Monday, August 25, 2008

The Story of Nicholas & Sophia

On September 15, 2007, and after 9 years of trying to get pregnant, my husband and I consulted with a reproductive endocrinologist, Dr. H. Christina Lee, in Bethlehem, PA. She was recommended to my mother-in-law, at a knitting circle, where the discussion of pregnancy came up. Two women in the group had daughters under her care, and both suggested making an appointment. It took 2 months to get an appointment, but finally, we were sitting in her office, talking to a petite and very pretty Chinese woman. She was knowledgeable, kind, and understanding; after an hour long consult, she prescribed Prometrium to try and induce a period (which I hadn't had in 2 years), with instructions to call on day 1 of my cycle or, 20 days from our meeting (to account for 10 days of pills and 10 days of waiting). On day 21, I called: no period. The made an emergency appointment for me, for fear that I might start hemorrhaging, and did an ultrasound as soon as I arrived at the office. I had absolutely no lining to shed and two dozen cysts on my ovaries, which confirmed Dr. Lee's initial thought of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS. Blood tests delivered the startling news that I also had very little natural progesterone or estrogen. Combined with the PCOS and the autoimmune disease of Hashimoto's Thyroiditis (which I'd been diagnosed with in 2005), it was no surprise that we were childless. Dr. Lee, however, was very optimistic and, because of that, we were hopeful.

We saw Dr. Lee almost every other day and I took FSH supplements (in the form of Gonal-F) to spur on follicle development. This led to 2 follicles maturing, eventually to 17 and 19, respectively. Using an hCG injection, I ovulated two days later on October 27th. In addition to actively trying at home, at Dr. Lee's urging, we also underwent Intrauterine Insemination, or IUI, because she feared that the sperm might not reach the eggs otherwise. On November 2nd, I had my first bloodtest. I was producing progesterone, a good sign. The following Friday, on November 9th, my hCG was an astounding 65 and my progesterone was 34. We were pregnant!

We had our first ultrasound on November 30th and, joy of all joys, twins! I can't explain it, but both Peter and I just "knew" we were having boy/girl twins, from before their very conception! Neither of us were surprised, just overjoyed. Our beautiful babies...
Daily morning sickness (and afternoon sickness... and evening sickness...) and continued rises in blood levels made us comfortable in our pregnancy. We made an appointment with Dr. Scott Bailey, affiliated with Lankenau Hospital in December. He was warm and understanding of our concerns. He was comfortable with as natural a childbirth as was possible and took control of my Hashimotos, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol (side effects of the PCOS). In addition to doing ultrasounds at each visit to chart Nicholas & Sophia's growth, he referred to them as "the kids" and made Peter and I feel well taken care of. On our second visit, he checked my cervix via ultrasound (January 16th) and all was well.

On January 31st, I felt my morning sickness return at work and ended up not making it to the bathroom. (Feeling that sick and bloated and cleaning up vomit... Not a fun time for a pregnant woman.) Otherwise, everything was normal. February 1st, I had the day off, and spent it lounging around, lunching with Peter, and shopping for a body pillow with my mother-in-law. We visited the new townhome right down the street that she and my father-in-law were moving into the following week. They wanted to be closer to their grandchildren, instead of nearly an hour away. I was napping when Peter arrived home from work around 5pm. He cuddled with me and we rested together until 6pm, when we decided on dinner. Because he was still tired, I went to the grocery store and picked up what we needed. I carried the bags to the car and felt a little winded, but nothing that indicated a problem. I called Peter on the way home and he met me at the car to carry in the few groceries I'd bought.

I started on dinner around 7pm, but at 7:30 began to have terrible pains in my abdomen. They felt like a cross between gas pains and severe constipation. I doubled over on the couch, as Peter rushed to stop dinner from burning, then got myself to the bathroom because I was sure that I had to go to the bathroom. Instead, my water broke and literally seconds later, at 7:45pm, our son, Nicholas, my 16 week old baby, came into this world. He was beautiful and, as I held him, I could feel his heart beating against my hand. Peter held him with me, and Nicholas wrapped as much of his tiny hand as he could around one of his father's fingers. We cried together, as Peter called 9-1-1 and we kept our son as safe as we could.

The EMTs arrived within moments of our call and were wonderful. The fire chaplain arrived on the scene and, in addition to baptizing Nick, gave him the anointing of the sick and the last rights. We were air lifted to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, then transferred to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, next door, where they stabilized me and Nicholas's twin sister. Peter Nicholas Haytko, IV, was with us for approximately one hour before he passed on, at approximately 8:45pm. He weighed 2.6 ounces and was long and lean, with long toes and ears that stuck out from his head, like his father. On Friday evening, they gave us a less than 1% chance of our second baby surviving. On Saturday morning, after carrying her through the night, the ultrasound showed the baby moving in fluid. The primary concerns were a high (50%-100%) risk of infection (Nick's placenta did not release, leaving his cord inside, and my cervix opened to 4cm) which could lead to the removal of my uterus and, at worst, could be fatal, or that the baby's sac has been breached and was leaking, which would lead to the baby's death. We were at HUP until Monday, when a second ultrasound showed that little Sophia was still doing well. Our chances were stable at 10% and, in order for the baby to have a fighting chance, we needed to get to 24 weeks. I was released on bed rest and sent home.

