So this isn’t an easy post – it’s about what happened next. What happened immediately after the grand unveiling of baby number two. The midwife managed to get us slotted in to see the consultant on the same morning. A few hours later I was on another hospital bed with more jelly getting squeezed unto the bump. Only this time we had about 6 onlookers with the consultant leading the charge, the other sonographer watching on (I assume to make sure she hadn’t got it wrong!), two midwives, the ward sister and someone else who looked rather official. It was quite the party.
Once again there was lots of scanning. Every possible angle and measurement was captured. We saw two beautiful little heartbeats. We were quite definitely having two babies. Gulp. The consultant wiped the jelly off my bump, helped me off the table and we took a seat by his desk. Then things got very scary.
Before he said a word we knew something was wrong. He had that look that I’d only ever seen on TV – it was always followed by a serious discussion. I could hear my heart pounding and I was squeezing Sam’s hand tightly.
He confirmed that we were expecting identical twins, explaining that they were mono-chorionic di-amniotic or MODI twins. This means they shared a placenta but had their own amniotic sacs. My heart was beating faster and faster. He explained that sharing a placenta can cause problems and he suspected that the babies had a condition called twin to twin transfusion (TTTS.) I’d never heard of TTTS before.
The consultant explained the condition but to be honest all I heard was ‘surgery in London’ and ‘30% chance of survival.’ We were in shock. We had to go back in two days time for a follow up scan to see if the diagnosis could be confirmed.
When I got home, I did the worst possible thing. I knew I shouldn’t but I needed to know more. I googled. The results made terrifying reading. If the babies did have this condition, they were both in serious danger and action was needed very quickly. I read article after article – there was hope and we did come across survivor stories. But the risks were high and the odds weren’t good.
TTTS is a condition which affects a small percentage of identical twin pregnancies. Identical twins who share a placenta (monochorionic) have blood vessel connections inside the placenta. TTTS happens when there are too many blood vessel connections in one direction, causing an unequal flow of blood between the twins. This is very dangerous for both babies – with the donor twin receiving too little blood and failing to thrive and the recipient twin receiving too much blood, putting it at risk of heart congestion.
We got a call the next morning from the consultant asking us to come in for another scan right away. By midday we were booked unto flights to London for that evening and had an appointment with a leading professor at a big London hospital for 9am the following morning. The intention was to perform laser surgery on my placenta that afternoon. I couldn’t have dreamt up a worse nightmare.
We hardly had time to think about what was happening. We headed home to hurriedly pack some clothes. I panicked that I had no time to buy the obligatory new pyjamas required for hospital stays. (Because that was worth panicking about.) Mum stepped up to the pyjama plate and arrived at our door in super quick time, having left work, driven the 35 miles to our house and somehow magically acquired two pairs of huge twin bump accommodating pjs en route.
Mum was shocked when she saw me – the TTTS had caused a huge fluid build up in my womb and all of a sudden I looked like I was 40 weeks and not 21 weeks pregnant. We all assumed the bump was getting big so quickly because it was a twin pregnancy but actually the TTTS had become more acute and was causing a huge build up of fluid in my womb.
I was on autopilot. I just wanted to get there, see the professor and get the treatment that would give our babies the best chance. We made our way to the airport and were en route to Heathrow very quickly.
Early the following morning we made our way to St George’s hospital in Tooting where we had an appointment with a leading professor in TTTS. We had some preliminary scans with one of the registrars working under the Prof – she was a lovely Portugese obstetrician and she made us feel at ease despite everything that was happening. When the Prof saw us he didn’t sugar coat the situation. The babies had stage IV TTTS which was very advanced and he told us that without surgical intervention we would lose the boys within days. We knew that with surgery the boys had a 30% chance of survival and if they survived the surgery there was a serious risk of miscarriage, neurological damage and intra uterine growth restriction. We had no choice but to sign the waiver and proceed.
When I think back on this day, just under a year ago, I can feel the bile rising up my throat. Some days I can talk about the experience coherently and then others I’m caught off guard and get choked up with sobs. Proper uncontrollable sobbing. Although on the day itself we experienced a real sense of peace about the whole awful situation that I believe was truly God given. We felt comforted and upheld. I have no doubt that this was as a result of all the many friends, family and people that we didn’t even know that were remembering all four of us in prayer.
We decided that morning that we wanted our little boys to have names – twin 1 and twin 2 seemed so impersonal. Our little twin was to be called Harry and his big brother, Benjamin.
About 4 hours and lots of needles later, I was brought into the operating theatre. I was awake throughout the procedure and Sam was at my side in his rather comical looking scrubs (made for someone 3 ft shorter!). He looked like the Incredible Hulk bursting from the confines of his clothes!! I was lightly sedated but conscious – although the drugs made me feel like I’d had quite a few glasses of champagne. Sam said I was grinning from ear to ear and smiling inanely at the army of doctors and nurses in the operating theatre! The laser surgery was laparoscopic and they passed the laser and a camera through a small incision in my abdomen. The surgery was truly terrifying – worse for Sam as I only remember it through a winey haze. The camera showed the whole procedure on a large screen. This was the first time we saw our beautiful babies properly. At 21 weeks they were absolutely perfect – we saw their little legs kicking and their cute little fingers with the tiniest little nails. The picture was so clear. I was besotted already.
Before the laser surgery could start, they needed to drain excess fluid from my womb – about 1.5 litres was removed. You could hear it splashing on the sterile floor as it overflowed the container. Then the laser started – we saw the red hot laser cut through the vessels that linked the babies, sending up a little plume of smoke inside my womb. The whole experience was very surreal.
After the surgery, I was brought up to the maternity ward to recover overnight. After the pain relief wore off I was very sore – I felt like my womb was contracting and I was terrified that I was going into labour. The girl in the bay next to me was in the early stages of labour so as you can imagine there wasn’t going to be any sleep happening that night. I often wonder why they didn’t put me on a gynaecological ward. It seemed wrong that I was lying beside a labouring woman during the crucial 8 hours post op when the risk of me having a miscarriage was at its peak.
Sam was allowed to stay until about 11pm and then I had to get through a long night on my own. It’s always a relief in hospitals when the first signs of morning scurrying starts. The long night of worry was over. It was Sunday morning and I had been told that it may be Monday before the follow up scan to see if my babies had survived. Then at 8am that morning, the Professor arrived at my bed. The wait was over. He brought me to the scanning suite and within minutes had found two heartbeats. I was overjoyed and my heart was full of thankfulness.
The operation saved the boys lives. But we faced a long and hard road ahead of us, with no guarantees. But that day we celebrated. We had jumped this hurdle and our beautiful boys were fighting hard. We had everything to hope for.
I’m linking this post up with the #coolmumclub