My Vanishing Baby

Mallory Moats
6 min readFeb 21, 2021

Lately I’ve been having these recurring dreams.

In one of them, I lose control of my car. I’m driving down the road and suddenly the brakes go out and I can’t stop. Or I’ll be getting off an exit and I can’t slow down, the car keeps speeding up, the steering wheel isn’t turning, and all I can do is try and make a plan for a soft crash to stop the vehicle.

In the other dream, I’m at a house on the beach. It’s one of those shingled Americana-style homes, a flag out front, rocking chairs on the porch, and nothing but beautiful sand and ocean all around. The waves are calm at first and it’s ideal, but then the tide moves in and it just keeps coming. Suddenly, the waves are at the porch, so I move inside and stand at the window, watching the waves crash onto my porch. Before long, a triple overhead wave is coming right at me and I wonder, will it break through the windows? Am I safe? I wake up right before the wave crashes into me.

At around eleven weeks pregnant, I suddenly felt like a fog had lifted from me. I’d been unbelievably ill the six weeks prior and was struggling to cope. News that I was carrying twins provided some solace — at least there was an explanation for the severity of my illness. Feeling better was welcomed, but also startling. Nonetheless, my doctor had advised me that the sickness would start to clear up around eleven weeks, so I took comfort that this was all normal.

Around the same time, I woke up one morning with a cramp in my left side. Cramps aren’t unusual at this point in pregnancy when one’s uterus is doubling in size, but something about this one bothered me. It was one sided and it stung. I shared with Dustin that if the feeling didn’t abate soon, I’d call the doctor. Then I dialed into one of my work calls, got distracted, and by the time I lifted my head again, the cramp was gone.

At thirteen weeks Dustin and I went to the doctor for a routine ultrasound. We looked forward to the appointment because we were also scheduled to perform chromosomal testing and as a consequence, we’d learn the genders of the twins. On the drive to the doctor, Dustin was quiet.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I’m just nervous. I just hope everything is OK,” he said.

“It will be and if it isn’t, it’s out of our control at this point.” I didn’t tell him I was nervous too.

When I laid down on the table and the technician placed the camera on my belly, I knew right away something was wrong. At my first ultrasound, the two babies had been front and center, unmistakably there, twinning and winning. This time, she kept moving the camera around and we saw nothing.

Where are they, my mind frantically repeated as my chest began to tighten.

Then she landed on one of the twins and there it was in all its thirteen-week glory, stretching its legs and sticking its thumb in its mouth. The tension in my body wanted to relax, but it couldn’t.

“This is a twin pregnancy?” She asked.

“Yes.” We both said in unison.

She then rolled the camera over to the left side of my belly. I saw my other baby. It was still so tiny.

“I’m sorry,” she began, “I can’t go on with this ultrasound without letting you know that this baby did not make it.”

All the tension in my body burst forth in uncontrollable sobs.

Dustin let out a heavy sigh, hung his head and reached for my hand. I kept sobbing, so he took over the task of asking questions to understand.

“What happened?”

“The doctor will be able to tell you more. What I can tell you is that it stopped growing and there is no heartbeat.”

My sobs filled the room. A memory flashed across my mind of sitting in the waiting room when I was pregnant with Olivia and hearing the wailing sounds of a woman from behind one of the ultrasound doors. I feel your pain, I thought as I reached across time and space to be with her then.

Dustin continued with the questions — what does this mean for the other baby? What will happen now? Will we remove the baby? Do we know why this happened?

I paused to hear her response and she looked at me with compassion. I could tell she knew she should defer these questions to the doctor, but she began to respond,

“The baby will continue to shrink and be reabsorbed into your body. I’m going to go see if the doctor is available now and can come and speak to you.”

She left the room and in the dark alone with my family, tears continued to fall down my cheeks.

“I’m sorry,” I said to Dustin.

“Hush, you have nothing to be sorry for, there was nothing you could’ve done,” he said.

“What about the bath I took? You said it was too hot,” and I began to sob again.

“It wasn’t the bath, Mallory. Stop.”

The doctor entered and preempted the narrative in my head by repeating several times that there was nothing I did to cause this nor anything I could’ve done to stop it from happening. He began to provide his medical explanations for what had occurred and shared that this likely happened due to a chromosomal abnormality. He told us the remaining twin was now at higher risk of everything and much of what he said was wrapped in obstetric jargon except for one uncomfortably poetic term that stuck with me…

vanishing twin.

On the car ride home, I thought back to how I felt at eleven weeks and asked Dustin if he remembered those cramps on my left side. He did.

“That was the baby dying,” I said. “That’s why I started to feel so much better. My hormone levels dropped as soon as the baby died.” I felt a twinge thinking about how much I’d hated the morning sickness and how I’d celebrated feeling better again.

The following days were strange because I began to feel less pregnant, except that I still was pregnant, or so I thought. My belly went down a bit, my energy levels went up, my appetite decreased, and I found myself questioning,

Am I still pregnant?

A few days later I woke up and vomited uncontrollably.

Thank you, thank you.

Since the news, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I told Dustin on the way to the appointment, what the doctor had said, and what everyone else has been sharing regarding the event –

There was nothing I did to cause this and nothing I did that could’ve stopped it from happening. It was out of my control.

I thought back to a few months earlier when I took a test at work about bias and learned that even my own thoughts were out of my conscious control. I began to wonder if I was in control of anything at all.

Maybe my dreams were trying to tell me something.

Maybe all of us are just walking around certain that we’re in control of our lives, when really, it’s just an illusion. I thought about how so many of us behave in ways that suggest we believe we need to be in control. I also thought about how much stress that desire to be in control brings into our lives.

Perhaps the best thing we can do is learn to let go.

So that’s what I’m focusing on — letting go. It seems that worrying about what lies ahead in this high-risk pregnancy won’t change the outcome and focusing on the past will only trap me in my grief.

Naturally, I still find myself bursting into tears at different points throughout the week because the grief is still there, but simply embracing those moments of pain and recognizing that it will take time, is just another way of letting go.

I don’t need to manage this moment.

Letting go is also helping me to embrace what is here — my wonderful network of family and friends that have buoyed me throughout this experience, my children, my partner, and of course, our growing survivor.

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Mallory Moats

Interested in reading and writing about personal stories. Opinions and observations are my own.