If you are a medical professional caring for parents who have lost a child/children in a multiple pregnancy:
Don’t worry about saying the wrong thing and allow the parents to talk.
Ask parents if you are “getting it right” and anything else you can do to help.
Your support will help parents with their journey of grief and healing.
Acknowledge the parent’s loss
Most parents want to recognise that their surviving baby is a twin. When you meet them for the first time, you could say something like, “Congratulations on the birth of your baby. I am so sorry your other baby could not stay.”
But do check the notes just in case to find out each parent’s preference.
Also, check the notes to find out what the twin’s names are rather than refer to them as twins one and two.
Offer the butterfly alert symbol to parents
Staff and visitors might not know that a baby is a surviving twin. So, ask the parents if they would like the butterfly alert symbol to be placed on the outside of their surviving baby’s incubator or cot whether the baby is in a neonatal unit, a ward, or a private room.
Also, ask the parents if they would like the symbol to be placed on the front of their healthcare records.
It is useful if you show the symbol to parents and explain why it is used. This symbol can be offered to parents at a time also when they are anticipating bereavement.
The butterfly alert symbol is available free of charge to download from the Irish Neonatal Health Alliance website at www.inha.ie/family-info/.
What is best avoided
Don’t only focus on the positive by saying things like “At least you have another baby” and “Try to focus on the baby that you have” as parents may feel that their twin who has died is being forgotten.
Location of parents and babies
Ensure that a surviving twin’s cot is not placed beside living twin’s cots in the Neonatal Intensive Care Uni.
Try not to place a pregnant mother who expects one of her twins to die beside a pregnant mother of twins who are expected to be born well and healthy.
Try to ensure that parents will not have to wait in a waiting room where healthy twins or mothers are pregnant.
Give some extra care and support
Parents often begin to worry about the wellbeing of their surviving twin. Do provide an extra level of support and reassurance to parents about the health of the surviving twin.
Also, offer antenatal and breastfeeding classes to parents on a one-to-one basis so that they will not have to meet other parents who have not experienced the loss of their baby.
Help parents to make memories
Encourage parents to spend time with both of their babies, both those who have died and those alive.
Suggest to parents that they might like to take photographs with the babies together and maybe hold both of their babies in their arms.
If the surviving twin is unwell, parents may wish to delay the funeral for a little while until they are ready.
A final word of advice
Do your best. Reach out to others if you need support.
Baby loss organisations are not only there to support bereaved parents; they are also there to offer you support and advice as you need it.
From a bereaved mama of twin girls – one here and one above.
Niamh Connolly-Coyne is mother to three daughters Alice and twins Emma and Mia. Mia passed away a few weeks before she was born. She had a heart condition called hypoplastic left heart syndrome.
Niamh lives in Ireland. She set up an awareness / advocacy group for bereaved parents who have experienced loss in a multiple pregnancy called Peas in a Pod: loss in a multiple pregnancy @peasinapodireland. Niamh hopes also to create more awareness and inclusion of the needs of parents who have lost a baby from a multiple pregnancy through campaign and lobbying work.