We arrived at the apartment, located inside Milwaukee’s only boutique Art Deco extended-stay hotel, built in 1925. We put the babies into their portable playpen. The doula (δούλη)-in-training with the red hair and the facial piercing went home for the day, but we had asked her to come back that night so that we could go out for dinner. Since the babies ate every two hours, it was hard to get any rest. If one had been a royal breastfeeding queen mother who could recline on a pile of silky-soft cushions while having every other want or need attended, it might not have been so hard.
Night fell immediately, and the journeyman doula arrived. We went out and ate dinner in a trendy restaurant, located in a hotel built in the Classical Revival style in 1929.
We came back relatively quickly, as this journeyman doula was quite pricey. I was to take the first shift of the night while Asaph slept in the other room.
Sometimes the babies would cry, so we would feed them, then they would poop, so we had to change them, and then they started crying again, so we had to feed them. It seemed like a sisyphean endeavor.
Light from the street filtered in through the wooden blinds. I felt like I was in a film noir about the care of infants.
Asaph got up for his shift. I did a middle-of-the-night trip to the laundry room.
The lunch counter at the hotel had become a popular gourmet brunch destination.
I realized that the light streaming in from the street was not coming from regular streetlights, but from spotlights designed to showcase the hotel's Art Deco features. I felt less like I was in a film noir about infant care than on the set of a film noir about infant care.
Many gifts arrived. It was very nice.
Asaph tried to get some work done.
Despite having a full kitchen, we ordered most of our meals from a nearby Greek diner.
It didn't feel like we were in Mykonos (Μύκονος) at all.
We hired another person -- a master doula -- to come help us as well. She had a baby that seemed like a giant compared to ours, even though she was only nine-months-old. This gargantuan baby was extremely light-haired, light-skinned, and light-eyed (especially compared to our jaundiced Middle Eastern babies), and was named Esmeralda.
I got to take a little walk.
I felt guilty leaving the apartment, but the cold air felt great.
Poor Wisconsin, I thought.
Back at the apartment, Asaph was learning how to file Machu's nails.
We had been taught in the hospital, and in classes we attended beforehand, to swaddle the babies, according to the ancient tradition. I hadn't realized that the practice was seen as a fashionable new trend.
Despite exhaustion and fear, we were happy.
My lovely cousin Katie arrived from Chicago to stay with us for the weekend.
We didn't make her do any of the night shifts, although Asaph later said that we should have.
Days went by. Diapers were changed. Bottles were prepared. We watched innumerable episodes of an American police procedural and legal drama television series. Mary came by a few times to help us out and to cuddle the fruits of her womb. We ate delicious meals from the hotel's lunch counter and mediocre meals from the Greek place.
We had our parental establishment court hearing scheduled in Minnesota, but we needed to get clearance from a pediatrician that the children had stopped losing weight and that Picchu's bilirubin levels were stabilizing (although there was no real enforcement mechanism for this). Mary referred us to a doctor from North Dakota.
We drove in the middle of a snowstorm to a featureless office park. The staff fawned over us, since they were twins and since there were such low expectations for fathers. There was a new father in the waiting room who was probably 30 years younger than I.
The doctor had the strongest North–Central American accent I had yet to encounter in the region. He was very affable and golly-gee-ish. The children had lost more weight, however. He told us that we needed to weigh them again before we left for Minnesota.
We were upset.
Picchu was wheeled away for the bilirubin test. She came back screaming her head off. In the hospital, I hadn't had much of an emotional reaction when the children cried after getting jabbed, but I was beginning to feel their pain as the irrevocable parental bonds began to form.
We had to try to make sure that the babies gained weight. We turned off the heat and stripped them down to their diapers while feeding them, to make them uncomfortable so that they wouldn't fall asleep. It seemed cruel, but we were desperate.
We went to have dinner at the dapper doctor's designer domicile.
We had the children bound to our bodies. I was terrified that they would smother.
Later I read that there were cases of babies smothering and dying this way.
The apartment was like the most stylish New York non-heterosexual apartments I had seen, although I imagined that it was considerably cheaper. There was contemporary visual art (of which I was generally not a fan) everywhere, including some televisions that showed endless video loops of birds chirping in cages.
I was impressed when I went to wash my hands.
