• Ginger Pennington

Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself

Before and After Botox
Before: Beaten down by life. After: Ready for the next chapter. Oh, and Botox.

This is the story of my trip to The Depths that branded my face with worry lines and changed me on a cellular level. What happened, see, was that I HAD TWINS. And I'm not blaming the sweet babies for the fact that I was starting to look like the cryptkeeper at 34; it's not their fault that as soon as they were lain on my bare chest, they became the seeds of my love, a love that grows as they do at a kudzu-like pace I could never have foreseen, covering everything, including my own needs.

The first six months especially, from July 27, 2017, until well into 2018, I cringed and sighed every time they cried. The wails (from two babies, not one, recall) that were a mere nuisance to my husband were piercing through my very soul. Taika and Aya, my little boy and girl, could not tell me what was wrong when they contorted their faces and expelled buckets of tears, and so I contorted my own face, flogging myself with my anxiety as I tried to pinpoint what it was that I could do to help them. Was it their little gassy tummies? Were they afraid of the dark? Did they need more time outside? Just to be held? Did they know they were loved? Were they not getting enough food?

That level of anxiety eased up at the half-year mark, upon my surrender to a low dose of Zoloft, as staunchly suggested by multiple twin moms further down the road than I was, plus my therapist and my doctor. This tiny pill, taken before bed, didn't change me as I'd feared, but merely blew the clouds of worry away so that I could see clearly. The blue sky had been there all along, and it was beautiful. The next impairment I focused upon was lack of sleep.

Sleeplessness is ugly---that's why it has a history of being used as a torture tactic. Beyond the grumpiness, the impossibility of eating normally, the lack of focus, and the increased anxiety, there are literal hallucinations and a general misunderstanding of reality that make relationship nearly impossible. My husband Kai and I likened ourselves to war buddies in the foxhole of infant parenting. We dedicated all our energy to Taika and Aya and work and survival, and hadn't the slightest amount of leftover fuel to feed our relationship. Being kind to each other would have been ideal, but we could barely muster civility half the time.

I double-nursed the babies right up until they turned two. Kai could often sleep through the nighttime cries, but no combination of white noise, earplugs, and headphones could keep me from waking at the slightest whimper from the little ones. I went well over a year and a half without one full night of sleep, fantasizing at times, eyelids half-mast, about suffocating my snoozing husband with a pillow. Not that that would have helped anything. He is, in fact, my largest support, despite the fact that having infants with anyone will make you think thoughts about them that are worthy of a Lifetime miniseries. I must give him his due: without adequate sleep, he's changed his life trajectory in honor of this family and has also become the most loving, involved Dad. He has even given me the gift of a weekend away here and there, to "get rest." Funny thing is, up until about a month ago, even those nights away were not met with continuous sleep, because the boulders on my chest would wake me up, begging to be drained.

But now it is all done. I'd always known that my nursing the twins would end quietly and abruptly, without me recognizing as they sipped from my body that this would be the last time. And that's how it happened. One day, I was physically sustaining them: they had never known a world in which they weren't linked corporeally to me, and like everything, that identity slipped away without fanfare, and, tether broken, we were all free to roam. I'd wanted my body back for a while. I'd wanted the hormones to level out; I'd wanted a full night's sleep. I'd wanted to stop having breastfeeding as an excuse to blame these last 15 pounds I've been carrying around since the pregnancy. I'd wanted not to have to deal with that embarrassing moment at the park where both my children ambled up to me and lifted my shirt, asking, "mimis?" But I also knew that I'd feel and perhaps mourn the loss of that connection. Bittersweet.

And this summer for me has been a huge explosion of bittersweet. Let me briefly outline what was lost in the flames, and then I'll tell you of my plan to rise from the ashes.

The last time I nursed my little ones was right after story time, before their daddy and I sang "Good Night Babies" to the tune of "Good Night Ladies" in two-part harmony and put them down for the night. I slipped out of the room and got my bag and called a Lyft to take me to the airport.

My Dad had just died. I had to go to Kentucky for his funeral. I had long dreaded losing a parent, and even though I'd cried a lot for my dad over the past two years since he'd been diagnosed with lung cancer, witnessing his health in steeper decline each time I'd visit, my tears had still not prepared me for losing him. Just as I hadn't known it would be my last time nursing the babies, I hadn't known last Christmas when I kissed him on the cheek and made sure both twins gave him a good hug that it would be the last time I got to feel my Daddy's embrace.

So I made it through the weekend (more on that another time) and came back home to California where, when the babies said "mimis," Kai reminded me that they hadn't nursed since I'd left, and maybe it would be a good time to stop, since I'd been wanting to? So I said to the twins, "There's no more milk in the mimis, babies. All gone!" And then I was mourning my dad and this new transition to toddlerhood.

The next weekend was their second birthday. My mom, sister, and nephew (three days older than the twins) had been planning to come visit us before my dad's sudden passing. So, one week after Dad's funeral in Kentucky, we in California celebrated the birth of all three of his grandchildren. It was light and healing, laughter provided by the new two-year-olds, punctuated for all us adults by silent thunderstorms of grief.

And it wasn't just the loss of my father and the transition from nursing mother to mother of independently-nourished two-year-olds that had me re-evaluating my existence on this earth.

My own birthday, my 35th, was one week after the twins'. 35 years ago, I was adopted by my parents a couple of days after my birth. And it so happens that this year, a week after my birthday, I had a plan to finally met my biological mother: a meeting that had been a lifetime in the making.

We spent my birthday week with Kai's family, which was actually perfect, though the grief and I kept having rendez-vous brought on by impetus of all sorts. I burst into tears just walking down the sidewalk. I thought of the hope my dad had held onto for a while that he'd get to take the babies fishing when they got older, and grew angry to think they'd miss out on a grandfather's love. I cried thinking of how he held them, repeating in the sweetest voice, "Papaw's baby. Papaw's baby."

And still looming ahead was the meeting with my birth mother. Would I be a disappointment? Would she only want to meet me this once and then never talk again? Would my grief make me appear shadowy and broken? Would she be cold and hold me at an arm's length? Or would all my ineffable questions be answered? Would I finally feel real, like I had come from somewhere and not from the ether?

A lot hinged on this meeting, and through the chatty conversations over family dinners with the Chapmans, my stomach churned like a dull-bladed blender full of what if.

And then it was already time to get on a plane again. Just like everything else that had happened, it didn't seem real. I would soon meet the very person who had given me life. For better or worse, I'd be a different person after this weekend.

I drove to the restaurant where I'd be meeting her, thinking how much I'd grown in such a short span. Throughout this summer, Kai had held space for me and helped me any way he could. We were even finding pockets of romance here and there. I did notice that I had gotten stronger physically and was feeling more energetic, partially thanks to a six-week fitness class I'd taken before the drama had begun, which had pushed me into a new comfort zone. I also noticed that we had all been sleeping through the night now for a couple of months. I could even get through a day without a nap. Maybe this summer's rocky climb would lead me to my summit, and from the top I'd get a true view of the vista before me to help guide me on my way. I walked into the restaurant and saw her coming toward me. Her eyes---my eyes---were glistening.

"I didn't think I would cry," she said. It was the first time I'd heard her voice. "I knew I would," I said, hugging her.

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