Now that some time has passed, I wanted to share our story (which many of you know) about our most recent pregnancy. It truly changed the way I view life, when it begins, and how we face the reality of life lost before it ever has a chance to begin.
Back in March of 2010, Sully was just 6 months old and I urinated on a stick that told me he would be a big brother. I expected fear and terror to bubble up (or to violently spew up) at the thought of having 3 children under 3 years old. Yet oddly, I felt excited and couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the news.
I had ovulated twice that month and since our babies tend to be big and late, my OB ordered an early ultrasound to pinpoint the due date. What happened next really should have rocked my comfortable little world....after looking at the screen for awhile, the ultrasound tech clicked on the pull down tab labeled “# of fetus”. She then entered a 2.
James and I looked at each other in disbelief. “Two?! Are you sure?” I asked. “Yup” she replied. And my heart just soared. I can’t explain why (given that I would now be having 4 children under 3 years old) but there was just something so exciting, and even comforting, about all this happening outside of our control. We were experiencing one of God’s most amazing miracles and a plan we could not have envisioned for ourselves.
The tech took several more minutes looking at various angles, but she was having trouble finding the second baby’s heartbeat. One baby was on top of the other, so the equipment was only picking up one heartbeat. She eventually called for another tech and worry set in. We had gone from shocked, to overjoyed, to terrified in a matter of minutes.
I didn’t know this at the time but James had begun praying as soon as they called for the second tech. On his last word of the Hail Mary, that second heartbeat flashed on the screen. We all saw it and all gasped together in hope and relief. We were able to see it for just a couple seconds before it slipped out of range again.
As a catholic convert, I have struggled to understand what our relationship with Mary is meant to be. It has not been difficult to accept Marian doctrine as much as it’s been challenging to open my heart to her in response. In this moment, we felt the Mother of God had given us a sign that both of these precious babies were going to be ok. In my heart, I felt her reaching out to me through this sign of hope.
Since one of the babies was slightly smaller than the other and because of difficulty in finding that second heartbeat, we were scheduled for another ultrasound a week later.
As we were leaving, the tech was notably nervous. She briefly mentioned the possibility of Vanishing Twin Syndrome, a situation where one of the babies is not thriving or has a problem, and instead of ‘normally’ miscarrying as a woman would with a single pregnancy, the baby is slowly absorbed into the mother’s body, placenta and/or other baby until it disappears…or “vanishes”.
She noted how common it was and explained that many women aren’t ever aware they were pregnant with twins because the baby that isn’t thriving can die and vanish before the first OB appointment or ultrasound.
“Just don’t be surprised”, she said as we left. Thanks a bunch.
We arrived at the next ultrasound excited and hopeful, but still nervous. We had received such unbelievable support and encouragement from our family and friends. We knew these babies were covered by a sea of prayers and we all felt peace that both babies were going to be fine.
As soon as that screen came up, I immediately saw that Baby A was noticeably larger than Baby B. A few more minutes of observation made clear that Baby B no longer had a heartbeat. The compassionate nurse laid a gentle hand on my leg as I listened, desperately trying to keep it together, to the matter-of-fact doctor explain what I already knew.
The good news was that Baby A looked healthy and perfect. We were scheduled for another ultrasound in one month to see how things developed. Those were the longest 4 weeks of my life. As much as I was grateful that the other baby was thriving, I was completely devastated at our loss.
I'm fortunate that I have never had a miscarriage prior to this, so I can’t really compare the two. I won’t say that one is more difficult to endure than the other, they are simply different. With a miscarriage, the mother’s body traumatically expels the baby from the womb. I can’t imagine the sense of loss, of being “ripped apart from one another”, and the heartache of an empty womb in that situation.
With Vanishing Twin Syndrome, I experienced an extreme clash of emotions. I had life and death inside of me at the same time. Any moment of gratitude and joy over our healthy baby, was followed by guilt over not mourning our loss. Likewise, the times I was struck down with sorrow over our lost baby, were met with guilt from not rejoicing over the life we still had.
And then there was the wait. I hated that I had to just wait for my lifeless baby to ‘disappear’ and not know whether or not it had happened yet.
