When I was eight, my sister told me to sit still at the kitchen table, she’d be right back with a special surprise. Her “special surprise” turned out to be a whiffle bat strike to the head. Similar to this whiffle bat encounter, my experience with motherhood has not turned out the way I expected. No one warned me about the “special surprises” that were to come.
While I was nervous about becoming a mother, I looked forward to being pregnant. I recalled the image of the near-naked seven months along Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair, and thought “Sign me up! How hard could this be?” I’ll have fabulous hair, giant boobs, skin to match my upcoming newborn, and the sex drive of a twenty year old! With no PMS for nine months, who wouldn’t be on board?
Except that I ended up pregnant with twins. And nobody warned me that the seventy five pounds I’d gain would make my ass wider than my stomach, and my upper arms comparable to my pre-pregnancy thighs. Nor was I given a clue that fluid retention would mean my football-sized feet could wear only men’s slippers, and my eyeballs would swell so badly I could no longer read or watch TV. My husband nobly read aloud to me – his favorite book, “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” But the errant baseball to the head that kills the mother, and the Mary Magdalene statue decapitation did little to calm my pre-delivery jitters.
As far as the dewy skin prediction went, I ended up with Melasma, or the “Mask of Pregnancy.” The brown and pink splotches covering my cheeks and forehead made me look as if I had fallen face first into a giant patch of poison ivy, and then endured a discount chemical facial peel.
The only bright spot in my appearance was highlighted by a model-gorgeous Texan friend who looked from my puffy ankles to the hot-air balloon sized skirt to my blotchy face with the expression of one who has observed an impressively grotesque Halloween costume. She recovered, and then drawled, “Well, at least your hair looks gorgeous!”
While no one warned me about the surprises in the looks department, plenty of people offered other “helpful” cautionary advice.
Friends told me strangers would touch my belly and talk to the babies. But I wasn’t prepared for the ladies in the health club locker room who checked out my stomach sighing, “Motherhood is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” with a look in their eyes that said, “You won’t make it.” Or blurted, “You’ll never get your figure back,” while staring at me as I tried to paste two XL bath sheets around my middle and Sumo Wrestler waddle toward the showers.
Experienced mothers assured me that the lifelong soul-mate family friendships made in their birthing classes were the best part of being pregnant. My husband and I eagerly drove 45 minutes to a highly recommended birthing coach’s group. She shared crucial insights for the birthing process, then shook her head at me, saying, “Not for you. Twin births are risky.” Then at the end of class, a tiny barely pregnant-looking woman eyed me up and down and suggested “eight almonds” as a good portion for a healthy snack. I wanted to tell her “eight almonds” wouldn’t be enough to get me off the couch and into the kitchen for my double sausage egg and cheese breakfast sandwich, but my husband hustled me to the car. So much for the potential soul-mates.
Then I went through the delivery that resembled none of the birthing coach’s descriptions, and eventually ventured out with the babies. In Costco, women would approach me asking, “Are they twin boys?” This question I had expected. “Are they identical?” Also predictable. Then, the conversational twist I hadn’t seen coming: “Because I was married to a twin. He could NEVER let go of his brother!” They’d glare at me as if I were personally responsible for all the bad choices of every identical twin husband in the history of womankind. “I lost TWELVE YEARS of my life!” they’d roar after me as I fled for the bakery.
After all these useless warnings and unhelpful advice, I actively sought input from mothers I trusted.
I queried twin moms about breast feeding. Most said they either A) nursed both babies no problem, or B) gave it up as a bad job and stuck with formula. No one told me I’d end up with one infant who could latch on, and one who couldn’t. Nor did they mention that milk would spew from my breasts like an out of hand kitchen spray hose as I attempted to have the skilled latcher start boob one, then switch to boob two, and then attach the struggler to the first boob. (Although I suspect prior knowledge of this scenario would not have made it any more successful.)
Then my mother assured me all her children were potty trained by eighteen months, so I assumed it was easy. Yet by age three and half, my boys were still shaking their heads at M&M bribes, and sitting naked on the potty for an entire Muppets movie, then standing up and peeing all over the floor.
There were unexpected surprises on the positive side too. Twin A would wake up serenading us with songs from the Disney Cars movie, and Twin B would hide in any closet or cupboard, and burst out literally shouting “Surprise!” dozens of times a day. It was funny every time.
Eventually I stopped listening to all the advice-givers, and somehow made it to the kindergarten phase on my own. Slowly, I got back on my bike, laced up my hiking boots, and was able to wear at least some of my pre-pregnancy jeans.
When I’d had anxiety attacks about becoming a mom, about whether I could handle it, and about whether I would suck, all mothers said I’d fall in love with my babies. “You can’t help it,” they told me. After countless nights where the only comfort for a child with an ear infection was sleeping on my chest, and many images of muddy faces at the back door holding long stemmed sunflowers, I realize it’s the only thing anyone told me about motherhood that turned out to be true.