My first set of twin boys were born as the first-quarter moon rose outside of my hospital room window. It was October 1, 2014.
I had called the hospital 24 hours earlier because something didn't seem quite right: At just under 21 weeks pregnant, I noticed an unfamiliar discharge after showering. It was probably nothing, I thought. I'd had an easy, uncomplicated pregnancy, so the doctor on call was unsure about having me come in, but we decided to play it safe.
"You'll be out of here within half an hour," he assured me.
On the drive from Huntington to Burlington, my husband, Tyler, and I laughed at ourselves: silly, overprotective first-time parents.
The boys looked great on the monitor, and I smiled with relief when I heard their strong heartbeats. But that comfort was shattered moments later when a doctor entered our tiny room and told us that something terrible was happening: My cervix had shortened to a dangerous length. It turned out that the discharge I had noticed was my mucous plug, something that's usually lost in late pregnancy, often just before labor begins.
We were informed that the babies would soon be born.
I spent all night and the entire next day in labor. Cedar and Sojourn were born inside their amniotic sacs, or en caul, which softened their passage through the birth canal and allowed them to be born alive. They immediately snuggled into my chest and held each other's hands. Tyler and I told them how much we loved them and how sorry we were that they could not stay. We held them for half an hour, then, silently and peacefully, they were gone.
We returned home the next day, two fewer than we should have been. The boys' nursery sat half-painted and empty; baby-shower gifts that had begun to arrive by mail were packed away.
My body, surprising me with its detachment from my mind, made milk for babies who were not there. It reminded me that we are more than our bodies — that my boys were more than ash and bone inside an urn on our shelf. I felt their presence expanding out into the universe and caught glimpses of their souls in the autumn rain, in poetry, in moonrises over mountaintops.
Tyler and I vowed to never deny their existence.
"Let's always mention them when strangers ask if we have children," we decided. We've kept that promise, and we celebrate the boys by performing acts of kindness in their honor.
My doctors couldn't tell me why my sons were born so early. "It just happens sometimes with twins," they explained. How terrifying, then, to find myself expecting a second set of twins just a few months later.
My doctors insisted it was highly unlikely that whatever had happened with Cedar and Sojourn would happen with these babies. They advised me to carry on as normal, saying there was nothing I could do, aside from aborting one of the babies, to help prevent another preterm loss.
It seemed absurd to do things exactly the same but to expect different results. I tirelessly researched, contacted doctors in several states and wrote to hundreds of other women who had similar experiences, in search of something that could save my current pregnancy. I asked that my doctors see me weekly, and closely monitored my body.
Sure enough, just as I was reaching 21 weeks, my cervix shortened again. I expected my doctors to work quickly toward a solution but instead was told that I was overreacting. When I asserted that my second-opinion doctor in New Hampshire agreed that it was time to take action, my doctor said, "Well maybe you should just go to that hospital instead." I was shocked and outraged — trapped in a nightmare where no one cared about saving my babies but me.
I took my doctor's advice and went to the other hospital, where Tyler and I were told to prepare for another loss. The doctors said it would be a miracle if our twins survived, but they had something they were willing to try. I was fitted with a small silicone ring called a pessary, which works by supporting the cervix and, in some cases, has been shown to reduce preterm births. Pessaries aren't widely available in the United States, and the doctors at my first hospital never even mentioned them.
I quit my job and moved into my parents' house in order to be close to my new doctors. I was on strict bed rest — a last-ditch effort that hasn't been shown to work but that I hoped would help — and only got up to use the bathroom. Tyler and I prayed, along with our friends, family and strangers who had heard our story.
Each day was a milestone until my pessary was removed, just after 36 weeks. My water broke less than 48 hours later.
Against all odds, our twin boys, Rhodes and Wilder, were born on July 18, 2015. Healthy and happy, we left the hospital with our rainbow babies — a name given to children born after a loss — after just three days.
Loss can destroy us, and it can also foster our growth. Cedar and Sojourn showed me the limitlessness of my strength and resilience, and prepared me to fight for their brothers' lives. Rhodes and Wilder taught me that miracles are possible and that hope can see us through the most dreadful days.
I have four sons — two whose bodies and minds I nurture, and two whose memories I honor and guard. Whether in my heart or in my arms, I carry them always, a constant inspiration to be kind, thoughtful and brave.
South Burlington, VT
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