At 2:10 pm on February 1st, I delivered our twins. I then continued to labor for 9 more hours, as my body delivered the rest of our babies’ placenta. Close to midnight, I underwent surgery to completely empty my womb. I went home at 2:14 pm on February 2nd.
24 hours. It took only 24 hours for me to lose 40% of my children. But Dave keeps saying, “They aren’t lost. We have two children who are safe. We will see them again. Two of our five children.” I know it’s true. I know I will see them again.
But it took me only 15 seconds to know that it was over. I cried out to God, “Oh no, my baby can’t live through this.” I delivered our babies in our bathroom. Sobbing so hard I couldn’t breathe. Contractions so hard, I couldn’t stand. And I heard God say, “Keep moving.” I went through the motions as I was calling for help. Calling Dave. Calling my mom. Calling my midwife. Texting my doula. I held one of my babies in my hand and it’s hands were so tiny. It’s body was so tiny. And I whispered, “You are my son. I love you so much. I thought you had a sister in there, too.”
When we arrived at the emergency room, my babies in a Rubbermaid container, I had to pull it together. Fake that I was okay. A small girl was sitting in the ER waiting room. Staring at me. Blood on my hands, under my fingernails, peeking out of my maxi skirt as it had splattered my calves and ankles and soaked into my heels. We had tried to clean me up a bit, but didn’t have time. There was no time for anything. Didn’t brush my teeth. Didn’t brush my hair. Standing in the waiting room, looking feral, holding my babies in what used to hold two dozen bath toys.
Our first nurse, Sue, was one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever met. Whispering to me as my body went through contractions for hours. Dave on one side, Sue on the other. My blood pressure tanking. Everyone waiting for the next doctor to come.
They prepared a transfer ambulance for me, but the doctor who delivered my first three children said she would come to the hospital to care for me. The ultrasound revealed that I was laboring so well. The same man who showed us our Graham at 20 weeks, showed me my empty womb. Measuring everything with taps on that keyboard. The same machine that told us Graham was a boy with a healthy heart and average legs, told me this was almost over.
Four hours in, and I was still delivering everything. My body was in labor anachronistically. I did it. I delivered without a c-section. And it was not what it was supposed to be. My body had dilated, was contracting and pushing and doing everything right. My sweet body, bless it, doesn’t know how to read a calendar. My babies weren’t ready for this world. “I need to warn you. I am going to listen to your ovarian artery. It will sound like a baby heartbeat.” And it did. But there was no baby on that screen. No profile. No black and white photo of a Ballew to shove in a drawer with hopes of completing a baby book someday. I am a mother of five with zero baby books started or completed. Our ultrasound doctor leaned down, crying, “I am so sorry this is happening to you. I will pray for you. I am so sorry. So sorry.”
Everyone says, “I am so sorry.” Every nurse, nurse tech, kid from the lab, family member, friend, and stranger. I can see all the unspoken prayers behind the words. So simple, but so powerful.
We thought that I had delivered everything. My body had worked so hard. I had silently breathed. I had moaned at unspeakable pain. I had cried out, “Oh Jesus help me!” in one breath and “Dave, this hurts like a motherf***er” in another breath. So much for only living water coming out of a cistern…but my humanity was fully evident as my humans were being taken from me out of their time. And I said, “I need a bedpan.” The pressure was surreal. “What just came out? It felt like a head!” And I delivered something larger than a baseball. While I was dilated to a 4. It was the closest I had ever come to vaginal birth and I found myself laughing and shouting, “Look at it! Get the nurse! Save it for the doctor!” And then I bawled at the realization that this hellish event was almost complete. And I hadn’t delivered one of my babies’ heads. I had delivered the place that was supposed to grow them. It only felt like birth. But it was just more death. And as Dave wiped my blood-stained thighs with a washcloth, I turned to a nurse and said, “This is real love.”
At 11 pm, we confirmed that I couldn’t continue. I would lose too much blood. It was time for surgery. Another ultrasound showed I had done it. I had delivered twins. I had suspected twins for so long. Had been shopping for twins. Planning a twin gender reveal. I was, and am, a mom of twins. I delivered them and their home. But I hadn’t delivered the last evidence of their shortened stay. And I would lose too much blood if I went on any longer. They called in the operating team for emergency surgery. These people were at home on call. Doing laundry. Watching movies. Sleeping. And now they were prepping for my D & C.
I’ve had four surgeries in my life. Three c-sections and one D & C. The same doctor has done all four. This last surgery was my first time going under anesthesia. Dave was with me until we reached the Operating Room doors. Then he kissed my lips. Kissed me right between the eyes. And they took him away. I heard a nurse say, “Let’s give her something to relax her.” I was still contracting. My pain was down to a 4. It had been at a 9 so many times. I had been refusing the pain meds, because I didn’t want to be out of it. I wanted to feel my grief and my pain and my babies and my vaginal birth and everything I could feel. Because I suspected they would eventually knock me out and it would all be over. And that’s what happened at almost midnight. I was in the OR, making a joke about how all ORs smell the same. And then I woke up next to Dave in a recovery room.
