I am stretched very thin. I am sometimes anxious and I am always tired and my neck always hurts. Nevertheless, I feel another soul out there.

Does she know I am of “advanced maternal age”?

 

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This post was originally written as members-only content for Beyond Infertility, a website about parenting after infertility. I am regular contributor to their website.