‘I’m so sorry,’ she said. My body had absorbed one of my twins. My womb was a temporary coffin.’: Mom loses twin son in harrowing pregnancy, says she’ll ‘always have a place for him’ in her heart

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“In June 2017, my husband and I took off to Rarotonga for a much-needed getaway for my 30th birthday. On return, we were going to start trying for a baby to finalize our small family. We already have two beautiful girls, so we were hoping for a boy, although we really didn’t mind – a healthy baby was priority.

Not long after our return we found out we were expecting (I only need to look at my husband to get pregnant). I knew straight away, before the first scan, that we were having twins. I had this strong feeling. My younger sisters are twins and I have a set of twin cousins, so twins run strong in our family. My youngest daughter was a twin pregnancy too, although we found out at our 8-week scan that her twin had no heartbeat. Finding out her twin hadn’t survived was emotional for me, but as we were only very early on when it happened, I feel like I managed my grief a lot easier. By the time we had our 12-week scan, my body had absorbed her twin.

Pregnant woman takes mirror selfie with her two young daughter standing in front of her

We booked in our dating scan and joked that there was going to be two. Sure enough, there they were! Two little-flashing heartbeats. I couldn’t have been more proud or excited. My husband and I both looked and each other and laughed. Time to get a van!

In the back of our minds, we were both feeling a little uneasy about telling people until we were 12 weeks. What if we lost one of the twins again? We kept it quiet and only told close family until we were out of what we thought was the ‘danger zone.’

Mother sits in chair with her daughter beside husband who has their other daughter in his lap who holds newborn
Courtesy of Cherie Ayrton

We booked our second scan at 14 weeks. A friend of mine told us to ask the sonographer if they could tell the sex, so I thought I’d be cheeky and ask just in case. I’m so impatient and hate surprises! We showed up to our scan and I was delighted and relieved to see our two babies were both alive and dancing around on the screen! Our Sonographer told us they were the healthiest twins she had ever scanned! They were both growing beautifully and they were pretty much the exact same size as each other. She also told us they were two little boys! As you can imagine, the excitement was unreal. Two boys to complete our little family! How lucky were we! Two healthy babies growing so perfectly.

Sonogram of twins

I decided to announce our news on my social media accounts. I own a business called ‘Feather Touch Cosmetic Tattoo’ and over both my Facebook and Instagram pages, I shared our news with my following of nearly 30,000 people. I had to let my clients know as I was going to have to close my books for a while. I’m usually booked out for over a year, so I had to manage work to allow me to have maternity leave. I also messaged Sarah from ‘Charlie Horse Photography’ to book me in for a maternity and newborn shoot. With this being our last baby(s), I wanted to have all the memories I could get, and Sarah’s work is incredible, I knew I had to book with her!

As my pregnancy progressed, I felt healthy. Nothing was out of the ordinary. We booked our 5-month anatomy scan, which happened to land two days after Christmas. We were excited and counting down the days to see their little faces and beating hearts again.

On Christmas day I remember saying to my sister that I felt like something was wrong. I don’t know what it was, just a worry I had. I said to her I hoped they were both ok and I became nervous about the scan.

A week or so prior, I remember waking up and saying to my husband I felt like my tummy had shrunk. He looked at me and agreed. Although we didn’t think much of it at the time, I shrugged it off as my morning tum! My tummy was always a lot smaller in the mornings.

Pregnant woman takes mirror selfie holding up shirt to show stomach

Scan day came along. December 27, 2018. The day my heart broke. Our sonographer started scanning. She said she was going to work on one twin at a time. She started on Tiger. He was measuring perfectly. Healthy, heart beating beautifully, wriggling around up on the screen. She then moved over to start scanning Johnny. Her whole face dropped, and her eyes looked sad. I could tell straight away something wasn’t right. She went on to ask me questions like, ‘Is this an IVF pregnancy? How have you been feeling? How did your last scan go? I replied with, ‘No it’s not an IVF pregnancy, what’s wrong?’ Something is wrong…

She stopped scanning and said to us, ‘I’m so sorry.’ Three words that completely broke my heart and changed my life forever. Johnny’s heartbeat was undetectable, and he was measuring slightly smaller than Tiger. My worst nightmare had become my reality.

I had my husband and our two girls with us at our scan. I broke and curled up on the bed. I remember then looking up at the sonographer, and she was also pregnant. She looked so upset for us. I remember thinking how horrible for her. Having to break that news to us. She left the room and gave us time to cry, cuddle and talk. I had to try to stay brave for my 5-year-old. But in turn, it was the opposite. She stayed brave for me. I felt her little heartbreak. She was so looking forward to having little brothers. But all her little mind was worried about was me. My husband’s heart broke. Our lives were changed that day. The worst day of my entire life.

