Tragedy and Triumph. Complete Joy and Overwhelming Sorrow. Life’s Greatest Gifts and Life’s Greatest Loss. All of these events and emotions were part of one pregnancy and one birth experience for our family.
My name is Chrissie and I’d like to tell our story of multiple births. Ours is a bittersweet story not at all like the stories the media tend to portray, and yet it’s a story I feel needs to be told.
My husband Skip and I were married in 1990. 1 had been diagnosed with polycystic ovarian disease as a teen, and was told at that time to seek the help of an infertility specialist when I was ready to conceive. With the help of a fertility doctor and the drug Clomid I was pregnant by March of 1991.
An ultrasound at seven weeks revealed the great news…twins. We were so excited. The pregnancy went well until 24 weeks. A routine ultrasound at that time revealed the fact that my cervix was dilating and one of the babies’ sac of water was right at the cervix. I was rushed to the hospital and a stitch was placed in my cervix to hopefully buy us a few more days, or weeks. I was placed at complete bed rest lying with my head down, and my feet up to keep pressure off of the cervix. For six long weeks I stayed in the hospital in this same position, not even allowed to shower. Finally at 30 weeks we delivered two healthy baby girls, praise the Lord. Rheannon Christine came in at 3 lbs. 3 oz., and Tara Elizabeth at 2 lbs. 11 oz. The girls required no oxygen or extra support. After 6 weeks we welcomed them home. They are now happy and healthy 7 year-olds.
Because the pregnancy was so difficult, it would not be until the girls were 3 before I was even ready to think about trying to have more children. My husband was surprised I wanted to try at all. Because PCO is many times cured after pregnancy, we decided not to use a fertility doctor, but after 6 months of trying on our own to conceive with no luck, we went back to the doctor. We tried Clomid again with no success. After a year and a half of no luck, we decided to try the injectible fertility drugs. We researched them thoroughly, and decided to go ahead with the understanding that we would not proceed on any given cycle if there were more than three follicles present. We made this decision because of my incompetent cervix, and fear of getting pregnant with many babies. Three follicles would give us our best chance of conceiving one, they said. Seventy-five percent of women who conceive three follicles will conceive one, 20 percent twins, and 5 percent triplets.
My first cycle was canceled because it looked as though my ovaries were overstimulated. This is a very serious side effect of these injectible drugs. My second cycle in July of 1998 was going very well. It looked as though there were three follicles. July 18, 1998 Skip gave me an injection of HCG to release the mature follicles. Within three days, I was very ill. Within five days I was hospitalized with ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. Over the next two weeks in the hospital, my condition worsened, I third-spaced 30 pounds of fluid in my abdominal and chest cavities. I was so afraid of losing my life to this. Two pregnancy tests came back negative. This meant the overstimulation would start to resolve with the onset of my period. I’m getting worse by the day so they repeat the pregnancy test…positive this time. When they told us I began to cry, not tears of joy, but rather fear. I had been on so many medicines for the overstimulation. Would this baby be harmed? They assured me that all the drugs being used were safe in pregnancy.
August 12, 1998 I am sent home still very ill and weak. Surgery was performed to take some of the fluid off my abdomen to allow me to breathe better. Two weeks later the fertility doctor performs an ultrasound to took at my ovaries and the fluid in my abdominal cavity. I am alone in the exam room, my mom is in the waiting room with my daughters. The doctor also decided to see if he could see a sac in my uterus to confirm the pregnancy. He asks one of his office people to get a tablet and pencil. He gives her the letter A and a measurement then proceeds to B and continues to the letter G. This can’t be! I began screaming. Are these all sacs for babies that you are measuring? I ask. He tries to calm me and tells me to get dressed and that we will talk in his office. Sure enough there were between 5 and 7 sacs in the uterus. It would be a few more weeks until they could find heartbeats and know for certain. The decision is also made to do another surgery that day to remove more fluid from my abdominal cavity. I called Skip at work to give him the news. He responded with a calm that I’m sure he did not feel at the time, but he assured me that we were just going to trust the Lord. I was in a state of shock. How could there be possibly seven babies when we only had three follicles?
