Baby Love

Baby Love

My Journey From Darkness to Light

My Article My Journey From Darkness to Light published in
Twins Magazine

My Journey from Darkness to Light
Crystal Olguin Duffy

I stared at the pregnancy test, willing the lines to appear. Then faint blue, beautiful double blue.
“Oh, my gosh! There are TWO blue lines! I’m pregnant!” I think I might have been levitating off the bathroom tiles.

“Wow! That’s amazing.” Ed’s focus shifted from the blue lines to my face, beaming and melting. We squeezed each other while tears of elation streamed down my cheeks. 

We had just returned from Paris, the city of love—my husband had planned the surprise trip and even arranged child care for our 18-month-old daughter Abigail.  It was over a bottle of champagne at a French bistro that we had decided to start trying for another baby.  It was the trip of a lifetime, at times, if felt like I was living a movie script.   A few weeks later we realized that we had returned home with a little Parisian souvenir.  We were thrilled that our little girl Abigail was going to be a big sister! 

At the seven-week mark however, I began experiencing throbbing and painful cramps accompanied by strong pelvic pressure and heavy bleeding.  Oh no, I’m having a miscarriage I thought.  Preparing for the worst, I immediately contacted my OB/GYN.  I remember my doctor performing the ultrasound and then looking at me and asked, “Was this a spontaneous pregnancy?” What the heck is a spontaneous pregnancy? Is that like the Immaculate Conception? I was so confused and then he pointed to the monitor and said, “Look Crystal—there are two heartbeats, two amniotic sacs—you are having twins!” We had tried for Duffy baby #2 and instead got babies #2 and #3!  My husband and I were ecstatic, we felt so lucky to be given this special gift of twins. 

The ultrasound unfortunately also revealed a blood clot in my uterus, which was the cause of the cramping, bleeding and discomfort.  I was then placed on bedrest for a month with the hopes that with good nutrition and rest—the blood clot would reabsorb the itself—which was exactly what happened. 

“I want them to be mine.”  I kept saying over and over again.  I was so terrified of losing these babies; I can not describe how grateful we were when we were in the clear.  I thought our prayers had been answered and I could finally enjoy and relax the rest of the pregnancy. 

At around twelve weeks, we received the joyous news that we would be having identical twin girls.  Pink, pink, pink everywhere!  I asked my husband once shortly after we found out we were having more girls, that he and our Yorkie pup Charlie would be desperately outnumbered—“Are you okay with us not having a son?”  He turned and kissed me and said, why do I need a boy?  Our daughter Abby envelops anything I could have ever imagined my child to be—she loves me, and shares so many of my interests—soccer, Star Wars, cinnamon toast crunch.  Girls can do anything boys can do, and I’m honored that I get to raise her and our twin daughters and instill that confidence and belief in them.”   My heart melted and I fell in love with him all over again.

Overwhelmed with happiness, I began the nesting process—this time double time.  I was working to prepare for what would soon be a very full and busy household.  Between shopping for three matching girly outfits, building a custom closet for the nursery and finishing up home-improvement projects, I was at the peak of healthy, energetic, and excitement.  We even snuck in a family trip to SeaWorld for spring break to chase after out toddler at the splash pad. 

But at 22 weeks, my physician found something concerning—during a routine ultrasound—it revealed that there was an abnormal amount of fluid around one of the twins.  I began to panic, I knew my babies were in danger, especially after I saw how seriously my physicians took the news. 

Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome

After targeted tests were performed, I was diagnosed with twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS), a serious condition that affects 10 to 15 % of identical twins who share a placenta.  TTTS occurs when the blood vessel connections between the two babies produce an imbalance, or uneven sharing of the blood.  In these cases, the blood from one twin, (the donor) is pumped into the other twin (the recipient), requiring the heart of the donor to do extra work to support the recipient twin and the recipient twin in turn receives too much blood while the donor twin does not get enough.  This unequal distribution of blood can lead to severe issues for both babies, and in cases were it is left untreated yields a 95% rate of mortality in the babies. 

I was terrified once again of losing our precious babies and overwhelmed by everything.  I couldn’t wrap my mind around the tragedy of TTTS when there were two babies in my womb that had been healthy, without genetic defects, who suffered consequences because they shared a placenta.  It was heartbreaking situation to be in.  My obstetrician immediately referred us to a maternal-fetal specialist, who specializes in high-risk pregnancies.  Because our condition had already advanced to stage III TTTS (Four stages total), our MFM determined that the best treatment for us was to undergo laser ablation surgery. 

Laser ablation surgery aims to interrupt the blood flow in the vessels that connect the twins through the insertion of a small telescope and a laser device into the uterus.  Once the abnormally connected vessels are identified, the surgeon uses the laser to coagulate or seal the vessels.  Laser ablation surgery is recommended to the more advance stages of TTTS and can only be performed between weeks 16 and 26 of gestation.  I was so grateful that we were diagnosed in that window of time where there was a chance for our girls to survives.  Additionally, there are a handful of doctors in the US that perform this dangerous in-utero surgery, I was blessed enough to live 20 minutes away from one of the best MFMs in the country. 

