In most of my posts I focus on the aftermath rather than the origin story of my sons.
In reality it is no longer possible to separate the two. The story of their lives is inverted in their death. This post was originally intended to be the ‘happy story’ of the beginning (“when we were winning and our smiles were genuine“).
As I wrote and tried to think back to those times the two stories blurred, becoming inseparable.
We had ‘tried’ for years and were considering options. We had been told that it would be nearly impossible to conceive naturally and despite our best efforts to defy this gloomy prophecy it felt like it may be true.
I had always hated the term ‘trying’ as it seemed to strip the fun out of everything reducing an act of intimacy to charts and monitoring. Also taking an immensely private matter and turning into a suitable topic for strangers to explore.
Later on the topic of whether we would ‘try’ would take on a different tone, no longer bright but hushed.
Just before heading off for an overnight conference my wife gave me the news. A simple line on multiple sticks (so many sticks) confirmed a pregnancy we had long thought impossible.
A trip to the doctor to see the spin of the wheel and a rough estimate of due date and a whole world of possibilities previously denied to us opened up.
I dutifully accepted my credit card sized fold out guide to being a dad while I watched a small forest’s worth of material being pushed in my wife’s direction (including the much maligned Emma’s Diary).
These leaflets would change from being Bounty packs and money off vouchers to guides from Sands on coping with loss and a guide to the local crematorium and registration services.
The scan was booked and we nervously waited our turn amongst the expectant and ‘been there done that’ crowd of already mothers in the waiting area. We looked forward to being one of the excited parents proudly clutching the first images of their unborn child.
No we didn’t. That’s not right. I’m confusing this time with the time after. We had an early scan because my wife had a bleed and was convinced we had lost the baby.
We shuffled in (after obligatory pees had been collected) and waited to see and hear our child for the first time.
No, we were preparing ourselves for the inevitable news that our hope had been taken away and that we had lost our baby.
We nervously waited as the gel was applied and the first scan started.
“There’s the heart beat (oh, thank God)…and there’s another…”
The impossible made possible. Where before there was no baby, then there was one (and then none again), then there were two (you wait ages for one and…).
After a brief discussion about next steps and referrals to specialists we walked out in stunned silence before making calls to close family (my father just laughed when he heard the news).
After the boys were born it was my task to start the ring round and inform family and friends. There was no laughter.
Stunned silences, shock and tears. It didn’t get easier with each retelling. It still doesn’t. To me, I believed I could recite the story without emotion but my poker face is not as I think it is.
The stunned feeling went on for hours as all the plans we had made had to be frantically revised to accommodate two babies in a one bed flat. All of that mad swirl of thoughts could only be (in)adequately expressed in a single word.
As a keen student of psychology and its love of twin studies I was quick to joke about the research potential of twins (as well as being instant band material). We signed up to TAMBA and learned of the many surprising challenges of raising twins from birth, to school and beyond.
The TAMBA leaflets became bereavement support guides and private Facebook group links.
We studied the importance of not being too matchy-matchy and the importance of instilling a sense of individuality as well as their identity as twin-siblings. We were clear that they wouldn’t be ‘the boys’ and just be lumped in with one another.
The irony being that I do now refer to them as ‘the boys’. Calling them by their names can sometimes be too painful.
They share an urn with their ashes in separate containers within.
(We also not so secretly considered how cute it would if they did wear matching outfits, if all the boys of the family did)
The picture by their urn are of our sons holding hands in their matching ‘going home’ outfits, one red, one blue that they never got to go home in. It’s the nicest photo we have of them but cute is not the word I would use for it.
My wife joined a group for parents of twins to learn more about what awaited us.
And would then leave. They offered their condolences and were very sweet even though we would never see them again. Not intentionally.
I scoured the already scanty chapters on multiples within the birth books and searched the library (weirdly not the Internet though) for all I could find. I read ‘What to expect…’ and listened to the sage and candid advice from my boss who had twins too. He counselled me to not get hung up on the future hypothetical questions of parenthood but to focus on the more immediate practical challenges.
