Our Story: A Month of Tuesdays
... letters to our unborn sons
Tuesday, March 14, 2000
Your dad and I have an appointment today with Dr. Hansard, a fertility specialist whom we have been seeing since May of last year, hoping that she can help us get pregnant. Today is our second artificial insemination procedure, which, together with the Clomid fertility pills that I have been taking, is supposed to increase our chances of conception. But, after almost three years of trying, including various invasive procedures and one minor operation, I am not feeling very optimistic. We leave Dr. Hansard’s office with instructions for me to take a blood test exactly two weeks from today to determine if the procedure was successful.
Saturday, March 26, 2000
Your dad and I go out to dinner at Mirabelle, a fabulous Austin restaurant practically around the corner from our house, to celebrate his 31st birthday a few days early. During dinner, we have what must be the 100th discussion about having a baby. I have been getting more and more discouraged lately, and I tell him that I am ready to give up. I want to stop the fertility treatments and start the adoption process. I feel guilty spending so much money trying to have a child of our own when there are so many children in the world who need a loving family. On top of the guilt, the whole thing has started to really depress me – being disappointed month after month after month – and I am so tired of being poked and prodded to figure out what is wrong with me. I just want a child to share our love with, and I am convinced that my body simply will not support one. Your dad and I finally agree that we will quit the treatments, and that if the coming Tuesday’s blood test shows that we were unsuccessful yet again, we will start trying to adopt.
Tuesday, March 28, 2000
Today is your dad’s birthday. I have called in sick to work because I feel horrible – I am incredibly sick to my stomach and I can’t remember feeling so tired since college. But today I am supposed to go in to the lab for the blood test that Dr. Hansard ordered. Although I am confident that the test will be negative, as it always is, I take a home pregnancy test to prepare myself for the disappointment. It shows a positive result almost immediately! I am still skeptical (I have developed quite a bad attitude), but I call your dad to tell him the potentially good news, then I hurry off to the lab. Later in the afternoon, I go out to buy another home pregnancy test to take as I impatiently wait for the lab results. By the time I get back, Dr. Hansard’s office has called and left a message on the answering machine saying that I am indeed pregnant. I am shocked and amazed and deliriously happy. I play the message over and over again to be sure that I heard it correctly, then I call your dad. When he gets home from work, we call all of the grandparents-to-be to let them know that another Bennett is on the way. Finally, we have what we have wanted for so long, and we celebrate.
Tuesday, April 18, 2000
We are officially seven weeks pregnant, and today is our first ultrasound. I am convinced that we are having twins – I just feel like I am carrying more that one baby, and for the past two weeks I have been sharing that feeling with everyone who knows we are pregnant. Your dad thinks I am nuts. Today we will find out who is right.
Before Dr. Hansard starts the ultrasound scan, she asks us how many babies we think we are having. I, of course say "two," while your dad assuredly says "one." A few moments later, she tells us that we definitely have twins, and she points out two little lima bean shapes on the screen while your dad turns completely white – I think he is in shock. She sees only one placenta, which means that our twins will be identical. But she also sees only one amniotic sac, which can be quite dangerous, so she asks us to come back in two weeks for a follow-up ultrasound to see if she can then see a second sac.
We both take little ultrasound picture printouts to work to share our news. All of the grandparents are surprised that there will now be two little Bennett babies. I guess they thought I was nuts too. J
Tuesday, May 2, 2000
At the second ultrasound scan, Dr. Hansard can now see two amniotic sacs (whew!). We are so relieved – I read a lot of scary statistics over the past two weeks about monoamniotic pregnancies. This is our last appointment with Dr. Hansard. The fertility issues have been resolved, so our care will now be managed by an obstetrician. It will be strange to visit another doctor, since we have spent so much time with Dr. Hansard. She is so special to me, because she helped me achieve what I thought was impossible.
Tuesday, May 23, 2000
We are twelve weeks pregnant today, so we feel like we can finally relax and enjoy the pregnancy, as the danger of miscarriage is now past. I have been pretty nauseous and absolutely exhausted for the past two months, but Dr. Weihs, our obstetrician, assures me that it will get better soon.
Tuesday, June 20, 2000
Today, 16 weeks pregnant, we are scheduled to have a level III ultrasound. We have been anxiously awaiting today’s test, because this ultrasound picture will be much more clear than the one on the old machine in Dr. Weihs’ office, and, more importantly, it should be able to show us the babies’ gender. We have names picked out for either case: Alec and Cameron for boys, Grace and Avery for girls.