Our friends, Tom and Sarah, met us at our house. Sarah, who had come to our home immediately after Nicholas's birth to clean up the mess left behind from dinner and labor and who had come to HUP to bring us clean clothing and toiletries, sat with me, held me, and cried with me, while Tom helped Peter move our bed from our upstairs bedroom into our living room, where we would live for the next two weeks. Peter's company generously gave him leave so that he could stay home and care for me, although he did go into work at night while I slept to catch up on experiments. My little scientist worked overtime caring for us and trying to keep up-to-date on his lab work. No man has ever done more for his family, and I am so truly blessed.

On Saturday, February 16, 2008, almost 15 days to the moment, our daughter Gaea Sophia Haytko entered the world at 6:08pm, 18 weeks into my pregnancy. Though her stay in this life was very short at only 5 minutes, she has and continues to touch our lives. Sophie was 4oz and slightly shorter than her brother, but more "meaty" with her mother's booty (even at so young an age!). Where Nicholas greatly favored his father, our little Sophia was closer in resemblance to her mother. Looking in the mirror will never be the same again; as I see my son in his father’s face, I can see my daughter’s in my own. We went into labor on Friday evening, although we didn't actually know it, and, by mid afternoon on Saturday, my water broke and, once again, the outstanding EMS team of Harleysville responded within moments and we were airlifted to HUP. Peter, excellent dad and husband that he is, stayed with us the entire time. After three and a half hours of active labor at the hospital, Sophie made her entrance to choruses of "I love you", just as her brother did. Immediately following her birth, her father baptized her, as the priest was not going to make it in time. She was held by her father for each second she lived on earth, her moments fluttering against his hand. Like Nicholas, her entire life was filled with love.

HUP gave us one of the greatest gifts of all: time with our children. We were in the hospital 4 days with Nicholas and 1 day with Sophia. The entire time, we were allowed to keep our babies with us, holding them, sleeping with them, just looking at them and memorizing each detail. They took photographs of the, which we cherish, and made a beautiful memory box for us, that included hats and their blankets. Their staff, especially their Labor & Delivery nurses, were phenomenal and took such care of us.
Sophie and Nicholas were both cremated at Huff and Lakjer in Lansdale. Mr. Lakjer was so very kind to our family and went above and beyond the call of his profession. We placed them together in the same marble box, with a plaque that reads:
Peter Nicholas Haytko IV
Gaea Sophia Haytko
Forever in Our Hearts.
The box sits on my night table, where I can often be found asleep in bed, hand on the box.

How I remember those days following their births and deaths. In an online support group, I wrote:
"While our grief is crushing, nothing comes close to the joy that we hold for having these two precious children in our lives. Not a day will go by that we aren't thankful for the months of memories that we've had. In the dark night ahead, they are the two flickering, beacons of light and hope that we can see and will continue to follow. While this is a sad time for us, no memory of our son or daughter is laced with anything other than beauty and joy. We are full of grief at the idea of our lives without Nick and Sophie in the way we had hoped. But we are full of thanks for those moments that they touched our lives. With Nicholas, we were able to hold him in our hands and feel his small heart beat. With Sophia, Peter and I would lay in bed and feel her move beneath my belly. We were able to tell them that we loved them. They never knew a moment of feeling unloved. These precious children chose us to be their parents, even if their little lives were cut short. We take comfort in knowing that they never felt or will feel pain, that they always knew love from the moment of their conception on October 27th, through this day and every day forward, that they watch down on us and hold us when the day becomes too hard to face. It’s their little hands that hold our broken hearts together. It’s their sunlight that beckons through our windows and gives us the strength to face the day. Who could ask for anything more than these gifts? The weight of their loss in this world buries me, but the uplifting quality of their love gives me the power to move on. Each day is hard. Each step feels like a million. But my babies are with me and that makes all the difference.

"Everyone says how strong we are, but I don’t feel strong. I want to break things. I want to hit someone. I want my babies back. If just for a moment. I’m so angry at times. Why do people who don’t want children have such an easy time getting pregnant, while we waited for ten long years? Why can a teenager who doesn’t care get pregnant on her first sexual encounter with someone who doesn’t even matter, when I’ve made love to a man I adore for close to ten years and finally had to seek treatment, just to ovulate? Why are people blessed with children only to pawn them off on someone else because they didn’t want them in the first place or who hurt them because they are monsters, when Peter and I could offer them a home full of peace and love? Why did so many women get to hold, nurse, and take their babies home from the hospital while my babies died? Why? Why did the ultrasounds give us so much hope and show us how healthy our babies were, when our path was to have them both so very premature? Why were our babies taken to heaven and why were we left here on earth without them?

