Becoming a mother is rarely what you expect.
Jane Roper never expected she'd have twinsor that they'd be such a spirited twosome. She didn't expect that finding the right balance of work and home would be so tricky. And she certainly didn't expect she'd grapple with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder during her daughters' toddler years. But she also didn't anticipate just how much joy, laughter and self-discovery motherhood would bring.
Full of warmth, honesty, occasional advice, and a generous helping of humor, Double Time is a smart and engaging account of the first three years with multiples and a refreshingly candid and vulnerable look at clinical depression. It's a memoir that will resonate countless womenespecially those parenting in double time.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.61(d)|
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How I Survived - and Mostly Thrived - Through the First Three Years of Mothering Twins
By Jane Roper
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2012 Jane Roper
All rights reserved.
It got suddenly very quiet in the exam room.
I was just over six weeks pregnant, at the fertility clinic for a follow-up ultrasound to make sure my pregnancy was on the right track: not ectopic, not an empty egg sac, not a false alarm.
There were five of us crammed into the tiny room: a young doctor doing the ultrasound; the senior doc who'd overseen my fertility treatments; a nurse; my husband, Alastair; and me — lying on the table with my feet in stirrups and an ultrasound wand plunged up into my ladyparts.
Seconds earlier, the doc wielding that wand had been providing a running commentary on what we were seeing on the screen — a friendly little tour of my reproductive organs: "Right here's your cervix, here are your ovaries, and this, you can see, is your uterus — nice thick lining there — and right here ... we should be able to see the ... uh ..."
There was (forgive me) a pregnant pause.
I held my breath and waited for the bad news: the embryo was gone or dead or implanted in the wrong place. This was going to be just one more disappointment, one more defeat. Who was I to think that my subpar reproductive system could actually sustain a pregnancy? And what had we been thinking, telling our parents the good news the same day we got a positive pregnancy test? Stupid, stupid, stupid.
The doctor now maneuvered the wand until it felt like it was horizontal inside me.
"OK, so," he finally said. "We appear to be looking at two pregnancies."
Two pregnancies? I thought. What the hell does that mean? How can one person have two pregnancies at the same time? Unless ...
"It's twins?" I said, idiotically.
"Yep," said the doc. "Congratulations."
I looked up at Alastair, dumbstruck. I might have smiled a little, in a "holy crap, can you believe it?" sort of way. Mostly, though, I was searching for reassurance, proof that he didn't hate me for this. After all, it was my lazy ovaries, and their subsequent dosing up with fertility drugs, that had gotten us into this. And anyway, why had I been so eager to start down the road of fertility treatments? We'd only been trying for a year before we went the intervention route. We could have kept at it a little longer on our own. It might have happened.
Looking at him, I wondered if he was thinking all of these same things, hoping he wasn't. But I've known the man since I was eighteen years old, and there are still times when I find his face difficult to read. For a man as funny and often downright silly as Alastair is, his smiles are surprisingly few and far between. And although his eyes have an impressive capacity for twinkling — one of the qualities that drew me to him in the first place — his poker face is equally good.
He gave me what could be vaguely interpreted as a smile, squeezed my hand, and then squinted back at the ultrasound screen.
The older doctor, who had been sitting silently on a stool near the sink this whole time, finally spoke. "It's really something, isn't it?" His smile was thoughtful but smug, as if he'd known this all along. And maybe he had; my HCG numbers from the blood pregnancy test a few weeks earlier had been through the roof. Come to think of it, maybe that's why he was here in the first place.
I looked back at the ultrasound screen, and there they were: two little black beans in a field of fuzzy gray, each with a small white spot in its center where a heart would soon grow. Something about the fact that there were two of them made them seem more alive, more human, than I think would have been the case if there were only one. They were hanging out together. Keeping each other company. How strange. How utterly surreal.
The doc at the controls hit a button and the image froze. "We'll give you that shot to take home as a souvenir," he said. Then he looked over my shoulder at Alastair and said, very seriously, "Are you OK? Do you need to sit down? You look kind of pale."
"No, I'm OK," Alastair said, this time smiling for real. "But you're sure there are only two in there, right?"
