Story by Caryn Rich
Like many, I thought that after I graduated college, you got a corporate job, rode the hamster wheel for as long as you could, and then one day, you retired with a fortune. And for some time, I did work in the corporate world, the fashion industry to be exact. Traveling to Asia several times a year throughout my career was fun, but it got old quickly. When we decided to try for children getting pregnant wasn’t as easy for us as it appeared on TV and in the movies. I dreamt of having children from when I was a little girl, so having difficulty was a hard pill to swallow.
Month after month, we tried, and it didn’t happen.
I had been told back in my twenties by my Gyn that I might have trouble conceiving because I had endometriosis. Still, at 22, the urgency wasn’t something that resonated with me. But now, I couldn’t help remembering what the doctor had said and replaying it in my mind.
I felt like a failure to my husband, and I felt like my body was failing me. I began withdrawing from my friends – especially the ones who were pregnant. I felt sorry myself, and after a visit to my doctor, she recommended we see a fertility specialist.
I had known friends and family members who had gone through the infertility process, but I didn’t know what it entailed per se. I felt alone and like no one truly understood the colossal bomb dropped on me.
Knowing others who had been through it and were successful gave me renewed energy and a sense of hope. If they had success, I could too. I’m happy to say that we got pregnant on our first try with IVF, and we were even able to freeze some extra embryos.
We began IVF for baby #2 when our son was a year old. Going through it the second time was easier in some ways. When I got the phone call with my pregnancy test results, my heart was beating out of my chest like it did each time after the 2-week-wait. I can still physically feel the pain when the nurse called to tell me that I wasn’t pregnant. How could that be? It was such a huge blow.
We went on to do more cycles, many that failed, some canceled, and 5 that resulted in miscarriage. I want to say that it didn’t take too much time after that initial try, but in reality, it took over four years, close to $200,000, and 15 cycles to result in a subsequent viable pregnancy. I felt like I finally understood the universe’s plan when we learned that we were pregnant with twins at one of our early ultrasounds.
As you can imagine, we invested a lot physically, mentally, and financially in those babies. I was so excited to share the news that we had not one but two babies in my belly. After each ultrasound, I was full of joy to learn that all was going so well with our babies’ development. I felt blessed to be carrying twins, and I couldn’t wait to flaunt my belly that I had waited so many years to achieve.
I tried not to consult Dr. Google with concerns over every ache and pain for fear of causing myself undue stress. The pressure you feel with twins doubles as the babies grow. Still, aside from a bit of discomfort, I felt well, not gaining a ton of weight, and so thrilled and grateful for our last cycle’s outcome.
At our 16 week u/s, the radiologist had concerns about my cervix and felt bed rest was in order. When I followed up with my MFM, he did not suggest modifying anything. He allowed me to go on vacation to an island without a thought. He told me that they could do the exact things he would do even if something were to go wrong.
I was worried about going, but the trip was special as my husband and I met on this island and had not been back since. We would be returning with our 4-year-old son and would be able to show him all our local hangouts.
The fun quickly turned into panic later that evening when I began bleeding heavily.
It was an ordeal to get to the local police station and wait for a police boat to take me to an ambulance on land. The only hospital nearby was small and not equipped to handle an emergency like mine. There was no MFM there at that hour, and even getting into a room was one of the most traumatic things I have ever been through.
I spoke to my MFM many times throughout the night as he received updates from the staff taking care of me. It was clear that while the babies were healthy, my cervix was opening prematurely. At one point, they told me I had become septic, and there was fear for my life. All I cared about was them saving my babies and, at that moment, was willing to face my death happily in exchange. It was a very long night, and I did not sleep a wink. Morning finally arrived, and the plan was to take me via ambulance back to my local hospital several hours and a state away.
The trip back felt like forever.
As soon as I got to the hospital near my home, my water broke, and I had no other choice but to deliver.
We never found out the sex of our babies, twins included. I always felt like there are so few surprises in life and that meeting your new baby was one of those times you should be surprised. But, at that moment, when my world came crashing down, I wanted to know. Before delivery, a quick ultrasound still showed my babies alive and well, despite the stress we were all under but not their sexes. There was no time for that, and the irony was obvious.
I remember blurs of people, tons of talking, questions, and instructions for the team in the OR with me. Due to an immune condition, I need to be on blood thinners during pregnancy. Because of this and the emergency nature of the situation, an epidural was not possible. I needed to be put under general anesthesia and out completely.
