The Story of the Two Little Kolokoys: The Angel and the Survivor
Published on August 05, 2015
It took me a while to share this chapter of my pregnancy. Just like with sharing our four-year battle with infertility, I was initially planning of not divulging this story to the public. Part of me initially didn’t want to write about this because it’s still very hard for me to go back to those days. Writing about this is like opening a casket full of pain and grief which I had long struggled to bury. But my husband convinced me that I should do it. According to him, I have touched and inspired a lot of women who were and are still battling infertility because of that previous post. He said that I might be doing the same this time by sharing this story to you.
When my husband and I saw the three home pregnancy kits with two lines each, we were more than ecstatic. Knowing that you’ll be having your first child is already a surreal feeling. What more if you waited for that moment after four long years? What more if you have already invested all your emotions and almost drained up your savings just so you could have a child to call your own? Seeing those kits made me exhale a sigh of relief. I told myself that I have finally passed one of God’s biggest and hardest test. But I was wrong. Kumbaga sa exam, may extra bonus question with practical exam pa pala siya para sa amin! I'm admitting this for the first time. Only our closest family members and friends knew that we actually lost a child. (Okay, I’m already tearing up at this point!!!)
As soon as we got a positive result, we followed all the rules. My OB/GYN asked me to rest for three days until we confirm the pregnancy through a blood test. After three days, I went to the doctor’s clinic to let her read my HCG results. My doctor was amazed at how high it was! According to her, there is a big chance that we’re having twins. It’s very possible given the fact that my last follicle monitoring showed that I had two matured eggs. And yeah, my husband and I have twins in the family. She wanted to be on the safe side so she asked me to go on full bed rest until we confirm the pregnancy via an ultrasound.
On my 6th week of pregnancy, I came back to the doctor for a transvaginal ultrasound which actually confirmed that we were having twins. I was carrying two separate sacs which indicated that we were having fraternal twins. According to her, this is a good sign because the babies would not be competing for the nutrients. It would be harder if it were identical twins. However, my doctor was a bit worried since there was no cardiac activity. Because we knew the exact day of my ovulation, it was very unlikely that we miscalculated my pregnancy. But then she assured me that it might still be too early to detect a heartbeat. Some may not see cardiac activity as late as 10 weeks. I was supposed to come back a week after, but that fell on a Good Friday. She gave us the option whether we wanted to go back after three days instead. My husband wanted to be on the safer side so we went back three days later.
On our next ultrasound appointment, I saw my OB/GYN’s face light up just seconds after she looked at the screen! She immediately showed us the monitor and pointed the two tiny movements, which according to her are our babies’ heartbeats. We had two heartbeats! We had TWO STRONG HEARTBEATS! But my doctor had a minor concern. Twin B, who is a day younger than Twin A, looks like it was splitting! Because multiple pregnancies run in our families, she was suspecting that Twin B might have an identical twin. Hello, triplets?! But she said that we should not be worrying about it because it looks like it wasn’t fertilized. But just to be on the safer side, she injected me with HCG just to make sure that my body is producing enough hormones for two babies. I was also ordered to stay at home. I made arrangements with my company to work from home for at least a month.
I went back for another scan on my 8th week. According to my OB/GYN, we should be expecting to see a more “human” form of our babies. My husband was so excited. But days before my scheduled ultrasound scan, I felt extremely worried. My husband said that I was just being my usual pessimistic self. Call it a mother’s intuition, but I knew that something was terribly wrong. On the day of my scan, I was agitated. I was excited to see our babies, but I could not dismiss that weird feeling that something was wrong. I could not see the monitor as it was facing my doctor and my husband. Boyet looked at me and smiled. But my OB/GYN was extremely quiet. She was looking at the screen for minutes without telling us what was happening. I saw a crease forming on her face. My doctor, who has always been cheerful for the past couple of years that I have been seeing her, suddenly looked different. It was my first time to see her with such a reaction. That confirmed my fear – something was wrong. She showed us Twin A, who by then was already looking like a tiny teddy bear. She was moving non-stop. According to my doctor, it’s a good sign that her brain’s development was on-track. By the time of the scan, her size was consistent with that of an 8-week old fetus. But then she told us that she could not see Twin B…
She paged another sonologist to ask for a second opinion. My doctor said that she might be missing something or that Twin A might be covering Twin B. But both my doctor and the other sonologist said that what they were seeing was a 6-week old sac… without a heartbeat.
