Shannon

Mom to Anya D.

Born and Died April 24th, 2008

and Tegan L.

Born and Died April 25th, 2008

Lancaster, PA

Almost three years ago, I lost my innocence when I became a mother to our precious twins, Anya and Tegan. Could it really be nearly three years already? I can’t imagine that we have survived 36 months – countless holidays, family gatherings, and quiet nights – without their presence. I’ll never understand why they were born too soon, why Amy started spotting on a Wednesday evening in April 2008. She held up the toilet paper for me to see the evidence while I was chatting on the phone with my mom. With a finger to her lips, she beckoned me not to tell. Why would I tell? What would I tell?

Amy rushed to lay on the bed, and wrapped her legs around the Snoogle body pillow. I became a response machine, as usual, and dialed the doctor’s office, paging our midwife. TWIN PREGNANCIES ARE NOT HIGH RISK ANYMORE. She was the first and last person to tell me that. I hate her for allowing me to let down my guard.

It was this midwife who instructed Amy to drink cold water when she returned my call. What was that to do? Amy still felt the babies moving carefree in her belly. I asked Amy to walk to the bathroom and check on her bleeding. It had intensified.

“Let’s just go to the hospital as a precaution. From everything I’ve read, if you’re in labor, they can stop it, but we have to get to the hospital.”

It was 10 p.m. or so. We had both gotten home late from work, me at the S. June Smith Center preparing for Saturday’s gala fundraising event, Amy at the Mountville Church of the Brethren, installing a mailbox for the congregation. We were tired, and I was still dressed in my business clothes. We grabbed a bed pillow and pulled out of the driveway in our Ford Explorer.

Amy was safeguarded in the backseat, lying down the entire ride. I was driving the speed limit, trying not to lose control and knowing that I had to get to the hospital. Women & Babies was about a 25 minute drive, enough time to wonder if Amy would be staying in the hospital on bed rest. Would we get to take this drive again when she was in “real” labor?

I dropped Amy at the front door and parked the Explorer. Wasting no time, I ran inside the lobby to find my pregnant wife. She peeked her head from inside the triage room, knowing that I would be panicked to see her, a hat on her head and a gray t-shirt stretched over her belly. Another woman was in triage, the same size as Amy but likely carrying just one baby. It was probably reasonable for her to be in labor. She was perhaps thinking that we were okay too, but we weren’t. Amy shouldn’t be in labor. Amy was almost 24 weeks pregnant, the time of gestational viability, but not yet.

We were taken to a triage room and Amy changed into a starchy hospital gown. As she stood, blood began dripping onto the floor. I was alarmed. No one was moving quickly enough. Did they not realize that this was serious? I opened the door and interrupted the nurse’s conversation to tell them that Amy was bleeding heavily.

They waited to enter and then wiped the blood from the linoleum. The nurse attached a Toco monitor, and we listened to the heartbeats of both Anya and Tegan, feeling falsely relieved. What does a heartbeat mean?

As other machines were being hooked up to provide monitoring services, a gush of fluid released from Amy’s body. She was lying on the hospital bed. Her back was to me, and I bent to see the fluid, to smell it.

“You peed yourself,” I said.

It looked like urine. Yes, it was pee. I was convinced. It was certainly not her water breaking, but the nurse confirmed that this was amniotic fluid from one of the baby’s sacs.

Amy’s face was pained. Her voice was shaky when she lifted her left arm to her forehead and asked, “What does this mean? There’s no going back when your water breaks, right?”

“Not all the time,” the nurse said. She was too calm. She didn’t provide any information. I didn’t like this nurse with her perky blonde hair. She was too young. What did she know?

First, the hospital staff reacted slowly and now there was a flurry of activity. The  ultrasound technician entered the room with a large, portable machine. She confirmed that Anya’s water had broken and that both babies were still alive. There were no souvenir ultrasound photographs this time.

Enter Dr. Dorothy May who snapped on a latex glove, put her finger in Amy’s cervix and said, “Guys, we need to talk.”

Anya’s cord was prolapsed. She was moving down the birth canal, preparing to be delivered. There was nothing Dr. May could do. She left us, and the room, with this new reality. How could I process this information?

Within minutes, an angel walked into our room, labor and delivery nurse, Nicole Kaplan, who was herself shocked to meet another gay couple delivering a baby. She had two children, Jordan and Jacob, with her partner. These details were slowly revealed, but she did confide right away that she had lost a twin during her first pregnancy. Vanishing twin syndrome – it just happened – the baby disappeared.

Nicole attached an IV and transported us to the special care obstetrics unit. It was a large room. I was offered coffee; Amy clear liquids only. What now? We wait. It was only a matter of time before Anya would be born.

