Amber Dawn & Nicole Lynn
I have always dreamed of becoming a mother. I believe that motherhood is the most noble calling a woman can ever have. Since the day my girls were born, I have been trying to come up with an adequate description of my personal role as a mother. I am raising one of the most special little souls this world will ever know, and I receive an incredible amount of joy from doing so; and yet at the same time, my heart aches more deeply than it ever did before she came into my life. I’ve wanted to share my experience and my girls with you for a long time, but it has been difficult to find the right words to give justice to the depth of my feelings. Unbelievable joy and unbearable sadness mixed together is an emotion few can ever expect to understand.
I got pregnant two months after my husband and I were married. The positive pregnancy test came just a few days after Christmas, 1997. We were ecstatic at the thought of becoming parents. Six weeks along is when we discovered we were having twins. We were both pretty nervous about that, but oh, so thrilled! I would sit and daydream about two little boys crawling around my living room, playing together so great I imagined their first day of kindergarten, all the way up. I was positive I was going to have the happiest life with my twin boys!
Five months along we found out that our twins were actually girls, but that didn’t bother me one bit! I just switched from dreaming about my boys to dreaming about my girls! They were going to be beautiful! At 29 weeks, we were told they were most likely identical, which thrilled me even more! Imagine that! I was the luckiest mother in the world! I would have it all.
On the morning of July 8, 1998, at 31 weeks and 2 days along my dreams came to an abrupt, cruel end. During the two days prior, I had been experiencing an extremely severe backache on my left side. When I finally couldn’t bear it any longer, I had Eric, my husband drive me to the hospital to be checked out. We drove to a hospital in Denver, an hour from our home, because we were supposed to have been checked out there by a team of perinatologists later that morning. I felt that if something was going to happen, I wanted to be under their care, instead of my regular OB. As it turned out, I made a wise decision. Five minutes after we arrived at the hospital, my water broke, and soon I had everyone rushing around me like crazy. When I started to calm down a little, I began to notice the doctor and ultrasound technician were acting strangely. When I asked what was going on, the doctor turned around, and said, “It appears that Baby A has died.” Just like that, my dreams were shattered, and I was thrown into this most cruel place among those whose babies have died. I was rushed into an emergency cesarean because Baby B was found to be in distress.
Amber Dawn was born still at 10:19 a.m., July 8, 1998, weighing 2 lbs., 8 oz. and measuring 14-5⁄8″ long. My heart was broken, and I was sure I was never going to be completely happy again. But just one short minute later, my little miracle gift from heaven let out the tiniest cry I have ever heard. Although tiny, it was the most beautiful sound I have ever heard! My little Nicole Lynn entered the world HEALTHY at 10:20 a.m., weighing 2 lbs., 14 oz., and measuring 16″ long. The nurses from the NICU held her up to show me before they rushed her off, and I thought she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
Shortly after they took Nicole out to the intensive care nursery, my mother finally arrived. I saw her go over and pick up a small bundle that was wrapped in a blanket and lying on the table. My husband jumped up to look, and at that moment, I knew I needed to see her too. My mother then placed my little Amber into my arms, and all I could do was hold her tight to me, and kiss her head over and over as I cried. We ended up holding her for several hours before I finally let go of her. The nurse who took her soon came back with a small packet of mementos: a stuffed dog the size of my palm, a tiny red rosebud, two Polaroids of our angel, along with a complete roll of undeveloped pictures of her. Also included was a hospital birth⁄death announcement with her measurements and hand⁄foot prints. These items I cherish. I was in the hospital for 5 days, very sick myself. Soon after I entered the operating room, I began gushing blood everywhere, and it was discovered that I had experienced a placental abruption, and had been bleeding internally for at least 24 hours, probably longer. The doctors estimated that Amber had died at least 24 hours prior to her birth. The doctors were at one point even questioning my own survival, because I had lost half of my blood. The number one sign of an abruption is a bloody show, but I had had none of that. The only symptom I’d had was a severe backache. And that had been dismissed by my regular OB as “part of the package of a twin pregnancy.” I think back and want to choke him sometimes for not looking into it further.
