I Survived A High-Risk Pregnancy, But My Son Did Not
I used to wonder what it would be like to be pregnant. I thought it would be weird cravings, waddling and not being able to see my feet. Maybe even peeing a little when I sneeze. But I never, in my wildest dreams, thought pregnancy would be as difficult, scary and ultimately heartbreaking as it was for me.
After my daughter was born, I was a little less naive. My pregnancy with her was hard. I had chronic kidney issues during it that sent me into labor and delivery more times than I can count.
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At just shy of 37 weeks, my face swelled up like a balloon. I looked like the girl from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that needed to be juiced after she turned into a blueberry. My blood pressure had skyrocketed and I developed preeclampsia. While my daughter was healthy, my labor and delivery with her was the stuff of horror movies. I was in labor from Sunday night until Tuesday at lunchtime. And I spent 6 of those hours pushing and begging her to come out.
On top of that, I had not one but two separate rounds of magnesium sulfate, a drug given to prevent seizures in preeclamptic moms that makes it feel like fire is running through your veins and a weeklong hospital stay.
Despite my rocky entry to motherhood and lingering high blood pressure and kidney issues left over from my pregnancy with my daughter that would immediately classify any new pregnancy as high risk, I loved being a mom and would have loved to have more children.
The end of my pregnancy with her left me shaken. Could I really put myself through another pregnancy like that? While I wanted more children, I was scared that something would happen to me during the pregnancy that would leave me unable to care for my daughter.
After 3 years, I gathered my courage and decided I was ready to go for it. I knew I would be high risk, but I was prepared and worked to get as healthy as possible prior to conceiving. For me this meant getting my blood pressure and kidney disorder under control, which I did.
Then I got pregnant before we even started really trying. As soon as the second line turned pink on the pregnancy test, I walked out of my bathroom shaking and crying. “It’s twins,” I said to my poor husband who thought I was nuts.
“Why do you think it’s twins?” he asked, trying to talk me down.
I was very early — less than 4 weeks along — and already sick. I told him that and still he didn’t believe there was any chance I was right. Multiples don’t run in our family and we weren’t on any fertility treatments.
3 weeks later, the morning of my dating ultrasound rolled around. I had lost 15 pounds from constant throwing up. I existed on sips of Sprite, Preggipops, and cooked carrots. I felt like I was dying. I tried to bring up my suspicions on the car ride to the ultrasound.
“Babe,” I said, “Seriously, what if it’s two?”
When the tech switched on the screen to show me the image, I immediately saw something flickering. “Is that the heartbeat?” I asked her, pointing at the spot.
She nodded. “See anything else?”
Oh shit. There it was. A second heartbeat. My instincts were right. I was, in fact, pregnant with twins, a type of identical twin known as monochorionic diamniotic or mono di twins. This means there is only one placenta but each twin is in their own amniotic sac.
After I absorbed the news I already knew, I started to find out exactly what being pregnant with mono di twins meant for me. Not only was I already high risk thanks to my history, underlying conditions and dusty old uterus, but here are tons of complications that can result from a shared placenta including twin to twin transfusion syndrome, risk of twin reverse arterial perfusion syndrome and an increased risk of placental problems from the extra strain of supporting two babies. This meant I would be at the OB three times a month after my 13 week scan, once a month for regular appointments and then twice a month for ultrasounds until I hit my third trimester when it increased to four times a month.
If I had thought I was scared before, after learning I was having twins, I was terrified. I knew enough to know that preeclampsia was linked to placental problems and I didn’t want to go through that again. I was panicked that something would happen to me and leave my children without a mom that would be able to care for them.
And carrying twins was doubly hard on me even early on. The nausea and vomiting incapacitated me. I was formally diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum after I went to the emergency room during my 8th week because I went blind suddenly. There the doctors deduced that I had been so dehydrated and throwing up so violently that I had managed to rip my cornea with the force of being so violently ill. I spent a week wearing a pirate patch over my eye and praying it wouldn’t happen again.