I drank coffee. I asked JamieLynn, our second nurse, for lots of cream and sugar.  She didn’t add enough. After quickly swallowing the cup of scalding liquid, I ended up in the bathroom, a combination of nerves and strong coffee.

We settled in a bit. I silently questioned when “it” was going to happen. Amy was having contractions. Then Dr. May was back and instructing Amy to push. I sat on the hospital bed and held my arm around her back, supporting her into a crunching position and begging her to push.

We had not taken childbirth classes, and we did not want this baby to enter the world at that moment. I was conflicted. How do I say push when I don’t want Amy to push? But I had to, I realized almost instantly, and so I supported my wife while she, without an epidural, pushed out our one pound, one ounce baby girl, Anya.

Anya did not cry, but she entered the world alive and was placed on Amy’s chest to meet her mommies. The tears, they were endless. I glanced around the room and saw the sad faces of the medical team too. I looked at Amy and felt the enormity of our loss.

Amy and I talked to Anya, telling her how much we loved our baby girl and wanted her in our lives. We assured Anya that she was the most loved little girl. At 1:11 a.m., Anya D. entered the world and slipped into an unknown world nearly 30 minutes later.

Dr. May waited for additional contractions that would deliver Tegan, but they subsided and the doctor left. For now, Tegan was safe.

I don’t know where Amy went for those next few hours. I don’t know if the unmedicated labor forced her into a lethargic slumber or if the loss had overcome her, and she entered a distant world.  While she lay on the bed nearly comatose, a third nurse, Megan, entered the room and asked to bathe Anya. She wanted me to help, but I couldn’t do it. Our baby appeared too delicate; I was afraid of marring her thin, sticky skin.

Megan washed Anya with the care of a true mother. She used baby wash and a cloth to reach into her armpits and around her face. Then, I put a too large diaper on her, and Anya was dressed in a girly outfit.

Nicole offered to take pictures, and we puzzled over the strangeness. Why do we want these memories? But now, of course, we cherish the photos more than anything else. I experienced a private photo shoot as well. I held Anya in a rocking chair and cried and cried. I touched her fingers and her short, round nose. I kissed her rotund cheeks and smelled her baby smell. She didn’t smell like a live baby though, fresh with Johnson & Johnson wash, lotion, and powder. She smelled like a baby who had already passed on to another place. I cherished this time with my baby girl, my princess. This was all that I had.

I asked Amy if I should start calling our family and friends. She insisted no; she wanted time alone, just the three of us. I wasn’t sure that I had it in me. I didn’t know if I could be strong enough for both of us without others to lean on.

I don’t remember how we passed those next few hours. We must have just lay in the hospital bed and held our dear sweet Anya. We didn’t sleep. We didn’t eat. As dawn broke, I knew it was time to share the distressing news. We had to tell our family before they departed for work. I went to an empty hospital room next to our room and tried calling Michele first. She didn’t answer. I rang her cell phone, her home phone, her cell phone, back and forth between the two numbers, a dozen times at least.

With no answer, I called my mom. It was so difficult for me to speak Anya’s name out loud in the context of loss and death.

I said, “Mom, it’s Shan. I have some bad news. We lost our baby girl.” That was all I could choke out.

“Where are you?”

“At Women and Babies Hospital. Tegan is still alive right now.”

I’m sure my message was so unclear. I had lived this tragedy for four hours now; I had time to cogitate and cry. Mom was caught off guard, shocked, never expecting anything was wrong.

“I have to go to work. I’ll be in later.”

What could I say? I needed my mom, but I didn’t have the energy to beg. I just needed her to know that I needed her.

When I spoke to my sister next, she shared a similar response.

I called Wendy. Eddie answered, asleep. He handed the phone to Wendy to whom I spoke the same jumbled message and received the same response.

“I have to go to work. I have class tonight. I’ll be up later.”

Did no one understand how much I needed to break down, to be released from my stalwartness?

I had to dial Ben and April’s house several times too before there was an answer.

When I reiterated that I had bad news to share, April had an instinctual response. She knew that we had lost our hopes and dreams.

“No Shannon, no. No Shannon, no. No, Shannon no,” April cried out in pained agony, a primeval response I had never expected from our sister-in-law.

“I’m coming to the hospital right now. Can I come?”

“Of course, April, we need you.”

Lastly, I dialed my mother-in-law who does not handle death well. We knew this fact having already experienced several miscarriages within our family. Dianna answered, and repeated oh no, oh no, oh no. She didn’t say anything about working, about coming to the hospital, and I couldn’t wait for a response.

I hung up and finally reached Michele who was deep in slumber, unaware that our world had changed forever. As per her usual, Michele knew exactly what I needed, someone to lean on, and drove directly to the hospital.

I returned to Amy and Anya having delivered all of the bad news I could handle that day.

“How many people are coming,” Amy asked.

