When we spied this stunning newborn photo on Instagram, we were absolutely blown away with the story behind the picture. We reached out to Baby Leti’s mum Heather, and found out the whole story of love, pregnancy loss and Leti.
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Baby Leti, pictured here in her stunning newborn photo, was born in February 2019. Her twin brother, James, died in utero at 18 weeks but photographer Jessica Young found a way to honour his memory beautifully.
Check out the original Instagram post from Jessica here:
Pregnancy Loss and Love
After we saw this beautiful photo, we reached out to Leti and James’s mum, Heather. Here is her story, in her own words:
My journey has been a long one. I am currently 39 years old – when I was approaching 36, I was still single but my dream was to always be a mom. Initially, I found out that I had a low egg reserve, so my reproductive endocrinologist (RE) said that if I wanted to have children, I would need to do it soon.
During that time, I researched donors, selected one and prepared myself for my solo journey to motherhood. My first pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage at six weeks in February 2017. 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 two babies as a single mother? But at the same time, I was so excited that I was going to have two beautiful children.
At 14 weeks I found out I was having a boy and a girl _ perfect! However, at 16 weeks, I started to have contractions. I had on and off bleeding and didn’t know what was going on. An ultrasound showed the babies were fine, but when the OB examined me she said I was dilated. I had been in labour, the babies were coming and they would not survive.
It was an out of body experience, I couldn’t believe what I was being told. Within minutes of being transferred to the Labour & Delivery floor, I delivered my son, Buchanan. Three hours later, my daughter Leonor (Nori) arrived. Both perfectly formed, all 10 fingers and toes, eyes, nose, mouths. I have never felt that kind of pain, suffering and devastation. But I wasn’t giving up.
Grieving my twins was one of the hardest things I have ever had to go. I was grieving them, but at the same time wanting to move forward and try again. I kept worrying that this would be my last shot and I wouldn’t be able to have children. I also struggled with how I was going to answer the question “Do you have kids?” that people tend to ask someone of my age. Technically I was a mom, but not to living children. So I decided that any time I was asked, I was going to tell a little of my story – talking about it helped me so much.
About two weeks after I delivered the twins, I was watching Tyler Henry’s Hollywood Medium TV show and I couldn’t help but think I needed a sign. I needed something from my babies to know they were okay and 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, so I went to a local tattoo parlour. I gave Leonor and Buchanan’s hand and footprint cards, with their names on the back, to the tattoo artist. He took the cards, told me he understood how important it was and that he needed some time to trace the footprints.
About 20 minutes later, I was wondering what was taking so long when he came out from the back, visibly shaken. I started to worry that my footprints couldn’t be done, but instead he sat down and told me that he was shocked when he saw the names of my babies – his grandmother’s name was Leonor Buchanan! I looked at him with complete shock. These were two of the most uncommon names and yet his grandmother had both. It was my sign, my sign from heaven that my babies were okay and I was doing the right thing. This moment gave me such peace regarding moving forward.
When the pathology reports came back on the cause of my premature labor, they stated I had an infection but that answer wasn’t good enough for me. My gut had told me something else was going on so I decided to go back to my RE to get further answers. He agreed that what my OB and other docs had told me was no way the cause of why I lost my babies. He conducted all sorts of tests and found out that I was part of the 1% of the female population that has a uterine malformation called a unicornuate uterus.
Traditionally, this means that only half of your uterus forms. Usually with this, you only have one kidney, one ovary, one fallopian tube, and half of a uterus. This diagnosis was frightening for me but my RE was absolutely confident that, regardless of my previous outcomes, I absolutely could carry a baby to term. I also found some amazing support groups of other women with this same diagnosis where I was able to ask questions and see so many success stories. It completely restored my hope in being able to become a mom to living children.
I tried four times through IUI to get pregnant over the course of the next year and all failed. At that point, my RE advised I started IVF. So in May 2018, I began my IVF journey. Egg retrieval was a few weeks later and the transfer of two embryos took place on June 24th. They were able to retrieve five eggs, four fertilized, two transferred and one made it to freezing.
Due to my age, my RE was adamant that we transfer two embryos as I would have a better chance of one to stick. My chances of both sticking and having twins was less than 5 per cent. Two weeks later I got that beautiful positive, and a few days later blood tests confirmed I was pregnant. I kept praying that it was one baby so that I had the best chance moving forward, so when I found out it was twins at my six week ultrasound, I was scared out of my mind.
For the first two weeks, the ultrasounds showed two sacs, but only one heartbeat. The doctors thought that the baby would not survive. I started to wrap my brain around the fact that this was probably only going to be one baby, but at eight weeks, there they were – two strong, little heartbeats!
At this point, I was transferred to a new team of doctors and to say I had the most horrible experience is beyond an understatement. For the next few weeks I saw four different doctors, and each one said I would have the same result, that there was nothing they could do to help me or prevent loss, and that I should reduce a baby.
I had done my homework. I had read about progesterone helping the cervix stay shut, placing a cerclage, tocolytics to prevent labor, etc. Not one doctor in that practice was willing to listen to me, and each idea I brought up they said “no”. Nothing would make a difference except to reduce a baby.
