THE LOSS OF TWIN GIRLS AT 24 WEEKS & MOVING FORWARD IN THEIR HONOUR
Words by Lauren Cooksey, Images by Bec Zacher
Andrew and I met 13 years ago in 2005 at the ripe young age of 17 and 18 years old. We spent the first few years living together in Cairns before I wanted to move to the Gold Coast to be closer to my sister after she had her twins.
In December, 2010, we discovered I was pregnant just before my 22nd birthday. I remember saying to Andrew, “Imagine if it was twins, an instant family!”
A few days later we had our first scan only to find out that I was in fact pregnant with twins! We decided we wanted to get married before our twins were born so we decided on a wedding date before we were even engaged.
THE VERY EARLY BIRTH OF OUR TWIN GIRLS
On April 16th, 2011, 6 years after we first started dating, Andrew asked me to marry him. Little did we know that 48 hours later our twin girls were going to be in our arms. On April 18th 2011 at 2.50pm and 3pm our twin girls, Ava Jodi-Ann and Ella Joan were born at just 24 weeks old.
On April 25th, only 6 days later our beautiful girls grew wings and our life turned upside down.
THE STORY OF THE TWINS PREGNANCY
After we found out we were pregnant with twins, we continued to have four weekly checkups and we were told that everything was going really well. At 20 weeks we had a gender scan and found out that our twins were non-identical girls and we couldn’t believe it! It felt like we were going to have an instant family come August 8th 2011 when they were due to be born.
On April 18th I woke in the morning to bad back pain. I remember writing a status on Facebook asking friends for any tips on what to do to help it, thinking I had pulled a muscle or the girls were sitting in a funny position. I went to work only to return home a few hours later as the pain now was unbearable, little did I know I was actually in labour.
I booked a doctors appointment for 3pm that day and I was due to have my 24 week check up the following day. Around 1pm, I decided enough was enough and I called the hospital. It wasn’t until they asked me, “Are the pains stopping and starting”, that I realised I was in labour! All I could think was, “I can’t be, I am only 24 weeks, we don’t even have a room setup, we haven’t done our birth classes, this can’t be happening”.
I called Andrew to tell him to meet me at the hospital because I think I’m in labour and his response was, “You can’t be, you’re only 24 weeks”. By the time I arrived at the hospital my contractions were two minutes apart, and within 20 minutes our girls were born at the Gold Coast Hospital. I remember saying, “No this can’t be happening, please stop it, they are too little”, but I was too far gone to stop anything, our girls were coming.
With over 20 doctors and nurses in our room, the girls were rushed straight to special care, but not before they let us hear their little cries for the first and what would be the last time.
All we could see was two tiny little babies, we didn’t know their condition except being told that they were alive. I was then rushed to emergency surgery myself to have my placenta removed as it was too premature to release itself. Andrew went with the girls and two hours later as I awoke, Andrew was waiting beside me with two pictures of our precious daughters.
So much had happened in that time I was in recovery. Andrew had to contact our family to let them know what had happened, contact our work to advise them that we would not be returning for some time and then had to speak with doctors and arrange a treatment plan for the girls.
Our girls were transferred to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Brisbane at around six hours old as this would be their best chance at survival. I was wheeled down to see our girls straight from surgery just in time for their departure. I followed six hours later, arriving at 4am.
Those six hours were the longest six hours of my life. I layed there waiting on confirmation that the girls had both arrived alive, thinking about what had just happened, and thinking about what was ahead of us. During this time Andrew went home and packed a hospital bag for us all. I still remember the bag he packed, all shorts and only one top for me, but all the baby clothes we had bought so far. Why we needed them at the time I didn’t know but now looking back I’m so glad he packed their clothes as we got to dress our girls in them as we said our goodbyes.
The next six days were a huge roller coaster adjusting to what our new normal was going to be. We were told it was ok to go home for a sleep as our girls would be cared for but we didn’t want to leave their sides. We were lucky enough to be able to stay at The Ronald McDonald House right next door to the hospital so we were within minutes of where the girls were. Both the girls were stable with a couple of bleeds to their brains but doctors were happy with their current state given the fact they had a gestation of just 24 weeks.
