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Parents

Vanished But Not Gone

I have come to believe that I did, in fact, deliver two souls -- they simply shared one body.

My daughter started preschool this year. The transition was seamless. By the end of her first day, she spoke eagerly about her teachers, activities, and new friends. After just three days, she informed me I no longer needed to walk her to the door.

The same was not true for her brother...

Her first progress report was full of positive feedback: she was being kind to her peers, listening attentively, exploring enthusiastically. She was conscientious and curious.

The same was not true for her brother...

Nearly everyone who meets my daughter has a kind word to say.

The same is not true for her brother...

No one finds anything remarkable about my son. No one mentions him at all. Because no one has met him ― including me. The only person who knows him is my daughter, with whom he shared a small, warm home for the 13 short weeks of his life.

My husband and I struggled to become pregnant. After a battery of tests, we received an ominous diagnosis. Unassisted conception was not possible. We struggled with whether reproductive assistance was appropriate for us. Perhaps parenthood isn’t part of God’s plan for our lives...

After much soul-searching and prayer, we decided to proceed. But fertility clinics are not the silver bullet many believe. We failed ― not once, not twice, but three times. We changed protocols and doctors. We researched and added complementary therapies. The fourth time was finally a charm. Not only were we pregnant, we were expecting twins!

Twins! Double the work, no doubt, but double the reward! Lifelong best friends! Ready-made playmates! We were giddy.

We selected the perfect double stroller in which to introduce them to our city. We read countless psychology books to learn how to equip them to establish and maintain their own, unique identities. We didn’t know the sexes of our children, but I imagined one boy and one girl. I envisioned bunk beds, reservations for four, our family complete.

After monitoring the twins’ development carefully for 12 weeks, our fertility clinic handed me a clean bill of health and released me to an obstetrician. At our first appointment, he showed us the perfect, strong heartbeat of Baby A.

But not her brother...

“Are you familiar with ‘vanishing twin’ syndrome?” he asked.

No. We weren’t.

Despite all we had read ― and all the advice we received from the professionals who supported us through our rocky road to pregnancy ― no doctor had thought to mention this phenomenon that affects nearly one in three women who become pregnant with multiples.

In the ultrasounds each week, Baby A always demonstrated a strong heartbeat. She grew from the size of a pencil point to a grape to a fig to a lime right on schedule.

The same was not true for her brother...

But at no point did anyone suggest cause for concern. It’s within the normal ranges, they said.

But this time he was not simply smaller. His growth was not merely slower. His heart had stopped beating. Mine was broken.

I was devastated. And terrified. I was so certain this was a precursor to the inevitable loss of Baby A that I divorced myself from all emotion. I would not be excited. I could not.

I was expecting two. We were preparing our home and our families and our friends for two. We named two children. I knew them. I didn’t know her, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to.

If only I could start over again from the beginning and get it right. Because while one child was all we ever dreamed of, one no longer felt like enough. And this latest failure in our already difficult journey convinced me that I was not enough.

I kept these thoughts locked safely inside. Friends had lost a child at birth. Others suffered a miscarriage that led to complications that left them permanently childless.

Upon learning the news of our loss, a colleague responded, “At least you still have one...” The comment was thoughtless, but it was true.

I began the work of accepting ― and loving ― the one who was left.

Nearly four years have passed since we lost our child. And with each additional day, our one seems determined to live for two ― striving to prove she is “enough.” She wears the mantle of everything we dreamed they could be. She is the “smart one” and the “musical one” and the “athlete” and the “bookworm.” She is simultaneously our quiet, introspective soul and our scene stealer.

In many cases of vanishing twin syndrome, the lost life is literally absorbed by the other. I have come to believe that I did, in fact, deliver two souls ― they simply shared one body.

We have never complained about parenting this remarkable creature who continues to exceed our every expectation, but there has not been one day in the past four years that I have not grieved the loss of her vanished twin.

I see him clearly in my dreams. I call him by name. I speak to him when no one is listening. I glimpsed him alongside his sister as she spoke her first word and took her first steps.

When we talk I ask him why he left us so soon. Why didn’t he stay to protect his sister? How could he absolve himself from the role of comforter in the moments when she will need more than I can offer? How could he leave her with the burden of living for two?

I ask him the unanswerable questions I can’t articulate to anyone else.

And he responds that he may have vanished from the world, but he is not gone. He remains here for her ― and for me. And I have to trust that this is enough.