Sunday, April 28, 2013

Now You See Him, Now You Don’t

I’m fairly certain my baby is Dwight Schrute.

I have to be honest, I’ve struggled with whether or not I wanted to write this post for some time. I generally try to keep things on this blog lighthearted and, frankly, the subject I’m about to explore is not a “fun” one. In fact, my doctor is so absolutely against people ever knowing about my Dwight Schrute baby that he reminds me at every appointment that I must never tell anyone – ANYONE – about it. And yet, it’s exactly his persistence on this subject that makes me more and more certain that I have to let others know about it.

How do I know I’m carrying a mini future paper salesman inside me? Do I suddenly have an unquenchable desire to devour and/or plant beets? Do my ultrasound pictures depict a fetus wearing a yellow hued button-up shirt with short sleeves? Not quite. But for those of you who are not avid watchers of “The Office” (and even for those of you who are but require a small refresher), I give you this evidence:

Yes, much like the not-so-loveable Dwight Schrute, our dear little boy also began his life as a twin. And (also like Dwight) we watched on ultrasounds as this twin disappeared and was reabsorbed by our one, remaining fetus (whether this will one day give our son the strength of a grown man and a tiny baby is yet to be determined however). This is actually the result of a relatively common thing that happens to women who are pregnant with multiples. It’s generally referred to as Vanishing Twin Syndrome. While the reasons that it happens to any individual are partially unknown, the general consensus on the subject is that, for whatever reason, the “weaker” baby is unable to make it full term and, therefore, is naturally weeded out through a process of womb-based natural selection.

Generally this happens very early on in a pregnancy (in my case at around 8 weeks pregnant), though I’m sure when it happens later on it can be even more traumatic for everyone involved. And, while we now know that it’s actually a fairly common occurrence, since early ultrasounds are not performed on everyone (and since they are a relatively “new” thing to do in general), there’s really no way of knowing just how often this happens. Any one of us could have also started life as a twin (or triplet) and we’d never know. Without an early ultrasound to show you that yes, you were at one point carrying more than one baby, there aren’t necessarily any signs that this was ever the case. Nonetheless, it’s estimated that upwards of 30% of twin pregnancies end up resulting in Vanishing Twin Syndrome. And, due to the increased number of multiples conceived through assisted reproductive technologies (like my own little fetus was), this number is even higher for women who didn’t conceive their baby naturally (upwards of 50% in these cases).

So, now that I’ve bored you to death with some medical lingo let me get to the real point of why I decided to write about this today. In short, I wanted to tell you about this because it’s something that happens … it’s even, relatively speaking anyway, “normal.” And yet, no one ever talks about it. When GAR and I went in for our first ultrasound and learned we were pregnant with twins our doctor (at the time we were still seeing a fertility specialist) told us that, in her professional opinion, the one baby was just too much smaller and weaker than the other to survive. She told us this casually, and repeatedly indicated (in not so many words) that it’s “no big deal” and is “quite common” and sent us on our way. I, of course (despite the many years of medical work in her favor), was skeptical. So what if one baby was smaller? He/she had a heartbeat … I could see him/her on the ultrasound … surely I just needed to eat more and take it easy while this second baby “caught up” size wise.

So I gorged myself on enormous quantities of pad thai (and assorted meals composed of “pregnancy super foods” I had researched, of course), plopped myself on the couch to rest and willed my second little embryo to absorb everything he/she needed to survive. But it didn’t work. At our next ultrasound the bitty twin was just as small and, this time, he/she had no heartbeat. Despite my best efforts I couldn’t do a thing to “save” my baby’s twin and, realistically, there really never is anything I could have done. There had been no warning. No adverse symptoms. The other baby was simply “gone.” Again I was told by my doctor, without any mincing of words, that this is normal and nothing to concern myself about because yay! – You are having a baby!!!

But, truth be told, I was a bit broken up about it (and GAR was even more devastated than I was because he really believed we could “fix” this … whereas I had done my research and knew it was a long shot). GAR and I had only wanted one child but, nonetheless, to have 2 (even if only for a short time) and “lose” one felt incredibly sad. However, we made a choice – and that choice was to allow ourselves to feel sad about it but not overwhelming so. Instead we chose to focus on that same facts our doctor did – the fact that we are, after all, having a baby. And, really, nothing could make us feel any more ecstatic than that.

