On January 6, 1999, my husband Scott and I found out that the baby we were expecting that June was actually a set of twins. We were surprised and thrilled all at the same time. Shortly after, we learned that Baby B, Evan, wasn’t gaining weight the way that he should. I was put on “house arrest” to minimize the chances of an early delivery and the babies were monitored closely. A nurse came to the house bi-weekly to do non-stress tests on the babies, and I went in for a weekly Level 2 sonogram. I was given steroid injections to help the babies’ lungs develop more quickly.
By March 30, just shy of 30 weeks, it was decided that it was more dangerous to leave the babies in than to take them out. So that afternoon we became the parents of two incredible sons: Shawn and Evan. They weighed in at 3 lbs. 3 oz., and 2 lbs. Both were healthy and needed little more from the NICU than to be monitored, to learn to eat and gain weight.
We were able to bring Shawn home after 6-1/2 weeks: Evan came home after a 9-week stay. Since both boys were on reflux medications they came home with apnea monitors. At home, both boys flourished…they gained weight and stayed healthy. By August they were off the monitors and by October they were off the reflux medications. Shawn and Evan were active, vibrant, fun little boys whom we truly enjoyed. Although they were identical twins and had a lot in common, each had his own distinctive personality. It was amazing to watch them interact.
Tragically, on January 4, 2000, Evan died during an afternoon nap at the sitter’s house. The cause is listed as SIDS, which just means that what appeared to be a healthy baby died with no known cause. The loss of Evan is the greatest loss we could imagine and adding to it are the unanswered questions and the loss of the special parenting that goes with raising twins. On January 6, 2000 (exactly one year after learning that we were having twins) we had to bury our younger son.
We miss Evan immensely and are thankful for the time that he was with us. We are so lucky to have Shawn, as our love for him keeps us going and makes us get up every day…he is literally our lifesaver. We are fortunate to have been very camera- and video-happy and hope that these will be helpful to Shawn whenthe time is right. We worry for him and are anxious to hear from others who may have insight to offer us in dealing with all of this in the years to come. We have been shocked and saddened to learn that so many people find themselves in situations similar to ours, yet grateful to you all for trying to offer support.
Losing a Twin to SIDS
…A Father’s Story
March 30, 1996, I married my wife. I was the luckiest guy that day. She was everything I could have asked for in a partner. She was pretty, smart, had a large caring family like mine and I knew would someday be a great mother. I always believed things in life happened for a reason. I struggled to graduate college, but finally did. I waited to marry the perfect person for me. We both had similar life goals and were busy planning for them. We later decided to start a family and purchase a house that was bigger than our needs because we thought we could grow into it.
In September of 1998, we found out that my wife was pregnant. On January 6, 1999, at 18 weeks along my wife and I had a doctor appointment to see the ultrasound of what we thought was one baby. When we arrived, they only allowed my wife to go back to the room to get started. They promised me that they would call me as soon as possible. I was excited, but was scared at the same time, because we did everything together during the pregnancy. The nurse came to get me after what seemed like hours later, and told me everything was fine with the baby. When I went in the room, I sat down and my wife had a big smile on her face. She kept telling me the “babies” look great. Over and over she kept saying the “babies” look great. I didn’t get it until she told me we were having twins. I could not believe it. This was a first for both of us and our families. All I kept thinking was how are we going to afford two babies. We just bought a new house and were on a strict budget. The first thing we did, was call the families and tell them the great news.
Within weeks we were having ultrasounds on a regular basis, because Baby B was not growing as fast as he should. Because of the fears that something could happen we decided to find out the sex of the babies. We were having two boys. The doctor thought they were identical because of the types of problems they were having in-utero. They sent us to a specialist who seemed to calm our fears. He did warn us that an early delivery was expected and that it would probably happen soon. My wife was as strong as she could be She quit her job and stayed home for two months. They were long days for her to be home alone, but I admired her for being strong despite the worries We were counting the weeks as they passed knowing the babies were getting stronger for staying inside. She would do anything for her children without a complaint. She is that kind of person. A nurse came bi-weekly to do a stress test on the babies with great success. My wife also began to get regular injections to promote the babies’ lungs. Things were going along smoothly and everyone kept telling us the longer the babies stay in, the better, but that she would not go past 32 weeks due to the risk of Baby B (Evan).
On the morning of our 3-year anniversary, March 30, 1999, we had a routine doctor appointment. The nurse did the usual screening of the babies and then the doctor came in to the room. He looked also, but more slowly this time. He then looked at us and said baby B was not getting any more food and needed to come out TODAY! He called the OB/Gyn and scheduled an emergency c-section to happen in two hours. We went home, packed a bag and called the family. My brother and his wife from Atlanta got in the car immediately and started the 10-hour drive to be with us as fast as they could.
At exactly 30 weeks along Shawn Harrison (Baby A) was born at 1:37 p.m. weighing 3 pounds 3 oz. He was healthy and only needed oxygen for 24 hours. Evan Reed (Baby B) was born at 1:38 p.m. weighing in at 2 pounds and also very healthy. They took the babies to the NICU. We were both exhausted at this time, but more excited to have twin boys and finally have them enter the world. Over the next 24 hours we went to see them many times and they both were doing great. Days passed and then weeks and they were growing, eating and even playing in their incubators. The doctors said that for preemies they had beat all of the odds and were doing fantastic. The boys needed no medical care. We just had to wait for them to gain weight. My wife and I were at the hospital every day for the entire time the boys were in the hospital. The staff and nurses were great and loved our boys.