The yolk sac of Twin B grew bigger than the usual. My doctor explained that if the yolk sac is unusually large, it is getting all the nutrients instead of the baby. I was trying so hard to understand every word that my doctor was saying. I was still lying on the bed because I felt like my entire body froze. I got up while she continued to explain to me that it could just be a case of “vanishing twin” which is very common in multiple pregnancies. But being the OC doctor that she has always been (which is why I love her), she told me one possibility that actually made me really scared. According to her, there might be an ongoing APAS (Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome). The mere thought of me having APAS already frightened me. I know two women who have experienced multiple miscarriages because of this condition. I have heard firsthand horror stories of women who are battling APAS. In a nutshell, it’s a condition where a woman’s antibodies clot her blood during pregnancy which causes the miscarriage. My doctor said that she’d explain everything further to us in her clinic.
My husband and I had lunch while waiting for our turn. I remember being so unusually quiet while my husband was extra comforting, giving me countless of hugs in between conversations. I wanted to cry, but I was trying to compose myself. I told myself that crying could wait. I remember eating a burger for lunch. Burger, which happens to be my favorite comfort food, failed to give me even an ounce of comfort. It tasted bland. I wanted to throw it away. No, I wanted to throw the burger into someone else’s face! I didn’t want to eat. I wanted to mourn. But then I realized, that I have an 8-week old survivor inside of me who needed to eat. And so I took the last strength inside of me to chew and ingest my food.
When I entered my doctor’s clinic, I saw how busy her secretary was. She was making tons of calls. Apparently, my doctor already asked her to contact the immunologist and inquire for the price and schedule of the APAS screening. I was surprised that amidst the chaos, I was able to remain calm. But looking back, I think I was more of numb. It was as if my mind and heart refused to go in sync. It was as if my entire body stopped functioning. I remember my husband holding me because I was so absent-minded. By the time my OB/GYN met us, I was still extremely quiet. I was listening intently to her every word, but my mind was working double time just to process what she was talking about. She gave me an overview of APAS. She told me that undergoing an APAS screening was just to give us an assurance that the surviving twin would make it. She told me that she already consulted with her fellow sonologists and doctors. Some said that there was no need for me to undergo APAS screening because there is no such thing as selective APAS. If I happened to have APAS, both twins would not make it. But then the other doctors said that why should we still wait for the surviving twin to be put at risk? So my OB/GYN let us decide whether we wanted to undergo the screening or not. The catch is that only St. Luke’s has the facility to perform the test. PGH and Manila Endocrine can also conduct the test at a cheaper price, but they also forward the specimen to St. Luke’s for them to process. Waiting for the result can take up to weeks. I was at the clinic on a Saturday. I could take the test the following day, and I could have the result by Thursday at the latest. The screening at St. Luke’s costs PHP13,000!!! But because time wasn’t on our side and we could not wait for weeks for that may put the surviving twin at a higher risk, we went ahead with having the test at St. Luke’s. My doctor warned me that treatment of APAS is not only aggressive, it’s also very costly and time-consuming. I actually knew about this because I happened to watch a documentary of an actress who struggled with APAS. Anyway, my doctor immediately referred me to an immunologist. She asked me to meet the immunologist the following Monday even without the result of the screening yet.
