Why Isn’t a Healthy Baby Enough: Coping With Vanishing Twin Syndrome

Warning: This article discusses child loss and may be difficult for some to read. 

The time between a first (or fifth) positive pregnancy test and the first prenatal visit is a whirlwind. After the initial discovery, there are often multiple weeks to fantasize about what the coming months will bring and how life will forever change. During those weeks I was in a constant state of restrained optimism. I didn’t want to get excited until it felt safe to do so.

Those weeks were the three longest of my adult life. 

The ultrasound was not what I expected. We were barely spoken to and it seemed to last longer than I thought possible. The technician diligently waved her wand and feverishly typed with one hand. We waited. I was told to get dressed. Then we waited some more. No fuzzy images were shared, no congratulations were given, and yet there had clearly been something to document.

Vanishing Twin Syndrome

After waiting a while longer, we learned that I was carrying twins. Twin one was measuring in line with nine weeks and three days gestation. Twin two’s growth had stopped at nine weeks. The placenta was already showing signs of deterioration and over time it would become less and less obvious that the pregnancy was anything other than typical as the tissue was reabsorbed. It wasn’t until quite a while later that I learned the term Vanishing Twin Syndrome. 

The majority of my grieving process has happened postpartum. 

I wish I had learned, or internalized, the term earlier. It would have made my Google searches a lot more productive. I eventually learned that around 36% of non-singleton pregnancies result in the loss of one or more embryos. More women are learning about non-singleton pregnancies because internal ultrasounds during early pregnancy are now common practice. Women who become pregnant with multiple embryos are more likely to become pregnant with multiples in the future. 

Navigating Grief

I wanted to write about my experience because I had such a hard time finding information and a shared experience when I needed it. My emotions have been complex and it has had a much greater impact than I initially would have guessed. The majority of my grieving process has happened postpartum. 

Twins are not a common occurrence within either of our families. Knowing hormone levels are higher when expecting twins, I was initially a little nervous when the pregnancy test had immediately shown positive. Because of this, being told we were expecting one healthy baby was initially met with immense relief. That sense of relief was followed by feelings of guilt for my flippant response. I know I shouldn’t compare my experience to others. But it also felt wrong to compare what I was going through to those who experience miscarriage and/or the news that their body had been duped into thinking there was a baby. It also seemed premature to let myself get attached to this growing being inside of me when there had been two just a few days prior. If my ultrasound had happened earlier that week, we’d have started trying to prepare for twins. I would no longer be a candidate for midwifery and told to find an OB. 

I expected that once my baby was born I would be able to move on.

Making the Announcement

Choosing to share our news, even with immediate family, was a complex decision. Some of our family knows but the majority does not. It seemed easier to just let others be excited. I did not want to navigate clumsy attempts at sensitive responses or have people ask how I was doing. This resulted in a few tough ‘what if they missed it and you’re having twins’ jokes. But overall, I’m still happy with this decision. 

The relief I had expected upon entering the second trimester did not come. I get nauseous from looking at baby products and reading about pregnancy. Up until the 20-week ultrasound, I controlled my excitement for fear that this healthy baby could be taken away from me, too. It was another couple of weeks before the anxiety began to subside. 

I expected that once my baby was born I would be able to move on. I could focus all of my energy on his needs and finally just be excited. I’ve been blaming postpartum hormones, and I’m sure they play a role, but the truth is that I’ve been more emotional than ever in the last few weeks. We’ve officially completed the “fourth” trimester and that little bit of breathing room, coupled with self-isolation, has given my brain more space to just run wild with alternate realities where I get to love not one but two amazing babies. 

I feel so fortunate to have had such a positive experience of pregnancy and delivery. In fact, I’m fighting the urge to quickly jump back into it again. Regardless of when that next positive test comes, I think I will always play over what-if scenarios when my baby, Laszlo, has extremely happy days, reaches milestones, and even on his tough days. I think that will be okay and even feels right. Right now, I am working on accepting that.

If you have experienced Vanishing Twin Syndrome, know you are not alone! 

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Calli came to Fargo/Moorhead to attend Concordia College and loved the area so much she never left. Her and her college sweetheart, Andrew, married in 2016 and welcomed their first child, Laszlo, into the world January of 2020. She feels as though she's spent her entire adult life preparing to be a parent and is excited to finally start that journey. Calli is excited to share her experience as a mother and also her passion for our community. She believes it's important to cultivate and support the type of place you want to live in order for that place to be a reality. For her, that means volunteering with Hope Blooms, supporting local music, events, and businesses, and spreading the word about how great our community is. In her personal time, Calli loves walking her two West Highland White Terriers, F. Scott and Zelda, dreaming up a new craft or home improvement project, playing banjo, and just hanging out at home enjoying her family.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I just learned yesterday that my second baby did not develop. I learned at four weeks that I had twins, and at six weeks and three days I learned that I had a banishing twin. Though it had not been much, we had already registered for double cribs and strollers and had our names selected for each of the possibilities of twin girls, boys or one of each. It was heartbreaking to see the image of the healthy six weeks sized baby with the tiny four week sac next to it. I wish there was more out there about this. I’m sad that I fell into the 36%.

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