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Soul Identity - Dennis Batchelder's debut novel
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my girls' first day
By Dennis Batchelder 11 December 2005

Dear Alison and Holly:

It's December 11, and it's time to tell you the story of your birth again. Since I am in India and not in Maryland, I'll tell you on paper instead of in person. The rhythms of speaking and writing are different, but I'll do my best to get it right.

Mommy and I talked about when it would be good for us to have a baby, and we planned on her getting pregnant later in the year. But then I started taking some longer business trips, and I guess that when I came home on the weekends we weren't as careful as we planned to be, and you two started growing inside of Mommy in the spring of 1991.

Only we didn't know you both were there. For the first couple months, we were thinking of one baby. Even when Mommy got into a small car accident, and she went to see the doctor to make sure you were fine, and she heard your heartbeats for the first time at seven weeks, nobody realized that you both were swimming around inside.

Only at the first sonogram did we find out. That trip downtown was rough: Mommy was still getting morning sickness. She had to drink a lot of water so her bladder would help squeeze you for the camera, and she was getting sick in the car as we drove over the bumpy D.C. roads. Finally we made it to the sonogram center, and finally we saw your images for the very first time.

And we were surprised, and we were excited, and we were totally thrilled that you both were there. As the pregnancy rolled forward, we also got pretty scared. The doctors told us you were both in a single placenta, and that there could be some potential complications, and that they would monitor Mommy closely. This got us reading a lot about twins: we learned that you were mirror twins, and the scary part was this: because you shared a single placenta and the chances were pretty good that you'd wrap your cords around each other's neck or pinch off each others' food supply, only half of all mirror twins survived until birth.

Today it doesn't seem that scary, but at the time, knowing that you only had a 50% chance of making it out of Mommy and into the world, it was hard to not be consumed with worry. Mommy and I talked a lot about the importance of enjoying the pregnancy every day, because if something terrible happened, we would still remember you and how happy we were thinking of and dreaming about and praying for you.

As your big day drew nearer, Mommy grew bigger and bigger. Having both of you in there was quite a strain: by eight months, Mommy grew from 100 to 160 pounds, and you two were all in the front. By this time we knew you were Alison and Holly and not Jonathan and Nicholas, and we even had identified you: Alison was on the bottom right, and Holly on the top left. Of course, it was pretty tight in there, and we weren't always sure whose hand or foot or shoulder was making a path across Mommy's tummy, but you stayed pretty much in your places, and we talked and stroked each of you through Mommy's skin.

The families and church threw their baby showers early, because Dr. Stoehr told us that he was going to put Mommy on bedrest soon. On the day after Thanksgiving, Mommy went to bed, and was told to stay there until you were born.

While on bed rest, Mommy was hooked up to pressure monitors on elastic belts that measured her contractions. These monitors hooked up to the phone line, so the results could be sent to the doctor's office. Mommy was taking medicine to limit her contractions, so that you'd have as much time as possible to grow strong while you were still inside. You can imagine how restless Mommy must have been – her job was to lie there, waiting. Finally on the eighth of December, Dr. Stoehr took Mommy off the medication, and we waited for you to come.

At two o'clock in the morning of the eleventh, Mommy woke me up and told me that her contractions were stronger and more frequent. She said she called the doctor, and then said the magic words: "the time has come". That woke me up, and I called Lola and Papa, grabbed the bags, and we drove out of the neighborhood, around the beltway, and into the hospital parking lot.

We got to the obstetrics ward at three in the morning. Mommy's contractions were growing stronger, and the anesthesiologist got her epidural going in less than an hour. Three monitors were wrapped around Mommy's stomach to track the contractions and your heartbeats. We waited anxiously for Dr. Stoehr to arrive and start the caesarian.

I was so scared in that room while we waited. I tried to hide it from Mommy, because I knew my job was to keep her feeling strong, but my hands were shaking as I tried to set up the video camera, and I struggled to stay calm. Connie and Louise were doing what they could to make us comfortable, but here we were eight months after finding out about you, hoping and praying that you'd make it all the way through to the end, and now all these fears went into overdrive.

The nurses wheeled Mommy into the operating room, and I put on a gown and slippers and followed her. Then Lola and Papa arrived, and they came into the room too. It was pretty crowded in there: each of you had a doctor, and Mommy had two: one for the surgery, and one for the epidural. Plus four nurses, Mommy, and Lola, Papa, and me. Twelve of us, ready to welcome you two into the world.

By six o'clock, Dr. Stoehr was ready to start. He quickly cut through the various layers of Mommy's tummy, opened the placenta (the fluid spurted out like a geyser), reached in, and pulled out Alison. We heard you cry, and then you too, Holly, forty one seconds later. I almost messed up your names there – Alison, I called you Holly for a second or so, until I remembered which sides were Mommy's right and left and corrected myself. You had a little scratch next to your eye, where the doctor's scalpel nicked you.

I walked over to the table, Holly, and cut your umbilical cord. Later I remember how twisted together your cords actually were, looking just like a tangled phone cord, and I was amazed and thankful at their toughness and tight wrapping, because that is what kept you alive: no loose bits to wrap around each others' necks, yet strong enough to not get pinched.

You were weighed and measured and footprinted. Then the nurses carried you both over to Mommy, and she cried with happiness and relief when she saw you, and we counted your fingers and toes, but we needn't have worried: you two were gorgeous and perfect right from the start. We were both so happy that you made it safely – our miracle babies.

The next few weeks flashed by. Mommy and I were learning all about you, and we showed you off to all the visitors: some of them just as proud. Auntie came to Maryland on a drama trip, and visited you that first night. Uncle Jimmy was in his first year at college right across the street, and he brought all his friends (and some girls too - including your future Auntie Becky) by to show off his twin nieces. Grandpa and Uncle Jeff drove down from Minnesota, and Grandma, who had to work a few extra days, flew in on Christmas Day, when you turned two weeks old. As the first great-grandchildren of your generation, you were showered with attention.

Now it is exactly fourteen years after your first day. You two survived your big debut, and have also survived quite a few other changes in your lives, including a brother, the new millennium, Mommy's and my divorce, two new step parents, and one new half brother. I have watched you grow and learn and blossom into two beautiful, smart, funny, kind, and caring young women. I am the proudest and the luckiest and the happiest Dad in the whole world. Happy fourteenth birthday, Alison and Holly – I love you both with all my heart.


my girls' first day - usa