It was Tuesday evening. I was 31 weeks pregnant (seven months) and had been on maternity leave for a week and a half. We had spent the week getting the boys room ready: two cribs built, framed photos hanging on the wall, two carseats and a double stroller purchased and sitting in the living room.
Andreas and I were sitting on the couch, chowing through a bowl of noodles and watching an episode of Downton Abbey. But at that moment, not even Maggie Smith’s classic one-liners could chase away my growing sense of unease; a gnawing “mother’s instinct” that was threatening to build into an all out state of panic.
“I didn’t feel the boys move as much today,” I said, putting words (and thus a sense of actuality) to the thought that had been troubling me all day.
Whipping out our ever ready friend “Google,” we read through several forums, all with twin moms stating that they too had experienced reduced movement at 31 weeks. Other websites confirmed that in all likelihood the babies were simply getting bigger and more squished in the womb. Not to worry, everyone says it’s normal.
Mistake number one is ever looking up anything online while pregnant. Google either a) lulls you into a false sense of security or b) convinces you that the nausea you’re experiencing isn’t morning sickness, but actually a sign that the hot dogs you snuck yesterday have given you listeria. There’s no middle ground when it comes to googling pregnancy symptoms. Calm to full blown panic in 3.0 seconds.
This time, I fell under the first category: false sense of security. While Google didn’t exactly provide relief, I took comfort in the fact that these smaller movements seemed to be a common experience. Also reassuring was the fact that three days prior, we’d had an ultrasound and everything had looked “perfect” – no problems. I thought that perhaps the boys were just having a slow day, squished and sleepy. I decided to keep a close eye on things.
The next day, Wednesday, progressed with still limited movements from the boys and I was becoming increasingly concerned. The Braxton Hicks contractions I’d been experiencing became more frequent, yet still completely irregular, and so I downloaded a free iphone app to track them.
That morning, sitting on the floor in the living room, tears running down my cheeks – I sent up a silent prayer, “Father, I’ve never done this before. I’m placing this situation in your hands; trusting you completely. If something is wrong, you need to let me know when it’s time to get to the hospital.”
There were no Holy Spirit prompts but comfortingly, I felt hiccups and some small movements in my belly. Still, when Andreas came home from work that night, he found me on the couch, nose dripping and eyes bright red from crying.
“Call the doctor tomorrow and see what she says,” my wise husband suggested.
I felt foolish for calling the obstetrician. I was sure that everything was fine and I was working myself up for nothing – a case of an overactive imagination combined with equally wacky pregnancy hormones. However, I also knew that I would have no peace until I heard directly from our doctor’s lips that the boys were okay. And so, Thursday morning, I punched our obstetrician’s number into my little white phone and ended up leaving an overly wordy, “I’m trying to sound calm but am actually on the verge of hysteria” message on the receptionist’s voicemail.
After pacing the day away, I finally heard back from the receptionist at 7pm that night. With four hands wrapped around my stomach, Andreas and I lay and waited for movement. Any less than 8 kicks in an hour and we were advised to call the hospital. After sixty, tearful and tense minutes, I was left feeling worried and anxious. Neither of us were sure of anything, least of all the number of movements that we’d felt. Everything just felt wrong. “I’m not sure if both babies are moving or not. I’m pretty sure that Landon moved but what about Alistair?”
I dialed the hospital number for the on-call doctor. She asked no questions except, “How long will it take you to get here? Come on in and we’ll check it out.”
I put on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt (little did I know that an hour later, I’d be wearing that shirt while the boys made their appearance) and hopped into the car. We didn’t bother texting family to let them know where we were. We were in denial; after all, nothing could really be wrong.
We swung into the hospital parking lot and put an hour on the parking meter. A few minutes later, we were registered and seated in a waiting room with three other very pregnant ladies and their husbands. Only a few seconds passed before a nurse called my name, inviting me into the examination room. “You’re the one with twins? We’ve been waiting for you.”
Seated in that uncomfortable hospital chair, my belly suddenly bounced outwards. It was a firm, stomach stretching kick from Landon. I ran my fingers over my swollen belly and turned to Andreas, with a smile. “We came for nothing. I just felt Landon kick.”
Unbeknownst to me, that was the last time I ever felt my son move.
I forgot about that kick until three days later when God graciously reminded me of the precious gift I’d been given. I had been granted a tiny miracle – one final, quiet moment with my son. A little hand or leg pressing against my belly to say goodbye.
I can’t help but think that with that kick, Landon was reassuring me that everything was going to be alright. It’s as if he whispered, “It’s ok mommy, don’t worry about me. I’m going to be ok. I’m going to a better place; I’ll meet you there.” Thinking back on this moment reduces me to a puddle of salty tears; a beloved kiss goodbye from the firstborn who flew home before me. One of my most treasured memories.
They had me put a hospital gown on over my clothes and lie on a bed, the white hospital paper crinkling underneath me. A nurse was busy trying to reassure the pregnant woman in the curtained room beside me. Everything was fine; go home and relax. I imagined that I would be hearing the same spiel in a few minutes.
Our curtain was pushed back and a nurse and trainee placed two heart rate monitors onto my stomach. “Is Baby B’s heart rate normally lower than Baby A?” the nurse asked, pointing at the monitor. Landon’s heart rate was 100 bpm while Baby A, Alistair, was at 147.
“No, they’ve always been within a couple beats of each other,” we answered, unaware of what this change signified.
The nurse slid a monitor on my finger. “Maybe we’re picking up your heart rate instead,” she said with a smile. “We’ll monitor this for a few minutes.”
