Raising a surviving child from a multiple birth
“There’s your baby,” the sonographer said, ‘and there’s your other baby.”
And that is how I found out that I was expecting, very unexpected, twins.
I felt shocked, devastated and frightened. A first time mother, I wondered how on earth I would manage with two newborns. I must have turned white as the sonographer asked if I would like a cup of tea. My hands were shaking as I clutched on to my husband. I was filled with disbelief. Could this really be happening to me? The little blue-eyed boy whom I had dreamt of for the past twelve weeks was, actually, two babies? But my dominant feeling was one of utter elation. I was simply over the moon, two babies, twins. I cannot describe to you how very lucky I felt.
However, all of my worry and excitement over raising two babies turned out to be, sadly, unnecessary. The two babies that I carried, that I anticipated and dreamed of, the two little girls that I grew to love, the sisters I fondly imagined. Only one would be mine to keep. Only one would be mine to raise.
When you are raising surviving children from a multiple birth you can feel stuck in a strange no man’s land. As though you don’t quite fit in anywhere. In those early days, I often felt uncomfortable in the loss community, with my newborn baby daughter in tow.
I felt even more isolated amongst the new mother and baby groups that I joined, where every question concealed spikes and jabs.
“Is she your first?”
“Does she have any brothers or sisters?”
Where there was nobody whose experience of giving birth was similar to my own. Two babies weighing less than 2lbs. Incubators. Illness. Machines. Oxygen canisters. Death.
The innocent and happy swapping of birth stories, birth weights, developmental milestones, was all deeply painful to me. So I sat in a corner with my tiny daughter, quiet and aloof, unable to contribute without tears.
I talk to my daughter about her twin sister, years later. I tell her about the little girl who came into being alongside her. Who shares her birthday. Who struggled for life in an incubator, opposite, on the same ward for three brief days and then slipped away from us.
I had contemplated never telling her, to spare her the pain of that knowledge. That she could have had a sister to share, perhaps, her entire life with. It seemed cruel to dangle that possibility into her thoughts, only to snatch it away. I’m still not entirely sure I made the right decision.
But she was a twin? She is a twin? A twinless twin? A single twin? A surviving twin? Nothing to do with twins at all? I’m never entirely sure how to describe her. My second daughter. But I feel that there is still a bond between her and her twin sister that even death cannot entirely sever.
I hope that, when I speak to her about her twin, that she can hear the love in my voice. My love for her, my love for her sister. My two beautiful daughters.
That she knows that, although I am sad that her sister died, my happiness that she survived is what I choose to hold on to. I try to celebrate on their birthday with the whole of my heart, to rejoice for both the beautiful tiny babies that arrived, far too early, on that special day. Perfect in their mother’s eyes, down to each little hair on their tiny heads.
Nearly four years have passed since I had two daughters to worry over. But I am still filled with a strange mixture of longing and sadness when I see a twin stroller pass by. And I have to peep inside, although it breaks my heart to do so.