When I found out I was carrying twins, it was one of the happiest moments of my life.
I was elated, and a little in shock. I couldn’t believe it.
It turns out miracles weren’t just things that happened to other people.
I basked in a few weeks of absolute bliss before it all came tumbling down.
We found out the sex of our twin girls the same day they told us something was wrong. A few days after that, the diagnosis was confirmed: twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS). Both babies were in trouble. The doctors recommended immediate laser surgery, that same day in fact. Otherwise, there was no telling how long either of them would survive.
The mood in the operating room was peaceful and reassuring. Drs. Codsi and Wavrant were completely focused on the task at hand. They even asked me not to laugh when one of the nurses tried to distract me by enquiring whether we had started picking out names. As I was watching the procedure on the monitor, I saw the feet of one of my daughters, gently kicking an instrument in the doctor’s hand. She didn’t want to be disturbed! The entire room let out an “awww” in wonder. An “awww” that drove home just how special and extraordinary the experience was for us all.
But the procedure didn’t work. A week later, the TTTS was back and wreaking even more havoc on their little hearts. I went in for a fetal [SS1] cardiac ultrasound, even though I was warned that it wouldn’t confirm the prognosis or tell us whether one baby had a better chance of making it than the other.
Both girls were moving around so much that the ultrasound technician, who was incredibly good and thorough at her job, had trouble taking their measurements. I thought that must be a good sign. She even made a few comments during the exam: “Ah, this one’s got attitude. She won’t let her sister have the limelight.” “You’re awfully fidgety, aren’t you, little one?”
I wanted to tell her to stop. Didn’t she know our world was falling apart? The answer is, of course she did. She was the one measuring the different parts of their tiny hearts and assessing circulatory function. She knew better than anyone else how dire the situation was. Hers was a precious gift: despite having to concentrate very hard on what she was doing, she took the time to create these memories for us. My babies were moving, nudging each other, even interacting. They existed. They were real. And that’s one of the things that can never be taken away from us.
It’s also what made the next piece of information so difficult to comprehend. I nodded my head as I listened, but nothing made sense. I kept insisting there must be something else to try. That’s when the doctor put it in very clear terms: “Basically, there is no possible scenario left where you will be going home with two healthy babies.”
I never thought I’d have to choose. They were created together. They would come into the world together. It was on yet another ultrasound table that it finally dawned on me: I’d have to let one go, or they would both be taken from me. After the horrible truth sunk in, I was wheeled back into the operating room.
My frame of mind could not have been any different the second time around. No matter how kind and attentive the staff were, there was no soothing the pain I felt. There was no “awww,” no moment of wonder. It was all a blur. I wasn’t in any physical discomfort, apart from the knot in the pit of my stomach. And then the doctor turned to me and said, “It’s over.”
That was followed by several nights of crying myself to sleep, unable to accept the fate that life had delivered to us. Although I was relieved to know that Baby #2 was hanging on, I couldn’t help but think that all was lost. I was devastated. Devastated that our miracle, or part of it, had come to that.
The grief was enormous. As was the shock. I still can’t believe what we went through. It turns out unimaginable tragedies weren’t just things that happened to other people.
Had this occurred years before, we would’ve lost both girls. There wouldn’t have been any chance of saving either one. The expertise at Sainte-Justine is what gave us hope. And even if death won out for one of our daughters, Sainte-Justine made sure that life emerged victorious for the other.
Still today, I feel incredibly lucky to have one healthy baby and to be able to watch her grow. She is so beautiful and strong. Still today, I feel the void of losing her sister. I feel the pull of wanting to be where she is, of wanting to cradle her in my arms and keep her safe.
All of my memories, the good and the bad, were experienced while lying on a succession of examining and operating tables: joy, excitement, worry, panic, relief, hope, loss… and new life. I cherish my ultrasound pictures. They’re one of the only things in the box of mementos we keep beside a tiny white urn in the nursery. There are no smells, no receiving blankets, no cuddles to remember. Just dreams, colours, thoughts. Just a long list of milestones we will celebrate with one of the two babies that life had promised us.
I spent a lot of time thinking about how to maintain a connection with this place and these people who, in the space of just a few weeks, became part of our family. Some of the most difficult moments of our life were spent at Sainte-Justine. But also some of the most beautiful, when our daughters were born. We have since become donors to the CHU Sainte-Justine Foundation to give back and show our gratitude. And together, we will help make more miracles happen.