When I was first told I was pregnant with twins, I was shocked and overwhelmed. It was hard to comprehend that there were two little heartbeats growing in my womb. Then my heart filled with excitement as I started to wonder about all of the special things you get to do with twins. Where they boys? Were they girls? Maybe one of each?
As my pregnancy progressed, my excitement only grew at the thought of raising twins. We went on to purchase two cribs, two bassinets and we registered for two of everything. At 17 weeks we found out we would have identical twin sons. We decided to name them after our fathers. Their cribs were put together and their nursery was decorated. My greatest worry was how we would tell them apart once they were born.
At 21 weeks we found out one of our twins was to be born with a congenital diaphragmatic hernia. We would face a long NICU stay, and my worry about how to tell them apart vanished because one of our twins would have a long surgical scar across his stomach when his doctors would ‘fix’ his birth defect.
We were told to expect only a 50% chance that our son would survive. We were prepped for the life in the NICU, and at times given a grim prognosis. The hope in our hearts prevailed, though, and we planned how to manage the balancing act of bringing home a healthy baby, while managing life in the NICU with a very ill baby.
Our boys were very active in utero and I couldn’t imagine a life with only one of my twins. Our weekly appointments with our doctors, however, reminded me that we may have a life with only one of our twins. I remember one day as I was driving home from work and I wept in my car at the thought of planning birthday parties. If one of our twins died, how could I possibly celebrate just one? How would we manage to give our surviving son a happy birthday when our hearts would be broken if his brother died?
I quickly pushed those thoughts out of my mind and told myself I wouldn’t think about it again. The stress of his diagnosis, coupled with preeclampsia, landed me in the antepartum unit at 34 weeks where they told me to expect to stay in the hospital until I gave birth. The NICU team met with my husband and me, and we were once again reminded that our son may die. My thoughts drifted back to a birthday party for only one of our sons, and I feared for the day he would be born.
Two weeks later, when I was 36 weeks pregnant, my water broke and our twins were born. We went through just about everything one can in the NICU. Our son spent 25 days on ECMO, which is a heart and lung bypass machine- a ‘last resort’ type of life support. He had three surgeries. To say the NICU is a rollercoaster ride is an understatement. When he was 35 days old, our worst fears came true and he died in my arms.
We went home that night broken. Our grief the first several months kept us numb. Slowly, we started to heal, and our healthy son kept us going. He grew at a rapid pace and before we knew it, it was time to plan his first birthday party.
My heart felt broken once again as I realized my worst pregnancy nightmares were coming true. When I once thought I could not possibly survive planning a party for one, I was faced with this monumental task of doing just that. I somehow managed to do it, and our little one year old thoroughly enjoyed smashing his birthday cake.
This year, our twins turn seven. As with each of the last six years, my heart weeps a bit planning for a party I never thought I would be able to endure. I wonder how different it would be with both of my sons. There would probably be a fight over where we would have their party. They may demand separate cakes by now. Or they may be two, but still a unit of one, having a bond that only twins can have, and easily choose their birthday party theme. These are things I will never know, but I wonder every day.
Seven years, and seven birthdays have not brought me much healing when it comes to this party for one that I must plan. I keep hoping that next year will be better; next year will be easier on my heart. I have not found that yet. But each year, I must plan this party and I must give my healthy little boy whatever type of party he wants. It is only fair to him that their birthday is his, and we celebrate him.
I would give almost anything to plan a birthday party for my twins. But that has not been my course, and I will push aside my hurt to give the little boy I can hold in my arms the party I wish I could for the little boy I hold in my heart.