When CLIMB began, it centered around parents who had experienced the death of one or more of their twins or higher multiples during pregnancy, at birth and infancy. Sadly, it did not take us long to see that there were many twin, triplet (or higher) babies who lived past pregnancy and birth, and even past the higher risk of SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and other risks, but died after their first birthday, as a toddler or young child, from congenital problems, illness, accidents and other causes, leaving behind heartbroken parents and a survivor(s) who had been their companion 24/7 since birth. If you are visiting this section because you are having to cope with this tragedy, we are very sorry—and it is dedicated to these children and to their surviving siblings.
Probably the single most prevalent cause that we have seen is accidental drowning, most often with children who are toddlers, as well as accidents in the home and elsewhere. Many twin or higher multiple birth children have also been lost to sudden illness, to cancer, to congenital problems or the longterm affects of prematurity (now that technology is allowing some children to live longer but yet is not always able to “save” them). We have known a number of families who have lost a twin or multiple child to what some call “older SIDS”, the sudden and unexplained death, usually in their sleep, of an otherwise healthy child who is more than one or two years old. Though statistics do not exist (as far as we know) it is possible that childhood loss is somewhat more prevalent in twins and multiples because of the greater rate of prematurity and of congenital problems (in “identicals”), and the possibility (some have speculated though we have no statistics) that young multiples are more at risk for some kinds of accidents. Either way, as with the other kinds of multiple birth loss, there is the sad reality that anything that can come up with a singleton child is twice as likely to affect a set of twins…three times as likely to affect a set of triplets…
We need to also note that a few losses of both or all multiples in childhood have been known to us, thankfully much more rarely. Some of these have involved automobile and other accidents, others have been from congenital problems. One of our members some years ago, had twin sons who were fraternal but both happened to inherit a genetically-linked condition and died around the ages of 6 after being ill most of their lives. More recently we met a father in England whom we’d read of, whose twin sons were murdered by a relative, also when they were 6.
One of the hallmarks of grief is the feeling of isolation, and the lack of special support has made it more likely for each family to feel “alone” or like “the only one” in the devastation they face. It also may have made it more likely for others to think that having the twin of the child who died makes it “easier” to cope. We know that it is just the opposite—parents grieve not only for their precious child, but also for “our twins” and their special status and experience as parents of twins or more. When the twins were identicals, they face the unique heartbreak of being confronted constantly with the image of their child who died, and seeing exactly what they are also missing. (And as one grandmother wrote, “When twins are identical you can’t just put away the photos and remembrances for a while.”) Parents of fraternals as well as identicals don’t have the option of putting away or avoiding everything associated with the child who died.
At the same time parents are confronted with suddenly seeing the survivor as only one child, with half of the pair missing (and sometimes, extreme fear and vulnerability for the survivor)—and the rather superhuman challenge of dealing with the grief of the surviving twin or multiples, and helping them to “understand”, sometimes also when the child has witnessed the death in an accident. Many families have benefited very much from counseling for the parents by a sensitive therapist, and “play therapy” for the young survivor to act out what he or she is experiencing and feeling in a way that can be helped, or therapy for an older survivor. We have the impression that the initial adjustment period – the painful time involved for the family and surviving child(ren) to begin to adapt and regroup to the loss and to the changed family and be able to cope with the ongoing challenges – is something like two to three years.
With the number of multiples being born rising because of fertility technology, we fear that there will not be any fewer of these tragedies. We have found, though, that there has not been enough special support for families who lose a young twin or multiple. We hope that this will change, and would like to be able to play a part in it changing. We have begun a Contact Registry for the Loss of a Multiple in Childhood that is open to anyone (whether they are a member of CLIMB or not) who is a parent or close relative, or a surviving multiple sibling of, a twin or multiple who has died at any time from the age of one through the teens and would like to be in touch with others. (Ask us for the form to join.) We hope that these contacts will also help to generate some print and other resources, and we very much hope that an e-mail contact and support group will evolve.
The print resources that we know of are listed in the Bibliography for this section: an article in TWINS Magazine some years ago which features a family whose 3-year-old twin son was lost to drowning…a pamphlet (originally written by the same author) from the Canadian twins association Multiple Births Canada⁄NmC on the loss of a twin in childhood and teens…and some discussion in Eileen Pearlman, PhD’s book, Raising Twins. A very special thanks to those who shared their stories in this section. There are also others available from back issues of our newsletter, and some articles from the press over the years that feature a family who has lost a young twin. Also there are some items in the Bibliography of the Survivors section of this site which may be of interest.