Two years ago today I learned that my twins, whose perfect hearts I'd seen beating just days prior, had both died.
That was the pivot of my life; the dividing line. Every moment has since been measured in befores and afters. Had you told me then what the after would be like, I don't know that I would've survived. But now I can imagine no other course that my life could've taken. My twins were of me, their loss is part of me and the desperate attempts to extend the love I felt for them to another, living baby is much of who I've become. And I wouldn't give it back.
Today, though, is so much about who I was then. And so I'll share something I wrote in the early morning hours of October 12th, as I waited to go to the hospital for my d&c.
I had some very light spotting on Monday, something which has been quite common throughout this pregnancy, but I had just decided that I was putting too much energy into work and wasn't prioritizing as I should. So I decided to stay home and give me and my babies some much deserved rest. The bleeding stopped and everything seemed fine. But Tuesday morning when I went to the bathroom there was a large volume of red blood. The toilet water was pink and on the paper was a quarter sized clot. I knew it wasn't good, but I assumed everything would be ok. A tiny part of me was relieved actually. I didn't have the guts to quit my job (although I believed it was the right thing for my pregnancy) but surely my doctor wouldn't want me doing physical work if I bled like that.
I had started this pregnancy as the most nervous mother-to-be. I was sure I would miscarry at any given moment. That is, until 7w2d when we saw TWO heartbeats instead of one. Even though I went from a regular to a high risk pregnancy in the blink of an eye, suddenly I didn't have any concerns for the health of my babies. I thought my mother's intuition had just been off base - I had known something was different, but it wasn't an impending miscarriage I sensed...I was a mother of identical twins! And I just knew, to the core of my being, that I wouldn't be given this blessing (a scary blessing, but a blessing nonetheless) and have it taken away.
I got to the doctors office on Tuesday and was pleased that although it was very tight and cramped, there were photos of smiling moms and babies all over the walls. My new doctor was in many of the pictures - beaming over children she'd helped to bring into this world. This was the doctor I had wanted. Not the one I'd suffered through for 2 months, with grey walls, grey chairs, grey staff. Not the doctor who loved to drop the "m-word" in every appointment, like she was talking about brushing her teeth. I had finally found the doctor who would deliver my twins. I just had to sort out this little bleeding problem first.
As I sat to tell the nurse practitioner my story she listened with a kind face and understanding. She told me that I'd already gone through so much with this pregnancy. It was so nice to hear that acknowledged, because I sure felt I had. When she performed the internal she told me my cervix looked good and closed and I remained optimistic. It's funny how quickly optimism can drain right out the soles of your feet when faced with an ultrasound.
I knew the moment the ultrasound had begun that it was bad. I couldn't look at the screen - couldn't discover for myself that it was over - but the heartbeats were so easy to see now and I knew that no exclamation of "there they are" was coming. When the nurse started saying she was sorry, when she put her hand on my shoulder, my husband was concerned. He could see our babies on the screen - both of them. He could see their little faces and their hands. Why was his wife moaning and why was the nurse giving condolences? He had forgotten to check for the heartbeats. This brilliant man had somehow decided that if we'd lost them they'd be gone. Melted away into the fuzz of the screen. He wouldn't see his perfect babies lying in my womb if they were dead. But he did.
I moaned and I whimpered, but the tears didn't come. A nurse handed me a pile of tissues I could've suffocated myself in (maybe she wanted to give me the option) but I couldn't do it. Tears welled up in the nurse practitioner's eyes and the assistant nurse openly cried.
The doctor came in to confirm the diagnosis, although she gently told me before hand that there would be no change. Heartbeats don't hide in ultrasounds, and my babies' chests were as plain as day. She said she was sorry. That's all there is to say. My husband asked her to point some things out on the screen - the head, the body, the umbilical cord - but I couldn't look. Just before she finished the ultrasound I realized that this would be my last chance to see my babies and that I needed to take that opportunity, so I looked at the dark little screen. And there, in the clearest image yet (and this was our 5th ultrasound) was one of my babies. Facing right at me. I could see the eyes, I could see the torso, it was so obvious that this was a little person I was looking at...my little person. I don't know if my last vision was of baby A or B, but whichever it was, it looked so perfect. I forced myself to ask the doctor for printouts from the ultrasound. I didn't know what I wanted to do with them, but it only seemed right that their mother should have them. Neither image is nearly as clear as that last shot of my baby. I don't get to see their perfect faces, staring right at me. But they're there and I think they knew I love them.
