Following years of heartache, Kystal Hereaka was finally diagnosed with an incompetent cervix, meaning she had weak cervical tissue. But when she fell pregnant again, doctors sewed it closed to prevent her bubs from being born early.
With the crucial stitch in place the 29-year-old reached 37 weeks and six days before Ella and Julianna arrived by caesarean.
‘They’re true rainbow babies, my light after the storm,’ Ms Hereaka said. ‘I’m sharing my story so other women know multiple losses could be as a result of an incompetent cervix, and that the stitch is an option. Had I known, my babies might still be here today.’
Before she knew that anything was wrong, Ms Hereaka, of South Island, NZ, had been overjoyed to discover she was expecting a sibling for her two-year-old son, Rishjarn.
‘I loved that my kids would be close in age,’ she said. ‘And I was even more excited when we were told we were having a girl. I bought everything we needed, including dozens of tiny pink and purple outfits. Then, when I was 24 weeks, a pain ripped across my tummy. A doctor told me I was in labour and there was nothing they could do to stop it. I begged for them to help her but my angel came into the world sleeping.
‘Gazing down at her in my arms, she looked perfect. So it seemed unfathomable that I’d never hear her cry or feel her precious hand squeeze my finger. We decided on the name Jazzmyne and a nurse took her handprints as a keepsake.’
After Jazzmyne’s funeral, Ms Hereaka moved Rishjarn’s bed into her room.
‘I was so terrified of losing him too, I’d stay awake and watch him sleep,’ she explained. ‘The doctor said it was unlikely I’d lose a baby again, but my heart shattered further when I suffered two miscarriages.’
When Ms Hereaka fell pregnant again, she was beside herself with worry, but her bub clung on.
‘The day I reached 24 weeks – the same day I’d lost Jazzmyne – I cleaned the house to try and keep busy,’ she said. ‘But that night, I was woken by a familiar pain. And when I went to the toilet I saw that I was bleeding.’
Moments after she arrived at hospital she gave birth to her still son Awanuiarangi.
‘We buried him with his sister in a cemetery overlooking the ocean,’ Ms Hereaka said.
After running tests, a doctor broke the news that she had an incompetent cervix, which can cause premature births.
‘They said that if I fell pregnant again, my cervix could be sewn closed with a stitch, but I couldn’t even think about having another baby. The grief consumed me and my relationship with the kids’ dad broke down. Each milestone that passed was torture. Jazzmyne would be starting school now, I’d think. My boy would be taking his first wobbly steps. Dinnertime was also a constant reminder. There were empty spaces at the table where my babies should’ve been. Lucky enough to be a mum to Rishjarn, I cherished everything he achieved though.’
When Ms Hereaka met her new partner, she told him she couldn’t carry children and they took precautions so she didn’t get pregnant.
‘I just couldn’t go through losing another one,’ she said. ‘Then, in April 2016, I started feeling really sick. When a pregnancy test came back positive, I burst into tears. I didn’t think I could do it.’
But at the first scan, something amazing happened.
‘The sonographer smiled and said ‘here’s the first twin and here’s your other baby’,’ Ms Hereaka remembers. ‘Knowing there were two, a strange feeling of calm washed over me. I just knew they were going to be okay. As twins are heavier, there was a chance they could break through the cervical stitch, so the doctor explained I could terminate the lower baby to give the higher one a better chance of survival.
‘I told them firmly that wasn’t an option and they carried out the cervical cerclage procedure to hold my babies in place. Passing 24 weeks felt like a miracle. I’d play my favourite country music and the twins would kick madly. I thought it was funny because I didn’t know if that meant they loved it or hated it!’
At 37 weeks and six days, Kystal was wheeled into theatre for a caesarean. Ella arrived first, followed by Julianna a minute later.
‘As they snuggled into me, I couldn’t believe they were mine,’ she said. ‘Rishjarn doted on them too. When they were babies he’d read to them and sing them nursery rhymes every morning. He tells them that he’ll look after them when they go to school too.
‘With Rishjarn and the girls, I feel like the luckiest mum alive.’
What is a cervical stitch?
Cervical cerclage, also known as a cervical stitch, is a treatment for cervical incompetence or insufficiency, when the cervix starts to shorten and open too early during a pregnancy causing either a late miscarriage or preterm birth.
A version of this story appeared in that's life! Issue 32, August 3, 2017.