Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Vanishing Acts

When I was pregnant with Rella and went in for our first ultrasound, we got a big surprise... there was a twin. This twin, whose existence was unknown to us until that very moment, had only been alive for about 8 weeks. So, in the moment I found out I was carrying twins I was also finding out I had lost one. An odd feeling, to say the least. Certainly, this was not at ALL the same as losing a child... we went into the ultrasound believing I was carrying one healthy baby and I left knowing I was carrying one healthy baby. I would never ever describe this as a loss of a child or a miscarriage... yet to my embarrassment, I had to go into the hospital's hallway bathroom and blurt out a short, chest-heaving cry.

It was a phenomenon called a "Vanishing Twin." Apparently, rather common yet generally people don't even know they HAD the twin growing in their belly unless they had a super early ultrasound. Interestingly, it seems to be most common when you are of "Advanced Maternal Age" *eye roll* which I was for my last 3 pregnancies. In the "old" days, you'd NEVER know without the benefit of our current technology. Now, they can tell you and I'm not sure it's even worth it. Somethings may be better left to ignorance. The thing with the Vanishing Twin is that the body re-absorbs the embryo over time until it disappears. Vanishes into the body. By the time of the last trimester, there is no physical trace that a potential life was here then gone.

I remember after I got home that night, I was backtracking to the time the doctor said the twin stopped showing signs of life. I guess, technically the day I "miscarried" her. I immediately knew the day it must have happened. I had worked out at my gym, as I did throughout the whole pregnancy. One evening I had felt particularly crampy to the point I had to lay down in bed. I even complained about it to my husband... something very unusual for me because I have very nice pregnancies and never complain about being pregnant OR lay down before 9:00 pm. I thought about how if I just didn't lift weights so much that day, that maybe right now Rella would be giggling with her sister. Of course, I say SISTER because my womb seems to be a hostile environment for testosterone. Or perhaps, that should give me reason to believe that it was a boy, which is why my body revolted against him.

I guess what I'm trying to say is knowing what I know about Vanishing Twins, it's like, they are never really completely viable in the first place. Which is why they don't make it. It's like, they never really had a chance, which I find profoundly sad. A brief little life that begins and ends in darkness. I know there was nothing I could have done to prevent the vanishing act, so I feel no guilt. It was in the cards. The DNA. The Master Plan.

But there is another vanishing act that has occurred which I have a harder time reconciling. It's much harder not to wonder if what I did pre-natally had an effect on CB... particularly when I did not know I was pregnant until I was 22 weeks along. And, as a 24 year old, single girl hanging out with my single friends, obviously I was not taking care of myself the way a knowingly pregnant woman would. Even after her diagnosis there were many things I should have done differently and I wonder if her functioning level would have been higher had I been a better, more proactive mother instead of a selfish, distracted, naive, depressed one. In short, I have lived 14 years under the unbearable weight of guilt.

But, couldn't it be that all of this was pre-ordained? Written in the stars? No matter what I did or did not do, her fate was to be this? While I can accept adult responsibility for the past, guilt is neither productive nor loving. Guilt cannot change the past or the future. It just constricts your air and strangles your limited energy. While I'm not letting myself completely off the hook, I'm starting to recognize that perhaps I was not entirely responsible for her neurological and developmental situation. And to the extent I didn't behave in the most productive ways with her post-diagnosis, I have to remember I was a child (not necessarily in age, but in maturity), surprised with unplanned motherhood and "trapped" in a quite unhealthy marriage with a man I did not love... or love enough. I, in short, was not at my best.

Like Rella's twin, an unknown soul who silently faded away before she barely began, perhaps CB's disabilities were inevitable. Despite my actions, attempts, love, and faith, the baby I knew and the life I thought we would share would slowly vanish before my eyes. Becoming part of my cells, whispering to me between the beats of my heart.

Only this time, I didn't have the protection of ignorance. This time, I got to fall in love with her before she disappeared.


Corrie Howe said...

Wow, Dr. Mom! It is so hard not to "go there." I know I briefly wondered what I could've done differently when we first heard Jonathan's diagnosis. But I believe it in Jonathan's case it is genetic, only because I can see all the same things in my husband, his nephew and his father. And the more we learn about it, the more other people in our family see a genetic link.

As far as not knowing about the other twin until too late, I can relate to this as well. My younger brothers are twins. Back 40 years ago they didn't have the technology we have now. My mom didn't find out she was having twins until two weeks before giving birth. She and my dad were traumatized...even to this day you can hear it as they retell the story of finding out. My youngest twin just had twin girls of his own, they are adorable!

Claire said...

Ditto the Wow. Don't do that to yourself! You are a super Mom right now. That's all that matters! And what about all those moms who smoke and drink and party and have perfectly healthy kids?? No...not your fault. Easy to say, though, isn't it? Harder to live by. I know.

Elizabeth said...

So beautiful -- and I understand your questioning as we all do it, I'm sure. When I hear it from someone else, though, I realize how fruitless that is -- the last line of your post is just gorgeous and heart-breaking.

Cristie Ritz King said...

Guilt-the only use it has is to slowly eat someone away. I know you don't need to hear from me.:) Hello,I know I don't even really know you in a true sense-just the web sense.;) For what it's worth-I think it was preordained, "written in the cards" that CB was born to you. It is in the introspection and in the tendency to wonder if you could have done more or better, that we all see what an incredible and passionate and devoted mother you are. Who else has enough depth of character to care for CB the way you do? Of course it was preordained, that you would be hers and she would be yours-exactly as she is. Your strength and homour and commitment are what allow you to fight for her and love her with the ferocity she deserves. Who cares what you might have done? What matters is how much you are doing right now. That's what counts.

Nancy Campbell said...

I don't know if I can add much more, except to ditto the last line being amazing.

You are exactly the mother that your daughters need. Lucky girls.

Beth L. Gainer said...

Alicia, this is so eloquent and poetic, and profound and sad. I never even thought there was such a thing as a vanishing twin, but it makes sense to me.

Regarding CB, we can never know why a child turns out a certain way. You could've done everything "right" and still had the same situation. There are people who drink in their first trimester and have a perfectly healthy baby.

Guilt, unfortunately, is the badge of motherhood. I wish it didn't have to be. It does sound like you are trying hard not to live a life of guilt, and you shouldn't have to.

adrienne said...

thank you

Tanya @ TeenAutism said...

"Becoming part of my cells, whispering to me between the beats of my heart" - how vivid, breathtaking. I'm sorry for your pain over this. And I can so identify with the pregnancy guilt you described regarding CB - I have often had thoughts like that about my pregnancy with Nigel (I was 23) and try to push them out of my mind. It doesn't do us any good to think like that. Sending love. said...

I don't know what your spiritual beliefs are, but I've been taught the pain we feel when we experience guilt is the discrepancy between what we are thinking about ourselves and what God feels about us.


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