Warning: This post includes details and imagery of stillbirth that may be triggering for some readers.
Never in a million years did I think what I am about to tell you would become a part of my story, but it is.
But before I get to that, let me first rewind and start with the joy of it all because I believe the difficult ending shouldn’t define the whole story.
It was a Monday night in October last year. My husband, Phil was at indoor soccer. After putting my two-year-old daughter Alaia to sleep, I decided to catch up on some trash TV aka Keeping Up With The Kardashians. But before I could make it to the couch I felt an overwhelming sense of tiredness. I had “THAT” feeling.
I texted Phil and asked him to purchase a pregnancy test on the way home. I know he had his reservations given my previous ectopic pregnancy only months before, but I felt sure my mother’s instincts that I was expecting were right. By the time he would get home, I would be fast asleep and it was only around 9pm.
I was asleep by the time he got home, but the next morning I karate-kicked my way out of bed at 5.30am. Literally.
I was so excited to take the pregnancy test because like I said, I just knew. They were the longest two minutes of my life, which I’m sure every mother in the room can relate to. But right there beaming back at me were the two blue lines I had hoped for. I was right.
Automatically the tears streamed down and from that moment, no one could wipe the smile off my face. I called Phil to tell him the news as he was already at work. He was ecstatic to say the least. I remember then running into Alaia’s room, waking her up and dancing around the room with her in my arms – this was pure happiness.
Later that week I visited the doctor to get the official verdict. They called me back on Saturday morning to confirm: I was pregnant!
Similar to my pregnancy with Alaia, morning sickness would hit once again. Only this time, 10 times as hard. Again, my instincts came to play – twins, I thought. Soon enough at my six-week scan, it would be confirmed, there were two babies growing inside of me. Nothing will ever compare to that moment.
There were odds stacked against me – I had PCOS, I had only one fallopian tube due the ectopic pregnancy, and I had a hernia operation just months earlier – and yet here I was, pregnant naturally with my rainbow baby twins. The doctors couldn’t believe it. My husband and I cried and laughed, we felt it was our happily ever after. Soon we would be a family of five, and we couldn’t wait.
Having twins meant we were given somewhat “extra care and attention”. I wasn’t complaining, it meant I got to see our beautiful babies on screen more often than not – and that meant I grew such an incredible connection with them.
As most mothers will tell you, the second pregnancy flies by. Mostly because you are busy chasing around your menacing toddler but I also think it has a lot to do with the fact you are more relaxed.
Before I knew it, I was 20 weeks pregnant and it was time for our big scan, aka the anatomy scan. There they were, our two little bundles of joy. The doctor was thrilled at the health of the babies and me. Another big tick in the box.
We asked her to jot down the sexes of the babies on a piece of paper. Remember being a kid and being told you couldn’t look at something? That was me, all I wanted to do that night was neatly open the envelope and peek... But I refrained.
We never found out Alaia was a girl until she was born, so this was a new-found excitement for us. Given we were having twins and the age gap with Alaia was so small, we decided we needed to be prepared.
On a Tuesday night, a handful of our close family and friends came to the balloon gender reveal. Phil held the needle with Alaia and… POP.
Blue confetti came showering down from one balloon. My head was buried in my hands with tears and our friends and screamed in excitement.
Just as I looked up, another POP.
More blue confetti came pouring down from the second balloon and the crowd went from excited to mental and I was swamped with hugs and kisses. It was truly one of the best moments of my life.
We streamed the reveal live on Instagram and many of our friends filmed it for us. We had no idea that our biggest joy would soon become our biggest pain. Those videos would become the unravelling of me.
For the next two weeks, I would spent countless hours buying the cutest matching boys' outfits. Everyday I would come home and show Phil and he loved every moment of it. There wasn’t a day that passed that we didn’t speak of our excitement for the boys' arrival.
Friday, February 9. Phil took the day off work and we decided to go buy the boys' nursery furniture. We found the most gorgeous grey and timber cots and after Alaia road-testing them, we ordered the lot. We were on Cloud 9. Our little family was so happy and it was only going to get happier or so we thought.
Saturday night, February 10. My 32nd birthday, and one I will never forget. I told Phil not to get my gifts this year, as I already had the boys, and we opted for a dinner out instead.
We went to our favourite Italian, followed by a dessert bar and by midnight we would be home. I washed off my makeup, put my PJs on and hopped into bed. As soon as my back hit that bed a shooting pain reaped havoc through my body and I jumped up. I thought one of the twins must be sitting on a nerve – I didn’t sense anything more sinister than that. I walked and swayed my way around the house, trying to get them to move.
An hour would pass and the pain had not subsided. I called Perth's St John of God Hospital and they suggested I pack a bag and go straight to King Edward Memorial Hospital, so we did. I remember having to hold myself in the car up by arms, hovering over the car seat as I couldn’t sit flat on my bottom. The pain was unbearable. But through it all, I still didn’t have a bad feeling and thought we would be sent back home in a matter of hours. I was very wrong.
The next three words would change the course of my life forever: “You’re already dilating”.
I was 22 weeks, how could this be? What did this mean? Would our boys survive? We had entered new territory – this world was new to us. But so quickly we would learn.
After making contact with our obstetrician, we were immediately assigned “The Golden Team” aka the best of the best at King Edward.
