On Monday, March 8, 2010, my research adviser asked me to leave his research group. For several months after I last stepped foot in his laboratory, I was extremely angry. Angry at how I had been treated before my adviser asked me to leave and angry at how he treated me after he asked me to leave. When I have the courage to remember those dark days, I still flush with anger.
I am usually very slow to anger; it’s easier for me to see my own faults than those of others. This is because I am a compassionate person. It’s easy for me to put myself in the shoes of other people. That’s not to say I’m anything exceptional. There are many, many compassionate people in the world, and many of these people are more compassionate than I am.
Looking back on my relationship with my last research adviser, I realize that I was able to forgive him time and time again after he insulted and criticized me because I could understand his point of view and his assessment of the situation. Our adviser-advisee relationship was doomed, however, because my adviser was not a compassionate person. He did not put the interests of his students before his own, and he could not see a situation from their perspective. He rarely gave others the benefit of the doubt, always assuming the worst.
I am so glad that I am no longer working for my former adviser.
On Tuesday, March 9, I wrote a form of goodbye note to the other members of the research group.
It’s my pleasure to let you all know that I am carrying twins. Hopefully, they will stay inside me until some time in September. I have left chocolates in the kitchen so that you all can share the sweetness with me.
I did not have to explain to my coworkers that I was leaving the research group. Most of them understood the tacit message in my e-mail. This is no place to grow a pair of fetuses. It’s been nice working with you. Those who could read between the lines quickly wizened those who did not immediately understand that I was saying goodbye. My research adviser, however, was clueless. He asked a senior group member why I hadn’t announced my departure from the group. Idiot. You’re the one who asked me to leave. You can announce the fact that our relationship is intolerable and unsustainable to the group yourself.
I knew that I was taking a risk by announcing my pregnancy to my friends and coworkers during the first trimester. But it didn’t seem to matter since I was leaving graduate school in a few days, anyhow.
I had seen the two little, nearly-indistinguishable blueberries during a detailed ultrasound when I was 7 weeks pregnant. They were perfect di-di twins, hearts beating at 140 and 141 bpm, both implanted in the left horn of my uterus. Before that ultrasound, I thought I would wait until the end of the first trimester to inform my family, much less my coworkers, of my pregnancy. My surprise and delight at finding twins, though, overwhelmed my prudence, and I shared my secret with my mother the very next day.
I read a lot about multiples in the weeks that followed. I dreamed of an enormous pregnant belly, I dreamed of twin strollers. I dreamed of cute names for twins. Did you ever notice that Tiana and Anita are anagrams? And that they would both be easy for my Vietnamese relatives to pronounce? I did!
I had terrible morning sickness for a few weeks. I had to leave the laboratory early a few afternoons because one of my lab-mates was working with sulfur, and the stench made me nauseous. I was unable to complete some of my own chemistry because the stench was unbearable. Not to mention toxic to my delicate embryos.
The worst of my morning sickness, however, was short-lived. On Wednesday, March 10, I wrote a note to the nurse practitioner at MIT Medical.
Just wanted to check with you because my nausea has largely subsided over the past week. My pregnancy is at about 9.5 weeks now. Is this something to worry about, or should I be thankful that I’m getting over my morning sickness sooner than expected?
I received a prompt reply.
Hi Kristin, Glad to hear you are feeling better. Sometimes morning sickness can start to resolve at this point in pregnancy. Also, sometimes you can have a few good days, then the symptoms can come back. I see you have an appointment coming up at Mt Auburn. They will be doing an ultrasound at that visit. If you had any significant cramping or bleeding, that would be a reason to call us before your appointment. Take care, Jill
I tried not to worry, but I did, anyhow. I read everything I could find about Vanishing Twin Syndrome. I mourned the loss of one of my twins before I even had any positive evidence of its demise. Emotionally, it was a strange time in my life. I was happy and sad and mad that I had to leave graduate school. I was joyfully anticipating the birth of twins with the rational side of my brain while obsessively fearing the loss of a fetus with the intuitive side of my brain.
