Mia & Grace
We have always been lucky. But that all changed four months ago. On September 15, 1997 I found out that the identical twin girls I had carried eight months had died suddenly in-utero. But the story really begins in January of 1997. After half a year of trying to get pregnant, I consulted a fertility specialist who put me on the lowest dose of clomid for one month. Six months does not seem like a long time to wait but I sensed something had changed in my cycle since we had gotten pregnant with our son Avi the first month we tried. This, added to the fact that I was 36, made me feel that intervention was needed.
I was nervous about “fertility drugs” after all the press about multiple births. The doctor assured me that my risk only increased slightly on clomid, from a 1 in 10 chance of twins to 1 in 6. So we went ahead and felt so very lucky when I got pregnant that first month, after all those cycles of trying and monthly crying. I surprised my husband when we went out for dessert on Valentine’s Day by handing him a wrapped box with a pair of tiny baby socks inside. He was as overjoyed as I was. I had a feeling right away that I was pregnant with twins. I felt much sicker than I had the first time and had several dreams of twins. My family told me that I was being silly and were shocked when my ultrasound at seven weeks confirmed my suspicion. My husband and I were flipped out. Three kids! Where would we put them in our little house, our car, our busy lives? How could I adequately care for two newborns with my very active and demanding son? I feel ashamed now at how I felt more anxious than joyous. But we never planned more than two children, so the prospect of twins took some getting used to.
In May we went to our OB to have amnios on the twins. Imagine our shock when he did the ultrasound and said, “I see another head.” Once we were reassured that we didn’t have a two-headed baby, we reeled at the news that I was actually carrying triplets. I actually started to hyperventilate at the news that somehow one of the identical girls had been hidden in two previous ultrasounds performed by two different doctors. The “twins” previously seen were one fraternal boy and one of the girls. The idea of three floored us since we had just adjusted to the idea of twins! The doctor said that triplets were way out of his league and sent us to the University of Washington Hospital for care. By the time we arrived there, one week later, we learned that the fraternal boy had died. The doctors didn’t know why. They assured us that the girls would probably be fine and have a better chance to avoid prematurity as a result. We went through a difficult period of mourning, relief, and guilt. Then we started to feel excited again about the prospect of two identical twin daughters. I had really wanted a girl this time and felt doubly blessed at the thought of two.
I had a wonderful, although hot and uncomfortable, summer getting things ready for the twins – arranging the room, swimming regularly, eating well and often, reading about twins, buying special equipment, napping daily, preparing Avi by reading books and talking a lot about the coming babies, thinking up names, joining the local twins club, and dreaming about my girls. My friends and family rallied round, giving me pampering gifts, helping with my son, arranging to come in the fall to help. We continued to go to the UW during the summer since the triplet put me in a higher risk category. Happily all proceeded smoothly. My blood pressure remained low, the babies grew normally, their tiny triplet brother was absorbed and presented no risk to the girls.
As each week passed my husband and I relaxed more and more since the risks of prematurity dwindled. I made a real effort to eat lots of protein and rest often to try to help the twins get as big as possible since low birthweights are so common for multiples. It seemed to be working. I grew huge and stayed so healthy I glowed. I contended with many of the minor problems of a twin pregnancy – horrible indigestion, hemorrhoids, back problems, constant contractions – as well as a few unique ones such as migraines and SI joint pain that prevented me walking much. But no signs of premature labor or anything serious. The babies thrived and I never needed any bed rest.
Once September arrived we grew increasingly excited and finished preparations for the twins’ arrival. We had bought or borrowed a double of everything and swapped our boy clothes for girls’. I even put the sheets on the crib and sterilized pacifiers in anticipation of their imminent arrival. I had a routine ultrasound on September 10th and saw Grace sucking her thumb and kicking her poor sister Mia in the head. They were both swallowing amniotic fluid which the doctor told me was a good sign of fetal wellness. The doctor teased me that I would be the rarity going to fullterm with twins. But he promised to induce me at 38 weeks given my history (Avi was 11 days late, 9#3 and 24 inches). I thought my biggest problem was going to be surviving the next 4 weeks without exploding.
