On April 7 we had our routine specialist ultrasound. I was feeling extremely uncomfortable (huge) and my mother’s intuition was telling me something was wrong. This pregnancy had already been much different than my first pregnancy, but I chalked it up as “being pregnant with twins.” It became clear that my mother’s intuition was spot on, though, because at our next ultrasound we were diagnosed with severe twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS).
We learned that identical twins who share a placenta have blood connections inside the placenta. Twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome happens when there are too many blood connections in one direction, causing an unequal flow of blood between the twins. One twin may receive too much blood and become overloaded with fluid, which puts a strain on his heart. The other twin then receives too little blood and doesn’t grow well. In our case baby A (Cooper) was the “donor” baby and his stomach was empty because he was giving all his nutrients to his brother. Conversely, baby B (Brody) was getting so much fluid and nutrients that his heart was being overworked and showing concerning signs of stiffness.
We were immediately booked at The Mother Baby Center for an emergency laser ablation surgery of the placenta and amnio reduction on April 9. This procedure stops the unhealthy blood transfer between the babies, as well as greatly reduces the risk of neurological damage to the babies before birth. Fetal surgery was our only chance to save our boys’ lives. Statistics were scary, but we focused on positive outcomes only!
Even though the surgeon said he had never seen so many connecting blood vessels in one placenta, the amazing team of doctors was able to laser all of them and our strong boys survived the surgery! They also took out over a half gallon of amniotic fluid. After surgery, the babies and I were monitored very closely. We had weekly appointments and ultrasounds – living week to week, scan to scan, as our fighters persevered. Brody’s heart was already looking stronger and Cooper’s bladder began to fill! Hooray!
At 31 weeks + 1 day, my water broke and I was admitted to the hospital where I would spend the rest of my pregnancy on inpatient bed rest. Doctors gave me all kinds of drugs, antibiotics, and vitamins to protect my babes (and me) from infection and also prepare their little lungs for their early arrival into the world. The new goal was to get me to 34 weeks.
The hardest part of the hospital stay was being away from my husband, Cory, and 2-year-old daughter, Harper. It was all so scary, confusing and such a whirlwind. My husband was amazing and brought my daughter to the hospital to visit often to play games, have dinner as a family and sometimes have a slumber party on the weekend. Although I was in the hospital, we made the most of it and time went by surprisingly fast. I was in great hands and used my time to reflect, relax and continue to put positive thoughts out into the universe.
On July 13 (33 weeks + 1 day), our little guys were too excited to wait any longer and they made their grand entrance via C-section. Brody David was born at 2:41 a.m., and was 3lbs. 10 oz, 16 1/2 inches long. Cooper Hall arrived right after at 2:42 a.m., and was 3 lbs. 13 oz, 17 1/2 inches long. They were small but healthy, and just needed a little time in the hospital to learn how to breathe and eat. They graduated from the neonatal intensive care unit to Special Care Nursery in just 3 days!
The nurses and doctors at Children’s Minnesota took Cooper and Brody under their care and they instantly started to thrive. They started out as little fragile preemies in isolates and left in their infant car seats after only 22 days! Every single nurse in the NICU and Special Care Nursery was absolutely incredible. They treated the boys like one of their own, they taught us how to care for preemies and made an everlasting impact on our family.
I cannot sing enough praises for all of the angels who have helped us along the way. Specifically, the team of perinatologists and fetal surgeons at Minnesota Perinatal Physicians and the Midwest Fetal Care Center, including: Marijo Aguilera, MD; David Lynch-Salamon, MD; Joseph Lillegard, MD, PhD; Lisa Saul, MD (who caught the TTTS); and William Wagner, MD (who delivered my babies safely). This also includes all the sonographers who performed weekly ultrasounds to check on Cooper and Brody in utero and the nurse practitioners who took extra special care of me and my wellbeing while outpatient and inpatient. Also, I want to share a special thank you to all of the nurses at The Mother Baby Center who took daily care of me while I was in the hospital.
If it wasn’t for our TTTS surgery and the amazing team of doctors and nurses, our boys would not be here today. We are forever grateful for the miracle workers that literally saved our boys’ lives! Additionally, the support of family and friends has been so moving during these times. From the constant help of my mother to the continued positive messages of support from all, it’s one of those moments you realize the importance and power of those you hold close. Cory has been our rock (as always), standing by my side every step of the way. Harper has also been a shining light through all of this, providing us with constant smiles and laughter and a reminder that miracles really do come true.
Cooper and Brody are now three months old and are healthy and growing. They have started smiling and love watching their big sister run circles around them. They are keeping us on our toes, eating and cooing all the time, and we are loving every second!
Written by Tami Gephardt