Livia and Lucy's story, Part 1

After two years of marriage, Nate and I decided it was time to see what God might have in store for our little family in the wild and wooly land of parenting. Rather to our surprise– and greatly to our delight– I got pregnant right away, and we started planning on the arrival of our little one in mid-October, 2014 (the official due date was October 19). Five days after we found out I was pregnant, Nate had to leave on a 5-week long TDY, and almost immediately after he left, nausea started taking over my life. Nate ended up returning a week early from his TDY because I was so miserable, and my mom even flew out last minute from Colorado to take care of me the week before he returned. I didn't leave our house for over a month– it took me most of the day just to work up to getting out of bed!

In spite of the sickness, we were really excited about being parents. We discussed names and looked online at strollers and co-sleepers. I fought an inner battle with myself over whether or not I would try cloth-diapering, and I read all my older sister's recommendations for birth books. Emily is a certified professional midwife in Colorado, and we planned on her being here for the home birth I had dreamed of for longer than I had known Nate. We found a midwife, a doula, and a CNM for back-up.

At our first ultrasound, on June 10 (rather late for a first ultrasound due mostly to me being so sick), we were equal parts shocked and thrilled to find out that we were expecting twins. (I wrote my post "Double!" afterwards.) However, we were told that while both twins were measuring well in terms of size, one of them had an unusually high amount of amniotic fluid. We were referred to a fetal-medicine specialist in Columbia for a higher-level ultrasound. We were anxious, but not enough to prevent us from beginning to dream and plan for life with two babies in the fall. We knew that one of them was a girl, but the other hadn't cooperated at the ultrasound. Secretly I dreamed of twin girls: playmates, dolls, and matching dresses and hair ribbons. I ordered two Pottery Barn Kids cloth dolls that I had seen online and loved for years.

A week and a day later, June 18, Nate's prediction of identical twin girls proved to be exactly right. At the high-level ultrasound, we watched in delight as our daughter Livia danced, twisting and squirming in her excess of amniotic fluid. Lucy was snuggled up under the right side of my ribcage: she lacked enough fluid to really be able to move much, but I loved that she was nestling near my heart. The ultrasound was a happy hour– the shock came afterwards when they showed us into the doctor's office and he broke the news to us that our daughters were in Stage 3 Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome. TTTS is a problem with the placenta where one twin (in this case Livia) ends up getting far more than her share of the blood and nutrients, while the other twin (in our case Lucy) doesn't get nearly enough. The donor twin (Lucy) usually does not have enough amniotic fluid, while the recipient twin (Livia) has too much. TTTS can only happen with identical twins (because only identical twins share a placenta) and it happens 20% of the time. No one knows why it happens– it has nothing to do the parents, genetics, how healthy or not you are, or anything. It is simply a random monster.

We sat in shock and sorrow listening as our doctor explained all the statistics– statistics which we had to look up again later since we couldn't absorb them all at the time, and in the end they didn't really matter because we knew we would do our utmost to save our daughters. The thing we could do that would give them the best chance of survival was a laser surgery that would attempt to fix the faulty blood vessels in my placenta that were causing the problem. This treatment, when it works, gives both twins the best possible chance of survival. There are no guarantees it will work at all– and even when it does, accidental rupturing of the membranes in the surgery, resulting in premature labor, is a possibility.

Three days later we flew to Houston to have the surgery done at Texas Children's Hospital– there aren't very many hospitals in the country that have fetal surgeons qualified to do it. At this point I was 23 weeks along and measuring 36 weeks (for a singleton pregnancy) because of all the excess fluid. The flights weren't easy, but we met our mothers in Houston with relief and drove straight to the hospital. I was having pretty bad back pain and pain in my ribs at this point. When we arrived at the hospital and were initially checked in, we found out this was because I was contracting– they thought it was because I was severely dehydrated. Once I had an IV the contractions tapered off.

This is the hardest part of the story and the hardest part to write. I will quote from my journal, since trying to write something fresh about the worst moment of my life is too painful.
I'll never forget those moments– nor, in an odd way, do I want to. Nate said he knew as soon as we saw Livia on the monitor– she had been dancing, practically, in all her extra fluid, at the ultrasound three days earlier, but now she lay so still. I think deep down I probably knew as well, but I didn't want to believe it. The doctor was an Iranian man with a rather thick accent, and he started asking quiet questions about when we'd been diagnosed and what we knew about the disease, and something was choking me till finally I said, "Please just tell me if my babies are alive." And I can hear the quiet tone of his voice and feel my heart break all over again as he says, "Unfortunately they are not." From a long way away through the storm that's driving me under I hear Nate cry, "Both of them?" and the doctor confirm.
I had never cried that way before but I have cried that way since, even last night when we got home to Sumter. It's an awful kind of crying and I keen and choke and sob, but there is no relief from the pain. The best I can hope for is numbness.
In the ultrasound room we all cried– Mom came and held me tightly and told me the girls were with Jesus. Nate put his arms around me, sobbing, and told me it wasn't my fault, that I had done such a good job of taking care of our girls. Suzanne held my hand and said there wasn't anything we could have done; we weren't to blame. None of that mattered. No matter what they said, that horrible fragmenting of everything was still true. 

Almost my first coherent thought was that I wanted to go to Colorado immediately. I wanted to go home and to give birth to our daughters there, so that my sister could be with me, and so that we could bury them in the place I love best. Mercifully, the doctor said it would be fine to discharge me. We drove back to the hotel rooms which Suzanne had booked for herself and my mom– they shared one so that Nate and I could have the other. We bought tickets for Colorado the next day, and cried, and ordered pizza, before collapsing into bed.

I didn't sleep much that night. I was having contractions again in my back, and when they came I couldn't stand to be lying down. I had to get up and walk around. Early in the morning I opened my laptop and got online to distract myself. Someone on Facebook had posted a link to a video of a young daddy dressing up and coming to his own front door to take his three-year-old daughter on her first date. I knew I shouldn't but I clicked through to watch it, and sat and sobbed over the crushing reality that my husband would never get to take his twin daughters on a date.

I was worried that my contractions would get bad enough that we wouldn't be able to fly home and I'd end up having to give birth to the girls in Texas. My one prayer that night was Lord just let me get to Colorado. I didn't realize then, as I can see now, that it was His plan all along for us to go to Colorado. At first I wondered why we had to go all the way to Houston just to find out that the girls had died, but then I realized that if we had found out while we were still in South Carolina, it was very unlikely that we would have gone to Colorado– probably my mother and sister would have come out to Sumter. And then the girls would have had to be buried here, which would have been awful since this place isn't home to us. Being in Houston meant not only were our mothers already there to help us through that awful day, it also made our decision to go to Colorado easy and totally natural.

Towards dawn my contractions petered off.

Part 2 coming soon.

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