One of my twin sons is dead. I was shocked by the things people felt good about telling me.


I was 32 weeks pregnant with identical twins when my life changed forever.

During a routine ultrasound, we discovered that one of our twins had died. A meeting two days earlier had confirmed that they were both alive. Not only was one baby, Nicholas, no longer alive, but the other baby, M, was in grave danger of injury following the death of his brother. The doctor sent me straight to the hospital so we could monitor M around the clock. I stayed there until my sons were born five long days later, one so small, fighting for his life, and the other so calm.

The death of any baby is horrible, but the unique situation of losing a twin is its own kind of hell. Not only does living to the extreme of planning your life with a new baby while planning funeral services for another feel like an emotional boost, but so many people we met had no idea what to do or what to tell us.

Instead of engaging with us, people avoided us or felt uncomfortable when we answered honestly about the number of children we had. Some people even said downright cruel things like:

“At least you have two more children.”

“Thank goodness you have another baby to take care of.”

“You can have more children.”

“Everything happens for a reason.”

“God must have had a plan for him.”

There is no “at least” when you have lost one of your children. My surviving twin is no consolation prize. Children are not interchangeable or replaceable, not even in the situation where you have an identical living, breathing reminder of the child you lost. On the contrary, having this callback makes it so easy to imagine a carbon copy of the rambunctious little boy with chubby hands and a dimple in his right cheek who should be here jumping on the sofa and finger painting himself with his twin .

The author and her husband in October 2018, about six weeks before Nicholas died.

Courtesy of Jenna Fletcher

I don’t believe my son’s death happened for any reason or that a loving God would have a plan to take a sweet newborn away from any parent ― but neither do I believe that people who have said these things were deliberately trying to hurt me.

Part of it was fear, I’m sure. Friends have told me there is something deeply distressing about watching someone you love go through their worst nightmare. Witnessing a loss like this up close makes you painfully aware that this – or something equally traumatic – could happen to you. It forces you to face the bitter reality that the unthinkable can happen to anyone.

There is also no adequate language to discuss the loss of a baby. Although words exist to refer to the loss of a spouse or parents, what do you call a parent who has lost a baby? Also, how do you refer to a twin who has lost a twin? How can we eloquently convey our family’s situation when it arises?

I don’t know – even after living in this world where I parented a twin without a twin for three and a half years and was intimately familiar with the extreme happiness of having my son entwined in the extreme grief at losing my other son.

Earlier this week when I learned of the passing of football player Cristiano Ronaldo’s son, who was a twin and is survived by his twin sister, my heart broke for him and his family. Variations of the story popped up in my social media feeds and, feeling a connection to the family and what they’re going through, I clicked on each one.

I knew I probably shouldn’t read the comments on the stories, but I couldn’t help it. While there were many people saying how sad and sorry it was, there were many others saying variations of the same terrible things we heard when we lost our son.

“I send my condolences to the family, but doesn’t this man have like five other children?”

“At least you have other children and the other twin lived.”

“At least you know you can have babies.”

M with Nicholas' urn in 2019. This was shortly after he returned from NICU.
M with Nicholas’ urn in 2019. This was shortly after he returned from NICU.

Courtesy of Jenna Fletcher

Reading the most insensitive comments – those asking if Ronaldo’s girlfriend, Georgina Rodriguez, had been vaccinated during her pregnancy and accusing the family of seeking attention and sympathy – I remembered the person who said, “Sons are better than daughters. Have many more sons,” less than three weeks after my son died, as his twin brother struggled to grow up in NICU.

I was appalled at the savage callousness of these types of comments when told to me and again as I read them in reaction to the unthinkable loss of another family.

I’ve also seen comment after comment questioning, “why is this news?” ― especially when so many terrible things have happened around the world, from the war in Ukraine to a new wave of the pandemic. “People lose babies every day and it doesn’t make the headlines. Just because he’s famous, am I (sic) supposed to care? They don’t care about everyone else’s loses [sic]. It’s unfortunate but it doesn’t change anything for us,” one commenter wrote.

It may not change anything for the rest of the world, but for anyone who experiences the loss of a child, everything changes. Life is always divided into before and after. And because we don’t talk about these deaths―because they “are not happening”―those of us who experience them feel so lonely. It’s the kind of loneliness that doesn’t go away because it’s never talked about and therefore can never be overcome. So he remains ― even years after death.

According to the Center for Loss in Multiple Births (CLIMB), multiples are at greater risk of early death; twins are about five times more likely to die in infancy and for triplets it’s 10 times. There are many people who have experienced or are experiencing the loss of a twin or a triplet and almost no one talks about it – or the unique issues and situations that come with it.

And that’s why the death of Cristiano Ronaldo’s son matters. That’s why it’s news. Due to their openness, another parent of a twinless twin can see a piece of themselves in places they haven’t seen before. They may feel less invisible. Less alone. Someone else might hear about this tragedy and maybe think of the world in a way they didn’t before – and maybe they’ll find better words to say than we have. heard too often.

I hope Ronaldo’s story sparks a dialogue, the same way conversations started when other celebrities like Chrissy Teigan and Meghan Markle shared their stories of pregnancy and baby loss.

We need to have more of these kinds of conversations. Fortunately, the community of lost parents has made progress. When I had my first miscarriage in 2013, I only told people close to me about it. These days, stories of pregnancy and baby loss are shared more widely, but there’s hardly anyone talking about what it’s like to lose a child in a multiple situation.

The author and baby M in 2019.
The author and baby M in 2019.

Courtesy of Jenna Fletcher

After our son died, I searched for stories of parents who had lost a twin. I came mostly dry, but found a woman who wrote about the deaths of two of her triplets. I wrote to her the day of our son’s funeral, desperate to know if she ever felt better.

“Can you watch your surviving triplet without being sad for your other children?” I asked.

“It’s been five and a half years,” she replied. “Although grief never goes away, it does change over time. I’m the happiest I’ve been since before I had kids.

It gave me hope. It still gives me hope as I walk this difficult path. The way forward is not easy ― I don’t think it will ever be ― but there are things that can make it easier. One simply acknowledges that these tragedies do happen and while they may make us feel uncomfortable, the people experiencing them need them to be shared so we don’t navigate them in a lonely void. . I hope that by hearing my story and Ronaldo’s story and more and more stories like ours, we can find a new language to speak to ― and to ― people in our painful situation who support us and honor our loss and the joy that remains at the same time.

Jenna Fletcher writes about loss, parenting, health and wellness, and food. She maintains a food blog at www.seasonedsprinkles.com. When she’s not writing or thinking about food, Jenna enjoys creating things, trying to be a yogi, riding horses with her daughter, and chasing after her sons.

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