On Wednesday, April 22, 2015 I was scheduled for a routine ultrasound with the perinatologist. I was 24 weeks pregnant. Due to my high risk status I usually had ultrasounds every two weeks and they were done by the doctor at the fetal diagnostic center at the hospital, where the equipment was much better than that in the OB's office. Hubby had a busy work schedule that day and my Mom was happy to take his place. I worked most of the day and left a little early to make my appointment on time. I met my Mom at the hospital. We checked in and waited in the waiting room to be called back. We talked about my upcoming baby showers and my baby registry, oblivious to the Mack truck heading straight towards us.
The ultrasound tech came to get us and took us back. I've had this tech several times and she is super nice and very competent. I laid on the table and she squirted the warm gel on my belly and started with her exam. Baby A - Maximus - was always the difficult one. We joked he was going to be our "problem child". He was always scrunched up, upside down or in some kind of a difficult position for them to get the measurements they needed to get, especially the four chambers of his heart - but he always had a strong heartbeat. "We'll get it next time," they would say. There was no need for concern. Baby B - Grace - was the easy one. They were always able to get her measurements and view her organs to make sure they were developing properly. She too always had a strong heartbeat. The tech did her exam on Grace who was moving around like a dancing monkey in my belly. She was great. As the tech moved her wand around and around over Maximus, I jabbered on and on talking to her about this and that, asking a million questions. Oblivious to the fact she was not responding to me. She mused that Max was in a difficult position again and was going to fetch the doctor to see if she would have better luck. She left the room and came back a few minutes later, only to gather my chart and leave again. My Mom's spidey senses kicked into high gear. She moved in a little closer to me. She asked me if they had ever done that before - leave the room to get the doctor in the middle of an exam. In my head I rolled my eyes - of course she was going to think the worst. I assured her they had done this before. In my mind I reassured myself there was nothing to worry about. The tech came back into the room with the doctor in tow. She greeted us and resumed the exam. She had a puzzled look on her face and she searched and searched for his heart. She said, "I'm not seeing a heart beat." My brain turned a blind eye. She just needed to keep looking. After all, he was the difficult one. She found his heart and magnified it on the screen. Even as I looked at it, stagnant and still, my mind would not entertain the possibility. The doctor said with empathy, "I'm so sorry honey, but this baby is deceased." It was at that moment the Mack truck hit us head on. I felt like someone stabbed me in the heart. My Mom stroked my hair. We were quiet for what seemed like an eternity. I did not speak. My Mom did not speak. The doctor was talking but I could not hear what she was saying. I was just watching her mouth move. It was like everything was moving in slow motion. They were as dismayed as we were. Contemplating what could have possibly happened. Going over the reports and my last ultrasound. Checking his measurements. They estimated from the measurements that he had been deceased for 2-3 weeks. I had just had an ultrasound in the OB's office a week before and they heard two heartbeats. How could this be? Every thing had been going so great. There was never any indication for concern. I don't think I've ever felt shock like this before. She asked me if I had been sick or had any trauma to my abdomen. I told her I had the stomach flu two weeks before, but she concluded this was not the cause. She said she wanted me to have a series of blood tests done the next day to see if they could narrow down any possible causes; a metabolic issue or possible antibodies in my blood, but told us we may never know what caused this. She indicated that they could do an amniocentesis to try and gather answers, but that it would put Grace at risk and she did not think it was worth it. We agreed. All of a sudden I feared for her. I asked again that they check to see that she was okay, and to confirm for us again that she was a girl. As reality began to slowly sink in I asked what was going to happen now? How was he going to come out? Would I miscarry? Would they go in and get him? My mind could not fathom it. The doctor just placed her hand on mine and said, "Nothing is going to happen. You are going to carry him to term until Grace is ready to be born - He will be stillborn." I felt cold. It was at this time the tears formed in my eyes, "you mean I have to carry a deceased baby in my body, along with a growing baby, for three more months?" Her reply, "Yes." My Mom asked questions, I don't even remember what. I just could not believe it. Then it hit me I was going to have to go home and tell hubby. I was devastated. He would be devastated. I did not want to be the one to break his heart, but it had to come from me, I owed him that. I wished he had been there with me. The pain was overwhelming. The doctor instructed me to get blood work done and to come back in two weeks to see her for another ultrasound. She told me it was important to take sufficient time to grieve and to surround myself with family and friends. She was warm and kind and compassionate. They told us to take as much time as we needed to gather ourselves, that we did not need to leave the room until we were ready. I could not get out of there fast enough. I needed air. Mom did not want me driving home, but I just felt I needed to be alone. She followed me almost all the way home. I think, now, about what that drive must have been like for her. In shock herself and worrying about how her own child was going to handle this. No parent wants to see their child suffer. I texted hubby that I was on my way, and prayed he would not call me to see how it went; we had been there such a long time. As I drove home, I thought about what words I would use to break it to him.
