I knew from the time I was a little girl that I wanted LOTS of kids. If you would’ve asked me then, “How many?”, I would’ve answered 12. There was a lot that little naive girl didn’t know back then. One of those things was that not everyone can have children as easily as others.
Van & I got married in 1997. I had just turned 19 (gasp) and thankfully he was older and wiser at 25 (wink). We had a plan to spend the first few years of marriage really getting to know each other since we had a long distance engagement. Besides, I had some growing up to do!
We eventually started trying to get pregnant about 3 years into our marriage. After a year of trying I was starting to get a little concerned but we decided to give it a few more months before looking into it further. And then it happened!! For the first time in my life I was pregnant!! I found out 2 days before Van’s birthday so I was able to tell him that he had to wait 9 months for his gift! Everything went wonderful with the pregnancy. Our firstborn son was due the day after Christmas. We had him 3 weeks early, healthy as could be and we were just over the moon about our baby boy, Rocky!
When Rocky was about 18 months we decided to go ahead and start trying again since it took us a while the 1st time around. It took us about a year to conceive again. We were so excited that we immediately told our family! We went on vacation shortly after we found out and while we were gone I started having some complications. By the time we got back home, my doctor informed me that I had miscarried at around 6 weeks. I had so many emotions in such a short period of time. I found out from many of my friends that they too had been through similar circumstances and I was comforted knowing that no matter what God is my comfort and strong tower!
We continued to keep trying and 9 months later we were able to get pregnant again. I was a little more cautious this time around with telling people but at 8 weeks we told our close circle of friends and family after our nurse’s appt. I figured I was about 12 weeks when we had our OBGYN appt. During that exam, our Dr. felt like I might actually be farther along so she scheduled an ultrasound for the following day. I went into that appt by myself thinking I would just find out my exact due date and all would be fine.
I was laying there during the ultrasound trying my hardest to make out what was on the screen. It was quiet, very quiet. And then I noticed the technician typing “Baby A”….then…..”Baby B”. My heart raced and I mustered up the oomph to ask her, “Does that mean what I think it means????”. She replied, “Yes”, but she didn’t seem as excited as I would have expected her to be. She carried on for a few more minutes, stood up and said that she would be back in a few minutes with Dr. Rainwater. I sat there in silence with only my thoughts. My mind was racing a mile a minute. Oh my goodness….I’M HAVING TWINS!!
Meanwhile, I’m all by myself and I have a million questions and thoughts… my house is too small, will I dress them alike, are they identical, boys, girls, one of each, I can’t wait to tell Van, my parents, and others!!! But then I started to grow concerned. I figured something must have been wrong when the ultrasound technician barely spoke to me and immediately went to get the doctor.
So, after what seemed like a very long time, Dr. Rainwater came in to give me some very disheartening information. She really couldn’t tell me much other than I was 12 weeks and a few days along with twins. However, she went on to say that they could not find a separation between their bodies. They could see 2 heads, 4 arms and 4 legs but it appeared that their bellies were touching. She mentioned conjoined twins but I honestly didn’t hear much after that. I was immediately scheduled to come back in later that day with Van to meet with Dr. Clary to discuss what to do from here.
I remember sitting in my car blinded by the tears. I was crying uncontrollably, unable to move. I was alone. All I could do was pray and ask the Lord to hold me. He was the only one that knew what I was feeling. Thankfully I only lived a mile from the Dr.’s office. I drove home and had no idea how I was going to explain to Van what I had just found out. When I got home, Van was in the shower. I sat on my bed and just wept. There was so much unknown. As I told Van what I had just learned, I could barely form sentences. We called a couple people to have them pray for us and then we went back to meet with Dr. Clary. She scheduled an appointment for us to have more testing done in Charleston at MUSC in 2 days. How on earth was I going to wait 2 more days for answers to so many questions. In the meantime, I looked online for some happy ending stories on conjoined twins but unfortunately, everything I could find looked hopeless. I read that my babies only had a 5%-25% chance of survival. Certainly not what anyone wants to hear.
After 2 very long days, we drove to Charleston hopeful to hear some good news. They spent about an hour on the ultrasound. They confirmed that they were indeed conjoined. They explained to us that this happens when the embryo splits to make identical twins but that the split happens a day or 2 too late and they don’t fully separate.
So we sat down across from this doctor and he told us all of these horrible statistics and that if our babies did make it to delivery they would have a huge uphill battle. I had never been in a position of sitting across from a doctor and receiving bad news. I felt like I had been beaten black and blue and on top of that, I kept hearing him utter the words terminate. Every time I heard those words, it was like a knife to my heart. We quietly told him we were not interested in hearing anymore about that option.
We were then scheduled to have Dr. visits and ultrasounds at MUSC every other week and during the off weeks go to my primary OBGYN in Florence for ultrasound checkups as well.
I started feeling their flutters at 13 weeks!! At 14 weeks we found out that our babies were girls!!! We named them Faith Anne & Vanna Love. They also told us that from what they could see, they each had all of their own organs except that they shared the liver. However, that was a best case scenario because that is the one organ that can possibly regenerate on its own.
During all of this time, our church, friends and family literally lifted us up. They prayed for us, they prayed with us and I truly believe they helped carry our burdens. It’s hard to fully explain but we could truly feel everyone’s prayers.
The scripture that resonated with me was Deuteronomy 30:19 “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” I was carrying my babies in my womb and it was my job as their mother to fight for them….To choose life for them!
