March 4, 2019 | By Yvonne Rothermel | Twins and Multiples
Like many couples, Gordon and I struggled with infertility. We were married in 2000 and planned on starting a family that next year. We met at a job where we both were working with kids, and we both knew we wanted the experience of being parents. Considering our age, I knew there was a possibility we wouldn’t be able to get pregnant; however, I didn’t think it would happen to us. But, after over a year of trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant, we sought fertility treatment. After three unsuccessful attempts of intrauterine insemination, we decided to try IVF.
We felt fortunate that we became pregnant after our first attempt at IVF. The day the fertility clinic called us to tell us the good news, our fertility clinic doctor got on the phone with me and said my HCG levels were very high, and to prepare myself for a multiple pregnancy. Both my husband and I were on cloud nine. Although terrified of being able to handle the challenges of twins, we were thrilled. We felt we would no longer have to endure anymore fertility treatment because we would have an “instant family”. Twins were confirmed at our first ultrasound appointment. I didn’t have a moment of not knowing that I was probably carrying at least two babies.
We felt so bonded to “our twins” from the start. One of the benefits of becoming pregnant at a fertility clinic is that you receive many more ultrasounds than through a regular OB/GYN. We were able to watch them grow from week to week. I took great pains to take good care of myself and the twins. We found out that I was carrying fraternal twin girls at my 20-week ultrasound. Shortly after this ultrasound, I started to feel some contractions. I started to take it easy and spent more time off my feet. When I was about 24 weeks along, some friends of ours threw us a baby shower. We received 2 of everything. We were so excited to welcome our girls. In the early morning hours after the baby shower, I started feeling more and more contractions and went to the hospital. They admitted me and started me on magnesium in an effort to stop my contractions. At one point the doctor said to us there was nothing left he could do for us – the contractions kept coming. It was then that Gordon and I thought it was a real possibility that we would lose our girls. Eventually the drugs did begin to work and the contractions lessened. I was released after a week in the hospital to home with full bed rest for the remainder of the pregnancy.
We knew the risks of premature birth. Each week that passed was a gift of time. We finally reached 34 weeks – a huge milestone. I began to relax. Even if something did go wrong now they could deliver the girls and they would have great survivability. I eventually made it to 36 weeks – virtually full term for our twins. We felt so confident and “in the clear” after a difficult pregnancy.
As I started my kick counts, I began to worry that I wasn’t feeling “Baby B” very much. I went to triage at the hospital numerous times and each time I was assured she was fine, despite the fact that she had decelerations in her heart beat. At my last OB appointment, my doctor told me that the recent ultrasound showed that “Baby B” had fallen off the growth curve and was IUGR. I also had high blood pressure. This appointment was on a Friday. He literally scratched his head trying to decide whether to deliver me that night or wait till he was on call on Sunday – 2 days later. He decided to wait. I went home with an appointment to come to the hospital on Sunday at 7pm for an induction.
The next day, Gordon and I tried to enjoy our only day left before the twins arrived. That night we went to bed and I awoke at 4am to frantic kicking in my belly. I felt my left side where Baby B was most of the time and felt a limp arm. I had a bad feeling, but I had been reassured so many times, I talked myself out of being concerned. Still, it haunted me. Early that morning we went to triage again – well before my scheduled induction. The nurse attempted to get the babies on the monitor. She got Baby A, but couldn’t find Baby B. I wasn’t too concerned because the nurse said she was probably just moving around so she couldn’t get her on the monitor. However, in a matter of minutes there was a perinatologist and an OB doctor at my side. They did an ultrasound and told me Baby B had no heartbeat. They pointed to her chest cavity and there was nothing. I felt myself leave my body – it was surreal. My immediate concern went to my other twin and I requested an immediate C-section to get her out and safe in my arms. I didn’t know what had caused Baby B, Maya’s death. I was fearful the same thing would have to Baby A, Sophie.
I remember the nurse wheeling me down the hall to the operating room for my C-section and holding my belly. I wanted Sophie out and safe in my arms but I wanted to keep Maya in me forever. I was relieved when Sophie was born healthy and vivacious. I dreaded seeing Maya – I was worried I wouldn’t be able to cope as seeing her would make it so much more real. Gordon brought her to me and I held her in the private recovery room the hospital arranged for us. She was perfect except for a little cut on her ankle. She had beautiful strawberry blonde curly hair, big eyes, and distinctly large hands and feet, which runs in the family. To look at her, she could have been sleeping. The doctors told me she must have just died recently. I now believe I woke at 4am to frantic kicking because that was the moment of her death. We had Maya in the room with us most of the time during our hospital stay. We held her, dressed her, and took video and pictures of her and Sophie. I felt that I would have the rest of my life with Sophie, but with Maya, we only had 4 days. I am so grateful for that time with her.
To this day, the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life was to leave Maya behind at the hospital for the mortuary to pick her up. It was my job as a mom to keep her warm and cozy and hold her, yet she was in a dark and cold place, alone. As difficult as those first weeks and months were, I don’t think I began to fully feel the grief until 6 months later. I was so focused on parenting Sophie. I must have brought Sophie to the doctor for every little thing – I was so worried something was lurking in her body that would take her from me like Maya. The autopsy showed an “unexplained stillbirth” which made it hard for me to trust in Sophie’s health.
It will be 3 years this June, since we lost Maya. The grief I have changes and evolves over time. I still have “tidal waves” of grief that hit me: Sometimes for no apparent reason, and at other times triggered by such things as a memory or thought, the sight of twins, a developmental milestone for Sophie, or the resemblance between our youngest daughter Delaney, and Maya.
My surviving twin, Sophie, is starting to consciously understand that she had a sister. I say consciously because we believe Sophie had her own “knowingness” about her twin sister Maya. Ever since she was little, Sophie has always played with 2 dolls at one time (even though she has several), and still refuses to push her pretend stroller without “both of her babies” sitting in it.
I walk a difficult line between explaining what happened to Maya, and not burdening Sophie with our own grief. We are careful in trying to allow her the space to have her own feelings – if any right now – about what happened. I found it much easier to talk to Sophie about her sister when she was younger, and probably didn’t understand anything I said. Now, it makes it more real to talk about Maya with Sophie, and I feel the sadness well up inside me.
My heart aches for Sophie’s loss of her twin and for our loss of not knowing Maya and watching her grow. Although I am not religious in the traditional sense, I have had a string of coincidences occur that relate to Maya. One example is that on the day of Maya’s memorial service, while making an egg dish for the reception, every egg that we cracked open had a double yoke except one. This didn’t just happen with one carton of eggs, but with both cartons. On another occasion, we had two identical plants growing side by side in our planter box – neither of which we planted. These plants sprouted up next to a memorial rosebush for Maya. Despite pulling them out (after they would collapse from their own weight), two identical plants continued to sprout again and again. In the deepest place of my heart, I am certain Maya is with us. This sense that she is around us has continued to give me great comfort.
Originally printed in the Empty Cradle Newsletter March/April 2006