“I don’t know. No one gave a firm answer.”

She looked at me, puzzled.

Then slowly, the people we love started arriving. First, Michele walked into our room, then April, Carrie, our Moms and Dads, and Wendy. I felt overwhelming peace as each person entered the room, hugged us, and held Anya who was resting peacefully in her bassinet.

“I don’t know why I said what I did on the phone.” This phrase was repeated over and over by my mom, my sister, by Wendy.

“I was in shock. Of course, we’re here for you.” That was all I needed to hear.

The day wore on. I was on edge with nurses and doctors continually in and out of  the room.

“The next 24 hours are critical,” they each reiterated.

If Tegan made it through these tenuous hours, he may have a chance of survival.

The chaplain came to see us, and I instantly disliked her. It wasn’t the chaplain, per se, but I certainly did not want to hear a message of God’s love or goodwill. I was on guard, and I was resistant to Carolanne’s words even though she only wanted to offer peace and express her sadness to us.

For a few minutes, I napped on the chair bed. Beyond being uncomfortable, I couldn’t let my guard down. Michele went to our house and picked up some necessary items as I was still in my Wednesday’s business clothes. I reluctantly ate some pudding when my mom escorted me to the Women and Babies Hospital cafeteria.

“You need to eat something.”

Amy subsisted on a liquid diet.

I studied Amy a lot, trying to read her facial expressions, trying to figure out how I could ease the burden of her pain.
Night came and though they were reluctant to leave our sides, our family and friends left for home. Wendy asked to stay through the night.

“Of course.”

She crawled into bed with Amy, her hand on Amy’s still-round Tegan-belly.

I felt I could rest and so I lay again on the chair bed and drifted into slumber. Several hours passed before the beeping of hospital gadgets and the sound of voices caused me to stir. Amy’s blood pressure was low, very slow, scary low. The nurses were injecting a medication into her IV, and it wasn’t helping. My stomach was sick. What was going on? Was Amy going to die of a broken heart?

Nurses Nicole and JamieLynn took up camp in our room. They sat in chairs on the opposite side of Amy’s bed and attempted to control her blood pressure. When the pressure improved, we began a cordial chat that lasted for hours, discussing everything from my name change to Nicole’s partner and Dianna’s AMX. It was an odd sense of normalcy in a dreadful hospital room.

The crucial 24 hour milestone came and went at 1:11 a.m. on Friday, April 25.

Tegan had not been delivered, and I felt a sense of hope. Perhaps our little boy could survive. Perhaps he could hold on for a week or more and be delivered safely, the surviving twin.

Before long, light began to filter in through the closed window blinds. Tegan had survived more than 30 hours. He was going to make it; I was sure.

Dr. Bayliss entered the oversized Special Care Unit room, dragging a portable ultrasound machine and shattering all possibilities that were conceived in my mind overnight. He explained that Tegan was experiencing heart accelerations and decelerations. He also appeared to have too much fluid in his amniotic sac. The prognosis was not good. Not good? The prognosis was devastating.

Tegan would be delivered soon, Dr. Bayliss assured us. It was just a matter of time. He printed a profile picture of our son, a keepsake of his survival to this point and then departed. I was enraged. What happened? I thought we were promised a baby, a live baby, if those critical 24 hours had passed. Tegan’s chances were supposed to be improved. We had done our part, but the medical team had not held up their side of the bargain. I was betrayed.

And so we waited. Wendy needed to drive home, three hours to Southern Maryland. She and Dianna noted calm in the room and decided to drive together, pick up Eddie and two-month old Braden and return hurriedly to the hospital.

I settled in on the lounger and attempted to read the daily newspaper, trying to bring some routine to this horrible day. My eyelids were heavy; I was exhausted and unsure of the last time I slept. I turned to my side and began to drift off.

“Shannon,” an anxious voice interrupted. “My water just broke.”

The tears streamed just as quickly from Amy’s eyes as the water flowed from Tegan’s amniotic sac, and all the world was in fast motion again. I called Wendy.

“Amy’s water broke.”

And just that simply, Wendy and Dianna turned the car around and drove back to Lancaster.

In the midst of the commotion, Amy’s Aunt Lori and her daughter, Maya appeared at the hospital room doorway. The nurses would not allow them to enter the room, and I had to leave Amy’s side to go talk to her. I was torn. What if Tegan was born quickly?

I rushed to the door, grabbed Lori’s arm and explained that Amy was in delivery.  My sister came running down the hall, eyes ringed in red. I asked Carrie and Lori to go support each other; to wait in the family room, and then I hurried back to Amy’s side.

Tegan was delivered at 10:21 a.m. He entered the world with a tiny cry from his diminutive one pound, five ounce body. Immediately, Tegan was placed on Amy’s chest, and we cuddled him just as we had our daughter 33 hours before.