I remember waking up and trying to stay as still and quiet as I could. I was scared to ask if I was still pregnant and what had happened. The longer I prolonged the truth, the more time I could push off the pain I knew I was going to feel. My silence was interrupted when the nurse realized I was awake. She quickly told me that I still carried baby B but that baby A needed to be delivered.
The details of the delivery make me sad and tear my heart apart still to this day. There are legalities that a pregnant mother should not have to deal with in such times. The choice to “terminate” part of my pregnancy was not a choice but the only way I could save one of my twins. Baby A, a son we named Alef, was delivered, and miraculously my cervix closed up as soon as he came out. There was an empty space in my womb as all that remained of Alef was his placenta. Baby B had lost their womb mate, but as we tell her to this day, Baby A saved her life.
Repeatedly, the nurse asked me if I wanted to hold my baby boy, and I wrestled with a decision for hours. Ultimately, I asked for pictures along with the blue satin box of memories they gave me. It was a decision made out of necessity. I knew that if I allowed myself to feel all the feelings at that very moment, it would not be what was best for the baby still in my belly.
To this day, I regret not listening to my gut telling me to get a second opinion on my cervix, especially since my first child came at 34 weeks. I regret not holding my baby boy and sending him back to the earth without knowing his mother’s arms. Yet, in life, we make hard decisions and what I know now is that life happened as it was supposed to.
Dealing with the aftermath… When you have a baby after a miscarriage, it’s called a “Rainbow Baby.” My son Alef was a Rainbow Baby, but did you know that when one twin passes away, that baby is called a Sunset Baby? Alef was a Rainbow and then a Sunset. I never heard of this until recently, but it describes that loss perfectly—the sun sets on all the hopes, wishes, and dreams you had for them. When what was supposed to be my Rainbow turned into a Sunset, I was numb. The other twin who lives is called a Sunrise Baby, and I have one of those too.
Over the next 4.5 weeks, I was in the hospital on bed rest, hoping that Baby A would live and grow inside of me for the next 15 or so weeks. Every day when they would see me during rounds, they made a point of telling me that I was not out of the woods and could lose this baby too.
I endured the endless negativity daily, but the further away from the incident I made it, they began adding, “That is a good sign.” Somewhere around 2-3 weeks later, my doctor decided to insert a cerclage to prevent my cervix from opening prematurely again. Something I genuinely wish he would have done from the beginning.
I went on like this for weeks, bed rest, devices constantly blowing up on my legs, infrequent showers in a chair, and many caring visitors. The days all felt the same and began to blend into one another. Each day I was there a gift. There was comfort in the monotony of my routine until there wasn’t.
During a visit with my MFM, I told him that I felt a trickle, and to my chagrin, my water had started to leak. Off I went, back to L&D after a scan showed too much of my water was disappearing. While my MFM often tried to discourage me from saving this child, I was adamant.
The following five days saw me on a cocktail of steroids for my baby’s lungs and days long Magnesium treatments. By day 5, I was stable, and they shut off the Magnesium after the second round of steroids.
I wasn’t due until November; my actual due date was 11/11/11. Perfect for this miracle pregnancy is what I used to think, but now, it was July, still too soon to welcome a baby into the world. On this particular Sunday, I was four days into my 23rd week.
My boys had just left after an extended visit when the most horrific pains suddenly started. I didn’t want to think about it, but I knew what was happening. I was in full panic mode while they examined me. I was screaming for them to do something, anything, as I felt her trying to come out. Sure enough, the baby had started descending the birth canal.
Here we go again; I thought, another traumatic birth. There was a rush of doctors, and within minutes I was in the OR. By this point, I think it was way after midnight. Because of the nature of the emergency, the baby was so tiny that they couldn’t risk a vaginal delivery and had to do a c-section. There was no time for an epidural. I remember yelling, put me under, get the baby out, save my baby. Then it was a blur.
My next memory is of waking up in recovery, again, not knowing what happened. When I looked over, my husband had a big smile on his face, telling me we had a little girl, and he named her Olive. He had arrived just as she was getting transported to the NICU. “She looked like a tiny little Olive,” he said.
I smiled back at him; before her arrival, the NICU Dr. had told us premature little girls have a better survival rate than little boys. Born at 23.4 weeks, she needed every single edge she could get. She had less than a 5% chance of surviving, but I am happy to say that she came home to us after 135 days in the NICU.