Vanishing Twins Syndrome
In September 2018, we found out that we were expecting! I knew from very early on, as early as 2-3 weeks, because already I had an inkling… Something about me felt pregnant, which I didn’t have last time around! Come 5-6 weeks, I was taken down by exhaustion, sickness and was just completely wiped out. For a while, I assumed that this was a normal second pregnancy feeling that goes alongside having an active baby of 10 months who relied on me – unlike with my first pregnancy where I could just flop on the sofa anytime I felt unwell.
As time passed though, I started to joke with my husband about having twins second time around. I felt far more sick and nauseous, far more lethargic and really struggled some days. It was upsetting, as I am normally a very high energy person and I began to doubt how I could do another full first trimester of this, whilst looking after my toddler and running a business.
We went along for an early pregnancy scan at just short of 8 weeks – I am one of those people who would rather know than wait and always feel, for me, it is money well spent. I lay on the bed, with husband and first baby sat next to me, and didn’t doubt for a second that there wouldn’t be a baby there, given how I was feeling. After scanning the first bubba and congratulating us, I spotted another flicker in the right hand side of the screen. “What’s that?” I asked the sonographer … “Oh yes!” she replied, moving from one baby to another. I burst out laughing before she even spoke: “Congratulations! It looks like you are expecting twins!”.
I looked over to my husband who was also smiling, having later found out that he genuinely thought we were joking with him. “You are joking?” he was saying, but we were being deadly serious! Two little babies, two flickering heartbeats, one measuring slightly smaller than the other and, although it was super early days, both appeared as normal for the time being. The sonographer mentioned registering with the midwife soon, as a twin pregnancy (on paper) was higher risk but, otherwise, all was good.
No Keeping Secrets
With our first pregnancy, we told friends and family from 6 weeks. I am not someone who can keep secrets easily, nor did I want to. Needless to say, there was a frenzy of What’sApp messages to family and friendship groups at this point – I was super ecstatic at the idea of having two babies and the thought of having twins has never concerned me (I think mainly due to my experience with them through my work). Understandably, my dear husband was in shock and couldn’t really speak about it properly for a few days and, even then, you could see that the thought was terrifying to him.
10 days later, I took myself along to St George’s Early Pregnancy Unit – an amazing NHS facility that allows you to go for a scan at any time in early pregnancy up until 14 weeks, if you have any worrying symptoms or anxiety about your pregnancy. I was starting to feel a bit anxious and wanted a second opinion. Something was telling me to go, even though I still felt super pregnant, I still had enough exhaustion for two babies and over. The news this time around wasn’t so good…if a little confusing. The lady scanned internally and said that there were still two babies, but that one of them seemed to have a much lower heart rate, one fifth of that of the other one (although no measurement was given) and was, also, measuring a lot smaller.
I had already seen the first baby on the screen who, even at just 10 weeks, was jumping and wiggling around appearing very strong. She then turned the screen away, being silent for some time before then asking if I wanted to see the other baby, in case it didn’t make it. I didn’t hesitate to say yes; of course I wanted to see my other baby, but looking at the screen was a very different experience for this one. It was still, lifeless and only a minor flicker to its heart. It looked very sad and, as its Mummy, I felt an intense, deep sadness too.
The consultant then assured me that I should come back in if I was at all worried again, especially if I had any symptoms of miscarriage. She couldn’t given me an answer on whether it would survive and, instead, said that she had seen babies in a similar position before pull through and others not. I was basically left with a 50/50 answer. I was told to give it at least ten days to allow the baby to grow if it was going to. I went home and cried into my husband’s arms, I knew from this point that it was unlikely that this baby would make it and I was, already, grieving the loss of twin B.
Two weeks of Turmoil
The next two weeks that followed were the longest I can remember…. I spent hours Googling heart rates of twins, visiting forums and scrolling through similar conversations of parents who had been expecting twins but one with a much lower heart rate. I sent myself crazy and, finally, found the courage to just stop doing it: it wasn’t helping anyone. I would cry regularly, but then swing the other way to being extremely positive that, perhaps, there was still a small chance that the baby was still alive. After all, I still felt super pregnant and had no bleeding or pain, aside from the hours after the scan where I did feel some unusual cramping.
