River & Brooks

Being a mom has been the most joyous, incredible, and heart wrenching privilege. It’s what I’ve always wanted, I just never anticipated being a mom to two earthly children, and two heavenly children.

My husband and I met in a whirlwind online dating success story. Christian Mingle isn’t as bad as the Netflix movie makes it out to be! We were engaged after 11 weeks and married within a year (2013) of meeting as strangers. We knew we wanted a few years to ourselves before bringing kids into our family, but it was always part of our hopes and dreams.

In my heart, I always had a soft spot for those who struggled with infertility and experienced miscarriage. I had watched friends go through the painful journey of both. I had my guard up and was sure it would take us a while to conceive once we decided to try. However, we conceived quickly and found out we were expecting a baby due in late October 2017. I was riddled with anxiety the entire pregnancy, fearing loss every day.

Our daughter Claire was born healthy and without complication in early November 2017. Claire had jaundice and we were in the hospital with her for 5 days while her bilirubin levels eventually came down. She was wrapped in the bililight blanket for 4 of those days, which was attached by a cord to provide light therapy. I distinctly remember saying, “I couldn’t imagine having a baby hooked up to a cord and wires.”

Some things you say just stick with you.

We found out (surprisingly) that we were pregnant again in September 2018. We were so happy! Again, there were those close to us who had experienced loss, and I tried to be sensitive about sharing our news. I remember trying to hide my growing belly and hide our excitement for fear of upsetting others. That is a guilt and regret I will always carry with me.

On December 8, 2018 we found out we were having a boy through a private non-diagnostic ultrasound. We saw him wiggling around and he looked perfect to our untrained eye.

On December 20, 2018 I searched for 45 minutes to try and find his heartbeat with our home doppler. I never had trouble finding it until that evening. My husband and I went into emergency where they also struggled to find a heartbeat. The following day, an ultrasound confirmed that our baby boy had passed away at 18.5 weeks gestation from Fetal Hydrops. I remember saying to my husband, “I’m glad God made the decision to keep our son with Him and didn’t make us make an impossible decision.”

Some things you say just stick with you.

We proceeded with an induction and just after midnight on December 22, 2018 our son was born into my hands. We had a name picked out for him, but after he was born I said, “I want to use that name for our living son.”

Some things you say just stick with you.

We named him River.

We were pregnant again by February 2019, and found out it was twins on April 1, 2019. Oh, thank you Jesus for this double rainbow after our storm! We found out it was a girl and a boy in June. I was carrying another son! The pregnancy was textbook, and on October 17, 2019 at 37.5 weeks, our baby girl Alice and baby boy Brooks were born via scheduled c-section.

All was newborn bliss for the first 24 hours and then our world began to crumble. Brooks was deteriorating fast and was eventually flown to Edmonton on life saving ECMO (heart and lung life support). I told my husband, “I cannot go through losing another son again, I just can’t.”

Some things you say just stick with you.

Brooks was eventually diagnosed with Alveolar Capillary Dysplasia (ACD), an extremely rare (only a few hundred cases recorded in the world) fatal lung disease, and there were no options left other than to say goodbye. (My husband and I wrote about this journey in much more detail on a Facebook page called ‘Prayers for Brooks’, which you’re welcome to look back on and read.)

My baby boy, hooked up to countless wires and cords, leaving us to make the most gut-wrenching decision to let him go. My heart ached into depths I didn’t know possible. My second baby boy died in my arms. How did this happen, again?

Some things you say just stick with you.

And all the things I said came flooding back to me.

When we left the cemetery after Brooks’ burial, my heart felt like it was going to explode. No baby is supposed to be left alone. No baby is supposed to be cold. I walked away from my baby, leaving him in the cold ground. Every feeling of what a mother isn’t supposed to do, I just did. It was against every instinct. But I had to. When I walked away, it was still with another baby in her car seat, and a toddler who just turned two. They still needed their mommy. My husband still needed his wife.

