Guest Writer Wednesday: Rachel and her never-forgotten twin boys

I am deeply grateful that guest writer, Rachel, would choose to share her story with the Unicorn Community. Tomorrow, on August 22, 2019, Rachel and her husband will remember their twin boys’ 2nd birthday and anniversary of their death. They were conceived via IVF, and due to a shortened cervix, her water broke at 20 weeks. She shares her story to honor their memory and let their light shine for the world to see. May her beautiful boys be never forgotten.

Never Forgotten
By Rachel Starr

Like so many women, my journey to motherhood consisted of doctor appointments, blood draws, countless injections, a ridiculous amount of hormones, and the emergence of emotions I never knew myself capable. After three failed IUIs, I struggled to make sense of how it was possible my husband and I may never be parents. For nearly two years, without telling anyone, we traveled down the road of infertility. In August 2016, we started our first IVF cycle; our retrieval only yielded two embryos.  My nurse called and suggested we do another retrieval before sending our embryos for genetic testing. But I couldn’t fathom going through it again – not without giving those two a chance. So, we did the testing, and they were both genetically healthy.  It felt like a sign. It felt like a miracle.

It took five months for my body to be ready for our first transfer, and the ten-day waiting period that followed was as awful as everyone warned it would be. Finally, I got the call that my hCG level was 97 –  “You’re pregnant,” said the nurse. We were elated…until I Googled typical hCG levels in pregnant women and read that less than 100 likely meant the pregnancy wouldn’t last. Two days later I went back for my next blood draw and the number had dropped. Chemical pregnancy – I still don’t understand what that means. The nurse asked if I wanted to know the gender of the embryo. We had lost our girl.

Three months later, we went in for the transfer of our remaining embryo. I tried to stay positive, but felt hopeless. I fully expected my nurse to call with bad news after the blood test. But this time was different; my hCG level was in the 400s. 400s! Two days later, it had tripled. We found out the Friday before Mother’s Day that we were undeniably pregnant. Then, about three weeks later, we had our first ultrasound and discovered we weren’t just pregnant, we were having twins. My husband and I were shocked. He immediately started downloading audio books on how to prepare and what to expect. I stressed about the risks of twins: looking like Kate Gosselin before she gave birth; buying first cars; and how I was ever going to work again. I threw up every morning like clockwork. I couldn’t eat throughout the day. I was miserable. Looking back, I don’t think I ever celebrated. I was preparing myself for the end.

When I was 19 weeks along, my husband and I were too lazy to cook so we went to grab dinner. We were talking about the babies, we were talking about daycare, we were planning for the future. My back started to hurt…badly, so we went home early. I had an OB appointment two days later and mentioned the back pain to my doctor. He reminded me what my little body was doing to accommodate two boys and assured me it was normal. He wasn’t worried so I wasn’t worried. Two days later was my MFM appointment. Her ultrasound tech spent 45 minutes doing the ultrasound, and the doctor came in at the very end to tell me the babies were starting to develop Twin-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS) and my cervix was shortening. She said she would make me an appointment at Children’s Hospital in Denver for the following day.

“This is how pregnancies are lost,” she said.

I went to my car, called my husband, and started sobbing. We met at home and waited for the MFM’s nurse to call with the appointment information. After 24 hours, we still hadn’t heard anything, even after I called several times to bug them. Finally, I got word – my appointment was 6 days away. In spite of my worry, I convinced myself it was normal. If this was an emergency, they would have admitted me immediately, I thought. If they thought it was an emergency, waiting almost a week wouldn’t be acceptable. I put a lot of trust in my MFM and the healthcare system. Looking back, I should have spoken up. I spent the next couple of days in bed trying to relax and not stress the babies. I had a dream they were born. I had a gut feeling we needed to choose names immediately, just in case.

