I'm not a very good judge of time or distance. When I say "not very good" I actually mean terrible and when I say terrible, I really mean that it often makes Josh wince. The Wolvog dryly told me once that my two seconds always feel like ten minutes. Because they are, little man, they are.
This post really isn't about my inability to judge time.
When the idea of a possible preterm delivery was first thrown our way, I spent the day running around, ordering baby announcements (because, you know, when your twins have stopped growing and are measuring at 2 pounds, the thing you should concern yourself with is designing your own baby announcement at a shmancy D.C. stationary store...anyone want to discuss denial with me?), ordering roller blinds, and most importantly, buying baby books.
I wanted to have the most kick-ass baby books. The kind where you recorded their birth weight and hand prints and the day they took their first step. I went to three different stores (returning to the first one for a second time) to get the books and I wrote in my journal:
It's funny, once I bought their baby books, I felt myself calm down. For some reason, it made me feel like I could go to the hospital and be content with my delivery experience. I had wanted to bring the baby books to the hospital with me, and once I had them in hand, it felt like I was somehow more prepared.I'm not sure why I felt more prepared. Perhaps I was just in the fourth stage of panic. People usually quote three stages of panic, but I see long-term panic--the type that would come from finding out that your children were no longer growing and no one could say what would happen next--as following this circuitous route:
When I wrote in my journal that I felt at peace, I believed it. I believed that I was at peace and all was fine and I had my baby books ready to go. I cycled many times through those four stages of panic, sometimes rapid cycling through them in the span of a single contraction and sometimes cycling through them over the course of several hours. I would go backwards and forwards through those four stages and keep coming back to those baby books. Did we have the baby books? Did the nurses know about the baby books? Did they know I wanted the information recorded--even their Apgars--that I wanted footprints and handprints? Not from their second day of life, but from their first day. I needed it on the first day and did they know? Did they know? Did these nurses know?
I got the handprints and footprints. The weights and lengths. The rest of the book is empty.
I don't know why I didn't fill it out. Why I kept such a detailed journal and scrapbook of the months leading up to our wedding, but didn't create one photo album of the twins. I have about seven places where I've recorded information here and there and I could reconstruct all the important milestone dates and food preferences, hence why I am creating these scrapbooks now.
I don't think it had to do with time because I've always had dozens of projects going at once. If I wanted to scrapbook, I could have found time to scrapbook. It doesn't have to do with a lack of sentimentality--I think you'd be hard-pressed to find someone more sentimental, who becomes nostalgic before something has even begun. I obviously love to write, to create records, to organize. I have tens of thousands of photographs of them, meaningful art work saved. I just haven't put these things together in a way that is usable, accessible to anyone beyond myself.
I believed that I'd plow through the books, have them finished within the next week or so. Except that two hours of work have yielded three scrapbook pages in one album. I stare at the pictures and then consult the different journals and call a few people to check details and finally write up a blurb to go under the photos. I have obviously misjudged how long this project would take. I'll be happy if I have all three books completed by the end of the summer.
I think one reason I haven't scrapbooked these images is that I have spent the entire week back at the NICU. I have gone through hundreds of photos, selecting ones that don't make me cringe and then replacing them with ones that do and then returning to ones that don't. I remember printing out some of these pictures while they were still in the NICU and defiantly showing them around, silently saying, "you have all shown me your pictures of your gorgeous babies post birth and these are the ones I get to show; the ones where they are encased in tubes and wires and you better fucking tell me that my children are gorgeous because if you don't, it will be just one more place where we were cheated."
I know, it's so petty. It so easily could have been otherwise and we are so lucky--so incredibly lucky, so fucking lucky in comparison to some of my friends now--and I feel like an ass saying this. But I wanted the pretty baby photos. We got them later on--which is why I feel like an ass writing this because anyone who didn't get the other photos later on probably wants to slap me-- but I wanted those initial gorgeous baby photos where the baby is swaddled and sleeping and cuddled close. The ones that aren't truthful to the experience at all--I mean, first days are never easy days--but I wanted those newborn pictures just like I wanted to conceive naturally or carry to term or be able to breastfeed or bring the twins home.
I have been sitting with these pictures that I haven't really looked at much in the last five years. There was a period of time where the twins liked to look at them so I saw them then, but this week was the first time in five years that I went through all of the photos rather than looking at the five or six the twins watched on a video Josh made for their first birthday. It was the first time in five years that I opened the journal I kept during that time. I've checked the one I kept during treatments numerous times but that one was buried deep in a drawer. We go back to the NICU every year for their reunion party, but it is very different to see the places void of anyone you know--just a hospital room, really--than to see photos of the twins in that space.
Doing this scrapbook means sitting with those early days, before I entered this stage of retrospect where I know how everything would shake out. We have a few light preemie issues still on hand, but for the most part, you would never guess their beginnings. It is hard for the twins to look at the pictures and believe it was them. They think the pictures are hysterical. They ask why we fed them through their nose or why they had to sleep in the incubators, but they laugh as if they don't really believe that they ever looked at that way.
And it's difficult for me to reconcile that those were our first days. To return to the emotions from that time period. There was a night when we were leaving after they had locked the front doors of the hospital and so we had to exit out the basement near the emergency room, except because I had never gone through this exit and was crying too hard to hear anyone, I thought that Josh was having me committed and that we were by the locked ward of the hospital. I remember walking through the hallway screaming, terrified that I'd be separated from the twins because I was just too damn crazy to exist as I cycled through my panic.
We got outside and true to the panic cycle, once the anxiety and sadness portions were complete and I was entering a car, not being sedated and restrained to a bed, that went into the denial that any of this was happening, the believed calm. I sat in their empty room at home and cried that night, still going through the cycle. I found a picture of me taken about an hour before I was led down the hallway. Should I include it and tell them the story of that night? Should I leave it out, rewrite history?
Looking at those pictures, reading the journals, makes me think about panic. And I am with those memories for so damn long, working so slowly as I make my way through the NICU days. I am really a terrible judge of time. I thought I'd have to look at them for a few hours. My mind has been travelling back five years for many days.
I think time does heal all wounds that we never poke again. That we never touch and allow to fade into oblivion. But anything that we continuously rub raw just by going through life, confronting our wound visually in the lives of other people or having it bumped through questions, I don't think those wounds truly heal. We can leave on a bandage for long periods of time, even forget that the wound exists. But if someone jostles the site, the wound reopens, starts bleeding profusely. Our body goes back into trauma mode for a moment, cycles through the panic quartet. I stare at the picture and I feel anxiety, then sadness, then denial that I feel anything at all, and finally believed calm. Until the next picture.
So, yes, time heals some wounds completely. But it only heals all wounds if we cocoon ourselves, never open the photo box, leaf back through the journal, remember. Barring that, I think we need to rephrase the adage.