The grief of Brooks dying didn’t hit until the one-year anniversary this year. When you’re living this traumatic a nightmare, you are in 100% survival mode. I had a two-year-old toddler and a newborn to continue to care for. I had to keep going.

I saw a quote that really described my feelings well.

“When you survive loss, everyone is quick to tell you how strong you are, and how tough you must be. But actually, no one has a choice to survive grief do they...it’s not optional. You just have to cry in the shower, sob into your pillow and pray you will make it.” -Zoe Clark-Coates

There’s a lot of guilt associated with late miscarriage and infant loss. ‘I should have done something better, it’s my fault.’ Medically (and in my head), I know these are lies. Our family was struck by lightening, twice. The heart and head don’t always align. I’m working on this.

Because we got pregnant so quickly after losing River, it felt like I never really had time to process his loss. But I’ve had more time now. It hurts fiercely to think of our first son. I’ll always wonder who he would have been. I’ve allowed myself to sit in my sadness and anger for a while, knowing I won’t stay there, but to allow myself to feel the hurt. It’s been surprisingly helpful in my healing. I’ve been able to do this recently for both my baby boys. I have two places to regularly visit at the cemetery, and that makes me angry. And it’s ok to feel this way. I’m giving myself grace to accept that anger and unfairness.

I’ve bought a lot of books on grief and infant loss. I haven’t opened one of them. Maybe some day I will, but that time for me isn’t right now. I know working through that will come. It will raise questions and dredge up grief and sadness. It’s hard when you’re in the trenches of raising a now one and three-year-old to find time for self-care, and self-healing, especially in the midst of a pandemic. But the grief and sadness don’t go anywhere. They’ll still be there to work through in time. Maybe they lessen in time, but right now, they still feel pretty fresh.

It has been therapeutic to talk about our journey with Brooks with friends and on social media. Looking back at pictures and feeling every emotion associated with them, and articulating it, has been healing, even though the wound of grief is torn open every time. Talking about Brooks truly gives me joy.

As a Christian, believing Jesus died on the cross, forgiving our sins, and is alive in heaven preparing an eternal home for us, is what I cling to. I don’t fear death anymore. I know that I will see my boys again. Our family unit of six will be together again, whole and healthy. Jesus has carried us in these last two years, through his Holy Spirit and the love and care of our family and friends.

If you can take anything away from this post, remember to:

  • Check in on your friends who have lost a child(ren), especially on those anniversaries of loss and ‘should-be due dates.’

  • Say their lost babies names. It helps to feel that they’re remembered, validated. A huge fear is that these babies will be forgotten.

  • Grief is personal, and everyone is different. Respect the journey.

  • The question ‘how many kids do you have?’ can be a huge trigger and feel like it’s really hard to answer. Even though it’s meant with sincerity, it can be painful. In my heart, I have four kids, but you only see two. And please don’t ask when we are ‘going to try for a boy’ - we already have two.

From the beginning, God gave me a soft heart for those who have experienced loss. I didn’t know how He would use me, my life, and my story. I see it a little more clearly now, but I still question, “Why me? Why my sons?” It’s also hard to find resources that are similar to our story, specifically raising a twinless twin. Maybe I can be that resource and listening ear for someone.

I will forever see Brooks alongside Alice. I think that is engrained in a twin mother’s heart when there are supposed to be two. Every milestone Alice reaches is met with profound joy and excitement, but also a void where Brooks should be doing the same.

“I can delight in the one in my arms, and grieve for the one in my heart. I can be filled with joy that I get to raise a child, and heartbroken that I buried a child. I can be filled with gratitude that I get to see a little one grow, and filled with regret that not all my children got to stay. It doesn’t have to be either or, you can be it all.” -Zoe Clark-Coates

As we enter the Christmas season, we celebrate the birth of a baby boy. Admittedly, this is sometimes a painful reminder of my boys who aren’t with me. However, it’s also what gives me the ultimate hope of heaven.

I hope some things I’ve said just stick with you.

If you would like to send Christine a message, send an email to sisterhoodunitedcontact@gmail.com and put her name in the subject line.

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