In 2011, Carmen Rathert of Clinton, Missouri, was 17 weeks pregnant and already wearing maternity clothes designed for mothers in their third trimester. This didn’t happen during her first pregnancy with her son, Nolan, who was 18 months at the time.
"My size made it hard for me to care for Nolan. I couldn’t bend over to give him a bath or even hold him on my lap at church," Carmen says. "People told me that’s just the way it is with a second child."
Carmen and her husband, Tyson, went to their family doctor convinced they were pregnant with twins. An ultrasound confirmed that they were, and the couple left their physician’s office that morning with an image of their twin boys – Lane and Luke – at 18 weeks.
By that afternoon, though, the Ratherts received a call from their family doctor expressing some concerns and recommending they have another ultrasound one month later. But the couple didn’t want to risk waiting that long. Their family doctor referred them to a perinatologist, per their request, where they received a prenatal diagnosis of twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, or TTTS.
The boy were diagnosed at stage 4, with stage 5 meaning one or both babies were deceased. Both were showing signs of heart failure.
"The news was absolutely devastating," Carmen says. "I don’t think I have ever cried so hard, or been more scared in my life."
"This shouldn't be happening to us"
TTTS is a serious disorder that occurs in about 20% of monochorionic identical twin pregnancies. The condition is caused when blood vessels from both babies run over the surface of the placenta and connect their circulations. If blood flow is unequal, one twin receives excess blood and nutrients and is healthy, while the other doesn't get enough and is anemic and small. This can result in a number of complications and often leads to the loss of one or both babies.
The Ratherts learned their son Luke was acting as the donor twin, sending blood to his brother, Lane. While Lane had ¾ of the placenta, his brother, Luke, had just ¼.
"I kept thinking, this shouldn’t be happening to us," Carmen says. "We’re everyday, average people."