At 2am a scan would show one twin was already protruding out, meaning stitching was out of the question. I was ordered to be on strict bed rest. The doctors were convinced I would birth that night, or at least within the next 48 hours. Maybe it was hope, maybe it was stupidity, but I wasn’t ready to give up on my sons. I told them I disagreed and I was prepared to stay on bed rest for the next 6-8 weeks and even Phil agreed. We were so optimistic even though the doctor’s faces painted a completely different story. But giving up was the last thing on my mind, I was ready to fight to the very end for my boys and I did.
I prayed, I hoped and I stayed positive.
We were given the most incredible midwife and Phil also pushed me to share what was happening on my social media. I was so against it but in the end I did and within hours hundreds of stories of hope came flooding. The messages of support, our daughter, our midwife and the fantastic team at King Edward were our saving grace during that time.
Forty-eight hours would pass and I was still pregnant. The doctors couldn’t believe it. Suddenly the prognosis changed and there was talk of possibly saving the second twin should the first come away. Internally, I still believed both would survive.
Four days in and the mood was lightened yet again. There was mention of me being shifted to a ward instead of remaining in the delivery suite. I was also heading into the birth “grey area” where they could begin steroid injections in just three days to help strengthen the boys lungs. Things were looking up.
The following day, on February 15, I woke up feeling fine and was mentally prepared for the long-haul of living in a hospital. We had a lot of visitors that day which was lovely. Alaia came up also and seeing her gave me the strength I needed to fight for her brothers.
But what a difference a few hours can make; 5pm hit, and suddenly I became incredibly ill. What was wrong? I was vomiting, weak, hunched over, had a temperature, and before I knew it doctors and midwives were in and out of the room, preparing for what was to come. I had contracted an infection and now my life was at risk. The inevitable was going to occur. They had to bring on my labour to save me but in doing so, my sons would be sacrificed. My whole world came crashing down. Only in those moments did I know the fight was over, that I would lose my sons forever. I was completely broken.
Nothing can prepare you for that. Nothing. I don’t think I stopped crying from that moment until long, long after their birth. It’s as if someone is physically ripping out your heart out. And while every effort was made to make the experience as comfortable as possible, it was something I do not wish on even my worst enemy.
I took every drug under the sun, not because I feared the physical pain but more so the pain on my heart. I wanted to be numb.
At 11.51pm that night, Leo made his entrance into the world. He was the most beautiful boy I ever did see and had such a striking resemblance to his sister. I always wondered how parents loved more than one child the same but there it was, the love gushing from my heart in floods and I finally understood.
I held him for hours. The hardest part was letting him go.
Soon enough at 2.09am Cruz arrived. He was equally as gorgeous and had a striking resemblance to his Nonno, my father-in-law. Again, the unwavering love poured out of me. My precious boys. I thought I loved them inside me and that love was only a sliver of what I felt now.
I don’t know what the hardest part of the whole ordeal was; losing them, leaving them, burying them or not having the chance to tell them just how much I love them.
For weeks I looked for reasons and blamed myself in more ways than I can count. Was it pilates? Did I lift something heavy? Was it herbal tea? Was it making love to my husband? The truth is, I can't blame myself. And even medically, it remains unexplained.
I’ve since made a decision to end my suffering. I can continue to focus on the heartache of it all and continue to run myself to the ground... Or I can focus on those six most incredible months they gave me where I experienced some of the greatest joy I have known. I choose that.
Because although they only had hours in my arms, they are forever imprinted on my heart. I am a mother-of-three and I stand proud. I will never forget my sons and will never be embarrassed or ashamed to share their names. I will continue to talk to Alaia about her brothers and will continue to tell their story. I carried them, I fought for them, I held them and I loved them. My hope is for all women who loved and lost to not feel pressured to give into society and stigma, but rather to speak loudly the names of their stillborn babies with such pride. Because although they are gone, they will NEVER be forgotten. And although they are not here, doesn’t take away that you are still their mother.
So to all the angel mothers out there, I honour you. What we have endured is a pain like no other, in fact every mother’s worst nightmare. And although you may never be the same, you are better because you had the chance to know them and know a love of that kind. You are allowed to scream, you are allowed to cry, but promise me you will never give up.
And to all the other mamas reading this, grip your loved ones a little tighter tonight because sometimes we take for granted what is right before us. And be KIND, my goodness be really kind. Everyone is fighting a battle you may know nothing about.
And so I leave you with this:
“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss in life is what dies inside us while we still live.”
I will not allow myself to die inside, I will continue to live for them.
So, to my precious sons Leo and Cruz – you gave me a love so strong it made saying hello and goodbye in the same day worth all the pain. I love you both more than you will ever know and just like I fought until the end for you, I will continue to fight for women and for research in your honour. I promise you I’ll live life to the fullest filled with greater love, greater compassion, greater kindness, greater appreciation, greater presence and greater joy.
I hope I make you proud.
All my love, your mama x
Solonge Italiano is a 32-year-old communications pro turned mama with a penchant for good fashion, good coffee and great people living in Perth. Through her blog, Simply Solonge, Solonge shares profound stories of life, love and loss, delving into topics often considered taboo to break the stigma and become a voice for those who have endured adversity. Solonge is urging people to make a donation to WA's Women and Infant's Research Foundation.
If you or a loved one has experienced miscarriage, stillbirth or the death of a newborn, support is available via SANDS Australia. Call them anytime on 1300 072 637.