“I am 39 years old and my journey has been a long one. As I approached the age of 36, I was still single and had not yet found a partner in life. My dream had always been simple: become a mother. I was not willing to sacrifice becoming a mom because I hadn’t found a husband yet.
In 2015, I found out I had a low egg reserve. My reproductive endocrinologist told me, ‘If you want to have children, you have to do it soon.’ Due to health complications, I waited until January of 2017 to get pregnant.
During that time, I researched donors, selected one, and prepared myself for my solo journey to motherhood. But I was unsuccessful. In February of 2017, just 6 weeks into my first pregnancy, I miscarried. Luckily, a few months later, I became pregnant with twins!
To say I was shocked, scared, and elated was an understatement. How was I going to take care of 2 babies at the same time as a single mother? At the same time, I was so excited that I was going to have 2 beautiful children. I have addressed everything in my life head-on and this was not going to be any different.
Although my family was worried for the same reasons, they knew if anyone could handle this it would be me. At 14 weeks, I got more thrilling news. ‘You’re having a boy AND a girl!’ I thought to myself, ‘One of each. How perfect!’
However, at 16 weeks, I started to feel contractions. I was on and off bleeding and honestly didn’t know what was wrong with me. So, I took myself to the hospital where I saw my two babies on the ultrasound, looking completely fine. My OB examined me further and said, ‘You’re dilated. You must’ve been in labor.’
I was in extreme pain, but it had never crossed my mind that I was in actual labor. I couldn’t believe what I was being told. It was an out of body experience. Were my babies not going to survive? I didn’t have much time to process it all. Within minutes, I was transferred to the labor and development floor where I delivered my son, Buchanan, shortly after. Three hours later, my daughter Leonor ‘Nori’ Bowman arrived into the world, lifeless.
Both were perfectly formed. They had 10 fingers and toes, eyes, noses, mouths. I felt indescribable pain, suffering, and devastation. Despite the trauma, I still wasn’t ready to give up on becoming a mother. That same evening, desperate, I asked my OB if we could start trying again. I had to keep pushing forward before my fertility clock stopped ticking.
Despite my perseverance, grieving my twins was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
Pushing forward, hoping for a new and quick pregnancy, while simultaneously grieving was difficult. I kept worrying that this would be my last shot and I wouldn’t be able to have children. The thought of being asked ‘Do you have kids?’ even later into my life was not a pleasant thought either.
Technically, I was a mom. Just not to living children. I decided that any time I was asked, I was going to tell a little of my story. Lo and behold, I was asked whether or not I had kids again and again. Talking about my story helped me so much.
About 2 weeks after I delivered Buchanan and Leonor, I was watching Tyler Henry’s Hollywood Medium on television. I couldn’t help but think I needed a sign, something from my babies to let me know they were okay. I wanted so badly to tell them how sorry I was that my body failed them. The next day, I decided I needed to get tattoos of their footprints.
My mom and I went to a local tattoo parlor and waited for the next available artist. After a 20-minute wait and 5 people still ahead of me, my name was called. I gave the hand and footprint cards over to the tattoo artist. Each card had their names on the back. He took the cards and said, ‘I need some time to trace the footprints.’ They were just so small and he wanted to make sure he perfected them. He understood how important it was to me.
So, back out to the waiting room we went. About 20 minutes later, I was wondering what was taking so long. Suddenly, he emerged from the back, visibly shaking and crying. I started to worry my footprints couldn’t be done. Instead, he sat down and said to me, ‘I’m so sorry this took so long. I don’t want you to think I am crazy. I just had to take this in for a moment. I even called my wife.’
Puzzled, I asked him, ‘What’s wrong?’ When he had turned over the cards, he saw the names of my babies. Leonor and Buchanan. ‘My grandmother’s name was Leonor Buchanan. She passed.’ I looked at him with complete shock and utter disbelief. These were two of the most uncommon names and yet his grandmother had them both!
It was my sign, a sign from heaven that my babies were okay and I was doing the right thing. This moment gave me such peace regarding moving forward. I knew, for their sake, I had to keep trying for them.
When the pathology reports came back, I learned that the cause of my premature labor was an infection. But that answer wasn’t good enough for me. My gut told me something else was going on. So, I decided to go back to my Reproductive Endocrinologist for further answers. He told me, ‘There’s no way that’s why you lost your babies.’
He conducted all sorts of tests and found out that I was part of the 1% of the female population with a uterine malformation called a unicornuate uterus. Only half of my uterus had formed in the womb. Usually with this, you only have one kidney, one ovary, one fallopian tube, a rudimentary horn, and half of a uterus. This diagnosis was frightening for me, but my RE was absolutely confident that I could still carry a baby to term. So, I continued my journey.
In doing so, I found some amazing support groups for other women with this condition. I was able to ask questions and see SO many success stories that completely restored my hope in becoming a mom. Over the course of the next year, I tried to get pregnant 4 times through IUI but all my attempts failed. ‘You need to start trying IVF,’ my RE told me. I was approaching 39 and I couldn’t wait any longer. If I did, I could lose my chance of having my own children.
In May of 2018, I embarked on my IVF journey. All in all, it was not too terrible. The worst part of the entire process was the orientation class. I walked out of the class crying my eyes out, thinking there is no way I could do it. It was too overwhelming. Had I not had amazing insurance through my new job that paid for IVF, I may not have gone through with it.
