“But…our life is not conducive to twins! You need to find just one baby”
“I can’t un-find a baby Kim. There is definitely two in there.”
“Are you sure?”
“yep…I know what I’m doing!”
This conversation (with some more colourful wording from both of us edited out for your sensitive ears) took place at the Maranatha Health hospital in Kabarole District, Uganda, in my husbands’ consulting room, as we used the ultrasound to check on my not-yet-showing belly.
It was the first of many terrified, frantic, awe-struck discussions around why God and the universe would see fit to give us the ‘blessing’ of twins.
My extended absence from this blog has been for this very reason; a reason I could never ever in a million years have forseen. But, twins we had.
It has been a long journey, this shedding of our previous ordinary identities, and our tumultuous-yet-triumphant transformation into Naalongo and Ssalongo [Rutooro words for mother-of-twins and father-of twins].
Somehow, someway, Michael and I survived 2016. The year of upheaval. Of reluctantly moving our family back to Australia due to the high risk nature of my pregnancy, for close monitoring. Selling our house in Oz, buying another, and moving in before the twins were born. Of finding work for Michael in Australia. Of overseeing the MH project from afar. Of coping with the sheer discomfort of the last few weeks of my pregnancy, carrying around 5 and a half kilos of baby inside me. Of expanding our hearts and lives as we met our new little people, William and Thomas. And then, the all-consuming sleepless, relentless reality of two newborns to care for. Newborns that didn’t particularly like the outside world very much (or sleep) and decided to express their discomfort very often and loudly (if only we had known it was due to allergy!). Newborns who decided the only solution to said discomfort was to breast feed All The Time.
It was a tough first 6 months. The hardest of my life. The combination of sleep deprivation and exhaustion has rendered the memories of those early days with the twins into the hazy, murky back-waters of my mind. I remember specific moments: Michael and I staring at each other over the table one night, glancing at (but not able to eat) our defrosted donated dinner, our toddler having a meltdown because he wanted our attention and we simply couldn’t give it to him, while each of us juggled a crying screaming baby, knowing there was at least a few hours left of wailing before sleep would eventually come. I remember the look of panic in his eyes that mirrored my own – “How do we ACTUALLY survive this!?!?!”
It wasn’t pretty, but we did survive.
And then sometimes, all the sleep deprivation and baby cries and breastfeeding exhaustion and baby eczema/allergy flare ups and toddler tantrums and my own intense feelings of inadequacy pulled me completely under in their swell and the only thing that saved me was my village grabbing me by the cuff of my shirt and pulling me out spluttering and gasping for breath – primarily my husband, my own mum, my mother in law, and then a multitude of different friends at different times taking a baby to hold, giving me a shoulder to cry on, cooking me a meal, playing with my first born little boy and reminding me that THIS IS A SEASON.
Sure there were lovely bits too. Snuggly new born cuddles. Watching Dave’s language explode with humour and insight. The twins holding hands while I tandem fed (they more often poke each others’ faces now!). Fun time with family and friends on the not-so-hard-days. My incredible support system showing me love. Sunny autumn days gathering walnuts from our tree. Imaginary fun with Dave. A thousand ways Michael has supported me as we walked in the thick of it together. Dessert nights with close girl friends to remind me of me. First smiles and then giggles. Pool play. Learning how to love another 2 humans. Warm, easy conversations with my own mum about motherhood…
And then, somewhere in the midst of it all, we decided that we would move back to Uganda. Uganda – and Maranatha, the organisation we founded – is home in so many ways, after all. We have been living there on-and-off since 2011. So the decision felt inevitable, and right. The reality of course – uprooting our family, leaving our incredible Adelaide-based support network, heck, even getting on an international flight – was largely terrifying. But nevertheless, in April we packed up our house and our life and moved countries once again (dragging some grandparents along to help us on the long-haul flights), hoping we would find a house to live in soon after arrival!
With approximately 20 hours of flying behind us, we shuffled out of the familiar mugginess of the Entebbe airport – a faster speed was impossible – with my parents, 11 month old twins, a very overwhelmed and tired three year old, a double pram (not that we have used it since), 2 porta cots, 2 car seats, 8 bags of luggage, and eagerly looked for the person who was meeting us. After a couple of minutes of frantic searching with lots of stares and offers of taxis, Michael and I faced each other with dismay and realised that the person sent to pick us from the BnB was either a)very late or b)not coming, two extremely likely scenarios in Uganda! In true Findlay laisse-faire style, Michael and I realised we had no cash on us at all, no working phones with Ugandan SIMS within easy reach, nor an address for the guesthouse we were going to.
