Pregnancy can be a stressful time for parents, and as we’ll see in the case of the McBride family, it can be stressful for the unborn babies too. Their incredible story began with a beeping heart monitor…
Heart Monitor Havoc
After a short pregnancy with twins, Leah was in a hospital delivery room much earlier than expected. She was terrified for her two babies, and her doctors were doing what they could to keep her from going into labor.
And things were only getting worse. The twins' heartbeats were being monitored, and one monitor had gone haywire. It was the weaker of the two babies, and doctors expected the worse. That is until they examined Leah further and realized that something quite extraordinary had occurred.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This story began back in January 2019, when Leah and Austin McBride got some life-changing news. The happy couple was living in Lake Jackson, Texas, when they discovered that they were pregnant! It was a dream come true for both of them.
The truth is they had been trying to have a baby for over a year, and with no success, they were beginning to fear that it would never happen. So the positive pregnancy test was everything they could have hoped for. They wasted no time scheduling appointments with doctors and ultrasound technicians.
Twice As Nice
3 months into her pregnancy Leah went in for another checkup, eager to ensure that everything was going smoothly and their baby was in good health. They were also told that they'd be able to hear their child's heartbeat, which was an exciting prospect for any parent. But that wasn't all that happened.
To their utter shock, Leah and Austin were shown an ultrasound image of 2 babies, accompanied by two sets of heartbeats on the monitor. They were confused and distraught until their doctor gave them the amazing news - Leah was pregnant with twins!
Keeping A Close Eye
After the initial shock, the husband and wife were ecstatic at the thought of having not one, but two children on the way. "I was really excited!" Leah gushed to SWNS. However, they also had to accept the fact that a twin pregnancy meant more complications and higher risks.
That meant that Leah would have to go in for checkups more often, up to twice a month, for the next five months of her pregnancy. At each appointment, the doctor tracked the twin foetuses, making sure they were healthy and safe. So far, so good - everything was going well, and Leah went home happy every time.
But after five months of smooth sailing, something changed. Leah was 21 weeks pregnant when she went in for another ultrasound, expecting everything to go as normal. But when the doctors surveyed her ultrasound results, their reactions were concerning. Leah was met with pale, silent stares.
It was clear something was wrong, and the now-anxious patient pushed the doctors and nurses for answers. But the hospital staff were surprisingly reticent… they had to be certain of what was going on before sharing anything with her. "They told me to come back to the doctor first thing the next day," Leah said.
Doing Her Own Research
But, of course, Leah wasn't about to wait for the doctor's verdict. The moment she got home, the panicked mom-to-be's thoughts began running wild, imagining every possible thing that could be wrong with the pregnancy. She knew she had to do her own research, and she immediately went to her computer.
It didn't take long for Leah to find something that set off alarm bells in her mind. "Of course, I was Googling everything that might be wrong and came across twin-to-twin transfusion," she explained. She did some light reading but stopped herself before she went too far down the rabbit hole.
But what is Twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, or TTTS? Well, according to Hopkins Medicine, it is “a rare pregnancy condition affecting identical twins or other multiples. TTTS occurs in pregnancies where twins share one placenta and a network of blood vessels that are not evenly dispensed."
"When there is an imbalance in the blood exchange between the twins, one twin — the donor twin — gives away more blood than it receives in return and runs the risk of malnourishment and organ failure. The recipient twin receives too much blood and is susceptible to overwork of the heart and other cardiac complications."
Leah went back to the hospital, and her doctor confirmed her fears. The diagnosis was official - she was dealing with Twin-To-Twin Transfusion Syndrome. Leah elaborated on the discovery to SWNS, saying that "The doctor said he could barely see one twin, and the other twin was surrounded by so much fluid."
Understandably the expectant parents were stunned and heartbroken by the news. A case of TTTS put Leah’s pregnancy directly at risk, making an already turbulent time for the couple that much worse. And just as they were beginning to process the news, the doctors made another awful discovery.
A Terrible Decision
According to Leah's doctor, there was "already a 48% difference in the girls' size, and they were worried that baby A would have a heart attack as she was passing all the nutrients to baby B, and they thought baby B might have a stroke." The doctors wasted no time sharing their professional advice.
And it came as a complete shock to the couple. Leah and Austin were told that the best route to take was a termination of the malnourished baby A, so that baby B might have a higher chance of survival. It was a horrible choice to have to make, and the parents were left dumbfounded.
Instincts Kick In
After some time mulling over her choice, Leah came to a conclusion. She knew that terminating one of her children would be impossible for her. Even if her doctors had strongly suggested it as the best and safest decision, the pregnant woman could never sacrifice her own child, no matter the circumstances.
After all, if baby B survived without baby A, what would she tell her child? She would have to admit that she had given up one twin for the other's sake. "I didn't want to choose one baby over the other," Leah admitted. They felt that there had to be another, less dire option.