We had a small graveside service for Amber the day after I was discharged from the hospital that was beautiful, but unbearably difficult. Straight after the service, I went back to Denver to be by my little miracle baby’s side. Nicole was on a ventilator for a week, but she was doing excellent. We still don’t know how she survived, because she shared one placenta with Amber. A medical miracle, especially since she was healthy. Personally, I believe Amber kept her alive in the hours before her birth and for the first critical days. Seeing her breathing was what kept me going. Although she was the size of a doll, she was perfect in every single way! I instantly loved her, even with the tubes and lines running from her tiny body. The nurses in the NICU let me do her “cares” every three hours, whenever I was there. At those times, I felt like a real mother, and that was extremely important to my healing. I would have to find the preemie size Pampers in half to fit my baby, and 1 was allowed to take her temperature and wipe her little face every time it needed it. Those moments in the first few days are some of my happiest memories. After a week had passed, they finally removed the ventilator, and we were allowed to hold her for the first time. We were finally feeling like real parents who had a real baby.
spent three weeks in the NICU in Denver and then was transferred to the hospital in our town 45 miles north. After spending another two weeks in the nursery there, we were finally able to bring her home, on August 14, 1998. Coming home, she weighed 4 lbs., 10 oz. Until she weighed 6 lbs., we weren’t allowed to really take her out anywhere, so we just stayed home and were mom and dad. I remember being happy in my role, yet there was of course, the sense that we were missing out. I missed Amber every single day, and although I was happy about Nicole’s progress, my heart was still broken.
Today, Nicole is 10-1⁄2 months old, and weighs a little over 16 pounds. She has progressed remarkably. Our pediatrician told us that he had never seen a 31-weeker before with no problems. Nicole was the first. And she has absolutely no problems. She’s a normal little baby, only a few months behind babies her age. For her adjusted age, she’s right in there. She is really fast when she scoots, and she is just this past week learning how to crawl on her hands and knees. She loves Cheerios and fruit, and if she was allowed, she’d splash in the bathtub all day and be very happy!
Nicole is very special to me, because she is what gets me through the loss of my angel baby Amber. I know I’ve been greatly blessed, and I’m extremely grateful for what I have. But I am far from healed. I only take life one day at a time, and trudge through. Some days are better and easier than others, but we still struggle. I have found much peace in visiting Amber’s grave often. Whenever I feel like I need some time to myself, I go there and come away with a renewed sense of energy. I know that Amber knows me and loves me. She also loves Nicole, very much, and throughout Nicole’s life, I know Amber will be right with her. That gives me comfort, knowing that Nicole has a special twin who won’t ever let her be alone. I draw great comfort in knowing Amber is safe and happy in Heaven with Jesus. I’ll have to worry about Nicole as she grows up, but I’ll never have to worry about Amber. Our family chain is broken for now, without her here, but I know that someday, in the future, the chain will link again, and that is something worth waiting for.
Amber Dawn and Nicole Lynn: 5 years later
On July 8, my surviving twin will turn 5. It is hard to imagine it has been 5 years, yet at other times, it feels like it has been a lifetime.
A brief rundown on my story for those who are new and don’t know or remember me. After a fairly routine twin pregnancy, my identical twin girls Amber and Nicole, were born on July 8, 1998, at 31 weeks. Amber was stillborn due to a complete placental abruption, Nicole spent 5 weeks in NICU and is today a healthy, vibrant, and beautiful girl. We also have a son, born 3 years after the twins, he was a fulltermer born July 12, 2001.
My reasons for writing this story is to try to give those who are new on this road none of us wanted to walk down, a little bit of hope. I wanted to let you know that although the pain will never go away, it does get easier to manage and live with. It becomes part of your “new normal”. In my case, it took till my daughters’ fourth birthday to feel some of the anger and sadness ebbing, and to feel a bit of peace.
As the years have passed there have been several things that have really helped me to heal. The biggest healer, of course, has been my survivor. Nicole has been the sun that shines through the clouds. Ever since she was a baby, she has been very intelligent, active, social, and happy. She didn’t have any major delays in her development due to her prematurity, which has been a huge blessing to us. She walked at 14 months (12 corrected), spoke at 16 months, and even potty trained at 27 months! This past school year we enrolled her in the early childhood program offered by our school district, and she really blossomed there. She has learned to read simple phonics books (Tom has a Hat, for example, or Dick and Jane), count to 100, and is currently working on tying her shoes and counting coins. She loves playing with her cousins, and her little brother, watching Nick Jr. and Playhouse Disney, and playing outside. Though she is happy overall, I can tell there are times when she misses her identical twin Amber. At Christmas this past year she told my husband she wanted Santa to bring her a twin. That was tough, but we just explained to her that she already has a twin, her twin is in heaven and in our hearts. Often when we see a car that looks like ours she will say, “Look Mom there is our car’s twin!” I enjoy my living daughter and often say she has so much energy to make up for her sister’s absence! Gotta keep Mom running!