The fact that my new job covered IVF and maternity leave was one of the first blessings and signs that I was on the right path. I began the meds in May, egg retrieval a few weeks later, and the transfer of 2 embryos on June 24th. They were able to retrieve 5 eggs, 4 fertilized, 2 transferred, and 1 made it to freezing. Due to my age, my RE was adamant that we transfer 2 embryos as I would have a better change of one to stick.
My chances of both sticking and having twins was less than 5%. Two weeks later, I got that beautiful POSITIVE. I was pregnant and I had the blood tests to confirm it! I kept praying that it was one baby so that I’d have the best chance of moving forward. I was scared out of my mind when I heard the word TWINS at my 6-week ultrasound.
The first two weeks, they found two sacs but only one heartbeat. The docs were sure the baby would not survive. ‘It may just be one,’ they told me. Just when I started to wrap my head around this, I went back in for more testing at 8 weeks. ‘There’s two little strong heartbeats,’ they told me. So, I came to terms with having twins again. This time I was going to do this!
When I was later transferred to a new team of doctors, they kept suggesting I ‘reduce a baby’ and that there was nothing else they could do to help me or prevent loss. ONE, I was never going to reduce a baby unless I absolutely had no other choice. TWO, there were so many women in my support groups with success stories. I decided to take matters into my own hands and find a doctor who had experience and confidence that I could carry these babies to a healthy delivery.
Thanks to those support groups, I met a woman who also lived in St. Louis that knew a good specialist for my case. I called him immediately and was SO lucky to be added as a patient. In the meantime, the other docs had me do genetic testing. I found out that both my children were genetically perfect and I was having a boy and a girl again!
Up until this point, my anxiety was through the roof. I thought every single pain, twinge, or cramp was something going wrong. I couldn’t get any relief, especially since I had heard so much negativity from the previous doctors. When I walked into Dr. Paul’s office, one of the first things he told me was that I absolutely could do this. ‘All of the reasons you disliked your previous doctors are the exact reasons I started my own practice.’ He believed in the unconventional and doing everything to get babies here safely, healthy, and at term.
My anxiety slowly eased after meeting with him. A little more after my cerclage surgery. A little more when I started having to take daily injections due to a blood clotting disorder he found. Just when my hope was at an all-time high, I walked into my 17-week ultrasound to find out that my son had no heartbeat.
My son was always the strong one from the get-go. They couldn’t find my daughter’s heartbeat for weeks. If I had ‘reduced’ the weaker baby, I would have had NO heartbeats at this point. I thank God every day that I listened to my gut. I knew she was a strong, little fighter.
I was devastated to hear that my son was no longer with us. I knew I was going to have to carry him until I delivered my daughter. My anxiety began to peak once more. I was so afraid this would somehow affect my daughter. I went into ultrasounds every week expecting the worst and hoping for the best. I made small milestones for myself and tried to take things hour by hour, day by day. I had to compartmentalize my grief to stay positive for my daughter each day.
I refused to buy anything, set up a nursery, get daycare scheduled, or allow people to throw me a shower. Anytime I planned for the future, I felt as if something bad was going to happen, as if I was jinxing it. But day by day, shower by shower, slowly setting up the nursery, I got more comfortable with things and the reality of her arrival.
Three weeks before her scheduled c-section, I started showing symptoms of preeclampsia and was admitted to the hospital. With blood pressures of 191/98, my c-section date kept getting moved up. They gave me steroid shots to accelerate her lung development and finally, almost 2 weeks after being in the hospital, my doc said it was time.
Leti and James arrived via c-section at 36 weeks on the evening of February 12, 2019, 5lbs 11oz. Hearing her cry was the biggest relief I’ve had in my entire life. My mother was in the OR with me and kept telling me how perfect she was. She brought her over to me and I couldn’t believe I was looking at the most perfect angel that ever existed.
She had 2 little birthmarks on her forehead that looked like footprints. To me, they are her brother’s stamp. His little note that he is watching over her and will always be with her.
The hospital chaplain was also in the OR talking to me about James and that she would do everything in her power to get photos of him and bring him to me later that evening. Leti’s sweet cries made it easier to deal with the loss of him until he was brought into the recovery room a few hours later. A flood of emotion and memories of Bucky and Nori came to the forefront of my mind. The tears wouldn’t stop flowing.
Unfortunately, she was unable to get photos because he had deteriorated on one side and was completely flat. I wanted to honor him like I did with my other twins and tattoo his footprints on my wrist next to his siblings, but I was unable to. But I got to see him, touch him, and say goodbye. I knew I had to re-focus on my beautiful daughter and my grief for him was not over. I knew I had to honor James somehow.
Through a friend, I got into contact with a photographer named Jessica. I was very excited about documenting Leti’s arrival into this world. I told Jessica my story and she emailed back saying, ‘I have a wonderful idea for how to honor James.’
Honestly, I hadn’t put much thought into what her idea would be. When I arrived and saw what she had set up, I lost it. She placed Leti in her place and she couldn’t stop looking over to where her brother would have been had he survived. I couldn’t help but feel he was lying right there, letting her know he was present and will always be with her. She smiled countless times while looking in his direction.
This photo means the world to me. I will cherish it forever. I can’t wait to tell Leti the story of how she came to be. I can’t wait for her to grow up so I can tell her that her sister and brothers are flying over her, watching her day and night.”
**This story was written by Heather Bowman of St. Louis, Missouri. See more from her on Facebook.