“I feel great. I don’t need any pain meds right now.” The nurse chuckled. “Oh, sweetheart, they gave you meds while you were in the surgery.” Oh. Of course. The surgery. “So, it’s done?” There was nothing left. My swollen tummy and leaking breasts. But no babies.
I was on morphine. “My daughter used to get therapy at this hospital. For three years. Then, insurance people said she couldn’t get therapy. Because she doesn’t walk. Well, she walked at school last week. I’m gonna send the video to the insurance agents and tell them to KISS MY ASS.” Nurses and nurse techs giggling under their breath. “I have C-3PO legs.” Compression boots on my legs. To keep me from clotting. “Everyone keeps saying this is God’s plan. Is God’s plan bankruptcy, too, because this shitstorm is gonna cost a fortune.” More giggles. But I was serious. I had been saving every extra penny for my Summer birth. And it was vanishing into a nightmare scenario. With each new person who walked through each of my four rooms, I saw dollar signs. All our savings being sucked away, like the suction machine that took away the last of my babies’ home.
I tried to sleep, but my colostrum kept wetting the front of my gown. It was the wrong gown. I was a mom. I should’ve been in a pink nursing gown. Instead, I was in a med-surg gown. No plastic bassinets in my room. No diaper changes. No middle-of-the-night cries, except my own. I just kept letting the tears come. At 4 am, the nurse gave me the smallest dose of morphine to calm me down. Mostly so I could pee. But also because they could hear my sobs. A babyless mother. In a dark, silent room. The only sounds were Dave’s breathing and all my beeping machines.
I was supposed to go home mid-morning, but my blood pressure wasn’t good enough. The doctor was called again. Did I need a blood transfusion? Was I going to be able to walk without passing out? How many times had I been up to use the bathroom? I just wanted to leave, but I couldn’t even sit up. Waves of nausea required more meds. My hormones were confused. My body confused. After 4 hours of slowly returning to myself, I was discharged. It took 24 hours for me to lose my babies.
I walked out of that hospital with no carseats. No striped hospital caps. Nobody checking wristbands to make sure I was a mom. The same door that introduced me to the outside world as Graham’s Mom, Adelaide’s Mom, and Elizabeth’s Mom, slid open and I walked through as Baby Ballew IV & V’s Mom. But my babies stayed there. I walked out with my purse on my shoulder. Sobbing. No diaper bags. My hands empty. Dave’s hands on my back and arm.
We drove the three minutes home. Graham greeted us with, “What took you so long? You were gone so long! Tell me now.” And we told the 6-year-old who had once carried a plastic baggy with a lentil to church so he could show his friends how big our baby was. We told the 6-year-old who had announced to the Grandmas that we were getting a new baby who would be at his Mario Birthday Party. We told the 6-year-old who had talked to my belly everyday for weeks upon weeks. We told him that there had been two babies, but they both died.
He didn’t believe it. He wanted to know what Mommy had done wrong. He ran to Mema for comfort. He cried and yelled. And I understood his reaction, because it was mine. We had been robbed. Twice. Two babies who weren’t in our arms. Two babies not wearing the Coming Home outfits I had just bought. Two babies who wouldn’t be attending a Mario Birthday party. And I won’t correct people who say it’s God’s plan, but it wasn’t. God didn’t take my babies from me. God is Holy and this world is not. And our babies died. They shouldn’t be dead, but they are. This wasn’t the plan. It was a byproduct of a fallen world. But our babies are safe, and we will see them again.
“Mama, I’m so sad our babies died, but I’m glad I get to sleep in yours bed. How long we gonna be so sad? And can we be sad and happy? Cuz I wanna be sad sometimes and happy lots of times. Will we get babies again in your belly? Can we be mean to people? Cuz I wanna be mean to people. Am I still your favorite boy? I’ll be okay if you get more favorite boys. I’m so happy you aren’t in da hospital again tonight cuz I missed you last night. Someday you gotta tell me about the dead baby surgery. Da hospital was pwobly too quiet, huh?”
“We will be sad when we need to be sad and happy when we want to be happy. We can be sad as long as we want to be, as long as we don’t hurt ourselves or be mean to other people. That’s not being sad, that’s other things that aren’t showing God’s love to ourselves and others. I don’t know if we get to have other babies in my belly. But I love all five of you so much! And, yes, you’re still my favorite boy. And I’m so happy I’m home with you. The hospital was very quiet, which was nice. But I missed all our noise.”
“You forgotted da surgery part.”
“When you are older.”
That first bedtime at home was tough. Tougher than I thought it would be.
And today, I packed up their Coming Home outfits. But my babies are already home. And I will join them someday. I cling to that hope and I know that it’s true. With everything inside me, I know that it’s true. And I will just keep moving.
I delivered the twins at 2:10pm on February 1st. Rest in peace, our sweet babies. Mommy and Daddy will see you again someday.