For two weeks we waited. I was terribly depressed. My physical condition would take another 10 to 12 weeks to improve, and my mental state at what we might be facing was also fragile. It seemed that my worst fears about these drugs was now a harsh reality. The doctors will offer fetal reduction of course. This was something that was just not an option for us. We had told the doctor that before we ever proceeded with the drugs. Finally the two weeks passed and it was time to see for sure how many babies here were. Skip was with me this time. I almost passed out in the exam room before they ever even began scanning. I was so scared. They begin. BabyA has a heartbeat so does B, C, D E, and F. Six babies! Once again, the doctor tells us we will talk in his office. He tells us that five of the babies are the same size and the heartbeats are good, but one baby is small and has a weak heartbeat and will probably not survive. He knows of our feelings regarding fetal reduction, but still has to review it as an option. The odds of carrying this many babies to viability are slim. Even more so with my incompetent cervix. He will see us one more time then turn me over to a doctor who specializes in high risk pregnancies. The next ultrasound reveals the fact that one of the babies has indeed died. The other five are doing well, and so with mixed emotions we are turned over to the high risk doctor with a viable quintuplet pregnancy.
Our first visit to the perinatologist took over two hours. He explained all the risks, and what we would be up against. He could not really give us any statistics as there are so few quintuplets born. What good are statistics anyway? It seemed as though my life as well as these babies was at risk. He offered his view on fetal reduction, but assured us that he and his partner would be there to support us whatever we decided. He said that if we chose fetal reduction, his recommendation would be to reduce to twins given the history of my first pregnancy. We left the office feeling overwhelmed and frightened. We continued to turn it all over to the Lord.
As scared as we were, we knew fetal reduction still was not for us. We knew the sacrifices for our family would be great. I was still on bed rest at home and very weak. I would have to enter the hospital sometime between 18 – 20 weeks and would remain hospitalized until the birth if we made it that far. These high order multiples end with the entire pregnancy being lost many times. That’s something you don’t hear about in the media too often! I had been teaching my daughters at home for two years. We would now have to enroll them in school. This would be a big change for them. They are already mixed up and scared because their mom is so sick. How will they handle my being hospitalized for maybe months? The biggest fear…could we carry these babies to a point that it will be safe for them to be born? The odds were not in our favor! We ask many many people to pray for us as we embark on this journey.
It is mid-September now and the overstimulation coupled with first trimester pregnancy problems overwhelms me most days. I’m placed on medicine due to severe nausea. They had to tap my abdominal cavity a few weeks ago. This is the third time in six weeks. It will hopefully be the last. I’m falling into a deep depression. I feel so guilty. I feel I’ve put all these little lives at risk. I hate seeing the distress it is causing Tara and Rheannon. Tara cries daily. I’m probably most afraid of having severely handicapped children at this point. Could this story have a happy ending? I feared not. My faith was being shaken to its very core. I did not want to meet any of these precious children to only then lose them. I even asked the Lord to take any that could not survive. To this day, I don’t know if that was the right thing to do. I was desperate though. Through it all, my husband was a fortress for me and the girls. He would give me scripture and encourage me to remember that no matter how crazy things appeared that God had allowed this for a reason. A reason we will probably never fully understand in this lifetime. Many nights before he would go to bed I would feel him kneel beside me and pray for me for Tara and Rheannon, and for our babies. God has blessed me beyond measure in giving me this man as my husband.
