"I was just looking at the house across the street," the other woman says, making her way up the drive. Hanna walks over to meet her, shielding her eyes from the sun with her hand. "Do you mind if I ask you a bit about the neighborhood?" the woman asks.
So, she's a serious buyer then, Hanna thinks, a bit disappointed. "Sure," she says.
"My husband and I are interested in this area—is it a good place to raise children, do you think?" She nods toward the baby swing on the porch and smiles. "I see you've got a baby."
Hanna warms to her then and describes the neighborhood with enthusiasm. Maybe the woman is already pregnant, but not showing yet.
At the end of their chat, the woman thanks her and walks back to her car. Hanna realizes she didn't get her name. Oh well. Plenty of time for that if she does buy the house. Something niggles at the back of her mind, but she doesn't know what. Teddy starts to cry then, and as she lifts the baby out of the swing, she realizes what it is. The woman hadn't been wearing a wedding ring. No matter—lots of people have families without getting married these days, although she'd mentioned a husband. But who looks at a house without her spouse?
• • •
STEPHANIE KILGOUR HAS put the twins down in their cribs upstairs for their morning nap. Now she sits down on the living-room sofa for a moment and leans back and closes her eyes. She's so tired that she doesn't know how she actually manages to get up when the babies start crying for her at 6:00 a.m. Nothing—and no one—could have prepared her for this.
She relaxes for a moment, letting her exhausted body sink into the cushions, her head heavy against the pillows. She lets herself go slack. If she's not careful, she might fall asleep just sitting here. And that wouldn't be good—the twins only go down for about half an hour in the morning, and the difficulty of rousing herself after such a short time won't be worth it. She'll get her own rest when the twins have their longer nap in the afternoon.
Her baby girls, Emma and Jackie, are the best thing that ever happened to her. But she had no idea it would be this hard. Had no sense of the toll it would take on her body, and on her mind too. The effects of protracted sleeplessness are catching up with her. People who knew she was expecting twins—she hadn't made a secret of it—had joked with her about how much more difficult twins would be. She'd merely smiled, delighted with her pregnancy, and was even secretly smug at how good she felt, how easily her body was handling the changes.
Stephanie had always been a little bit of a control freak, and she'd spent a lot of time on her birth plan, wanting everything to go just right. She wasn't so complacent that she thought she could do it without drugs, but she wanted to have a normal birth, even with twins.
Once they were in the labor suite, though, the plan soon went out the window. She'd ended up with two babies in distress and an emergency C-section. Instead of soothing music, low lighting, and controlled breathing, it was all beeping machines, dropping heart rates, swarming medical staff, and being wheeled hurriedly into the operating room. She remembers her husband, Patrick, holding her hand, his face white with fear. What she remembers most, besides her panic as the babies were whisked away to intensive care before she could even hold them, was the convulsive shivering and nausea after the birth. Fortunately, both babies had been fine—healthy and a good weight.
It was hard not to feel like a failure in those early days, struggling with sleeplessness, the pain of the C-section recovery, and the frustration of breastfeeding two babies, seemingly all the time. . . . Those first couple of weeks after the twins were born were the most difficult of Stephanie's life. The babies soon began nursing well, but she often thinks about how stressful the C-section had been—for everyone. We don't always get to choose, she reminds herself. The important thing is that she and the girls were healthy. Now, Stephanie is astonished at how naive she was before the birth. Control is an illusion.
And then, the colic . . . the babies didn't sleep well from the outset, and then around the age of six weeks, it got worse. They cried and fussed and wouldn't go down to sleep. Her pediatrician, Dr. Prashad, told her that it would probably ease at about twelve weeks. That was more than a month ago, and it hasn't gotten any better. These days Stephanie—and Patrick—seem to be operating on pure willpower. They haven't had a good night's sleep since the twins were born. The fussing starts in the early evening and lasts until about one or two in the morning. Then they're up again at six. Brutal is the only way to describe it.
Now, Stephanie's breathing slows and in mere moments, she's out cold.