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.