Stella & Joy Van Benthem

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It all began Sunday morning, May 1, 2016. Zach and I were getting ready to go to brunch with my sister when we decided I should take a pregnancy test. After finishing getting ready, almost forgetting about the test, I checked it. Sure enough, I was pregnant! Zach called his best friend as he danced around the room, elated by the news, while I sat on the bed in a little bit of shock. We were going to be parents. We were about to start a family. At first, I wasn’t going to tell my sister, but when she arrived, there was no way we could keep it a secret, Zach was still dancing around like a kid on Christmas morning! So, we told my sister, swearing her to secrecy, and headed out to brunch. Zach proceeded to tell everyone he saw that I was pregnant. They were strangers so it really didn’t matter and he was so excited I just couldn’t tell him no.

That night I had a dream. I was several months pregnant and everyone who asked me what I was having, I responded with “both.” From that point on, I continued to dream that it was twins. In my head and my heart I just knew, we were having twins. Four weeks later, on Tuesday, May 31, we had our first appointment with the obstetrician. I was so scared. I cried the night before and in the morning, worried that we would go and find out there was nothing there. Zach just kept reassuring me and keeping me calm. As we sat in the room, waiting to get that first ultrasound, I had a million thoughts running through my head. Were we really ready to be parents? Could I handle being pregnant? What if the screen showed no baby? Even as my mind questioned everything, my heart still knew it was twins.

The doctor came in and began the ultrasound. The moment I saw that little bean on the screen and watched the flicker of its heart, I looked at Zach and saw his eyes glued to the screen. This was real! We were starting a family! As the doctor continued the exam, Zach asked if there was only one baby. The doctor said, “I hope so, I only see one.” Zach insisted he check again and I told him about the dreams. The doctor continued the exam and said “Oh! There’s the other one!” I proceeded to laugh and cry at the same time. I was right, we were going to have twins! I then had a moment of panic and asked the doctor if they were attached! Obviously I meant conjoined, but in the moment, I just couldn’t find the right words.

Joy in blue, Stella in Coral

At this point the doctor told me we were going to move to another room with a more high tech ultrasound machine. When I asked why, he told us he believed the twins were identical, and wanted to make sure he knew what type of twins we were having. I had no idea there were so many kinds. Once we were in the other room, a tech came in and confirmed we were having identical twins. They were monochorionic-diamniotic, meaning they shared one placenta but were in separate amniotic sacs. Then things got scary. We learned that having identical twins is considered a high risk pregnancy. The doctor began explaining some of the possible complications that could occur and explained that we would begin seeing a specialist around 16 weeks. Of course, we went home and immediately began Googling all of the possible things that could go wrong. Word of advice, STAY AWAY FROM GOOGLE. There are so many awful things that could go wrong.

For the next few weeks, I cried before every doctor’s appointment, afraid that one twin had vanished or they developed twin to twin transfusion syndrome, or any of the other complications we had read about. At every appointment we were reassured that the babies were doing great and there was nothing to worry about. Gradually, I became less scared and more and more excited for each doctor’s appointment. I loved seeing their little hearts beating and watching their little arms and legs grow and move.

At our 20 week appointment, it was confirmed, the twins were girls! After the initial shock wore off, I got more and more excited about our future as a family four. Zach and I would sit and talk about what they would look like. Would they have red curly hair? Would they be left handed, right handed, or one of each? Would they have brown or blue eyes? It was so exciting to dream and talk about our girls. We had already picked out our girls’ names, Stella and Joy, and I already knew who was who. Stella was on my left and Joy on my right.

As the pregnancy progressed, the doctors were pleased with the babies’ progress. Though we had two little scares, there was nothing wrong with them and they continued to grow and flurish. I felt them kick and move and roll, sometimes I even felt them fighting each other! When Zach first felt them, his whole face lit up with pride and excitement. We were doing great! We had been working hard getting the nursery together, organizing all of our shower presents and just generally getting the house ready for the babies.

Once I hit about 32 weeks, I began going to the hospital twice a week for non-stress testing. They would hook my belly up to monitors, watching both girls’ heartbeats and seeing if I was showing any signs of preterm labor. Some days I was there for 30 minutes, some days it took over an hour. They would kick the monitor off or move so we couldn’t get an accurate reading and had to stay longer. The girls were stubborn! Nevertheless, I loved sitting there listening to their hearts beat.

The doctors were so pleased with everything, we were able to schedule their delivery. On December 7, 2016 Zach and I were going to be parents! I would be just over 36 weeks pregnant, which is pretty good for identical twin pregnancies. Monday, November 28, I went in for another routine NST. Zach was home and came with me to this one, usually I went alone. The nurses became concerned because my blood pressure had shot up very high. They called the on-call doctor who recommended a full preeclampsia panel. I was nervous, but at this point, we had the car packed and were ready for delivery day. I figured worst case, they deliver the girls that night. After about an hour wait, the result came back and I was sent home. I was told I could not return to work and needed to really take it easy. I had an ob appointment already scheduled for the next day so I was told to pretty much do nothing until then.

Tuesday, November 29, we went to the ob appointment and found my blood pressure was still quite elevated. Zach and I were directed to go back to the hospital for another NST. After a while we were once again sent home. I had another NST scheduled for Thursday, but they told us to come back on Friday instead. So, we went home, went to bed, and hoped for the best.

On Friday, December 2, 2016, my mom took me to the hospital for the NST. As the nurse went to put the first monitor on Stella, I joked with mom that this is where the girls play hide and seek and hide from the nurses. As soon as she put the monitor on my belly though, I knew something was wrong. Even when the girls were hiding, their heartbeats could still be heard ever so faintly. This time was different though. The deafening silence was life shattering. I held onto a glimmer of hope, but deep down I knew, she was gone. My sweet Stella was gone. The nurse called a doctor and brought an ultrasound machine in, telling me that there was still hope. As I stared at the screen my worst fear was confirmed, there was no heartbeat. The doctor moved over to check Joy, and my world came crashing down as I once again saw no beating heart. We had lost our Joy too.

December 2, a mere five days before our daughters’ scheduled arrival, our darling angels both entered and left this world. At 9:44 pm, Stella Grace was delivered first, weighing 6lbs 8.4oz and measuring 18.5″ long. At 9:45 pm, Joy Joan was delivered weighing 6lbs 6.3oz and measuring 19.5″ long. They were beautiful. Curly reddish brown hair, long skinny fingers, matching button noses…just perfect.

For the next two days, we were able to stay in the hospital and spend time with our beautiful babies. We were surrounded by family and friends who came to visit, meet, and spend time with our beautiful angel babies. It was surreal, the mix of sadness and peacefulness. Though our girls were gone, knowing they were surround by so much love and care for the brief time that we had them was comforting.

As the days and months continue to pass, not a moment goes by that we don’t miss our girls. Our lives have been forever changed by the loss of our daughters, but they will always be with us. Friends and family tell us how the lives of people we don’t even know have been impacted and changed by our daughters. Their memory will always be carried on, and that means the world.

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