We were sent over to the hospital to get more information about what was to happen next. I had so many questions. Do they take him out? Will I lose Tiger too?

Leaving with worry, grief, anxiety, sadness, and worst of all a broken heart, we drove over to see the specialist. We were told they couldn’t give us an answer as to why he had died. That we could have done testing if he was a single birth, but with him being a twin, we would risk losing Tiger. We were told we were very lucky they were fraternal twins, because if they were identical we would have lost both. Because Johnny was in his own little sack, he wouldn’t poison Tiger once he starts ‘breaking down.’ I had to continue my pregnancy until full term. The only reason they would induce me earlier would be if Johnny was to restrict Tiger’s growth or health.

I had to make the hard decision of having to tell my following that we had lost our precious boy. That I would not be taking twins home. I decided to do a post on my business page. If I didn’t, then people would have just wondered what had happened, and I didn’t want to have to explain it to each client I saw in person. I had to tell them all. On December 28, I shared to all my followers that I had lost our baby boy. The stream of support and love was overwhelming.

Pregnant mother stands in photoshoot holding stomach
Charlie Horse Photography

Over the next 4 months I was scanned every two weeks. I had to slowly watch my son break down. First, his little eyes, nose and beautiful lips became harder to see. Then his tiny fingers and tiny toes started to look like they were fusing together. Finally, it got to the point where he lost all of his features. It was torture. I dreaded every single scan because I was scared of what I was going to see next. But on the other hand, I couldn’t wait until my next scan was booked so I could see him, and see his brother. Make sure Tiger was ok. Feelings of great sadness for my son, mixed with extreme happiness for my healthy growing baby, was a complete mind screw. I felt like a temporary coffin. Just waiting for the day to get him out so I could grieve. But then never wanting to give birth, because I knew once he was out he was gone forever. It was me keeping him here. My body. My womb. My broken heart.

On May 2, 2018, at 38 weeks pregnant, we gave birth to our two beautiful boys. We cried, we smiled, we loved, and we enjoyed one night with our two boys together and family surrounding us. Parts of Johnny had fused to Tiger’s placenta, so we decided to leave him on there and have both cremated together. The next morning came and Johnny was taken over to the funeral home to be cremated. We went home and I counted down the days to get him back with us. It felt like forever.

Newborn sleeps swaddled in blanket beside basket where his twin who was absorbed in womb would be
Courtesy of Cherie Ayrton

On May 7 we picked up Johnny’s ashes and took him home. The sense of relief for me was huge. But my heart was still shattered. I felt empty. I had my beautiful new baby, but there should have been two. Why did this horrible thing happen to us? It wasn’t fair. It’s still not fair.

Sarah Simmons of Charlie horse Photography messaged me with an idea to capture an image of the boys together, and asked whether I was okay to bring Johnny’s ashes. I couldn’t wait to see what her vision was and I was excited to get a picture of our sons that we could keep forever.

When Sarah sent me the photo she created, I was absolutely blown away. It was extremely emotional to see the final product, but I’m so grateful to have such a powerful photo of my two boys together to keep forever.

Newborn sits on bowl wrapped in cloth that is connected to another bowl with plaque of deceased twins name
Charlie Horse Photography

This picture means the world to us and we are just so happy she is getting the recognition she deserves. Her idea was to show they are still connected, even after his passing, as they shared the same womb. Sarah is extremely talented, and her picture speaks a thousand words. It’s strong, powerful, emotional. The bond she has created by using the cloth to represent an umbilical cord joining them together is just so creative, along with the bowls used to represent my womb. Everything was so well thought out and we will be forever grateful to her.

Now her image is being shared all over the world. I’m so proud and honored to see my son’s picture everywhere. The more we can all talk about stillbirth and child loss, the more others will share their journeys, and, in turn, more people will have support in the future.

Mother holds newborn in her arms whose twin was absorbed in womb
Charlie Horse Photography

I love the fact my son’s memory might help other families get through their own journeys. Since losing Johnny I’ve been trying to raise awareness on my personal Instagram page @cherie_ayrton, and the outcry in other women going through similar experiences is huge. In sharing my son’s story, hopefully, my hurt can help others heal. It’s a lonely journey if no one speaks up.

I will always feel like I have something missing, and that’s my son. Johnny James Tiger Ayrton. I want people to speak his name. I want him to be acknowledged. He was created. I carried him. I birthed him. I love him. I am his Mother, and I will always have an empty space in my heart for him. My life is forever changed. This is my reality, I hope and pray it will never be any of yours.”

Mother holds newborn beside her two daughters and husband
Charlie Horse Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Cherie Ayrton of New Zealand. Do you have a similar story and would like to share your journey? Submit your story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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‘She couldn’t stop looking over to where her brother would have been, had he survived. I couldn’t help but feel he was lying there, letting her know he was present, and will always be with her.’

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