Beyond my grief was anger and confusion. Toward Mary and toward God. I wasn’t mad that this life was taken but at what we had perceived to be the signs of affirmation and peace that both babies would survive. Why were we allowed to see that heartbeat? It felt like false hope.
This of course was my human reaction to something I couldn't understand and to someone who I really didn’t know yet. I just couldn’t understand why Mary would have reached out in that way if our baby was not going to make it...especially given my struggle to embrace her and let her embrace me.
Days later, in a moment of prayer, I understood. That heartbeat was a sign of life. We did not just have a fetus or some glob of cells that disappeared. We had been blessed with life, two lives. That was my baby and no one can justify the pain of losing her away by calling her something else. Our Blessed Mother had given us a recognition and appreciation for life in its most vulnerable state.
Sure it may have been easier not to have experienced that first ultrasound and to have gone through my pregnancy never knowing we had lost a child (as many women do). But I would never exchange the pain of losing her for never knowing she existed.
As we shared our loss with close friends, many people suggested we name the baby we lost. I was on the fence about this but after going to confession about some of my attitudes toward the situation, my penance was none other than...to name the baby. So I wasn’t getting out of it!
It truly doesn’t matter the sex but we had a feeling that our baby was a girl. Ever since I was young, I have always loved the name Lily and since we did not use it for our first daughter’s name, it seemed meant for this child. Lilies are a symbol of purity and she is our pure soul waiting for us in heaven.
Without the hope of heaven and a loving heavenly Father, innocent life lost to miscarriage or a little understood syndrome (or anything for that matter) is a wound to a parent’s heart that does not heal.
I can’t wait to see her, to know her, to be with her.
In a way I am grateful that she will never feel the pain of this world….but in the same breath, my heart aches for her.
And what of my Jack, our survivor? How will he feel when he is old enough to understand that he is a twin but his other half did not survive? Will he feel guilt for surviving? Will he have any of those feelings that twins share (like part of them is missing when they are not with their twin)? Will he feel bad for not having any of those feelings at all?
James and I are largely responsible for how Jack and our other children view this life. Lily is part of our family. My oldest daughter Mia (4 ½ years old) will tell you that we are not really a family of 5 but a family of 6. She knows that Jack and Lily were in my tummy at the same time but that Lily went straight to heaven because she was sick. But she also knows that Lily is now healed and whole and that one day we’ll all be together again, never to be separated.
I called the office where we had our first ultrasound and asked if they still had the pictures showing both babies (I did not get any that day). They did and we received them in the mail a few days later. It’s a beautiful reminder of our Lily and something we can share with Jack as he gets older.
Both Jack and Lily had a heartbeat at 7 weeks. By 8 weeks Lily did not have a heartbeat and had stopped growing. She was about the same size as she was at the 7 week ultrasound, and by 12 weeks all we could see of her was just a sliver on the ultrasound screen.
Sometimes it might seem better if we could just escape the pain of our loss, of our suffering and of our disappointment. But we can't run from that pain...it is the reality of the broken world in which we live. However, God sent His Son to redeem this world and he promises to use all things for good for those who trust Him. This includes our pain. If we can give that pain to Him, he will be faithful to make something incredibly beautiful from it. He is after all, the God who makes beauty from ashes and all things new.
I am so grateful to have been given the amazing gift of twins, however briefly. I'm thankful for my Jack, born the day after Christmas, who is perfectly healthy, perfectly ornery, and also perfectly sweet. He (along with my other children) is a daily reminder of the gift of life.
The day he was born, every milestone he meets, every day of his life that we celebrate, my mind also goes to Lily and I wonder what she would have been like at that point in her life. It is often bitter-sweet, but Jack has truly been healing to me in many ways. He has brought such joy to our family in his larger-than-life way and he has expanded our hearts to love in ways we didn't know we could.
I am also grateful that God used this experience to set heaven more deeply in my heart and to bridge the divide between heaven and earth just a little more. And I am forever grateful that He used this to introduce me more intimately to the Mother of God.
Thank you, Blessed Mary, for showing me my Lily that day. I trust that you are loving her as only a mother can until the day I can wrap her up in my arms myself.