It is almost 4 years now since that worst day. It has been hard. Sometimes impossible. Life has pushed us forward whether we wanted it to or not. We have struggled. We have cried. We have buried our twin girls, together, in a little baby casket.
Two weeks shy of the first anniversary of their delivery, we welcomed a baby girl, Molly Grace. My husband asked, “Do you think it’s weird we are giving her the same middle name as Hannah & Olivia? I never knew any kids with the same middle name in their family growing up.” I reply, “Did you know any families growing up who’s siblings were stillborn?” No. Me neither. We both decide that we will parent our children, raise our family, in a way that we figure out as we go. We never imagined this life. It is not something you ever plan for. No two stories are the same and there is no one-size-fits-all to grieving or parenting after a loss. This is our story, shared with you from the pages of my diary, written during that first week after the worst day.
– Diary excerpt, written on 9/17/13, 4 days after Hannah & Olivia were born still –
It is almost a week ago that my little girls stopped moving inside me. It is only now that I can begin to write about it. I want to remember everything. I don’t want to lose any part of them through forgetting. This is my story.
It took me nearly all day to notice, Benjamin and I were so busy. He’d had an appointment that afternoon to be checked for a cold that was hanging on. We actually had a pretty nice day – I had cleaned the kitchen and we went for an ice cream cone after the appointment. Around 5 o’clock I noticed that I had not felt the babies move; had I felt them all day? I know I felt them, we all did, the night before. I ate an orange push-up pop and laid down on my side. The girls went crazy for that treat last time, surely the kicks would start right up.
Joe comes home around 5:30 and I tell him I haven’t felt the girls move today. He says, “They just want to hear their Daddy,” he bends down and puts his lips to my belly, “Hello girls, it’s your Daddy. Give us a kick.” We wait a little longer and Joe brings me a glass of orange juice. All the tricks we’ve read about. But now I’m starting to get a little worried. I feel like I should call and ask. Even though it seems silly, I’ve been told to have a low threshold for calling in. The OB on-call at my office in the big city calls me back. He assures me that this is normal, he tells me, “I’m sure nothing’s wrong. I can’t say 100%, but I really think everything is okay. You can come in for an ultrasound tomorrow if you want.” – We live three hours away from the OB’s office, we have been making the monthly trips just as we did with Benjamin – we enjoy staying with Joe’s mom and making a weekend of it. – The OB adds that I “can go have the fetal heart tones checked.”
After we hang up I start worrying about their heartbeats. I just want to hear them now. Maybe they are just sleepy? Maybe they’re having a growth spurt? Joe listens to my tummy with a stethoscope I got a few Christmases ago. He can hear my heart, but not theirs. I am 23 weeks and 3 days. “That’s okay, it doesn’t work that well anyways.” I call the county health nurse on her cell phone, not wanting to make this into a big deal yet. I think in my head that once I call the ER I will not be able to stop the ball from rolling. She advises me that her doppler is not very good. I know this from my last pregnancy, with Benjamin. She let me borrow the little, old doppler for the second half. She thinks everything will be fine, but she knows how I feel. Maybe it will be best to call the hospital. I call and speak with a nurse. She asks around, tracking down a doppler, and tells me to come in after 7:30.
I take a shower and put on comfortable pants. Easier access to my big, swollen belly. It is finally 7:30 and I drive to the ER. I go by myself because I think it’s not going to be a big deal. In and out. The nurse assures me that lots of moms come in to check the heartbeat. She puts the cold jelly on my stomach and slides the doppler around. Lots of noises, but not the sound I’m longing to hear. I think the machine looks pretty old and it might take a while for her to find them. After some time she gets another nurse to help look. He is surprisingly apt and thorough. Everyone keeps thinking they hear something, but they can’t track it down. My own pulse keeps coming through. Boom, boom, boom. “Maybe it’s because I have an anterior placenta? “ I say. They try a second machine, the kind that they strap around you during labor. Nothing concrete. They leave to find the doctor on-call. Okay, now I’m getting nervous. I text Joe.
“Two nurses couldn’t find anything. The doctor is going to try now.”
“Do we need to come to the hospital?” It is 8:03 on 9/11/2013.