Before we left the exam room, the doctors asked if we had any questions.
Any questions? I had about a million, tumbling and vaulting through my brain: Can my (rather petite) body handle this? Will I be OK? Will they be OK? What if they're born premature, with all kinds of terrible complications? And while we're at it, how are we going to afford this? Am I going to have to quit my job? Are our careers / social life / sex life over? And, dear God, what if I just don't have what it takes to be a mother of twins? I'd been nervous enough about the prospect of one baby, but this? This was ridiculous.
But the only question I could manage to choke out was: Could I really not eat cold cuts? Because of the bacteria or nitrates or whatever the reason was you weren't supposed to eat them when you were pregnant? Because I ate a lot of turkey sandwiches.
"You're probably OK with turkey," the younger doc said. "But I'd stay away from the more processed stuff, like olive loaf."
The older doctor nodded sagely. "I'd definitely stay away from olive loaf."
* * *
After shuffling numbly out of the clinic, squeaking our way over the shining, high-wax floors to the banks of elevators — I wondered how many other couples had made the same, dazed shuffle under similar circumstances — we had breakfast in the cafeteria on the first floor. Alastair got a very large plate of eggs, bacon, and other classic oh-my-God-I'm-having-twins comfort food. I got a blueberry yogurt and a decaf coffee. We sat across from each other at a wobbly table, silent.
I believe I eventually said something profound and articulate along the lines of "wow."
What else could I say? This was far too much of a shock, far too much to process at once.
Alastair, God bless him, was thinking much more clearly, and in a decidedly more positive vein. "You know, I've always worried," he began, "that if we had one baby, we might never get around to having another one. We'd get in the mind-set of having a two- or three-year-old and wouldn't want to go back to the whole baby thing again. Or we'd be busy with our work and the timing would never be right."
Alastair is an only child who'd always wished he had a sibling. Like me, he wanted very much for us to have two children.
"And," he went on — he'd clearly done a lot of thinking in the elevator and/or while waiting for his eggs — "there would have been the fertility issues, too. We might have had trouble getting pregnant a second time. Or what if we had one baby first, and then had twins after that? That would be pretty tough."
This way, he reasoned, we got our two children in one fell swoop. And yes, it would be hard, especially at first, but we'd do it. "To be honest," he said, "I think part of me was hoping we'd end up with twins."
No part of me had been. But I nodded, hmmed, and conceded all his points. They were good ones. They made absolute sense. Yes, yes, yes, this is good, I told myself. It's better than good. I'm excited. No, really, I am. We're going to have two beautiful babies. It's gonna be fine. It's gonna be fine. It's gonna be great.
And anyway, who was I to be choosy? For a while it looked like I wasn't going to be able to get pregnant at all, let alone twice at the same time.
We had started trying a year and a half earlier, not long after we moved back to Boston after a two-year stint in Iowa, where I got my MFA in fiction writing — along with a hankering for a baby. The urge wasn't so much physical (no tingling ovaries) as psychological: I started feeling maternal around babies, instead of just vaguely amused and slightly annoyed. I felt a growing sense of fondness and protectiveness for children. A few friends and acquaintances were starting to have babies, and when I held them, it felt more natural and more satisfying than it ever had before. For the first time, I could imagine myself as a mother.
Meanwhile, I was starting to feel like something was missing — this despite the fact that life was actually pretty terrific. I was working part-time as an advertising copywriter, as I'd done before grad school, while also working on a novel. Alastair, who's a singer-songwriter and musician, played on the folk scene in Boston and beyond, with occasional brief tours elsewhere in the United States and in Europe. He also worked part-time teaching guitar lessons. It was a lovely, semi-bohemian sort of life, full of books and music and friends and wine. A lot of wine.
But at just shy of thirty-two, I was getting a bit bored with the total freedom of our lives. We were responsible for no one but ourselves, and one very low-maintenance cat. Holidays rang a bit hollow, and weekend days began to feel a tad roomy. One Saturday morning I had the distinct and very strange feeling of waking up and thinking to myself, "Where are the kids?" As if we really ought to have some, and we should all be going to a museum or on a hike or something. Or cleaning out the garage. You know, family stuff.
