Standing in line at the Walgreens near San Francisco General Hospital, pushing the double stroller filled with chubby five-month-old twins, I shyly pushed the pregnancy test down the conveyor belt. I didn't want anyone to notice; I was embarrassed. Please tell me that twin mama isn't pregnant again! I imagined people thinking.
I was desperate for the results, having already seen what looked like a positive result on an old test taken in our bathroom the night before. The signal was so faint that I thought it might not be real, even though it appeared immediately and was the first pregnancy test I'd ever taken to have done that. Where to find a bathroom in the city with two infants who would need to be carried with me? I parked the van not on a main street and in the back, holding a cup to catch my urine.
A week or two later, laying back on the familiar hospital bed, the warm gel being smoothed over my still soft belly rounded from carrying two babies for almost thirty two weeks, I watched as the alien familiar internal moonscape spread out across the screen. My not-quite-medical eyes focused and counted. One. Two.
Shock is not enough. I haven't learned the word yet. The looks on people's faces when we tell them now. Yes, two sets of twins a year and two weeks apart. Dropped jaws. Gasps. Wide eyes. Terror. That is not an exaggeration. When you see people imaging what it would be like. Yes times a thousand. Together Neil and I fell separately into different versions of an unknown, inescapable place.
When we started telling people, everyone went quickly to the same questions. How will you do this? What kind of stroller? Who will help you? Everyone, without exception, said You Need Help. It took some months to even begin to be able to process let alone answer most of the questions. Blank stares. Numbness. Panic masked by blank faces. Oh yeah, and the two small babies who were with us all the time still needed looking after.
I knew we would need regular help but I couldn't even begin to imagine what that would look like. An au pair? Where would she live? How would we deal with someone else in our space all the time? A Nanny? 24/7? How would we know which hours of the day were going to be the hardest? How much would it cost? Could we afford it with me not working?
By the time I was into my fifth month of my second twin pregnancy in two years I was spending a lot of time laying on my side on the carpet of Lily and Cyrus' room, letting them crawl and roll and play around me as I tried to find some energy somewhere.
After trying one babysitter for a few hours and having her call me a couple hours into it asking me to come home because Cyrus wouldn't stop screaming, I went to Care.com and posted an ad. I don't have the exact wording anymore but it said something like:
I am pregnant with my second set of twins and I need help. My first two are nine months old, these next two are due in August. I think I'm looking for a mother's helper because I will be staying home with them as well. I don't know how many hours or days of the week I need. I live in Concord.
I got many replies, a surprising number. Here is the little that I knew--I didn't want someone older, grandparent age, because I didn't want someone telling me how I should be doing things. I didn't want someone younger, twenty-two or something, because I would be in the house with this person for many hours a day and I wanted someone I could relate to. There were a few responses that looked ok and many that got weeded out like an online dating experience--the misspellings, grammatical errors and text abbreviations were a no. Then there was one that said essentially:
I would love to help you! I know two families who have two sets of twins and they are amazing. . .
She knew people who had done this before? They were surviving? I don't remember anything else about what she said of her own experience. I asked her to come for an interview.
She came and sat with me in the backyard next to the crumbling swimming pool. My in-laws were visiting. Neil was working on the pool. I have no idea where Lily and Cyrus were. I'd gotten recommendations of questions to ask from friends who had recently interviewed caregivers but I didn't ask any of them. I don't remember what we talked about. I liked her and we made a plan for her to come watch the kids sometime soon.
Cyrus at that time was in a screaming phase. Bone-shattering, heart-clutching, brain-freezing screaming. Not all the time but a lot of the time, triggered by a variety of things. Going into a new house. Being outside. Having too many people around. Life? It was unclear. I thought he might have some type of sensory-processing disorder. Often he would only be soothed by me. I told Stephanie all of this and told her I would stay with her the first few times so he could get used to her. Okay, she said.
She came the first day and the four of us sat on the floor in the babies' room for a while. Ten minutes. Then she looked at me and said "You can go. We'll be ok. I'll call you if I need to."
Oh. Well. Um. Ok.
So I left. Not sure what I did. I know he screamed and I know they were all fine. It took several days for him to stop screaming with her but not long. We had found our person.
More than a year ago I wrote a little profile of Stephanie when I was trying to write a description of someone or something every day for 100 days. It described what she looked like. It said nothing about who she is to us. What she is to us. I've thought often over the three years she's been in our lives about how I would describe this woman and the care and love and security she has brought into the utter chaos that is our lives. Here I am many paragraphs into an essay and I've hardly begun.
I called her after dark last week and she answered after two rings.
I need you, I said.
I'm on my way, she said.
I never, ever, ever worry about my kids when they are with her. I know they are the solid, confident little people they are now in large part because of how she loves them. How she loves us and how she holds us. She says what she thinks. She is fierce. My kids always know where they stand with her and they thrive because of that.
She arrives into chaos and cleans it up. Welcomes our children, unbathed, unshod, hair in tangles, underpants nowhere to be found. She tells us calmly and with certainty, go take some time to yourself. You need to be ok. That's the most important thing for you to do right now. I've got them.
She more than anyone else knows what these past three years have been for us. The days and weeks and months in the shock. Trying to recover. Blinking our eyes in confusion and disbelief as we look around at the lives that somehow have become ours. She's watched as we've fallen apart, fought through and tried to survive the misery and despair that bracket the incredible love we feel for these huge personalities we created and live with. She is our family and I will never stop being grateful for and to her.
Three years in, the reactions from people are the same. You have your hands full! I don't know how you do it!
Stephanie. That's how we do it.