Jennifer McLennan shares with us the beautiful story of her twins’ birth in 2015.
As I sit down to finally write into words the story of my twins’ birth, I am watching them sleep in their bed from my desk. They are about to turn one. They are strong and healthy and not a day goes by that I don’t send out a mental thank-you note to the universe for their vitality. So, it’s obvious that this story has a happy ending, but to tell their story I need to backtrack to a not-so-happy time.
Between the birth of my son, Caio, in 2011, and the birth of the twins in 2015, I experienced two pregnancy losses; one at 13 weeks, and one at 7 weeks. The depth of grief I experienced completely blind-sided me. My world view and self perception were shaken, my confidence plummeted and my marriage was challenged. I felt guilty, lost and out of control. I turned inward for healing and really took the time to examine my reasons for wanting another child. I consulted with a trusted fertility specialist who suggested taking progesterone during early pregnancy if we wanted to try again. I did a lot of self work to arrive at a centered and healthy place, and as a family we decided to try one more time.
In March 2015 I took a home pregnancy test, and those two little pink lines showed up right away. Pregnancy after loss is such a cacophony of emotion: the excitement and joy is all mixed up with a lot of fear. I decided early on that I was going to focus on the things I could control, and do the best I could to let the rest go. I talked to that little being in my belly every day, and the thing I said most often was, “I love you already. Please stay if you can, but I understand if you have to go.” I created a small altar out of objects that were meaningful for me and tried to sit there for a few moments each day. As each week passed safely I added a new rock, shell or other item that felt right. We chose not to share this pregnancy with many people early on, but those in my intimate circle also gave me little things to place on the altar. This process was so empowering as it reminded me of all the support I had and helped me to stay centered through those passing early weeks. I tried to remember to just enjoy each moment with my baby, even if our time together was to be short. In keeping with the feeling of needing to stay very internal with this pregnancy, I did consult my midwife but chose to decline an early ultrasound.
The weeks went by; my altar grew, and so did my belly! A lot! By 10 weeks I was starting to get some raised eyebrows and sideways glances. When we did finally start to share the news, there was much whooping and cheering and hugging and people asking, “Wait…are you SURE about your dates??” By 16 weeks, our midwife did recommend that we go for an ultrasound as my uterus was measuring large (I was very sure of my dates!), to check for excess fluid or MULTIPLES. I have no family history of twins so I honestly didn’t think about the possibility very seriously.
As we entered the ultrasound office, my heart was in my throat. I was so excited to see this little one, and desperately wanted everything to be normal and healthy. The moment that his wand touched my belly, the technician said, “Oh look…twins!!!” I started to laugh and cry at the same time and my partner Julio was speechless, pale, and had to sit down. We got to see their beautiful spines and perfect limbs and Caio (then 3) asked again and again…two babies?? There are two babies in mamas belly?? I felt about the same level of incredulity. When asked if we wanted to know the sexes we said, “Yes yes yes please” and discovered that I was carrying one boy and one girl. Walking out the office beaming and beaming, I couldn’t help but think: they came back. Two gone and two returned. An unforgettable day.
Knowing that this was now a multiple pregnancy, the focus of my meditations changed. I asked friends and family around the world to join me in holding the intention of full-term, healthy babies. I had to move through a lot of fear around the idea of having premature babies, and I was honestly terrified of a Caesarean section. Having had a beautiful experience with the home birth of my first son, I had assumed that a natural birth would be possible again this time around. The C-section rate with twins is extremely high here in Costa Rica where we live – around 98%. Working closely with my midwife (who had been with me for Cai’s birth), we decided against a home birth for the twins. After interviewing several OBs, we found a fantastic one who was willing to attend at a fully equipped birthing center, and to work with my midwife as co-caregivers. By this time I had come to a place where I was honestly fine with however these babies needed to come into the world. We made a plan for a respectful and loving caesarean, and a plan for a peaceful, natural birth. Whatever needed to happen for them to come earthside safely, that’s what we would do. I asked the babies to show us, when the time came, how they needed to be born. I learned so much from this process of birth plan re-creation. My belief in my right to choose a birth team of individuals with whom I felt safe, supported and listened to was reaffirmed, and my mind was opened to the potential beauty of Caesarean birth.
The pregnancy proceeded very normally. I followed the Brewers Diet for Twins (high protein, low sugar) hoping to avoid Gestational Diabetes. GD is common in multiple pregnancies, but never did develop in mine. I knew that position-wise the best chance for a natural birth would be to have both babies head-down. I added that request to our daily chats and meditations, and at each and every ultrasound, sure enough, both babies were head down. The weeks seemed to fly by, and pretty soon my belly was a party of bumpy knees and elbows. As huge as I was, I so so so loved feeling them dance around with each other. I truly felt my network of friends of family hold me and the babies up as we got closer and closer to full-term—36 weeks for twins.
