CLIMB

How We Deal with Labeling Our Surviving Children


One of the most problematic things for parents, especially mothers, who have multiple survivors of a multiple birth loss is the issue of how their surviving children are referred to by themselves and others. For many it is very painful or uncomfortable to have their surviving triplets called “twins”, or their surviving quads called “triplets” by those who don’t know, and even often by those who do…A huge thanks to Jennifer V. (mother of Owen and his surviving triplet brother and sister) for her e-mail interviews of these moms about how they have related to this over time…and thanks to these moms for sharing them.

HOW DO YOU LABEL YOUR SITUATION?

Your first name? Jen

A few words about your loss: Heartbreaking, mysterious, anger, sad, unfair. So many unanswered questions and very unfortunate.

What term do you use when speaking about your multiples the most? “Three from a set of quads.” “Surviving quads.” “They are (pointing to them) from a set of quads.”

Do you think a universal term would make our situation easier to discuss in public and less taboo? (such as the terms: widow, divorcee, orphan, etc.) YES

Should there be a universal term used by all multiples that have suffered a loss– such as “surviving triplets” ? If yes what do you suggest and how does CLIMB and its members promote its use? Yes, through literature and education.

Should there be a universal term for:
Parents who’ve lost a pregnancy

YES
Parents who’ve lost an infant
YES
Parents who’ve lost a child
YES
If so, what do you suggest? Do you think it would lessen the explaining we have to do when asked how many children we have? I think just to be able to answer the question comfortably, meaning “How many children do you have?” or “Is this your first baby?” etc. etc. The parent⁄s should feel comfortable saying exactly how it is. The term “surviving” does tend to get old though. It only brings out more questions.

How do you explain your situation to the following groups of people:
Strangers?
Depends on the situation and circumstances
Friends⁄people you’ll see again? ALWAYS make a point to acknowledge my daughter who died and the unit of multiples as it is (quads, three from a set of quads, one a quad always a quad, just because one died doesn’t reduce them to triplets.)
Family and extended family? See above, same.
Do you and your spouse agree with how you handle these situations? Yes for the most part.

How do you deal with people who insist on going against your wishes with the label you have chosen to call your multiples? I continue to remind them even if they get annoyed or still remain ignorant. In some instances, if they continue to be disrespectful, I will end the relationship (true story, has happened on more than one occasion with those who I thought would learn and knew better).

If your surviving children are old enough:
How have you explained their situation to them?
“Your sister is in heaven.” “She was born along with XXX and died in mom’s tummy, but she watches over you from heaven.”
How do they respond to outsiders about their special situation? Not quite there yet, but on occasion, I have heard my (s) quads reference themselves as just that, “quads.”

If you joined a support group for multiples which one would you join? For instance if you have surviving triplets – join a twin group or triplet group, or neither because you feel out of place at both? I have belonged to a NOMOTC group. It did consist of triplet and quad parents. However, once my singleton was born, time was limited and I dropped out. Also, there was quite a lot of disrespect and disregard from other members regarding loss in general. I do belong to CLIMB and other support groups for those who have lost a baby. There is an informal quad + group near me, and I do belong to that. It feels good to be included as an equal!

Do you sometimes wonder that the more you talk about your loss the more you think about it and maybe it would be easier for all if you just started labeling your multiples as they appear to the outside world? On the rare occasion when I am in “one of those moods” and tired of constant explaining etc. But, I seem to snap out of it rather quickly. I think the only way to get my point across is the have that voice for my daughter.

Do you think these issues exist because you want that original label for your kids and for yourself– because you want so badly what you do not have; OR are these issues strictly because you feel strongly about this form of remembrance; OR both? ONLY and I repeat ONLY because I miss my daughter. I went through a lot with my pregnancy (bad initial prenatal care, changing perinatologists, long hospitalization out-of-state, countless therapies for the babies, death of baby, smaller growing baby, etc.). I simply don’t want her forgotten because she is an integral part of her unit. Plus the carryover on the other babies who did live is HUGE when there is “one more baby” in womb taking up space.

**

Your first name? Yvonne
A few words about your loss: We were expecting triplets and lost our daughter Madeline Rose at 22 weeks due to complications from an incompetent cervix. Our two surviving triplets are 29 months old (3-13-01) and are named Marlena Danielle (3#) and Victor “Tyler” (2 11.4#). They were born at 28-5⁄7 weeks gestation.

