“You don’t deserve your babies! If I had twins I would be sooooo happy and never complain about anything in my life again!”
Such is the general response to the parents who posted this article about their less-than-thrilled response to the news that they were having twins.
After going through the emotional rollercoaster of fertility treatments and disappointments for two years, the couple transferred 2 embryos via IVF, and both of them implanted. Congratulations! You’re having twins! You should be twice as excited!
Well, these parents weren’t. Twins are becoming more common, and consequently horror stories about the perils and tragedies of twin pregnancies and the difficulties of twinfancy are correspondingly more common. These parents had been exposed to this information, yet had reluctantly transferred two embryos because their window of opportunity was running out, and their chance of conceiving and delivering twins was slim. They took a calculated risk, and got a result other than the one they were hoping for. Among the cocktail of emotions they’re experiencing is “guilt” for having taken that risk even if it was a reasonable and rational choice in their situation.
I feel really torn here, especially since the public outcry against the parents is so vitriolic. ”Selfish!” ”Ungrateful!” ”Unworthy!” the mob cries.
I sympathize with both sides. As someone who experienced the heartache of miscarriages and who knows the desperation of wanting a child you can’t have, I can see how the couple’s emotions could be deeply insulting to those struggling to have children. I get it. I remember sitting in church after having a miscarriage listening to no less than 6 people in a row share their pregnancy and birth announcements and thinking “Shut your smug, insensitive, stupid faces! Can’t you see you’re hurting me?” So yeah, I sympathize with those who find the couple’s unenthusiasm over twins offensive. I also remember vowing if I could just deliver one more baby without my blood clotting disorder destroying all my hopes, that I would be 100% perfectly happy and content for the rest of my life!
Of course, I overpromised. It’s easy to think you would be “nothing but delighted and grateful every second of every day” if it happened to you. But when reality sets in, you may not have the superhuman patience and longsuffering you swore the act of delivering twins would imbue you with. The anger toward the couple reminds me of the stigma we used to place on mothers who experienced post-partum depression. ”This is a blessing. You’re supposed to be happy. You don’t have the right to feel stressed, overwhelmed and sad because you got what you wanted.” Haven’t we progressed beyond that mindset yet?
I actually think the two sides of this heated argument have a lot in common. We share this common dream of leisurely rocking a docile, snuggly baby in the cushy nursery chair and dandling a giggly bundle of joy on our knee. Whenever that idyllic dream is taken from us, either through fertility struggles or through the news that the whole picture is going to be completely different with the addition of a second baby, the news triggers a grieving process for the lost dream.
Reading the article, my impression is that the couple are publicly going through that grieving process. Instead of the pregnancy yoga and jogging with a basketball tummy they were hoping for, they’re reconciling themselves to the high probability of months of bedrest, terrifying midnight trips to the emergency room for contractions, and extra trips to the high-risk doctors. From the time I started having contractions at 18-20 weeks, I woke up everyday with the fear that this might be the day I lose the babies.
With the wonderful news that you’re having twins, you also get the less-wonderful news that you’re at increased risk of losing both the fetuses as well as the increased risk of premature birth and spending weeks or months in the emotional hell of the NICU. And if they make it that far, your children are at increased risk of developmental and other delays as well as a host of other health problems. In the best case scenario, for years you will feel like there’s just not enough of you to go around. Sure you’ll have wonderful moments somewhat similar to what you pictured and either way, you’ll thank God and modern science morning, noon and night that you made it. But gratitude doesn’t wipe away all difficulty. No matter how much youwant a baby or even want twins, having twins is legitimately difficult. Mothers of twins are at higher risk of post-partum depression and parents of twins are more likely to divorce. That’s reality.
When my husband and I found out we were having twins, we were so shocked and overwhelmed we couldn’t even speak about it, not even to each other for about 10-11 weeks. I love my sons and I could not live without either of them, but it doesn’t make me a bad person to wish for everyone’s sake they had could have come one at a time.
It’s so hard to separate you’re own emotions (“I’m hurting because I am struggling with infertility. It feels unfair and insulting that those babies are going to them instead of me”) from telling other people how they should feel about their lot in life (“So you should be happy or at least keep your fears private.”).
But, ”If I were them, I would be totally thrilled.” Maybe you would! And maybe you wouldn’t. It’s hard to say any one thing, even a longed-for child, would make you happy. If being happy were as easy as wanting to be happy, no one would read my blog because we’d all be too busy turning cartwheels and singing “Zippidee-do-da”. Our emotional lives constantly resist black and white categorization. You can scream and cry occasionally and it doesn’t mean you’re not a happy person, just as someone can laugh at a funny joke even when they’re clinically depressed. Contentment can contain a mixture of joy, gratitude, and relief as well as disappointment, fear, anxiety, and anger.
And my final thought is that the father’s article is not so much a whine as a cry for help. He’s scared. He admits that. Sometimes that fear comes out as anger and bitterness. No matter what you think either of these camps ought to feel, the truth is both sides would stand a better chance of happiness if we greeted their emotions with understanding and support rather than invalidating them with name-calling.