Being at home is so strange. The bleeding has stopped entirely and I haven't had a single cramp. I feel nauseas much of the time and can't eat, but then, isn't that what pregnancy is like? It's so strange to have no will to go outside and witness society and yet feel lost in my own home. I can't do nothing, but doing something is so overwhelming. So I wait. I watch the hours tick by, napping occasionally and then feeling guilty for it. Pregnant people need naps and I...am not pregnant. I could drink a case of beer, but I sure don't want to. I want to treat myself as a pregnant woman, attribute the nausea to morning sickness, not dread at the procedure that comes today.
I had a dream while I was pregnant. Just one pregnant dream. I dreamt that I didn’t feel like I was in labor, but my doctor kept telling me I was. I had no pain, no contractions, but they told me I was dilated and it was time to push. I didn’t understand, didn’t believe I was giving birth but I pushed anyway. Eventually out popped a green olive with a bright red pimento. The doctor realized he was wrong, that I wasn’t in labor and that a baby would come later. It was a strange dream, but obvious where it came from. I had just read in a pregnancy book that at 9 weeks your baby is the size of an olive. From that point forward (I was 6 weeks at the time) my goal was to get to the olive stage. I wanted my babies to be the size of olives. At 9 weeks, I turned to my husband and said gleefully “they’re olives!”. At 9w1d the bleeding started. And today the doctor will deliver my little olives. All I can hope is that the rest of the dream was right as well – a baby will come later.
Each day has been worse than the last. Yesterday, upon receiving flowers, I realized a little bit more that it's over. Today, when unable to drink or eat all morning in preparation, I realize a bit more still. And tomorrow, I won't be able to cup my belly and talk to those little beings inside. They might not hear me now, but I know they're there and I can tell them how loved they are. Tonight they will be far from my body. Removed by force and placed not into my arms, but into a receptacle marked "waste". There aren't any other options really, they're only 2cm each. It's not appropriate to bury your children in a shoebox in the backyard...but is it appropriate to let some man take them away? They are my babies. They were tiny and helpless and they died, but they had faces and fingers and hearts - can they really just be disposed of? How can I just go to sleep and wake up with them in another room, in a bag, on their way to a disposal facility? What kind of a mother am I if I let that happen?
Am I a mother? At what point are you entered into that club? Do you have to kiss your babies' foreheads? Do you have to rock them to sleep? Did you have to feel a tickle in your belly - movement, a kick - to be a mom? I will go through a birth of sorts. I will be asleep (and so will my babies) and the doctors will take them from me, but they will still pass from my womb, through my cervix and out into the world - is that not giving birth? Can I call myself a mother when all I have to show for it are a few printouts from a scan and two lines on a stick?
I know it's illogical, I know it's not possible, but it seems so cruel to take them from me. I know they've died and I know I'll never hold them in my arms, but can't I hold them in my belly? Can't I keep them with me where I know they'll be safe? My husband and I tried so hard to make those babies and now they're going to be taken away from me? It doesn't seem right. It seems like they need me as much as I need them.
This was not how this was supposed to be. This is not right and it isn't fair. All I wanted was to be a mother. But I guess if being a mother just means loving your children with every ounce of your being, well, then I am a mother. And I will be a mother again.
I don't remember feeling hope on that day, but clearly, in that last line I did. Last year, however, on the anniversary I was virtually without optimism, without hope - we'd recently learned of our MFI diagnosis and the further difficulties we'd have to face. Last year this day passed as a painful reminder of what we'd lost and weren't sure we'd ever attain again. And so today I am thankful; thankful that 11 days ago my eggs and my husband's sperm met again. That 6 days ago we transferred the beginnings of life back to the womb that was scraped clean 2 years ago. That today I have hope.
In Jenny McCarthy's new book she mentions that when she wants someone to make the right choice she sometimes prays to their guardian angels to point them down her chosen path. And I knew, in that moment, that if these tiny clumps of cells in my uterus have anyone watching over them, they have their lost siblings. And so I asked my twins to help point these new souls on my chosen path. To me.
Two years later and I still miss my babies. I'm still without toes to tickle and hands to hold. But this day, two years later, I have one thing. I have hope.