My mom didn’t know she was having twins until after she delivered my sister, Jenny. Ultrasounds weren’t typically done in the late 70’s, so there was no cause for concern when it appeared as though my 5’11” mom was simply having a big baby. But seven weeks before her due date, what she thought was a reaction to spicy food turned out to be a complicated labor and surprising delivery.
Jenny was born at just over 4 lbs and shortly after, through confusion and complications, I was discovered.They pulled me into the world at just over 3 lbs, not breathing, Apgar of 1, and feared that I was stillborn. As the doctors focused on rushing mom to the OR for a blood transfusion and checking Jenny’s vitals to ensure her well-being, an intern decided to give me a chance. With mouth-to-mouth and compressions, I was resuscitated and rushed to the NICU to rejoin my sister.
For many hours, mom did not know that I had, in fact, survived. She was still recovering herself, and doctors were unsure if I would remain stable. So when my dad brought her to the nursery and she saw her daughter Jennifer Michele alongside her identical twin, mom split our name and I became forever more, her miracle baby, Michele.
Once I was old enough to understand our birth story, I’ve held on to this thought – my drive to live, even as a tiny infant, was instinctively fueled by not wanting to leave my sister.
For our whole life, Jenny and I have been as close as we were while tucked away together growing simultaneously, waiting to be born. In many of our happiest times together, Jenny would tell me that she couldn’t imagine her life without me if I hadn’t made it. And we would both tear up at the thought. During times when we were being less kind, she would make this twisting motion with her hands (as though demonstrating how she tried to cut off my umbilical cord blood supply) resulting in me being a fraction of her size in utero. But that was always done with a wink. Even at our most annoyed, frustrated, and competitive times, we knew how good we had it. Because we had each other.
Growing up, Jenny was a star track athlete, even high-jumping with University of Oregon’s prestigious track team. I watched her attempt to jump over that bar a million times, with bated breath. She was at every one of my dance recitals clapping the loudest, and swore I was the best clarinet player in the band (not true.) She possessed the mental toughness to train for and complete two Ironmen competitions.I cheered her on, so glad I wasn’t the one competing. We both loved to play basketball, and the swish sound of the ball going through the net was just as sweet no matter which one of us made the shot. She excelled at writing and learning languages. I loved speech-and-debate and student council. We each had our strengths and they complemented each other perfectly. As adults, we’ve supported each other in the same way – encouraging the other through moves, career changes, heartbreak, adventures.
So you get it. We have always been a unit. A two-for-one. The same loud laugh, the same food allergies, the same freckled shoulders and hair that’s hard to comb. We always felt a huge sense of gratitude that our birth wasn’t the end of the story of us.
It turns out though, that despite my dramatic entry into the world, I am not in fact the miracle twin. Jenny is.
On January 30, 2017, Jenny had her first baby. It was nothing dramatic like our birth. Just as easy as my two pregnancies and deliveries had been a few years prior. She had a full and healthy pregnancy, a long but relatively mundane labor, and she pushed for only 26 minutes before her beautiful son entered the world at 9lbs with sparkly blue eyes and a gentleness he radiated from his first moments. Jenny and her husband basked in happiness for two hours as a family of three.
Then, Jenny felt a little short of breath so the doctor checked her oxygen levels, and although a bit low, cleared her to take a shower. Before she reached the bathroom, she collapsed in her husband’s arms having suffered a catastrophic pulmonary embolism. Her heart stopped. For a long time. Doctors were able to resuscitate her, just as they had done for me 38 years prior, but this time the result was horrifically different. Jenny remained on life support for two days before being declared brain dead. We baptized her baby with his hands on hers, said the most heart-wrenching good-byes, and let her go.