On 02–03–03, I lost twins.
That’s not entirely accurate though is it? I had been feeling sick and was surprised when we found out I was pregnant. Usually, I got very sick, very quickly and it was clear that I was pregnant. This time, the pregnancy test seemed like an afterthought — ruling it out just in case. A vaginal ultrasound confirmed twins which was the second surprise and to top off the surprises I was much further along than I would have ever guessed. I can’t recall how far along I was exactly, and my medical records are no help at all — which is something of an annoying mystery. I thought it was 19 weeks or was it 16 weeks or another week entirely? Not knowing somehow drives me a little crazy, although, in the end, it doesn’t really matter. Miscarriage at any gestation is traumatic, and this one was particularly difficult — much more so than the first two I experienced. My due date would have been sometime in July, and 16 weeks is most likely fairly accurate.
After the first ultrasound, we decided to bring our 8 kids with us for the next ultrasound so they’d be part of the twin’s pregnancy and to find out more information about the due date, etc… My belly was lubed and we were all excited when the tech removed the doppler and said “We’re not going to see your babies today”. We quietly had a conversation to learn that one of the twins had died, and of course, the other was at risk. How do we tell the kids? I honestly don’t know how we told them, although they were young which made it easier.
I started to bleed soon after the ultrasound and had been bleeding for days. The doctor thought perhaps one twin would survive, and he asked me — if I could — to collect all the blood clots and tissue and put them in a baggie. But I couldn’t. As odd as it sounds, as I sat sobbing on the toilet, it was more challenging to collect the remains than to flush the toilet. Even through my grief, and tears, I flushed my baby, and the shame I felt over that has never completely gone away. This was a more difficult miscarriage in part due to the amount of pain and bleeding I experienced. My ex-husband recalls it was “more than a week but less than a month” before my surgery and it seemed like more “tissue” than I would have expected.
With time and hindsight, I wish I had collected everything, seen the remains, tried to make sense of what I collected, and been able to look at the child my body wasn’t able to hold onto. Isn’t that what retrospect does — offers clarity and solutions outside of the moment to remind you of the road not taken, and of a better option with all the “should have, would have, could have’s”?
Over the next few days, my doctor continued to tell me one twin might survive, and I was shocked. With so much bleeding, so much tissue, how was that even possible? “Are you sure?” I asked him. Somehow in the conversation, he confirmed with me, “Are you saying you want to abort the baby?”. “No,” I said. “That’s not what I’m saying at all. I just can’t imagine a baby surviving this and I’m wondering if I’ll get through it myself”. I felt like I was dying. I felt like I was failing. My blood was taken again and my levels were dropping. The surgery was scheduled.
In the hospital prior to surgery, another ultrasound and bloodwork to determine if my levels were continuing to go down felt like an uncomfortable reminder that my body was not able to support these two babies. Ultimately, the second twin died, my levels continued to decline, and I was prepped for surgery. Although they died a bit earlier, 02–03–03 is the date of my surgery and the official day the twins were gone.
This was my 7th pregnancy — a miracle after infertility and a higher chance of miscarriage in general. I had given birth to 4 girls — one in the hospital and 3 at home with midwives. My first two miscarriages were early on in pregnancy, between my first 2 girls, and I processed them well. There was sadness within my known statistics to carrying a pregnancy although, for the most part, I got through it with relative ease.
This one, though, was far different. In part because I was further along, and because it was twins, and also I really felt like my body was done. I felt some amount of relief when the second twin didn’t make it, and the added shame of those feelings compounded my failure. How could I NOT want these babies?
And yet, that’s not it at all. It had nothing to do with not wanting them and everything to do with my body hemorrhaging and my fear I wouldn’t survive for my other kids that I felt more acutely. The feelings of shame, failure, and overwhelm coupled with what a woman’s body is going through physically and hormonally can put us in a headspace that later seems reprehensible.
