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When all the days of the year get together and compare notes, the one day that’s slumped in the corner, despondent, is April 15th. Nothing good has ever happened on the 105th day of the year. Abraham Lincoln died. The Titanic sank. Notre Dame burned. And, of course, since 1955, it’s been Tax Day in America.
The only unambiguously great thing to have occurred on April 15th was Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball in 1947. Perk up, oh saddest day of the year; you’ve got that milestone in your cap!
But all that changed, at least in my family, on April 15, 2005.
My wife, Linda, and I were married in 2003. Within weeks (days?), my in-laws started calling on random evenings, hopeful: “So, are you guys busy?”
“Hey, Linda! Your parents want to know if we’re having sex.”
The following year, they got their wish—or, at least, we thought so. Linda went to the store to buy a home pregnancy test. The instructions said that if one pink strip appears, you’re not pregnant; if two pink strips appear, you are.
The first time Linda tried, she got one-and-a-half pink strips. She tried again the following day: the same result. We did a Google search for pregnancy test and half-pink strip. 557,000 entries appeared.
Finally, she went to the drug store and came back with an armful of tests. She wasn’t satisfied until she found one that said simply: PREGNANT. Then, we knew.
Then she started throwing up. Not once a day, but twice a day. Sometimes three. Unlike me, who gets food poisoning at the drop of a falafel, Linda hadn’t vomited since childhood, so the experience unnerved her. I sat on the tub and tried to comfort her. We bought saltines by the case.
At about 8 1/2 weeks, we went to see an O.B. A young woman walked in, gave us a thick folder, and patiently answered our questions. Then it was time for the sonogram. An indecipherable gray image appeared on the screen. The doctor was silent for the longest time before she said with a slight hiccup in her voice, “Well, my dear, you’re having, um, twins.” Then she added, “Disregard everything I’ve told you up to now.”
It would be safe to say that Linda and I are both talkers. But we were silent at this news. We had never contemplated having twins. Never discussed it. Twins do not run in our families; we weren’t using fertility drugs.
But we were having twins.
Or maybe not. The doctor explained that our twins appeared to be in the same sack, a potentially dangerous condition in which one fetus is likely to cannibalize the other. Within seconds we heard a chilling expression: selective reduction. Minutes later, we were in a taxi on our way to the highest floor of the city’s largest hospital to be screened by New York’s most powerful sonogram. “The joke’s on us,” Linda said. “We never do things normally!”
“By the way, which is worse?” I added. “Two of you, or two of me?”
And then we knew: We would survive only by laughing.
Within hours the sonogram had provided good news, and we had moved on to a more specialized doctor. We also began sharing the news with our families. “Linda is pregnant with monochorionic, di-amniotic, naturally conceived identical twins.” No one understood what this meant, and, in truth, neither did we. I went to the bookstore and bought a shelf full of volumes, then stayed up half the night devouring them. Most of the news was alarming, so I threw the books in the trash so Linda wouldn’t read them.
Soon we were ticking off weeks. Full-term for singletons is 40 weeks; for twins, it’s 36. At 25, Linda was put on bed rest. Linda was confined to our sofa or bed for all but the most extraordinary circumstances. Another way of describing this is house arrest.
At 36 weeks, I bought Linda a chocolate-and-peanut-butter cake and graffitied her stomach. We hastened our search for names. Neither Linda nor I much liked our names growing up—too boring, too conventional—so Linda went in the opposite direction. I was in Turkey, wading in the Euphrates River making a television series of my book Walking the Bible, when Linda proposed that one of our girls be named Eden. It sounded familiar and exotic, feminine yet strong.
We spent the next six months trying to find a match for it. As travelers, we particularly liked that Eden was a place, a paradise. One day, Linda blurted out, “What about Tybee?” A barrier island off the coast of Georgia, Tybee is a place where my family has spent summers for four generations. But the name had problems. Adding one name that is easily mispronounced—Tybee, which rhymes with my bee—to another—Feiler, which rhymes with Tyler—seemed foolhardy. Also, Tybee is the Creek Indian word for salt. Not exactly the stuff of love songs. Finally, Linda prevailed. “She’ll be interesting. She'll be able to handle it.”
At 38 weeks, we visited our doctor. Linda looked as if she was carrying a planet under her orange shirt. The radiologist explained that there was a great debate about how long to carry twins: Let them stay in as long as possible or bring them out when they’re cooked. “I’m in the latter camp,” he said, then added, with a wink, “Oooh, I see something. You’re having your babies tomorrow.”
Our hearts raced. We went for a stroll down Park Avenue, where daffodils bobbed like chicks and tulips sprouted like fistfuls of crayons.
At 8:30 AM on April 15th, Linda was induced. By noon her water had broken. By late afternoon she had gone into labor. Just after five, we proceeded into the operating room. “Push! Push! Push!” the nurses shouted as they rolled the gurney down the hall. And as they struggled with the bed, we shouted back, “Push, push, push!” We all laughed.
“Keep it down!” the chief nurse scowled. “There’s far too much laughter for a hospital.”
Linda and I looked at each other. We wanted our daughters to be born into laughter.
Inside the operating room, the atmosphere was more sober. About fifteen people were crowded into the huddle of monitors, fluorescent lights, plastic incubators, and heat lamps. Dr. Mark Gold went to work. Two heartbeats thump-thumped. For months, Twin A had been closer to the cervix, but at the last minute, Twin B pushed her sister out of the way and, at 6:14 PM, made her way into the world. She was the saltier of the two. She was Tybee Rose.
I was called over to hold her. Her skin was dark, her hair almost black. She reminded me of her mother. I began to whisper a poem into her ear. As I did, chaos erupted.
For years I’d heard friends say that the moment they first held their son or daughter was one of the highlights of their lives, like looking into the face of God. But in my case, God was distracted. Twin A was in trouble. This was the moment I learned that with twins, there is no such thing as unbifurcated emotion. You don’t get a moment with one that doesn’t have the shadow of the other.
“The heartbeat is sinking,” Dr. Gold said. “Time to scrub.”
As soon as he spoke, I realized why so many people were in the room. There was an entire surgical team prepared to give Linda a C-section. Linda had said for months that she didn’t care if her babies were delivered naturally or by Cesarean. But she was adamant that she didn’t want one of each, thus doubling her side effects and recovery time.
“No!” barked the head nurse, who was wrapped around Linda’s neck. “I think she can do it.”
And with that, Linda began to push harder. I later learned that threatening the mother of twins with a C-section is an old obstetric trick to get her to push out the second baby. Thirty-two minutes after the birth of her sister, Twin A came sliding down after her. Eden Elenor completed our family.
Linda held up two fingers and beamed. She had carried our daughters for 38 weeks and delivered them naturally within the same hour. I leaned over and touched my forehead to hers. “You did it baby,” I whispered. “Twenty fingers and twenty toes.”
I went over to hold Eden. Her skin and hair seemed fairer. She looked more like me. I whispered in her ear the same poem I had recited to her sister. By the time I returned to Linda’s side, Dr. Gold was stitching her up. Suddenly, he looked down at his watch.
“Hmmm,” he said. “Tax Day. Early Feiler and Late Feiler.”
And with that, our daughters were welcomed into their lives with a roomful of laughter.
And April 15th became the national holiday of our family.
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