Two and a Half Miracles

Two and a Half Miracles

From Chicken Soup for the Latter-day Saint Soul

Two and a Half Miracles

. . . They had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.

Alma 56:47

“Can you do it?” My Relief Society president leaned over her kitchen table and gripped my hand tightly. “It would be a great service, and Alexa absolutely needs it.”

I knew that. I probably knew it better than anyone. My mind flashed back to the first time Alexa and I had met. Sitting on my couch and clasping her husband’s hand, she wore the same tense look and fake smile I had on my face—the one we’d both gotten from crying too much and then trying to pretend that we hadn’t. She and her husband stayed with us for hours as we talked and tried, again, to hold back the tears. At the end, she stood to hug me and our large, round bellies bumped together. It made us laugh, despite everything. It was a gift only we could give each other.

Our bond was immediate, if a little unusual. She was carrying identical twin boys, recently diagnosed with twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS). My husband, Jason, and I had recently learned that the daughter I was carrying had Turner’s syndrome. Their babies had a 40 percent chance of survival; our baby had only a 10 percent chance, at best. The doctors had told both of us to prepare ourselves for the death of our babies.

Over the next month, Alexa and I ate lunch (and lost it), walked, shopped and prayed together. Over the next thirty days we shared in their elation as Alexa received a priesthood blessing, and the TTTS entirely disappeared by her next doctor’s checkup. “It’s a miracle,” her doctor had said. “In all my years of practice, I’ve never seen this happen before. You are very blessed.” Alexa squeezed my hand and whispered, “It will happen for you, too. I know it. Today we will have three miracles.” I squeezed her hand back, and for the first time since I’d heard the words Turner’s syndrome, I had real hope. She had her miracle; surely I would have mine, too.

But my daughter’s tenure on this Earth was to be a short one, and after one final farewell kick, she stopped moving. I knew she was gone, but I still wanted to hope. I waited until the next day to have my fear confirmed by ultrasound. My doctor scheduled an induction for the next morning; finally, I would hold my little girl for the first and last time.

That was September 11, 2001. My daughter’s birth was postponed by the crashing of two jets into the Twin Towers. The entire country mourned—and I cried for every mother who, just like me, had lost her baby that day.

The birth. The few hours with Faith Carina. The funeral. The visitors. It all went by in a haze of breathless sorrow. I wasn’t sure if I could live, but every morning I woke up and stared at the ceiling and made the decision to breathe. Just one more time. I wasn’t sure if I could do it. What the Relief Society president was now asking me to do seemed an insurmountable task, the final straw that would break my aching heart.

Alexa was on complete and total bed rest, her twins in jeopardy one more time. I was still on maternity leave from my job as a teacher. It made perfect sense for me to take care of her, right? I swallowed, my eyes filling with tears as I looked at the earnest face of Sister Johnson. I knew she wouldn’t be asking if she didn’t think I could do it—but to ask a woman who had just lost a baby to care for a pregnant woman who may or may not lose her babies, too, seemed almost unreal.

What if the babies died? Would it be my fault? What if the babies lived? Suddenly I could sympathize with the woman at the beginning of the story of Wise King Solomon—the one no one ever talks about except in terms of evil. All of a sudden I knew why that nameless woman had taken another woman’s baby—it was because she couldn’t bear the horror of waking up with empty arms.

“I can’t even imagine how hard this must be for you, sweetie,” Sister Johnson said, stroking my cold hand. “And please say no if you think it is too much. It’s just that your name kept returning to my mind as I prayed about this.”

Divine inspiration. Well, what could I say to that? “I can do it,” I whispered. But I didn’t believe myself.

The first day I showed up on her doorstep was awkward. We stared at each other, remembering the last time we spoke—which, of course, was at my daughter’s funeral.

“How are you?”

“Oh, fine—and you?”

“Oh, fine.”

We were both lying. I could see the fear in her eyes. I was what she was afraid of becoming. She could see the fear in my eyes, too. She represented everything I wanted—to still be pregnant, still be fighting for my baby.

She let me in and lay down on the couch on her left side, just like she was supposed to. I did her dishes, cooked her meals, brought her endless bottles of water. We watched TV, each other and the large wooden clock. At last her husband came home from work and I was free to go—go home to my husband and the little memory box tied shut with a green ribbon, too small to contain every earthly thing of a real human being.

Thankfully it got better. We were friends once, and we were once again friends. Giggling over gigantic protein shakes, we watched the babies kick and squirm and grow, both of us more proud than we could express of their obvious health. I folded laundry as we talked about our mothers. I drove her to her doctor’s appointments as we compared high school boyfriends. For a month, I held her hair as she threw up, caught her when she fainted and fed her Tums every few minutes.

Then one day, it happened: I woke up, excited to go to Alexa’s. I realized that while my baby didn’t need me anymore, I was still needed. I remembered, with some surprise, that Alexa was living, her babies were living and yes, I was still living, too. The days began to fly. I tried out new recipes to fatten her up (which she promptly threw up), we made crafts (which we hung up in the babies’ room), and we talked and talked and talked. Finally we talked about Faith. She listened and asked questions. I smiled as I shared my precious few memories.

And then the one day I was not with her—not by my own choice, but because my husband needed his wife back for a day—the twins were born by emergency C-section, eight weeks early. As soon as I heard the news, I panicked. At barely two pounds each, surely they were too tiny to survive! What if I didn’t see them before they died? What if I never got to see a living baby? I cried and begged my husband to drive me to the hospital.

“Our babies might die!” I wailed.

“It’s going to be all right,” he consoled me, his face white. I am sure he was wondering how he would fix me if this broke me.

By the time I made it to the NICU, to the teeny little incubators that housed their miniscule bodies, I was sure of it. They were dead. I braced myself for what I would see, afraid to look and afraid not to.

“You can hold them if you want.” Alexa was standing by my side, hunched uncomfortably over her stapled wound. “Only immediate family is allowed, but I told them you’re my sister.” She smiled painfully at me. “You are the only person besides Carl and I that are on the list.”

It was a privilege, an honor. I knew it. And yet I was afraid. She took out one (which one?), wrapped up tight like a burrito, and placed the whole tiny package in my arms, snaking the wires that were monitoring every sign of life around the chair. Then she stepped back and closed the curtain, leaving the two of us alone. He didn’t stir, didn’t open his eyes or coo. He was far too young. But he was alive. I could see it pulsing in his translucent skin, vibrating in his sealed eyelids, grasped tightly in his curled fists. “Hold onto it,” I whispered, “for every minute is precious.” I cried with relief. I realized I got my miracle after all.

I stand on Alexa’s doorstep once again. It is a year later, to the very day. The twins’ first birthday. They sit, wide-eyed and serious, watching the revelry around them. They cannot know, of course, what a momentous day this is for all of us, how hard so many people—not least of all, their mother—worked to get them to this party. I set my newborn son, Samuel, down in front of them.

“Hi boys. This is Sam. Sam, these are the boys. Be good friends with them, because they helped save my life.” The twins smile at Sam as if they recognize him. Divine inspiration. What can you say to that?

Charlotte Andersen

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