There are no options given to women during loss. When you miscarry under 20 weeks, there’s no fetal death certificate to show that you lost a child. The hospital doesn’t tell you that you can collect the remains to cremate or bury them. You don’t have a headstone or even an item to commemorate and remember your lost child. You are discharged from the hospital and told to recover physically, and no one is there to help you process emotionally. Depending on cultural and spiritual beliefs, your grief may be unacceptable to show publicly, and often other people don’t really know what to say or do, sometimes saying or doing something that hurts you more.
A year after this miscarriage and surgery, I had a hysterectomy and subsequent surgery 2 hours later for internal bleeding. I was told I was dead on the table and had 5 blood transfusions, 3 of which were my own blood that was suctioned out of my abdomen, run through a machine, and given back to me. The reason it was scheduled a year later is that my insurance wouldn’t pay for it before then. My doctor put me on birth control pills — 2 a day that made me vomit with such force, I broke blood vessels in my eyes. I hemorrhaged for a year after losing those twins, and although the hysterectomy saved my life, it took something from me also. Choice. It also meant that I felt that miscarriage a year after it was over — as if it never ended.
19 years later my life is significantly different. Through long-term foster care, adoptions, and blending families, I’m beyond blessed to have 18 children. Although it’s been a crazy, wild adventure that I’m in love with, I’ve regretted missing the opportunity I could have had to really process losing the twins.
For 12 years, I was a birth assistant with midwives, and a lactation consultant taught 2 childbirth education classes and ran LaLeche League meetings. It was my passion. After the hysterectomy, for several reasons, I walked away from that life. I considered it in my past, something I used to love, that I wouldn’t be able to do again. I regretfully gave away all my books, resources, and even some handmade quilts to others who were able to work with Moms where I felt I no longer could.
My daughter, Olivia — my rainbow baby after my first 2 miscarriages — after having her first baby decided that she too wanted to become a doula and breastfeeding counselor. I’ve been so proud of her, and it’s also been a painful reminder of what I left behind. She’s asked me several times to do it with her, to relicense, and I didn’t see a way.
Thankfully, my husband did. He saw the pain of not doing what I loved, and my longing and sat me down to tell me we could go to one income and that he’d do everything in his power for me to go back to school. When I went through the process to become a doula through the Birth & Bereavement Doula course with stillbirthday.com, I was able to process the loss of my twins — as that pain was resurfacing. I contacted everyone I could to get my medical records and information — knowing that after 19 years, I would be lucky to get anything. It helped me to process the grief I had kept inside, holding onto for all that time.
The answers I got were cold reminders of a traumatic situation. Seeing in black and white that the insurance company and doctors called this a “Postpartum and post-abortion diagnosis with O.R procedure” and “post-abortion hemorrhage” from a “recent spontaneous abortion” didn’t elicit positive memories (to say the least) and infuriated me into being thankful that I am doing something to interrupt the process for other women.
In talking with the head pathology doctor at the hospital where I had the “O.R. procedure” done, he apologetically let me know that fetal tissue below 20 weeks gestation is considered “medical waste” and that it’s autoclaved at a temperature that “kills all pathogens and sterilizes tissue” — at which time the tissue is disposed of in the landfill.
This is what other mothers should never have to go through. This is what I want to interrupt for other women who experience loss. This is what I was able to work through.
I no longer feel guilty about my loss and shame, nor will I minimize the grief as if somehow they weren’t “real” babies. I finally named the twins — with my ex-husband actually, which was a delightful surprise — and since I don’t know the gender, chose names that could go either way.
Riley, valiant & Alex, helper & defender of mankind, you are remembered.
Through processing my loss, I feel empowered and thankful for a community that I’ve loved for 30+ years, and for this new opportunity to help other Moms. I’m grateful to help other women the way I would have loved to have had someone help me — in my corner giving me options and holding my hand telling me how I felt was OK and that I’m not alone.
You don’t need to feel alone either. Reach out if you need help getting through your own loss.
October is pregnancy and infant loss month. I SEE YOU.
October 15 Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day day of remembrance when at 7 pm you light a candle for one hour. Thus causing a “wave of light” throughout the nation to remember each life gone too soon.