1. What term do you use when speaking about your multiples the most? If at all possible I refer to them as Tyler and Marlena, “my kids”, “my angels” etc.
For instance, if you had quads and you lost one, do you call them? quads, surviving quads, triplets, or insist they are individuals with names and you don’t use a group label? I tend to call them “twins” but only to get the point across that they are the same age and were born together. I really don’t like calling them by either label – twins or triplets.
A) Do you think a universal term would make our situation easier to discuss in public and less taboo? (such as the terms: widow, divorcee, orphan, etc.) Possibly. I am a very private person and never see myself talking to everyone under the sun about the most terrible thing in my life. It’s too painful and I am still dealing with it.
B) Should there be a universal term used by all multiples that have suffered a loss, such as “surviving triplets”? If yes what do you suggest and how does CLIMB and its members promote its use? It would be nice. Reach out to hospitals, doctors, etc.
C) Should there be a universal term for:
Parents who’ve lost an infant
Parents who’ve lost a child

I really don’t have any thoughts on this.
If so, what do you suggest? Do you think it would lessen the explaining we have to do when asked how many children we have?
To me, explaining to people is something that we (CLIMB members) choose to do or not to do. Again, I tend to take questions from strangers at face value and avoid discussing what is painful to me. Usually people want to know how many LIVING children we have.
2. How do you explain your situation to the following groups of people:
A) Strangers?
As above.
B) Friends/people you’ll see again? It depends on the person and the situation.
C) Family and extended family? Most know the situation.
D) Do you and your spouse agree with how you handle these situations? No. We both have a really hard time talking about our loss.
E) How do you deal with people who insist on going against your wishes with the label you have chosen to call your multiples? Haven’t gone there yet.
3. If your surviving children are old enough:
A) How have you explained their situation to them?
Mine are not old enough but I talk about Madeline to them already. They will know from an early age.
B) How do they respond to outsiders about their special situation? N⁄A
4. If you joined a support group for multiples – which one would you join? For instance if you have surviving triplets- join a twin group or triplet group, or neither because you feel out of place at both? I am currently in a multiples group that has twins, triplets, and quads. One of the other moms is actually a twin mom who lost her daughter to a heart condition right after birth. Talk about courage! I’m not sure what I would do if I had to choose – probably neither.
5. Do you sometimes wonder that the more you talk about your loss the more you think about it and maybe it would be easier for all if you just started labeling your multiples as they appear to the outside world? Yes, as above. The situation did not seem such an issue to me until I found CLIMB. I have found a lot of guilt in not offering information that I really find not to be anyone’s business. I sometimes think that people feel a need to prove that they have not forgotten their lost children and how much they are⁄were loved.
6. Do you think these issues exist because you want that original label for your kids and for yourself – because you want so badly what you do not have; OR are these issues strictly because you feel strongly about this form of remembrance; OR both? Probably both. What happened was so senseless and unfair. I DO want the label AND my daughter . I DO want Madeline remembered. However, I don’t want to make an issue of the label thing in such a way that my family and I are continually affected. My family and I have found out in the worst possible way how cruel Life can be. Madeline is in Heaven and she is being well taken care of until we are all reunited one day. My job as a parent to my two living children is to provide them with the happiest life possible. I don’t want to offend anyone, but sometimes some of the CLIMB articles worry me. The focus seems to be too much on the deceased child and the family atmospheres don’t sound healthy. There is a healthy way to remember our lost loved ones without our children losing too much of their innocence along the way. My children are still small. I have a lot of thinking to do on how I am going to handle this labeling thing.
7. Has your attitude on labels changed at all along the time line of raising your survivors? Just the guilt I mentioned earlier. I guess ignorance is bliss.
8. Has your attitude or labels changed at all along the time line of raising your survivors? Yes, I am less tolerant of people’s ignorance who know better. Also, I always remember to never judge a book by its cover, for what appears to the naked eye, isn’t always what is. I chose wording on our birth announcement that labeled Ty and Marlena as “twins”. I really didn’t think about it being incorrect at the time. We were celebrating the life of our “miracles”. It was time to be joyous. We had been through Hell and those important to us knew everything and understood it all. If I had it to do again now, though, I would have probably included a memorial announcement, at the time I had never heard of such a thing.