A few minutes after she starts the scan, the technician tells us that we are having boys! Your dad and I both get tears in our eyes – we are so happy. I ask the technician if both of the babies look healthy, as that is by far our main concern. She tells us that she cannot say, as she is not a doctor, but that we will know before we leave. We are both uncomfortable with her response, and fear that something is not right. She leaves and we wait for the doctor.
After the doctor (a perinatologist) reviews the scan, he tells us that we have a mild case of Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome. I have read about this disease on the Internet already, so I know that a diagnosis before 20 weeks gestation, if not treated, comes with a 100% mortality rate for both babies. Of course, I have forgotten about the "if not treated" part, so I begin to cry and I just can’t stop – we are going to lose both of the babies. But the doctor tells us that we are still in the mild stage of the disease, and that it could stall or even go away on its own. If that doesn’t happen, we may need to have a special surgery performed by a doctor in Tampa, Florida. He asks us to come back in one week to see if anything has changed. I am completely devastated – how can this happen after we have come so far? I can’t remember ever being this sad, and I can’t bear the thought of losing these babies that I already love so much.
Tuesday, June 27, 2000
We have done a lot of research over the past week, and we now know much more about TTTS. Your Grandma Fitzgerald has found the doctor in Tampa who specializes in treating our disease: Dr. Ruben Quintero. We have already talked to his nurse, and she has sent us lots of good information about the surgery that we think we will need. We have also talked to Dr. Julian DeLia, the only other doctor in the country who performs this surgery (he is on sabbatical now), and Mary, the founder of the TTTS Foundation. Mary has talked to me on the phone for hours, trying to calm my fears and help me deal with this horrible situation (she lost a son to TTTS many years ago). With all of our new information, we are now prepared for the next ultrasound – today.
We see the same doctor. He tells us that nothing has really changed over the past week: the TTTS hasn’t improved, but it isn’t worse either. We schedule another scan for next week to check on the progress again, hopeful that things will stay as they are, but prepared to go to Tampa for surgery if needed.
Tuesday, July 4, 2000
We see the same perinatologist again today for our third level III ultrasound. He tells us that everything still looks the same, but that he will send our report to Dr. Quintero for evaluation. He talks about the surgery in a pretty negative manner, calling the qualification criteria "super secret," and suggesting that Dr. Quintero takes credit for saving babies that would have been fine without the surgery. This infuriates me. We already know the criteria for surgery just from our Internet research, and so should he. He tells us to come back again in another week, but when he leaves, we ask to see another doctor on our next visit. We would rather have Dr. Harstad (in the same practice) perform the next ultrasound, because we know that he has worked with Dr. DeLia treating TTTS, so he knows a lot more about our disease. We leave not at all convinced that things are still okay.
On Thursday we find out that Dr. Quintero will be out of the country next week, so we can’t have the surgery even if we need it. We are starting to feel a little panicked, worrying that something horrible will happen before we get the chance to have the operation that we now believe we need. But we have no choice but to wait and pray that everything will be okay.
Tuesday, July 11, 2000
This is our first visit with Dr. Harstad, and we are immediately comfortable with him. After reviewing the ultrasound, he tells us that the TTTS has progressed: the donor baby (Alec) is now completely "stuck" – there is almost no amniotic fluid around him, and he can barely move. The recipient baby (Cameron) has way too much fluid, and is now showing signs of heart trouble, from having to process too much blood. Without intervention, Alec will die of malnutrition and Cameron will die of heart failure. It is time for the surgery. This is horrible news, but at least now we have a plan, and that is somewhat comforting.
On Thursday, Mary Allen, Dr. Quintero’s nurse, calls to confirm that we will have the surgery this coming Tuesday. After talking with her, I make travel arrangements – we will spend the whole week in Florida. Your dad and I are so scared, but we are relieved that we will finally be doing something to help our precious children.
Tuesday, July 18, 2000
Today is surgery day. I have been in the hospital since Sunday, because I started having contractions in the Austin airport. They gave me magnesium sulfate (a horrible drug – I don’t know that I have ever felt so completely sick) to stop the contractions so that I can still have the surgery. My dad and your dad’s mama and daddy have all flown to Tampa to be with us. We are so grateful to have the support of family here with us. It helps me maintain control of my emotions.