While my doctor was discussing all of these, I was just involuntarily nodding my head as I stare blankly at the wall. I was trying to control my emotions. I was successful in my attempt of keeping my emotions inside. But then something happened. I started feeling my doctor’s pain as well. I don’t know why, maybe I was just over analyzing things, or maybe because I have been seeing her for more than two years already. She had seen us struggle with our battle with infertility. She had seen how many times we got heartbroken over the cycles that didn’t work out. I remember her being extremely happy when I texted her that I got a positive result in the home pregnancy test. The nurses at the Women’s Health Unit of St. Luke’s Global (who have been taking very good care of me) told me that Dra. Australia Luz excitedly announced to them as soon as she found out that I was already pregnant. My husband saw how she screamed out of pure excitement the first time she saw the two sacs on my first ultrasound. I saw how she raised her arm and shouted, “Yes!!!!” when she first saw the two heartbeats of our babies. She was more than a doctor to me. She’s someone who has been very vital in making our dream of building our own family come true. A lot of people bluntly and most of the time insensitively told me that I should stop the fertility workup and just pray for a child. But I know that my doctor is God’s instrument in answering our prayers. And at that moment, she made me feel that she, too, also lost a child.
I could not even look at my husband. So at that split second that I made a mistake of looking at Dra. Luz, I saw that she was already crying. That was the last straw. I just literally broke down. There were no words coming out of my system, only strong but painful sobs – sobs from a first-time mother who lost a child. My husband pulled his chair closer to mine and tried to comfort me. And at that moment, there were tears everywhere. Nothing was making any sense at that time. Why? Why me? Why us? Why our baby? My doctor then started to comfort me. She said that after she did my ultrasound, she immediately went to the hospital’s chapel. She said that there are a lot of times when we want to question God, but the only thing we can do is to simply trust that His will is always for the better. She told me that multiple pregnancy is very risky. I would be prone to high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, premature labor and other complications. She said that maybe God figured out that it would be too risky for my small body to take care of two babies. And then she said something which made me cry even harder. One of the reasons why I decided to stick with her is the fact that I have always felt that she completely understands my battle with infertility. She, too, had been battling PCOS. She also had difficulty conceiving a child. And when she told me that she also suffered two miscarriages before she had her eldest child, I cried even harder. “OB ako, tapos pedia ‘yung husband ko pero wala kaming magawa.” Wala na. Umiyak na lang ako ng umiyak. She didn’t rush me. She just let me cry my heart out.
After a few minutes of trying so hard to compose myself, she told me the next steps. The following day, I had my APAS screening. Good thing that St. Luke’s laboratory is open even on Sundays. Incidentally, I also failed my initial OGCT test. Pregnant women usually get tested for gestational diabetes on the 6th month of pregnancy. But because I had PCOS prior to pregnancy, my OB/GYN said that I have higher risk of developing gestational diabetes earlier. I was actually pissed off when I failed my OGCT test because I completely stopped eating sweets almost half a year before I got pregnant. I completely stopped eating sweets when I noticed that my fertility workup was not working. So can you imagine how unfair life is?! How can I develop GD at my 8th week even if I hadn’t tasted a single slice of cake for months?! My OB/GYN asked me to have an OGTT test along with my APAS screening. I had fasting the night before, and the lab had to draw blood from me once every hour for three hours. So I had four blood extractions in one day. Both my arms were bruised. They didn’t even know where to extract blood from me because I also had my OGCT test the day before. Nagtago na lahat ang veins ko sa sobrang bugbog!
On that same day, I got the result of my OGTT test. That confirmed that I have gestational diabetes at my 8th week of pregnancy. My OB/GYN said that I should not worry about it. GD is manageable with strict diet. All I needed to do was simply pray that my APAS screening would yield a negative result because that one is harder to deal with. So aside from an immunologist, she also referred me to an endocrinologist. I was supposed to meet both the following day, Monday. Unfortunately, two of the three immunologists of St. Luke’s Global were on vacation that day. The only available immunologist could not meet me until Friday. The following day, I showed the results of my APAS screening to my OB/GYN. Sulit naman ang 13k test, because it turned out to be negative! Plus the two-day wait relieved me of my anxiety. My OB/GYN gave us the liberty whether we would still want to meet the immunologist despite the negative result. According to her, I could still meet the immunologist for our peace of mind, although she said that what happened was just probably a case of “vanishing twin”. But my husband and I took the immunologist’s absence as a sign to just let it go. We didn’t want to give ourselves more stress. Besides, we could focus our energy on dealing with my gestational diabetes. I was asked by my endocrinologist to monitor my sugar four times a day for a week. I had to prick myself four freakin’ times a day! According to my endocrinologist, we needed to take this thing seriously because GD can cause miscarriages in the first trimester. Miscarriage? Not again! I told myself that I wouldn’t let that happen!!!