**

Your first name? Susan

A few words about your loss: In May, 1989 I gave birth to triplets, born at 31 weeks, one was stillborn. Ezra, our stillborn baby, was the identical twin of Jacob, who weighed 2 lbs. 6 oz. Lora, our third baby, weighed 3 lbs. 10 oz. Lora came home after 3 weeks in the NICU and Jacob came home after 8 weeks. The doctors never figured out what happened, but we know that Ezra’s heart stopped beating at least 24 hours before the birth. Jacob was in trouble and that’s why they were delivered by emergency C-section.

1. What term do you use when speaking about your multiples the most? We refer to them as survivors of triplets.

A.) Do you think a universal term would make our situation easier to discuss in public and less taboo? (Such as the terms: widow, divorcee, orphan, etc.) YES

B.) Should there be a universal term used by all multiples that have suffered a loss, such as “surviving triplets”? If yes what do you suggest and how does CLIMB and its members promote its use?
C.) Should there be a universal term for:
Parents who’ve lost a pregnancy
Parents who’ve lost an infant
Parents who’ve lost a child
If so, what do you suggest?
Do you think it would lessen the explaining we have to do when asked how many children we have?
These are all really interesting questions. I’ve spent some time with my students discussing how words get added to the dictionary. I’m not sure I know how this would work. Do we think it makes sense to try to add many words at once, or one at a time?

2. How do you explain your situation to the following groups of people:
A.) Strangers?
B.) Friends⁄people you’ll see again?
C.) Family and extended family?

The answer is more or less the same with more details given to people we are likely to have a continuing relationship with. We say that they are survivors of triplets and that the third baby was stillborn.
D.) Do you and your spouse agree with how you handle these situations? Mostly
E.)
F.) How do you deal with people who insist on going against your wishes with the label you have chosen to call your multiples? I guess I just ignore it, but I’m angry inside – it shows they are not paying attention, or being insensitive.
3. If your surviving children are old enough:
A.) How have you explained their situation to them?
They have two older sisters who knew what happened, so their sisters always talked about Ezra. We never had to sit down for a big formal explanation.
B.) How do they respond to outsiders about their special situation? When they were younger they would look to us to explain that they are survivors of triplets. Now that they are teens when someone asks if they are twins they just say yes. I don’t know if they planned this or just don’t want the added attention that a more detailed explanation would lead to.

4. If you joined a support group for multiples – which one would you join? For instance if you have surviving triplets- join a twin group or triplet group, or neither because you feel out of place at both? I’d feel out of place at both. We had a CLIMB support group here for a while and it was wonderful.

5. Do you sometimes wonder that the more you talk about your loss the more you think about it and maybe it would be easier for all if you just started labeling your multiples as they appear to the outside world? Ezra was a part of our family and I don’t want to forget that. Losses without memories of the person create their own set of difficulties. So I need to keep talking about it to remember him.

6. Do you think these issues exist because you want that original label for your kids and for yourself, because you want so badly what you do not have; OR are these issues strictly because you feel strongly about this form of remembrance; OR both? See above.

7. Has your attitude or labels changed at all along the time line of raising your survivors? I certainly respect my children’s wishes and let them say they are twins now.

**

Your first name? Brenda
A few words about your loss: I lost one of my quads at 18 weeks gestation due to undetected preterm labor. My surviving quads were born at 28 weeks and are healthy 5-year-olds.

1. What term do you use when speaking about your multiples the most? For instance, if you had quads and you lost one, do you call them quads, surviving quads, triplets, or insist they are individuals with names and you don’t use a group label? I don’t usually use a label – I either refer to them as my ‘older boys’ or individually. If I am clarifying due to someone asking, I refer to them as quads, and then explain that they are surviving quads.