Our time with Tegan was extended as he survived one hour. I recall the nurse walking to the bedside every so often to check his heartbeat with her stethoscope and confirm that, yes, he was still living. I wanted Tegan to let go. I didn’t want him to be in pain, and I couldn’t save him. I was so torn. It is a mother’s worst nightmare. Was this truly reality?

After Tegan’s breathing subsided, I left him wrapped in a baby blue blanket in the aching arms of Amy and walked to the family waiting room just down the hall. I entered and released a guttural cry, collapsing into the arms of my loved ones. One year later, my mom told me that she will never forget that sound.

And still today, my Dad’s face from this announcement stands out in my memory.  It was simply an unrelenting look of innocent confusion and sadness. Maybe, I wonder, he had the same feeling I had. He couldn’t save his daughter from the enormity of the situation, just as I couldn’t save my children from their terrible fate.

After delivering the news of Tegan’s birth and death, Wendy and Michele walked with me, down the hallway and back to our room. A purple butterfly was hanging on our door, the universal sign of loss, and a sign to all who entered. We would forever be marked.

Within hours, Anya and Tegan were reunited, swaddled together in pink and blue blankets, and the hospital staff was making plans to move Amy to the gynecological recovery wing of the hospital. They positioned Amy’s bed into an upright sitting posture and removed her epidural as well as most of her intravenous lines. The anesthesiologist was able to administer an epidural before Tegan’s delivery.

Amy had been lying flat for nearly two full days. She requested a shower, and I assisted by supporting her halfhearted steps to the in-room shower stall. I recall so vividly Amy sitting on the plastic stool in the shower, putting her head down, and shaking with sobs.

“What’s wrong?”

Besides the obvious fact that we lost our children, I wondered what it was about this particular incident that brought an added layer of sadness and tears.

“I can see my feet,” she replied.

Her belly had deflated like a popped balloon, and in this sitting position Amy could see her toes wiggling. An empty belly, the ultimate statement of loss.

Our family assisted in gathering our belongings and packing the items onto wheeled carts. It felt like we were moving a small apartment; we had collected so many items over the past days. I could not rid myself of the crushing sense of grief I felt, having to leave this room. As if mourning the loss of our son and daughter was not enough, now we were being uprooted from the only place we had known our children alive. It was disorienting, and I wanted to rage, but I was exhausted. I submitted.

Our new room was insignificant in size, a fraction of our SCU room. It did not accommodate the large number of family and friends that were visiting to sustain us and to meet our twins. It did not accommodate the rolling bassinet in which our babies were snuggled together. It did not accommodate our belongings, and it did not accommodate our emotional needs. The nurses on this wing were curt and factual, and they knew nothing of what we had experienced. Worse, they seemed uncomfortable with the sight of two lifeless babies whom we would not allow to leave our room.

And then, sooner than desired, it was Saturday, and Amy was being discharged from Women & Babies Hospital. We had to leave Anya and Tegan at the hospital and somehow return to our ordinary, everyday lives. It was incomprehensible.

Thankfully, Nurse Julia returned to our lives. She had cared for Tegan after his birth, carefully washing, diapering, and dressing his fragile body. Now, she was here to suggest that she embrace Anya and Tegan while we exited the room, the building. It was an act of mercy for two bereaved mommies who kissed our babies one last time and left them in the Julia’s caring arms.

Amy was loaded onto a wheelchair, and we placed the memory boxes on her lap – small boxes, few memories. The nurse wheeled Amy to the side door so we wouldn’t encounter happy families being discharged from the front of the hospital with their healthy babies, full of life. At the exit door, I helped Amy stand; we grasped for each other’s hands and walked to our vehicle.

Around us, spring was in bloom and a light wind swirled the petals of pink tree blossoms. It would have been a beautiful day. I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad about this fact – to mourn, to cry, to smile, to fall down, to feel empty or to feel the presence of my babies. This contradiction would be my constant companion into the month of May, then June, throughout summer, beyond the twins actual due date, into fall, my favorite season, the beloved holidays, and the cold, dark months of winter.

Shannon blogs at www.reflectingthesunshine.blogspot.com

You can contact her at shannonmzimmerman@gmail.com

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Comments

  1. Maggie Tate says:

    “Her belly had deflated like a popped balloon, and in this sitting position Amy could see her toes wiggling. An empty belly, the ultimate statement of loss.”

    I felt the very same way… it was one of the first things I mentioned after losing my baby girl in February, that I just felt so empty. I pray that you and Amy will continue to heal from your losses. I am sorry that you had to go through this, and Amy as well. Both Anya and Tegan are blessed to have you both as their parents.

  2. Tam says:

    Shannon, Thank you for sharing your story. It was so beautifully written and moving. I admire the strength that you and Amy have together.

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