18 is a loaded number.
In Canada, the world opens up to a teenager when they turn 18 and are deemed a legal adult. Here are but a few things that can now happen:
- join the military
- get a tattoo without parental consent
- change their name
- sign a contract
- get married without parental consent
- be responsible for own health care
- apply for credit
- buy porn
- move out of a parent’s home
Last week my twins turned 18 and none of those things will likely happen for them at 18 or likely later in life either.
Eighteen years plus thirty-four weeks ago, I found out I was expecting my second child. Two weeks after that, an ultrasound revealed I was expecting my second, plus a third. I will never, EVER forget the fear and shock that I experienced lying on the ultrasound table, looking at the screen that showed what looked like two little turtles in two big black circles. We hadn’t planned for the second and we definitely never dreamt there could be two at once. Jake had not yet even turned a year old, I hadn’t even completed my maternity leave and we were gobsmacked.
But the fear turned to mounting excitement with each family member and friend we shared the news with. Just imagine.. we’ll have three kids under the age of two in less than a year. How amazing and miraculous was that?! We hadn’t yet started calculating the costs or figured out how we could all fit in our tiny townhouse. A few months before, we had lent out a hand to good friends with a small toddler of their own and let them move in with us and we were bursting at the seams as it was. Our youth was probably our saving grace, because we were naive to all of the ways plans could go awry.
My pregnancy moved forward with some bumps. I had just been bought out from my previous job and had taken a package, thinking I had the time to look for new employment, but now realized I’d have to find a job while newly pregnant and would have to tell them I’d be leaving for a mat leave. Who would want me? Fortunately, I landed a decent job that provided me the hours needed to get another paid maternity leave. Grateful once again to live in Canada, where this is possible. I was prepared for a high-risk pregnancy that fortunately, never amounted to any emergency drama, and I was able to work right up until the end.
I learned at my five-month ultrasound that we would be having two more boys when the technician started humming the theme song from the show ‘My Three Sons’. I burst into tears and she panicked “I’m so sorry, I thought you’d be happy to know you were having twin boys!” With great relief, I laughed because I had thought she was telling me that I was having TRIPLETS. It was around this same time that I was feeling movements and the fluttering turned into rolls and jabs and kicks. A few weeks later and I could distinguish between one baby and the other. Baby A and Baby B started to have distinct personalities and I could feel that one felt like he was auditioning for Cirque de Soleil, while the other felt a bit more like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh.
Once we got into the safe zone where we felt comfortable that we would be carrying healthy babies, we started dreaming out loud. We would joke that my ex was getting most of his hockey line if he played too and imagined that they would all play football (soccer) or rugby, just like their dad. We were thrilled that big brother Jake would have two friends so close in age. It was a dream come true.
My pregnancy was pretty healthy and uneventful until the third trimester when stress and a virus planted two separate wallops on me. I was just weeks away from my due date when my dad had his second heart attack and went in for a ‘routine’ procedure to have cardiac stents inserted. While I waited with my enormous belly full of babies, with my step-mother Jo and my sister, Steph in the waiting room, we watched the clock tick by as all the patients who had gone in after my dad, came out one at a time and we realized Dad was way overdue. We were met with a team of doctors and hospital lawyers, who told us an error had occurred, the catheter had become stuck in an artery and it broke off and was left inside when they tried to remove it. We would have to go in and say our goodbyes in case my dad didn’t make it through the emergency surgery they were going to have to perform to fix this. One look at my belly and I’m sure the doctors were mentally preparing for an emergency delivery as well, knowing stress was the last thing a pregnant woman was supposed to deal with so close to her due date. Dad survived the surgery, we survived the ordeal and I inched closer to my due date. But then came the Norwalk virus. I had never been so sick in my life and my very active babies became very still. Dehydration caused more great stress, as I thought I had lost them both for sure. The sense of responsibility and guilt I felt was present even then and it’s a feeling that has stayed with me ever since. But we survived.