All of the doctors said, I would feel better after I got out of the first trimester. And I thought that if we all made it out of the first trimester, my babies would be okay.
However, my nightmare pregnancy proved me very wrong.
Once the nausea and vomiting became manageable, I had a couple of weeks where I was almost fully functional. But then I started having contractions fairly regularly and my well managed blood pressure crept up, prompting my obstetrician to tell me to stay off my feet as much as possible.
Then one morning in my 30th week, which happened to be the week of Thanksgiving, I woke up with what felt like the worst period cramps ever. I drove myself to the hospital and found out I was in preterm labor. I was in the hospital for 3 days, getting steroids, fluids and just trying to stay pregnant. While in the hospital, I was also diagnosed with gestational diabetes so now I couldn’t eat the carbs that were the only food I could stomach and I had to test my blood sugar before and after each meal.
I didn’t think it could get much worse.
But it did. When I went in for my first ultrasound after my discharge, I heard words that no mother should ever hear. “I’m sorry. Baby A is gone.”
I was alone in the room with the tech. Somehow she helped me call my husband, and I sobbed the awful news over the phone.
Medical personnel swarmed the room I was in and began talking about how my other son was in serious danger of complications or fetal demise. I didn’t understand the words they were saying. After that, the nightmare turned into my living, personal hell.
My husband arrived while I was sitting with my gigantic belly hooked up to monitors and a kindly nurse was stroking my hand trying to keep me calm. The doctor came in again and said my surviving son was in distress. I was not to pass go, not to collect 200 dollars. I was to go immediately to the perinatal unit where they’d decide if my surviving son would be better off inside me or born that day.
Though I was only 32 weeks, I begged and pleaded with the doctors to take my son out of me. I didn’t trust my body to keep my Baby B alive after Baby A died. How was it fair to keep my boy alone with his dead brother? How could that be the best thing for him? Didn’t the doctors see that my body was a death trap?
I was told we would watchfully wait and I would be kept in pregnant purgatory bursting with life, death and uncertainty, until it was clear that my living son would do better out of my body than inside me.
By day, I was surrounded by people. Friends flew cross country to be by my side. They left work and immediately drove to sit with me. They came and kept me company, filling my room with rowdiness, laughter and distraction while they were there. They decorated my room for Christmas to try to keep my spirits up.
At night, they’d leave. My husband would sleep curled up on the couch in the room, holding my hand. I would lie there and cry. How could this be real life?
I wondered how I would ever feel better. I always used to keep things in perspective by thinking about the line from “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” that says “Next year all our troubles will be miles away.”
That line always brought comfort to me with its truth. This year’s troubles wouldn’t even matter next year. We just have to muddle through somehow. But for the first time ever, that line which played on TV commercials and shows while I was stuck in my gray little room, brought no comfort. A year later I would still be a grieving mother, and I would be one every day for the rest of my life.
I lived in that gray area of pregnant with life and death for almost a week until I went into labor and my doctors mercifully decided not to try to stop it. My twins were born at 32 weeks and 5 days, one sleeping, the other rushed to the NICU, where he spent the first month of his life.
After a grim prognosis, my survivor is kicking butt and not just surviving, but thriving. He’s a happy, spunky almost 2-year-old who likes to pretend our sectional is his personal trampoline. He’s quick to smile and laugh and hates to sit still.
I look at him, and I am so happy to have him. He brings so much joy to our family. But I still see his shadow, the missing person who would look just like him. I know exactly how he’d look, right down to the dimple he’d have in his pudgy little cheek and the adorable mess of curls that would be on his head. But I don’t know if he’d squeal, “TICKLE!” over and over again to get me to tickle his round belly the way his brother does. I don’t know if he’d be a fearless daredevil climbing on furniture and jumping on the couch with his brother or if he’d be my snuggler, content to hang out in my lap for hours at a time the way my daughter did.
I can only wonder, and likely always will, no matter how many years go by.
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