Medical Miracles: Lightning Strikes Twice
With twins on the way, Alison Coburn faced a high-risk pregnancy and months of anxious waiting. Part of the solution? Retail therapy.
Photography by David Torrence
When Alison Coburn went for her 20-week pregnancy checkup, she was told her cervix was a little “short,” a term she’d not heard four years earlier when pregnant with her son, August. She was 41 years old, carrying twins, knew complications could arise—and felt that something was off. When her fertility acupuncturist learned her cervical measurement, she worriedly referred Coburn to Dr. Michael Paul, an obstetrician who specializes in high-risk pregnancies. Coburn went to see him the next day, and she was immediately admitted to Missouri Baptist Medical Center.
“There were not a lot of symptoms,” Paul says, “so by good luck, good fortune, grace,” Coburn made it there just in time.
Paul performed a procedure called a rescue cerclage, which uses thick, tough nylon threads to suture the cervix closed. On average, it extends gestation for four weeks. Coburn’s twins would have been barely viable at 24 weeks, but she and her husband agreed that she should undergo the procedure anyway, hoping she’d beat the odds.
“I have a visual aid that I use once in a while,” Paul says, taking out a Crown Royal bag to explain the procedure. (He says he uses that because everyone knows what it looks like.) “Cervical cerclage is kind of like the top of the purse string. You use a suture stitch to just cinch the cervix closed and then tie it. If pregnancy is in the bag and the cervix is coming open—and hers was quite open—what we do when we do the cerclage is literally sew the suture material inside the substance of the cervix, then cinch it down tight.”
After the surgery, Coburn began what became months of anxious bed rest, with two close calls, including an emergency cesarean section called off at the last minute. As she seesawed between encouraged and scared, Paul came to see her twice a day, taking ultrasounds and showing her signs of progress like size, weight, and hair.
At week 28, the staff brought her cake and balloons. One nurse asked Coburn whether she’d bought anything for the babies. (No. She was afraid the clothes might never be worn.) “I’m going to go back out to the desk,” the nurse said. “I want you to get on your computer, go into babyGap, and buy them some clothes, because you are going to have these babies. They are going to go home with you. And that’s it.”
Coburn followed the advice. “When you’re stuck in the hospital, away from the real world, and faced with the possibility that any hope you have could be dashed, and the babies lost, it takes an enormous emotional step to go out and buy baby clothes,” says Paul. “Retail therapy means different things to different people, but in this case it really was
At 35 weeks, just five weeks shy of full-term, Coburn gave birth to Olivia and Eliza. They were born on July 3—sharing a birthday with Paul’s twin boys.