THE NIGHT THE GIRLS GREW THEIR WINGS
On Saturday night the 23rd we left the girls around 9pm feeling very happy as Ella had opened her eyes for the first time and we had been able to hold her during the last few days and do several nappy changes. Andrew and I wanted to be a part of as much as possible in caring for the girls.
At midnight we received a call to advise as that they were changing Ella’s oxygen to a different type just so we knew but that it was nothing to be alarmed about. A few hours later we received the call we never wanted to get, “You need to get here NOW as Ella has taken a bad turn”. We rushed straight over and by the time we got there they had already done everything they could.
I remember them saying, “Would you like to hold her”, and I said, “No please just do what you have to do”, they replied, “If you’d like to hold her alive you will need to now or you’ll miss the opportunity”. That’s when we realised our little girl was about to grow her wings. We were provided a couch to sit on and we held her in our arms as she fell asleep. Little did we know Ava had also taken a turn just moments after her sisters passing but the doctors didn’t tell us and kept her going so we could spend this special time with Ella.
We spent the next three or four hours with her, bathed her, dressed her, sung to her and just looked at her beautiful face. It was then our time to say goodbye and go to be with her sister. On our return to Ava they advised us that she didn’t have a great survival rate now as she had just had another bad bleed on her brain and if she did survive she would be highly disabled.
Andrew and I felt that this was Ava’s sign to us that she wanted to be with her sister so we let the doctors know we would turn her life support off. This is every parent’s worst nightmare but we knew, and still do to this day, that it was the right decision for her and our family. Our girls now have the same birth and death date and will forever be together. Ava passed 12 hours after Ella, both on Easter Sunday the 24th of April 2011.
That Friday the 29th of April we said our final goodbye to our daughters and released 12 beautiful butterflies, six each for each day they were earth side with us. While we were releasing the butterflies a beautiful double rainbow appeared behind us. At this moment Andrew and I turned to each other and we knew our girls were at peace, safe and together forever.
THE MONTHS THAT FOLLOWED
In the months that followed, I had plenty of dark moments and lots and lots of questions about why this had happened but the best thing I did was to talk about the girls. I talked to everyone that would listen about what we had just experienced and I just kept talking. For me, being able to express my feelings and also tell my story was the best medicine.
Some people had no words and didn’t know what to say to us but I would say, it’s ok, I love talking about our girls and i’m just so grateful for the six days we did have together. We also had a good friend, Sarah, who was with us during the whole journey. From the beginning at the hospital, to the end moments, she was our rock and our shoulder whenever we needed it. She understands us and what we have experienced because she experienced it with us.
Andrew was also a huge support and I owe him a lot. He was always there to listen and he kept encouraging me to follow my heart and supported me every step of the way. The girls did great things for us, they made us so much stronger as a couple and for that I’m forever grateful to them. After what we have been through everything else in life feels easy.
Within days of our final farewell to the girls, Andrew and I were gifted a holiday to Bali from our family and friends, it was just what we needed. It gave us time to grieve in peace and just have each others company.
GIVING BACK IN THE GIRLS HONOUR
It was while I was away in Bali that I knew I wanted to return the favour to the Ronald McDonald House and say thank you for all the support they had showed us during the six days we stayed with them. They were such an amazing charity, one which we will support forever.
I also kept thinking about the litres of breast milk that I had to pour down the drain and what a waste it was when there were so many babies that my milk could nourish because there are many mothers that are not able to breastfeed their babies.
During the six months that I had off work after the girls passed away, I knew I wanted to keep busy so I decided this was my chance to create an event and raise funds for both Ronald McDonald House (RMHC) and the Royal Women’s Milk Bank that was being established.
It didn’t take me long to come up with the idea of walking the only journey our girls ever took. An 83 km journey from the Gold Coast Hospital to the Royal Women’s Hospital in Brisbane. Over the next six months I created a Facebook page called Ava and Ella’s Wings where I told our story and reached out to talk with other people going through infant loss.
