Angel Babies: A Miscarriage Story

It is with a sad heart we share that our twin baby girls' hearts have stopped beating and they have become our little angel babies in heaven.

The Story

I went to the doctor on Monday (at 15 weeks + 1 day) for what I expected to be a very low-key OB visit.  I hadn't seen my doctor for five weeks, as my prior appointment had been with one of her colleagues.  We talked about all of the recent findings (the discovery of the urachal cysts at Children's Mercy two weeks prior, and a possible diagnosis of gastrochisis at Advent Health two weeks before that) and did all of the normal OB things.  She then attempted to find the heartbeats on the portable sono machine.  For whatever reason, the doppler heartbeat monitor was never used.  In the early weeks, I assumed it was because an itty bitty heartbeat can be hard to hear at such an early stage.  At 15 weeks, however, I am left to assume a quick peek via sono is more standard in twins....perhaps it's hard to distinguish one twin heartbeat from another via doppler?  Anyway, she couldn't see the heartbeats.  I had grown pretty good at identifying them myself, and I couldn't see them either.  She took me across the hall to the higher-tech sonogram machine/room.  The sonographer came to the same, sad conclusion.

I Facetimed Craig, who had already checked in once, and had oddly enough asked, "Are their hearts still beating?"  He said he had a bad feeling about that appointment. 

The babies were measuring right at 15 weeks (15 + 3 to be exact) so it had likely just happened in the day or few prior.  There is no explanation or reason.  It could be the higher-risk mono-di twin pregnancy, could be the cysts, could be the IUD, could be a genetic issue, or could be a random coincidence.

Of course I googled "miscarriage at 15 weeks."  I shouldn't be surprised after all we've been through.

A miscarriage in the second trimester is a pregnancy loss that happens specifically between 13 weeks 0 days and 20 weeks 0 days of gestation. The incidence of second trimester loss up to 20 weeks is less than 1%. (source)

What happens next?

Today, we met with a specialist at KU Med.  On Thursday, I am going back for a procedure called dilation and evacuation (D&E).  They will put me under (anesthesia) and vaginally remove the pregnancy.  It is similar to a D&C, but used more commonly during the second trimester when the babies have bones.

The other option was to induce labor and have me deliver the babies, but this option comes with more risk because of the twin pregnancy and the IUD.  Quite honestly, I would rather be put under than have to endure labor knowing the end result.

We opted to do genetic testing on the remains of the babies.  I don't know that we'll ever know 100% the cause of this, but the specialist recommended it, mostly because of the presence of the cysts.  It may or may not give us a bit of closer.

How are we doing?

We are doing surprisingly well.  Of course, we are heartbroken and sad to have to grieve the loss of two little lives.  We had not only warmed up to the idea of identical twin girls, but had made some initial plans and were even getting excited, so it's a hard pill to swallow.  

At the same time, we are feeling at peace as we move forward.  It's a very strange thing to mourn something we never planned for.  In so many ways, these babies were going to change our lives drastically.  Certainly, they would have brought a lot of joy, but a lot of unexpected changes, too...none of which we had planned for.

We've kept the mindset throughout this pregnancy that whatever happens happens.  We have tried to focus on the positives and not dwell on the things we cannot change.  It's hard to understand the reasons behind such a, why did God give us these babies and put us through so much in just seven short weeks to inevitably take them away?  But then again, there is a lot about life we can't nor won't ever understand. 

I don't regret anything.  I don't regret making our announcement to the world, or telling our kids (yes, we have also shared with them that their baby sisters are in heaven...Rhett asked how they got to heaven when babies can't fly...Holden is sad he no longer gets bunk beds).  I don't regret finding out the sex or taking baby bump photos.  I don't regret feeling nervous or anxious or scared or excited.  I will treasure the photos and the experience.  I am thankful for these last seven (but really, 15) weeks and for all the support we have received.  I am also beyond grateful to know they were girls.  I consider these girls a gift I never expected to have.

Though we hadn't officially decided on names, Hollyn and Hadley were at the top of our list.  I don't know that I will ever refer to them by name, but I will always know my little girls are watching over us as angels in heaven.  I look forward to meeting them someday. 💕👼🏼👼🏼

Ups and Downs: the Latest in the Surprise Saga

I'm seeing a pattern here.  Every two(ish) weeks we get new, surprising, and sometimes difficult news.  Here's how it's all gone down:

5 weeks ago on Monday, March 8 (8 weeks along)

Found out I was pregnant.  With an IUD.  After experiencing what I thought was a miscarriage.  Oh yeah, twins.  Double shock of a lifetime.  Doctor didn't want to overwhelm me so she didn't give me much information.  She wanted to give me time to process the pregnancy before talking specifics.  Craig was not with me.

