Dealing with twin loss at birth

Dealing with twin loss at birth

When you fall pregnant with twins, every single health care professional you meet reiterates that twin pregnancies are much riskier that singleton pregnancies (a term I never knew existed until I was pregnant with my twin girls. Unfortunately, the loss of a baby is slightly more common. About 12 out of every 1,000 twin births and 31 out of 1,000 triplet births result in a baby who is stillborn1.


One of the things parents face is how to deal with twin loss at birth, especially for the surviving twin. It’s a complicated reality to have one twin survive and one die. Most twins come early (ie. Before 36 weeks gestation) and many of them require a stay in the neonatal intensive care unit – NICU (another term I never knew existed). I had my girls at 24+0 gestation, on the cusp of viability at the time. Madeleine was born weighing 609 grams and Charlotte weighed 420 grams. Madeleine was whisked away to the NICU and we stayed with Charlotte for, what we knew were, her final moments.


Once Charlotte had died, I was in a trance, the health care team gently asked us if we wanted to go and see Madeleine and it was at that moment I thought, shit we need to focus on Madeleine now. So, we walked in to the NICU across the corridor, not knowing what to expect and we “met” our miracle little girl for the first time. She was ventilated and it be another 2 weeks before we got to hold her. But we told her we were there, we told her about her amazing twin sister. I cried; my husband cried; you know those heavy tears that feel like they come from your toes. I went weak in my legs and needed to sit down, after all I had given birth to two babies just a few hours before. I sat there, leaning my head on her isolette (another term I had never heard of) and whispering to her to fight, fight for her, fight for us and fight for her sister. I was inconsolable but I got myself together and tried to get as much information as I could from the incredible nurses and doctors who saved her life.


We spent the next 115 days in that NICU watching Madeleine fight for her life, we nearly lost her many times. But she came through and eventually we bought our (huge) 2.6-kilogram baby home. The days went on and they were a blur as we had so many follow up appointments, Madeleine was still oxygen at home, and it wasn’t until she was about 6 months old that I stopped and was able to reflect on the past 10 months. We had been so busy living the life of a mum with a micro-premmie (yet another term I had never heard of) that I hadn’t even realised or appreciated how far we (she) had come. Here she was this incredible little baby girl thriving and meeting milestones like she was a full-term baby.


However, the weight of our loss finally came crashing down onto me and I was literally crippled by it. I had spent so much time getting Madeleine through her first 6 months at home that I just wasn’t able to process our new reality as family. One morning as I was getting ready, I looked in the mirror and was stopped in my tracks, it was this moment that I let myself open up to the reality that my twin baby girl had died, that Madeleine was a surviving twin and that we would always be a family that had lost a baby. I can’t explain the feeling in that moment articulately enough to really get across the pain, the breathlessness. I collapsed on our bathroom floor and the thought crossed my mind that I may never get up. The weight of this burden felt physical, like I was trapped under a truck and paralysed unable to move. I laid there crying like I had never cried before, I cried so much that I was sick, I think it took me a good hour to get myself together enough to walk out of the bathroom. This was the first of many episodes like this for me and I could feel myself slipping into a deep and dark depression, I had never been depressed before but I knew enough to know I was unwell.


It's been over 6 years now since we said goodbye and things have got gentler for me and my husband. We still have our moments, but they aren’t as consuming, and we have learnt to avoid or minimise exposure to our triggers. One of the reasons I “needed” to write this book was to help me make Charlotte’s life here on earth have some permanency and now she’s in a book, I feel I have gone a bit of the way to achieve this for her, and for us. The other reason is a more obvious one, it is to help her surviving twin process this loss and help her with her new reality of dealing twin loss at birth in a gentle and constructive way.


My other hope is that this book may help other families and children with dealing with the loss of a twin at birth too.


Thank you for reading, I hope you have gotten something worthwhile from this article and I hope you find more peace as you try to deal with the unimaginable.


I love this quote from Erma Bombeck “I can think of no mother more deserving than a Mother who had to give one back” 2




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