Breaking the news to the very few people who knew that we were having twins was the hardest part. I actually grew tired of explaining why I lost the other twin. It was one of the reasons why I wanted to keep the pregnancy private until I reached the 12th week. The most common question I was getting at that time was what would happen to the twin that didn’t make it. I would just tell them that the surviving baby will “press” the other twin until it disintegrates naturally. It pains me to sort of trivialize my other baby. How can I refer to my baby as something that will just “disintegrate” naturally? I would explain it in a scientific way, but my heart bleeds each time I think of him.
For days, I kept on hearing words of encouragement from family members and close friends. I knew that they meant well, but I felt that no amount of words can comfort a grieving mother. Some may argue with me that it should not be that hard to accept because the baby is technically not yet a baby when I lost him. But no one has the right to say that to a grieving mother. Kapag namatayan ka ng anak, walang mas madali o mas mahirap tanggapin. Hindi pwedeng ikumpara ang sakit sa ibang nawalan din ng anak. Kapag nawalan ka ng anak, nawalan ka ng anak! Tapos ang usapan. Pare-pareho lang ang degree ng sakit. Whether you lost a child when he’s 80 or 8, or even if he’s just an eight-week-old fetus, no words can ease the pain of a mother who lost a child. I saw my baby’s heartbeat. There were two babies living inside me. And then one day, without me even knowing it, he just decided to let go. I didn’t even have the chance to say goodbye. I spent nights thinking what I did wrong. I followed all of my doctor’s orders religiously. I was eating healthy. I was getting enough rest. I stopped working for a couple of weeks. I was taking my prenatal vitamins. So what did I do wrong? The first instinct of a mother is to blame herself. Even if I get all the assurance from people around me that these things are inevitable, I still could not help but think what else I could have done better to save my child. Would things turn out differently if I had a bigger frame or if I had a stronger immune system? I had a lot of questions. What pains me more at that time was the fact that I wasn’t even allowed to grieve my loss. I cried on the first night because I wanted my other baby to feel that he is not forgotten, that he is also loved, that even if people think that he is just a tiny circle, the fact still remains that for me, he is still my child. But a part of me felt very guilty each time I shed a tear. I might be putting stress to my surviving baby. I still have Baby Z who chose to fight for me! How can I balance grieving for the child that I loss versus making sure that the other one would not feel neglected. That was my first dilemma as a mother. I get hurt when people tell me, “At least may isa pang natira!” Of course I am grateful that I have a survivor inside of me. But no one should discount the life of the baby that I lost. It’s unfair for him. It’s unfair for me. And it’s unfair for Baby Z. She is not some sort of a spare tire!
I am grateful that God somehow spared Baby Z. But I will forever be scarred as a mother. I lost a baby. I will never know whether the one we lost is a boy or a girl. Were we supposed to have a little Je or a little Boyet? He is my biggest what-if and what-could-have-been in life.
I refused to talk about it. There was one time when my parents brought it up over dinner. They started talking about the usual, “It would have been difficult to have two babies at once that’s why God probably took away the other one.” I simply told them, “Yeah, I know that. Let’s just eat and not talk about it.” I cried after that. I knew they just wanted to comfort me, but it was just too painful to discuss. The topic was never brought up ever again. Even my closest friends knew that it wasn’t something that I was willing to talk about. So they just waited for me. They waited for me to open up. And they just listened. They listened as I recount every painful detail. It was probably what I needed to do.
We already made plans thinking that we would be having twins. When we were planning for our house’s construction, my husband and I would refer to the babies as kambal. But then, God has other plans. When we were still waiting for a child, Boyet and I would tease each other that maybe God was making us wait longer because He would be giving us twins. God probably heard us and said, “Of course, I can give you twins. But you can only handle one child for now.” At that moment and up until today, all I have been doing is hanging on to whatever is God’s will for us. I know that He never makes mistakes.
