By: Amber Mangrum
He made all the phone calls. He sent all the texts. Over and over, he repeated to family and friends, “Our girls are here.” We knew going into the hospital that it was not going to be sunshine and rainbows for us; our identical twin daughters were already gone.
Giving birth was just a formality, the final step in our too brief journey to being parents.
Rob and I met in 10th grade chemistry class through a mutual friend, and there was an instant connection. He was kind, something most 15-16 year old boys were not. Gentle and brave, he drew me into his world almost overnight. Friendship quickly developed into being best friends, then into romance. He has been the most interesting person I have ever met. We married in 2001 after a two year engagement. We wanted to avoid certain mistakes our parents had made, and decided to wait a few years before trying for a family. We wanted a strong foundation and a solid partnership in order to be the type of parents we looked up to.
We suffered with infertility for nearly seven years, before trying a fertility medication. It worked on the first dose. At age 37 we were finally pregnant! We had known with the medication and my age that twins were a small possibility, but they don’t run in either of our families. At my first ultrasound, the technician didn’t say a word about it until the very end. She showed me the tiny arms and legs of one baby, then said “Now here is baby B’s arms and legs”. I think I floated out of the room.
I knew instinctively they were going to be girls, and identical twins. I couldn’t have been happier; our family was going to be complete in one go.
At 12 weeks, during another ultrasound, I started bleeding profusely. I was having a ‘threatened miscarriage’.
“Go home, rest, drink water, and call us in the morning if you’re still bleeding.”
The bleeding did stop by the morning, but we had no idea it was just the beginning of the end.
At 16 weeks, we were told of the possibility that our girls were suffering Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome, or TTTS. There was an uneven distribution of the blood flow between their amniotic sacs. With a shared placenta, the blood vessels connected the blood supply between the twins, and allowed blood to flow between them. When it became uneven, the girls grew at different rates. Abigail was the donor, Octavia, the recipient. This occurs in 15% of mono-di (one placenta, two amniotic sacs) twin pregnancies.
On December 3rd, 2014, we were told we definitely had girls, but was also confirmed to be in stage two of the five stages of TTTS. At this point, surgery was the number one option. We had just a 20% chance to completely reverse the progression of TTTS.
On December 4th, I was recommended to a highly skilled specialist in St Louis, Missouri. He thoroughly explained what the surgery would entail, and was honest about our chances (60-75% walking away with both, 85% with just one).
On December 5th, our doctor performed a fetoscopic laser ablation, an amnio-reduction on Octavia, and put in a cerclage.
On December 6th, at 6 am, we still had both girls. At 9 am, Abigail was gone.
My namesake, my shy one that never let us really see her on the ultra sound screen. We imagined her to be much like me; bookish and quiet, with a wicked dry sense of humor. We had briefly considered naming her something different, but my heart wouldn’t let me. She was my Abigail Noelle, named for the season, my only Abbi.
I felt guilty grieving so much for her, when I still had Octavia with me. I didn’t know, I didn’t think that Octavia would leave us too.
At my follow-up appointment the next week, Octavia was in distress. There was a small tear in the amniotic sac from the previous procedure. I needed another procedure called an amnio-plug, where platelets and red blood cells were injected through a needle inserted through my abdomen directly into Octavia’s sac. The hope was to plug the hole where she was losing fluid. My husband is deathly afraid of needles, but he held my hand the entire procedure.
December 16th was a rainy, miserable day. I was at my follow-up appointment for the amnio-plug, when we were told, once again, that we had lost a daughter. I wailed. She had passed sometime during the weekend. I had been a living coffin for my children. I begged God to let me die right there. I didn’t want to live anymore.
I look back on that time now, and I didn’t know how I was making my husband feel. I couldn’t feel his pain at all, mine was so overwhelming. I was breaking his heart all over again by wanting to leave him and be with our girls.
This man had stood by my side through all of this, and I told him I wanted to die, that I wanted to be with our girls more than I wanted to keep living with only him.
I know it was my grief speaking, but I regret letting my pain ignore his.
I regret that the only pictures I have of him holding our Abbi and Tavi are ones with tears on his face. I had wanted to be a mother alongside him. I had wanted to make him a father. I wanted to see our babies with his thick dark hair and beautiful blue eyes. I look into his eyes now and see echoes of despair from those dark days. Neither of us smile as brightly, nor laugh as loudly, but we do still, smile and laugh. We are still living, still together, still parents.
We are Abigail Noelle and Octavia Juliette’s momma and daddy. And he is still my most favorite father. He gave me the most precious gifts of all. For that, I can never repay him. Happy Father’s day, my love.
About Amber Mangrum
Amber is a 20-year employee at a hospital in St Louis, Mo. She resides in her dream home in Collinsville, Illinois with her husband Robert, a jr. high math teacher, and their two four-legged babies, Oliver and Winston. She is the mother of two very beloved twin angel babies, Abigail and Octavia. Amber enjoys baking cookies and cakes, and crafting in a wide variety of genres. She started OJAN Creations, a small in-home business, in memory of her girls. A portion of the profits are donated to a variety of charities.