My husband and I have been together since college. We decided on his 30th birthday, almost three years ago now, that we’d start trying for a baby. I went off my birth control pills, which I’d been on since I was about 14. After about six months of not getting pregnant, I got impatient and set up an appointment with a doctor. She said it was “pretty clear” I had polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which can impact fertility. I didn’t know what that meant, but she reassured me that it was common, and we could still get pregnant. We started with intrauterine insemination (IUI).
Our whole family had been badgering us about why we hadn’t had kids yet. My mom would talk about getting pregnant on the “first try.” My younger sister-in-law was getting married around this time, and my mom also told me that she was going to “beat me to” getting pregnant. That made me feel pretty terrible. On the way home from her wedding, I had my first ever anxiety attack. After recovering from that experience, I decided to start seeing a therapist, but it didn’t last long because I didn't really connect with her. Dealing with fertility treatments caused me so much stress, I eventually quit my job for my mental health.
We did our first IUI using the fertility medication Clomid in February 2020 at a clinic. Throughout the process, it felt like none of the healthcare staff was taking the time to explain what they were doing to me or why they were doing it. They’d just say, “Take this medication.”
The first IUI didn’t work, and neither did the second round. We decided to do in vitro fertilization (IVF) instead. In June of 2020 — after an extra wait due to clinics closing early on in the pandemic — I was finally on the schedule to start the process. After an egg retrieval, we got 11 embryos that ended up being good quality. We decided to implant two embryos at once because the doctor told us there was a higher chance of me getting pregnant that way.
We signed all these consent forms saying they recommend implanting only one [embryo at a time], but all I could focus on was my desire to have a baby. We didn’t have many extended conversations with healthcare staff about what it would mean if I ended up getting pregnant with multiples, they just said it was a little more “risky.” I thought it would be fine.
Soon, I found out I was pregnant with twin boys. I was thrilled. My OB warned me twins meant the experience could be more difficult and said that I’d be in a “danger zone” from about 20 to 26ish weeks. She said to take it easy and be a couch potato, because it would be bad if I went into labor then.
At about 21 or so weeks pregnant, on Halloween, I started telling our neighbors. We were new to the area, and it felt like we were starting this new, wonderful life. But the next night, I started to feel really uncomfortable. I had just made this cabbage gratin side dish for dinner that had a bunch of cheese in it, and I assumed that was the problem because I have a hard time processing lactose. After dinner, I ran to the bathroom, but then nothing happened and I suddenly felt better. Then it happened again. And again. I was doubling over in agony and my back was killing me. I realized something was wrong. We drove 60-miles-an-hour down a 25-mile-an-hour road to get to the hospital. When we arrived, the nurse asked me how many weeks pregnant I was. When I said I’d be “22 tomorrow,” her face fell.
The resident working with me kept saying things like “if we can stop the labor” and “we can give you some drugs to try to stop it.” I was like, “Okay, give me the drugs. What’s the holdup?” They gave them to me reluctantly, but the holdup, I realize now, was that it was too late. I was having the babies. She just couldn’t work up the courage to tell me. Finally, the doctor who was on call came in and broke the news. We started talking about options. They told me that if the boys were born alive and they survived, it was almost guaranteed that they would have significant and severe health problems. After I made the decision [to take no extraneous measures], it felt like five minutes went by and someone was coming in to ask us: “What funeral home do you want us to call?”
They had already given me medication to slow the labor, so I was just sitting there for hours knowing I was going to give birth to twins who would die. We called my uncle, a minister, who offered to baptize them overnight while they were in utero, so we did that.
The next morning one twin was born without a heartbeat. The second was born with one, an hour later. After I delivered him, I started bleeding out. The boy was taken out of my arms, handed off to my husband, and they wheeled me out of the room to do an emergency procedure. They didn’t have time to put me to sleep, and I was seeing a ton of blood. I was so cold my teeth were chattering. There must have been 30 people in the room but no one was talking to me or explaining what was happening. And they’d taken me away from my son, so I couldn’t be there when he stopped breathing.