Six weeks after they arrived, Shawn came home from the hospital and missed his brother greatly, but three weeks later Evan came home and we were finally a complete family. The joys of raising twins in our house was great. Family and friends could not get over how close they were. We also found out at this time that they were identical twins. The boys were so lucky to have each other. (It is hard to continue writing about the topic of the closeness of twins because of the circumstance we are in.)
Nine months after they were born on January 4, 2000, it was a usual day. We were tired and getting ready to go to work.. We woke up the kids, dressed them and drove them to the sitter’s house. She was a longtime friend of the family and was fantastic with them. I could go on and on about how great she was. As always, my wife checked in around 1:00 to see how the boys were doing. They were in the background making noises and my wife asked the sitter to put Evan’s ear up to the phone. That was the last time she talked to Evan. Within 15 minutes of the phone call the sitter put the boys down for their naps. She checked on them very soon after. Shawn was sleeping and Evan was not…Evan was buried on January 6, 2000, exactly one year to the day that we found out we were having twins.
Our lives have changed forever…As a father I went through the stages of grief and I now have feelings of anger towards the sitter. I continue to go over in my head the things she might have done wrong. Even though I know she didn’t. I also feel guilty for not being there. My surviving twin Shawn who is now 3 knows me as the dad who can fix everything because I do a lot of repairs around the house. It is heartbreaking for me to know that I can not fix everything. My wife continues to have a difficult time daily but goes on for our children – Shawn and newly born girl, Megan. She expresses her emotions differently than mine, but we both are great people and parents and will always struggle with the loss of our son Evan and with knowing that Shawn’s twin brother is not here. He knows who he is by the pictures in the house. When the subject comes up of who Evan is on different days we get different answers…from a friend who is at his own house to “me”. I no longer believe that things happen for a reason. I can never understand why this has happened to our family, but our children get us up every day and we must go on to make the best lives for our children.
Two years later Shawn is a healthy, loving, adorable kid whom everybody loves. He has a great personality and loves his new little sister. He is a very smart and active little boy. It breaks our heart many timesto look at him and wonder what if…Especially on the week end when he asks if he can play with a friend. I think about Evan 24 hours a day and I still remember it like it was yesterday. He made a great impact on the many lives he touched during the 9 months of his short life. The pain will never get easier and will not go away, we just learn to deal with it differently. On the outside we look like very strong people, but on the inside our hearts ache.
Almost 5 Years Later…Questions from a True Survivor
It’s been almost four years since our son, Evan died of SIDS on January 4, 2000, at nine months old. I haven’t written about it since right after it happened, but Evan is in my mind every minute of every day.
Shawn, our surviving twin, is now five and a half. It has been interesting listening to him explain his identical twin brother over the years. We don’t drown him in it and it doesn’t necessarily come up all of the time, but on some level Shawn has always known about Evan and we basically let him ask the questions he’s ready for and we try to keep the answers on a level he can handle.
Before Shawn was even two and before he had the “v” sound clearly he would see a picture of Evan and say his name perfectly. At that age, he explained that Evan was a picture in the book. Soon, it became clear that he understood a little more and he would say that Evan used to be here, he’s not anymore, he lives in “Evan’s house” and we miss him. At age four, I heard Shawn explain to my college roommate who had a new nephew named Evan, “I had an Evan. We were babies together. He is my twin brother, but he died.” I knew he understood on his level.
I wasn’t sure quite how much he comprehended, but sometimes he would talk about having a twin brother, he would correct his little sister if she neglected to include Evan in her silly homemade songs. “Shawn and Megan” she would sing and he would say, “No, you are wrong, we have a brother Evan. Evan and I were in mommy’s tummy together and then you came later.”
A bizarre question came (following a neighbor’s dead pet turtle being buried in their yard)…”Where did we bury Evan? There’s no stone to mark it, so I don’t know where he is.” It was obviously time to explain about cemeteries.
Shawn also wondered whether Evan has to stay a baby or if he gets to grow up? We talked about it. If anyone else has an answer to that one, please fill us in.
I dreaded the day that the question of WHY? would come, because I did not know an easy answer to that one. To say he died in his sleep, I was afraid would make Shawn afraid to go to sleep at night. I didn’t want to say he was sick, he wasn’t. To get into the specifics of being at higher risk for SIDS because he was premature, low birthweight, male, etc. would do no more good or be no more comforting to Shawn than it was to us. So what? He was a vibrant, adorable nine month-old who was taken way too early. Inevitably, the question did come and I went with the truth… “We don’t really know why, but his body stopped working the way it needed to.” I went on to talk about the good stuff and the memories and how someone lives on in your heart, and that while mommy and daddy miss Evan very much it doesn’t change how much we love Shawn and his younger sister, Megan.
I knew he “got it” when I overheard him explaining to his sister that he lives in our hearts, not really like he’s standing there, but because we think about him and love him. Life is so nice and simple when you are five! The reality is he won’t be five forever and our simplistic answers will no longer suffice. But for now, we are getting by the best we know how to…enjoying our children, yearning for Evan and what would have beens and moving forward with a heavy heart. Shawn is amazingly a happy, little guy who is loving kindergarten. He can handle watching twins and watching twin things on TV, whereas I get choked up even watching Phil and Lil on Rugrats. All I can hope is the best for all of our children and that we just get through it day by day.