Not that we were unhappy by any means. And, granted, there were some conditions in our lives that weren't ideal for starting a family. Neither of us was making a whole lot of money, nor had either of us actually "made it" in our respective artistic fields (whatever that means). The apartment we lived in was drafty and inefficiently laid out, and I would have had to sacrifice my office to use as a nursery, which I wasn't thrilled about. Plus, our landlord, a preternaturally energetic massage therapist and cycling fanatic, liked to tinker with his bikes in the basement at all hours while singing along in full voice to, among other things, gangsta rap. Many a morning we woke up to a gleeful string of F-bombs, bitches, and hos.
But we ultimately decided, as many couples do, that there would never be a completely ideal time to have a baby. I had a feeling it might not be easy for us, given the fact that my periods tended to be infrequent when I wasn't regulating them with oral contraceptives. If we wanted to have two kids while I was still firmly in my thirties, I thought we might as well get the show on the road.
Still, our attitude was, I'd go off the pill and it would happen when it happened. Maybe sooner, maybe later. No pressure. We weren't really trying. Just not not trying.
Is anyone actually that chill about having a baby? Maybe they are. But in my experience — and that of my friends who are psychotic overachieving types like me — once I was in unprotected sex mode, I wanted to be pregnant more than anything in the world. It needed to happen Right Now. And if it didn't (and it didn't), then clearly we were barren and would never have a baby, so we might as well start saving for plane tickets to China, because we were going to have to adopt. No question.
I'd hoped that after ten-plus years on the pill, my cycles might have been whipped into shape, and I'd be more regular. But, well, no. I didn't get my first period until almost three months after I went off the pill. After that, they came anywhere from five to nine weeks apart. (Yes, this is one of those oversharing kinds of books.)
I did the charting thing — taking my temperature in the mornings and watching for various signs of ovulation — with the hope that maybe I could crack my body's crazy code and figure out what, exactly, was going on. But month after month went by with none of the temperature spikes that are supposed to happen before ovulation, no positive results on ovulation-predictor tests, and definitely no positive pregnancy tests.
Just lots and lots of dutiful sex, on the off chance that maybe, maybe, we'd just happen to be doing it when an egg decided to drop.
You can only have so much sex and actually enjoy it. We sure did give it the old college try, though. By which I mean that college was the last time we'd had so much sex. But this wasn't nearly as much fun.
It wears on you, not being able to conceive once you've set your mind to it. With every month that passed, every stick I peed on to no avail, my urge for a baby grew keener, and my faith in my body weaker. Suddenly I heard my biological clock not so much ticking as blaring the theme song from Jeopardy! I began to panic: how was I going to have the two healthy kids I wanted while I was still young and vigorous? I was practically forty!! (Quick reminder: I was thirty-two.)
Meanwhile, every other woman in the universe was getting pregnant, from Britney Spears to teenage meth addicts to an infuriating number of my female friends.
Seeing a baby or pregnant woman would frequently bring tears to my eyes. I felt as if the future I wanted for myself — the future I could imagine so clearly and that had seemed so natural and inevitable — was being kept from me behind a locked door.
After about a year of trying — during which time we bought and moved into a much more family-friendly house, gangsta-rap free and complete with small backyard — I decided it was time to go to a fertility clinic and see if we could figure out what the heck was going on with my reproductive system.
The tests revealed that I wasn't doing a whole lot of ovulating. Which is problematic when you're trying to make a baby. The doctors were optimistic, however, that with help from ovulation drugs, in combination with intrauterine insemination (the official, medical name for the turkey baster method) to get the sperm a little bit closer to the target, we had a very good chance of conceiving. We were fortunate enough to live in the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts, where fertility treatments are covered up to a certain point (is it any wonder we have the highest twin birthrate of any state?), and so we decided to go for it.