Dr. Quintero comes by in the morning to discuss our case. He reiterates that surgery is the best course of action, telling us that with the surgery, we have an 87% chance of saving one of the babies, and a 50% chance of saving the other. I don’t like those odds, but they are better than zero, and your dad tells me that they are "hall of fame" numbers. As they take me down to the operating room I cannot stop crying, because I know that this might be the last time I ever feel the little kicks that have become so familiar. As they give me the anesthesia, I look at Dr. Quintero, and I pray that I will wake up with two babies.
Wednesday’s ultrasound shows that there are still two heartbeats, and we are so thankful – many times, one of the babies dies within 24 hours of the surgery. Dr. Quintero tells us that if both babies are still alive four weeks from now, the odds are overwhelmingly in our favor that they will both survive the remainder of the pregnancy.
Thursday, August 3, 2000 - Black Thursday
Since I had so many contractions in Tampa, I have been on bed rest since the surgery, hoping that limited activity will reduce the risk of pre-term labor. To keep tabs on the status of the pregnancy, though, I have an appointment today with Dr. Grogono, one of Dr. Weihs’ partners, for a routine check of my cervix. Her exam reveals that I am 1 cm dilated. Ten minutes on the uterine monitor show that I am also having contractions, so she sends us to the hospital. Once we have checked in, Dr. Harstad comes in to discuss the situation with us. At this point, your dad and I are a little nervous about this unexpected turn of events, but we are not overly concerned.
Dr. Harstad sits down next to my bed and tells us that 50% of women with my symptoms of pre-term labor deliver within 48 hours of the onset of those symptoms. Since I have a mild fever and a tender stomach, in addition to the cervical dilation and contractions, he thinks that I might have an infection from the surgery. If my fever gets worse, he will have to deliver the babies immediately, because keeping them with a uterine infection would put my life in danger. Since we are only 22 weeks and two days into the pregnancy, he tells us that the babies will not survive the delivery. 24 weeks gestation is the point of viability, and we are too far away from that point. If they do arrive in the next 48 hours, the hospital staff will give us some time with them to say goodbye, then they will take them away, and it will all be over. A 50/50 chance is all we have. We just have to wait and see what happens. This is the worst day of my life.
After Dr. Harstad leaves, your Ray grandparents arrive to help us get through this horrible day. They have called Sister Hannah, a catholic nun who practices healing touch, to come by as well. As Sister Hannah does her laying on of hands and prays over me, my contractions slow down. Although they go up and down over the next few days, my fever goes away and my stomach is no longer tender, so Dr. Weihs lets me go home, still pregnant, on strict bed rest.
I am convinced that I did indeed have an infection from the surgery, and that God, through Sister Hannah, cured my infection and allowed us to keep our babies. I have always believed in God, but I have never really believed in miracles or the power of prayer. When I go home from the hospital, though, I know that I have experienced a true miracle, and my relationship with God has changed forever.
Tuesday, August 15, 2000
We are 24 weeks pregnant today. Dr. Harstad’s ultrasound confirms that there are still two heartbeats – we have made it through the fourth week following the surgery and both babies are still alive! We have also made it to the point of viability: if the babies were to be born today, they would have many complications, but they would have a 90% chance of surviving. Dr. Harstad tells us that our ultimate goal is 32 weeks gestation, as the occurrence of complications due to prematurity will be so much lower then, but at this point, he would like to see us make it to at least 28 weeks.
More good news: Alec is gaining weight and has almost caught up to Cameron. Cameron is still showing signs of heart trouble from the TTTS, but Dr. Harstad thinks that his problems will go away over the next few weeks. So, as we have done since Black Thursday, we pray for more time.
Tuesday, September 12, 2000
28 weeks! I can’t believe we have made it this far. It has been almost six weeks since Black Thursday and our grim 50/50 chance of keeping the babies. We have made it to our first goal: according to Dr. Harstad, the risk of serious long-term complications is much lower now. Our next goal is 32 weeks. Every night I pray for one more day...
Sunday, September 17, 2000
My good friend Jennifer is in town to "entertain" me while I lay in bed (I have been on bed rest for more than 60 days now, and I am starting to get a little stir crazy). I have been feeling more contractions today than usual, so we go to the hospital to see what is going on. By the time we get there, my contractions are regular, one to two minutes apart. As usual, I start to cry, because I feel like your little bodies are not ready yet for the outside world. The doctor tells me that the time for crying is past, that at almost 29 weeks you should be just fine. She gives me more magnesium sulfate, though, to try to stop the contractions, and a round of steroids to help your little lungs develop, just in case you are on the way. Miraculously, the contractions stop again, and I go home four days later. Dr. Weihs tells me before we leave that next time they will not give me any medication to stop the contractions - they will just let nature take its course.