This decision meant that the desperate parents needed to find further medical advice. They came across a doctor in Houston, Texas, who worked at the Memorial Hermann Hospital and specialized in treating TTTS. Not only was he an expert on the topic, but he had just found success with a similar case.
So the team at Memorial Hermann took a look at their case and came to a promising conclusion. They decided that the McBride’s could be suitable candidates for the Laser Ablation surgery they had previously carried out. They advised Leah and Austin to go home and think about it, which they did.
"We spent the night in shock at the day's events and praying we would still have two heartbeats the next day," Leah recalled. Leading up to the surgery, Leah and Austin began making preparations in case things did not go according to plan. They wanted to make sure their babies would be remembered as people, no matter what happened.
"I remember laying there most of the night trying to finalize the girls' names," Leah explained. "because I couldn't imagine something happening to them and not already having names picked out." By the end of the night, they had two names for their children - Poppy and Winnie.
The next morning the McBrides awoke, and Leah was admitted to the hospital for her procedure. The doctors were going to operate on the unborn babies directly, while their mom was still awake. The aim was to correct any blood imbalance between the two babies. And the surgery was... successful!
Leah returned home on bed rest, understandably in a state of excitement. "I still can't believe that just 24 hours before [the surgery], I had never even heard of Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome," she shared on Instagram. "And I was already stage 3 with a low chance of survival for my donor twin!"
A Change of Plan
The plan was to monitor Leah and the babies regularly over the next few months. But that all changed just 27 weeks and 6 days into the pregnancy - when Leah woke up from a night of sleep to discover her water had broken much earlier than expected. Naturally, panic set in.
There had already been so much concern about the McBride babies' health, so giving birth 2 months premature felt like a nightmare scenario. And when Leah and Austin arrived at the hospital, their fears were confirmed. The doctors insisted that the babies had to stay in the womb for longer for their own safety.
Delaying the Inevitable
The McBrides were relieved to hear that they were not a unique case - the hospital staff had plenty of experience with similar cases and pulled out all the stops to delay the birth of the twins. First, they injected Leah with steroids to slow down the process and kept her in the antepartum unit.
The injections worked, and things were looking stable. But the doctors and nurses still needed to keep a close eye on Leah and her babies. "We needed to buy as much time as possible because 28 weeks was still too early to deliver them safely," she relayed to SWNS.
A Distress Signal
Fast-forward a month later, and Leah still had not given birth. But 31 weeks and 5 days in, the doctors noticed something unusual. Little Poppy, the weaker of the two twins, was sending out what they believed was a stress signal. Her heart rate was weakening, which could only mean one thing.
They would have to deliver the babies to give Poppy the best chance of survival. It was still earlier than they would have liked, but if they wanted to give Poppy the medical care she needed, she would have to come out into the world. While it wasn’t ideal, there was still a decent chance that both babies would survive.
The Twins Arrive
After months of worrying, Leah finally welcomed her two baby girls into the world on May 24, 2019. Identical twins Poppy and Winnie had spent just 31 weeks in utero. Little Poppy arrived weighing only 1lb 11oz, while sister Winnie weighed 3 lbs 8oz.
Immediately the newborns were separated in order to be treated. After all, because of Poppy’s heart rate and malnourishment, the hospital staff had been prepared for extensive treatment and even surgery to ensure that the little one would be ok. But when they ran tests on the two newborns, they were stunned by the results.
Not only had Poppy's heart rate returned to normal after being born, but she seemed to be in perfect health despite her size. "Poppy just needed a little bit of oxygen, but she was OK," Leah recalled. "She was smaller than a little elf on the shelf, but Doctors said she was feisty."
The proud mom documented her tiny baby's progress on Instagram, sharing that thought she was extremely underweight and her “micro preemie diaper being too big for her, Poppy needed virtually no assistance." Leah explained how "Her nurses laughed when they told me she kept pushing them away from her when they would check on her."
But Poppy's health was not the only thing that shocked the hospital personnel. Winnie was not doing well and required urgent medical attention. "Winnie, the bigger of the two, who I had never been concerned about, was very unhealthy," Leah elaborated. "Her lungs were underdeveloped, and they weren't sure if she was going to make it."
"The doctor said he didn't think there was anything else they could do for her," Leah shared with her Instagram followers. "He said they had an entire team working so hard on her but that her lungs were fully collapsed and severely underdeveloped, and it didn't look like they could save her... he said they had tried everything."
Leah waited patiently and fearfully. "So much time passed," she said. "He came in and said, by an absolute miracle, she was still alive… he let us know that they used non-FDA-approved methods, and she was now on a ventilator and had a chance. He said the team did not want to give up on her and that they just kept going and going."
"With the trauma she had at birth, she developed stage 3 brain bleeds resulting in the fluid build-up, and she needed surgery at 14 days old to place a reservoir in her brain! After a month of pulling fluid from the reservoir, her brain started regulating the fluid on its own, which happens less than 10 percent of the time!"
