In amongst the sea of black, there is a brilliant splash of colour coming from two little bouncy jumpsuits, their mini play gym with rings, mirrors and many other colourful accoutrements swinging above their heads as they lay on a colourful padded mat of their own. Amid the usual sounds of weights being moved, lifted, clinked and spotted; runners beating a steady rhythm on the treadmills; the hum and swish of cross trainers; the steady beats of gloved fists on bags; there were the lovely, joyful squeals of delight coming from that colourful zone that had us all entranced. Every pair of eyes in the gym is totally captivated by the sight that is so fascinating, a mother and her twins interacting so naturally. I see smiles softening the features of my men. Our twins are the luckiest babies having so many doting uncles. But I also see gratitude in some of these young warriors at being able to witness this wondrous vision and simultaneously be a part of it.
The other splash of colour is their mother, my beautiful Babe. To break the monotony of all black she has decided to wear brighter colours, well, the tops, her button up blouses or shirts. Better that they get to see more colours from the people around them than only our black uniforms. Of course, the guys did order mini Rangeman baby suits and onesies with a variety of cute and creative messages, but totally biased, of course. I have to confess that they do look great in black but they have a whole range of colours, always in matching outfits. It's amazing how many times they need to change their onesies, but not as many as their nappies. Initially I was amazed at that alone but now it's just part of the routine. And there it is, routine, the most important word.
These first four months have been about feeding, crying, changing, burping and sleeping. Of course, all the wondrous moments of disbelief and awe that we made these two beautiful babies, cuddling and feeling so much love for their precious lives took precedence over the basic needs. Our hearts were overflowing with love. We'd often stand by their crib watching them breathing, sleeping, interacting with each other and the sweet sleepy sounds they made while asleep, while we held each other. Stephanie is an amazing mother and her earlier doubts and fears were totally shattered by her overwhelming love for our two bundles of joy, and for each other. It has bonded us even more closely. The shared duties made me realise how much is involved in raising just one baby, but twins are a challenge. There was no time for standing, it was all go! No standing indeed. We have lots of support but feeding time has been the most demanding for Stephanie, especially with two hungry mouths to feed.
There have been hard times and tears of despair and frustration but we have survived. Stephanie was determined to breast feed them and it turns out that they like to be fed together. It is the most amazing sight to behold, mother and twins feeding especially when they were so tiny with their little hands clutching onto Stephanie and at the same time reaching out to each other. During the pre-natal classes, nursing classes were part of the program. Guilt free, no judgement if one chose to bottle feed which is the most common choice for multiple births, but Steph was determined to give breast feeding a go. Night time feeds and changes became routine eventually, as we learnt to survive on short three to four hourly bursts of sleep. I would hear them cry first and bring them to Stephanie after changing them, and she would feed them, using a special pillow to support them and I had propped others for her back.
The first two months were the most challenging. Stephanie slept when the twins did. Cry, change, feed, burp, sing and rock, snuggle and back to sleep was a cycle on repeat. By feeding them both together, feeding time was basically the same as for a single baby, luckily. In the first month I stayed with Stephanie, assisting, supporting, admiring and making myself useful with nappy changing, dressing them and especially in my superior role as Chief Burper. Now Ella comes down for their special mother-daughter time and Abuela Ella time while I resume fulltime work duties. Circumstances were so different with Julie and I feel blessed to be able to experience this special time. They change on a daily basis. We love their expressions and their alertness and ability to focus strengthens each day too. They are growing stronger and bigger. We recorded every milestone and have taken so many photos.
"You know, sometimes I just feel like a milking machine, or a milk bar. But then the snuggles afterwards, and simply counting and nibbling fingers and toes obliterates that vision. We are so blessed, Carlos. You are such a good Daddy."
"They are so blessed with you as a wonderful Mama. You're a natural, Babe."
"First time for both of us, I guess. And it's an amazing journey of discovery already. You make me feel so strong, so empowered."
"Right back at ya, Babe."
They are greedy as they suckle holding hands and wriggling contentedly. I could happily watch them feeding as Steph hums and caresses them gently. Feeding in the loungeroom in the daytime makes it easier when Stephanie is on her own, so she can place them on the lounge as they finish feeding. But usually there are two of us, especially to quickly relieve the discomfort in their tiny bodies as they release their milky burps. Their post feed milk haze is so cute, a little punch drunk as they smile contentedly, like they are almost in a food coma. After feeds Stephanie talks to them all the time and soothing massages them with gentle hands before putting them down to sleep together. One of my favourite sonogram photos is them holding onto each other in utero. Bath time is so special and after my first fears of slippery soapy baby, I can handle them more confidently now. The secret is not to rush, be gentle and enjoy. Now that they are four months old they have discovered the joys of splashing.
I often massage Stephanie's shoulders, her back and her feet and of course her stretchmarks with lotion. At first, they were a worry for her, but now she wears them as battle scars, like a warrior princess. Of course, the massaging often gets more heated and passionate. It was Steph who surprised me with initiating and resuming our gentle love making. Fatigue was something we both had to overcome, Stephanie especially with all the massive changes to her body. Our sex life is still healthy and maybe not as frequent but we still take advantage of Mummy/Daddy alone time, shower together time and cuddling time when we can.