Then our world crashed. On Sunday morning I lost my mucus plug and called both the hospital and doctor. Both said that unless my water broke or real contractions started, it could still be another two weeks. I felt strange and uncomfortable all day, but assumed it was due to pre-labor. The next day, September 15th, we went to our OB’s office. My husband and I were both nervous about the babies’ arriving early. We joked as we waited about how we still needed another week so he could finish working on his cases and I could complete the last chapter of my thesis. After the doctor assured us that the girls would probably be just fine if born now since I was 35 weeks, he did an ultrasound. He said that he couldn’t see Baby A’s heart but that their bones are calcified now and it was sometimes difficult to get a good picture. Then he grew ominously quiet as he continued to scan. In slow motion I grasped my husband’s hand and started to understand that I couldn’t see any movement at all. At all the other ultrasounds there was a limb, or a mouth, or something moving. “Are they dead?” I said, waiting for reassurance. Instead he said, “I don’t see any movement, it doesn’t look good.” I remember that I kept insisting, “But not both of them.” It had never occurred to me that we could lose both our twins. I am a voracious reader and understood that twin B was at more risk during delivery and knew we could lose one, but not both, not this far along when we thought we were finally safe. The shock was tremendous and protected us with numbness during that horrific day. The doctor sent us to the hospital where another ultrasound confirmed that our babies were dead. The technician cried with us as she led as to the childbirth center so I could be induced. We knew it was really bad since all the professionals cried – the nurses, the doctors, even the woman at the cemetery.
We then made phone calls to our families that broke their hearts. Of course they thought I was calling with happy news. I was glad that they were able to arrive in time to be with us and spend time with their granddaughters. When the OB explained that I would have to deliver the babies I was horrified. To go through the pain of childbirth for nothing seemed unbearably cruel. He offered us the option of waiting until the next day but it couldn’t be over fast enough for me. The hours passed in a haze of painkillers and disbelief. I literally felt out of my body when talking with the rabbi about funeral arrangements or asking my sister to repack my bag (to remove the baby things) and bring it to the hospital.
I was induced at 3 p.m. and had my first daughter, Mia at 11:42 that night. She was almost 18 inches and 5 lbs. Her sister Grace turned head-down after being transverse for over a month, and came at 11:53 weighing 4 lbs. 2 oz. and 18 inches in length. Their births were unbelievably easy physically, although emotionally devastating beyond belief. My husband and I sobbed as I delivered our beautiful baby girls. Such a sick and backwards negative of the joy we had expected and felt at our first son’s birth. The only thing that kept me from screaming and screaming was the knowledge that our parents were right outside the door. They were already so frayed that I thought they would go crazy if I did.
My twin daughters were unbelievably perfect and beautiful. They looked like they were sleeping and I kept expecting them to move or cry. They had dark hair, little rosebud mouths, fat cheeks and tummies, and delicate long fingers. I was surprised at how warm their bodies were but they soon grew cold. Little things like never knowing the color of their eyes haunt me still. Luckily the hospital staff was wonderful and helped guide us through this terrible time. We all had time to hold our daughters and say goodbye. The photos, prints, and locks of hair are precious to me now. They’re all that I have left of them. The other reminders, like the stretch marks, the half-empty minivan and the emptiness in my husband’s eyes, are far too painful.
Three days after their births we had a graveside service with family. We read poems and dropped flowers in their grave. My son put in a toy for each of his sisters and I placed the tiny Valentine Day socks inside too. Telling him that his sisters would never be coming home, after all those months of preparing him, was excruciating. We delayed taking the crib down for weeks until he really understood that they wouldn’t “come back alive” and need it.
We had autopsies done but they showed nothing. We know that Mia was dead 24-72 hours and Grace for 12-24. I can’t believe that I didn’t know when they died inside me. I had no intuition or even noticed their movement stopping since they were so still at the end. I endlessly go over that Sunday in my mind and wonder if Grace could have been saved if I had gone into the hospital instead of phoning. What if I hadn’t rested so much? Maybe they would have been born early enough to have lived. The questions are pointless but endless.
The doctors at the UW said their best guess is that it was some form of acute twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. All of them say that the triplet’s death was unrelated. Still I carried three babies –too many children we feared – and now I have none. We have sent everything to Dr. B. in Vancouver and have hope that she’ll be able to find an answer. I know that that won’t take away the pain but it would be some comfort to understand it cognitively, even if we never will spiritually know why such a tragic thing happened to us.
Now we’re trying to reclaim our lives. Our son has bounced back well (I could write a whole book about his coming to understand our loss) and my husband and I are surviving. We feel frightened now – open to all the random tragedies in the universe. Our sense of control, fairness, and trust changed forever. We are lucky in having a wonderful son who forced us to keep functioning and a family and community that have showered us with support. But is still so hard. We hope to get pregnant again but it’s difficult to consider using clomid after our experience but I’m afraid I won’t get pregnant without it. At 37 I feel a loud internal ticking but don’t know if we’re ready to go through all the worrying we’ll have to face.