"The answers don’t come. And, a piece of me knows that they wont come. I know that my journey now includes walking this road without them in my arms or at my breast or holding my hand. I know that the nursery is destined, for now, to remain empty. But I am still a mother. I still love my children and want them to be loved and safe. And, I get the assurance of knowing that they are. Not only by their father and I, and our friends and families. On our wall hangs an Irish sculpture of the Virgin Mary. In one hand, she holds the baby Jesus. In the other, she has her cloak opened and faces look out. Just as she holds her precious Son, she holds our son and daughter as well. While we aren’t there to hold them, with her mother’s touch, she is able to. I know our babies aren’t lonely or sad or afraid. They are surrounded by the love of our Heavenly Father and our Blessed Mother. They are played with and held in the gentle hands of Jesus. And, when they are able, they visit us and hold us in the palms of their tiny hands and we rest in them, as we had hoped they might one day rest within us."

Our priest issued baptismal certificates for them, which I keep in their box. We also had a beautiful Memorial Service for them at our church, St. Maria Goretti, on March 29th. Our priest did a wonderful job. It was the Saturday in the Octave of Easter, and he did a beautiful job tying together the beauty of the season and Resurrection and life after death; it was breathtaking. Almost 100 people came: friends, family, church family and friends, coworkers, even people we didn't know, who had heard about Nicholas and Sophia second hand. As a surprise, family of mine from TN, where I'm from, drove the entire night before to attend: my grandmother, two aunts, and two cousins. Plus my mom, & stepdad, also from TN, flew up on Thursday. A dear friend of mine also flew up and many more who live closer drove up for the weekend or, for some, just the Mass. It was such an outpouring of love and compassion and support. Both Peter and I were blown away by the entire thing. One of our friends brought her 4 year old daughter. In the center isle, we had a table with a picture of Nick and a picture of Sophie, along with the marble box that holds their ashes. The little girl touched each picture and smiled, as she waited behind her mom in the communion line. It was one of the most touching parts of the entire day and I will treasure that memory. The innocence of a child... The entire service was just beautiful and, afterwards, as we met person after person, our hearts were just overwhelmed by the turnout- something we didn't expect. I was very grateful that we moved into a larger house because the luncheon afterwards had at least 60-70 people! But, we had enough food and drink, and it truly was a celebration, not only of Nicholas and Sophia and the impact on our lives, but of the impact of them and on all of us on each other. Many people stopped at a table we had set up, with pictures, their ashes, the Remembrance Mass cards (of which there are many!), and their baby book. From what I hear, there was a line to view their baby book. Nothing could have made me happier. Except having them back of course.

Peter made a beautiful speech afterwards, expressing our thanks, but also how blessed we are to have shared their lives for the moments they lived with us. He spoke of our fatherhood had changed him for the better and of our Nicholas and Sophia live on. There wasn't a dry eye in the church. My eyes aren't dry when I remember it. He's a man of few words at times, but those few words touch my heart completely.
At the hospital, Peter brought each baby to me and said "Our Son", "Our Daughter"... What beautiful words...


A n T said...

Oh my God, I'm speechless. As I read this my eyes filedl with tears. The road of IF is a very difficult one and to finally reach the point and thinking you're home clear to have it snatched from you. The services, your DH, the people you were surrounded by all sound like amazing people and I'm so glad that you had them there to go through this with you. :hugs:

A Journey Well Taken: Life After Loss said...

I am sorry for your loss. Elaine

Reba said...

I just found your blog through someone else's blog. I lost my twin son and daughter at 16 weeks as well. Nick and Sophia are absolutely beautiful. I am so sorry they are not with you today.

mrstrixiz said...

As I'm reading this I'm thinking this story sounds so familiar plus I'm from Bethlehem. I realized why! We've been praying for you guys through Ebenezer! I am friends with Carmen. I'm so sorry for your loss and hope the Lord is guarding your hearts. I too have a Sophia so this was especially heartwrenching. Continued prayers for you and your family. Melissa

Niki said...

I really don't know how I stumbled onto your blog but I had a miscarriage in Sept 2009 at around 6 weeks. It was horrible. I also lost a child (my first child) when she was almost 7 months old. I am pregnant again with my last child (due to medical reasons) and I am terrified of something going wrong. I am so sorry for your losses. I will pray for you and your family. God bless.

Happy, Healthy, and Balanced said...


Your story is so touching and hits close to home in the fact that I have a month old baby now. Rest assured we love him more than anything possible.

Thank you for sharing such a painful and sensitive story. It shows how ones heart can heal and show how precious and alive babies are even only 16 weeks into pregnancy!

I just want you to know that you must of had some beautiful perfect spirits that came to you. So perfect that all they needed was a body. While it hurts so much to wonder why you were denied the joys of parenthood, you were blessed with the choiset spirits. You gave them everthing they needed and more, and you will be with them again.

Jenni said...

I don't think I'd ever read this story before. The sequence of events with Nicholas sounds SO much like my experience with Thomas, except that (at least so far as I know) his heart had stopped beating before he was born. I just relived it all as I read though. I can only imagine the pain of doing it again two weeks later.