Please share your story:
I have always been a perfectionist. I lived my life by my spiral-bound agenda, checking off every minor accomplishment. So, when my husband and I decided we wanted to start a family, I meticulously learned more than I ever thought I would about human reproduction, and armed with that knowledge, I figured I'd be pregnant in no time. What started as candlelit dinners and silly jokes gradually turned to month after month of growing anxiety and despair as that pink line never showed up.
After a long and very difficult journey, including the loss of our only naturally conceived pregnancy, we finally got pregnant through IVF. I received the shock of my life, on April Fool's Day no less, when I found out that our single embryo had spontaneously split and we were now the proud parents of identical twins. I spent the next several weeks of my pregnancy again researching all the potential complications of this news, knowing that I was now considered particularly high risk. My spiral-bound notebook grew increasingly ink-stained.
Early on, the trouble started. Contractions at only 14 weeks. Bleeding at 16 weeks. By 22 weeks I had considerable contractions throughout the weekend. I saw my doctor the following Monday and was immediately admitted to the hospital. We could tell that something was seriously wrong, but no one was telling me much. Finally, the attending physician broke the news: I was in labor and there was not much they could do but give me a few kinds of drugs and hope the labor stopped. If the boys came now, they would not survive. The chances of holding off labor until they were big enough to make it were not great. We were admitted to the high-risk section of Labor and Delivery and left to hold our breath and wait. And wait. And wait. One doctor even told us that we should consider aborting them and "starting over" because "some women just can't carry twins." Those words cut into me like a knife. I had never been more scared in my life.
So I laid in a hospital bed crying, worrying, and despairing, knowing there was absolutely nothing anyone could do but let the seconds, minutes, hours tick by. My husband was by my side every single night. We waited for SIX WEEKS. I was only allowed to leave my bed once every few days to shower. The drugs I was on to hold off labor made me feel foggy and disconnected. I felt lost without my ability to know what was going to happen and if my babies would be alright. People kept telling me to take the time to read, catch up on movies, do crossword puzzles, anything to pass the time. I couldn't do anything. I was too paralyzed with anxiety to focus on anything but watch the clock.
Finally, I got up one morning to use the bathroom and my water broke. That meant delivery was, most likely, imminent. I had made it to 29 weeks, meaning the boys were viable but still quite small. A neonatologist from the NICU came to our room to explain to us what to expect when the boys were born...assuming they survived.
We waited some more, and I was not allowed to get up at all. Two more days past. I was laying in my bed when my husband left to get coffee...as he left, I sat up and felt something strange between my legs. It was Twin A's umbilical cord. A cord prolapse is a true obstetric emergency. I paged my nurse and was immediately rushed to an OR. There was no time to find my husband or discuss anything. In fact, the surgery was so fast that the anesthesia had not set in before they began the C-section; I felt everything as they sliced into my abdomen. I remember screaming and fading away. My husband was left outside the operating theatre during the C-section and had no idea what was happening or if we were alright.
The next thing I knew, I woke up feeling lots of pain, and my husband was next to me. Owen and Charlie were in the NICU. They were a good size for their age, but still small; each was about 3 pounds. Luckily they were quite healthy. I ended up staying in the hospital another week because I developed pneumonia (my lungs had become very weak from all the bedrest) and I came very close to being admitted to the ICU. Leaving the hospital without my baby boys was the most heart wrenching thing I have ever gone through.
For the next six weeks, we commuted between our house and the hospital every day to visit Owen and Charlie. We held them skin-to-skin, fed them, and bathed them, and returned home only to sleep. Even then, I was waking every three hours to pump my milk so I could bring it to the NICU for the boys' feeding tubes. I could barely walk during this time because my muscles had atrophied so terribly. It was a grueling, surreal time after everything else I'd already been through. Finally, when the boys were big enough to regulate their own body temperature and take feedings by bottle, they were able to come home.
Although the twins have been very healthy since then, we will have to monitor them carefully for the next several years to be sure they don't suffer any negative effects from their pre-maturity. They are still at risk for Cerebral Palsy, learning disabilities, vision problems, and a host of other issues. For a perfectionistic person like me, this experience was absolute hell on earth (I did everything RIGHT, so why did this happen to us?!), but I am so thankful every single day that my boys and I all survived.
How has your story shaped you into who you are today?:
The trauma my family and I went through as we struggled to grow from two to four has changed me forever. As someone who used to live and breath by a schedule and a daily agenda, I have learned that life can never truly be planned. The most important thing is to know how to be vulnerable and ask for help from your loved ones when all of your plans and expectations are destroyed. I have also learned that we women are such amazingly STRONG creatures. We grow human beings inside our bodies. We sometimes suffer through incredible stress and loss during this process, but somehow find it within ourselves to keep trying. And once we have our babies in our arms, we dig down deeper than we ever thought we could, through all those hours of crying fits and sleepless nights and feelings of failure and we give all we have to nourishing and cherishing those little ones. It is just awe-inspiring. I wish I could go back in time to my grandmothers, and my mom, and say "thank you...I get it now."
What compelled you to share your story?:
My story shows a side of pregnancy that, thankfully, is pretty rare. The majority of couples have no problems conceiving and are lucky enough to enjoy uneventful, healthy pregnancies. However, for those of us who struggle with infertility, pregnancy loss, or particularly difficult and scary pregnancies, just hearing the stories of others who have gone through it (and come out on the other side) can be comforting. On the other hand, I know that it took me a long time to stop feeling a degree of resentment towards all the carefree pregnant women I knew whose lives seemed so easy. Maybe my story can serve as a reminder that you never know what someone has been through, or how their story will end. And no matter what your circumstances (trying to conceive, biological mother, mother through adoption or other means, or happily childfree), I hope my story reminds women of the strength we all have within us, even when we don't believe its there.
What encouraging words would you give to someone who shares a similar story? : Please, please never give up hope that you will have a happy ending. It might take awhile, and you might go through a lot of pain and healing, but every single person I have met who has struggled with similar issues has eventually found their happiness. Some of them have successfully carried to term after many losses. Some of them have adopted. Some of them have chosen to embrace living childfree. All of them have battle scars, and all of them are strong, amazing women.