A little over a month ago, on October 9, my twins, Talbot and T.J., celebrated their fourth birthdays. In the middle of the party, with plates of cake lying around the kitchen, kids laughing as they chased each other and wrapping paper scattered everywhere, I saw my wife, Kara, from across the room.
When our eyes met, all we could do was smile and shake our heads.
We were both thinking the same thing, that we never thought we'd get to see this. We were hosting a typical birthday party for a four-year-old, filled with laughter and friends and one big mess.
It was ... normal.
Four and a half years earlier, we had no idea what every October 9 would look like. We had no idea whether it was going to be a day filled with sadness or one we celebrated as a complete family. We had no idea if our oldest son Tate was going to have a younger brother to play catch with, or if our soon-to-be-born daughter, Talbot, would ever meet her twin.
Because, back in May 2012, we had no idea if T.J. was going to make it.
There are certain memories and specific days that you can never get out of your head no matter how hard you try. I'm talking about everything, including the feelings you had at the time.
The day of Kara-s 18-week sonogram in May 2012 - the day there was a good chance we'd find out the gender of the twins - happens to be one of those uniquely memorable ones for me.
We woke up with an excitement that can only be compared to the joy of waking up on Christmas morning as a kid. The anticipation consumes you, and when it's finally time to find out, you just can't control your smile or your heartbeat. It's incredible. And since we were expecting twins, those emotions were multiplied. Two boys? Two girls? One boy and one girl? It was just awesome.
As my wife's ob-gyn went over the sonogram with us, Kara and I hung on her every word. So when she stopped talking and looked from the computer down to a piece of paper, we got excited.
Hmmmm. She was writing something down.
We inched closer. Boy? Girl? What is it?
Her pen stopped.
"It looks like the shading seems a bit off with Baby A," she said.
I glanced up at the blurry black-and-white image on the monitor.
"Really? What do you mean?" I said. I could see the outline of our baby - Baby A - right there.
"This happens a lot," said the sonographer, turning from the monitor back to Kara. "Don't worry at all. It could be a variety of things. It could be something, but it could also be nothing. Sometimes this happens when the baby's heart is abnormal - when the left side is smaller than the right - but it usually happens when the sonograph is captured at the wrong angle."
Kara's shoulders relaxed a bit.
"Whatever you do, don't get concerned about it right now. You might have to see a specialist and get some further testing, but let's keep going."
Hearing the those words from the sonographer gave us some comfort. We weren't overly concerned - we were still eager to learn the sex of our twins. And we didn't have to wait long, because just a few moments later, we found out: We were going to have a baby boy and a baby girl. Kara and I couldn't stop smiling. Our oldest, Tate, was going to have a younger brother and younger sister. It was incredible.
But as excited as we were, Kara and I continued to think about what the doctor had written down on that piece of paper. The moment we left the appointment I reached for my phone and started googling things like left side of heart smaller than the right side and 18-week sonogram. The first result I saw - the very first one - said "life threatening hypoplastic left heart syndrome." I kept scrolling down. The same thing kept showing up.
I showed Kara. We both said the same thing: "It can't be this." There was no way. We said it again: "It can't be this." Plus, we weren't going to make any judgments based on a Google search result. What was the point?
It just can't be this...
I'm not sure if we were just trying to convince ourselves that everything was fine - that this sort of thing wouldn't happen to us.
But we were wrong.