In March of 2010, I experienced something that would forever change me. It was difficult, unexpected and life altering, and something that taught me more about myself than I ever thought possible. In March of 2010, my heart was broken into a million pieces, yet the lessons I learned during that time are ones that will always stay with me, and gave me a new perspective on life.
My husband and I were lucky to be blessed with healthy twins after 3 years of marriage. A boy and a girl…the best of both worlds, as we were often told. And it was true. They’re amazing kids, and we’d been happily trucking through life raising them, trying to take in every moment while at the same time trying to keep our sanity as we navigated the unique and hectic world of twins. As challenging and overwhelming as caring for twins can be, we quickly got the hang of it and were truly enjoying being parents. When the kids were about 4 (and we were finally able to catch our breath!) we began toying with the idea of having another child. Our twins were everything to us, but we knew deep down that we yearned for another child, and we thought it would be an awesome experience for the twins to have a younger sibling. After much consideration, we decided to go for it and try to have another baby.
Since I’d battled with infertility, we knew right away that we’d need the help of our fertility specialist to conceive. We ultimately determined that IVF was our best route to take, and we decided to transfer only one embryo to eliminate the risk of multiples. Our first cycle failed, but we were overjoyed to learn that our second cycle had been successful. Two early ultrasounds confirmed that I was indeed pregnant, and we were giddy with excitement to see one cute little blob with a beautifully beating heart on the screen. It began to sink in that our dream was coming true. I couldn’t wait to eventually share the news with our family and friends.
A few weeks later, I experienced an intense pain in my abdomen, which eventually landed me in the emergency room in the wee hours of the morning. I told the ER doctors that I was pregnant, so right away they wanted to do an ultrasound to see if things were OK with the pregnancy. The technician started the scan and began making small talk, probably to calm my nerves, and she suddenly stopped. She looked at my chart, looked at the screen, looked at the chart again, and finally said to me, “You said you were having just one baby, right?” and I said yes. She chuckled, turned the screen toward me and said, “I know it’s 3 AM and I’m exhausted, but I definitely see two babies in there. You’re having twins. They’re identical, and they’re looking healthy.” I was awe-struck. Right before my eyes were TWO babies side by side with TWO heartbeats.
My mind was racing, and my own heart was pounding. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Our single embryo had spontaneously split into two, resulting in identical twins. The tech told us that we may not have seen the other baby in our last scan because it could have been hiding behind its twin. I remember calling my husband at 4 AM to tell him that, first, I was fine (ovary issues were causing my pain), and that, second, we were having twins again. I held my breath and waited for a response on the other end. After a minute of silence, he said, “OK. Alright. This is fine. We can do this again. This is…wow. I might need a new car to fit everyone.” I could practically hear his smile over the phone.
After the initial shock, we were elated. We loved twins, and we knew twins. To us, this surprise was a huge blessing. Our families and friends were just as thrilled and ready to help us prepare for their arrival. I laid awake almost every night thinking about how wonderful this was going to be and how blessed I was. I said to my husband one night before falling asleep, “How will we tell them apart?” and his sleepy response was, “We’ll paint their fingernails different colors.”
As I entered the second trimester, things were progressing nicely. I was already wearing maternity clothes since my stomach had already expanded more than I’d expected. My days were filled with caring for my 4-year-old twins and trying to prepare for my new arrivals. On a Wednesday morning, I dropped my kids off at preschool and went for a routine ultrasound. I waved hello to the nurses on my way in, got changed and waited for the tech. She started the ultrasound and we chatted about the weather, how I was feeling – the usual stuff.
Suddenly the room went silent and she stopped. I could have heard a pin drop. A feeling of dread rushed through me from head to toe. My eyes immediately focused on the ultrasound screen, where I saw my twin babies, motionless, with no heartbeats. At that moment I thought that this had to be a nightmare, but I knew it wasn’t. The rest of that day is still a blur to me, even now. I know I cried, the tech cried, and my doctor cried. I know I called my husband and he left work, I called my mom, and I somehow drove myself home. I know that my life was never the same after that moment. The reality and magnitude of this loss was only just beginning for me.
It’s hard to explain the emotions that come along with the loss of any pregnancy, and in my case, a twin pregnancy. Over and over again, I kept thinking, “Why me?” and “What went wrong?” But more than anything else, I felt so sad about what could have been. I already had twins, so I knew how wonderful they are. I knew the happiness and joy they brought to my life and how special and amazing the experience of raising them is. And here I was, lucky enough to be blessed with this opportunity again… only to have it taken away from me so unexpectedly. I had imagined an entire life for these babies… I had hopes, dreams, and a future envisioned for them. And in a flash, that was gone. On the inside I felt angry, empty and alone. But I still had two sweet children to care for right in front of me, so I had to quickly learn how to mask my grief and carry on a somewhat normal existence for the sake of my kids.
There were many days that I smiled while I grieved silently and cried myself to sleep. Yet on other days I was distant, angry and bitter to those around me, ripped apart with grief. Through it all, I knew that I still had to be the mom that my 4 year old twins needed me to be, so for them, I mustered up the strength to be brave and face the world. For a long time I found it difficult to see babies, especially twins, in public or being walked in strollers. But with each hard day, I taught myself to hold the hands of my own twins a little bit tighter, and be thankful for what I had already been blessed with.
When I lost my babies, I remember friends saying to me, “Everything happens for a reason.” At the time, that statement made my skin crawl. But now, I sort of understand it. Looking back on this difficult journey, I realize that I learned so much during and after the loss of my twin pregnancy. First and foremost, I learned that time heals. There is no quick fix to make us feel whole again. Only time can help with that. I learned who my true friends are, and I learned that we may never know how strong we are until being strong is our only option. I possess an inner strength in myself that I never knew existed. I learned to count my blessings each and every day, and to appreciate my health, the health of my children, my family, and everyone in my life, and to never take things for granted. I learned to enjoy the little things in life, because many times those little things turn out to be the big things. Only in grief did I find a new sense of perspective. And as hard as it was, I’m grateful for that perspective every day. It’s proof that those babies are still with me… what they taught me will live inside me for the rest of my days.
For more support read Coping with the loss of a baby
Caroline Todd is a stay-at-home mom of two sets of twins: Eliza and Zachary, 8, and Henry and William, 3. She and her husband Erik live on the south shore of Massachusetts. When she’s not up to her elbows in the chaos and excitement of daily life with 4 young kids, Caroline enjoys running (for her sanity’s sake!), reading, spending time with her family, and enjoying adult conversation with friends once in a while.