The response from my page was amazing and the feeling of satisfaction I got from helping others was really special and comforting. I then created a Walk for Wings event and this was our journey to raise funds for RMHC and The Milk Bank. Over the months leading up to the walk we raised over $7000 from community donations. On the day of the event we had over 25 people start the walk with us at the Gold Coast Hospital on a mission for Brisbane.
Slowly along the way we lost walkers due to injury and exhaustion but one person never gave up – the girls daddy, Andrew, he was in it until the end! As we arrived at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Brisbane we all walked in together and had raised over $7000 for the two amazing charities and we had also brought a lot of attention to infant loss.
Before we lost our girls I never knew that one in four pregnancies end in loss, and once you’re the one, you hear and see it a lot more. After the walk I turned my focus to another project I had started for my personal use. I wanted a baby book to record my pregnancy in and the time we did have with our girls but I couldn’t find anything suitable so I decided to create my own.
I spent months designing a book to suit our situation. I didn’t want a book recording the normal milestones, I needed it tailored to the journey we had and the loss we had experienced. I created a beautiful book, which one day I would love to publish and have available to other families to record their babies journey even if it is just a pregnancy or just a few days or months that they got to spend with their child, every baby deserves to be remembered.
LIFE AFTER THE LOSS OF OUR GIRLS
In December 2011 after the girls had passed away, we relocated back to Cairns to be closer to both of our families and for a fresh start. In 2012 I fell pregnant again and in March 2013 our rainbow baby, Zac, was born. Our hearts were full again and we knew how lucky we were to have him in our arms at full term and in such healthy state.
In December 2014 I fell pregnant again and in August 2015, our second boy, Kai, was born. Our family was now complete with two healthy children back in our arms.
Every year we still celebrate Ava and Ella’s birthday by singing happy birthday, having a cake and a balloon release in their memory. The boys now really understand it and also get excited to celebrate their sisters birthday. Zac has a very lovely connection with his sisters and often talks about them and looks at their pictures. Whenever we see butterflies around we know it’s the girls saying hello, and when see double rainbows it makes my heart skip a beat still to this day.
To be able to hold our two boys in our arms and just cuddle them is the best feeling in the world! Something so simple but so extra special for us. We have overcome so much in the last seven years to get to where we are today. I look back and feel so proud that we have made it to now, amazed at what we have achieved and that we haven’t let anything hold us back.
HOW MY PERSPECTIVE ON LIFE HAS CHANGED
My perspective on life will never be the same again. I’m the mum I am today because of my girls and what they have taught me. I’m so strong mentally and it takes a lot to get me down. I feel that I’m also a great support person and I would do anything to help others in need after everything everyone did for our girls.
With my boys now I try not to take the little things for granted and I make as much time as possible for them, even if it is just the little things like extra cuddles at bedtime. If they ask they always get them because I never got the opportunity to do that with our girls.
As I say to everyone I talk to or anyone that reaches out to me for support, talk! Talk to me, talk to your partner, actually talk to everyone. It’s a great way to get your emotions out and help the healing process. Finding someone who has also experienced loss is also very helpful because they can relate to you, they know how you’re feeling, they get it and that’s really important.
To my darling Ava and Ella, thank you. I’ve said it to you so many times but I’ll say it again – thank you for everything you have given to me, thank you for your brothers that you continue to guide every day and thank you for making your dad and I the parents we are today.
If you would like to contact Lauren, you can do so via her Facebook page, Ava and Ella, We are now Angels.
If you have experienced loss yourself and need support and someone to speak with, Bears of Hope have some amazing information and a support team that you can reach out to.
Frames of Hope is a project run by Photographer and Social Worker, Bec Zacher, it aims to provide professional photo sessions to families facing great struggles and those that have walked through them. These families are gifted a professional photo shoot and given the opportunity to share their story so that their voice is heard and their story has a platform to encourage and inspire others. You can read more about Frames of Hope here, support this project and nominate a family for a Frames of Hope session.
Please take a moment to share this story so that these little ones can live on in our hearts and their lives and the lives of their families can encourage others facing the same challenges. x