4 weeks ago on Monday, March 15 (9 weeks along)

Back to my OB...this time with Craig.  We were slowly but surely accepting the pregnancy.  At this appointment, we talked a lot about the risks of pregnancy at 38, pregnancy with an IUD, pregnancy wiht a subchorionic hematoma, and pregnancy with twins.  My doctor joined us for the ultrasound and Craig got the chance to ask several questions...something we didn't know would be possible with all the Covid restrictions.  We left that appointment still overwhelmed and nervous for this new life, but also (mostly) positive and hopeful.

3 weeks ago on Monday, March 22 (10 weeks along)

Another OB appointment.  This one was low key.  Babies hearts were still beating via a quick check on ultrasound.  Bleeding returned a day later.  We were a little nervous to head to our Broken Bow, OK vacation but decided some time away would be good for the whole family.  (The vacation is also when we told our kids about the babies.)

2 weeks ago on Monday, March 29 (11 weeks along)

My first appointment at Advent Health (formerly known as Shawnee Mission Hospital) to get to know the team of maternal fetal specialists and start looking more in depth at the babies.  The main concern moving forward is Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome, which is basically when two babies who share a placenta get unequal distribution of nutrients...bad for both babies, but especially bad for the "donor" baby.  At this appointment, babies looked great, except for a possible concern of gastroschisis for Baby A.  Gastroschisis happens when the intestines don't migrate back into the stomach like they should around 10-11 weeks and would require post-birth surgery to put the intestines in place.  The doctor wasn't 100% confident and asked me to come back in two weeks for confirmation of the diagnosis.  Not the news we wanted and certainly nothing on our radar.  (But also, after a little bit of research, not a huge, lifelong concern.)

1 week ago on Tuesday, April 6 (12 weeks along)

Another OB appointment.  My doc was on vacation, so I met with another OB at my clinic.  She was so sweet and caring.  When I mentioned the possible diagnosis of gastrochisis, she basically replied, "Oh gosh, Baby will be fine!"  In her own, more professional words, of course, but that was my take-away.  She gave me every reason to believe that if something is "wrong," then perhaps this was one of the better care scenarios.  She also reminded me that technology detects way more than it did 20 years ago, and oftentimes causes way more concern than it ever should.  I left that appointment feeling very optimistic about Baby A's future.

Yesterday on Monday, April 12 (13 weeks along)

Two-week follow up at Advent Health to look once again at the possible gastroschisis in Baby A.  The doctor said she wasn't seeing what she saw two weeks prior (even though looking at the prior images would once again lead her to the same conclusion).  She said something didn't look right to her; although she couldn't pinpoint what it was and wanted another specialist to look more in depth.  Keep in mind, she is already a maternal fetal specialist...but wanted us to go higher.  (She mentioned a possible conjoined umbilical cord.)  

We were referred to Children's Mercy for follow-up the same day (talk about scary).  Two hours later, we were walking the halls of the children's hospital...the same walk we had taken nine years to the month prior.  It really is the cutest hospital with the nicest employees, but it's hard seeing so many sick kids in the halls, in the pictures on the wall, etc.  

We started with some questions about my prior pregnancies and deliveries (standard questions, I'm sure, but it always puts Craig on edge).  Then we moved into the ultrasound.  The sonographer was wonderful and talked us through most of it.  Of course, she can't say much as she is not a doctor, but she did confirm that based on the positions of the babies (they were almost cuddling) it was hard to get some of the measurements.  After the 1+ hour sonogram, we were left to wait.  And wait and wait and wait.  We waited over an hour for the doctor, which was pure misery.  

We were finally greeted (around 4:45? we had been there since 2pm) by the sweetest doctor, Dr. Vlastos, an older man who kind of reminded me of the doctor on This is Us.  Softer spoken, full of life advice, and very smart but great at explaining things in layman's terms.  He was funny when appropriate, loved that I was a high school math teacher (told me one of his math teachers was the one to set him straight and busted his butt in gear), and even laughed when I told him I had calculated the mathematical probability of getting pregnant with identical twins while on an IUD.  