I call Joe, “Maybe you should come down. Gramma Claude will babysit.” We hang up and he sets off to arrange things.
The doctor comes in to see me. Now the doctor and the first nurse are running things across my belly. The doc tells me, “I’m not getting it, but I know what will!…” They wheel in a little ultrasound machine that looks like just a laptop on a wheeled cart. “Cool!” I think to myself, “I’ll get to see them moving now too!”
My baby is still. I’m not sure which one it is, but she is just laying there. Her little rump is bouncing to my heartbeat as it rests on something. The placenta? I can see her head, her ribs, her perfect little body lying on its side. No fluttery heartbeat spot. She’s not moving her arms or legs.
“That’s a baby, right?” the doctor says.
It obviously is, and now I wonder if he even knows what he’s doing. “Our town is not set up for prenatal care,” I tell myself. All of these machines are so old.
The doctor decides to try some different things. He doesn’t tell me what’s going on and now it is starting to feel like I’m being admitted. They draw blood and I’m sent to do a clean catch. I start to cry a little on my way to the bathroom. This can’t be happening. We just saw our babies on the ultrasound a week ago, they were busy and beautiful. I try not to entertain the negative thoughts. I keep saying, “I thought I’d just come down here and hear them. I thought it would be simple!”
I go back to the ER bed and sit. They send Joe back. We are anxious in this environment. We strain our ears to listen to the doctor calling in to my OB’s office. He speaks in doctor words, explains that the ultrasound machine is old, “like the ones they used in the Iraq War.” More things we can’t quite hear. And then, “Honestly, I can’t find any heart tones.” We still haven’t been told anything. Eventually he comes back in. He explains that there are questions, they just don’t know how urgently we need to make the trip. He is waiting for a call back. It comes and we are set up to be seen at the specialists for an ultrasound in the morning. It feels like forever away.
They plans are set; we will take Benjamin with us. If everything is good we’ll make a weekend of it: I will do my 3-hour glucose tolerance test and get that out of the way; maybe we can browse around again for a bigger car. We will need the extra room with twins on the way. We pack everything up the night before. A couple outfits each, the bare minimum.
It is impossible to sleep. I lie on my side with the phone plugged in, trying to research things. I use the search term “no movement at 23 weeks”. I get these posts with everyone saying they had the same thing and everything was fine. But, when I use the search term “no heartbeat at 23 weeks”, I start to see the stories. Their stories. Surely, not mine. This is not good for me. I stay up imagining all the bad things. I play the Wailing Jennys on my phone and put the speaker to my belly. “Wake up babies.”
I wake up and it’s 5 a.m. “Let’s just go now,” we decide, and soon we are on the road. Ben is asleep and the lullaby music playing in the early morning is relaxing. I decide to start thinking positive. I picture myself walking into the specialist’s office, lying down on the exam bed as they place the ultrasound to my belly, and I instantly see my sweet babies kicking around. That sweet flutter in the middle of their chests. Now I’m glad that I forgot to eat the bread I put in the toaster. Maybe I can go ahead and do the glucose test this morning!
We get to the hospital and Joe’s mom meets us in the parking lot to watch Ben. Joe and I walk to the office, hand in hand. The wait is excruciating. Our legs are bouncing and we are on edge. The T.V. in the waiting room is annoying. I rub the rosary in my pocket. Finally we are called back.
“Good to see you again. Didn’t think it would be so soon!” our MFM (special high-risk OB) jokes. I’m on the bed with my shirt pulled up. They put the warm jelly on my stomach. They clear off the ultrasound monitor; it has pictures of the baby from the woman before me. She just found out she is having another girl, she seemed disappointed at the news as we passed her in the hall.
They put the probe to my belly and there they are. My babies. The fluid around Hannah is crazy and looks all warped at the edges. They quickly scan back and forth and then “confirm” with the flow monitor. The MFM puts her hand on my shoulder.
“Unfortunately, both of your babies have passed.”
The tears run hot down my face. I can’t see Joe from where I’m laying. I hope he’s okay. How did this happen? Did I already know? Maybe they’re wrong, the ultrasound was so fast, 40 seconds? What do we do? How can this be?
