My birth story: Life and loss in one pregnancy

Our maternal-fetal medicine doctor came in suddenly—and I knew that something was wrong.

twin twin transfusion syndrome

Editors note: This story shares the journey of a mother who experienced a rare pregnancy complication and stillbirth.

I ordered chocolate chip pancakes to my room at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia on the morning of December 12, 2018. As soon as they arrived, our nurse came into our room and told my husband and I that it was time for our ultrasound. I was not nervous. I had done everything I possibly could. The news had to be good.

Five days earlier, I had gone to my maternal-fetal medicine specialist for a routine visit. I was 22 weeks pregnant with identical twin girls, and so far, everything was progressing beautifully. At each ultrasound so far, the remarks were promising. "Wow, they are almost the exact same size!" And "Look at baby A grabbing baby B's nose!" This is what we had come to expect from our extremely frequent appointments.

Our ultrasound this time, however, was eerily quiet.

When the technician was done, our maternal-fetal medicine doctor came in suddenly—and I knew that something was wrong.

Twin-twin transfusion syndrome

The tears of worry were already cascading down my cheeks as she explained twin-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS), a complication of the placenta that occurs in roughly 8 to 10% of twin pregnancies in which one placenta is shared. In TTTS, the blood is shared unequally between the two babies—one gets too much, one gets too little. There is no known cause and it is often fatal for both babies without medical intervention.

Our Baby A, who we named Paola after the plethora of Paul's in my life, was being overloaded with blood that was diverted from our Baby B. Our Lola girl, being left with very little blood, began shutting down all her nonessential functions. She no longer had a visible bladder, and therefore was not producing amniotic fluid. Paola, on the other hand, was working double time. She was surrounded by amniotic fluid as her bladder filled and emptied almost immediately, and her heart worked tirelessly to move the excess blood through her small body.

Our doctor told us our best chance was to go to Philadelphia, where the world's top TTTS specialists saw cases like ours daily. We were on a plane two days later.

I met with doctors, nurses, surgeons and specialists for nine hours as we talked over every possible option I had. My daughters were measured and re-measured and every vein in my placenta was mapped out meticulously. It was agreed by all that I would undergo a surgical procedure known as laser ablation surgery. Essentially, they would enter into my uterus with a small laser and cauterize all the veins in my placenta that connected my daughters. This would, in effect, stop the unbalanced blood flow between them, and leave each baby their own supply from the placenta.

The night before surgery, my husband and I stayed in a beautiful hotel in downtown Philadelphia. I was swollen, measuring at a full-term pregnancy at 23 weeks because of the excess amniotic fluid around Paola. I threw on my bathing suit and waddled down to the hotel pool. I floated, finally weightless, and tried to block out the possible ramifications of what was to happen the next day. I stroked my pregnant belly and imagined two perfect babies in my arms.

"I will always protect you," I whispered to my daughters. "I will always do whatever I can to keep you safe."

I was awake during surgery and listening to David Bowie. In addition to the laser ablation, they drained a liter of amniotic fluid from around Paola. The relief was immediate and welcomed. I spent the rest of the day in recovery at the hospital, laughing over Bravo shows and playing Uno with my brave husband, who would later tell me that my time in surgery was the most terrifying of his life. The next morning, as they wheeled me out for the ultrasound, I vowed to savor every bite of those chocolate chip pancakes.

But I never ate them. Because that was the morning that an incredibly sweet and kind-hearted nurse told us they could not find Paola's heartbeat.


Our 9-month-old daughter is easily the most incredible child on the planet. She does not yet understand the journey we went through together.

How, after surgery and her sister's passing, they were worried about a possible stroke, and tests showed her heart had the same signs of trauma her sister had.

How we made another trip to Philadelphia for her to undergo an MRI and echocardiogram that amazingly showed she was now completely healthy and progressing normally.

How we developed another complication called intrauterine growth restriction, where the placenta basically decides to stop giving her nutrients.

And finally, how 14 weeks after Paola died, I gave birth to a healthy baby and a stillborn baby within minutes of each other.

She will learn all about everything it took to get her here. But she will also learn that her mother will do anything in the world for her. One day we will talk about this. Maybe over chocolate chip pancakes.

10 must-have registry items that will change your life, mama

The baby gear heavy hitters that should be top of your list

Calling all mamas-to-be! It's a fundamental truth of (impending) motherhood that your prepping-for-baby To Do list can feel a mile long, but really the best way to feel organized is to sort out the most important item at the top of your list: your registry. Sure the items you choose to include will end up running the gamut from nice-to-haves to absolutely essential game-changers, but mamas in the know quickly learn one thing: Not all baby gear is created equal.