At our 18 week appt the doctors started talking about more tests in the near future and that we would start forming a plan for delivery and all the types of specialists we would need just in the delivery room. We finally felt as if the doctors were starting to root for us and for our girls. I remember at one appt one of our doctors asked me about a necklace I was wearing. I had worn it to every appointment. It was a simple foot pendant. He asked me if it had any significance and I said YES. It represented the “footprints in the sand” poem. It goes:
One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord,
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”
Our 20 week appointment was here so we once again headed to MUSC in Charleston. I was very comfortable in this place now since we had to go so many times. I was thrilled to be able to see our girls again. It was now a treat to be able to watch them on the screen so often.
(20 weeks – taken the morning before our Dr appt)
Just like always, I laid down, they gelled up my belly and then the ultrasound technician went to work. This time however, she quickly became unusually silent. She moved the Doppler around and around while switching through several different screens and measurements. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, she turned towards us and delivered the words we never expected to hear…..”I am so sorry but I cannot find their heartbeats.” She said “I have double checked and even triple checked and I just don’t see any blood-flow at all.” It’s hard to describe but in that tiny dark room the air suddenly became a thick, dense fog. All that I had been fighting for was completely gone in an instant. Van and I just held each other’s hand. There were no words to say and the minutes seemed like hours. I never wanted to get up from that table because that would definitively bring our battle for life to an end and we were still in a state of shock and disbelief.
Our ultrasound technician at MUSC had become more open with us over the weeks and had even started cheering the girls on along with us. She was so sweet and thankfully she had taken and printed a picture from this ultrasound that shows Faith & Vanna embracing with their arms around each other.
Eventually we had to talk with the doctor about how to proceed. I was given some medicine to make me start dilating and told to return in the morning, they would admit me and begin pitocin to make my body go into labor. We left to go back home for the 2 hour drive. We hardly said anything to each other. I called my mom who lived in TN and said I need you to leave today and be in Charleston by tomorrow morning. So for the next 18 hours I had to walk around, eat, sleep, be with my 3 year old, etc knowing that my babies were still inside my womb but no longer living.
The next morning we were blessed to be surrounded by many close friends and family. Labor was induced and I was told that it could take around 12 hours but the Lord was gracious and I delivered them within 4 hours. They were beautiful and fearfully and wonderfully made! We held their tiny bodies in our hands knowing that Jesus was holding them in Heaven. I do not know why God did not see fit to heal their little bodies here on earth. And to be honest, I have never questioned why. I feel blessed that I was able to be their mother even if just for a short amount of time. They forever changed my life. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat – even knowing the outcome.
We later learned that Faith’s heart, which was weaker, had stopped beating. Because the girls shared a liver and blood-flow, Vanna passed away soon after since Faith’s inactive heart could no longer pump the blood back to her sister. The worst feeling in the world is to walk into a hospital to give birth and walk out with empty arms.
The next few months were some of the hardest, darkest times of my life. I felt that people around me didn’t want to mention anything about Faith & Vanna for fear that they would upset me. Contrary to that, I wanted people to talk about them and ask me about what I had been through. I wanted to know that people thought about them as much as I did. People were timid that it would upset me or make me cry, yet I cried everyday anyway. I held very tight to my 3 year old Rocky and just rested in God’s promises.
We were able to conceive again 9 months later with a perfectly healthy baby boy, Ace. He was our “rainbow baby”. Then surprisingly when Ace was 14 months old and without actually trying we got pregnant with another little boy, Levi. So I am the mother of 6 children total. 3 boys here on earth and 3 babies in Heaven. Since the death of our girls, the Lord has lead me in the direction to be a professional photographer. I knew that one day I wanted to offer my services to families who were in the same situation as me so that they would have photographs to look back on.
Almost 4 years ago, I was asked if I would take photographs for a family whose baby was stillborn. I knew I wanted to but I also knew that it would be so difficult. I know how important the pictures I have of Faith & Vanna are to me. After I did this for them I had a close friend ask me if it helped me with my healing process. I thought about it and can honestly say that God has healed my heartache as much as it possibly can be healed here on earth. Believe me, my heart still aches tremendously. Sometimes I sit and wonder if they would have looked like or acted like their brothers? Would they sing like me? Would they have their dad’s bright blue eyes? These are things I won’t have answers to here on earth.
Every year we celebrate the girls for their birthday, March 31st, the day I delivered them. I want Rocky, Ace and Levi to know what a big part Faith and Vanna were to us during their short time with us. They are very proud of the fact that they have sisters in Heaven. They ask us questions and we try to answer the best we can. We sing happy birthday to them, eat cake and send off balloons every year!! They would have turned 11 years old this year!
A few words that I spoke at Faith & Vanna’s memorial service:
As a mother, this has certainly been the most difficult thing I’ve ever experienced & hope that I ever have to experience in my life. But at the same time I feel so honored & blessed to have had the opportunity to carry in my body these 2 precious girls for 5 months & to have spent the hour with them after delivery even though they were already lying in the arms of God – 1 in each arm. Of course I don’t know all the reasons why all this happened but I do know that God chose me to go through this. How could I ever doubt that God knows what is best. I’m so thankful for the time that I had with Faith & Vanna after I delivered them. I thought that when I saw my girls that I would have a different reaction & that I would feel like something had been taken away from me or a part of me was missing. However in those moments that I spent with my baby girls I felt full & complete like God had actually given something to me that no one else had been given. I know there are going to be difficult days ahead but with God as my rock, I can lean on him & know that the same arms that are holding on to me are the same arms that are holding Faith & Vanna.
This article was written by tracyrowell