Four days after my MFM appointment, while waiting to be seen at Children’s Hospital, my back started to hurt again. It would then cycle to my pelvic area. It was uncomfortable, but I was able to sleep through it, so I thought it was my body “stretching.” The next morning, I called a friend asking her what contractions would feel like. What I was feeling was so minor compared to what you see in movies. I Googled it – I had no idea. I called my OB’s nurse line. They told me to drink water and take a nap because I was probably dehydrated. Three hours later, I called my husband and asked him to come home so we could go to the ER to be safe. I started feeling like I had to pee urgently, like I had a UTI. But nothing would happen. My husband walked in the front door just as I had tried to pee again. In that moment I could feel a sack. Maybe a baby. I still have no idea. I screamed for him to call 911. My water broke while he was on the phone with them.

I was rushed to the nearest emergency department, 25 minutes away, as my husband followed in our car behind. As the ambulance pulled up to the doors, Connor was born. My husband missed it. It would be a huge understatement to say it felt like a movie. One of the paramedics hopped onto the gurney to hold the baby. We flew through the ED and up to labor and delivery. The room was a flurry of nurses and doctors. One doctor came to me and informed me they don’t do anything for babies under 24 weeks. He asked if I wanted to hold Connor while I could. He wiggled a little and moved just as my husband rushed in. Fifteen minutes later, Jackson was born. My doctor needed to do a D&C, so he took me into surgery. When I left, Connor and Jackson were in their incubators in our room. When I was brought back in, they were gone. I screamed like I never had before.

The way the human brain works is incredible, shielding us when the trauma or hurt is too much. My brain knew I couldn’t handle the magnitude of the loss we were facing; it would only let me focus on the smallest and most insignificant details. I would talk freely about the construction outside my window but couldn’t wrap my head around what was happening in our room. I turned on my phone, set my Out of Office message, texted my closest friends to let them know what had happened, and barely cried. Crying felt like too big of an emotion for that room. I tried to support my husband and parents because I wasn’t ready to feel it myself.

We were discharged the next day. We left the hospital empty handed. My milk came in. Our nursery was ready, but it was just us. My brain still couldn’t process. I couldn’t process the entire ordeal. Why would God give us this massive miracle just to take it away 20 weeks later? Once again, I turned to Google in an effort to make sense of it. I couldn’t even figure out if what had happened was considered a miscarriage? A stillbirth? It wasn’t until someone reminded me that our babies were born alive that my brain started to let it sink in. Our babies were born breathing, healthy, just too little.

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Days after their death we found ourselves in a funeral home planning their cremation. Until writing this, I had forgotten I had to do the unthinkable and pick my babies’ ashes up from a funeral home - standing at the front door unable to breathe as I held in tears so I could say their names was a completely forgotten memory. One week after their death, I went back to work because I was still in shock and afraid of being alone. Looking back, I wish someone would have told me how ridiculous that was. For months, I couldn’t listen to music, watch the news, or look at social media because the weight of what was happening in the world was too much to add to my plate. For months, I cried every day I drove to and home from work. I refused to celebrate Christmas because that was when I was due. One day I didn’t cry as I drove to work, and the guilt from that made me cry harder than I had for weeks.

Friends and family sent cards and flowers, which we needed to confirm to ourselves that our babies were real and important. Some never said a word; most of our friends sent a text or two in the beginning and haven’t spoken to us since. I remind myself every day that people are uncomfortable in moments of uncertainty and tragedy, and deep down I know I should forgive those for their silence. But I can’t yet. I found comfort in people I never knew went through a similar experience. I still have uncomfortable conversations with people who don’t know what happened. I fight through tears and stumble over words to explain it didn’t work out because I still have no idea what to say. One day I will be able to explain.

Here we are, two years later, celebrating our babies’ birthdays without them. Our lives have taken crazy twists and turns. We’ve been able to better support friends who have since lost their children. We’ve opened our home to two amazing little girls who are in foster care. I don’t know where we will land, or if we will ever adopt or have living children of our own. But the fact is we are parents. And today, my biggest fear is no longer the idea of never being parents. Instead, I worry that the memory and story of our boys will be forgotten and lost.

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About Rachel: Rachel and Kellen live in Monument, CO with their two dogs and foster daughters. They met at Colorado State University and were married in 2014. Kellen, a superintendent, and Rachel, a project manager, both work for a construction company based out of Colorado Springs.