We are like floating zombies. They lead us into a private room and we cry together. We hold each other and cry. I feel so bad for Joe. We keep saying “I’m sorry”. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
The MFM explains that there has been an event. Something big happened. A rush transfer of blood. She says our girls died quickly and without pain. Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome.
I miss Benjamin. I have to get out of here. I want to be with Benjamin out in the parking lot. They let us go to him. Joe tells his mom the worst news. I hug my baby boy. I have to be strong for him. I don’t want him to be scared. We all walk back together. I can feel the weight in my belly. Dead weight. I look down whenever we pass someone. I don’t want them to ask me how far along I am. Or give me their well wishes. I rub my tummy. I miss the joy it brought just yesterday. The promises it held. I can’t believe my babies are gone and still inside me. Our heads are floating in the clouds; we are spinning through a dream world. The nurses are explaining things and we nod and listen. We are quiet and polite. We are in business mode.
Benjamin is happy playing with his tow truck and choo-choo train. He eats the graham crackers the nurses give to him. I don’t remember saying good-bye.
I will be given a room in labor and delivery, where I’ll be induced and deliver my babies’ bodies. There will be pain and pushing, but no newborn cry. They will look like sleeping kittens. The nurses are special, you can tell that right away.
We are given room H. Same as I labored in with Benjamin. How different this ride will be. I pray that God will make it easy. Shortly after the foley bulb is put in, something happens. I stand up and there is fluid coming out. This is real. My nurse is kind and reassuring, we clean things up together. She is trying to make me as comfortable as possible. When the bulb falls out at 4cm, I panic! 4cm is all the farther I ever got to with Benjamin, before he had to be born via c-section. What if the babies just fall out now?!
Eventually I get the epidural. “There is no reason to be in pain.”
We cry on and off. Never knowing what the trigger will be. My mom rubs my feet. Karen and Ben visit. It is all a daydream. We are floating through a forced timeline. I don’t want to do this, but I know I have to. I am scared for the babies to come. What will they look like? How will they feel? Will I love them right away? I have never done this before, I don’t know what to expect.
Joe is given a bed next to mine and we sleep holding each other’s arms. I remember the clock. Watching the contraction monitor in the mirror. There is no sound; the doppler strap is not even on me. No need for it. I get the shakes every time I have to take the blankets off for something. My teeth chatter and my body trembles.
I wake up sometime around 4 or 5 a.m. It is 9/13/13 now. The epidural is re-upped and I wait for the pain of the contractions to go away again. Soon I am measuring at a 7 and the doctor is called in to break my water. There is so much fluid it is spooky. The bed is soaked up to my shoulders, the floor is covered. I look down at my deflated belly and cry. “I miss my stomach!” We all cry. Me, Joe, the doctor, and the nurse.
Things are moving quickly now. It is time to push.
6:02 am – Hannah Grace is delivered. She is bigger than I imagined. She looks like a real baby. She is so red.
6:13 am – Olivia Grace. She is so pale. She looks like she could just start breathing. She is slim with an oval face like Joe and his Grandmother.
You can tell that something major happened by the different colors. It is scary. But they are beautiful! Little arms, little legs. Perfect hands and feet. Everyone says they are perfect. I agree.
I wish they could be alive.
At first we don’t know what do with their little selves. They are small, but still bigger than we thought. I keep thinking that they were big enough to survive. They were big enough to survive… They are each about a foot long and a little over a pound in weight. They have everything. Fingernails, eyebrows. Olivia has hair on her head. Hannah has the same mouth as Benjamin.
Joe kisses his little girls on their heads. One in each arm. They look so good together.
It is my sincere hope that through Held Your Whole Life we are able to reach out to those families, those moms and dads, who are also on the journey, figuring things out as they go. Second by second when need be. I cannot stop this from happening to other families; no matter how tightly I close my eyes and clench my hands and beg, “Please! Let me be the last one!”
What I can do is pour my love into each piece of memorial jewelry I make. Saying those precious baby names as I piece together something for Mom to hold tight.
“Held Your Whole Life” – to me, it is a measure of love, an undeniable truth that can never be taken away. This is my wish: to acknowledge those lives, celebrate our babies, speak of them with joy in my heart. Though it may be broken, it still beats.
Mom to Benjamin, Hannah, Olivia, and Molly