Monday, October 2, 2000
It is after midnight, and I am starting to feel regular contractions. I hate to drag your dad to the hospital yet again, but I feel like we are getting close to your birthday, so we go in, just to be safe. It looks like labor again: my contractions are two minutes apart. The doctor on call decides to give me more magnesium and another round of steroids. We are a little bit frustrated, because we thought the last round was the end (steroid shots are painful!), and we worry about giving you too many doses of the steroids. We want to prolong the pregnancy as long as possible, but not if the benefits are outweighed by potential harm from the drugs. Again, we are blessed, and the dreaded magnesium does the trick: the contractions stop within a few hours. Dr. Weihs sends me home three days later with assurances that there will be no more drugs.
Monday, October 9, 2000
Tomorrow we will have reached our goal: 32 weeks gestation. Your Grandma Fitzgerald is in town to take care of me, since your dad has to go out of town tomorrow on business. It has been only three days since my last hospital visit. I am not feeling contractions, but I feel like something is not right - I haven't felt Cameron move much at all today. Your Grandma takes me to the doctor for a non-stress test, to monitor your little heartbeats. Dr. Swenson (who has taken care of us almost as much as Dr. Weihs) is concerned about Cameron's heart rate: it seems to be dropping more and staying low more than it should. She sends us to the hospital for further monitoring.
After several hours on the monitor, Dr. Brown (one of Dr. Harstad's partners) brings in the fancy ultrasound for a scan. He discovers that there is almost no amniotic fluid around Cameron - it seems to have been slowly disappearing. He tells us that he will check again tomorrow morning, and that if the fluid level has dropped any more, we will have to deliver. Dr. Swenson recommends that your dad cancel his trip, as she doesn't want him to miss the birth of his sons.
Tuesday, October 10, 2000
32 weeks! I never thought we would make it, but here we are. When Dr. Brown conducts the follow-up scan, he sees that Cameron's fluid level is even lower than last night. He tells us that it is time to meet you guys - today will be your birthday. We call your Grandfather Fitzgerald so that he can get on a plane and make it here before you are born. Dr. Weihs breaks my water, and starts me on a drug that will induce labor, while your dad rushes out to buy a video camera. By 5:30p.m., the whole family is at the hospital (your Grandfather's plane made it!).
6:32 p.m. - Alec is born, weighing four pounds exactly.
6:37 p.m. - Cameron is born, weighing three pounds and 10 ounces.
No c-section, no forceps, and no pain (after the epidural).
The hospital staff rush you both up to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), where you will spend the next six weeks under the care of a wonderful team of doctors and nurses.
After you are born, Dr. Weihs tells our family that it was definitely time: you were both starting to show signs of distress, and more time in the womb only would have made things worse. Another miracle!
Tuesday, November 21, 2000
We get to take you home today, just in time for Thanksgiving (how wonderfully appropriate). You guys don't seem to have any problems associated with prematurity, aside from a bit of apnea (forgetting to breathe) that they tell us will go away soon (you are on heart and respiration monitors, so that we will know if you stop breathing).
Three years of trying to conceive, laser surgery, 88 days of bed rest, Black Thursday and other pre-term labor scares, magnesium sulfate and steroids, an emotional roller coaster ride that affected all of our friends and family, and six weeks in the NICU. Every step was worth it. We are surely the most blessed family in the world. We couldn't have done it without a team of knowledgeable and caring doctors, friends and family members who made sure that I didn't have to do anything but gestate, and most importantly, God's blessing in the form of several miracles. Every day I thank God for bringing you into our lives. Every day with you is a gift for which I will always be grateful. I never knew that I could love someone (much less, two someones) as intensely and unconditionally as I love you. Our lives will never be the same...
When we had the surgery, Dr. Quintero warned us that each baby needed to have at least a 30% share of the placenta to survive; a lesser amount would not provide enough blood, nutrients, oxygen, etc. to support a growing fetus.
The pathology report we received several months after the babies were born showed that Alec made it to us with only 17% of the placenta. He not only survived, he surpassed his brother in weight inside the womb (and continues to be bigger!) with just over half of the required share. God has truly blessed our family!