Forty weeks pregnant. I am the moon. The strangers beneath my skin thrash and shift like kittens wrapped in clingfilm and strangers stare at me in horror during my daily commute. My desk in the office, prepared for a handover that should have taken place weeks ago, has reverted to its usual state of chaos and my google search history is full of worry: ‘Twins overdue, experiences.’ ‘Do all women go into labour’? A consultant has a rummage for my cervix and eventually finds it, a recalcitrant apple high and hard. Her face is pursed with worry. I spend whole evenings in the bath, the dinner plate on my belly threatening to capsize with the force of the babies’ kicks. I am the moon. I am tearful, exhausted, euphoric, serene. The world has receeded. Ten days pass, and my waters begin to seep. They are coming.
They are here. They are astonishing. They are Embla and Olympia, 5lbs 10oz and 7lbs 8oz of human, twenty fingers and twenty toes and two hearts beating like birds in a net beneath our palms. I stand in my living room on legs that are still shaking and breathe them in, these small faces, these strangers who grew beneath my skin. And I? My body is inside-out, transformed. They are the moon. I am the tide.
They grow. They are our Very Hungry Caterpillars; they are ferocious in their needs, relentless, piercing our dreams with their high-pitched demands. I curl myself around them; comforted at my breast, they nurse to sleep. I rest my face in their baby hair, tucked neatly beneath my chin.
We are one. They are separate. They are the moon. I am the tide.
I? I don’t shrink.
There are changes. My stretchmarks fade quickly from livid pink clawmarks to silvery things, like fish that ripple across my skin. My muscles tighten. Deep within, my uterus, forcefully contracted with syntoconol, continues its efforts, burrowing down into my pelvic cavity. The bleeding stops after three weeks. My breasts are like bags of rocks; they turn to liquid when brushed, when anybody is kind or when my babies cry. They gush according to my babies’ routines; as I rush to attach my breastpump in the office I know that on the other side of London, my partner is feeding my babies my milk. Back against the door in the office bathroom, the rhythmic purr of the electric breastpump almost lulls me to sleep until a knock on the door jolts me back to reality.
I am not myself.
I am the tide.
The reflection in the mirror is a distorted version of me. My finger traces the glass. This is the body that grew two sets of twins in the space of two years. Forty fingers, forty toes, four hearts and four brains. That carried four humans to term, nursed them as well as it was able.
The internet offers me slimming wraps and waist trainers, meal replacement shakes, fad diets and Weight Watchers. Groups on the internet tell me to make time for myself, to follow my babies’ cues, to establish a routine. They tell me not to be selfish, to breastfeed, to allow my partner to give my babies a bottle. They tell me that my babies need the warmth of my skin and my smell to feed safe, they tell me that if my babies sleep in my bed they will surely suffocate, they tell me that if they sleep in their own room nobody will notice as they stop breathing. The media tells me to be yummy. Nothing, nothing, teaches me how to deal with the unrelenting waves of exhaustion, with the coping strategy of pushing my whole sense of self to the back of my mind.
A friend tells me that I do not look as though I have recently given birth. “Thank you,” the words fall from my lips before my exhaustion-addled brain has caught up, before I have had a chance to wonder why ‘you don’t look as though you have recently given birth’ is considered a compliment. My friend is trying to be kind, but her words are untrue. Pregnancy, childbirth, motherhood, these have been the most psychologically transformative experiences of my adult life. My body reflects that transformation. And is that so wrong..? Back in the mirror, my babies wind their fingers through my hair, they burrow against my skin as though we are one again. The tide, the moon. I am not the shape that I was before they happened to me. I am changed.
Two sets of twins in two years. Forty fingers, forty toes, four hearts, four brains, all of those cells, those follicles, the humans that grew from the blastocysts that the scientists created using my eggs and a stranger’s sperm. Sons. Daughters. Humans.
I grew those. These people. And my heart, my life – these things are forever transformed. So as for my body?
A vow to myself: I will not pressure myself to be greater than myself. I will not idealise other women and use them as an opportunity to eviscerate myself. I will look in the mirror with fresh eyes.
Trace the stretchmarks again, the crinkled skin. Six months is an awfully short time, and the body remembers, hungers, for the days when it was the moon. The smile on my face masks the shadows beneath my eyes and when I let myself forgive myself, the joy is overwhelming. And so is the peace.
Size twelve jeans. Thighs perfect for chasing toddlers about the garden, a body that housed full-term twins twice. breasts that nourished them, sometimes, and sometimes they did not.
Me. I am the moon, I am the tide, I am their mother. And this IS my perfect body.
It made these children of mine.