Anyway, Dr. Vlastos said the conjoined umbilical cord was a non-issue; it was not, in fact, conjoined.  He also confirmed that the membrane between the babies spanned the entire way across the placenta (something else they couldn't determine at Advent).  But then he gave us the other news: both babies have what are called urachal cysts between the bladder and umbilical cord.  If the cysts grow, they could interfere with the fluid (urine) excretion in the babies (and maybe fluid intake, too? we aren't sure).  Worst case scenario: it could lead to death in one or both babies.  Best case scenario: the babies are born, in which case, it will likely no longer be an issue because the cysts are in the umbilical cords, which get cut at birth.  (I think I explained that correctly...this was my interpretation of what we learned. I can't promise it's 100% medically accurate.)

Moving forward, I will be continue to be monitored via level 2 ultrasounds every two weeks (back at Advent Health).  They will watch to see if the cysts are growing.  Another scenario: the cysts could remain the same size, which probably wouldn't be much of an issue, and/or the problem could resolve itself.  We are definitely witness to that third scenario, as Brantley was diagnosed with hydrocephalus at 27 weeks that resolved on its own by 35 weeks. 

There is no way to predict the outcome or know what will happen with the cysts or the babies.  There is currently no way of removing the cysts.  There are a few doctors in Europe who have tried unsuccessfully (ended up harming the baby).  

The doctor we saw said he has seen this 12 times in his 25 years of practice.  Needless to say, another rarity.  IUD pregnancy + identical twins + urachal cysts in both babies (likely because they are formed from identical DNA). 

I don't know that the gastroschisis was ruled out completely...he might have seen a small part of intestines in the umbilical cord, but it wasn't his focus and definitely not the main concern.

We left Children's Mercy (after 3.5 hours!) feeling more relieved than when we went in and more relieved than I was upon leaving Advent.  Ideal?  No.  But I think it was helpful to know that, assuming the babies make it to birth, we're not looking at any longterm issues.  It would be devastating to lose one or both babies, but at the same time I've said all along, if something happens, we're back where we started with our three healthy boys.

So there's the latest in this surprise sage.  Of course, life is never easy.  Five hours in hospitals was not how I thought my Monday would go, and we could certainly use some prayers, good news, and "normal" appointments moving forward.  These babies apparently want to make a larger than life appearance into this world and are already checking the box for dramatic.  Heaven help us.

Pregnancy Q&As

I know there are so, so many questions surrounding our recent announcement, so I've tried to compile all the answers here!

How far along are you?

As of today, I am 11 weeks and 4 days.  I know that can be a bit early to share with the world, but after what we've been through the last three weeks, I needed to get it out there.

Are you going to find out the sex of the babies?

We already know. 😉  The babies were enough of a surprise...I don't need any further surprises!  We did genetic testing at 10 weeks, which also determines the sex.  The babies are identical so either boy/boy or girl/girl.  I promise to share soon!  

Are these babies destined to be boys?  Do you have a preference?

One would think, huh?  I put my money on boys!  

I can honestly see benefits of both.  I have loved every second of being a boy mom (x3) and concluded that I'm actually pretty good at it!  (Except I don't like injuries.)  I think there is something special about having all the same....even if it means five boys!  

At the same time, I grew up assuming I'd have girls.  I never really entertained the thought of having boys because, "I'm way too girly for boys."  I had given up on that dream and had accepted that it would never become my reality...and was/am perfectly content with that.  Obviously girls would be something special, but boys will be a-okay, too!  

Do twins run in your family?

Through my research over the past three weeks, I've learned that identical twins are not hereditary!  Fraternal twins can be (the mother's releasing of two eggs at a time), but identical twins are random and spontaneous!  My great-grandmother was an identical twin (I think) but again, that has no impact on these babies!

How do you know they're identical?

The ultrasound showed that these babies share a placenta, which confirms they are identical.  Identical twins could also have their own placenta, depending on when the embryo split.  The earlier the split, the more likely the babies are to have their own placenta.  But shared placenta always means identical, as fraternal twins will always each have their own.

Side note: Our babies are mo-di (monochorionic/diamniotic) twins.  Shared placenta but they each have their own amniotic sac.  This type of twin pregnancy is more risky than separate placentas (di-di twins), but less risky than twins who have a shared placenta and shared sac (mo-mo).  (Mo-mo twins result when the embryo splits later in pregnancy...conjoined twins happen when the split is even later.)

