The birth of a child is one of life’s greatest celebrations. Especially during a multiple pregnancy, parents fantasize about their babies, about walking them, showing them off to friends and family, trying out names and how they sound. When the outlook is positive, those close to the couple share in the journey as excitement and anticipation mount.
Yet when one, more or all of the babies dies by miscarriage or stillbirth, parents at times are encouraged to consider a miscarriage or stillbirth as something less than a “real” death. People around you often want to help, but find it difficult to understand the special circumstances of your loss. Information from Multiple Births Canada and other resources mentioned in this article can assist them say and do things that are helpful and avoid those that are hurtful.
If you do lose one, more or all of your babies, you may wish the birth and/or death certificates to reflect the fact that your baby(ies) was part of an appropriate multiple birth set, i.e. loss of one triplet does not make it a “twin birth”, loss of two quadruplets does not make it a “twin birth” and so on. You may need to be vocal about your wishes as some hospitals may record only the surviving baby(ies) and not your accurate multiple birth.
For women carrying multiples, prematurity remains the leading cause of death. Approximately 10% of all perinatal deaths are multiple birth children (Multiple Births Canada’s Fact Sheet, Multiple Birth Facts & Figures, 1998).
In spite of our best precautions, premature birth can still occur. There are no guarantees against the early delivery of your babies. Even in spite of appropriate and timely intervention by hospital staff, a loss of one, more or all of the babies may still occur. If such is the case, you will no doubt be:
The loss of one baby from the multiple birth set, can present complicated emotions to deal with:
While these thoughts are normal, they also increase the burden of guilt and grief. Don’t leave these feelings bottled up inside of you. Talk to a grief counsellor, good friend, hospital staff, your partner or religious support person, in order to assist you in putting your feelings into perspective.
Losing one, more or all of your babies leaves the parents and those who care about them to deal with complicated issues. Some of these issues are:
It can be very helpful for parents to see, hold and touch their dead baby or babies. I feel very strongly that we cannot say “Good-bye” until we have said “Hello.” No parents have ever expressed to me their regret at having seen and held their babies, but several have expressed regret that they did not. Sensitive and caring hospital staff can encourage parents to hold their baby(ies), and bathe them if they wish. You can take photos of the deceased babies separately and together, with any surviving babies from the multiple birth, and with other siblings if you desire this. Hospital staff are often exemplary in supporting families at this difficult time, making it as easy as possible for you, although they cannot change the tragic reality of death. Parents are often given specially designed Memory Boxes, one per baby, which may include: the blanket the baby was wrapped in, a lock of hair when possible, plaster hand and foot prints, an outfit the baby wore, hospital bracelets and several photos of each baby. Such special items are cherished as tangible evidence of the reality and value of a baby who did indeed live, even if only in dreams.
There are companies and artists who can create drawings of your babies, or unite separate photos of babies with computer imaging to create a group picture. These tasteful and precious photographs or sketches can provide parents with much comfort. As one Dad put it “.it [the photograph] proved to the world that our son was real.”
This article was written with grateful input and assistance from:
Dr. Elizabeth Pector, Illinois, U.S.A.
Twins, Triplets and More, Elizabeth M. Bryan, M.D., St. Martin’s Press
Guidelines for Professionals: Bereavement, Bryan, EM; Hallett F, Multiple Births Foundation, London England www.multiplebirths.org.uk
Living Without Your Twin, Betty Jean Case, Tibbutt Publishing
Bereavement in Multiple Birth, Part 1: General Considerations, Elizabeth Pector, MD; Michelle Smith-Levitin, MD, The Female Patient, Vol. 27, November, 2001
Bereavement in Multiple Birth, Part 2: Dual Dilemmas, Elizabeth Pector, MD; Michelle Smith-Levitin, MD, The Female Patient, Vol. 27, May, 2002
The Worst Loss: How Families Heal from the Death of a Child, by Barbara D. Rosof, Henry Holt
Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: Surviving the Death of Your Baby, Deborah L. Davis, Fulcrum Publishing
Men & Grief, Carol Staudacher, New Harbinger Publications
Trying Again: Guide to Pregnancy After Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Infant Loss, Ann Douglas and John R. Sussman, M.D., Taylor Trade Publishing
Empty Arms: Coping with miscarriage, stillbirth and infant death, Sherokee Ilse, Wintergreen Press
Check out “Useful Links” on this Web Site
Multiple Births Canada’s, Loss Support Network - www.multiplebirthscanada.org
Centre for Loss in Multiple Birth (CLIMB) - firstname.lastname@example.org
Twin and Multiple Birth Loss NZ (Inc.) - email@example.com
Multiplicity: Resources for Loss, Prematurity and Special Needs – a href=”http://www.synspectrum.com/multiplicity.shtml”>www.synspectrum.com/multiplicity.shtml