THE PARENTS: Justine Ivcic, 33, and Michael Ivcic, 35, of Holland
THE KIDS: Ava Madeleine and Audrey Grace, 3; Patrick Michael, born March 8, 2020
BEST PARENTING ADVICE THEY RECEIVED: When one twin wakes to eat, wake the other; if not, you’ll be feeding them around the clock and will never sleep.
Justine saw what the ultrasound tech saw. But Michael assumed that when the wand slid from one side of his wife’s belly to the other, and another small galaxy pulsed on the screen, he was looking at different views of the same baby.
It was two babies: fraternal twins. “Isn’t that so exciting?” the tech asked.
“‘Exhausting’ and ‘expensive’ were the words in my mind,” Michael recalls. Justine was shocked at first — although her father is a fraternal twin, she didn’t figure on repeating the pattern — then thrilled. “How cool: I’m having twins. This is something unique and special.”
They’d begun talking about children within a few months of their first date, a Capitals/Flyers hockey game in February 2013. In some ways, the two were opposites: Michael is talkative and extroverted, while Justine stays quieter in groups. She’s often the catalyst to launch a big project — ”Let’s clean out the entire basement” — while he has the stamina to persevere. He went to Catholic schools, while she attended and taught in public ones.
But on the foundational values — faith and family — they were in accord. They’d met in a Catholic young-adult group at Saint Andrew Church in Newtown. Almost a year after their first date, Michael brought Justine back to that church — they’d left something there, he insisted — then dropped to one knee and proposed.
They were married that November — a noon Mass followed by a late afternoon reception; in-between, they had a cupcake party to which they invited Justine’s third-graders and the members of the high school hockey team Michael coached.
“I had a very motherly instinct, and [parenting] was definitely something I always thought would be part of my life,” Justine says. Michael agreed: “I wanted to create those memories with kids that my parents created with me.”
They’d been married just over a year when Justine told Michael — it happened to be Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary — that she was having trouble with the oven rack. When he checked, there were cinnamon rolls and a note: “I have a bun in the oven.”
“We later found out that wasn’t true,” Justine laughs. “There were two buns.”
She was determined to carry the pregnancy to full-term, 38 weeks for twins, and the last two months were draining: It was hot outside, and she was huge. “I spent the summer waddling over to the pool in our neighborhood.”
When they learned that Twin A was breech, Justine tried everything — handstands in the pool, visits to a chiropractor and acupuncturist — to get the baby to flip. But the twins were too tightly packed to move.
On Aug. 8 — 38 weeks exactly, and two days before a scheduled C-section, Justine began sobbing at a prenatal appointment. Her beloved family dog had just died, the temperatures were sweltering, and her body was swollen. She’d insisted on packing the car for the doctor’s appointment as if they would be staying at Abington Hospital.
They did. Ava was born at 4:03 p.m. that day, with her sister arriving a minute later. “It wasn’t the experience I wanted for birth,” Justine recalls. “I was freaking out about having surgery while I was awake,” and didn’t fully connect with the infants until she breast-fed them for the first time, in the recovery room.
The first night home, the babies were awake, often screaming, from 8 p.m. until 5 a.m. Michael, frantic, texted various friends with children: “What’s this swaddle-thing? How do I do this?”
It got easier, with help from Michael’s sister, who was home from college, Justine’s sister, who is a nurse, and both of their mothers, who would split the day to help Justine and dote on the twins, the first grandchildren on both sides of the family.
They knew they wanted another child. They also knew that was out of the question until the girls were old enough to be in preschool at least part of the day.
Last July 4, Justine reprised the oven surprise: “Look, I made cinnamon buns.” And this time, the ultrasound brought relief: just one.
Justine wanted a different birth experience, so she researched VBAC — vaginal birth after Caesarian — found a doula and switched practitioners until she landed with a midwife practice that supported her plan.
“I was going to the chiropractor. I was drinking raspberry leaf tea. I’m a very naturally minded person; I believe in working with your body. For this pregnancy, I wanted to do everything in my power to have a successful VBAC.”
Her water broke while she was arguing with Audrey about getting dressed, but at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery, her contractions stalled. Reluctantly, she agreed to a Pitocin drip; within an hour, she dilated from 5 cm to 10, pushed twice, and delivered Patrick.
The experience, she says, “was healing and empowering. With the C-section, I didn’t feel like I was giving birth; it was like things were happening to me.” Michael, too, remembers a sense of calm, especially during the three hours when he sat in a chair, rocking and talking softly to his newborn son.
Before the birth, Justine had been too focused on labor to follow the news closely; there was some kind of virus somewhere in China, but she wasn’t worried about it. Hospital officials were, though; the day after Patrick’s birth, Einstein began allowing only two visitors per patient.
Professional sports, including hockey, shut down their seasons. The girls’ preschool announced that Friday, March 13 would be its final day. The following Monday, Michael began working at home.