A Wonderful Surprise

Surprise: We’re pregnant! Surprise again: It’s twins!

I’m not going to bury the lede here: I’m pregnant! Ashlee and I are expecting not one but two new additions Jan. 28, 2022. Let’s rewind a bit… 

How we got here

When we geared up for bringing Jackson into the world a few years ago, we were already looking ahead, buying enough donor sample to put on ice for an eventual sibling. Ashlee carried our first and our plan was to wait a few years and then I’d be up, aiming for no later than my 35th birthday — that magic date when doctors say fertility starts to decline. 

As is often the case, nothing went exactly as planned. Amid the abounding questions of COVID last year, looming in the background for us was its effect on my getting pregnant. While our life plan had me starting the process in the fall, we ultimately pushed the start date to 2021 — hoping the pandemic would start to improve by then (and also being superstitious about embarking on such a big journey in a year like 2020). 

Then, during initial testing in December, the fertility specialists found polyps in my uterus — sending me into a tizzy and delaying the process by a month as I underwent outpatient surgery (all good!). Then came the snow… I was finally scheduled to get started at the end of January, and that’s when years’ worth of snow decided to fall over just a couple weeks (entirely coinciding with every single appointment I had). Given the nature of the appointments, they all had to be scheduled very precisely around what was happening with my body, so having to delay or miss one could mean a cancelled month of trying. So, there were many nights this winter when Ashlee and I switched off shoveling and reshoveling every hour or two in heavy snow to try to make a path for my early morning doctor’s appointments. Needless to say, I was delighted when spring rolled around. 

Appointments, appointments, appointments

Anyone who has ever gone through fertility treatment likely shares one common observation: The appointments are endless. Through this week, the end of my first trimester, I counted 28 doctor’s appointments since December (I’m sure I missed a few). Here’s the rundown: 

At the start of each monthly cycle, you call and leave a message to schedule your Day One testing (option #3!), which includes baseline labwork to check hormone levels and an ultrasound to ensure everything’s functioning as it should. Then it’s a few days of an oral medication to stimulate follicle growth, another round of labs and ultrasound and, then a few days later, you may be ready for a trigger shot to start the ovulation process. Then comes insemination day. A week later, it’s progesterone level testing and then another week after that, it’s a pregnancy test. If it’s positive, it’s a new schedule of testing; if it’s negative, it’s right back to Day One. 

Hurry up and wait

While the frequent appointments make the monthly process of trying to conceive feel like you’re riding a merry-go-round, it’s one that is mired in tons of waiting. Waiting for bloodwork results, waiting for return phone calls, waiting for the all-powerful pregnancy test results, even waiting to be called back to see the doctor. With waiting, comes uncertainty — and with uncertainty, comes anxiety.

Ashlee and I were pretty familiar with the emotional upheaval of the process from her time at bat and decided to again lean on one approach that we grasped for to reduce anxiety: repetitive superstitions. When Ashlee was trying to get pregnant, we unwittingly developed a series of routines in the first month that we carried through as a way to feel like we had some control over an outcome we knew was entirely out of our control. So this time around, we resurrected them. 

The morning of each insemination, we both donned our striped Harry Potter socks for luck and took a picture before I left (she can’t come to any of my appointments because, well, COVID). I brought home the empty sperm vial with me and sat it in a place of honor in our bedroom (unfortunately, not out of Jackson’s prying hands more than once!). When Ashlee was trying, we would head right from the insemination to lunch or dinner at IHOP (it just so happened to be the closest restaurant to the hospital!); we modified that plan to take-out at night. In the week after, I, like Ashlee before me, precisely cut the core of a pineapple into equal parts and ate a few each morning when I woke up, as that chewy substance is supposedly believed to help implantation. 

I also developed my own routines. Before each insemination, I kissed a necklace Ashlee made for me with Jackson’s baby handprint on it. At the start of each monthly cycle, I would park in a new spot in the fertility center’s lot and only change it up after that month was a failure. I would even switch face masks month to month, discarding the ones I deemed to not have brought me luck. 

Our first try was Feb. 11, with a negative test two weeks later and another insemination March 11 (and subsequent negative test). We headed into month three in low spirits; weeks upon weeks of waiting and getting our hopes dashed, followed by more of the same, was taking its toll. In April, I had my first appointment of the month and dove into the process again, only to find out Jackson was exposed to COVID at daycare — meaning I had to cancel my next fertility appointment and that month’s try since my COVID test hadn’t returned yet. In hindsight, that was a blessing, as it gave me some time to step off that merry-go-round briefly, which let me see how much the anxiety was affecting me. 

The good news

Knowing that stress and anxiety can be impediments to getting pregnant, I spent April and May investing as much as I could in self-care (and serendipitously was also able to get the COVID vaccine in that window!). I resumed my running routine, started taking epsom salt baths, forced myself to bed earlier, scheduled acupuncture sessions and started eating and drinking (or, not drinking!) like someone who was already awaiting a pregnancy test (in part to help that transition after the next insemination not feel so abrupt and temporary). 