So while you can and should pepper your registry with adorable inclusions that aren't necessarily can't-live-withouts (go ahead, add 'em!), you should make sure you're ticking the boxes on those pieces of baby gear that can be absolute life savers once you're in full-blown mama mode. From car seats to bouncers and playmats, your play and travel gear will be some of the most obvious important items on your list, but so can unexpected things, like a super comfy baby carrier and a snooze-inducing white noise machine. So to help you sort through the must-have options, we turned to the holy grail of motherhood that is buybuy BABY and handpicked 10 of the very best essential pieces that will change your life, we promise.

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9 products that will help baby sleep better (and longer!)

For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

How do I get my baby to sleep? This is one of the most commonly asked questions among new parents, and it makes sense, given that babies are born with their days and nights mixed up. For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

And while that might not exist (yet), we have found some of the best products out there that can help baby fall asleep faster and for longer durations. Because when baby is sleeping, so are you!

Dreamland Baby weighted sleep sack and swaddle

Designed by a mama, parents swear by this weighted sleep sack. It mimics your hug to give your baby security and comfort that helps them get to sleep faster and stay asleep longer. The detachable swaddle wing makes it easy to transition as they grow.

It's also super easy to get on and off, and includes a bottom-up zipper for late night changes, so you don't have to wake your baby in the process.


Yogasleep Hushh portable sound machine

Yogasleep hushh sound machine

With three soothing options, this is a perfect solution to help your baby settle when naps are on the go and during travel! I love how compact this noise machine is and that it can run all night with one charge.


Bebe au Lait muslin crib sheets

Burt's Bees Organic Crib Sheets

With a variety of print options to choose from, these breathable sheets are *so* soft and smooth, even through multiple washes. The luxury fabric keeps little ones warm without overheating—a formula that helps ensure more sleep for everyone.


The Simple Folk perfect pajamas

The Simple Folk perfect pajamas

You know what's going to help baby have their best sleep ever? Some quality, super soft pajamas. The timeless (and aptly named!) Perfect Pajama from The Simple Folk are some of our favorites. They last forever and they're made from organic pima cotton that is safe on baby's precious skin. They come in a wide range of sizes so siblings can match and feature fold-over hand covers on sizes up to 12 months.


The Snoo bassinet


Designed by expert pediatrician and sleep guru Dr. Harvey Karp, the Snoo bassinet gently rocks your baby to sleep while snuggled up in the built-in swaddle. Not only does it come with sensors that adjust the white noise and movement based on your baby's needs, there is also an app that allows you to adjust the settings directly from your phone.

While this item is a bit on the expensive side, there is now an option to rent for $3.50 a day, which is a total game changer!


Hatch Baby Rest sound machine + nightlight

best baby sound machine

The Hatch Baby Rest is a dual sound machine and nightlight that will grow with your family. Many parents use this product with their infants as a white-noise machine and then as a "time to rise" solution for toddlers.

The thing I love most about this product is that the light it gives off isn't too bright, and you can even select different color preferences; giving your toddler choices at bedtime.


Crane humidifier

Crane Humidifier

The only thing worse than a sick baby is a baby who is sick and not sleeping well. The Crane humidifier helps take care of this by relieving congestion and helping your baby breathe better while sleeping.

Personally, I think the adorable design options alone are enough of a reason to purchase this product, and your child will love watching steam come out of the elephant's trunk!


Naturepedic organic crib mattress

Naturpedic Lightweight Organic Mattress

In the first few months of life, babies can spend up to 17 hours a day sleeping, so choosing a mattress that is safe (read: no chemicals!) and comfortable is incredibly important.

Naturepedic uses allergen-friendly and waterproof materials with babies and children in mind, making them easy to clean and giving you peace of mind.


Happiest Baby sleepea 5-second swaddle

best baby swaddle

There are baby swaddles and then there is Sleepea. Similar to the brand's swaddle that is built into the Snoo, the Sleepea is magic for multiple reasons. First, it's got mesh panels ensuring baby never overheats. Second, the zipper zips from the top or the bottom, so you can change the baby's diaper in the middle of the night without ever waking them. Third, it's hip safe. Fourth, the patterns are SO cute. And fifth, the interior swaddle wrap that keeps baby's ams down has a "quiet" velcro that won't wake baby if you need to readjust while they're asleep.


We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


10 photos to take on baby’s first day that you'll cherish forever

You'll obsess over these newborn baby pictures.

Bethany Menzel: Instagram + Blog

As you're preparing for baby's birth, we bet you're dreaming of all of the amazing photos you'll take of your precious new babe. As a professional photographer and mama, I have some tips for newborn photos you'll want to capture.

Here are the 10 photos you will want to take on baby's first day.

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