People who knew that we were supposed to have twins have probably forgotten the one we lost. But not me. I don’t think a mother will ever forget. The only consolation I have is that each time I see Baby Z on the ultrasound screen, I know that I am looking at a fighter. Each time I hear her heartbeat through Doppler, I know that I am hearing the heartbeat of a survivor. Each time I would see my tummy getting distorted because of her very strong kicks, I know that she’s telling me, “Don’t worry, Nanay! I’m still here. I’m not going to leave you!” People were actually so surprised when I tell them that Baby Z started kicking me at 15 weeks. They say that it’s too early. Maybe it was my body’s way of coping with paranoia. Or maybe, just maybe, it is Baby Z’s way of easing my mind, her way of telling me that she’s continuing the fight. During the Congenital Anomaly Scan that we had at my 24th week, my OB/GYN mentioned how strong our baby is. She survived losing her twin. She survived an APAS scare. She survived two bad cases of upper respiratory tract infection – one I had in two consecutive months. She survived countless of premature contractions. And she is still fighting gestational diabetes with me. (We are both kicking the ass of GD because injecting insulin is still out of the equation. I was able to manage it well with proper diet!)
To that little angel that we lost, the world may have forgotten you, but not me. Definitely not me, my little one. You are my baby. And I want you to know that you will not just be another part of the statistics. Nanay will love you forever. I will forever cherish that tiny flicker of life that you showed me and your Tatay. I will never forget the one and only time that we saw your heart beating. My doctor said that you stopped developing a day after we saw your heartbeat. I want to thank you for that one day that you gave me and Tatay. I recently read an article saying that women who lost a baby usually want to hide in the dark. They don’t usually talk about their miscarriage openly. I wanted to hide in the dark not because I was scared or because I was ashamed of what happened. I stayed in the dark for many months because it was just too painful for me talk about it. The pain didn’t lessen, though. I don’t think it ever will. There are still nights when I think of you and I shed a tear for you. But I realized that this post is meant to honor your life – no matter how short it was. I also wanted to let the other mothers know that they are not alone. When I wrote about our battle with infertility, I didn’t realize that breaking my silence somehow gave hope to other women who are also having the same problems. And now, by letting the whole world know about you, we might be giving comfort to the countless of mothers who also lost a child. I also wanted to thank you through this post. I know that my heart has been thanking you through our countless of silent conversations, but I just want to put this in writing. When you and Baby Z were still both inside me, I was under a lot of pain. Every night, I wanted to rush myself to the ER just to empty my bladder simply because I could not pee. My doctor said that you were pressing my bladder so hard. My petite body could probably not handle two babies. I don’t know if you gave up so Nanay could be more comfortable, or maybe because you wanted your Ate to grow healthier. You probably “let go” because Nanay was too weak to handle two babies. I’m sorry if Nanay was too weak. =( I may have not the answers why you left me and Tatay, but I want to thank you for making things a bit easier for me and your Ate. Of course if I had a choice, I would have chosen to handle all the pains if that only meant that I could hold both of you three months from now. But then God has other plans. I just want to let you know the world may have forgotten you, but not me. Not me. Never. And I promise to let your Ate know about you so that each time she blows her birthday candle, she will never forget that those candles, those future birthday cakes, are also for you. I will teach her to share all of her future accomplishments with you - because that’s how twins are supposed to be. I promise you that, my little angel. And I vow to keep that promise.
And finally, when we welcome Baby Z this November, we’re not only welcoming our first-born. We are welcoming a fighter. We are celebrating the life of a survivor. Ate, when you’re old enough to read this, I want to let you know that you are one special person. You were not only the strongest of the strongest of your Tatay’s sperms (hehe), you were also the stronger baby. You are the strongest baby I could have possibly known! People will surely try to belittle you along the way, but I want you to know that you were once a tiny creature who fought for survival. You fought even during the times when your mother was too weak and too grieving to fight for you! You are very special. Don’t ever forget that. You have been a fighter, a survivor, from the very beginning!