We marched over to where the taxi stand was and after discovering my father had brought a small amount of Ugandan shillings from a previous trip, set about finding a taxi to bargain hard with. This was an interesting process, given I had no clear idea where in Entebbe we were heading to! Eventually we all piled into an SUV (with all our luggage there was actually only 3 seats available!) and drove in the general direction of the guesthouse based on my husbands’ super amazing memory. Along the way, we stopped maybe 6 or 7 times, showing motorbike taxi drivers the one photograph we had of the house, in the hope someone would know the place. Our twins and toddler loved the excitement, with David yelling at the top of his voice “ Look mummy another goat!” every time we drove past the multitudes of goats on roads.
On our first day back in Uganda (after finding our accommodation), we took a walk through a quiet neighbourhood. Walking along a dirt road, with only a sprinkling of houses right by Lake Victoria, there was a group of people lazily chatting in the shade of a big tree – some boda (motorbike taxi) drivers and several women. They turned to look at us, and then with mouths wide open their conversation ceased. After a respectable recovery time, the women started laughing and broke out in applause, which led to some dancing, until I felt like I was the star of some bizarre African musical featuring a set of miracle twins. It became apparent to me at that point that anglo-saxon identical twins are not a common occurrence here.
I won’t bore you with the gritty details of the first few months – finding a house to move into and making it suitable for us, getting over jetlag and reteaching our twins to sleep, adjusting to life without grandparent help and consistent power, finding the right people to help us out with child care at home, walking alongside of our 3 year old as he experienced intense culture shock and homesickness, re-entering MH and (for me) adjusting to being back at work after a long absence….
We are rebuilding our community here, slowly. Our staff, as expected, welcomed us and our kids back with open arms. And despite agonising almost every day if we made the ‘right’ decision for us and more significantly our children, I’ve come to the conclusion there probably isn’t one. Sometimes, I’m realising, the story isn’t supposed to be just about ‘us’ as individuals. Mark Sayers, a Christian pastor/sociologist, introduced me recently to the idea of people having 3 ‘stories’ – my story, a community story, and then a universal story. In the west, he argues that almost all of our life and decisions are made based on our individual story – what is best and meaningful and important to me. More than any other time in my life, Michael and I are trying to move away from this. Our decision to move back to Uganda, regardless of some of the challenges this brings personally, is born out of the inextricable weaving together of our personal story with the story and community of Maranatha Health, and our universal story of hope for a more just world. So that is why we are back here.
We try to take all 3 kids with us to work once a week. On those days, David hangs out with a crew of staff children who sometimes hang out at MH in the afternoon (or at the moment during school holidays, all day) with Ellen, the staff children’s carer on staff. Despite his limited Rutooro -he is learning slowly- he often leads the pack, with a group of them running around MH giggling and playing like they own the place. The crèche, a tiny room which is a third of an old shipping container, is now referred to by Dave as ‘my office’. William and Thomas, while mostly looked after when at the clinic by our very energetic young nanny Violet, wander happily around until they see Michael or myself and are reminded of their separation anxiety that seems to plague them still. The other week I spotted them both wondering into one of the wards, and then guiltily tottering out with mouths stuffed full of sweet potato that one of the mums on the ward feeding her own child had given to them. They certainly draw a crowd, and I often walk out to the MH playground to find a crowd of 3 or 4 people just staring wide-eyed, gaping at the site of 3 mzungu children, 1 who is about as gregarious as is possible to be, the other 2 identical in looks (though polar opposites in personality!).
Michael and I divide our time fairly equally now, between the clinic and home. We often swap over around midday, where one of us rushes home on a boda and the motorbike driver waits out the front for the other while we give a quick handover: ‘this email needs to be sent, this management issue came up, someone needs to talk to this staff member….” and “this child’s been tired, this was what was eaten for lunch, this load of cloth nappies is washed…”. I feel utterly grateful to have a husband who sees child-rearing as just as important a task and wants to share equally in that responsibility.
So this is life now. It’s messy, chaotic, busy, mostly unplanned, and so much less productive than it ever was a few years ago. I spend so much of my time feeling like I am on the brink of catastrophe, wondering if there is a better way to do ‘life’ here (or anywhere), but I think the answer is that in this season in life, just being a part of MH Uganda and raising our 3 children is enough.
At least, I’m learning to be.