We passed our full-term milestone and headed into week 37. My mum arrived from Canada, and it was such a relief to have her help. Then came week 38. I was overjoyed that they were now big, healthy babies, but things were starting to get really shockingly enormous and uncomfortable! At my appointment on Monday, November 30th, at 38 weeks 4 days, there was good news and bad news. Babies were in great shape, both still head-down with lots of water, and I was 1 cm dilated with a nice soft cervix! The bad news was that my blood pressure had started to climb. It was still in the safe zone, but needed to be watched closely. We had daily check-ups from then on, and every Braxton Hicks sent me into major excitement mode. I was so ready to meet these people already! Sleep was just not happening by that point, so at night I would get up and waddle around (and eat! I was starving ALL the time!) until I was tired enough to lie back down.
When we checked in with our OB on Friday (39 weeks 1 day) I was 3 cm dilated, well effaced but still no contractions! This was incredible for me as during my first child’s birth I had worked for about 10 hours of HARD labor to get to 3 cm. My blood pressure was still creeping up so it was time to make some choices. My OB explained that my body and the babies were all giving thumbs up signals for birth. He felt that for safety’s sake we would need to induce labor Saturday afternoon if things hadn’t started up on their own by then. I remember him saying that “It seems like those babies are listening to you so tell them it’s go time!” He also offered me the option of a stretch and sweep in addition to the homeopathics we were already working with to give the babes one more nudge towards the exit. I accepted the stretch and sweep and while not exactly comfortable, it did let me practice breathing to stay relaxed.
We left the office around 2 p.m. and went straight home. I grabbed my iPod and climbed straight into a hammock. I know, I know… an almost-40-weeks-pregnant-with-twins mama does not just nimbly hop into hammock: it was a bit of a struggle, but so worth it! Through the whole pregnancy, hammock time had helped take pressure off my back and really relaxed me. After about half an hour of rocking and some gentle Braxton Hicks, I noticed that the contractions were getting more intense, becoming a tightening all across my lower belly. They also started to get closer together. I didn’t want to sound a premature alarm and I was really comfortable where I was, so I stayed rocking, listening to music and breathing deeply through each wave of sensation. Time started to warp so I’m not sure exactly how long I stayed like that, but soon the downward pressure in my pelvis was getting intense and I wanted to walk around. I ate a huge bowl of pineapple and told Julio that I thought things were happening but it would be a while. He left me on the patio dancing with my belly with instructions to call him the next time I felt a wave.
About 30 seconds later, I was yelling for him and he came rushing out with the phone ready to call the midwife! I told him I thought it would be a long while yet but to call her to let her know what was going on. I got on the phone with her and she asked to hear me breathe through a wave. I breathed, she listened, and promptly told us to meet her at the birthing center with no waiting around! I spent a few more waves outside watching the sunset (It was about 5:30 p.m. by now), sent a few messages to let our closest friends know what happening, then we kissed my mum and our son and were on our way to the center. It was about an 8-minute drive and I remember a song on the radio with the words “just breathe”. I breathed through the waves rolling through me and still didn’t believe we would be holding babes any time soon.
We arrived at the center just ahead of our OB, and got settled in as he gave me a check. The babies were doing great and I was 6cm dilated! I was SO delighted and amazed, and felt a new surge of excitement and energy lift me up. Our doc left to give us privacy and I walked around the room and danced and rocked to our birthing playlist, joking around with my partner. I set up a mini version of my home altar, and lit some birthday candles for the babies. About an hour later our midwife (who had been stuck in traffic) made it and could take over checks. She had brought her birthing stool with her and we got it ready in case that felt right for me when the time came. I was getting very pacey and she suggested some time in the shower. I took off my dress and getting under that hot water felt absolutely divine. I turned my face into a corner, pressed my forehead against the tile and got deep into my birthing rhythm. I rocked my hips, tapped one hand against the wall and vocalized with mmmm and ahhhhh. I can’t say why that felt right but it just did and I really got into the pleasure of this experience, the sensuality and the intimacy of birth. I felt tightening and loosening of my muscles and just tried to keep my mouth soft as I visualized baby A getting lower and lower.