Winnie & Poppy
While Winnie fought valiantly for her health, Poppy surprised everyone by remaining stable and healthy. The only thing doctors had to worry about was her weight, which was still unhealthily low. They provided blood transfusions to the tiny infant until she finally reached her goal weight of 4 lbs.
Winnie, on the other hand, had made leaps and bounds in improvement. After fifty-two days, she was finally healthy enough to go home with mom and dad. And just two days later, Poppy followed her. Austin and Leah were ecstatic, and even the staff at Memorial Hermann Hospital were emotional over their departure.
A Family Reunion
For almost two months, Austin and Leah had been waiting desperately to take their little girls home, and now the day had finally come. Since the beginning of Leah’s pregnancy, they had imagined setting up a new home with their babies, and at certain points, they had questioned if they ever would.
But it wasn't just having their children home with them that made them so emotional. It was reuniting the two twins with each other that meant so much, even if their 48% size difference looked a little unusual. "I love having a big and little," their emotional mom told SWNS.
Saving Her Sister
When asked about the day that doctors picked up on Poppy's weakened heart rate, Leah had some interesting thoughts to share. According to the doctors, Poppy "was sending out distress signals because she knew her sister wouldn't survive if they weren't delivered then…" she shared on Instagram.
"Our doctors told us, 'I think your tiny twin saved her sister's life,'" she continued. "He said, 'I think your little twin was letting us know her sister was in major trouble!' I believe that's exactly what happened, and my girls have been working as a team since day one!"
Three Years Later
Three years have passed since Poppy and Winnie McBride’s dramatic entrance into the world. And to the surprise of everyone, including their parents and doctors, they have had no significant health issues since. Not only that, but they are “as smart as can be,” according to their mom.
Leah shared with Instagram that Winnie, who now has to wear glasses, is "smarter than average. She can read books from memory at three." What's even more surprising is the twin's size, with Leah sharing that "everyone who knows them cheerfully says, 'they are almost the same size now!!'"
Though both girls are doing well, they still have to go to the doctors for regular checkups. Especially Winnie, who still has to take MRI scans following her initial brain surgery. "We went for an MRI a few days ago, and although she has some volume loss and her ventricles are enlarged, the doctor said she looks perfect."
"[The doctor] is proud of all the milestones she just keeps on hitting," Leah continued. "He decided he would like to follow her for at least two more years to keep checking in on her, which makes me feel a little worried that something could change, but for now, we will celebrate every day and every new thing she learns."
For Leah and Austin, the sweetest part of watching their daughters grow up has been seeing the close bond that has developed between them. "They are so close - it's sweet," Leah told SWNS. She regularly shares photos of the twins spending time together, whether that's playing dress up, dancing, or riding scooters.
After their long battle shared in the womb, it's no surprise Winnie and Poppy are still inseparable, even holding hands whenever they go out and about. "I tried to move their beds apart recently, and they weren't having it," Leah laughed. "They are both amazing."
An Unbreakable Bond
While Poppy is still a little smaller than Winnie, she has never forgotten her role as her twin's protector. "Even now, Poppy takes care of Winnie, though she is still much smaller," Leah said. Their bond is so close that Poppy will say "love you," to Winnie at all times of the day, and Winnie even calls out to her sister in her sleep.
Leah can't help but gush over her daughter's special bond. "Watching them play is the sweetest thing I've ever been a part of, and I hope they grow to know how special their bond really is," she told her Instagram followers. It's not unusual for twins to be close, but Poppy and Winnie's bond is something else.
“Time Stood Still”
Now that three years have passed and their daughters are happy and healthy, Leah and Austin are finally able to put those harrowing months of pregnancy and post-birth complications behind them. But sometimes, when they look at their daughters, they can't help but imagine what would have happened had they taken that first doctor's advice.
It was a lesson for both of them, that trusting their intuition as parents were important. And that period of time left a permanent mark on the tight-knit little family. "I feel like a little piece of me will stay in that place, and that time stood still for our little family in those hallways and rooms," Leah shared.
Sharing Their Story
As time has passed, Leah has come to understand that their family's journey could also help and inspire others who have been through similar struggles. That's when she decided to make the Instagram account @tinymactwins, where she documents her daughter's lives as they grow up and move on from their difficult birth.
But by far, the most important thing she wants to emphasize on her page is just how lucky she, Austin, and their twin daughters are. This was shown when she shared a picture of her two daughters side-by-side, along with the caption, "Sometimes I can't believe I got to keep you both."
Only Up From Here
Above all, Leah and Austin McBride hope that by broadcasting their story to people around the world, they might give a sense of optimism and hope to parents who are dealing with the same issues with their own children. The @tinymactwins bio reads "Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome Awareness."
When Leah started her journey as a mother, she had few resources to draw on regarding TTTSA. But by sharing their experiences, she has been able to connect to thousands of women who need support and information. With Leah’s strength and dedication, we have no doubt that this encouraging community is only the beginning of her journey!