That day when Hector texted me her contractions is so indelibly imprinted on my brain. He seems so in tune with his Chica and being so aware of his surroundings which were even more heightened with her pregnancy. I rushed to her and she smiled that beautiful blue-eyed glistening smile. She was happy, not afraid and at this stage quite relieved that it was time for our not so little Peanuts to come into the world. Before we were halfway through the control room the air of anticipation was so high, beyond a buzz, since they had seen me running to her from my meeting. They were already celebrating their imminent Tio-status. It took Tank with his shrill whistle to get them all back on point. Happy smiles abounded.
"Are you okay, Beautiful? You look a bit flushed."
She nodded until another contraction hit her really hard. Like stunned mullets, her Merry Men watched in awe and empathy, as she rode the intense pains through the entire minute of the contraction. While she buckled over I rubbed her lower back and helped her with her breathing. We already had our action plan to get to the hospital, so the entourage for the secure convoy was set to go. Just as she stood up, recovered from that wave, her waters broke. "Timber!" With a thunderous bang we all watched as Vince went down in a faint. Cal and Hal dealt with him amid laughs from his stunned spectators. Ella had come in and hugged Stephanie with a huge smile before she threw a towel on the ground. While Bobby brought the wheelchair with her hospital to-go-bag, Ella washed her face with a moist towelette, and dried her feet, whispering affirmations in a sweet and calm motherly tone. Steph sat down, relieved to have ridden that contraction, squeezing my hand and not letting go. With lots of well wishes and a finger wave from Steph we went down in the elevator to the garage and were on our way in no time. Bobby had already made the call after Hector texted the times of her contractions.
Because of it being twins, we were ushered into a large birthing room beside an operating theatre. In between contractions, Stephanie walked around, or leaned against the bed to brace herself for the next contraction. The nurses and I encouraged her breathing. She was sweating but remained strong, sucking on ice chips in between, while one nurse held a damp towelette to her forehead. She had her music playing to help her, an eclectic mix of her Zen music, and some slow Latin dance, like bachata, to my surprise. I smiled and loved the sensual choice of bachata. She had done the most amazing preparation and her beautiful body was fit and strong and resilient. At thirty-four weeks and two days, she was ready. The contractions were coming closer together now. I had been logging them on Hector's list on my phone.
There were so many doctors and nurses but we had been well prepared for that. As well as the obstetrician, we also had a midwife, and the delivery team, and each baby would have its own team of paediatricians and paediatric nurses. Her obstetrician smiled and after some questions he checked her progress and especially the babies', while the nurses prepped and gowned her. I was gowned as well. She was almost fully dilated so they prepared her for an epidural and we were transferred to the operating theatre. The nurses had already wired monitors on Steph and now also on her baby bump with individual heart monitors for each baby. Stephanie had chosen a vaginal birth but because she was having twins, they always had to be prepared for an emergency caesarean. We understood all the scenarios and had been well advised and fully apprised of all the possibilities. She was so calm. I talked to her softly, sometimes in Spanish, endeavouring to send my strength through our hands and my heart. I soothed and caressed her baby bump and told our Peanuts to behave and that we were so excited to finally meet them.
"Well, Stephanie and Carlos," he smiled as Steph completed a stronger contraction, "your Peanuts are in great position. Consider yourself lucky since both babies are in the head-down position and it's time to deliver. This is called vertex/vertex. It's the most cooperative possible foetal position. Carlos, you can see your first baby crowning." I saw it and was amazed. It's happening. I smiled at my Babe, and kissed and squeezed her hand. "I got you, Babe."
The birth itself was shorter than I expected and as soon as the first baby emerged, the paediatric team whisked it away to make way for the second baby. It was all so organised and much like a military operation. Yes. I could go with that and I was impressed. Stephanie braved the contractions squeezing the hell out of my hand. The second baby seemed easier. Between tears I kissed her. I was so proud of her, so, so, very proud. The babies were only ten minutes apart. Wow. And their lungs were strong and sure. Identical twins with a fine mop of dark wavy hair, both weighing five pound, two ounces, or 2.3 kilograms.
Looking back, you can easily forget the pain, the agony and the ecstasy, especially for Stephanie. After the first six weeks, she wanted to get back into her exercise regime and has transitioned slowly and gently in the beginning, resuming gym time. With pool time a bit later, she was always accompanied with her SEALs and always fell asleep on the way home. Her strength and endurance improved and I am amazed at how her body stretched and accommodated these two bundles of joy. Her curves are softer and the extent of her body's capacity to be so elastic is truly amazing. After sticking with her yoga pants, she is back to wearing her regular cargo pants now. I am in awe of this woman.
Stephanie is on the colourful mats with our twins gurgling and babbling as she does her stretches, yoga and floor exercises. They have whole conversations and tell her expressive stories. Each time she comes down to one tummy she blows a raspberry and the resultant giggles and squeals sets them both kicking their strong little legs excitedly. Then the second twin waits in anticipation for the next raspberry coming in and the giggles and squeals start again. They love these repetitious games and their joy is infectious. Many times, I've caught myself frozen, mid punch, as I watch in awe and pride, only to be hit by the back swing of the bag. I'm not the only one. An occasional slide off the treadmill has had us reviewing our health and safety rules. I chuckle at the memory of Santos as he face planted off the treadmill, luckily without injury. He sprang back up and shrugged it off as I did with the bag back swing. It is such a welcome distraction and diversion.
With feet kicking and arms waving excitedly, Stephanie blew another raspberry and a trumpet-like blast on their tummies in turn.
"One for Miguel … and one for Rafael."
Thank you for staying along for the ride.
I appreciate all the wonderful reviews and hope you enjoyed my story, which morphed from the fun 100 word challenge to longer chapters.