The second biggest healer for me has been my subsequent son Alexander. When I found out I was pregnant with him, I was afraid of so many things. I had a pretty emotional pregnancy and I am sure several people thought I was nuts! My friends wanted to throw me a small shower since my baby was a boy and I needed boy things but I didn’t let them throw it until after he was born and was healthy and safe. I didn’t buy him anything until the last month of my pregnancy because I was so afraid of something going wrong. He was born at 37 weeks, 7 pounds 1 ounce, just 4 days after my twins’ 3rd birthday, perfect in every way. His birth healed me in more ways than can be counted. After he was born, I no longer felt like Amber’s death and Nicole’s prematurity were my fault; that my body couldn’t handle pregnancy, or that I had done something wrong. My son was in no way ever a replacement baby, but he did take some of the emptiness that was here with Nicole being an “only” child. It has been a joy to see him grow and interact with Nicole.
The third biggest healer for me has been finding a supportive counselor. I tried 4 counselors before I found one I trusted. The first one I had tried pushed medications too hard and didn’t think I needed counseling, the second told me I was “fine” and needed nothing “as long as you are not trying to dig your baby up”. The third woman I tried asked to see the scrapbook I had made in Amber’s memory, and when she saw Amber’s photograph, told me, “That is really disgusting, you need to get rid of that, as there is no use in having that image in your head.” As you can imagine, I was crushed by the statement, as my child was not “disgusting”, she was beautiful. She was a real infant, fully formed to her tiny fingers and toes. It took me a year after that to get the courage up to try finding another counselor, but thankfully with the fourth try, I found a great person. I saw her every week for a year, and for a period of time, twice a week. I still see her on occasion, mostly around the girls’ birthday⁄anniversary, as well as in the early fall. Not long after I first started seeing her she diagnosed me with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and with counseling and medication I am 10 times better off than I was 3 years ago. It is very important to be able to talk about your loss with someone who isn’t going to say the “comments” we all hate so much, and who will listen without passing judgment. I’ve been lucky to have friends and my counselor who fill this need for me, who validate my feelings, and will just listen when I miss my baby.
The last healer for me has been allowing myself to feel my emotions and remembering to tell myself that my feelings are not invalid. So many people have tried telling me that I should not be so sad or feel so much loss, because after all, “I never REALLY knew that baby”. But allowing myself to recognize where well-intentioned people are misguided has really helped me to heal, as well as lessen the guilt I feel. I may have never held my child alive, but she is very real to me. I lost a part of myself when my daughter died. One of my favorite quotes states, “A person’s a person – no matter how small.” I lost a child. I don’t need to feel guilty for feeling sad. I used to be so afraid of “letting go” of the pain and anger in my heart, for fear that Amber would be forgotten or that she would no longer matter. But learning that I don’t have to “let go”. I can just “move on” and deal with my emotions, and let them come as they will, has changed me for the better. I still have my moments, but they are not so frequent or consuming as they used to be. I still struggle when I see a set of identical twins, and some-times I still cry. Just last weekend we were at the mall eating lunch and a woman pushed a set of beautiful identical girls into the restaurant, and I made a remark about how cute they were. I told my husband I thought it might bother me a little more than it bothers him, seeing twins, because I had wanted them when I was a girl. I was fine as I normally am now, but in a split second, a wave of grief rushed over me for what I had lost, and I started to cry right there at the table. Although most of the time now I am able to look away, and just feel a twinge of jealousy, I still have those moments here and there. But that is ok, and so am I. The person I was before my twins is gone and a new and hopefully wiser, better, and more compassionate person has taken her place.
As my daughters’ 5th birthday approaches I can be grateful that I am the mother of twins, even if my living daughter is an invisible twin. I have so much happiness in my life and so many wonderful blessings. My daughter Amber was only here for a brief moment, but she has taught me more than any other person has. She has taught me how to love more deeply, appreciate more fully, and live life to its fullest potential. Like the line from the song, “I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.” I would not trade having her for that one brief moment, for anything. I will always love and always miss my little girl, and a piece of my heart will always be scarred, but I am a survivor.