It was our first time pregnant and at our first ultrasound, we were told “we may want to sit down for this”. Immediately I thought something was horribly wrong. The doctor proceeded to tell us there “THEY” were. I responded with several, “What the %^&*?!”’s while my husband proceeded to high-five the doctor. How was this even possible?! Turns out identical twins aren’t even hereditary and it’s a total luck of the draw. When the shock subsided, the doctor thoroughly explained all of the risks associated with identical twins, many of which involved NICU time, and of course, I assumed none of this would happen to me.
Fast forward to 23 weeks and Thanksgiving Day. We had about 25 people over and I was running around like crazy. I was getting all the usual questions, but at the end of the night, my cousin (a gynecologist) asked if I was feeling the babies kick. I realized I hadn’t in probably a day or two. I sat in a quiet room waiting for something to happen. I chalked it up to being tired and figured I’d feel them the next day.
The following morning, I knew something was off and the doctor asked me to come in. Ever the optimist, I told my family I’d be back by noon. I didn’t return home for nearly 6 weeks.
Turns out, not only was I having contractions, I also had something that 15% of identical pregnancies have; Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS). This rare condition means that one of the twins gets all the nutrients from the cord while the other isn’t getting much, if anything at all. I was immediately given drugs to stop the contractions, and lucky for us, the doctor that invented the surgery to correct the TTTS was based in Miami at another hospital.
Adrenaline and optimism kept me going along with celebrating the small wins along the way… we celebrated each day that we literally would mark off of a calendar he made that we were still pregnant.
After a quick consult with him, he instructed the current hospital to administer a cerclage to stitch up my cervix (which they did against their better judgment). After a long 36 hours later, I was then transferred to the other hospital. The surgeon arrived while the tech did my ultrasound and I’ll never forget the look on his face as it did not look promising. He explained how the one baby was hanging on but the other had blood pumping the wrong direction through her heart and we were maybe hours away from losing one, if not both. Our options were presented to try and save one or both with different statistical outcomes. We chose both. Less than an hour later I was in the OR with the intent to cauterize some veins and open the pathways to others in hopes to correct the damage that was already being done.
I was admitted to the hospital after the surgery and given daily ultrasounds in my room to see if the surgery had corrected the problem. Each day showed slight improvements and we were hopeful.
Despite the constant updates from pediatric neurologists, cardiologists, and ophthalmologists on the disheartening statistics of babies born at our current term, we remained hopeful and strategic. I knew that any amount of stress could be damaging. Adrenaline and optimism kept me going along with celebrating the small wins along the way. My husband and I would do visualizations and we celebrated each day that we literally would mark off of a calendar he made that we were still pregnant. There were inspirational quotes posted all over my hospital bedroom wall and each Tuesday, we would pick up food from one of my favorite restaurants to really celebrate.
Finally after 5 weeks of bed rest at the hospital I was again having contractions and this time they weren’t going to try and stop them. The twins were delivered on New Year’s Eve day and the most relieving sound I ever heard was the sound of their cries as they were born. They weighed a little over 1 pound each and were taken directly to the NICU and hooked up to oxygen and endless monitors. It was nearly a week before I was able to remove either of them from their incubator and hold them.
Rachel with her twins in the NICU
There were ups and downs throughout our time in the NICU, but every single day, I spent morning to night sitting with both of my girls, holding them on my bare chest for hours and hours at a time. There was much research on this care known as “kangaroo care” and the benefits it had on not only regulating the babies heart rate, breathing and temperature, but also stabilizing organ function, avoiding infections and improving overall physical and emotional development. I truly believe that the time we spent with them in the NICU, skin to skin, is the reason they were able to thrive and eventually leave the NICU on their scheduled delivery date 3 months later.
Della and Ivy turned 4 this past December. We get lost in the day-to-day nuances of life but it’s never lost on me what absolute miracles these two little girls are. I’m amazed at their innate strength and tenacity and ability to overcome the odds. It’s experiences like these that remind us to never lose hope, to think positively and to persevere and find strength in situations that seem absolutely impossible.