Mom to Sarah Ashleigh and Elizabeth Reilly

Stillborn on November 15, 2001

Oxford, Maryland

My story is long, but I hope it might help someone else like me.

I got married in April 2001, and my husband and I decided on the honeymoon to “let nature take its course” so I went off the pill.  We used alternative contraception for three months, as advised,  assuming we’d probably wait months or even years to have our first child. 

I got pregnant the first time we had unprotected sex, and I knew within 3 weeks of conception.  Surprise!

I was 30, in good health, and my only risk factor was a cervix shortened by a laser cone procedure.  The GYN who did the procedure made sure I understood that it would have to be closely monitored during pregnancy.  The OB and Nurse Midwife I saw once I became pregnant had all of my previous records, and I voiced my concern.  “You’re fine, it’s nothing to worry about” was their response.  They did not consider me a high-risk pregnancy.

Every time I had a monthly office visit, I reiterated my concerns about my shortened cervix and requested a physical exam.  Every time they said “You’re fine, it’s nothing to worry about” and the physical exam was put off until the next visit.

Around 14 weeks, I noticed that a lot of people were surprised when I gave them my due date.  “Oh, goodness, you’re awfully big aren’t you?” was a common (and rather unwelcome) comment.  At my 16 week check up I mentioned this, and was told I was still well within acceptable limits along with the now standard, “You’re fine, it’s nothing to worry about.”

I was SO eager for my sonogram at 20 weeks.  I was going to see this little person growing inside of me!  My husband couldn’t come, so my mother joined me.  I climbed up on the table, the tech gooed up my belly, and we were off!  The wonder and excitement was palpable in the room as she got an image and said “There’s the baby…”  Then she moved the instrument just a bit and said “… and there’s the other one.”  I have never come so close to fainting in my life!  Identical twin girls.  True miracles.  And a sense of relief because now they were going to HAVE to take my concerns seriously, right?

Wrong.  I saw both the OB and Nurse Midwife five days later, and my request for a physical exam of my cervix was denied yet again, even though technically I had to be considered a high-risk pregnancy.  Three days later I was back in the office because something just didn’t seem right.  I wasn’t feeling as much movement as I had just a day or two earlier.  They found one heartbeat, strong and steady, but it took quite a while to find the other.  When they did they assured me it was just as strong as the first.  Still no cervical exam.   “You’re fine, it’s nothing to worry about.”  Getting tired of that line?  So was I. 

Two days later as I was getting in bed, I told my husband I had a pretty bad backache, something unusual for me, and we both scratched our heads, wondered what I might have lifted that was too heavy, and fell asleep.  I woke early the next morning and knew right away that something was very wrong.  I was leaking icky stuff, I was having what I could only assume were contractions, and I felt feverish.  I went by ambulance to the hospital, and by the time I arrived in labor and delivery I had a fever of 104.  It gets a little hazy from there.  I remember my OB was on call, and he came in to check the fetal heartbeats.  There were none.  We had known them both for who they really were, Sarah Ashleigh and Elizabeth Reilly, for 10 days and now they were gone. 

I was suffering from a massive infection, and about to deliver two dead babies.  I opted for narcotics instead of an epidural.  BIG mistake.  My mother, who was there with me for the delivery, brave dear caring soul that she is, said my eyes were like a crazed horse – rolling everywhere and terrified.  She kept a very firm pressure on my upper back with her fist and kept saying “Focus on my hand, Sweetie, focus on my hand.”  I think it kept me from having to be restrained.  Although she had been the upper twin, Sarah came first, pushing her way past her sister.  She hadn’t been dead long, probably about 12-24 hours.  She still looked the right color.  Elizabeth came next, mottled and dark and with a crushed cranium; the product of her sister’s recent push past her.  Elizabeth had been dead for days.  There had been no second heartbeat the last time I was at the OB’s office; they were hearing Sarah through or around Elizabeth. 

Sarah and Elizabeth died because my cervix dilated and they were infected with Beta Strep.  Poor little Elizabeth’s decomposing body caused the infection that gave me the high fever.  Within 12 hours of them leaving my body the fever left me.  Their deaths were preventable.  Had the OB or Nurse Midwife given me a physical exam at 16 or even 20 weeks, I most likely could have had a cerclage, been put on bedrest, and had my girls. 

To add insult to injury, my OB – who delivered Sarah and Elizabeth – came to my hospital room the next say and said “Oh, yes, you’re the one who had the twins yesterday, a boy and a girl, right?”  I told him very firmly to please leave, and I have never seen him again. 

Two years later, almost to the day, I was present and helping as the Nurse Midwife delivered my goddaughter.  I did exactly what was asked of me, and it was a beautiful experience, but I never spoke to that woman.

I had a lawsuit.  A very strong one.  And I was pursuing it until two things happened to me.  First, a friend who had lost her son to the negligence of his caregiver, and won a lawsuit against them, told me the worst day of her life was not the day he died but the day she found out how much her child was “worth.”  Second, I got pregnant again, and suddenly I had a new little person who needed all my attention.  Many people have suggested I should have gone to court, but I’m confident I chose the right path: I went to a new doctor, had a cerclage at 12 weeks, and got in bed. 

Hannah Marie was born healthy and beautiful at 36 weeks (we were shooting for 30 or 32!)  And now I have a lovely 10-year-old daughter who will go through life with the comfort of knowing that not only does she have two guardian angels, but they’re her sisters, too.

 Leigh can be contacted at abidjanleigh@yahoo.com

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