Two babies, one chance at life

Last updated 05:00 20/02/2013
Twin to twin transfusion syndrome

A couple of scan pictures, a symbolic tree, and Harrison's foot at birth.

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I am married and have three children. I had my first, Aly, when I was 23 years old. I found out I was pregnant the day before I got married, after being told I would have great difficulty conceiving and would probably need IVF as I only have one ovary and it is poly cystic. 

Finding out I was expecting was one of the greatest moments in my life, I so badly wanted children. My pregnancy with Aly was reasonably standard. She was born on June 5, 2008, weighing 7lb 13oz (3.6kg).

When Aly was 19 months old we decided it was time to try for a second baby. We always wanted two children.

I was 25 years old and about 150kgs. I knew falling pregnant may be difficult but after our first month of trying I fell pregnant. We were both so happy.  About 10 weeks along I was having extreme fatigue, just standing at the sink to wash the dishes was exhausting. I hadn't experienced this the first time around but didn't think anything was wrong.

In June we headed in for our nuchal fold scan. I lay on the bed holding my husband's hand staring up at the screen. When images confirming a baby showed up on the screen my husband and I just grinned from ear to ear. I noticed two circles on the screen, and I assumed one was the head and one the stomach. The scanner moved the Doppler around and I started to notice the two circles moving independently from each other. "There are the heads," the scanner said. I was in shock. She told us we were having twins.

My husband and I were in a state of disbelief as the scan revealed multiple arms and legs, and two strong heartbeats. We left the scanning room floating on a cloud, grinning from ear to ear. We immediately rang everyone we knew, astounded by the shear oddity of it all. Every time we heard someone else's excitement, it increased ours.  

After everyone had been told and the reality of the situation stated sinking in I was gripped by overwhelming fear. How were we going to cope with twins, what were the financial implications, would I be able to return to work?

I went home and started researching. I wanted to know everything about twin pregnancies. After about a week the dread left and I was filled to the brim with excitement again. My mind was filled with images of double strollers, cute nurseries, and matching outfits. Two identical little cherubs to love and cuddle. How lucky were we?

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When I was 19 weeks and four days pregnant we were scheduled for my anatomy scan. I hopped on the internet to do more research on twins and came across a website for TTTS (Twin to twin transfusion syndrome.) TTTS is a condition of the placenta that occurs in about 10 per cent of identical twin pregnancies. The twins don't share as they should and one twin, the donor, gives too much blood and nutrients to the other, the recipient. I read this information and a knot of worry started to form. 

On the way to the scanning clinic I told my husband about the condition I had just researched. He reassured me and excitement started to creep back in.

I lay down on the bed and took my position with hubby's hand in mine, eyes fixed on the screen. The Doppler went on and immediately you could see both the babies. The scanner moved over to one of the twins, which seemed very immobile and small. I voiced my concern to the scanner and she said it could just be perspective. She found the heartbeat and I felt relieved. She continued to scan and I noticed her shifting uncomfortably in her seat with a look of concern. She moved the scanner on to twin two, who was happily swimming around in amniotic fluid. She told us we were having boys and we were over the moon. 

The scanner excused herself from the room and returned with two other women. The senior scanner placed the Doppler on my stomach and I could see the concern all over her face. I heard the words, "severe" and "stuck". I burst in to tears, I knew from their faces I had TTTS.

The next day I was flown to Christchurch Hospital, for a diagnostic scan. It was confirmed I had TTTS and it was severe. We decided to name the boys. We named the recipient twin Harrison and the stuck little guy, the donor, Joshua.

TTTS at my gestation and severity, if left untreated, is most certainly fatal for one of the twins. If that twin is allowed to die naturally, because the two share blood flow this can cause extreme birth defects for the surviving twin, if not death. This was not an option for us.

I was told of a life saving surgery where the connecting vessels between the twins can be stopped with a laser, thereby correcting the blood flow and evening out growth. It was decided that I would fly up to Auckland to be assessed as to whether I was a candidate for laser surgery.

I flew up that night to Auckland Hospital with my husband. We met with the surgeon and she scanned me several times. She mentioned during the scan that my placenta was solely anterior and wide spread, which could make it difficult, but she also said she had not turned anyone down for the surgery yet. I was nervous and hopeful. I returned to my hospital room and waited for her to return with her opinion. It was the longest wait of my life.

The surgeon entered our room and straight away I knew, I would be the first one she had turned down, I would not get the surgery to save my boys lives. I cried and I begged her to do the surgery - I didn't care what happened to me. But I looked at my husband and the sadness in his eyes and I knew I couldn't risk it, I couldn't let my husband lose his wife and children. I couldn't risk leaving my daughter without her mother.

I knew that TTTS left untreated could be fatal to both my boys. The surgeon offered us another option, a way to save one baby in sacrifice of the other: Selective termination.

How could I do it? How could I choose which life to end and which to save? How can any mother and father make that choice? The surgeon told us the surgery would only be possible on one of the twins, Harrison. Harrison was the baby I had felt move, how could I say goodbye to him? How could I let someone knowingly end his life? But in the back of my mind I knew I had to do it, I knew it was the only way.

I had to be awake for the surgery in order for it to be safer for me and Joshua. It felt like some sort of torture, I had to lie there and watch them kill my baby. I saw on the screen my two babies for the last time. I saw them together, both hearts beating. I closed my eyes and tried to remember that image forever, the last moment I would ever have my two boys alive.

After the surgery I felt numb, then the guilt started creeping in. I had to wait 10 hours until they would put a Doppler on me to find Josh's heartbeat. My heart soared as I heard the rhythmic pounding and then immediately it crashed as I realised I would only be hearing one heartbeat.

I returned home to Dunedin and continued trying to be a "normal" pregnant woman. The guilt was consuming me. I went through a severely morbid phase. I wasn't coping. I was losing my grip on reality. I sought help and went to counselling. I realised I had to let go of the guilt and put plans in place to help me cope with my day to day life. By the time Joshua was due I had come to terms with things and I was looking forward to moving on and settling into my new role as mother.

I gave birth to Joshua Harrison Morgan and Harrison Ryan Morgan on the December 9, 2012 via scheduled c-section. I came to in recovery and was able to have skin on skin with Josh and spend some time with Harrison. My husband asked that Harrison be left in the membrane as he felt he would be haunted by his little face. I had to respect that. We could still see amazing details through the membrane like a perfect little foot. We had Harrison cremated.

On the afternoon of day five in hospital I was allowed to go home. The first six months with Joshua were tough. He had severe reflux, and then colic. I felt so out of my depth and I was sinking in to a black hole. I had thought because my pregnancy was so difficult I would be blessed with an easy baby. I learnt the hard way that every baby is born with their own personality, quirks, and traits.

I was struggling a lot in my new role as mother to two and I wasn't bonding with Josh. I struggled with the guilt of feeling these things and would often take it out on my daughter and husband. I was sinking and couldn't see a way out.

By six months Josh had grown out of his colic, his reflux was much improved and he did not require medication. I decided that I needed to see somebody about my depression; I had to admit to myself that I had depression. I went on to antidepressants and saw a counsellor. I was getting better and I was falling in love with my son.

Josh is now two years old and despite his rocky start is the most amazing, happy, beautiful wee man and I love him with all my heart. I couldn't imagine my life without him. With both my children I struggled with initial bonding. I didn't have feelings of instant love, I had to fall in love with them. I have learnt that this does not make me any less of a mother, it doesn't make me a bad person and through joining an online mother group I learned I was not alone. There are a lot of illusions out there that there is only one way to be a mother, this is so far from the truth it isn't funny.

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