Our surgery was scheduled quickly, a day after our consultation, two days after the diagnosis.  In total, the surgical team lasered 11 blood vessels and drained an excess of two liters of amniotic fluid from the recipient twin’s sac. 
After surgery, I was placed on strict bed rest at home to recover.  Later that week, we learned that despite the surgery’s success, there was a further complication—specifically a hole, septostomy, in the membrane separating the twins.  Although the hole was initially small, one of the girls apparently tore at it, making it large enough to swim through, and joined her sister, so that they were tumbling around each other.  As a result, I was now carrying Mono-Mono twins, meaning my girls were in the same amniotic sac.  This rare condition carries with it its own host of complications, including umbilical cord entanglement and compression.  For my sake and the twin’s health—my OB admitted me into the hospital for bed rest and strict monitoring, where I would stay for the remainder of my pregnancy until the twins were delivered.

I loaded up on magazines, movies, snacks, pictures of my family and my daughter Abigail, a countdown calendar—even a lamp to make my room feel more like home.  I had no idea how long I was going to be there—I arranged for visitors, friends, family to come visit me in the hospital every day.  We had a barbeque, baby shower and even a surprise anniversary dinner during my stay at the hospital.  I also attended an antepartum support group every week were I met other moms going through my same situation.  It was in this group were I also met a musical therapist who worked with me and helped me find a creative outlet to express and deal with everything I was going through.  One of the hardest things I found, was being away from Abigail for so long, so with my therapists help I wrote and recorded a song about that called Together Again. It was so special to me because not only did it help me pass the time, but it was also therapeutic in helping me process the stress, anxiety, and loneliness of going through my last month of pregnancy at the hospital. 

Our dramatic delivery

On the evening of June 18, 2014, I felt sick and alerted my nurse that something felt off.  By the next morning, I was having full-blown contractions.  They put me on magnesium to try and stop the labor.  But when my OB came to check on me he saw that I had dilated more and said the words that will forever ring in my head.  “It’s time—after a month of hospital bedrest—we are having some babies today.”

I went into C-section surgery unalarmed, excited to soon be meeting these little survivor babies of mine.  As my OB would later describe, as soon as they started the surgery they knew something was wrong—I was bleeding heavily.  I had had a placenta abruption—a rare and dangerous occurrence in which the placenta detaches itself from the inner wall of the uterus.  Completely unrelated to my surgery, or the TTTS, it was so unbelievably lucky that I had been in the hospital for observation and continuous monitoring.  Additionally, placenta abruption is one of the primary causes of maternal mortality.  I remember being in the OR and could sense that something was wrong.  Ed, my husband, was asked to leave and I heard one of the nurse say something about a blood transfusion.  Never, not once through all of this did I think for a second about my own life being in danger.  I had remained positive and strong in my faith through it all.  One of the best memories was hearing the babies scream for the first time—their lungs were sure strong and healthy.  A team of clinicians stood by, ready to transport the girls to the NICU for care. 

Katherine Maria and Lauren Elizabeth each weighed 3 pounds when they were born.  They spent 38 says in the NICU at Children’s Memorial Herman in Houston, Texas.  They are healthy, happy and rambunctious little toddlers. 

As I think back on all of it I still can’t believe what had to happen for us to all be here together.  Despite all our complications—my twin daughters and I are healthy, happy, and extremely blessed to have one another.  It took not just one but a series of miracles to us to emerge healthy—we are walking miracles. 

Meeting You

Meeting you
Crystal Olguin Duffy

alarms were going off like fire engines
fluorescent lights blinded my tired weepy eyes
it was a noisy, loud chaotic mess

you were here
in the midst of this disarray
my sleeping beauty surrounded by plexiglass
your tiny little body engulfed by a massive incubator

you were wrapped in wires and cords
a set of tubes helping you breathe
and another set helping you eat

my hand crept slowly inside your warm crib
your skin translucent and soft
your hair silky black
I can not look away

you are my angel, my love, my joy
my fighter through a series of obstacles

my miracle here on earth

How I Turned to Song Writing While on Hospital Bedrest

My article How I Turned to Song Writing While on Hospital Bedrest published in
Twins Magazine

