By Tysa Kihn
My pregnancy was all about the numbers.
I was comparing early blood test results, discovering that my conception date was exactly two years after the date of my tubal ligation.
At that time, I learned that the chances of my pregnancy were 5 in 1,000.
Now, I saw that I was going to have two babies.
But the numbers that meant the most: our boys had a 100 percent chance of dying from Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome, if left untreated. Treatment offered a 95 percent chance that one boy would survive, and a 70 percent chance that both boys would survive.
It began at the end of February 2009. Something told me that, in spite of my tubal ligation, things weren’t right. Two blue lines confirmed my suspicion. The next two weeks were spent in and out of the lab and waiting for those numbers to tell us if it was a viable pregnancy.
Finally, an ultrasound confirmed that we were having a baby. It was a big adjustment, and even more so when at nine weeks an ultrasound showed two babies.
Life became busy after my husband Dana’s eye surgery and recovery. Distracted by caring for him, I ignored how my belly seemed to have grown rounder and heavier almost overnight. Walking became difficult, and my back was so sore. I attributed it to being over 30, and carrying two babies instead of one. I reasoned that it wasn’t just because I was having twins; I was working full time, chasing around two older kids, so my body was complaining.
We went in for the big gender ultrasound at 18 weeks. We couldn’t wait to find out whom we would be meeting that November.
It was during the ultrasound I began to realize something was wrong. Baby A measured right on. But Baby B was measuring behind in growth. The ultrasound tech couldn’t get many measurements; my baby hardly moved. She couldn’t even find his bladder.
With each measurement, the words Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome came to me. I’d read that it was a risk in identical pregnancies, and that it wasn’t good. I didn’t want to believe that’s what we were seeing, but when Dr. Rowles came into the room, I knew by the look on his face what he was going to say.
It was a Tuesday, the day before our ninth anniversary. All of a sudden the world seemed to be crashing down on us. The babies that we never expected, and never thought we wanted, were now so dear and we could lose them.
Two days later, we were at the University of Washington with a full day of examinations. I was scheduled to see Dr. Walker at Eastside Maternal Fetal Medicine in Kirkland first thing Friday morning, one of only a handful of doctors that perform the surgery to treat TTTS. I didn’t know then how lucky we were not to travel several states away for surgery, like many parents.
TTTS happens only in identical twin pregnancies when the twins share a placenta. Due to the shared placenta, there are often blood vessels in the placenta that cross each other. In TTTS, one baby begins to get too much blood and becomes the recipient twin. The other baby doesn’t get enough blood, and is called the donor. The donor becomes malnourished, while the recipient begins to have heart issues from the stress.
The fear that we had for the lives of our sons lessened once we met with Dr. Walker’s staff. They went through a huge binder explaining the surgery, and were very clear on the numbers. He determined the boys were in stage 2. Stage 4 means death. Dr. Walker was committed to saving our babies, and surgery was scheduled for Monday, June 15, 2009.
I thought I would be a wreck that weekend, but instead I was filled with a calm spirit. Monday morning, we watched on a screen as a fetal scope was inserted into my belly, and methodically each shared vessel was lasered. Once they felt that they had separated all the vessels, and drained a liter of fluid from Baby A’s amniotic sac, they turned the camera on the boys. We were able to see our boys’ faces and elbows and feet. It was amazing. The next day I could already tell how much lighter I was, and how much smaller my belly was.
The next few months were full of doctor visits in Seattle. Once I had reached 32 weeks I was considered in the clear and my appointments were moved back to Yakima. On October 15, Bryce Walker (Baby A) and Brendon Quinn (Baby B) were born. They were 6 pounds 3 ounces and 5 pounds 6 ounces, respectively. The delivery was a recommended C-section, and after the doctors and nurses checked out the placenta, still bearing the marks of surgery, it was packed up to be sent off for study.
Too many parents lose their twins to TTTS. Their obstetricians don’t know what to look for. The moms don’t know what to look for. By the time it is determined something is wrong, it is too late. If I had known some of the warning signs, I may have been able to request an ultrasound earlier.
If you learn you are pregnant with twins, ask the doctor if they could be sharing a placenta. If so, regular ultrasounds are a must. The near overnight growth of my belly was a sign of TTTS. The extreme lower back pain and exhaustion were signs of excess amniotic fluid weighing my belly down. I didn’t know that, and if I’d had another doctor, we may not have known until it was too late. Instead we had the best medical care all around, and two fantastic boys to prove it.
Video of the surgery and the boys can be found on Tysa’s blog, dtkmkihn.blogspot.com.
Filed under Featured Stories, From the Mag, Health