It was my boss that had the task of sending the SAD NEWS email after I phoned asking if I could start my paternity leave early. He had started to congratulate me before I could finish the sentence.
We both glowed with the special feeling of being parents of twins and the prospect of being part of a club.
We are now part of a different club. One no-one is envious of.
I filled my wife’s inbox with emails of cute bear cubs. They looked like little gummi bears in their scans and the name just stuck.
One of those images then became the header of their Just Giving page. Those polar bear cubs find their echoes in the little gifts of remembrance around their anniversaries (and my cufflinks). Their siblings are also nicknamed cubs.
We eagerly accepted all the hand me downs friends and family could throw at us and spent happy hours going through sacks and boxes of stuff picking out what to keep and what to store in boxes written on by future aunts and honorary aunts with best wishes for the future.
We would then quietly pack these outfits away and store them with the rest. When we were expecting our daughter we returned to those boxes picking outfits for her and talking about the outfits that would have been worn by the boys. Some of those outfits were worn by their brother.
As the due date approached we started to fill the house with pannicked online orders and build the cot that had been donated to us by a friend.
The cot would only be home to unused bedding and soft toys. It would be dismantled eventually and returned discreetly to our friends. We didn’t do this straight away. To do something like that would have felt like we were erasing them. Afterwards we heard that some of our family had suggested clearing it away before we got home to save us the pain. We are eternally grateful they didn’t.
I had to cancel the online orders and take a pointless trip of petty thoughtless cruelty to try and return the rest for a refund.
At night we would cuddle up close and tell stories (the lesser told Grimm fairy tales) and sing songs to the boys as we felt them sharking around, marvelling at the disturbingly clear outlines of tiny punches and kicks.
I played those same songs over and over getting lost in the both the music and the task of twisting my fingers around unfamiliar chords in an unfamiliar tuning.
When we wanted to play, to know that they were there and could hear us we would playfully jiggle the bump and cry “wake up babies!”.
That playful jiggle turned into the horrible proof on the ultrasound that there was no longer any movement and that they would never wake up. They would be born sleeping instead.
We went to weddings and spoke of the pride and excitement of expecting twins, awkwardly dancing on the dancefloor while trying to navigate the bump joking “I think there’s something between us”. I had a lengthy conversation with an adult twin about her experiences and the bond and dynamics of being a twin.
Adult twins are generally fine, it’s harder seeing twin buggies, babies and twin children the age the boys should be now.
We would walk hand in hand and shake our head when we saw children misbehave or babies kick off in public. Not at their behaviour but at the prospect of having to deal with two (but even then, still excited by the prospect).
Later on we would see how hurtful that thought could be and felt grateful that we had only silently mouthed it at each other.
We posted images of the latest scans on Facebook so we could show how well they were growing. People were excited by the news.
These were the last images we would share on our public walls. Over time we posted their last pictures to mark their anniversary in a private family group. Not just the posed mortuary photos but the ones taken after they were born.
I wrote a post announcing their deaths as a note. It would become part of their eulogy.
Not all my friends saw the message and a few contacted around their due date to ask us whether they were here yet.
This is the story of their lives (and their deaths) and what lies beneath each pregnancy after them. With each of their siblings all those opposites were played out at each encounter, each scan, each twinge.
The innocence is gone. Scans are more a source of anxiety than reassurance. Each baby purchase (even for friends) is carefully considered for timing and with the knowledge it may need to be returned.
When friends and family fall pregnant congratulations are guarded or carry silent caveats. It’s the thin smile that doesn’t quite reach the eyes masking a terror of the prospect of what happened to us happening to them.
It’s knowing that Bill Hicks was wrong about childbirth. It’s a miracle that people conceive let alone safely carry to term.
I hoped to write a happier post.