for when… one of the babies in a multiple birth does and the pregnancy continues

Being pregnant with twins (or more) feels like such a special and exciting time. Very sadly, sometimes things do not always go the way we hope and dream of and something goes wrong during the pregnancy which results in one of the babies dying before birth. The pregnancy continues on to allow the second twin to grow and get as close to full term as possible.

This begins a time that feels unreal and full of very mixed emotions. A time of uncertainty, a time of grieving for a little baby but trying to put that grief aside a little to concentrate on the other baby who is still to be born. This waiting time may also bring fears for the safety of the healthy baby. It means looking towards a birth that seems difficult to imagine or to know how to plan for. It means dealing with family, friends and even strangers in a situation that seems completely off the map. It is a situation that most people would have never realised could actually happen until they find it thrust upon them.

In the early days after hearing the news of the loss of your baby, things can seem confusing, numb, maybe a little like you are moving in slow motion. The mother may also have her own health issues that come along with pregnancy which are often increased n multiple pregnancies. Everyone’s feelings and reactions are different but there are some important things that can be done in these early days which most parents find helpful and which allow you to approach the time of birth with a little more preparedness and knowledge.

As the birth approaches, most parents are wondering what the baby who has died, perhaps weeks or months before will look like, or even whether the baby will still be present at the birth. A twin who has died in the first and early second trimester is often described as a “vanishing twin” and may be reabsorbed into the mother’s body and not be physically present at the birth. A twin who dies later than this will most likely be seen at the birth. Often people imagine that the baby will be badly decomposed. Somehow, the presence of an ongoing pregnancy means the baby does not usually suffer as badly from the effects of having died such a time earlier. Some have been amazed by the condition of their baby that has died. It is important however to not expect the baby to look normal… but this is your precious baby and the time from birth to the burial is a special time for you to be with your baby. Babies don’t need to be perfect or even good for parents to want and need to see them. Most parents focus on what is beautiful about their baby and the fact that it is their baby than on the baby’s condition or imperfections. Often you may feel uncertain about seeing your baby. Those who have seen their babies would encourage you and say that you can do it and will be grateful that you did despite any fears. If you don’t feel you can do it right away, that’s okay, you might like to think about asking someone to take some photos which you can look at when you are ready and make a decision from that. You can ask to see your baby at anytime. Many do regret not doing enough at this time so don’t be afraid… you will be okay.

As I lay in the recovery ward, I noticed my husband standing near a wall, speaking to a nurse holding a small bundle. I knew it was Megan! Rhys had been placed in a humid crib to ensure that his body temperature was stabilized, so I knew that they had my baby! I felt so torn, and so very, very frightened! I desperately wanted to see my only daughter, to hold her and show how much love I had for her, but the words of the student midwife kept floating in my exhausted mind. I did not want to see a piece of meat wrapped in a baby blanket!

As I looked up, my eyes met those of my husband. He was calm and serene. He was absolutely amazing, because he could be my strength when I needed him, although he was hurting just as much as I at the loss of one of our children. “Trust me” my husband said “it’s okay.” I knew then that it was all right to look at the bundle that he now held in his arms. And I was so glad that I did! Megan was mine, and she was beautiful! She looked like a baby, except that she had to be wrapped extremely carefully because her body was so soft and spongy.

This was my only chance to hold her, and to say “hello” and “goodbye”.”

Lynne Schulz, mum to Megan & her surviving twin Rhys and author of the books “The Diary” and  “The  Survivor”

Take plenty of photographs and take footprints, handprints, if the baby’s condition allows. If the baby is too small or fragile to dress or handle often, wrapping your baby in a tiny blanket can be beautiful and many hospitals provide little baskets. Even if the baby does not look the best, still take photographs or get someone else to help. These will become precious and art work or digital work can be done on original photos to make babies look they way they would have had things gone differently, if you feel later you would like to do this.

Gather other mementoes from their birth… hospital cards, bracelets, locks of hair, baby blanket, measuring tapes, anything that you think will later become meaningful to you. No one usually regrets the time they spent or the things they did for the baby… only that they wished they could have done more. Try not to miss any opportunity and do all the things you would like to do… no matter what you think others might think… don’t be afraid to listen to your heart.

Something as parents we never wish to do is to have to organise the funeral of our children and quite often this is our first experience of having to organise something like this. With all that has just gone on it is quite a daunting thought. Take your time and don’t feel pressure to hurry. It is your choice to do whatever you feel is right for you and your babies. Time can be taken to allow a mum to recover from a difficult birth so she can take part in the funeral arrangements and attend the funeral itself. Choosing the way to honour your baby that works best for you and your family plays an important part in the grief process. There are probably less rules and restrictions than you imagine regarding funerals and burial. We encourage you to refer to the Sands leaflet on “your baby’s funeral” for some more details about options for funerals, transporting babies and burial. Many parents find it helpful to make some arrangements before the birth since they have this opportunity while others find it better to wait until after the birth. There are no right or wrong answers, just what you feel is right for you at the time.

Parents often have many questions as they go on to raise their surviving multiple. How do we celebrate the life of our surviving child at the same time as honouring our child that has died? This often raises the most strongest feelings around birthdays and anniversary times. How to we tell our child about their twin? Will our child grow up to be happy and contented? These are things we may not be thinking so much about as we leave the hospital or maybe even in those early hectic days of sleepless nights and endless nappies but later as we journey on we are quite often surprised by the depth and the on-going nature of our feelings.  It can be most helpful at this point to read others stories and find ways they have raised their survivors so that we can go on with confidence and the knowledge that we aren’t doing this alone.

From our experience with so many twin loss families, we can encourage you to know that it seems to always be helpful to talk to your survivors about their twins in a way they can understand for their age. It seems to always be good to include these precious children in the story of your family and talk about them whenever it feels right. It seems that when this happens, survivors have every chance of being wonderful, happy people but with a unique and special story and outlook to their lives.

It is very important to talk to anyone who understands and is willing to listen. Knowing you are not alone is an important part of healing. Many parents have found it helpful to talk to others who have lost twins (or more) and we encourage you to make contact with us at Twin Loss NZ.

Our quarterly magazine Hearts & Wings is the main way those who have lost twins can be connected together and for many it is the only way. Inside, there are stories, poems, articles and an anniversary column, “Always in Our Hearts”, where our lost twins names appear in print… just another small way to acknowledge their precious lives.

Take care and do seek out all the help you can find at this time and in the future… it doesn’t matter how long ago your loss happened… it is never too late to be in touch or to create memories or remembrances or find new ways to honour your baby.