Though every pregnancy is different, it’s often a time to celebrate bringing new life into the world. Sometimes, though, that can be a scary thought for new parents – for all sorts of reasons. And when medical complications come into play, dreams can quickly turn into nightmares, too.
A smitten Lisa and Darren Hansen tied the knot in March 2010. And although they looked like the perfect couple on their big day, Lisa admitted that their relationship certainly wasn’t love at first sight. “I told [him he wasn’t] my type shortly after we met,” she said. “But I was like a little bug attracted to a bright light.”
The couple lived, as they still do, on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. Like many married couples, they wanted to become parents one day, and they had been trying to conceive for three years. Finally, in 2013, after what presumably felt like a lifetime, they found out that they were expecting.
Then, at their nine-week scan, the couple discovered that they were actually expecting twins. Yes, two individual heartbeats pulsed in harmony during the scan, and the Hansens were duly thrilled. But their celebratory time soon turned to concern.
That was because, after two trips to the Women’s Hospital in Vancouver, the Hansens learned that their babies were monochorionic-monoamniotic twins. This had happened because a fertilized egg had already implanted into Lisa’s uterus before it split and turned into twins. “We were blessed with twins! Then we found out they were rare monochorionic-monoamniotic twins! What an emotional roller coaster,” Lisa wrote online.
Lisa revealed that the couple “were given the option to abort because of the high risk and stress” this kind of pregnancy can cause. However, the couple decided against it. As the mom-to-be wrote in an online message to her yet-to-be-born children, “We loved you and wanted you even before we saw you.”
People often refer to monochorionic-monoamniotic twins as “Mono Mono” twins or “MoMo” twins. They are not common, accounting for just one in every 10,000 births. In fact, MoMo twins are unusual in that they share not only the same placenta, like all monochroionic twins, but also the same amniotic sac. Therefore, the mother provides them with the same source of bloodflow, and there is no protective buffer between them.
As a result, MoMo twins face a number of risks in utero and during birth. Since they are in the same amniotic sac, for example, the twins can easily become entangled in each other’s umbilical cords. This can restrict developmental movement or, worse, create a pinch in the cord that stops the flow of nutrients. Entanglement can also cause difficulties during birth if a cord is wrapped around a neck, for example.
However, instead of focusing on the risks, the Hansens decided to think about the positives. In fact, they wrote about how special their babies were. After all, only two percent of monochorionic twins are monoamniotic. Then, at 24 weeks, they rejoiced in the fact that their twins were still alive. The survival chances of MoMo twins today, though, are better than was previously thought: with aggressive fetal monitoring, survivability of MoMo twins can reach 90 percent.
In order to give her twins the best chance at survival, however, Lisa had to undergo full-time medical care. As a result, she moved into a hospital room at only five months pregnant. Patiently, she underwent stress tests four times a day and received ultrasound scans three times a week.
The constant monitoring and checks brought home the seriousness of the situation for Lisa. “We are told we need to see a specialist and she tells us she has never in her whole career seen our kind of twin, it’s that rare,” she said. “She tells us she is concerned and explains why. It’s hard not to be scared. All we can do is start to make a plan to give our kids the best chance possible.”
During her time in the hospital, Lisa kept her spirits high via visits from friends and family. Indeed, her support network came to visit her often and sent her kind thoughts and well wishes whenever they could. In fact, many people went out of their way to try and put a smile on the expectant mom’s face.
Unfortunately, during what was surely one of the most difficult times for them as a couple, the Hansens had to live apart. Yes, prior to their pregnancy, Darren had taken a long-term job away from home in Province. They had originally planned to go together, but the complications with Lisa’s pregnancy meant that it was probably safer for her to stay home.
During their hospital stay, though, the Hansens had some unexpected bad news: while their babies were developing well, the couple’s elderly dog sadly passed away. “At 30 weeks we were heartbroken to say goodbye to our very senior and sick fur baby,” Lisa wrote.
To take her mind off everything that was happening, Lisa decided to give something back. Therefore, she volunteered at the hospital’s Families In Recovery ward and later described the experience as “a blessing.” The ward was just one room away from where Lisa was staying, and she enjoyed spending time with other women in a similar situation to hers.