Although the unit at St George’s was amazing, it was a ‘sit and wait’ service and, due to my husband’s work commitments, we decided to book a private follow up scan in the city one evening after work, where we could go and find out the news without sitting in a queue and waiting. Perhaps we were protecting the fact that we both knew deep down that it wouldn’t be good news. We met for dinner first and tried to be positive – with out first born little monkey coming along for emotional support – how can you not smile when you have your little boy around you?
The scan confirmed what I was expecting: baby A was thriving, healthy and a very good size. Baby B was gone. The sac was empty with a few funny looking lumps and bumps in it which were, essentially, the baby slowly decomposing and being re-absorbed by my body. It was the saddest image and I will remember it for a long time. The sonographer then verbalised it: “I am sorry to say Twin B hasn’t made it and probably stopped growing somewhere around 9 weeks of age”. We left in silence and then sat for a little while outside, whilst I had a good cry.
Vanishing Twin Syndrome
Before getting pregnant, I hadn’t heard of vanishing twin syndrome so, once I had gone through this experience, I started to do some more research and was amazed to hear about what is basically classed as some sort of phenomenon with no scientific reasoning behind it. It is described as “The spontaneous loss or miscarriage of one developing baby early in a multiple pregnancy” and happens in up to a third of twin pregnancies in the first 12 weeks, however it is likely to be even more common given lots of women won’t even know that they are pregnant, or pregnant with twins, during this time, given the first scan is at 12 weeks.
In vanishing twin syndrome, a mother will either pass the baby as a normal miscarriage or, in many cases, the baby will just reabsorb into the body – with no symptoms of miscarriage or losing a child. This is perhaps the hardest part of the whole experience, because there is no official end to the pregnancy and each scan just shows a smaller sac which still gets labelled for a while as “twin B” on the scan photos until, at our 20 week scan, twin B and its sac may as well have been nothing but a dream – nothing to be seen and no proof that it was ever there.
How it Feels
Losing one baby, whilst still growing another, is without doubt one of the most confusing experiences to go through as a mother. To grieve for the baby you know was there and a part of you, yet to try and stay strong, positive and healthy for the other baby who is still there proved really emotional and difficult at times. I couldn’t help but feel guilty for not feeling excited, given I was lucky enough to be pregnant with one baby, when I know so many who struggle to conceive. Yet there was no excitement, just numbness and a sense of loss.
I was grieving for that crazy twin experience and I spent a lot of time getting my head around it.
I was feeling sad that twin B was nowhere, and sometimes feeling like it was unfair that twin A had taken all the goodness, jumping around on its sibling and not letting it survive. Then this would couple with guilt for healthy twin A. It was a roundabout of emotions and thoughts.
This continued on and off for a few weeks but my main grieving was done in the two weeks spent waiting for the result in the 10 week scan. I had exhausted my emotional capacity for crying and upset during those few weeks so, whilst I still had these thoughts, I was very much back into the swing of things and didn’t really spend any official time “grieving”, apart from taking it easy for a few days post finding out.
The New Normal
So here I am, pregnant at 24 weeks with one healthy little boy who is super active and clearly thriving (fingers crossed)! Twin B remains in my thoughts often and, although after the news, things returned to normal very quickly, at around 22 weeks I did have a full week of dreaming about her (I am sure it was a little girl!). It was almost an additional week of grieving and I felt sad, as if I was missing the baby, which is a strange thing when you are so busy with a toddler, already, and growing another. healthy baby, too! But that passed and I am sure these sorts of thoughts will come and go many times in the rest of this pregnancy. I don’t doubt there will be a few moments of sadness to come when the new baby arrives; knowing that the baby absorbed some of the goodness of its little sibling. I’m sure there will be times of wondering whether the other baby would have looked and behaved the same, too. But it wasn’t to be and, of course, we are incredibly lucky to have our two little boys just as they are. It is just another experience as a parent that changes you, strengthens you and defines you as a Mummy!
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