When I felt ready for a change in location I climbed onto the bed and tried a few different positions. What felt right was reclining propped with pillows behind my back, knees bent and soles of feet touching with very open hips, arms at my sides with palms up. I could feel myself starting to resist and tighten as the waves went deeper and deeper and tried to let go, keeping my hands and mouth soft and open as sounds of aahhhhmmmm came through me. I remember dim soft lights, the candles glowing, my music playing. I remember my partner, my OB and my midwife in the room chatting quietly or just sitting respectfully. I remember getting a very strong image in my mind of each and every person in my circle of love holding hands and surrounding me and the babies, each sending me energy and taking a bit of my discomfort for me. I found out later that groups of my loved ones in several different parts of the world were in fact meditating for us at exactly this moment (goosebumps!); I was flooded with such a sense of safety and well-being, seeing all of those loving faces around me. I felt nauseous at one point but didn’t actually vomit (in hindsight, this was transition!). Soon after this I gave permission to be checked, and I was 9 cms at around 9 p.m.
I got up and held Julio’s shoulders as we danced away that last centimeter, and our midwife and OB made final preparations. Some fear was sliding around the edges of my consciousness now as it really hit me that TWO PEOPLE were about to come out of me and I wanted so badly for them to be safe. His confidence in me and the strength of our connection were what grounded me in that moment and sent me forward. As we danced I felt the rhythmic squeezing of my uterus move lower and lower and the waves were right on top of each other. I felt that my body was starting to push on its own and my partner helped me onto the birthing stool. As soon as I sat all the way down, one of the water bags broke and I felt such intense pressure in my vagina, I instantly bore down and pushed with all my might.
Until this point my vocalizations had been soft and low, and my energy had been calm, light and peaceful. The sounds that came out of my mouth now surprised everyone in the room, myself included. It was as if all the despair, the sorrow, the rage and the joy of the last two years came ripping up my throat and out of my mouth. I roared. I howled. It was a wild, raw, almost feral sound. I was so deep inside myself, reaching for the most profound strength I possessed. With my first push, my son’s head crowned. Two pushes later and he was born. I was panting and gasping and kept saying, “He’s here he’s here he’s here!!” My midwife had caught him and as she held him up he immediately opened his huge dark eyes and started looking around, taking it all in. She handed him up to me and I held him to my heart for a moment before another massive contraction ripped through me, and I passed him to my partner. I could feel baby number 2 moving down very quickly and I remember locking eyes with my midwife and saying, “I can’t do this again!!” She stroked my leg and reassured me, and I remember glancing up at my partner holding our new son, and thinking “Okay, let’s do this. I want those babies in my arms!!”
I closed my eyes and found a reserve of energy and power that I hadn’t realized was in me and pushed my daughter out into the world, just 7 minutes after her brother. Knowing them now, their attitudes at birth fit so perfectly. My son is extremely active, inquisitive and in constant motion. Of course he was born eyes open, ready for adventure! My daughter is a very mellow, easygoing yet cautious person, and she does things when she’s good and ready, including landing earth-side. She was quite blue in her first moments and did not immediately breathe. After a few seconds of rubbing, our midwife leaned in to give a breath into her mouth. Just as panic began to rise in me, my little girl took a huge breath, turned pink and started squaking as she moved her limbs and took in the scene around her. They handed her to me, and I stared down at her, the reality sinking in that we had done it!! The three of us who had shared a body for 9 months had come safely apart. They were here.
I lost a lot of blood during the birth, and needed to get into a prone position to deliver the placentas. My partner and midwife took the babies to be weighed and measured as our OB helped me to birth both placentas, which were intact and, interestingly, fused together by their outer membranes. As exhausted as I was I remember noticing how fantastic those organs were, they really are beautiful. The babies came back just a few minutes later and my partner incredulously told me how much they weighed: our son 7 lbs 4 oz and our daughter 8 lbs 6 oz! Our midwife helped me to get both babies latched on, and they started nursing like old pros. With both babies finally in my arms I kept looking back and forth between them, so overwhelmed with love. Tears streamed down my face, completely overcome with gratitude. The names that we had ready fit them perfectly: Tobias (gift from god) and Elena (light bringer). They were born at 9:28 and 9:35 pm on December 4th, 2015.
We spent the night at the clinic, without much sleep. I couldn’t stop looking at my babies and marveling at their beauty and their perfection. I counted their fingers and toes over and over again. We had breakfast together and a checkup with our OB in the morning. All was well and we left the clinic with many hugs and well wishes from the staff, so looking forward to introducing our babes to their big brother, their Nana and their whole new tribe of loved ones.
Soon we will light those birthday candles again and celebrate the first year of life of these two incredible little people. The experience of carrying and birthing these children has irreversibly changed me. I am more resilient that I ever imagined, more powerful than my mind can understand. I am reminded daily to trust my journey, to let go of my expectations of how things should be, and to simply ride the waves of energy that move through us and around us, always. I am so very honored to be their mother.