Kristen & Erin
After eleven years of trying, Sandy and her husband Roger were overjoyed to conceive through medical treatment and then learn that it was twins. At 20 weeks along, Sandy (who is a fraternal twin herself) went for a routine ultrasound during which they were to learn the sexes of the babies-and they were told that Baby A, Erin, had Trisomy 13, a chromosomal condition incompatible with life outside the womb. Sandy was faced with the necessity of trying and hoping to go as close to term as possible for the sake of the other baby, Kristen, and at the same time knowing that their birth would mean Erin’s death. Erin hung in until the end, and they were born by scheduled c-section at 37 weeks. Erin lived for an hour and died in her father’s arms. The following is a section, ”Earthly Reflections”, from the memorial service that Sandy and Roger wrote and presented:
We wish everyone had had the chance to see Erin and hold her. She was a very special baby and we’re glad she was part of our family.
However, grieving her loss has been difficult for us. We find ourselves in a most unique situation where feelings of joy and sadness overlap and are sometimes woven together. It might seem as though the joy would cancel out the sadness, and that knowing in advance would ease the pain. But over the past months, the pain of Erin’s loss has not only been intense, but it has touched every happy moment.
Sometimes we wish we didn’t find out that Erin was going to die. Knowing was certainly more practical; we didn’t go out and buy two of everything. But at 20 weeks, all joy and expectation left the pregnancy. Instead of being a hopeful time of expecting new life, it became an anxious time, as if a loved one were dying of cancer.
Despite the best efforts of loving and patient friends and family, nothing could take our mind off the impending death of our daughter. Every word of congratulations, every gift and card for Kristen, all inevitably brought Erin to mind. In our minds, we knew we had to prepare for only one baby, but in our hearts, we were ready for two. We tried our best to “look on the bright side” but the prospect of losing one of our daughters was overwhelming. It was impossible not to think about our little Erin.
There were (and still are) many times when we felt guilty about our grief over Erin. We felt as though we were acting like a couple of spoiled brats having a tantrum over not getting everything they want. We’d tell ourselves, ”You’re being ungrateful, be happy with your one healthy baby.” But those feelings of guilt were not justified. We had nothing to feel guilty about. Grieving the impending loss of our child was what any caring parent would do.
When the time came to schedule the c-section, and it was set, looking forward to this date was again a bittersweet mixture of joy and sadness. I looked forward to it because I was going absolutely bonkers lying in bed and, even though I did look like one, being called a ”beached whale” was getting kind of old. We looked forward to welcoming Kristen into the world. But July 18 would also be the day when we would say goodbye to Erin. Birth for Kristen would mean certain death for Erin. Erin would be warm and secure and nourished, until her birth.
As expected, the experience of their birth was not the joyful uniting of mother and child that we’ve seen on TV. Instead, it was a tearful mother saying goodbye to the daughter she had carried for 9 months. Birth is supposed to be an awesome miracle where mother and father cry tears of joy. We cried tears, but not for joy.
The delivery room was packed with 8 doctors and nurses and I don’t think anyone had many experiences with a tearful mother, crying obviously not for joy, and I don’t think anyone really knew what to do. One of the nurses brought Kristen over to me and said in the most perky voice, ”Here is your baby”. The anesthesiologist grabbed a polaroid and snapped a picture. They tried their best to cheer me up by telling me I had one healthy baby. Of course, I was glad that Kristen was okay, but the loss of Erin was all I could think about. Kristen didn’t make up for Erin. Kristen couldn’t replace Erin.
Erin was a unique human being whose place could not be filled by anyone else. She was our firstborn and in her we lost someone very important to us. We had hopes and dreams for HER. Kristen can’t fulfill the dreams we had for Erin. Plus, Kristen has lost her twin sister who can never be replaced. She will never have another special sister like Erin.
Losing Erin has been the most difficult thing we have ever experienced. It’s hard to understand, let alone communicate, why. It’s not as though we’d known her for years and miss all the cute things she did. It’s not as though we miss her unique personality to which we had become accustomed.
But, in a way, we did know Erin. Over the weeks, we literally watched her grow. Every two weeks we saw her on ultrasound, took her picture, and heard her heartbeat. Every day we’d feel her kicking. For 9 months, we loved her, prayed for her, and did what we could to make sure she was protected.
I suppose what we grieve for most is Erin’s unrealized future. What we had were hopes and dreams for this little person that will never be. We had plans to love her, to care for her, to fill her life with joy and peace and meaning. We built up these dreams, held them, cherished them, and then lost them.
We had visions of watching Erin smile while riding her tricycle down the street. We had visions of her going to the prom (after carefully checking out her date). We had visions of watching Erin and Kristen growing up together. So, it’s the unfulfilled hopes and dreams for this little girl and ”our twins” that we have lost and which we grieve.
In the worst of times, the pain of losing Erin is unbearable. In the best of times, every happy moment is shadowed by the thought that our first child cannot be here to share it. We look at Kristen’s smiling face and worry about her walking off to school alone without her twin sister. Taking Kristen out in her stroller, we think about the twin stroller we almost bought. When the three of us drive off for a ride in the car, we often feel as though we’re leaving someone behind.
We know that the sorrow of losing Erin has been softened by having Kristen. If it weren’t for Kristen, I know we would be impossible to console. But during those times when we miss Erin, we inevitably think of Kristen and run off to give her a hug. On the other hand, the happiest times are always just a little less happy because Erin is not there to share in them. It’s difficult to separate the feelings. Thoughts of what might have been are always in the back of our minds.
In time, we know, the pain will subside. In time, we know the joy of having Kristen will begin to overtake the sadness. But we know there will never be a day when we don’t remember Erin. Erin was our daughter, our firstborn child. She was Kristen’s twin.
It might seem odd to have a memorial for Erin and have Kristen’s name come up again and again, but they came as sort of a package. It’s not the same as if they were born a year apart.
We’ll always remember Erin and hope you will too. We want you to mention her name if you think of her. It might make us a little sad, but we will actually be glad. If you run into anyone who has lost a twin at birth, please feel free to tell them about us; we’d be glad to share our experience. And if any one of you should be blessed with twins of your own, we’ll be happy for you and we promise not to go out and slash your tires.
As we move forward, we’ll try our best to let go of what might have been and focus on the beautiful baby girl God has blessed us with. She has brought joy to all of us, and is she ever cute. We can’t understand how she could be so cute and look so much like her dad!
…Sandy says, ”We came to do the memorial the way we did because it became obvious that no one realized the depth of our grief; and our public attempts to remain cheerful and upbeat were misinterpreted. (I knew if I tried to express my sadness, which was just too hard anyway, I would fall apart.) Also, from comments from medical personnel and others, we got the underlying message that our loss wasn’t so bad since we had one healthy baby. So, we tried to gently express what we were going through. After the service several people said they had ‘no idea’ we were going through all this.” Since then, Roger and Sandy have had a subsequent daughter, and boy/girl twins born near term.