There were so many women in my support groups that had success stories of single and multiple babies with a unicornuate uterus, so 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 week for delivery. It’s hard to believe that if I had listened to them, I wouldn’t have my daughter, because she was the embryo whose heartbeat was not seen the first couple of weeks.
Thanks to those support groups, I met a woman who also lives in St. Louis whose high risk OB was not only a multiples specialist, but has experience with our type of uterus. I called him immediately and was lucky that they were able to add me to their patient list, so I started seeing Dr Paul at 13 weeks. Up until this time, the anxiety I was experiencing was through the roof. Every single pain, twinge, cramp, I thought something was going wrong. I couldn’t get any relief and especially since I had heard so much negativity from the previous doctors.
Luckily, I walked into Dr. Paul’s office and the first thing he said to me was “we are going to do a preventative cerclage” and “I’m putting you on progesterone”.
He also said he refused to reduce a baby, that I absolutely could do this and all of the reasons I had stated for disliking the previous doctors were exactly why he started his own practice. He believes in the unconventional and doing everything to get babies here safely, healthily and at term if possible. 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 that I have.
Unfortunately, I went in for my 17 week ultrasound and they did not find a heartbeat for my son. I was devastated to hear that my son was no longer with us, and I knew I was going to have to carry him until I delivered my daughter. I think at this point my anxiety reached its all time high, I was so afraid that this somehow would affect my daughter. Every week I went in for my ultrasounds 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 compartmentalise my grief to stay positive for my daughter and continue each day with the hope and perseverance that she was going to be okay.
I didn’t want to buy anything, set up the nursery, get daycare scheduled or allow people to throw me a shower, because every time I planned for the future, I felt as if something was going to happen. As if I was jinxing it. But day by day, slowly setting up the nursery, I got more comfortable with things and the reality of her arrival.
Leti and James’ Arrival
As par for the course, three weeks before her scheduled C-section, I started showing symptoms of pre-eclampsia and was admitted to hospital until she was born. With blood pressures of 191/98, they gave me steroid shots to accelerate her lung development and after almost two weeks in the hospital, it was time.
Leti and James arrived via C-section at 36 weeks, on the evening of February 12, 2019, weighing 5lbs 11oz. Hearing Leti cry was the biggest relief I have had in my entire life. My mother was with me and kept telling me how perfect Leti was. I couldn’t believe I was looking at the most perfect angel that ever existed.
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. Being so preoccupied with Leti and her sweet cries, it wasn’t as difficult to deal with my loss of him until she brought him into the recovery room a few hours later.
A flood of emotion and memories of losing Bucky and Nori came to the forefront and the tears were flowing. Unfortunately, she was unable to get photos because he had deteriorated on one side and was completely flat, but on the other side formed and I could see his back and spine and legs. At the end of the day, I got to see him, touch him and say goodbye. I knew I had to grieve him again, but also focus on my beautiful daughter who I could hold in my arms.
Capturing the Photo
I got our photographer Jessica’s information through another friend and was very excited about documenting Leti’s arrival into this world. I told Jessica my story and about the loss of Leti’s twin brother.
Jessica emailed me the morning of Leti’s newborn shoot saying she had a wonderful idea and way to honour James if I was comfortable doing so. Honestly, I hadn’t even thought about it. So when I arrived and saw what she had set up, I lost it. And then when she put Leti in her place, all Leti could do was look over to where her brother would have been. I couldn’t help but feel he was lying there, letting her know he was there and that he is always with her. She smiled quite a few times while looking in his direction.
This photo means the world to me, I will cherish it forever and I cannot wait to tell her the story of how she came to be, and how her brothers and sister watch over her day and night.
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Dealing with Pregnancy Loss
“What I would love other mothers to take away from this is not to give up. There is hope and we have to stay positive, no matter how hard it may be, no matter how much loss we have had. Be an advocate for yourself and listen to your gut instincts. If you don’t feel comfortable with the answers you are getting or the medical professionals you are dealing with, seek out others. Use resources, bounce ideas or referrals off other moms, join support groups. All of these things are what in the end allowed my daughter to enter this world.
I asked a lot of questions, I wasn’t satisfied with answers so I looked for second opinions. I spoke up when I didn’t feel right. I found a doctor who was more than willing to take on my case and he was also willing to do whatever it takes to bring my children into this world.
The other thing I would love women or men to take away from this is to TALK about their pregnancy loss – the subject is too taboo and SO many people can relate to each other if they just knew. There were so many people that came out of the woodwork when I lost my first set of twins, telling me about their pregnancy loss. Some people I had known for over 20 years and had no idea.
If we talk about it, we can lean on each other, we can help each other through it so that we don’t feel so alone, ashamed, guilty. We often blame ourselves for pregnancy loss even when it is completely out of our control, and a lot of that stems from not talking or finding support. We can all benefit from supporting one another.
We love Jessica’s absolutely stunning photo of gorgeous Leti, and a big thank you to Heather for sharing her story of pregnancy loss and motherhood. Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts – we’d love to hear from you!
Bereaved parents can find information, support and connection with other parents from A Little Lifetime Foundation (formerly Isands).