A Tale of Two Premies
It is impossible not to compare my twins. They are fraternal—I can’t even look at them without confronting their differences. James is average height and weight with plump legs and chubby cheeks. He takes after my father and is much browner than the rest of us. Langston is light-skinned like me and my husband, short and skinny, with little wiry chicken legs he likes to tip-toe on in circles around the floor.
Just as immediate as their physical differences, so is the gap in their development, despite the fact that they both came into this world the exact same way: prematurely, at 25 weeks gestation.
For example, recently, James sauntered into my bedroom, his “P,” a pacifier with a stuffed dog attached, dangled from his mouth like a tiny pipe. He popped it out and lectured on the whereabouts of daddy (the bathroom), and on his conclusions regarding identity, about which he declared, “I’m Games. You Mama.” When given an opportunity, I asked, “Do you want eggs for breakfast?” He answered, “Yes” with a nod for added clarity. James, after getting dressed, tossed his “P” back into his crib and toodlersplained some more before settling down with a bowl of scrambled eggs and silently contemplating Doc McStuffins’ most recent diagnosis.
In contrast, Langston padded quietly into the room. His brown face floated along the bed’s edge. We made eye contact and then he loudly exclaimed, “Hi!” Not too long ago, I could not truthfully write the sentence you just read. According to the developmental clinic he visits, he should’ve been able to articulate that word at twelve-months. It’s taken him almost two and a half years. In response to my question about breakfast, Langston acknowledged his hunger with a concise, “eat, eat.” There may have been other noises from him, maybe even words spoken, but they were less articulate, less frequent, and less varied than his brother.
In the preemie world, age is a conundrum of measurements. Doctors and professionals often use a preemie’s corrected age, their age based on their due date, to determine whether or not they are delayed. My boys’ corrected age is 26 months. Their actual age is 30 months. James is developmentally on par with his actual age. Langston is delayed, at least six months or more behind his corrected age.
My emotions mirror their polarity, yet there is always an underpinning of guilt that never goes away. I feel blessed to have a son exceeding all expectations, especially considering his traumatic birth. I bleed pride every time James announces he is happy or uses his spoon correctly eating yogurt with hardly any mess or makes up songs about cars on the road in full and eloquent sentences. And then I’m immediately paralyzed with guilt, as if I am betraying my other son or excluding him from this joy because these are things Langston doesn’t do.
It is even hard for me to rejoice in Langston’s progress. Recently, he’s been humming the melody to the ABC song. In fact, he can recognize and speak several letters and numbers when shown flash cards and match colors and shapes, even if he doesn’t say the words for them. His speech therapist got him to “oink” when showing him a picture of a pig. And he now says “bye” when he or other people leave. This is amazing progress for him.
But if I relax and allow myself to be happy in his achievements, how do I avoid complacency? These tiny increments of growth, when matched shoulder to shoulder with his brother, still don’t put them on the same level. And I cannot rest until there is no space left between them. Every minute is a teachable moment, a moment to reinforce his speech skills or to help him hold a pencil or to give him the extra care I don’t need to give to his brother, although I know James wants that care too. And again, I cannot avoid feeling guilty because it is not only my attention being pulled in separate directions, but it is my mind, it is my heart that is torn raw and straight down the middle every single time I look at them.
Although twins, they are just brothers and they will never be the same. And I may never stop comparing them. But, this morning as they ate breakfast, I stared at them, searching for a link other than their DNA. They both love being chased and hate having their diapers changed. Both have abnormally stinky feet and think I’m hilarious when I scream over just how stinky those feet are. They both love books and being read to. Each night before bed we ask them, “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see?” And, under the large board book in our hands, they point at the big brown bear on the page in front of them and roar in unison.
Tyrese L. Coleman is a writer, wife, mother, a lawyer, and a master’s student in the Writing Program at Johns Hopkins University. Her writing has appeared in PANK Magazine Online, mater mea, a website that celebrates black women at the intersection of career and motherhood, and elsewhere. You can reach her at tyresecoleman.com or follow her on Twitter @tylachelleco.