I met Katie through my business, although we also share the love of one small island. Katie is sweet and generous and patient and grateful, particularly grateful. After working beside each other for a few months I learnt why. Here is her extraordinary story, in her words:
When Tim and I found out we were pregnant with identical twin boys we were overjoyed – and frightened. It was our first pregnancy.
We were in the process of moving to Minneapolis, which is where we had our 20-week appointment with a perinatologist recommended by our OB/GYN. During the ultrasound before the appointment, the technician became very quiet, and explained to us what we were seeing. It looked like one twin boy was saran-wrapped into his side of the womb, while the other twin had lots of room and lots of amniotic fluid to move around in.
She told us that she was going to bring in the perinatologist. The doctor came in and asked us a few questions: “Were your twins conceived naturally?” “Yes.” “Were you referred here for a specific reason?” “Only because we were having identical twins, and we were told sometimes that causes more complications in pregnancy.” Then he took my hand, held it and started talking.
“Your twins have a syndrome called, Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome. It is a rare syndrome with identical twins where the placenta favors one twin over the other, but it isn’t really good for either one. We can try some procedures where we place a needle in the womb to draw off amniotic fluid to relieve some of the pressure on your belly and on the twin who is not getting enough fluid. We will have to do this every three days through the pregnancy. Even then this may not rectify the situation. You may have to go into the hospital and stay in for the duration of your pregnancy. You can opt at this point to move forward with the pregnancy knowing this is very high risk or we can do procedures to end it.”
Tears were streaming down my face. Tim and I looked at each other in shock. The doctor gave us a few minutes to discuss our options.
We both chose to do the serial amniotic draw-offs to try to save our twin boys. There was no way we could have chosen to do anything else.
They wanted to do the first procedure immediately. Then I was to go home for bed rest for the next day-and-a-half because the amniotic procedures would cause contractions.
We did this for five weeks, three times per week. Each time I would go home to bed rest until the contractions calmed down.
At 25 weeks, we went in for another procedure to discover that the twin who was getting too much blood and nutrients was beginning to struggle.
We went in for another amniotic draw-off. They started with an ultrasound to check both boys’ growth and measurements. Right away they could see that the twin who was getting too much blood was not moving. He had died of cardiac arrest.
Grief was immediate and overwhelming. Dr Lea Fairbanks, one of our favorite doctors, was attending to us that day. She explained that now I would need to go into the hospital and stay there as my body would start to go through the shock of losing one twin, and that I could possibly go into premature labor.
At around midnight, my body started to have hard contractions that took my breath away. They put me on two I.V. drugs to stop them. Awful stuff. I was on those drugs for the next two weeks.
They monitored our other twin 24 hours a day but, two weeks later, at 28 weeks, he looked like he was getting into trouble. They decided to operate. He wasn’t getting enough blood, and since our first twin, whom we decided to call Tynan Thomas (Dark Twin), Ty for short, had died, he had been much quieter in his movements and he had taken on fluid.
I was awake for the emergency cesarean. They took John Patrick (our second, alive twin) out first, and then took Tynan out. When the operation was done they allowed us to be with Tynan and say our goodbyes. It was such a weird dichotomy: we were so happy that John Patrick was born alive; and we were grieving for the loss of Tynan.
We spent nine days in the hospital with John Patrick, in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. They wouldn’t allow us to be there at night because they needed me to get better myself. One morning, we got a call from the hospital asking us to come in. John Patrick had had a rough night and they didn’t believe that he would be able to continue on. His kidneys had never become fully functioning because the syndrome had compromised them. He was perfect in every other way.
They said that once they unhooked him from the life support he would only live for an hour. They wanted us to be with him and hold him while he went through his process of dying.
We stayed with him the whole day, and our parents came in and held him as well.
We decided to have the twins cremated together and to hold a ceremony later for them at our church once we were able.
We returned home and went to spend a few days at the family’s cottage on the KinnicKinnic River to just be alone and grieve.
A week later we had a memorial service for the twins.
It was unreal. How could this have happened? It was not the natural order of things: Your children don’t die before you. This was not supposed to happen: How had modern medicine not been able to save them?
First came overwhelming and exhausting grief. Then came anger at God for taking them away from us. Then anger at women who had four, five, six children without even thinking about it, who had no idea what a gift their children were. Looking at pregnant women was intolerable and I would have to leave or turn the other way so I wouldn’t start crying.
We went through initial grief counseling and then we did a six-week grief group with other couples who had also lost children. This really helped us. Statistics show that if a couple loses a child, the odds of them staying together are low, for many reasons, not least because each person processes grief in different ways. Tim and I were able to work through it. (Although we did have our low points.)
The doctors told us that we would have to wait at least three months before we could try to have a child again. It seemed like an eternity.
Once we were able to try again, it was a harrowing, frightening experience. We would try, we wouldn’t be pregnant, we would grieve again, and then try again. Couples all around us were getting pregnant, having babies, living normal lives.
Luckily, five months later, we did get pregnant. We were so happy but at the same time so scared because we knew what could happen.
The doctors kept reassuring us that lightning could not strike twice but we didn’t believe it. We didn’t want to hope. It felt like we held our breath for nine months.
At 38 weeks, the doctors did an amniocentesis to see if our daughter’s lungs were mature enough and the next day we went in for our cesarean section. And out came Caroline Holiday Murphy; a beautiful, healthy baby. Tim and I cried tears of complete joy. We thought of our boys, our Gemini, watching over us and over Caroline; her big brothers up in that starry sky.
And then, two years later, came Mary Randolph Murphy to brighten our world even further. We are so incredibly lucky to have these two.
That is why the IH token “Count Your Lucky Stars” has so much meaning for me. It reminds me of my twin boys, Tynan and John Patrick, and it reminds me of how incredibly lucky I am to have healthy, living, beautiful, children.