Photo: Courtesy of Jessi Cruickshank
According to my Instagram account, I’m having the perfect pregnancy. I’m living a carefree life, wearing adorable clothes, doing exciting things, while I just happen to have two babies growing inside of me. I regret to inform you that this is a lie. A boldfaced internet façade that I have carefully crafted so as to fit nicely into to our societal expectations of what a normal, healthy, “Instagram-friendly” pregnancy looks like.
I could have stayed the course. I could have stuck it out for a few more weeks—posting cute pics with fun captions until my babies are born and I’m a blissful #NewMom. But I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that I’m not the only one who hasn’t had a perfect pregnancy. So in solidarity with all the other brave women who have been through any kind of prenatal strife, I’d like to come clean.
In reality, my pregnancy has been anything but carefree and adorable. In fact, it’s nothing short of a miracle that I am still pregnant and writing about it. I’m carrying rare and high-risk Monochorionic identical twins. This means that instead of developing in two separately functioning amniotic sacs with individual placentas, my two babies share one sac divided by a thin membrane and one single placenta. Imagine two people living in a tiny apartment, having to share space and food and… blood supply. So the metaphor is a little off, but you get the picture. It can be dangerous.
Early on, we were told that because of this, we were at risk for developing something called Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome, known on the mean streets of the medical community as TTTS. I had barely stepped out of the doctor’s office before I started googling. According to Wikipedia, 80 percent of babies who develop severe TTTS don’t survive.
Obviously, this would never happen to me. Statistically, my chances of developing the syndrome were less than 1 in 1000. I was 20 weeks pregnant. I had already told my parents, my friends, my colleagues… I had maternity clothes ordered and a baby shower booked and my pregnancy announcement planned. I was strong and healthy and nothing would stop me from having these babies.
Our doctor looked at us somberly the following week. “Good news!?” I asked him, “Everything perfect???” I implored again, pretending not to notice the worry spreading across his face as he studied the ultrasound. He quietly removed his glasses, as my husband squeezed my shaking hand. “I’m afraid it’s not perfect,” he said.
We had TTTS. My placenta had developed abnormal connections that were disrupting the equal flow of blood and nutrients to our babies. One twin was getting less and less of the space and nutrition and blood supply every day, while the other was getting overloaded. If untreated, neither one of them would make it.
Tears flooded my eyes as I lay there, helpless. This was never supposed to happen to me. I was supposed to have a perfect pregnancy. The kind I had seen in mommy blogs and magazines. I was strong and healthy… and yet there was nothing I could do to save the babies who were struggling for life inside of me.
Our doctor handed me a tissue and gave us some good news. In the past 20 years, a fetal surgery called Fetoscopic Laser Occlusion has been developed. A laser is inserted into the womb and used to block the connected vessels between the two babies. It’s basically a live episode of Star Trek performed in my uterus. It’s also a very risky procedure that only a handful of surgeons in the world can do. One of them just happened to work 10 miles from our house.
My husband and I sat in terrified silence for all 10 of those miles. I had always felt connected to the little humans inside of me, now I felt fiercely attached. I had never wished for twins, but suddenly, I couldn’t imagine my life without them.
The surgeon greeted us with warmth and empathy and patiently talked us through the procedure. At the end of his thorough explanation, he looked to us, “Any questions?” He asked. “Yes,” I replied, matter of factly, “I have CBC Upfronts in a few days, can I still go?” He stared at me, his face unflinching. “Jessica,” he said quietly, “this is literally a matter of life and death for your babies.”
Needless to say, I wasn’t at this year’s Upfronts. I was on an operating table, with a laser in my womb. It was the scariest day of my life, followed by an even more terrifying night. We had to wait in the hospital for 24 hours following the procedure, to see if our babies had survived. I am not a particularly religious person, but that night I prayed to God and Moses and Allah and Beyoncé… anyone almighty who could help to watch over our precious little twins.
As the sun rose in our hospital room, the surgeon arrived with his sonographer. They silently hooked me up to an ultrasound. I held my breath. My husband held my hand. We waited… “Two heartbeats” the sonographer said. “They made it.” The tears that had been welling up behind my eyes for 24 hours shot out like an old-timey cartoon. I wanted to jump out of the hospital bed and launch myself into the arms of our surgeon, the man who had quite literally saved our babies’ lives. I had never felt more grateful; to have the kind of healthcare that everyone deserves and yet so many people don’t receive, and to be the lucky mom of these two strong, resilient little fighters.
Of course, it wasn’t all rainbows and Instagram filters after that. I had to go on bedrest, drop out of work commitments and embrace the sedentary lifestyle of an exceedingly elderly person. For the past three months, I’ve needed wheelchairs in grocery stores and someone to tie my shoes. But if anyone asks how I’m feeling, despite the challenges and frustrations and swelling and soreness… I say “great.”
Because I really am feeling GREAT. Sure, it hasn’t been the perfect pregnancy, but every hurdle has made me feel more appreciative and more in love with the two miracle babies who are, somehow, still living and growing inside of me. If I could climb up to the rooftops and shout-out how truly lucky and thankful and GREAT I feel, I would, but I can barely walk up a flight of stairs without holding the railing. So instead, I’ll post something carefree and adorable and #perfect on Instagram.