Hearing your baby’s heartbeat for the first time is as amazing as every parent says. A fetal heartbeat is quick – our baby’s was 160 beats per minute. When I heard it, I felt my own heart race to keep up. On the ultrasound screen, we saw a tiny, Teddy-bear-shaped body wiggling around in what looked like a dance of happiness.
While my husband and I were saying, “Oh wow” and “I can’t believe it” and “We’re going to have a baby!” the ultrasound technician was still at work. Finally she said, “And here is the second one.”
And we looked, quieter now. I think I said, “There’s another one?” My husband said, “Twins?” She showed us a little gray blur. This embryo was harder to see than the first one, but its heartbeat was strong and clear, 156 beats per minute. I was pregnant with two.
Hearing the second heartbeat is harder to describe. Part of me wanted to laugh: I was only trying for one and I got two – classic overachiever! On the other hand, the hope and joy I felt was… complicated. A multiples pregnancy increases the odds of gestational diabetes, anemia, premature birth and virtually every other pregnancy complication there is, including some unique to twin pregnancies, like twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome (TTS), a possibility with some identical twins in which one baby imperils the other by absorbing its sibling’s life-supporting oxygen and food.
These complications didn’t just mean trouble for me: my babies would be more likely to be small and to have difficulties early in life, perhaps needing some time in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). I was only 8 weeks pregnant, and I was already thinking about the NICU!
And when the ultrasound technician showed me the second heartbeat, I felt immediately anxious, wondering whether I could give two babies the attention they need and deserve.
Then she said, “Let’s see if I find a third one.” Triplets take all the complications of twins and increase them. And day-to-day life with three or more babies stretches human ingenuity to its limits.
In my case, there was no third heartbeat. But I was still looking at a challenging pregnancy and birth, and a future as a mom of twins. In that little room lighted only by a screen showing outlines of embryos that would someday be my kids, my life changed in ways I could never have imagined.
The ultrasound technician asked us if we were all right – how does it feel, knowing you’re having twins? I said, “It feels like we’ve won the lottery – a very expensive lottery!” I was joking, sort of, but what I said was true: chance brought me something unimaginably wonderful, two babies! But this great fortune would “cost” me: not just money, but time and trouble, a toll on my body, sacrifices in my lifestyle, challenges to my peace of mind. The work and wear reminds me, daily, how precious my babies are. Isn’t that true of every pregnancy, and every child?
Moms of multiples spend more time with doctors, for which I am grateful, because I never felt alone. It seemed I always had an appointment with someone: my obstetrician, the perinatologist, the hospital dietitians who helped me through my gestational diabetes and the invaluable nurses and doctors of Labor and Delivery, whom I had to visit more than once before my babies were finally born.
When the birth finally came, one of my babies had some trouble and was put under observation for possible admittance to the NICU. But she thrived in the hours following the birth and they were able to bring her to me instead. Our babies came home less than a week after they were born, without any need for intensive care. But even with healthy twins, or triplets, or more, the adjustment to a new life together is the next big step – one we were excited to begin.
Amy Letter is the mom of twin girls Sagan and Tesla, and a writer, artist and professor of English at Drake University. She is a frequent blogger for Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford.