Now to Love
"All I've ever wanted is to have children, so there's really no point in us seeing each other unless you want the same," I told my date Richard. We'd known each other for years after meeting through friends, but we had only just started dating. So far, the conversation had flowed easily, and being with Richard felt right. But I had to be honest with him about what I wanted because my biological clock was now ticking so loudly it was almost deafening. I'd already decided to find a sperm donor and go at it alone if I was still single in two years' time. Thankfully, my honesty didn't seem to put Richard off.
"It's OK, I want kids, too," he said. So we carried on dating and when we'd been together a year, Richard moved in and we started trying. When my period arrived a month later, I burst into tears. I thought that now that we had decided to have a baby, it would just happen. Then, after another 10 months, I took a test and it was positive. I was so excited, but a week later I started bleeding. I assumed it was a miscarriage, but at the hospital they said the test had been a false positive — I hadn't even been pregnant. "We need help," I told Richard.
Our general practioner referred us to a fertility specialist who put us on the waiting list for IVF. While we waited and waited for an appointment, we kept trying, but it was all-consuming. I had kits to test when I was ovulating and tried to plan around it, but nothing happened. The stress was making us both a bit anxious. "I can't just do it," Richard said one day, when I told him we had to have sex because I was at my most fertile. "But we have to," I replied.
Six months later, we had our first round of IVF and I got pregnant. But at nine weeks I started to bleed; a scan revealed that the baby's heart had stopped. I was so devastated, and I just couldn't face waiting for it to pass out naturally.
I went back to the hospital a few days later to have it removed surgically. After that, I struggled to pick myself up again. All around me people were getting pregnant and having beautiful babies. It felt like a constant reminder of my own failure.
But Richard and I had decided to get married, so I focused on planning our wedding. Back home, after an amazing honeymoon, we had a second round of IVF. It failed again, but we were left with two frozen embryos.
I couldn't face trying another round right away. Then a friend from work gave me a self-help book called The Secret. Its message was that if you think positively about what you want, you'll get it. By the time we started our next round of IVF, I had given myself a mantra. "I will have twins," I told myself over and over. I didn't allow myself to think anything else. I'd tell anyone who would listen that that was what would happen, no doubt about it.
Shortly after, two embryos were implanted. I did a test two weeks later. I felt so tired and sick that I knew before I even looked at the stick what the result was going to be."It's positive! I'm pregnant again," I told Richard. And at an early scan, I discovered my mantra had worked. "It's twins," the sonographer said. I looked at Richard and grinned. "I told you," I said, and he laughed.
I was now 42, so my pregnancy was already considered high-risk. Expecting twins only increased the chance of problems, but I was determined that nothing would go wrong. I was going to carry these babies as near to full term as I could, and they were going to be just fine. Even finding out at 12 weeks that there was a one-in-eight chance that twin number two had Down syndrome didn't worry me.
We were offered a test to confirm the diagnosis. The doctor told us we would then have the option to abort the baby if it was positive. But the test carried a risk of miscarriage, and whatever the outcome, there was no way we'd ever consider a termination. "I've waited six years to get to this point," I said. "We'll deal with whatever happens."
After reading up about Down syndrome, we knew there was a chance the baby could have heart problems. But a detailed scan at 16 weeks revealed both our babies had perfectly healthy hearts. We also discovered twin one was a girl and twin two was a boy. "One of each, that's perfect," I said.
As the pregnancy progressed, the doctor told us twin two (the boy) was pushing down on twin one (the girl), and there was a real risk that I'd go into labor prematurely. He also seemed to be having problems processing fluid. Every time I went for a scan or a check-up, the doctor would ask, "Are you happy to continue with the pregnancy?" I got so sick of it that in the end I said, "Can you just put it on my notes that I'm not getting rid of this baby?"
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Carrying twins was exhausting and uncomfortable. I managed to keep working until I was 34 weeks pregnant, but two days later, I was admitted to hospital to be monitored. A week later, doctors decided the babies needed to come out and I was taken for a cesarean section. Seeing two little incubators with all the equipment ready and waiting for them, I broke down in tears. Richard tried, but he couldn't console me. I just desperately wanted them both to be OK.
Our baby girl Jessica arrived first, weighing 4.8 pounds; Jack arrived a minute later, weighing 6.6 pounds. They both needed a bit of oxygen to get them going, but they were fine.
Jessica was put on my chest right away, but Jack was taken away for a few minutes first. When they finally handed him to me, I could see that he had Down syndrome — but it didn't matter one bit. They were both beautiful and they were mine. They spent their first few days in the special care baby unit.
I suffered from eclampsia, too, so we were all kept in the hospital for a week. During that time, Jack's diagnosis of Down syndrome was officially confirmed. "I'm so sorry," the nurse said. "We have two beautiful, healthy babies who we've waited six years for, so there's nothing to be sorry about," I replied.
When it was time to take the twins home, I panicked. How would we cope without the nurses and midwives around to help us? But while it was hard work, we soon settled into a routine. It was clear from the start that the two of them had a strong bond. And while Jessica was always ahead of her brother in her development, it didn't matter.
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The twins are two years old now, and they're the most adorable little duo. Jessica is a real chatterbox and she's funny, too. She makes Jack laugh a lot. Jack isn't talking properly yet, but he's very strong-willed and knows his own mind. At day care, Jessica looks out for him. "Where's my Jack?" she says.
When it comes to Jack's Down syndrome, the only problem we've encountered is dealing with other people's ignorance. "If they're twins, how come they haven't both got Down syndrome?" one mom asked. "I've always wanted a baby with Down syndrome," another told me. "They're always so happy." She'd change her mind if she saw Jack throwing a tantrum about wearing his glasses, I thought.
Though my little boy has Down syndrome, he's certainly not defined by it. To us, he's just our gorgeous, stubborn Jack, who takes a little longer to do things than other kids. Looking back, I can't believe how many times doctors asked me to consider getting rid of him. I know everyone's got their decision to make and some might feel they can't cope with a child who's different, but we're all different. That's what makes the world interesting. I can't imagine my life without Jack and Jessica. They're my whole world now. I waited years for them to come along, and they were most definitely worth the wait.
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This essay was originally written by Manda Grover. For more, check out our sister site, Now to Love.