After going through all of this, I couldn’t imagine going through the physical and emotional trauma of IVF for a second time, but people asked me about when we’d “try again.” My mother-in-law kept saying things like “it’s in God’s hands.” I was like, fuck all of you guys. Can I just have five minutes to process this earth-shattering thing?
I posted on social media about what I’d been through so I wouldn’t have to keep telling people over and over about it. People were super kind. An older neighbor who I’d just met recently told me she'd had six pregnancy losses and that if I ever needed to talk, I could let her know. She came over and we just sobbed together on the porch for three hours. I could barely talk to my own mom about this, but talking to this stranger was so comforting. She could validate all these complicated feelings and actually understood my grief.
I got set up with a therapist who specializes in perinatal loss, and that was life-changing. Meanwhile, I leaned on my husband and my faith. We started praying together every night out loud. He internalizes things and doesn’t talk about how he’s feeling as much, so, at first, I thought he wasn’t hurting as much as I was, which wasn’t true. But verbalizing during prayer brought us together. We’d known each other for such a long time, but this made us realize for the first time that I really needed him to talk about his feelings, too. It strengthened us in a way — we know we can survive anything after that.
We decided to do IVF again in January 2021, and it worked. The doctors told me the reason the pregnancy with the twins had ended the way it did was because I had an “incompetent cervix,” which is a really stupid and insulting term, but it means the reason I went into labor was that, under the weight of the babies, my cervix opened up too soon and the babies descended and that sent my body into labor. For this second pregnancy, they said they could stitch my cervix up at 12 weeks, and that would hold my cervix together like a kind of drawstring purse. I’d have the stitches removed at 36 weeks. My doctor was super understanding of what I’d gone through, and she said I could come in and get checked out to make sure everything was progressing whenever I was worried.
At 21 weeks and six days, the exact same point I’d gone into labor with the boys, I went in. They told me there was a small opening in my cervix, which was not there the week prior. They sent me home and said it would be fine and they’d keep monitoring it. That night I thought I felt cramping, so I went back to the hospital. It was traumatic to be back there again. I made it through that night, and they said they’d keep monitoring me closely.
Until the baby got here, I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I got past the 26-week mark my doctors had said was the end of the “danger zone,” and then I carried my pregnancy to 38 weeks and finally delivered a little girl. My husband and I both just cried and cried. I felt like I'd been white-knuckling it the whole pregnancy and was finally able to take a breath. But because of everything I’d been through with the twins, it wasn’t this instant connection [with my daughter]. I obviously adored her, but it was hard to look at her and know what could have been. She could have been the little sister and not the big sister. I processed that through a lot of therapy.
I also had a hard time with random things, like people asking, “Is this your first?” Yes, she’s the first baby that I get to take home. People who asked me weren’t looking for a long, sad backstory, but it felt insulting to the boys to not mention them. I still struggle with that.
Looking back, I wish I’d done more research. I was so desperate to get pregnant quickly that I didn’t take the time to educate myself about our options. If I’d spent one or two extra months on the front end, I probably could have saved myself time and heartache on the back end. For example, we didn’t get our embryos genetically tested right away when we did IVF, and doing it later cost us more out of pocket. I also wish I’d known more about the risks of implanting two embryos. I felt blindsided at almost every turn, and I didn’t feel empowered with any information throughout the process.
As far as the finances go, we were really lucky that my husband’s insurance covered so much of the IVF and fertility treatments. We only spent about $1,100 on that, though the genetic testing we did later was $5,000. But for my pregnancy loss, we had about $6,500 in medical bills because I had to have surgery, an epidural, blood transfusions, and I had to stay in the hospital for a while. Meanwhile, the bill for my daughter’s delivery was like $800.
There were other expenses you wouldn’t think about that were difficult emotionally. I’d bought this massive, $1,900 twin stroller, and they said I couldn’t return it. I hated looking at it. I was on the phone begging them to take it away or to exchange it. It was beyond frustrating.
As for my daughter, as I’ve gotten to know her, it’s been easier to delight in who she is instead of obsessing over what I’m missing. She’s very chill, like her father. So far, she only laughs for me, which is special. Seeing her smile for the first time was beyond gratifying. It was like sunshine.
This interview has been condensed for length and clarity.
As told to senior writer Molly Longman.