real life

Mary Coustas: Tears for my lost triplets

Mary Coustas
Mary Coustas

By ALANA HOUSE, editor of iVillage.com.au

Actress and comedian Mary Coustas has revealed her devastating battle to have children and the tragedy that ensued when she finally fell pregnant.

In her new book, All I Know: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Life (Allen & Unwin), Mary writes about the cruel twist of fate that finally allowed her to conceive triplets with her husband, George Betsis, then forced her to make one of the most terrible decisions a pregnant woman could ever face: aborting two of her babies to save the third.

She confesses: “Six weeks after George and I were married, I found out that I could not have children. A laparoscopy revealed that I had blocked fallopian tubes. Our honeymoon was brought to a swift end by an unanticipated and massive blow. I was told my only option was IVF. I was completely winded emotionally.

“In 2009 I was 45 and my egg quality was diminishing due to the ageing process. Adoption was not a possibility. In Australia, you cannot adopt if there is more than 40 years age difference between you and the child. And you are not permitted to adopt while trying to conceive using IVF.”

Mary put her career on hold to pursue her dream of motherhood. “The IVF world required of me a commitment to a schedule that is not predictable,” she says. “Indeed, to be available for appointments, retrievals and implantings, they monitor you according to how your body has responded to the drugs on each attempt, so knowing what’s happening next is always uncertain. Not being able to commit to work that is long-term or interstate, I was left with no choice but to temporarily let go of my career.”

Around 18 months later, her doctor called to tell her: “We have great news, Mary. I’m pleased to say, it’s a positive result. You’re pregnant.”

But, at her week-nine scan, the doctor revealed there were three heartbeats, with two of the babies sharing the one placenta.

“George and I sat there frozen, with our jaws on the floor, listening while Dr Bernstein explained the sudden serious conundrum we now faced. There are often complications with identical twins sharing the same placenta and health risks involved in twin-to-twin transfusion, which is when blood moves from one twin to the other. The highest risk factor, however, is that of a triplet pregnancy. The uterus responds to the mass effect of accommodating the three babies and stretches to the point of initiating a premature labour.

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“The consequences of giving birth to three very premature babies include the risk of cerebral palsy, and loss of sight and hearing. There was also the possibility of personal risk to me at my age, and with triplets, of pre-eclampsia, which could lead to me developing cardiovascular issues as well as liver or renal failure.

“Our brains went from baby names and tandem strollers to percentages and probabilities. We could roll the dice and take a very risky chance on a triplet pregnancy fraught with high chances of permanent physical repercussions for our babies and/or me. What other choices did we have?”

Dr Bernstein recommended they have “a reduction” and Mary recalls: “I was trying to comprehend something so unbearable that I had to shut down to prevent what surely would be irreparable. A lifeless zombie took my seat so that lunacy didn’t engulf me.”

Over the next few days, they consulted with five separate doctors, who each came to the same terrible, blunt conclusion: “Reduce the twins.”

“Our best chance and lowest risk was preserving the singleton pregnancy, ” Mary explains.

“Could we live with the possibility that one decision could result in three unhealthy children? There was no avoiding the catch-22 dilemma we were facing. Just to make matters worse, a 3D ultrasound was scheduled for that week. It was agony watching our three babies doing exactly what you would hope for – moving and breathing, their hearts beating, but for how much longer?

“The day after the 3D ultrasound, George and I made the excruciating decision to reduce the twins. Wanting only a healthy life for our babies motivated the hardest decision we’ve ever made.”

The “selective reduction” involved aborting the twin foetuses by injecting potassium chloride into one of the hearts, as the shared placenta meant it would also terminate the second foetus.

The doctor held her hand and said gently, “Mary, I’m sorry you have to go through this. But I need you to stop crying. You must stay completely still.”

A few days later she returned for a check up, only to be told: “I’m so sorry to have to say this, Mary, but we’re going to have to do it again. Unfortunately the second twin is still alive.”

“How do you find yourself in the same traumatising scene twice in two days?” Mary asks. “How do you process something as harrowing as this? Let alone the shattering disbelief that we have to live through it yet again. So there I lay with endless tears, gasping and squeezing George’s hand, replaying dialogue from a scene that actually happened only days earlier … And as the needle punctured my stomach, the silent wailing screamed vehemently in my head. Those moments are beyond a vocabulary of words. Instead, primal sounds take their place. Your soul is lacerated by that level of torment and you become incapacitated by the relentless grief.”

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At week 20, Mary’s waters broke with her remaining baby. Two weeks later, her contractions began and she gave birth soon after.

The obstetrician told her: “I can see her coming down. Mary, I have got to tell you that the chances of her coming out alive are very slim. She will most probably die coming through the birth canal.”

“I wanted to collapse, to scream, to wail uncontrollably, but I couldn’t. I had a job to do. I had to deliver my baby. And as difficult and unimaginable as it was, I had waited for this moment my whole life. The cruelty of our circumstances was not going to ruin that.

The bittersweet moment when Mary held her daughter.
The bittersweet moment when Mary held her daughter.

“In that room with my favourite midwife, my incredible doctor, and my beautiful heartbroken husband by my side, I pushed with everything I had. And I pushed. And pushed and pushed until I felt her feet coming out of me and Vijay said, “Mary, one last big push and you’ll see your daughter.” And I pushed harder than I’ve ever pushed before. And there she was: tiny and perfect and so incredibly pretty. The minute I saw her staggering beauty I knew I was looking at an angel. She was placed on my chest and I know I could not have loved her more than I did in that moment. It was the crush of a lifetime. My wounded, aching heart was suddenly full.”

Her husband stood beside her, silently crying. “I cried too for the many reasons that are obvious but also for the miracle that is love,” Mary writes. “For its ability to strike in ways that leave you breathless, for its breadth and for its blindness to the abrupt nature of death.”

“In six months I had gone from none to two to three to one to none. How do you fathom something like that? How do you survive the reality of it?”

All I Know: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Life by Mary Coustas is published by Allen & Unwin.

This post was originally published on iVillage.com.au and has been republished with full permission. You can view the original post here.

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