For many families, prematurity brings with it loss. In cases where mothers and fathers must say goodbye to a preemie who was a twin or a triplet, coping with that loss can be a complicated and difficult process. One life has been lost but there is still life there that needs your care and attention. Preemie parents in this unique situation can feel like they have no time to breathe, much less grieve. And moms, dads, and siblings may have many questions about what the loss of a multiple means to a family as a whole.
First, let’s get one thing out of the way. You are, contrary to what others may tell you, still a parent of multiples.
Whether the baby you lost lived a day or a year, or simply lived inside of you, you are a parent of more than one child. If you would like the people around you to acknowledge that, they need to respect your wishes. You are the only one who gets to decide what your parenting journey looks like.
At the same time, you need to deal with the emotions you’re feeling in the way that makes the most sense for you and your family – and that can mean so many different things.
Below, we’ve compiled some advice for parents who’ve lost a twin or triplet, but understand that you may feel compelled to handle your circumstances differently and that’s okay. These are only guidelines that may help you cope when you’re not sure what to do next.
- Birth and death certificates, as well as other official documentation, can reflect your child’s status as a part of a multiple birth set. Hospital staff may not automatically include that information, however. If you want documents to reflect your view of the circumstances, be sure to make that clear.
- Reach out to other parents who have lost twins and triplets at birth, in infancy, or later for support. Your family’s situation is relatively rare and while your loved ones may try their best to understand what you’re going through, only someone who has been in your shoes will truly grasp the complex nature of what you’re feeling. There are also organized groups for parents who have suffered the loss of a twin or triplet.
- Accept that you may be resentful of parents whose twins or triplets survived. Even seeing a double stroller outfitted with two bassinets can awaken these feelings – sometimes for years after your loss.
- Grieve as much or as little as you need to in the moment. Parents of babies who have lost a brother or sister at birth or in early infancy may feel compelled to channel all of their energy into caring for the surviving babies. Being a parent in the NICU takes a great deal of stamina and being able to focus on a task or goal can help some moms and dads deal with grief. Other parents, however, feel a strong need to take time just to grieve and may temporarily spend less time in the NICU and more time focusing on the grieving process.
- Let yourself feel what you’re feeling. Don’t assume you’re terrible because you’re feeling joyful when you spend time with your surviving child instead of grieving – or conversely, because you’re feeling overwhelmed with sadness instead of feeling grateful for what you have. Children are unique, and you have every right to both celebrate your living child and mourn for the child you lost.
- Respond to those who say insensitive things like “At least you still have one baby.” While it’s entirely likely that these people are trying to be comforting, you are also entitled to let them know that what they are saying is hurtful and disrespectful to both you and your family. You may be at a loss for words in the moment, but don’t be afraid to share your feelings eventually.
- If you want your loved ones to recognize the child you lost – and not every parent will – say so. Friends and family may focus on your living child or children to avoid hurting you, not realizing that they’re doing just that by not acknowledging the missing twin or triplet. To help them get past their discomfort, use your child’s name. Let them know he or she will always be a special part of your family.
- Don’t worry if you don’t feel compelled to memorialize the baby you lost at once – or simply don’t have the energy necessary to do so. In time, you’ll find the way past your grief and the right way to honor the life of the child who left the world too soon.