It’s been almost four months now and we have made it through the holidays without them. Each week it gets a bit easier although I still cry almost daily and have strong and ugly feelings that I hope will fade. I can’t yet envision the future, it seems so bleak and empty. The past is also so painful when I remember all the hope and joy I felt. Sometimes the sight of a pregnant woman will fill me with tears, not out of jealousy, but sadness for my former innocent and proudbellied self. I guess we’re trying to learn to live more in the moment since now is all we can really ever count on.
…She did try again, and conceived fraternal twin girls who were due exactly a year after her identical daughters. Her “interview” several years later is below.
My twin daughters will never know sorrow
their still hearts will never be broken
their unopened eyes never to fill with tears
their tiny stomachs will never clench with hunger or fear.
I try not to think about them
never feeling the sun on their hair
never hearing their brother laugh
never feeling their mommy’s arms
or seeing their daddy’s smile.
The only life they knew
safe inside me
was love and comfort and warmth.
Never will my baby girls taste life
in this amazing and beautiful world
but never will they know such terrible rage
or the crushing pain that encases us now.
You are the gravity
holding me to this world.
A small boy-sized
to a grief which
has left my bones
as hollow as
a bird’s and my connection
to this perilous life
tenuous at best.
Tethered only by my love for you
and your unyielding need.
You are the strand
golden and unfrayed
keeping me rooted
and from floating away
into the vast and seductive
ocean of loss.
11-16-97, For Avi remembering Mia and Grace
This time no one fed me ice chips
and the tears were joyless.
There were no excited phone calls to make
and no tiny mouths to feed.
The nights are still sleepless
and pierced by howls
but the anguished voices crying
are our own.
Still so beautiful
even in death
This time there was a funeral
instead of a baby shower.
There were no congratulations
and too many flowers.
The days are still endless
but so empty of
everything but ghosts and
such great pain.
This time I lost the weight
right away but didn’t give a damn.
There was far too much loss already
and still so much sorrow to come.
For Grace and Mia
1. Your name and some details about your twin or higher multiple baby(s) who died, and other children (if any, living or previous losses)… My name is Darcie and I lost identical twin girls, Mia and Grace, on September 15, 1997. They were stillborn at 35 weeks. I also have a 5-1/2 year old son, Avi, and have 15 month-old fraternal twin daughters, Elena Grace and Isabel Mia.
2. When I remember my baby(s), I… still feel so sad and angry that such a horrible thing happened to me and my family. Having twin girls again a year later was wonderful but in no way replaced my twins who died or erased all that pain.
3. The worst part is…still not understanding why they died. We never got a definitive answer from the pathologists (maybe acute TTTS) and I certainly have never been able to understand it spiritually or emotionally.
4. I have coped with anger by… talking, journaling, writing poetry, networking with other mothers, exercising, and crying.
5. I still have problems with… not being overprotective about my living children. I sometimes get gripped with paralyzing fear that something horrible will happen to one of them. If we lost Mia and Grace, we could lose a child again. I also still feel so sad when I see identical twin girls, or children of friends who are the same age they would be now.
6. I have learned that… nothing is guaranteed. I try to enjoy and appreciate my blessings now because you never know what the future holds.
7. I no longer think that… I am safe from tragedy.
8. I remember when… I thought we were home free with Mia and Grace, once we hit 34 weeks and the real dangers of prematurity were behind us. Never really thought I could loss both of them after that.
9. My partner (if any) and I feel close when… we remember what we’ve been through together. Burying our twins, surviving another twin pregnancy with all our worries and now having living twin girls again.
10. The best times to remember my baby(s) are… on the 15th each month I go to their grave and allow myself a little time to remember the pregnancy, my innocence, the pain of seeing that both heartbeats were still, holding them and the emptiness of the aftermath of their births.
11. The worst times to remember my baby(s) are… I feel that I am unable to talk about that pregnancy or their births. It makes everyone sad but it’s a huge part of who I am and I need to be able to talk about it. Often still don’t know how to answer when people ask how many children I have.
12. Sometimes I wish… that it had never happened to me. I love Elena and Isabel immensely, but wish we had never had to live through all this. Sometimes I also wish that Mia and Grace’s spirits are alive in my living twins.
13. When I could handle it again, I did… get pregnant again.
14. If I could choose whether or not to have twins again (or triplets or more etc. again)… Having had twins again, it is both a blessing and a sadness. I feel lucky not to have to feel sad about twins in general and be able to be the mother of living twins – especially girls again. But the pregnancy was incredibly scary, and having twins again means that I constantly compare them to their sisters and what might have been. Several CLIMBers I corresponded with after my loss, didn’t want to be in touch anymore after I found I was carrying twins again. I can certainly understand their pain and jealousy, but need to say that twins again doesn’t really change any of the loss. Before I had them I had thought it might, but as much as I love these twins, it doesn’t erase the pain.