As I drove in the driveway I saw hubby happily playing with the dog on the front lawn. I needed to get in the house before I lost it in front of the neighbors. Emotion overtook me. He knew something was wrong and followed me in. My heart was beating so fast and as soon as he shut the door I just blurted it out, "we lost one of the babies." I sobbed. It was the first time I said it out loud. We just stood there hugging and crying. I told him it was Maximus. Of course he had questions, but I could barely remember what the doctor told us. I relayed what information I could - the thing that kept playing over and over in my head was that his little fully formed body will remain inside of me until she is ready to be born. I can not even begin to express the depth of emotions we felt - and still feel. We sat on the couch and just tried to absorb it all. I don't think my brain is equipped for this. After a while we knew we had to call our family and let them know. We knew everyone would be heartbroken with us.
It just does not make sense. It just isn't fair. I just stopped being paranoid. If this had happened in the first trimester it would have been understandable - we were prepared for that. I woke up every day waiting for the ball to drop. But once we got through the first trimester, with each passing week, and everything going so well we really began to embrace the fact we were having twins. We were in full acceptance of this very unique parenting experience and were prepared to be the parents of not one, but two very special babies. We felt we were chosen for this and were being rewarded - twice the blessings - for all the years we spent praying for, yearning for and trying to conceive a child. Having twins became part of our journey - part of my identity as a mother. I pictured myself with both of them. I wrapped my brain around the day to day duties of caring for two newborns, while working full time. I was scared, but I was ready and I could not wait for them to get here. I thought about what they would look like. If they would have a special language. I thought about their Christmas outfits and Baptism. I had hopes and dreams and more love than I ever thought possible.
Now we are faced with experiencing the death of a child before realizing the happiness and joy of parenting a child born to us. It seems so unnatural for a child to die before his parents; let alone before he takes his first breath. It does not matter to me if he was 24 weeks or 24 years - the grief and devastation are just the same. How do you grieve the loss of one child while simultaneously feeling the joy of the birth of the other? All within minutes of each other. We are so grateful that little Gracie is still growing and thriving; but the joy we feel about her does not in any way eradicate the pain of our loss of him. The loss of our hopes and dreams. The loss we feel for her- her first soul mate.
It's a complicated grief and I struggle with it every day. One day I'm okay, logical and able to cope. The next I'm irritated and petulant - and feel guilty about it. Then I have days that I can't stop the tears from flowing, no matter how hard I try. I literally feel like there is a hole in my heart that will never be replaced.
Our Maximus Edward was a perfect baby boy with ten fingers and ten toes, a sweet little face and a heart that beat strong for six months. This great loss has been a true reminder for us all that the life we live here is complicated and fleeting. God never promised that we would be free from pain or grief, and we may never fully understand what His plan is. We must simply trust that He had a greater purpose for our sweet baby boy. He is in God's loving hands now. Although he will never take a breath in this life, I feel comfort in knowing he will also never feel pain or sorrow. All he will ever know is my warmth and love and the sounds of our voices. We feel very blessed to have had him, if only for a very short time. In our hearts he will always be our baby boy. Now he is is sister's protector as he rests beneath her in my womb and keeps her safe until she is ready to come out; and he will forever be her guardian angel watching over her from above after we welcome her into this world.
Although we are heartbroken and saddened, our hearts are overflowing with the love, support, compassion and prayer we have received from our family and friends. We are working every day to stay in Faith and to remember all we have to be grateful for. We are overjoyed and thankful that little Grace Kathleen, our Gift from God, appears to thriving and strong. It brings us much comfort to know that you are all on this journey with us, every step of the way, as we prepare for and look forward to her birth.
We ask that you continue to pray for us - with us - for strength and comfort, acceptance and peace.