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Gangs of New York

Their twins due home from intensive care any minute, an anxious couple considers the high cost—physical, marital, and financial—of multiples.

Two fuzzy heartbeats—our doctor pointed to the black-and-white monitor of the ultrasound machine, and we both squinted and pretended to see what he was talking about. A lima bean, we thought, with a smaller lima bean next to it? Sensing that we weren’t getting it, he punched a few keys and suddenly the small exam room at Cornell’s Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility filled with a rapid-fire thump-thump-thump-thump: our embryos on speakerphone. So wait, it had worked? Twice? When we still didn’t say anything, our other doctor piped up: “This is good news, you guys.”

How did we feel? Relieved, more than anything, that we didn’t have to face starting all over again with fertility injections. And then . . . shocked that there were, in fact, two of them in there. Given that we’d done in vitro fertilization (IVF), twins were a predictable outcome. But we hadn’t allowed ourselves to believe it would actually happen.

When we decided to get pregnant, we had imagined a far simpler scenario. We had expected to control the process the way we thought we controlled everything else in our tidy yuppie lives. We felt happily married. We had pretty good jobs. We had a new apartment with an extra bedroom. Having a kid was the natural next step. In a sense, we were merely being swept up in the generational tide, but we also genuinely envied our friends with kids and liked being around them. This is what we wanted.

For ten years, Sarah had, via the Pill, put her reproductive system on hold, assuming that it would resume normal service when she wanted it to, right on cue. Which it didn’t. One minute, we were enjoying the freedom of our new married life; the next, Sarah was piling ovulation test kits on the counter at Duane Reade and being told by the woman behind her, just trying to be helpful, that Sam’s Club sells them by the case. God help us if we needed that many.

Sarah had just turned 31. There was no reason to panic. Until, that is, getting pregnant just wouldn’t happen. As the months slid by, the clichés swallowed us up. The terror of feeling you’re doomed to never have a child. The good life you’d been living suddenly seeming pointless, a waste. The self-pity. The voice-mail messages from friends calling to catch up and saying, “Oh, by the way, I have some great news.” That made us feel jealous and angry, then angry and pathetic for feeling jealous and angry. It got to the point where Sarah started to feel envious of friends who’d had abortions—because at least they knew their bodies were capable of becoming pregnant.

Our evenings at home collapsed into a variation on this theme: Sarah emerging from the bathroom clutching yet another failed test and then us sitting there in stony silence on the bed, watching Oprah reruns. What would Oprah do? She’d probably be more patient, let it ride for another six months, and relax, take a vacation. But we were beyond the point of being able to enjoy a margarita and a suntan. We needed to reassert control over our lives, and we couldn’t wait. So we took our vacation money and went to see Dr. Isaac Kligman at Cornell, a fertility specialist who had been highly recommended to us by Sarah’s OB/GYN. He led us through three rounds of intrauterine insemination (IUI), which set us back about $2,500 a pop, and then IVF, which ran us about $15,000. We organized our lives around the regular morning visits to the clinic and the scary injections (we’d developed a tag-team approach; Sarah closed her eyes and jammed the needle in, then Hugo pushed the plunger).

Sarah had two embryos implanted, praying that one would develop into a pregnancy and then a beautiful baby.

Within a matter of days, she blew up like a human balloon. Before we had the chance to take the pregnancy test, she’d gained 25 pounds so rapidly it was as if we could see her body expanding in real time. Instead of going on the head-clearing weekend away that we’d planned, Sarah was admitted to the hospital. She had “hyperstimulated” from the IVF medication, an unusual reaction that left her simultaneously bloated and dehydrated. This could only mean failure, we figured.

Our doctors had a different interpretation. This disaster, they suggested, was more likely a positive sign. Doubly positive, in fact. It wasn’t just the fertility medications that caused it. It was a high concentration of Beta-HCG, the pregnancy hormone.

Then we saw the heartbeats—the two heartbeats—and we were given an index-card-size printout of the ultrasound as a parting gift. As the news sunk in, part of us wanted to jump up and down, burst into song, embrace total strangers. Twins, holy shit! But, assuming those lima beans could be trusted, did we really want to have two at once? It’s hard enough to be the parent of a single baby. Did we have any idea what two would do to us? We decided to find out by immersing ourselves in the parallel universe of multiples, while we still had time.