Guest Blog by: Sarah H.
When I got pregnant at age 27, I had been married for almost 5 years, completed my graduate degree, was working towards a license in Marriage and Family Therapy, and had a great internship working in private practice. I attended church regularly and believed in God and his promises with all my heart. Of course I’d experienced challenges, hardships, and difficult times, but I’d always come out on the other side doing just fine. As most of my life had gone pretty much according to my plan, I naturally I assumed my pregnancy and birth would be the same: pretty uneventful, ordinary, and easy. I could not have been more wrong, and though I didn’t know it my faith and relationship with God were about to be radically tested.
Things started out great. My husband and I went to my first appointment with my obstetrician and heard the baby’s heartbeat. It was amazing, and all that I hoped that moment would be. There in the doctor’s office, we stared at the screen, holding hands, and I remember feeling excited and a little bit scared. After all, I’d never done this before. I was comforted by the fact that the baby looked totally healthy. So when they sent me to a specialist at 12 weeks along to consult on whether I’d need to talk about changing the medication I was on for epilepsy for the safety of the baby, I naturally assumed they would tell me “Yes” or “No”, either change or not change my medication, and send me on my way. I had no idea how much our lives were about to change or how much chaos was about to shatter my beautiful image of my pregnancy and birth.
As I lay there on the table at the perinatologist’s office, my husband by my side, I made polite small talk with the ultrasound technician. As she located what she was looking for on the screen, she said, “Ok, well, they both look really good.” What? I assumed I’d heard her wrong or that she was playing some (really unfunny) practical joke on us. “Excuse me?” I asked. She glanced at me, appearing confused, and ventured, “You know you’re having two, right?” I stared at her, dumbfounded. No, I wanted to say. My OB must have missed that! I’m not sure what either of us actually said after that point. The doctor came in, and I remember snippets of our conversation—words mostly—that stuck out to me. Words like “monochorionic diamniotic”, “identical twins”, “high risk”, “Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome”, and “frequent monitoring.”
Even in the face of all this new information, I wasn’t terribly scared. Shocked and overwhelmed, yes. Scared, no. In fact, as we went through the process of telling our friends and family, I was all smiles, excited by the future and all we had to look forward to. After all, we were getting two babies! I ignored the lingering anxiety that the doctor’s words had provoked and though I followed his plan for the pregnancy, I focused only on the fun stuff. So when I went to his office for a routine appointment at 23 weeks, I was not prepared for what happened next…
After reviewing my ultrasound, Dr. Kurtzman told me that one of my boys had way too much amniotic fluid and the other one not enough, and that this was a sign of Stage 1 Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome (which essentially means that one twin takes nutrients and amniotic fluid from the other, usually resulting in the death of both if not treated). Though it hadn’t progressed to Stage 2, it could do so quickly a. Needless to say, I was speechless. And because this was supposed to be a routine appointment, I was totally alone. I was told I’d need to meet with a fetal surgeon the next day. As I absorbed it all, the weight of our situation finally hit me. The pregnancy and delivery I’d imagined were gone. Walking into the lobby, dazed, confused, and in shock, I started to cry. I could barely form words as I called my husband to tell him the news.
The next day, my husband, my Mom, and I traveled to Pasadena to meet with Dr. Chmait, the fetal surgeon. He did some scans and became very quiet as he surveyed the images. He excused himself to study them further, and a short time later, the three of us sat down with him in his office. He calmly explained that the baby who was getting too much fluid and blood (the recipient) was in heart failure and that the TTTS had skipped Stage 2 and jumped straight to Stage 3. He gave me a list of options, one of which was terminating the pregnancy. Unable to speak, I shook my head and my husband spoke for us both: “That’s not an option. Which is the option that gives both babies the best chance?” Dr. Chmait confirmed that the only option that gave both babies anything resembling a fighting chance was a laser ablation surgery, where they would insert a probe into my uterus to sever blood vessels on the placenta. My babies would be lucky to make it into this world at all, but knowing that surgery was the only viable option, we pushed ahead with it. We would have to act immediately if either of them were to be saved.
I wish I could adequately describe the terror, anxiety, anger, and frustration I felt that night as I awaited surgery the next day. I couldn’t help but think that my babies were dying inside me and I was powerless to stop it. I sobbed, I stared into space, I tried to sleep to no avail. I spoke to no one except my husband, who was filling our family and friends in for me. I could barely wrap my head around it myself, let alone explain it to someone else.
It all culminated in the surgery the next morning. I was awake but sedated, and I watched on the screen as the doctor moved the probe with a camera around inside my uterus. And then there were my unborn babies, on the screen in front of me. It was breathtaking and I couldn’t hold back tears. Just hold on a little longer, babies, I thought. And lo and behold, they did. The surgery was a huge success. The TTTS was not completely reversed, but it stayed stable as we played the waiting game. At home and on bedrest for the rest of my pregnancy, I felt as though I held my breath for months, praying that I’d make it to a reasonable delivery date for the health of both my babies. I found out later that Dr. Chmait wasn’t even supposed to have an opening the day of the surgery, and that he’d worked us in last minute. I was told after the fact that had the surgery happened mere hours later, I would have lost them both.
I have never, in my entire life, been as scared, confused, and angry as I was the night before surgery. It didn’t make any sense to me that God would allow suffering in two tiny babies that hadn’t even been born yet. What kind of God would allow that? It shook my faith to its core. To be honest, I’m not sure that I can even answer that question today. But I still believe with all my heart that things happen for a reason, even if I have no idea what that reason is. Maybe it was to strengthen my own faith. Maybe it was to show me just how powerful of a tool prayer can be. I may never know, but I thank God every day for my two precious, miracle boys.
And though it wasn’t the birth I’d imagined and our boys were born with other complications that made their first few months really hard, my c-section was a beautiful moment. Again I cried, not from fear, but because I had a front row seat as these two beautiful little lives came into this world. I didn’t get to make many choices about my birth experience. Most of it was entirely up to God, and I’ve never been forced to relinquish control like that before. Nothing about my pregnancy was conventional or normal, and yet I felt like a warrior who had come through battle and won. I’ll never, ever forget it.
Doula Rachel has put together a blog of resources, info-graphics, and articles, with an occasional self-published blog. Enjoy!