One evening we watched Santa and his elves jump out of a plane. They landed in front of the library where we’d spent many story times. My four-year-old daughter, Wren, and two-year-old son, Sam, stood amazed as the parachutes came off and the North Pole crew made their way around the crowd.
There’s a picture of us at this event. It’s Texas, so I was just wearing a short-sleeved shirt with a light sweater. I’m smiling, and the reason is bittersweet: for the moment, I was the mother of four live children. I smiled because I was nervous and grateful and knew to try to appreciate this time, since we’d been warned from the beginning that it probably wouldn’t last.
The two babies inside me were assumed to be sharing an amniotic sac, because no membrane was visible in the multiple ultrasounds I’d undergone since finding out I was pregnant. They were thought to be the kind of twins who are one step from conjoined. Their survival rate was right around 50 percent, and at any moment they could be tying their umbilical cords together, a game that would quickly end their lives.
So on that night when Santa fell from the sky, I did the only thing I knew to do. I smiled nervously in the presence of all of my children and strolled under fake snow until we made our way to the carriage ride.
I was ten weeks pregnant.
Wren wanted to ride in the carriage, but I feared Sam would be afraid of the horses. But once we all managed to fit inside and the driver gave us blankets since the setting sun was allowing traces of cold to arrive, everyone was fine. The white horses pulled us through blocked-off streets, and Wren waved at the distracted crowd the way she’d seen Cinderella wave when leaving in her carriage with Prince Charming. Sam snuggled close to me, his favorite pastime.
I looked around and tried desperately to live in the now, the precious moment I was being offered before it popped like a bubble escaping into the sky. But my mind wandered, and the questions invaded. What would my life look like in a year when the carriage rides and the fake snow came back to town? Would I be the mother of four earth-side children? Three? The two I already had? Would the twins be born so early that they would still be in the NICU, something we knew was possible with micro preemies?
At the time, I was supposed to be hospitalized at 24 weeks to monitor the twins’ progress so they could be taken early if they started tangling their cords. With that reality came another rush of questions: How could I be away from my other two children for so long? Lose putting them to bed and feeding them breakfast? What would I miss? Would it end the way we hoped it would end, with me bringing home two more siblings for them? How would Wren and Sam view me a year from now, the mother who had been mostly absent for more than two months? Would my words, I would have done it for both of you because I was the only one who could, be enough?
My eyes caught my husband’s, and I knew we were dwelling on similar thoughts. It’s incongruous to live in a moment of pure beauty while aching in inner pain.
A year later I sat in a recliner nursing two little girls as the carriages rounded the downtown square without us. Two weeks after that carriage ride, my husband and I found out that there was a membrane separating our girls. It was flimsy and difficult to locate during sonograms, but it was there. Its presence lowered the risk of complications and ended the need for a long hospital stay leading up to the birth. The twins, Asher and Eowyn, never even saw the inside of a NICU, instead requiring forcible eviction at 37 weeks.
This year the girls are three, and they have still never ridden in the carriage since their in-utero adventure during the first trimester. Part of me thinks we need to go, to show them the fake snow and falling Santa, to let them experience the feeling of standing next to a horse four times their size. Another part of me resists.
If we return to the carriage, as much as I will feel a release—a gratefulness that our return is better than I ever hoped—I am also certain I will slip into the emotions that held me then, because they are still real. I still don’t know where we will be a year from now, a day from now.
It’s the valleys in life that bring that realization into crystal-clear focus, but it’s true whether I acknowledge it every day or not. It’s why some people say parenting isn’t a life of happiness but rather a life of love, and parents’ love for their children is so great that it threatens to obliterate happiness because now we fully realize what can be lost.
But I’m happy and aware, for the most part able to live in the moment while still understanding that a slight shift holds the potential to reshuffle the cards. What if is not a question I ask often. I’m enthralled with the question of whether we should try to re-enter the snow globe, that captured piece of existence, or let it remain uninterrupted as a reminder of what to cherish. I have no answer.