Before we started trying to have a baby, Alastair and I were always of the mind that we'd adopt if we couldn't manage to have a biological child. Back before we got married, when we were in our early twenties, we even talked about adopting instead of having a baby of our own. Alastair, in particular, felt that in a world with a burgeoning population and limited resources, where there were always children in need of loving homes, it was the more responsible and generous thing to do. But it's easy to talk in the idealistic abstract when you're nowhere close to having kids. And it's easy to say you don't feel strongly about having a biological child before you actually start wanting to have one.
Infertility sucks. And we only got a small dose of it: I was pregnant less than two years after we started trying. Which is nothing compared to the many years that some couples struggle.
I hope you'll pardon me while I interrupt this memoir with a brief public service announcement: if you know someone who is having difficulty conceiving, be kind to them. Do not say, "You can always adopt!" or "Have you tried taking X vitamin/mineral/herb supplement?" or "Maybe it's just not meant to be." Just tell them you're really sorry and that it must be so difficult. It is.
* * *
Something else happened in the midst of our conception quest: I tried to stop taking the antidepressants I'd been on since I was twenty-three.
My depression had never been what I'd call severe. I was never hospitalized or suicidal, and I'd never felt so awful that I couldn't drag myself out of bed in the mornings. But it was bad enough that when I was having a depressive spell, it interfered with my ability to work productively and handle social interactions with some modicum of normality.
The first time it happened was when I was twenty-three. I was living with a couple of roommates in a shabby but charming Somerville double-decker, loving my job as the assistant to the president and creative director of a smallish Boston ad agency — the same one I would return to seven years later, on a part-time basis, when we moved back from Iowa. My boss, generous and mentorly, helped me find opportunities to try my hand at copywriting, and I had dreams of becoming an advertising superstar, racking up awards and big bucks.
Excerpted from Double Time by Jane Roper. Copyright © 2012 Jane Roper. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Reading Group Guide
1. On the most literal level the title, Double Time, refers to the fact that Jane has twins. But are there other themes or aspects of the author's experiences that the title addresses?
2. When Jane found out she was pregnant with twins, she had many fears and apprehensions about how becoming a mother of twins would change her life. Do you think those fears were justified? Do they apply to any expectant mother, or do you think they are unique to moms of multiples?
3. When did you first "fall in love" with your child or children? Were your feelings of love instantaneous, or did they develop over time, as was the case for Jane?
4. Some of the twin parenting challenges Jane describes, such as avoiding comparisons and finding time to spend alone with each of her girls, could just as easily be faced by parents with children of different ages. Do you think these challenges are more difficult or complex with twins?
5. Jane writes of the "hyperparenting zeitgeist" among people in her socioeconomic group of college-educated, urban-dwelling professionals. Have you experienced or felt pressured by this phenomenon? In what ways and to what extent do you think Jane is influenced by this trend?
6. Jane's husband Alastair had experienced clinical depression himself, and was extremely supportive and understanding when her depression resurfaced and worsened. How do you think her experience might have been different if this hadn't been the case? Have you ever had a friend or loved one with serious depression? Or, if you've suffered from depression yourself, how has the support of friends and family, or lack thereof, affected your experience?
7. When Jane is diagnosed as being on the bipolar spectrum, she fears the stigma of the illness. Do you agree that there is a stigma associated with bipolar disorder? How are attitudes toward bipolar and other mood disorders changing?
8. The dedication of Double Time reads "For Elsa and Clio, of course." How do you think Elsa and Clio might react to this book once they're old enough to read it?
9. Jane shares the comments of a reader of her blog who says she's tired of the "chorus of privileged, complaining women" talking about the challenge of balancing work and home. Do you agree with the commenter's point of view?
10. Would you ultimately agree with the book's subtitle that Jane "mostly thrived" through her first three years as a mother?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I loved this book and couldn't put it down! I thought it was full of funny anecdotes, as well as situations any parent of young twins could relate to. Jane Roper's honesty about her depression, as well as the guilt all parents feel about the job they are doing raising little ones was very refreshing. Parenting two babies/toddlers is HARD, and it felt good that she acknowledged that in her book. This book is not strictly about twins, though-more of a reflection on parenting young children in general, so I think any parents of young kids would enjoy this book.