She headed out behind the curtain and almost instantly came scurrying back in, as the monitor began beeping furiously. “Baby B, what are you doing?” Another nurse came in and they began discussing Baby B (Landon’s) heart rate. It had dropped to 70 bpm, gone up to 80, dropped again into the 70’s and now wasn’t coming back up. “Get an ultrasound machine. We’ll make sure that the monitor is on the correct spot.”
By this time, the doctor had been called and was standing at the foot of the exam table. The ultrasound machine had been wheeled in and although I was rolled from one side of the bed to the other, they were unable to get Landon’s heart rate up. Every passing minute brought an additional member of the medical team to our curtained room – it was getting crowded.
Everything was happening very quickly, only a couple minutes had passed. The on call doctor looked me in the eye, “We’re going to need to do an emergency cesarean. We need to get the boys out now.” She hurriedly informed us of the risks, requesting consent for the operation. Yes – whatever needs to be done. Do it.
I lay there, shocked, as an IV was slipped into my arm. The anaesthesiologist sat beside me, calmly but quickly going through questions regarding my medical history. Thoughts tumbled around my head in slow-motion. An immediate c-section? There had to be some mistake. They couldn’t actually be taking them out now.
There wasn’t enough time to give an epidural so they were going to need to knock me out for the surgery. More questions regarding any past reactions to anesthesia as the bed began to roll towards the operating room. “Normally we need written consent for this but there’s no time, do we have your verbal agreement?” Of course! I’d do anything to save these little ones.
We flew down the hall into the operating room leaving a stunned Andreas standing outside holding my purse, jeans and running shoes. I was still wearing my wedding rings, jewellery and t-shirt; there was no time to get properly prepped. A nurse pulled my socks off and an oxygen mask was pressed against my face. I struggled to breathe. I shivered slightly – from cold or nerves, I couldn’t tell. For the first time since we arrived at the hospital, I felt truly frightened but remember specifically thinking “God, I place the three of us in your hands.”
The anaesthesiologist sat by my head and explained what was happening as nurses flew around the room in a blur. People kept filing into the room, scrubbing up. I lost count. There was a rush of cool in my arm and I heard the anaesthesiologist count down from ten… nine… eight…. A green sheet was hoisted up, blocking the view of my belly. Seven… six… Everything faded to black.
July 24, 10:10pm – Landon arrived.
July 24, 10:11pm – Alistair made his first appearance.
I awoke, over an hour later, to the sound of a nurse calling my name, “Elizabeth… Elizabeth…” The room swimming, I squinted at the doctor and nurse by my side. The nurse touched my shoulder, “How are you doing? Are you feeling ok?”
Groggily I struggled to get my mouth to form the word, “Ok,” when I suddenly remembered what had happened. “Twins…? Twins?” I slurred as the room spun.
“We’ll bring in your husband now,” the nurse said quietly.
“Honey, Landon went home.” These were the first words out of my husbands mouth as he enters the room. Four words uttered and a family forever changed. He collapsed on the bed beside me, the two of us sobbing, utterly broken.
The nurse and a doctor knelt beside us, fighting back tears of their own. They were so sorry. They had fought for him, done everything they could, but they couldn’t save him.
“Do you want to hold him?” They brought Landon in and laid him in my arms, my tears sprinkling his still warm face. A bundle of sweetness wrapped in a pale green, hospital towel; a white cap covering his head. His little body was swollen from the fluid which had cost him his life. I held him until the heat began to leave his body. He felt heavy and looked bigger than just 31 weeks.
Andreas had made a few quick phone calls while I was in surgery and my parents, brother and Pastor arrived moments after I woke up. They each held Landon for a few moments, grieving with us and standing silently alongside us while we were yet too fragile to stand on our own.
The doctors told us that Alistair had been taken to the NICU and although he wasn’t yet breathing on his own, he was stable. It was almost 2am before we got to see him, a tiny bird, covered in tubes and wires, pale, monitors beeping, machines breathing for him. He too had been in rough shape upon first entry into the world. It was definitely going to be a tough couple of weeks but he was making remarkable steps forward. He was strong. I had no doubts that my little one was going to fight his hardest to survive.
The next morning, numb from grief and lack of sleep – we were informed that while in the womb, the boys had developed acute twin to twin transfusion. Because the boys shared the same placenta, Alistair (the donor) had been shuttling blood and fluid to Landon (the recipient.) Landon’s little heart couldn’t handle the amount of fluid it was receiving and failed. It was an acute case; it had happened quickly. The doctors worked on Landon for half an hour, struggling to get a breath, a heart beat. But it was too late, he was already home.
The doctors told us that we’d done everything right; another twelve hours and we would have lost Alistair as well.
After a situation like this, one can’t help but think, “If only…” “If only I’d gone to the hospital earlier…” But the truth is, there is nothing we could have done to save him. He wasn’t in our hands. God had called his name and when our name is called, there is but one reply.
We praise God for His faithfulness. He got us to the hospital at just the right time and allowed us to keep a beautiful gift, a miracle, our Alistair. Through the loss of Landon, He drew us closer to Him, revealing Himself to us in new ways. He gently lifted the pieces of our broken hearts out of the ashes and into His hands, comforting us, breathing peace over our marriage and family.
God’s hand had been so evidently at work throughout the pregnancy that we knew He was also at work in our pain and loss. If we could see the fullness of His plan, we would know the answer to the question, “Why?” But although we lack a concrete answer, although we cry until there are no more tears, we know that there is peace in Christ. Our hope is in Him and He is Good.