How are you coping?  How are you feeling?

I'm coping as well as you might expect...maybe even a little better?!  I still have an overwhelming amount of fear and anxiousness that an unplanned pregnancy brings, but I have decided to focus on the positives and try to be excited.  I'm feeling mostly good.  I have moments of nausea, but it could be worse and I've never thrown up at school!

Is this pregnancy similar or different from your others?

It's close to the same as my first two!  I was sick(ish) with both Brantley and Holden (nausea on occasion but able to cope with crackers and ginger ale, only a few instances of throwing up) but not one lick of morning sickness with Rhett.  It's so weird how pregnancies (especially those that are the same sex) can be so different!

Are you going to continue working after babies are born?

This has been the most asked question!  I plan to!  I love my job and enjoy having a purpose outside of being a mom.  I enjoy summers off with my kids ("seasonal SAHM" as I like to call it), but I have never wanted to stay home full time/year-round.  I also enjoy bringing in an income, albeit not much, but it makes me feel less guilty about shopping.  And I just love math way too much to quit!  That being said, who the heck knows what the future will bring.  Five kids is a lot and we will do what we have to do!

What are your biggest fears?  What are you most nervous about?

Oh gosh, everything from the weight gain (and weight loss) to the health of the babies to childbirth (my first three were born in 6, 4, and 2 hours, respectively...I've always been terrified of a fourth baby for fear that he/she might be born on the side of the road...I also neeeeeeeeed an epidural and I'm terrified of giving birth without) to the potential of getting put on bed rest to a possible c-section after three vaginal births to a baby being born with the Mirena stuck to its head (I don't even know if that's possible?) to breastfeeding x2 and sleepless nights x2 to life with five kids.  I'm sad about missing out on life experiences that simply won't happen with a family of seven.  (Big vacations, airfare, going to dinner, etc.)

How does it feel knowing there are two babies inside of you?

Very a dream!  Ask me again in 20 weeks when I can actually feel two babies inside of me!  I'm so curious to compare a twin pregnancy with my previous single pregnancies.  I'm terrified of what it could mean for my body!

How long were you in shock?

I think I'm still in shock!  (It may span the entire pregnancy🤣)  I cried every day for just over a week.  And then I decided there is nothing I can do so I might as well embrace it!  Don't get me wrong--I'm sure there will still be overwhelmingly emotional moments days, week, months, and years, but I am trying to be optimistic and grateful for these extra blessings.

What is the right thing to say to a friend having unexpected pregnancy/unplanned twins?

That is a great question!!!  It feels weird when people say "Congratulations!"  I usually respond with "Thanks?"  I don't dislike it (and absolutely don't blame anyone for that reaction, it's natural and babies are, in fact, blessings that should be congratulated), but it also doesn't feel justified.  If that makes any sense?  I actually appreciate when people say they are sorry, that they know this wasn't our plan, and that they will pray for peace and understanding.  By all means, say "Congrats" but make sure you let them know you are there for them if they need a shoulder to cry on because it's inevitable and very reasonable with such a life change.

Will you take weekly photos or do blog "bumpdates" like you did with your other three pregnancies?

I love a good baby bump, so I will absolutely document this pregnancy with photos!  Probably not weekly, as I've done before.  I don't know about the "bumpdates."  I quit blogging because I couldn't find the time, so I probably won't commit to anything.  Maybe just some updates via Instagram!

Will you have to move, or is your house big enough for a family of seven?

We live in a five bedroom house (fifth bedroom is currently a workout room in the basement).  Although I anticipate a kid moving down there someday, it won't be anytime soon.  The babies will share a room, as will two of our older boys.  They are already fighting over who gets bunk beds! 🤣  Our house, specifically the main level with a very open floor plan, isn't huge, but we are blessed to live where we do and have no plans to move!  (My neighbors are also my besties...I can't possibly leave such a solid support system!)

Will you do any genetic testing?

We have already done the non-invasive screening via blood work at 10 weeks.  It detects, with a 99% accuracy rate, some of the more common genetic abnormalities (Down Syndrome, Trisomy, etc.).  The results came back normal.  That is also how we already know the sex of the babies.

How does this happen with Mirena in place correctly?

