My Story: Sleep well, our Apollo and Artemis
By Kimberly Low
It’s been 12 days since I lost my son and daughter to prematurity. They were born at 24 weeks 5 days gestation – 4 weeks away from having a shot at staying alive and 15 weeks away from being actual full-term babies. How do I even begin to describe the saddest day of my life?
My pregnancy was uneventful apart from the excitement (and horror) of finding out that I was carrying twins. The babies were growing well, I felt happy and relaxed, I did not bleed like when I was carrying Liam.
At every check-up and ultrasound, I was given the all-clear. Other than some concern with my low red blood cells and placenta being a little close to my cervical opening, I was a healthy pregnant woman. My heart skipped with joy everytime I saw my babies on the screen; seeing the outlines of their faces, their hearts beating strong, their arms waving and legs kicking.
Sometimes I couldn’t believe how lucky I was, happily married to a wonderful man who loves me and about to have 3 kids with only two pregnancies. To become a mum of three; 2 sons and a daughter … my fantasy coming true.
I woke up that day a little tired but nothing alarming. That’s what carrying a heavy belly does to you afterall. I made lunch for Liam and myself, folded the laundry, ate tea jelly with red dates that I made the day before and watched The Good Wife. I touched my growing belly ever so often with quiet happiness. I was contented.
And then I chatted with husband on Whatsapp about dinner and with phone still in my hand, I went to relieve my bladder. It was around 6pm.
Finished, wiped and had a quick look at the tissue. When I saw what’s on it, my heart sank to my belly. I quickly tried to recall what stage of pregnancy I was in. Far too soon. My chest ached at the fact.
I messaged Gareth and said “Spotting” instead, eventhough I knew exactly what it was. I couldn’t bring myself to say it. It wasn’t any ordinary spotting, it was my mucus plug coming out. I sent a photo of the discharge to my husband and immediately he knew what it was too.
I still had a little hope, because in my previous experience, Liam was born 20 days after the mucus plug came off. The babies might just make it? I started calling both hospitals (I was visiting two different obygyns in a public hospital and a private hospital). My private doctor was on holiday and my public doctor was at home. I decided to wait till the day after to go to the hospital.
Gareth came home with some dinner and we ate while discussing our options. We tried to stay positive and offered each other scenarios of good outcomes.
By 9pm, my contractions started kicking in. I kept telling myself they’re Braxton Hicks, but I knew they weren’t as they hurt like period cramps. I started timing them and they’re 4 minutes apart.
I started getting really upset. I messaged a friend who knew my public doctor for his personal contact and she gave it to me along with the advice of going straight to the hospital. Decided she was right as perhaps they have injections to help me stop the contractions? So we started packing for the hospital. The reality of what’s going to happen started to dawn on me. In the middle of packing for the hospital, I couldn’t help but cried.
I don’t know how but I had the foresight of removing my jewellery and bringing my own maternity sanitary pads and clean undies. I think the pragmatic side of me knew I was going to give birth but the emotional side of me was still in denial.
We reached the public hospital, headed straight for the labour hall. They wheeled me in, plonked me on the examination bed. I kept telling the nurses and doctor to help my babies, to help me stop the pain, stop me from giving birth. I begged them to stop the contractions. A nurse said in Malay, “Sorry, but you’re definitely giving birth cause you’re in such pain”.
A young doctor on duty gave me a vaginal examination with a speculum and as soon as she inserted it, my water broke. At that moment, I wish I could just die and not feel anything. I knew for sure that my babies were not going to make it. She then proceeded to say that she could feel either fingers or ear.
Not long after, another doctor came. He introduced himself and mentioned that he’s a specialist and he would take care of me. I have heard of this doctor before and was slightly relieved that he would be taking over. He told me that I had to deliver the babies now and they will try their best. At that point I was in so much pain I just wanted everything to be done and over with.
They wheeled me to the labour room and immediately I started pushing. After a few pushes, I felt the burning sensation of baby crowning and I saw my boy came out. He looked purple. They immediately took him away. When Liam came out he was pink and covered in vernix.