Mary and her daughter came to the dinner as well. She held our yellowed baby girl.
It was fun.
We all ate designer artisanal pizza: the dapper doctor, his Jewish doctor spouse, their young daughter and baby son, and Mary and her daughter.
Our babies rested on a stylish activity gym. We asked for the name of the brand so that we could buy one.
"Thanks," we said.
The next day a colleague of the North Dakotan doctor called us with the bilirubin results. They were going down! Now the only problem was their weights. Finding another doctor who had a scale seemed like a logistical nightmare.
Their weights had stabilized too!
I was able to take a brief stroll the night before we were to leave for Minnesota. We were going with the master doula and the journeyman doula -- the journeyman doula was going to fly with us to New York, while the master doula would drive us in her imposing vehicle.
It was nice to have a few moments to myself.
Milwaukee was attractive enough. It could be worse, I thought, as I often thought about Columbus (Ohio).
It had some majestic buildings.
We had been there for nearly a month.
I thought of the green-lit minarets of the Levant.
I was scared to go back to New York.
Bitter winds coming off the lake helped me feel better about leaving.
On one of my many taxi rides back and forth to the hospital, a driver had given me an impromptu tour of the city using some strange regional grammar and expressions, and he had mentioned the neon flame on the top of the Art Deco Wisconsin Gas Building.
When the flame is red, it's warm weather ahead!
When the flame is gold, watch out for cold!
When the flame is blue, there's no change in view!
When there's a flickering flame, expect snow or rain!
I walked over to the Episcopal Cathedral.
I had attended no church services during my time in Milwaukee, even though it had coincided with the Feast of the Nativity. Milwaukee wasn't much of a town for Episcopalians anyway. It was Roman Catholic-Lutheran territory, although Jews had been wildly overrepresented during our stay.
We set out early the next day for Minnesota in the master doula's large vehicle. Giant baby Esmeralda sat in the back, never crying once.
I was worried about our children being packed into their carseats. They fell asleep immediately. I kept verifying that they were breathing, at regular intervals.
We stopped at a fast-food restaurant in the middle of Wisconsin as snow began to fall.
Machu's umbilical cord fell off as I changed his diaper.
We crossed the frozen Mississippi.
The landscape seemed ever more Western.
We finally arrived at a grim local government complex.
Our lawyer greeted us outside the courtroom. We hadn't met him before. He had a very strong accent, highlighted hair, and an outfit straight out of 1995 Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, complete with those rectangular glasses.
The judge was a very laid-back woman in her 60s. I couldn't see, but I guessed that she was wearing sandals, also like a German.
Mary and her estranged husband joined by telephone. I was a little shocked when the lawyer asked Mary if the amount of money she had received was so much that it had constituted de facto coercion. Luckily, she said no.
After around 45 minutes, Mary and her estranged husband had relinquished all parental rights, second-parent adoptions had been performed, and Asaph and I were legally responsible for Machu and Picchu. There was no turning back.
We both started bawling.
The babies kept sleeping.
The master doula drove us to Minneapolis−Saint Paul International Airport. Even with the help of the journeyman doula, it was a challenge going through security, although the agents of the hated Transportation Security Administration were surprisingly kind and pleasant.
We all made our way to an airport lounge. It was very open and spacious, so the business and luxury travelers didn't resent our presence. We ate small squares of individually wrapped cheese while the babies slept.
It was time to board the flight. We got the journeyman doula a ticket in so-called business class; she was going to spend the night staying up with the babies in New York. Even though she had never been to New York, she was returning to Milwaukee immediately the next morning, owing to terror.
Asaph and I sat in economy class across the aisle from one another. A flight attendant said, "So cute! How old are they?"
I knew that this was a sneaky trick question, since the airline required babies to be at least seven days old to fly.
"Ten days," I said, defiantly. It was true.
The flight passed without incident. I had to take Picchu to the lavatory to change her once (and was surprised by how big the changing table was), and she made one brief whine-sigh-type noise, but other than that we caused no discomfort to any of the other passengers.
It was a little boring to fly without being able to read or view anything, other than the baby, although she was cute.
Asaph had arranged for a van to fetch us at the airport. We all piled in.
As we got into bed for our first night back home, looking forward to a long stretch of uninterrupted sleep, I knew that I had no idea what the future held.
I couldn't even imagine.