I had an appointment with my OB/GYN at MIT Medical on Monday, March 22. My doctor got out her doppler and found a heartbeat on one side of my little baby bump. Then she approached the bump from another angle and found a heartbeat again. I was skeptical. How did we know we weren’t just hearing the same baby from two different angles? My doctor obligingly brought in her not-so-sophisticated office ultrasound machine and went searching for more positive evidence of two live fetuses. We found one kicking fetus and a smaller gestational sack.
Neither the doctor nor I were willing to rule out the possibility that both babies were alive. The last time my belly had been examined with that particular ultrasound machine, only one embryo had been spotted. It was possible that one baby was hiding behind the kicking one. The diagnostic ultrasound to be taken at Mount Auburn that Friday would provide a more accurate picture of the state of affairs in my uterus. Based on the preview I got at MIT Medical, though, I wasn’t optimistic.
Oddly, confirmation of my fears assuaged my anxiety under these circumstances. I no longer had to worry about twins; I only had to focus on Baby B, the twin that remained. The fetus that would make it to the second trimester. The fetus that would make me a mother.
Baby A had stopped growing at about 8.5 weeks gestation. His/her story was very similar to that of Hugh. Except for one crucial difference: Baby A had a twin who would one day be named Peter. And Peter’s growth and development would almost completely overshadow the loss of Baby A.
On Sunday, my cousin’s wife sent me the following e-mail:
Congratulations on your pregnancy, this is a very special time for you and your husband. I am very sorry to hear that you recently lost one of your babies, but I truly believe in God’s plan and that everything happens for a reason. You will be in my thoughts and prayers. I hope your remaining baby will continue to grow strong and healthy. Please let me know if you ever need anything.
I replied with typical optimism.
Thanks for your note, Karen. This second loss has made me all the more thankful for the kicking, squirming baby that Son and I saw at last Friday’s ultrasound. Life is so fragile during the first few weeks after conception; it’s amazing that so many of us are blessed to grow into healthy individuals. And though I would have liked to see both babies make it to term, I don’t doubt that a singleton will have better chances for an uncomplicated pregnancy and delivery. So I’ll count my blessings and forget my sorrows, optimistic that there is much promise in the future.
I hope you are doing well and that Chase’s upcoming year will be safe and successful. I don’t have any memories from the time my dad was in the military, but my parents’ stories have impressed upon me the greatest respect for families that must be separated for extended periods in service of our country. It’s an immeasurable sacrifice.
Unlike the weeks following my miscarriage, I did not shed a tear the week after I found out that Baby A had stopped developing. In part, this was because I shed my tears before the ultrasound confirmed my suspicions. I had already deconstructed my vision of twins into a vision of a singleton by the time I saw Baby A’s small, lifeless gestational sac.
Objectively, this hardly seems fair. Hugh’s demise broke my heart, while the loss of Baby A merely caused me to shrug and think, Oh, well. At least I saw it coming. Was Baby A any less of a person than Hugh? Less deserving of my care and concern? Less worth mourning?
The difference between Hugh and Baby A exists only in my mind. During the first trimester, embryos and fetuses are little more than future potential. But only a little potential is needed to create big dreams. And the loss parents feel following a miscarriage is as great as the dreams they had for their tiny, dependent offspring.
My mother wrote me on March 15, before the ultrasound that showed that Baby A had stopped developing:
Kyle was very sweet last Tuesday. We went to Mass/soup supper at church. On the way out he ran into the chapel and lit 4 candles; one each for you, Son and the twins. He even donated the appropriate 50¢ per candle.
At that point in time, Son, Baby A, Baby B, and I were equally deserving of a votive candle. Two weeks later, there would only be a need for 3 candles.
October 15 was Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Though technically I did not lose my pregnancy when I lost Baby A, I lit two candles that evening. One for Hugh and one for Baby A. Both are equally deserving of remembrance.
I now believe that the loss of Baby A was necessary to protect the health of Peter. My uncooperative uterus refused to carry 1200 grams of Peter; I’m afraid to imagine how early I would have gone into labor if I had carried two fetuses into the second trimester. The prognosis for newborns weighing under 600 grams is not very good.
So perhaps you are worthy of praise for your heroic sacrifice, Baby A. Did you pass away so that Peter might live? I’ll never know, but I like the sentiment, so I’ll cling to it every year on October 15th.