In fact, Lisa maintained a blog about her experiences to document her time in the hospital. For example, on December 9, 2013, she wrote, “Nine days till I get to see our babies and six till I get to see Darren! I am so excited. I try to remain calm and not get worked up but it is hard, I feel calm but my body is wound up.”
Then, at 32 weeks, Lisa delivered her twins safely through a cesarean section. The first baby to emerge from the womb weighed a minuscule 3lbs 12oz; the second came in slightly heavier, at 3lbs 14oz. And the parents named their beautiful baby girls River and Piper.
Doctors swiftly transferred the tiny twins to incubators before their mom and dad could enjoy cuddles. Little Piper also received light therapy to reduce the severity of jaundice. Before long, though, the two little dots were finally in the loving arms of their mom and dad.
However, Piper and River were not out of the woods yet. No, they still had weeks of X-rays and tests ahead of them in the hospital. They would also need to learn how to bottle feed and grow bigger and stronger before they’d be able to go home.
“Twins are tough cookies to take care of. I estimated the amount of ‘down time’ in the 12 hours I cared for them, and it was three. Three hours to eat, pump and sleep because I can tell you this, that’s all this girl is going to do,” Lisa explained on her blog. “Holy smokes, I am going to be a tired mama, but oh so happy, I can’t wait,” she added.
Each day, in fact, brought about a new milestone. Moreover, doctors finally allowed the twins to go home after 14 weeks of being in neonatal care. And Lisa’s local Christian Life Fellowship decided to throw her a late baby shower, as she’d missed out on so many of the celebratory moments most moms-to-be experience.
“The twins were born prematurely at 32 weeks to avoid the risk of umbilical cord compression and entanglement. A week after birth they were transferred from Vancouver Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU) to Abbotsford NICU and now they are COMING HOME,” read the elated Facebook announcement.
And since then, the reaction the Hansen family have received online has been overwhelming. Lisa has posted two videos about their journey, for instance, and collectively they’ve received nearly two million views as well as a host of well wishes.
“Beautiful, sweet babies. God bless you for sharing. They are so precious! Prayers for your family always. Enjoy every moment,” wrote one commenter. “Such a touching story of your family welcoming your two miracle baby girls into the world. May God bless your family and you on a new addition to your family!” another added.
Of course, like any parent, Lisa continued to chart River and Piper’s growth. “Our whole journey together started out like a roller coaster ride but now it’s like a cruise into the sunset,” she wrote on the twins’ first birthday. “That doesn’t mean every moment is easy but with all the scary stuff so far behind us now, it feels like easy sailing.”
And although, just by looking at them, you’d never know what River and Piper went through, Lisa is sure they have some memories of their miraculous formative days. “When the girls first started pretending to hear each other’s heartbeats with a play stethoscope, they placed it on the big toe. Why? Because, it’s where their hearts were constantly monitored while in Neonatal Intensive Care for 6.5 weeks. They say kids don’t remember being infants, but I think a part of them does,” the proud mom gushed on Facebook.
Now two-and-a-half years old, River and Piper have transformed into bright but mischievous children. And Lisa is happy to report that they are completely, well, normal. “My kids are just that awesome,” she gushed in one Facebook post. “But they are your typical toddler, full of beans and yep, super fun emotional outbursts called tantrums too.”
And the Hansen brood is about to get even bigger. Yes, in July 2016 Lisa announced that River and Piper were to become big sisters to a very lucky baby boy. However, yet again, some sadness marred the Hansens’ pregnancy.
During her first ultrasound scan, Lisa was understandably keen to learn whether she would be expecting twins again. However, the doctor told the mom that while it looked like there had been two embryos at one point, now only one baby could be detected.
“On the drive home it really hit me and I just cried thinking about our lost baby and my survivor who will grow up without the amazing twin bond that my girls share,” Lisa confessed. “I know they won’t feel that loss that I feel for them but it still hurts because I see what my River and Piper have.”
However, if their experience with River and Piper had taught the Hansens anything, it was that resilience is key to keeping positive. “I have learned that it is so much easier to deal with grief by being grateful,” Lisa wrote on Facebook. “I am thankful, so thankful for the tiny squirming little baby I saw.”
Their new baby is due in February. And it seems that the couple are still as grounded as ever. “It’s all about enjoying every moment, no matter how big or small while rolling with what life dishes out,” Lisa explained.