When the next insemination came May 7, we dispensed with many of our silly superstitions, opting to view each month’s attempt as one unique step closer to success rather than a perpetual Groundhog’s Day (and they hadn’t worked anyway!). We scrapped our morning picture, I wore a different necklace, Ashlee and I decided this time she wouldn’t bother FaceTiming in for the procedure like she had before and I said no thank you to bringing the vial home. We did still opt for IHOP because I just really like an excuse to eat an omelette, though we went with a different location! 

As it turns out, my process was very similar to Ashlee’s in the end: Two months of negatives, one month that had to be skipped and then, finally, a success on the third try. My bloodwork appointment for the pregnancy test was at 7 a.m. on a Friday and I spent the entirety of that day (thankfully, Jackson was at daycare) laboring unsuccessfully through work, checking to make sure the volume on my phone didn’t accidentally get turned off every few minutes. When the nurse finally called (seven hours later!), I could tell immediately it was good news by her voice and I couldn’t stop the flow of tears. It was joy, relief, terror and even more joy all rolled into one, feelings mirrored in Ashlee’s face when she got home from work and I held up a “Promoted to Big Brother” shirt I had preemptively gotten for Jackson a few months previously. 

There are how many?

It took a few days for the reality that I was pregnant to settle in. We both kept walking around the house saying, “I still don’t believe this” — almost like we hadn’t actually been trying to get pregnant for months! To reinforce reality, we started planning — I made a list of all the things we’d need to do each trimester and we started making lists of possible names and got researching for big boy beds for Jackson’s eventual move into our bigger, spare bedroom. Then, life decided it was time for a curveball. 

I had my first pregnancy ultrasound June 3. As the fuzzy, black and white pictures came up on the screen, I heard the physician’s assistant doing the scan say, “Hmm, OK.” She told me there were three gestational sacs and summoned in the doctor to “see if he also saw” what she was seeing. That’s when I started to panic. “Three sacs… does that mean three babies?!” My head was whirring in the two-minute wait for the doctor. Again, that annoying, “Hmm, OK.” He started with the good news — showing me there was a yolk sac in one of the fuzzy circles on the screen, which I knew was the good, first step to an embryo. My panic finally rose into tears and prompted me to stammer, “Is there more than one?” The doctor said the other two were likely “pseudosacs” that wouldn’t develop into anything — though snickering, again annoyingly, “Sometimes they fool us!” Avoiding any words like “twins” or “triplets,” he assured me they would keep “monitoring the situation.”

So, when I came back one week later, it was with a ton of trepidation. Those three little circles popped up on the screen again, though this time the PA found a yolk sac and embryo, both with perfect heartbeats, in two of them, nodding hesitantly that, yes, it’s looking like two babies. The medical assistant was holding a box of tissues, ready to throw it my way should the tears start again.

I held it in there but headed to the car and cried like I haven’t in years. After this last year, I was sick of curveballs. We didn’t sign up for twins; though we had for years joked that I would be the one to have twins, we kept that up just to try to fool the universe — twins just weren’t in our life plan. As I tried looking at the ultrasound pictures through my hysterics, my brain started going a million miles an hour. Those little dots were two cribs, two kids up all night alternately, juggling two infants and a preschooler and a dog on a walk. They symbolized that we needed to buy a minivan and we needed to move and I needed a higher-paying job. They meant double the dishes, double the wash, double the diapers, double the formula, double the daycare tuition, double the college tuition, double the weddings… in short, I went down the rabbit hole quick! 

Ashlee arrived home that night with a Post-It note-written speech she had prepared: detailing the people we know who have twins and aren’t in a mental health facility, the ways we can save money, the benefits of having a bigger family. I tried raising objections to each and she, thankfully, had answers prepared. Over the coming days, we would do this for one another frequently, as our feelings of doom and gloom and cautious optimism seemed to flow at alternate times. 

In the past few weeks, we got to hear the heartbeats several more times, even saw two little pairs of arms and legs waving. The doctors joked that we’re going to have one chill baby and one “showman,” as one spent a scan sleeping and the other seemingly dancing. We made a tentative (let’s get real, it’ll change a million times) plan for work and daycare and started online yard sale shopping for an obscene number of infant car seats for each of our cars. We designed a T-shirt for Jackson to wear to share the news with family and friends, getting caught up in the excitement of envisioning their faces when we turned him around to show the “Oh, and it’s twins!” declaration on the back.

And our loved ones didn’t disappoint: The squeals, screams and dropped jaws were hilarious and provided the levity we were craving. As we’ve rolled out the news since, we’ve felt nothing but love and support, which has bolstered our confidence in our ability to handle this curveball-laden new adventure. If nearly three years with Jackson have taught us anything, it’s that the unexpected is the only guarantee in parenting — and sometimes it’s the experiences that you don’t prepare for, plan for and anticipate that are where the true beauty of raising a child (or children!) lies.