Bringing us to their birth date in 2003.
I had an induced labour and the delivery had its share of drama, perhaps a foreshadowing of what was to come. Owen arrived first – calm and cool and physically appearing like the wise old soul he still is now. He was handed off to his dad while the room prepared for ‘Baby B’, who was already proving to enjoy keeping everyone on their toes. The room was filled with extra doctors, a kidney specialist (we had signs during previous ultrasounds that Owen might have an issue with one of his), lots of nurses and my OB-GYN. I also had a midwife – I had lucked out and just happened to have her support through my whole pregnancy as she was training with my OB. It was a unique experience and she was extraordinarily excited to be ‘on the job’ because high-risk pregnancies and multiple births were not usually cases that a midwife would be a part of. Having her by my side made a chaotic experience a lot calmer and it turned out I needed that.
I read somewhere that the interval between the birth of the first and second twins should be preferably within 15 minutes, but this was Will we were talking about. He was breech, or in other words, he was planning to come out feet first. After 45 minutes or so of the doctors unsuccessfully trying to physically manipulate Will to turn around to come out head first, my OB broke the news, “we’re going to have to prep you for an emergency c-section.” NO EFFING WAY! I had just spent the day labouring. Had just spent hours pushing and delivered one baby the good ole fashioned way. Now, I was going to have to have a surgery on top of all that and then have to recover from a c-section with three babies to take care of?!!! I lucked out when my doc was informed that all the OR’s were in use and there was no available anesthesiologist. He made the decision that we would take the risk and deliver Will breech. Gulp.
I’ll skip the details but will just say it wasn’t fun. But it WAS funny. True to his personality, Will made a statement. Before he was even fully ‘out’ into the world, with all of those nurses and docs leaned in and peering far too closely for my liking, I just remember seeing them all lean way back and retreat yelling “WHOA!” as Will peed in a giant arc, nailing a few of them. What an entry. One hour and ten minutes after his big brother Owen.
It’s at about this part of the story that I tell Owen and Will their life story and it starts with “and you came out of Mom’s tummy and what did you both do? Waaaanh! Waaaaah! Waaaanh!” and Will usually does his impression of himself as a crying baby and laughs his head off. Right before he asks if we can go to 2003: “2003 – Yes. Baby – Yes. Baby Simba. Baby Will. Yes.”
It seems Will wants a do-over of his life. Or maybe, he wants to go back to his birth so he can bear witness to it all over again, now that he has a better understanding of it.
Surprisingly, I don’t want a do-over and I don’t want to change it. Might be hard for some to believe, but it’s the truth. I have sadness for missed opportunities. Sadness that I have yet to realize many of the dreams that I believe the twins have for themselves.
But it’s not over yet. It’s only been 18 years. Despite what we were told at their diagnosis, learning doesn’t end at the age of 6. The boys ARE manageable and do not require institutionalization. They love life and they love me.
They may not get to vote, or get married, or buy their own home. But how lucky are they to not have that stress? I kid. But my success as a parent is largely attributed to my ability to always seek the joy and shift my perspective constantly. My dreams for them have had to change but we’ve found joy in the new ones.
When the boys were both diagnosed with autism, I was introduced to a piece that helped ease the anguish and shock that I felt. It’s been years since I read it and I’d like to share it again as a reminder for myself on this special birthday for my boys. Perhaps new eyes might read this and feel some healing, where life might have thrown you a curveball. I hope that its author will grant me forgiveness for posting, but I did have her permission to post on my original blog back in 2006. May it provide someone else with some peace.
Welcome To Holland
by Emily Perl Kingsley
c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this……
When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”
“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”
But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.
I’m trying my best to pay it forward by dealing hope and sharing stories & tips on caregiving and how to survive hard things. I blog a lot about single parenting my adult twin sons who both have autism, and the challenges we face in surviving the everyday challenges and planning for a future full of unknowns.