A.) Do you think a universal term would make our situation easier to discuss in public and less taboo? (such as the terms: widow, divorcee, orphan, etc.)? No, I think people as a general rule are very uncomfortable with the reality of a baby or child dying – I think a universal term would make people just as uncomfortable as me telling them our fourth quad is in heaven.
B.) Should there be a universal term used by all multiples who have suffered a loss, such as “surviving triplets”? Not necessarily. I think each loss is different and I am not sure a universal term would help much. If yes what do you suggest and how does CLIMB and its members promote its use?
C.) Should there be a universal term for:
Parents who’ve lost a pregnancy
Parents who’ve lost an infant
Parents who’ve lost a child
If so, what do you suggest?
Do you think it would lessen the explaining we have to do when asked how many children we have?
If there were a universal term, I think it would need to be the same for all situations. Whether it is a lost pregnancy, lost infant or lost child, the result is the same. I am always amazed at the people who try to diminish the pain of my loss because my son was born at 18 weeks. They imply that since he was “technically a miscarriage” I should be able to move on more quickly, that his life mattered less because it was so short. But the reality is that I gave birth to him, he lay in my arms for 12 minutes trying to live, and then gave up and died. I knew him, had hopes and dreams for him and his dying left an immeasurable hole in my life. I don’t remember who first said it, but a child is a child no matter how small. Do I think a universal term would lessen the explaining we have to do? No. I find that most people don’t WANT our explanations in the first place. I do my explaining for Jacob, to remember him, for my other children, so they can always know that he is a part of our family and they will each always be loved whether they are in heaven or on earth, and for me, because although it hurts, it also heals my heart to do so.

2. How do you explain your situation to the following groups of people?:
A.) Strangers?
When asked, “are they triplets?” I say, “No, they are quads, we’re just missing one.” Or I say, “They are quads, but their brother is in heaven.” Or I just say, “No, they are quads and leave them to figure out why there are only three of them.”
B.) Friends/people you’ll see again? Usually they just make the assumption that the boys are triplets. When it comes up, I tell them they are quads and explain that we lost Jacob. Then, when they call them triplets in the very next breath, I politely correct them, “you mean my quads?”
C.) Family and extended family? This is the hardest one for me, because they should know! I talk about the boys as quads but after many heartfelt pleas to certain members of my family to not refer to them as triplets, I have given up bugging them about it. Most of my family doesn’t refer to them as triplets to my face. The frustrating part is when I talk to someone they have talked to and hear that they have referred to the boys as triplets in conversations with others.
D.) Do you and your spouse agree w ith how you handle these situations? We do now. There was a time that he also referred to the boys as triplets but now he corrects others as much as I do.
E.) How do you deal with people who insist on going against your wishes with the label you have chosen to call your multiples? I try to work through my anger over it myself. I can choose to not associate with them (in my case, it is my father and some aunts and grandparents) or I can decide that my relationship with them is more important. They know my wishes and if I ever hear them calling them triplets around the boys, I call them on it, but I have decided that I won’t let their lack of understanding dictate my actions.
3.) If your surviving children are old enough:
A.) How have you explained their situation to them?
Yes, they know all about their brother, Jacob.
B.) How do they respond to outsiders about their special situation? They tell people they are quadruplets.
4.) If you joined a support group for multiples – which one would you join? For instance if you have surviving triplets – join a twin group or triplet group, or neither because you feel out of place at both? Our local group for multiples includes twins and higher order multiples, but there are only two sets of quads in our state and the other set is intact so often we get lumped in with the triplets. I just continue to be vocal about my boys being quads. As far as online groups – I probably wouldn’t join a group for just quads and more because it is still difficult in some ways to be around intact sets of quads.
5.) Do you sometimes wonder that the more you talk about your loss the more you think about it and maybe it would be easier for all if you just started labeling your multiples as they appear to the outside world? It has occurred to me, but I don’t work that way. I would feel like I was lying constantly. Even if it weren’t for the emotional aspect of this battle, the fact of the matter is that labeling my children triplets is a misnomer. A twin is not any less of a twin if their twin dies. A child whose sibling dies does not become an only child. When I point out these situations to people they realize the absurdity of their labeling. The issue just doesn’t come up as much with a twin or an only child because people don’t label them at all.
6.) Do you think these issues exist because you want that original label for your kids and for yourself – because you want so bad what you do not have; OR are these issues strictly because you feel strongly about this form of remembrance; OR both? Both. Absolutely both. I want my children to know about Jacob and I want them to know that if they were to ever go away or die that I wouldn’t forget them or pretend that they didn’t exist. And yes, I want that original label for myself. I read a poem recently about a woman who lost her daughter – essentially she said that carrying her in her arms, pushing her stroller in the park, nursing her would have made her proud. Not being able to do those things made her feel, not shame, but an absence of pride. That is something of what I feel. I want to feel the pride of having my quads intact. And if educating people can help me feel a bit of that, then it is a small price to pay.
7.) Has your attitude or labels changed at all along the time line of raising your survivors? Early on, before I my grief really hit me, I don’t think it was as big an issue for me. But then again, at the time I was really just working on surviving and getting my preemies healthy.