There is zero explanation--other than no method of birth control is 100% effective!  My Mirena was in perfect position to prevent pregnancy.  Apparently God really wanted us to have these babies!  My doctor has seen a few few IUD pregnancies through her years of practice, but never twins.  She was quite shocked herself.

Did your doctor remove the IUD?

My doctor tried at my second appointment (9 weeks) but as my uterus has grown, it shifted upwards and she couldn't safely reach it.  

If it can be safely removed, that is ideal (mainly to give the baby/babies more room to grow).  However, if not, it isn't a huge deal, as the hormones released are the same hormones your body produces naturally while pregnant.  The biggest concern with an IUD pregnancy is that the pregnancy will be ectopic.  Once an ultrasound determines the pregnancy is safely implanted in the uterus, I don't think the IUD is a major concern.  In fact, it can be more risky to remove it (lead to miscarriage) than to just leave it in there.

Will you have a baby shower?

I wouldn't argue!  We have sold or donated everything so a shower would be a welcomed idea.  We are essentially starting over. 

Have you gone back and read what you wrote about being done having babies?

Yes!  I've said for four years now that I wouldn't mind a fourth baby, but it's also not something we would have ever planned for!  Two-thirds of our previous pregnancies were high risk (Brantley had hydrocephalus, Rhett was high risk for DS).  We were content with three healthy babies and the thought of trying for a fourth seemed similar to playing a game of Russian Roulette.  However, I've also said I would secretly love for God to make it happen.

In February, I did one of those question box things on Instagram.  Someone (a former student, also a mom x3) asked about any more potential Sides babies.  My response reflected what I just stated above.  Ironically, I would have been pregnant at the time, I just didn't know it yet!  I truly think God used that question as a way to mentally prepare me for what He knew was coming.

Has Craig booked his vasectomy?

Booked and done! ☑️✂️🤣  How often does the husband get a vasectomy the same day as the gender reveal?! 

What kind of mom-mobile will you get?

I already drive a Toyota Sienna that technically fits 6 kids.  It's a little harder with bulky carseats but I'm determined to keep that thing!  Craig has mentioned trading in his Highlander for a Tahoe or something similar.

What are you concerned about regarding your boys?  Space, time, feelings, etc.?

I wouldn't say I'm too concerned about our boys.  Kids are resilient and they will adapt quickly!  It will be a new normal for all of us, but I think they are going to be great big brothers and helpers to these babies!  When I was pregnant with my second, I remember seeing a quote that has always stuck with me.  "You love is not divided when adding more's multiplied."

How did you tell your kids?  Are they excited?

We bought some of those gold OH BABY BABY balloons and took them to Oklahoma, wrapped and deflated.  We gave the boys the gift on our first morning there and had them unwrap it.  It took us over 20 minutes to inflate the balloons and then we had to put the message together.  It didn't go super well. 🤣  The letters wouldn't stay upright and I was thinking each word was one piece instead of single letters.  So needless to say, it didn't go quite as planned......but neither will life with five kids!  Our oldest figured it out!  If you go to this IG post and scroll, there are some videos.

As expected, none of the boys showed a ton of emotion.  However, I think they are excited, despite what they might say.  Brantley sent his friends the sweetest message on Messenger Kids.

Do you have names?  Will you share when you decide?

We do not yet have names and haven't discussed it much, but I still have lists in my phone from 2012!  For whatever reason, I never deleted them!  

I don't know if we'll announce once we decide, or keep it secret until birth.  We kept it super top-secret the first time, mostly-secret the second time, and semi-secret (off social media but shared with a lot of friends) the third time.  I do enjoy keeping an element of surprise, but this is also our 4th and 5th go-around so all rules just kind of fly out the window!

What is the combined probability of all of this happening?

0.5% (0.005) of getting pregnant on Mirena x 0.4% (0.004) of that embryo splitting to result in identical twins = 0.002% (0.00002) combined probability or 1/50,000. ‼️‼️‼️

Will you get the Covid vaccine?

Already done with both doses!  I got the first before I knew I was pregnant.  My doctor told me to absolutely get the second.  Studies are showing that the antibodies can be passed onto baby/babies when a pregnant mom gets it!  Thank you, science!

How can people best support you through this time?

Prayers more than anything!  Prayers for a smooth pregnancy, for healthy babies, and for the sanity to raise five kids.