I’m being seen weekly by the perinatologists for ultrasounds. Somewhere around week 9 or 10, we take the girls along for an ultrasound. Once again, another baby has died. They tell us one other baby is smaller than the others and warn we will most likely lose that one as well. We cry. I am overcome with guilt. I feel I was so blinded by fear, that somehow I did not want these babies enough and now they were being taken from me one by one. The doctors tell us that it is nature’s way of taking care of things, and that this would give the remaining babies a better chance. So for now we have four babies. As scared as I was, I remember just being awestruck by seeing four beating hearts, and four little bodies on the screen. These were precious gifts from God. I ask him daily to strengthen me and to help me to stand on my faith in a Sovereign Lord.
October 8, 1999 a stitch is placed in my cervix to strengthen it. The surgery goes well, and all of the babies are doing well. The hyperstimulation is finally subsiding. I’m still at modified bed rest, but able to get out of the house for a little while once or twice a week. By mid-October I’m feeling better than I have in months, so I decide to go to the girls’ last soccer game. At the end of the game, I feel a gush. In my heart I know it’s blood, but I try to remain calm. I tell Skip that I’m going right home. The drive home is only 2 minutes, but it feels like an eternity. Sure enough I was bleeding even more than I thought. I can not even describe how I felt at that moment. I have never known such fear. My heart threatened to beat right out of my chest. Tara and Rheannon were both screaming and crying. I tried not to let my fear show, but I know they sensed it. It would have been impossible not to. I call the doctor. They tell me to go to labor hall immediately. My mother-in-law comes to stay with the girls. Before I go, I put my arms around Tara and Rheannon and pray with them. I had to leave with them crying hysterically. There was no time to comfort them. We had to go. As we pulled out of the driveway that day, I felt totally helpless. I felt certain that the bleeding was a sign that I was losing the pregnancy, and my heart was aching for my unborn children as well as for my daughters who were at home vulnerable and scared. I prayed all the way to the hospital. I think it was at this point that I realized that no matter what the obstacles, I loved and wanted all these precious babies. I knew deep down all along that this was the case, but I had let fear overcome me and rob me of the joy of getting “attached” to them. Skip reminds me not to give up, that we don’t know what could be going on in there. The doctor examines me and gives us a few things that she thinks might be going on. They do a scan of the babies and there all four of them were, absolutely oblivious to anything going on. They were as happy as larks! Thank you Lord.
The next day they think they found the source of the bleeding. It seems the sacs from the two babies that we lost are collapsing and causing the bleeding. The bleeding is causing my uterus to be quite irritable. The doctor tells us that she feels there is little hope for this pregnancy. The bleeding and my incompetent cervix are a bad combination. My blood counts are also dangerously low. She recommends a blood transfusion, because if I continue to bleed with my counts so low, then my life is in danger. I get the transfusion and I remain in the hospital for a week waiting and wondering what was going to happen and realizing just how little control I had over the situation. Even though the bleeding stops, I am still filled with hopelessness…God, if you are going to take these babies, then please do it soon. This was how I felt. They’ve given us so little hope. The doctors have now made the recommendation to reduce the pregnancy to one baby to try to give us some kind of chance. We tell them we can not. How could my body betray me this way? I ask God to give me something to cling to…to hope for. He answers my prayer that very day. An ultrasound to check my cervix and the bleeding reveals the sex of the babies. We find out that we are carrying 2 boys, and 2 girls. This news lifts my spirits. As I saw each little person on that screen, I knew that fetal reduction was not the choice for us. These were our babies, each with a beating heart. We will just have to deal with whatever may come. I am sent home on strict bed rest and a monitor for contractions. I am now 15 weeks pregnant. Hopefully I can be at home until 20.
In early November we are in for our weekly scan, and I can not shake the feeling that something is wrong. As the technician and the doctor come in and out of the room, I voice my fears to Skip. “Something is wrong Skip, I can sense it.” Skip quietly assures me and reminds me to try not to worry and to stay calm. The doctor comes in along with two technicians. The one tech places her hand on my leg, and the doctor tells us that we have to talk. They take our daughters to another room. We’re told that Baby C, one of our dear daughters has a congenital diaphragmatic hernia. This is a hole in the diaphragm that allows the contents of the stomach into the chest thus not allowing for proper lung growth. This birth defect has a very high mortality rate in a singleton pregnancy, but it makes is that much worse being that she is part of a high order multiple pregnancy. We’re numb. Why us? Again fetal reduction is brought up. This defect will cause her no problems inside of me, so we have to give her every chance. Lord please help us. This baby is still a masterpiece created in Your image, and You still love her…as do we.
