This post is part of a weekly series I’m sharing called “In the Raw.” These are things that I wrote in the early stages of my grief from the loss of our twin daughters in 2011 – one to stillbirth and the other to an infection she contracted in the NICU.
My hope is that by sharing these, grieving parents will feel understood. Our family math is now ten minus four. What is yours?
This was originally written in October of 2013.
I always wanted four kids.
For as long as I can remember, that just seemed like the ideal number to me. No one would be left out. No two against one. It was a big family without being too big.
But I didn’t meet my husband until I was 31. I had no idea whether we’d actually be able to have the four children I’d idealized, but we gave it the old college try. In the fall of 2010, we had three young boys at home, 4, 2, and 10 months. We were thrilled by our family size and the joy that our boys brought us, but we needed a breather. They’d come so close together that we intended to wait a year or two before maybe trying for a fourth.
And that November, just a few months before our baby boy turned one, I was late.
I remember shaking as I saw the lines appear on the pregnancy test. I was charting my temperatures and so careful about my dates. I couldn’t understand how it had happened. But there it was.
A few weeks later, I was washing in the shower and thought that my stomach felt a little larger than it usually did by seven weeks. I knew it was twins. I don’t know how I knew, but I knew. And I’m glad I did, because otherwise, I might have rolled off the table in the ultrasound room when the picture on the screen confirmed it. I was excited and overwhelmed and anxious, but mostly, I was giddy at the prospect of bringing two more babies home to our wild, wonderful family.
FIVE! We were going to have five children under five. We were going to need five car seats. We were going to need a new car. Two more stockings would hang on our railing the next Christmas. We kept saying it over and over again. Twins? Twins! It was just so hard to wrap our minds around the changes two more babies would bring, but we felt blessed.
Then, in March, we got the devastating news that they were dying. It was the only other ultrasound I had besides that first one at eight weeks, despite my several requests to my doctors that I be monitored for issues – for TTTS specifically, which is what ultimately took them.
And now, at almost 20 weeks, we were learning that our baby girls (girls!) were very ill and would require immediate in utero surgery at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia if there was any hope for their survival.
Whatever it takes to save them, we said, it will be worth it. We will do it.
But Fiona’s heart was no longer beating the day after the surgery, and suddenly, our world came crashing down around us.
We’d wanted four children, but not like this.
Not five minus one.
Our lives became a whirlwind of doctor’s appointments, hospitalizations, scrambling to find childcare for our three boys when family promised help but didn’t follow through, eight weeks of bedrest, round-the-clock medication to stop premature labor. It was so very hard.
It will all be worth it when she’s here with us, we said. This is unbelievably hard, but it will be worth it.
Finally, a traumatic labor, delivering a preemie, healing from a c-section, burying Fiona, Brigid’s life in the NICU with its ups and downs, having her airlifted to a higher-level NICU farther away, pumping milk, daily visits for morning rounds and a crash course in neonatology and respiratory therapy and cardiology, precious few hours spent with her each day before having to head home to take care of my three boys.
One day at a time. It will be worth it. She is growing and she will come home soon, and it will be worth it.
And then she died.
All of that work. My husband’s near nervous breakdown trying to juggle his full-time job and our three children while I was on bed rest, back and forth to the hospital, the surgeries, the freezer full of breast milk I’d carefully pumped for her. It wasn’t worth it. None of it mattered. She’s gone, too.
We’re back to three. We weren’t even trying for four. Then we had five. And now we have three again.
Why? (WHY WHY WHY?!)
It wasn’t worth it!
But this November will be three years since we learned we were expecting them. Three years since my jaw dropped seeing those lines on the test.
And now I don’t hesitate for a second to say it was absolutely worth it.
Every second of anxiety, of stress, of physical pain. Every minute spent in the NICU with her. Every tear shed, every hour spent driving to the hospital, every day my house was a disaster because I couldn’t clean it, every dollar we spent on hospitals, and doctors, and surgeries, and childcare, and caskets, and holes dug, and funerals. Every bit of heartache and every day spent grieving.
She was worth it. They were worth it.
Because they are still my daughters.
Because my love for them is never ending.
Because I am still the mother of twins.
Because they changed me forever.
Because so many things in life became so very clear.
Because I now live my life with an eternal perspective that I didn’t have before.
Because I can empathize in new ways.
Because my children learned about death and heaven in a way I might never have been able to teach them.
Because I learned so much.
Because every moment with them was a precious, special gift, if I had the choice to do it all over again, and knew that the outcome would be the same, I’d still choose them.
It was worth it.