‘I can’t wait for this baby to come out.’ Is a statement commonly said by sleep deprived, exhausted, heavily pregnant mothers in their third trimester. Not me. When someone else wanted their baby out, I wanted mine to stay in. I wanted it so badly I knelt down on all fours on the cold floor of a toilet and placed my palms in between my legs.
Four months before that day, I lay still on a stretcher in an ultrasound room trying hard not to pee. If you want to practice your kegels, go for a pelvic ultrasound. Nothing beats someone pressing on your full bladder with a probe to see a dot sized being. Only, that was not what my gynecologist was looking for.
Earlier that morning, I had felt a mass on my lower abdomen and thought that my fibroids had grown. So I booked an appointment to see my gynecologist. She scanned my lower abdomen looking for fibroids, but instead saw one sac, then, another.
“Mercy you are pregnant. With twins!”
I was struck with a buffet of emotions. My first born daughter was eight. I had pretty much forgotten what it felt like to be pregnant. Now I was going to have double the experience.
The better part of my first trimester was spent worrying. Was I eating enough for two? Sorry, three? Would I get enough milk to feed two infants? My boobs were growing fast. I wondered whether the eventual size depended on whether one was carrying one or two babies? How many nannies would I need? Should I start buying diapers now? All my thoughts came in doubles. I would think, then think again.
Then the second trimester came. I kept to my fitness regime and was in great shape. My worries around the twins were now replaced by joy and anticipation. Would they be identical? Would they be so alike that I couldn’t tell them apart? Would they have sibling rivalry? Was twintuition a thing? Would they be boys or girls or a boy and a girl? I couldn’t wait to find out.
I went for my four months appointment and the same probe was placed on my abdomen. This time on an empty bladder thank God.
“Let’s hope these girls face the right side so that we can tell their gender,” doc said.
“Girls? Did you say girls?” I squealed like a kid in a candy store.
“Surprise! You catch on quick Mercy.”
I was delighted. My daughter was going to have sisters. I was going to dress them alike. No. Maybe I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart if I did. I would play around with the colours.
After the ultrasound, I mentioned to doc that I had been having loose motions accompanied by a distant abdominal pain for a few days.
“No need to worry Mercy. Probably a mild stomach bug. Make sure you rehydrate.”
By the end of that week however, the distant pain was now in my face; waxing and waning. I had gone to the Hub to buy some presents for a friend’s child when the pain intensified. I called the doctor, “The pain seems to be getting worse.”
“Where are you?”
“At a mall in Karen.”
“Ok. Go to the chemist, buy duphastone and paracetamol and then rest.”
I bought the drugs, took them, then called my partner to pick me up. I asked to lie down in the pharmacy because the pain was cutting through me like a knife. After an hour, I vomited. Now what? I wondered. By now the staff at the pharmacy were beside themselves with worry. A pregnant woman, in pain and vomiting was not something they could handle.
“Madam can we take you to the nearest hospital? You don’t look so good.”
I agreed, so they called an uber and one of them accompanied me to the ER of the nearest private hospital.
I am not a stranger to the ER. I worked there for years as a medical doctor before I branched out into business. So I knew what to expect. Or so I thought.
The doctor who saw me inserted an IV line and started me on IV paracetamol. The painkiller seemed to win against the pain for a few minutes when in fact it had only taken rest to recharge. When it came back, the pain was like a living thing. Shifting, changing, growing to a crescendo. It would grip my lower section violently, piercing and cutting through me. By the time my partner arrived I was groaning restlessly on the stretcher. He tried to reach my gynecologist on phone but she was handling a procedure in theatre. Meanwhile I was wheeled for an ultrasound.
I had a distinct feeling that the cart was being placed before the horse. Why had no one examined me? Or had I been away from the system so long and things had changed?
In my delirium I could not protest. ‘They know what they are doing Mercy, just allow them to proceed,’ I said to myself.
The sonographer told me, “The babies are fine. Your cervix is closed.”
That was reassuring. It was probably the stomach bug then. But the pain would not relent!
I was wheeled back to the ER when it was time for the shift change; the worst time to be in a hospital. There is a lot of movement and time is sometimes lost during the handover.
When the night shift doctor came to see me, he listened to the series of events and asked the nurse, “Have any of you thought that this lady could be in labor?”
“But the ultrasound showed her cervix is closed.” One of them responded.
“Oh c’mon what happened to doing a good old vaginal exam?”
The same time it hit him, it hit me. Could this be labour? Theoretically it looked like it was. But I wouldn’t know because my first baby was born by elective cesarean section. I didn’t labour.
“Do the VE please.” I tell him.
“We will. But we can’t do it here. The VE packs are in minor theatre which is upstairs. We need to wheel you there.”
“Wouldn’t it be faster to bring the packs here?” I had a certain sense of urgency to be examined.
