Irish Twins: two children born to the same mother in the same calendar year or within twelve months of each other.
“Just try again” said the friends.
“But wait six months” cautioned the provider.
What is the appropriate perspective on sex after miscarriage or stillbirth? What is the right way to interpret childbearing results in the midst of miscarriage or stillbirth? Is intimacy with hope or willingness of becoming pregnant again truly “trying again”? What is proper fertility etiquette?
I became pregnant again during the time I would have still been pregnant.
My youngest two children, one alive and one not, born one year and five days apart, are considered Irish Twins.
Here are challenges this poses:
- The pregnancy tests involved.
In April of 2011, I took a pregnancy test. After the birth of my deceased son, I took a pregnancy test, to confirm that this birth was complete. That I was certainly not pregnant.
And in August of 2011, I took a pregnancy test. To confirm that I was certainly pregnant with his little sister. During the course of time, I should indeed still have had a positive pregnancy test — for him.
- “How many children do you have?”
This can cause another complicated element in a season steeped in questions and add exponential confusion, spiritually and socially, when asked the question:
How many children do you have?
How do I reconcile the sheer impossibility it would have been, to give birth to a full term living child and then, six months later, give birth to another, full-term living child?
- My personal refute of reincarnation.
I care for you, reader. I am open and kind and nondiscriminatory in every way as best as I am able. I was told in a season that it seemed to really stick deeper than rationally necessary, that my son returned to me. I do have an answer to reconcile the sheer impossibility of two pregnancies atop one another chronologically, but, reincarnation isn’t it, for me. It’s OK if it’s yours. But at the time the suggestion stung me deeply.
- My personal rejection that my husband and I took the advice to “just try again.”
The platitude, tossed casually or even given with sincerity, of just trying again, did not align with my personal values. It held such a stench of disregard for my deceased child and I strongly rejected that. That we “can just try again” felt like it minimized the reality not only of the value of my maternal journey but most importantly, of my son. Becoming pregnant felt like it was proof we took such advice.
To best articulate, an oxymoron is sometimes warranted. My son, born in the first trimester, was substantially smaller in size than his subsequent sister, born full term. This means she is a “bigger” little sister. As a toddler, she would sometimes daydream and story-tell about her “baby big brother in Heaven.”
- Limited language.
In line with oxymorons, limited language means that I might not align with descriptions or words chosen to describe the situation in which one baby is born subsequent of one isn’t alive.
“Angel baby” and “rainbow” are just a couple of the words of the healing community’s vocabulary, intended to be inclusionary and dignifying terms to give honor to our experiences, but that doesn’t mean we all agree on their full applications or meanings, or even on their use in every instance. Some might even balk at “Irish twins” where I feel this is a good term for my children.
- Stacked milestones.
The week my son was expected to be born via a full term live outcome, was the week I learned that his younger sibling is a girl. Just, let that sink in. I learned I had a little girl, a daughter, the same week he would have been born.
“A short interpregnancy interval (IPI) following a delivery is believed to be associated with adverse outcomes in the next pregnancy” reads an Oxford article calling for an interim of at least six months, a sentiment repeated by many healthcare professionals, including at the time, mine.
But according to Sohinee Bhattacharya and other medical researchers, such a delay is often unnecessarily exaggerated:
“Recommendations to delay pregnancy attempts for at least 3–6 months among couples who are psychologically ready to begin trying may be unwarranted and should be revisited,” wrote the authors of this 2016 study.
I learned I needed a more holistic quality of care during my pregnancy. My midwife, Cathy Gordon, wept with me on my April 19 prenatal appointment, one year after holding my deceased son in my hands, I held my swelling bellyful of daughter and wailed and lamented and mourned openly (the unabashed-ugly-snot-cry) that it was her big brother’s birth day. My midwife held my daughter, his little sister, just a few days later. And she wept with me on both occasions.
I’ve also learned that those of us finding our way in this confusion, we can be sounding boards, guideposts, as others navigate theirs.
You have full permission to define your journey, your children, and your decisions in the ways that best align with you. At a time that so much feels stripped, taken away, or lost, you have the right to speak with authority into your beautiful, messy, universal and unique journey. To change your mind a thousand times, or to never know how to really define it. Whatever is authentic for you, it is right, it is true, it is good.