“I often refer to my twin girls as my miracle babies. Because what it took to get them here seems, to me at least, nothing short of miraculous.
By the numbers it took over 2 years of trying, more tests than I can count, a laparoscopy surgery to remove endometriosis adhesions and a cyst on my ovary, 2 rounds of IVF, 1 miscarriage, 1 emergency cerclage placement, 119 days of bed rest, and finally 3 days in NICU. Those are the tangible things, the things I can put numbers on. It also took countless tears, thousands of silent pleas and prayers to God, the universe, angels.. whoever would listen. Endless support from friends and family. Care packages, visits, and food deliveries to cheer me up. But most of all, the unwavering support of a husband who, despite the fact that he was grieving and scared himself, let me lean heavily on him and picked up the pieces when I fell apart. . . and I fell apart often.
My husband Jeff and I met at a party I almost didn’t go to. We had what might be described as a whirlwind romance – we bought our first home, moved in together, and were engaged within the year. We had a fairy tale wedding in a beautiful art gallery, and a honeymoon in Tahiti that was a dream. I was living a beautiful life with an amazing man and things could not have been more perfect. We bought a bigger home and decided we were ready to grow our little family and have children of our own. Everything in our relationship up until this point had gone so smoothly, I wasn’t prepared for the turbulent journey to come.
In the summer of 2015 my husband and I were referred to a fertility clinic after almost a year of trying to get pregnant on our own without any luck. I had watched my best friend struggle with infertility for several years herself and I had concerns about my health and ability to get pregnant. It took multiple attempts and an emotional breakdown in my doctor’s office to finally get the referral. I distinctly remember the fertility specialist ask me if I was ‘proactive or paranoid’ but an ultrasound done 45 minutes later would confirm my fears. I had severe adhesions covering much of my pelvic region and a cyst the size of a grapefruit on one of my ovaries. A laparoscopy surgery later confirmed the diagnosis of stage 4 endometriosis – the most severe stage of the disease. I was devastated, having seen first-hand how detrimental this disease can be to fertility and getting pregnant. My doctor and my husband were both optimistic though and we set a treatment plan that would lead us to IVF.
We were finally able to proceed with our first round of IVF in the spring of 2016. My doctor had warned me that he was going to push my body as much as he could with the medication to ensure the best possible outcome for us. He had concerns that the endometriosis had damaged my ovaries and therefore the quality of my eggs. I was ready to handle anything if it meant a better chance for us. But just as we were getting started, we found out that my Grandfather had been diagnosed with cancer – specifically a tumor in his brain for which nothing could be done. Having already begun treatment however, we were committed to the cycle and had to continue despite this devastating news. It was an incredibly difficult process for all the reasons I’m sure you can imagine. My Grandfather passed away shortly before we found out the round was successful and we were pregnant. It would be his first great-grandchild, and although excited for the positive pregnancy test, my heart was also broken at the timing.
Then, despite the initial positive result, we suffered a miscarriage at 10 weeks gestation. Words cannot describe the depth of our grief and heartache over the loss of our baby. A baby who was loved and wanted and that we had prayed and waited for. What I didn’t know, or didn’t understand before our loss, was the depth of love you feel for your baby the instant you know they are there. That love between a parent and child doesn’t start the minute they take their first breath in this world. It starts long before that, with a positive pregnancy test. I could even argue it starts even earlier, when you decide that you’re ready to have a child. I think that is why the infertility journey is so hard. You love your child so fiercely before they are here at all. You love the idea of them so strongly that each month that passes without them feels like a stab to the heart. To us, it didn’t matter that we never got to hold or meet our baby – they made us parents for the first time. We will carry them in our heart always.
I was in a very dark place for the next several months. I no longer wished to socialize, I had a difficult time staying focused or engaged at work – the short of it was I didn’t see how I could possibly go on. But I knew in my heart we had to try again. Our second round of IVF took place in the fall of 2016 and when we got our positive pregnancy test it was bitter sweet. I was so thrilled at the news, but the loss of our first child was still fresh and I was terrified to go through it again. We decided not to share the news of our pregnancy until we made it to the end of the first trimester for fear of the outcome. At our 12 week scan the doctors confirmed there were two strong heartbeats and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. We had made it, and made it with twins no less! I was ready to get on with my normal, stress free pregnancy.
Those feelings didn’t even get a chance to last until the end of that appointment. The doctor pulled us aside and I could tell from the look on her face she didn’t have good news. The heartbeat was strong yes, but they had detected an ‘abnormality’ on one of the twin’s scans and were concerned about ‘chromosomal defects’. To be honest I don’t remember much of the conversation that took place after that. I am not proud to admit that I was horrified at the fact that one of my babies might have abnormal chromosomes – and google was quick to point out all the terrible things that could happen. It was suggested we do an invasive test called an amniocentesis to confirm a diagnosis. This test comes with a small risk of miscarriage – with our recent loss so fresh in our hearts it just wasn’t a risk we were willing to take. As an alternative we were offered a blood test which could give us an indication but not an official diagnosis. This test came back as high risk for one of our babies having Down Syndrome. At that point in my life I had very little experience with individuals with Down Syndrome. I grieved, I worried, I cried, and then I worried some more. I had no idea what this would mean for us, our family, the other twin? I couldn’t understand why everything always seemed to be going wrong in our journey to have children.
Then at 19 weeks gestation it was discovered my cervix was failing (a condition called incompetent cervix). Although I was experiencing no symptoms of labour, my cervix was dilating and I lost my mucus plug. I was rushed to the hospital for an emergency procedure called a cerclage where they would attempt to stitch me closed to prevent me from losing my pregnancy. I was paralyzed in fear.. I simply couldn’t believe we had come this far and gone through so much to lose them now. As I lay down in the hospital bed waiting for the procedure I started to get angry. Why was this happening to us? What had we done to deserve this? Both my husband and I were raised Catholic. While I wouldn’t say I’m an overly religious person, I would say that I do believe in a higher power and I couldn’t understand how this higher power could allow this to happen.
My parents showed up at the hospital and my mother brought me a pendant of a saint. It was from the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre in Quebec, Canada that she had purchased when visiting the church several years prior. Saint Anne was credited with many miracles of healing and my mom wanted me to have the pendant for protection during the procedure. I remember holding that pendant and begging her to keep my baby girls safe. I knew it was out of my hands at this point but felt strongly that I needed help.
We made it safely through the procedure, which was a miracle in itself. Despite some scares along the way, we also made it through the 119 days of bedrest that followed that procedure (not that I was counting or anything..). I wore the pendant I had during my cerclage placement, plus an extra one (so I could have one for each girl) every single day for the duration of my pregnancy. I vowed that if my girls were brought into this world safely, that I would bring them to the Basillica to give thanks. Thankfully my twin girls, Grace and Olivia, were born in May 2017 and despite a brief visit in NICU were happy and healthy. As promised, we travelled to visit the church in the fall of 2017 when the girls were only 4 months old. When I saw the shrine to Saint Anne and read some of the stories of healing posted there I was brought to tears. I have never been so grateful or so humbled in all my life.
As for my daughter Grace, she was in fact born with Down Syndrome. The second I held her in my arms I knew all my worrying had been for nothing. She could not be a more perfect baby and we are incredibly blessed to have her in our lives.
She has opened my eyes and made me a better person just through the privilege of being her mother. I realize now that we were meant to be together. If our journey had happened any other way.. I wouldn’t have my girls. We walked down some dark roads to get here, and there were many times where I questioned if I could even continue the journey – but I know I would do it over and over again for them.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Elizabeth Garkowski, 33, of Toronto, Ontario. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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