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  • Six months into the pregnancy they called Deborah in for an ultrasound to check on the twins-to-be. The news was grim. It was something called a “twin-to-twin” transfusion. They said it happened when two fetuses were sharing a single placenta and there was an imbalance in how much nutrition each was getting. One was getting too much and it could overload his tiny heart; the other wasn’t getting enough and he could “starve” (their word, not mine). I had the picture of sharing a malted with two straws…..a preview of all the arguments we’d endure about sharing throughout their childhood.

    Deborah was to go in to the hospital every other day for a stress test and on the day they deemed it too dangerous to continue the pregnancy, they would take the boys out. Meanwhile, she was to take steroids to generate a quicker development of essential organs, especially their lungs.

    This whole parenting thing, let alone twins with an in-utero sharing challenge, was a premature surprise. We’d agreed to wait a few more years. Deborah was working with heroin addicts in a rehab center and I was making a documentary about them – both of us in grad school. She was 31 and I was 30. I just wasn't ready to transition into parenthood, nor did I think I'd be any good at it, especially if we ended up with a son. Father-son dynamics were not my forte.
    A few weeks later my beeper sounded while I was working - delivering balloon bouquets in the company’s van. I was summoned to the hospital and got there just as they were wheeling Deborah in for an epidural. She was in her usual good spirits and I watched them wipe iodine on her back and turned away as they inserted a long needle. There were eight docs and residents in the little room including teams of three awaiting each boy.

    I stood alongside the operating table, a nurse standing next to me. The doctor reached into Deborah’s stomach and pulled one boy out. He looked more reptilian or birdlike than human. The nurse exclaimed “how tiny!” as he was immediately handed off to one of the teams. The doctor reached back in and pulled out the second who was half the size of the first. This two-pound half-baked baby was handed to the other team, and the doctor reached in to Deborah once again. This time she pulled out a wet red placenta – the size of a basketball.

    Deborah and I exchanged a look I’ll never forget. It was a doubtful quarter-smile tinged with failure and worry – wondering what we’d done. I ran over to one of the teams, trying to see between quickly moving arms and shoulders and report back to Deborah. They were connecting tubes to his tiny foot, navel, and arm, with needles covered over by gauzy tape. I called over my report to Deborah. The room’s dimensions were trippy…..Deborah was lying so far away that my voice had to be loud…and yet everything was so cramped like a pet shop birdcage full of fluttering parakeets. I ran to the other team and saw a similar set of tubes getting pricked into the other infant boy.

    In minutes, the commotion was finished and the boys were wheeled out to the special care nursery in the Children’s Hospital the next building over. Deborah was put into a wheel chair bound for a recovery room and sleep. She told me to go be with the boys.

    A nurse showed me where each of our boys were positioned among the two long rows of metal units on wheels, each one lying atop of a one-inch thick waterbed on a metal tray-top, beeping monitors attending each unit, and most of them occupied by half-baked fetuses like ours. The boys were in opposite rows but not very far apart. What the nurse did next enabled me to start fathering the boys.

    She told me emphatically how beautiful each of them looked. She said that with the technology they had that they would graduate the special care nursery with flying colors. She then picked up the smaller one, tubes and all, and put him in my hands. He fit easily in the palm of one hand. She said that holding and talking to them was the best medicine.

    Those ten minutes of instruction instilled as much learning as any class I’d ever taken. I could look fully into each of the boys’ faces and see a universe of beauty, if not yet two handsome bucks. They could see me too. Over the next 72 hours, whenever I was the only parent in the room, I would sing to them, alternating between one and the other every half hour. For some unknown reason, the song that trickled out over and over was Simon and Garfunkel’s, “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream….” maybe my first bedtime version of “…and they all lived happily ever after.”

    At one point, I drove back to our apartment and took some speed to keep myself going. A few times I walked to Deborah’s room at the Brigham’s Hospital to give her glowing updates. Once she was wheeled over to the special care nursery to see and hold her twins. She was busy healing from the caesarian and expressing milk for the boys to drink from rubber nipples that were easier to suck than human ones. In 72 hours Deborah was released. Alex graduated in 2.5 weeks. Zac came home to share a crib with Alex after 2.5 months.

    Something changed forever in those hours at the special care nursery nearly thirty years ago. There was no need to think – the amazing nurses would take care of that. There was only the imperative to be present and love these two little beings. It wasn’t that I suddenly saw how they were mine; really it was the opposite. They were two little miracles dropped into our lives by an inscrutable, numinous cosmos. They had no connections to anyone else on the planet but Deborah and I. They needed my help in this very first phase of their lives and what a blessing it was to be their provider from the very first page of their new lives. In that long room with all beeping monitors and wrinkly wise tiny baby faces, a new dimension of myself was born. I would never again question being a Dad.
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