Hot tears rolled down my cheeks as I stepped out of the elevator door and into the lobby of my doctor’s office.  My OB’s words kept ringing in my head.  “Crystal, we are going to have to admit you inpatient for continuous monitoring, to make sure you and the babies are safe.” Inpatient? In the hospital?  Meaning I would check in for an indefinite time until I had safely given birth to our twin girls (or so we hoped).  How was I going to get through this?  I had a toddler at home and so much still left to do to prepare for these two little ones.  I went kicking and screaming with two massive suitcases filled with everything from the full series of Sex and the City DVDs to my living room lamp.  I was determined to make my cold sterile hospital room as cozy as I could for my weeks ahead. 
My twin pregnancy had been rough from the get-go.  I had gone into my doctor’s office expecting to hear the dreaded news that I was having a miscarriage and to my shock and surprise I was six weeks pregnant with twins.  It was high-risk, that was for sure.  I had a blood clot that almost pulled the pregnancy, a cerclage procedure where the doctor sewed my hoo-hee, a terrifying diagnosis of Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome that required a laser ablation surgery to correct this horrific condition, and the destruction of the inter-twin membrane that resulted in the Mono-Mono twin status.  Mono-Mono twins carry their own host of complications so I can’t say I was completely shocked when my doctor told me to pack my bags for what would be a several-month-hospital-stay but it was still heartbreaking. I would have to say goodbye to my sweet little daughter, Abby, and my husband.  Our worlds would be turned upside down for an indefinite amount of time.   
During my hospital stay, my family and friends reassured me by saying, “Don’t worry; in a few years you won’t remember this time,” or “it will be a distant memory that you had to live through once; that’s it.”  As genuinely well-meaning as those thoughts were, in reality, they were dead wrong. How could I ever forget my time here? Not just days, but months of feeling terrified, alone, and scared shitless?
I had to make the best of this hellish situation. For the sake of my family. For the well-being of my unborn twins.  For my own sanity. That’s when I turned to music.  
The antepartum unit of the hospital arranged meetings for all the Moms inpatient and one afternoon a musical therapist came to visit our meeting and mesmerized me with her guitar and passion for song writing.  I knew that my experience here in the hospital long term was life changing and I was intrigued by the idea of creating a song that would capture my deep emotions during this time.
Hannah, the musical therapist, advised me to start by journaling, free-writing, and scribbling whatever came to mind.  She asked me to focus on the hardest thing about being in the hospital.  I knew in an instant what that was. It had nothing to do with being bored or alone in a hospital room with the plain walls and just one window to the outside world. Of course I missed my house, my family, and friends. It didn’t bother me that the medical team picked and poked me with needles, or administered medication. I didn’t care that they still checked my vitals every few hours or that they kept me awake all hours of the night doing my monitorings. The two most excruciating things about being here were the possibility of losing my twins at any moment and missing Abby. I decided that this song needed to be about Abby.  I was stuck in the hospital, freaking out about my twin babies and simultaneously missing out on Abby’s life. It sucked bigtime! I thought about her constantly. Every minute of every day.  I thought of her every moment of this journey along with her sisters.
I would take deep breaths, put my pen to my paper and write.  I started slow with several minutes of free writing, capturing all the thoughts that came to my mind without judgement. “I love you, I miss you, I’m thinking about you everyday.”  Then I would look over it organize and re-structure.  The rhyming would come much later, with my therapists’ help, and of course the melody. 
Just when I thought I was getting the hang of it, I would burst into tears and have to stop. Damnit. Blubbering over my pen and paper was constant at first.  Was I on the verge of depression?  It certainly felt like it.  
But then I found the more I wrote, the more it helped move past the pain.  Writing was cathartic and liberating.  I was sitting in a bed physically unable to get up and yet my mind was running away.  Memories and flashbacks from my life inspired my song lyrics.  I couldn’t stop writing. Thoughts kept coming and words poured out on the page. 
“Dreaming of you while I’m away, being there to see your sweet face.  Setting off on adventures, on walks to the park.  When you look up at the Goodnight Moon, I hope that you know that I’ll be there soon.  I miss you, Abby, I miss you.”
The more stressful things got, the more I threw myself into songwriting.  I hadn’t wanted to admit that I was in therapy, but I suppose that was the purpose of music therapy; the process didn’t carry the stigma of traditional therapy. It was far more creative and stimulated healing in ways I would have never imagined.  Whatever the magic, it truly worked for me. I needed the musical outlet to process my feelings, emotions, and everything we had gone through. My song embodied everything about my experiences of motherhood and my incredible love and intense longing to be with my child. The song had a tremendous impact on me; it had empowered me in so many ways, allowing me to process the pain and start moving past it. I had tried so hard throughout my pregnancy to not stress, to control my emotions, but I was only human. Of course, I had moments where I would lose it and burst into tears. But I didn’t want my time in the hospital to be tinged with despair. I didn’t want to let myself sink into a hormonal depression. I didn’t want to be messed up from this experience when my babies were born. And that was just it; I didn’t allow myself to think if my babies are born but rather when they are born. I knew that when they were born, I’d be as busy as the President; I wouldn’t make the time to heal or go to therapy. A mother always puts her children’s needs above her own. Right or wrong, that was the reality. I was completely grateful to have found comfort in songwriting. Songwriting was a beautiful pastime that allowed me to take care of myself, which was something that might not have happened had I been home alone with my daughter.