I thank the Lord every day for Skip. I love him so much. He has been there for our family every step of the way. Loving and supporting us. He has had to do everything because I am unable. Never once does he complain.
December 1, 1999. Time to go to the hospital for the duration of the pregnancy. This is so hard. Tara can not control her crying. She does not even want to go to the hospital, so we leave her with a friend. Rheannon is trying so hard to be brave for me. I feet so guilty seeing how much this is hurting them. Leaving the house that day was the hardest thing I have ever done. I knew that our lives would never again be the same. I did not know what was ahead, I only knew it would be life changing one way or the other. My heart aches for Skip, for my daughters, and for these little lives that I am carrying. I will refer to our babies by names from here on. Baby A is Ian, Baby B is Christian, Baby C is Taylor, and Baby D is Saige.
December 10, 1999. This is the week that they will look closely at the babies’ hearts. In the past, I have had concerns over Ian’s heart because they seem to always spend a lot of extra time looking at his heart. They assure me that it was too early to tell. They can be sure of nothing until around 22 or 23 weeks. That is today. Ian is not cooperating at all. They do indeed suspect a congenital heart defect called Transposition of the Great Vessels. They just cannot get him into a good position to tell. He is the biggest of the babies and doing well. We will just have to wait until we can get a better look at his heart. My nerves are so bad, I can not take any more bad news! Baby B, Christian is measuring well, and everything looks normal. Baby C, Taylor, our baby with CDH, measures smaller than the boys. She has all along. Earlier in the pregnancy, they told us that they doubted her viability. Taylor is a fighter though, she is small, but still growing ever so slowly. Her stomach and possibly some bowel loops are in her chest. This has forced her heart to be small and pushed over to the right. We need to carry these babies as long as possible for her to have any chance at all, but they warn that her CDH along with the probability of prematurity does not give them much hope for her survival. For today though, she looks good. They begin to look at Baby D, Saige, and something looks “not right” to me. I ask, “What are we looking at here? Something does not look right to me”. “I’m sorry Chrissie,” the doctor says, “her heart has stopped beating.” The silence in the room was deafening! This can’t be! She was doing so well. They had expected this for Taylor, but it came as a total shock for Saige. Her little body just hung there, lifeless. It was as though I was caught up in a bad dream …a dream that kept unfolding and that kept getting worse. There was no explanation for her death. No explanation would have made our pain any less anyway. I, too, was beginning to doubt that we would get even one baby from this. While I was in the hospital back in October and feeling so hopeless, Dr. L., a NICU doctor who had cared for our girls came in to see me. He encouraged me not to give up. He reminded me that as long as even one baby had a heartbeat then it was not time to give up. “It’s not over until it’s over,” he would say. I would hear him say those words in my mind but our circumstances only seemed to keep getting worse. I wanted to be hopeful, but there never seemed to be any good news. What little hope I had seemed to be dwindling. I feel helpless. I am unable to help these dear little babies.
Things went from bad to worse. Two days after Saige’s death, Skip, the girls, and I were waiting for a pizza to come and I went to the bathroom only to discover that I was bleeding very heavily. We call for a nurse. Tara and Rheannon are so frightened. They take me immediately back to labor hall where Dr. B. is waiting for me. He tries to calm me and the girls with some humor. They scan me and find that Ian, Christian & Taylor are still ok. Saige’s little body has really collapsed though.
This could throw me into labor. I am 23 weeks now so this would spell disaster.
…Chrissie’s story is continued in the ”Knowing Ahead” section stories.