Then, doctor said the girl was breech and he kept massaging my stomach to try to turn her. They also wheeled in an ultrasound machine to scan my belly to check her position. I kept pushing as hard as I could eventhough my contractions had kind of died down. Eventually she too came out, also purple. It’s not even 12am yet.
After my placentas were expelled, they cleaned me up and I waited for Gareth to come in. The doctor told me kindly that they’re doing everything they can with the babies but to be prepared for bad news. I nodded. After all that pain, I was feeling numb.
Gareth finally came in with Liam. We talked about what happened and told ourselves that we would be fine if the twins died as it’s better than for them to be alive with severe disabilities.
The paediatrician came in to tell us that neither twin made it. They lived for about 45 minutes. He explained that they couldn’t really breathe on their own and that they were severely bruised due to the trauma from the birth as their skin was not strong enough. My girl was bruised on her back as she was breech while boy was bruised all over his face as he was born head first.
We didn’t cry. He asked if we would like to see them, and we said no. We told them to just deal with their bodies. A nurse in the room kept telling us to see them but we kept saying no.
After that, they said the “Forensics” were on the way and told Gareth to wait for them. We waited for a while more but Liam was getting really cranky so I told Gareth to just take Liam home. The forensics people never arrived. Now we understand that by “Forensics” that they had meant people from the mortuary.
After Gareth and Liam left, I was wheeled to my ward. I was on pitocin drips to get my womb contracting back to its original size – it was painful. Bad cramp after bad cramp for hours. In between cramps, I cried as the reality of the situation started sinking in.
My babies, my children are gone forever. I delivered 3 babies but I only have one with me. Why? Why did my son and daughter have to die? Why couldn’t I keep them in? They were healthy, thriving babies. No troubles for 6 whole months to suddenly delivering them in just 5 hours. It’s all so fucked up the more I thought about it.
As a fully paying patient, I got my own air-conditioned room with en-suite in the public hospital. In hindsight, I am so glad I got the privacy as I got to cry, groan and wail in my own room without disturbing anyone. I couldn’t imagine myself holding it together while being in a ward filled with women and their newborns (in public hospital the mothers are expected to take care of their babies right after birth).
I did not sleep at all. I couldn’t. I had a lot of time to myself to think. After the shock had passed, I longed to see my babies. I messaged Gareth that we had to see them and he agreed as well. As for what to do with their bodies, we decided to still let the hospital handled them. No ceremony.
Update – October 2017
It’s been a little over a year since I lost both my son and daughter to extreme prematurity. When it first happened, I couldn’t imagine how I could ever move on from my grief but today I can confidently say that I have moved on from the pain and heartache. Not in a let’s-sweep-it-under-the-carpet kind of way, but in a dignified and positive trajectory that I am sure my husband and all of my children will be proud of.
Usually when people leave us, you have memories of them to hang on to, to remember them by. However, I didn’t get a chance to create meaningful memories with Apollo & Artemis and that was probably the part that was hardest for me to reconcile with. I remember asking myself during my darkest moments whether they even existed. If they didn’t exist, then I shouldn’t be feeling such torment, I reasoned with myself to no avail.
The fact is, they did exist. They swam in my womb for more than 6 months; I felt every kick, every hiccup. I had hopes for them. I gave birth to them, even when they only lived for less than two hours. Those are our memories and nobody could ever diminish or take them away from me. At some point between their passing and now, I realised that their demise is a very important lesson for me as a mother, a wife, a woman, and a person. My twins had rewarded me with the gift of clarity. They had made me a better human being in every way.
I was asked if I had anything to say to any mums out there who may be experiencing a loss and sorrow like mine.
I celebrate their existence by living as meaningful a life as I can every single day. Though it may seem difficult at times, I breathe, cry, ride it out, and then try again. For me, the best way to get through this impossibly painful time is to honour our children by making our lives worthwhile. My children’s deaths were not in vain and neither is yours.
Kimberly Low is a doting mum to her eldest son, 3-year-old Liam. She enjoys sewing, painting and reading in her free time. She blogs at www.kimberlylow.com