Nonetheless, since I had done some research on the matter, I knew that not everyone who experiences Vanishing Twin Syndrome handles it as well. On internet chat rooms and discussion boards I found countless women who were absolutely inconsolable about their loss. The lack of understanding around the subject was evident with every story I read and, since doctors all seem to share this same “it’s totally normal and nothing for you to fret about” philosophy, I saw that women who experience this aren’t getting the moral support they need around this subject either. On one hand the doctors are right – this is common. There is nothing you can do about it. That baby was never going to make it. And, yes, you SHOULD be allowed to feel happy about the baby you are having. But, as common as this problem is, it’s so little known that, as parents to be, we never even realize it’s a possibility and, therefore, we’re completely mentally unprepared for how to handle this when it does happen. And often we feel “guilty” celebrating the fact that we’re having a baby when, in fact, we know inside that we once were carrying two.

Our only knowledge of Vanishing Twins (if we have any knowledge at all) are of characters like Dwight – controlling little weirdoes who we can just imagine devouring their twin in utero in their first unborn act of dominance. And for this I do blame the elaborate cover-up that doctors like mine are orchestrating. While my current doctor means well when he tells me not to ever tell anyone about this I do think it does more harm than good. He is concerned that someday one of you will tell my son that he was supposed to be a twin and that it will upset him. And he’s right about that. This could happen and it WOULD be upsetting … not the least because, as I just explained to you, realistically, he was never going to be a twin – his brother or sister was never going to make it. So why torture him by even bringing it up? But, where he’s wrong is that, if I don’t talk about it, people will continue to have no idea that this sort of thing happens. And I think people should know.

For awhile whenever a nurse would look at my chart she’d exclaim “Congrats on the twins!” and I’d have to explain to her that no, I’m not having twins anymore. I didn’t get upset about it really. But my doctor did. He was concerned it would upset me and so, again in my “best interest,” he removed any reference to my “other baby” from my chart. I didn’t know that you could just delete someone’s personal medical records like that, but he did. And now, on an ultrasound, there’s just one baby – my healthy baby boy – that can be seen. The other fetus has, as the name suggests, “vanished.” So now there’s really no record of that baby’s existence. And that’s what really bothers me. After all, as I said before, there really aren’t great stats on just how common Vanishing Twin Syndrome is and here is at least one case (and I’m guessing there’s many more since this same doctor sees many women who have experienced this – does he remove all evidence from all of our charts?) that won’t be tracked – can’t be included in the stats – either.

GAR asked me the other day if I ever think about our “other baby” and we both agreed that sometimes we do. I imagine it’s the same for anyone who’s ever “lost” a child, although I can’t even begin to comprehend the pain one feels to have suffered a full miscarriage or abortion. It must be truly heartbreaking in a way that I, frankly, don’t know how I’d be strong enough to handle. Thankfully, for those who have experienced that sort of loss there is a great deal of public understanding (well, maybe not so much for abortions – a mentality that needs rethinking in a big way that I can’t even begin to explore here) and many support options. As for me and GAR, we have certainly been able to keep our focus on the positive and we are nothing but excited for the upcoming arrival of our son. But we have kept the early, teeny little ultrasound pics of “Fetus B” … tucked away in a filing drawer. Our reams and reams of ultrasound photos for our now solo fetus – from tiny lima bean up to our baby’s current “Barbie” size (though I doubt he’s got those unrealistic proportions … those size knockers on a male infant would be downright disturbing) – are now too numerous to hang all on our fridge door, but we’ve still got at least a dozen on display. And when I think that, in just a few short months, they’ll all be replaced with photos of our newborn I could pretty much just dance with glee (although, really, GAR is the one who’s more likely to break into a random “jig of joy” – a pretty common occurrence for him).

And while I joked about Dwight earlier, I doubt our baby will be born with a giant forehead, poor eyesight and an unreasonable hatred for anyone named “Jim.” But for certain he will be hell-bent on dominating our hearts. And in that he will succeed.

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