“It’s unprocedural Mercy. We will just wheel you there and have it done.”
So they struggled and got me on a wheelchair. Then just as we were passing the ultrasound room, I felt an urge to poop. When I told the nurse, she wheeled me to the nearest bathroom, helped me to sit on the cold porcelain and said, “I will wait for you right outside the door.”
The moment I sat on the loo, I felt the sensation of a large, warm mass in between my legs. ‘Wait a minute,’ I thought, ‘that’s not poop.’ When I put my hand there, I felt a warm, rubbery thing bulging out.
I swiftly went down on all fours, put both my palms to cover the vaginal opening and then screamt for dear life.
The nurse burst through the door.
“Mercy! Why are you on the floor?”
“ My babies. I think..” I couldn’t bring myself to say it. “ I think… they are coming out.”
She went around me to check and said, “Oh my!”
She ran out and called her fellow nurse. They came with a stretcher and lifted me off the floor onto the stretcher. I didn’t want to take my hands away from between my legs.
‘Please stay in. Stay in!’ I whispered over and over as they ran with me to the labour ward.
When we got there, they transferred me to the bed and before I could position myself, the first sac slid out of me. It was an unusual sensation. It felt warm and soft between my legs. But it left me feeling cold as ice. My partner’s face was twisted in painful agony because he watched it happen. He just stood there fixated to the spot. His eyes staring at the first twin.
Before long the second sac followed. Slid out of me as well.
They did not survive.
After that, my mind shut down. It’s as if I was standing at the corner of the room watching events unfold. I watched as one of the nurses put his hand inside me, to make sure there was no placental tissue left behind. I watched as he cleaned me. I watched as they cleared the mess. Then he said, “Sorry. You have lost the pregnancy. We would like to keep you overnight for observation.”
“Oh. So now you want to keep her after we have been here for 6 hours and no one thought to examine her?” My partner spoke for the first time; his voice sounded tight like a rubber band about to snap.
We declined. I didn’t want to sit another minute in that hospital. They made us sign ‘discharge against medical advise’ forms. And then we left.
It was now past midnight. I remember walking to the car hesitantly-tentatively as if my legs hadn’t been used in a while.
I barely slept that night. I couldn’t cry. My tears were frozen; a reservoir of ice. I kept touching my belly only to find it flat as a pan. The reality of my situation had not hit. It’s as if someone had just hit delete and my babies were gone!
The following day, my breasts became as full as a freshly blown up balloon. I got a pump and started to pump the milk out and that is when the loss hit me hard like a punch between the eyes. That my breasts were producing milk for my baby girls who were now, no more. The more I pumped, the more I cried and the more the milk kept filling me up.
“Is there no end to this madness?” I cried out.
It wasn’t until I took some meds that the milk production stopped.
Then the visitors started rolling in. I know they came because they cared but seeing them was proof that something bad had happened. Some of them said, “Don’t cry Mercy. You will get others.” As if it was as simple as making a supermarket run. You lost your twins? Oh just get in the car, drive around the corner to Naivas and pick another set!
Someone else said, “You are still young. There is time to get other babies.” But the gold medal went to, “At least you didn’t see them. It’s more painful when you lose a baby you can see or one who has a personality.” What she meant was you are really low on the heartbreak scale in comparison to others; but why must we compare pain?
Why do people who come to eavesdrop on your grief feel the need to say something?
Sorry. Is a complete statement.
My partner on the other hand, went into an emotional cell, locked the door and hid the keys. It took a year for us to talk about the loss. He said, “I saw how people trivialised your pain and knew I didn’t stand a chance. So I dealt with mine by myself.”
I remember going for review two weeks later sleepwalking my way through life. I got into the waiting room and all I could see were full bellies. Why had I not noticed this before? Suddenly everywhere I went, there were pregnant women. It was probably in the water.
I blamed myself for a while. No, I blamed my body. ‘What is wrong with you? You couldn’t carry a pregnancy to term?’ Then when I was done mentally flogging myself, I blamed the hospital, the doctors and my gyna. After I was done with the finger pointing I wondered whether to start trying for a baby immediately or to wait. Was there a guideline somewhere? My feelings were like a tangled ball of wool. I didn’t know what to do. I struggled. And I cried.
Therapy helped. It took someone else to tell me that it was not my fault and there was nothing I did to cause the loss.
It’s been two years now. My days of being in a 10 watt mood are behind me. Grief is not an activity with a set beginning and a set end. You can’t tick a box and say, ‘There, I have healed from my loss.’ It becomes a part of you; you simply learn to navigate it. I mourned more for my girls than for myself. They didn’t get to meet their older sister, to grow together or to meet us.
Whether they made it here or not, I am still a mother of twins.
As Narrated to me by Dr Mercy Waithera