What it's like to mourn the death of one child when having twins

Torn between grief and joy: What it’s like to mourn the death of one child… while rejoicing in the life of their twin

While it’s rare to lose a baby as footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, 37, and his partner Georgina Rodriguez, 28, have done, sadly they are not alone. Here, Vicky Burley, 45, who runs a marketing agency from her home in Surrey, recalls experiencing both the best and the worst moment of her life when she gave birth to twins, while her 16-year-old daughter Ella explains what it’s like to grow up without your other half… 

Vicky says:

Watching Ella twirl around the changing room in a glorious parade of frothy prom dresses last week, I felt so proud and happy.

Her school prom in June will be a wonderful rite of passage into the adult world. Like mums the length and breadth of Britain, I’m thrilled to have got her here in one piece and am so excited for her future.

While it’s rare to lose a baby as footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, 37, and his partner Georgina Rodriguez, 28, have done, sadly they are not alone

And yet, along with the joy, there’s a flicker of sorrow that I know will never leave me. It shouldn’t have been like this. I should have two daughters trying on dresses, not just one.

Ella was born one of twins. Sadly, her sister died in my womb and it’s why my heart now goes out to Cristiano Ronaldo and Georgina Rodriguez, who announced on Monday that while their daughter had been born safely, her twin brother had died.

They’ve made a point of telling the world they are delighted to have a baby girl to take home. But I know that doesn’t disguise their pain for one second. The day my twins were born was both the happiest and the most traumatic of my life. I can only imagine it’s the same for them.

I had a perfect baby in my arms. In the cot beside her, lay her dead sister. Simultaneously celebrating being a mum and mourning the loss of a child is like being split in two. And while the sorrow eases over time — no-one could live with that intensity of emotion for ever — it never completely goes away.

Vicky Burley, 45, and her daughter Ella, 16. Ella was born one of twins and her sister died in the womb

Although Coran was never in the world as a live baby, I know I made her and carried her. She will always be my daughter, a very real part of our family.

When you lose a baby in such circumstances it has a ripple effect on your whole life, too. I hope it won’t be the same for Cristiano and his partner, but losing Coran changed my husband Jeremy and me so profoundly it ultimately drove us apart. Sadly it’s all too common for parents who lose a child. Four years after we lost Coran, we separated. We are now divorced.

It may be 16 years since Coran died, but I still think about her every single day. However hard I concentrate on thinking only about the here and now, I can’t avoid the tiniest whisper of ‘what if?’.

To add to the complexity, 17 months after our girls were born, I gave birth to healthy twin boys. They’re a wonderful, riotous handful. I love them to bits and feel immensely lucky. But, while I adore watching their special bond, even that is bittersweet. It’s a constant reminder of how different things could have been for Ella.

When you lose a baby in such circumstances it has a ripple effect on your whole life, too. I hope it won’t be the same for Cristiano and his partner

Until Coran died I had enjoyed a charmed existence — loving parents, wonderful husband, great career in marketing.

Jeremy and I had been married just over a year when I became pregnant in January 2005. My grandmother was a twin but, apart from that, there’s no history in either family. Even so, I had a weird sense that I was carrying twins.

So we were both thrilled but not shocked when, at my 20-week scan, the sonographer at East Surrey hospital said she could see two tiny heartbeats. In the same breath she told us that there was a slight concern as the babies were very different in size.

Instantly our excitement evaporated and we were left feeling terribly anxious. Four days later, when we had a more detailed scan, we knew the full horror.

One of the babies had holoprosencephaly — a rare but devastating condition where the brain doesn’t develop fully.

Our baby was very unlikely to survive until birth. If she did live, she would be profoundly disabled.

It’s impossible to describe the agony of carrying a baby you know is destined to die. By now I could feel the babies moving independently. They were both immensely real to me.

We had been told that the healthy twin was a girl — we needed that certainty in the midst of so much uncertainty. But there was no way to tell the gender of her twin until birth because she was so small.

We called the baby Coran, inspired by the Latin word for heart, because we loved her with all our hearts and thought it would be equally suitable for a boy or a girl.

Maybe it was mad but I was determined that Coran should enjoy as much of life as I could possibly give. I took endless walks in the woods near our house that early summer, hoping against hope she could hear the bird song.

Ella, one-week-old, with her and her late sister, Coran’s teddy bears

Our baby was very unlikely to survive until birth. If she did live, she would be profoundly disabled. Pictured, Ella’s baby book

When I was 27 weeks pregnant we were driving through the countryside to a family party and I just sensed that she was gone. A scan shortly after confirmed our baby had died

Everything is double-edged. Days later we had to register Ella’s birth at the same time as registering Coran’s death. It felt so wrong

I wanted to feel happy I still had a healthy baby. Instead, I was overcome with loss and despair

I felt guilty and ashamed. Even though the doctors kept telling me there was nothing I could have done, I blamed myself

And then, when I was 27 weeks pregnant we were driving through the countryside to a family party and I just sensed that she was gone. From then on those fluttering butterfly movements stopped.

A scan shortly after confirmed our baby had died. I wanted to feel relief she didn’t have to suffer. I wanted to feel happy I still had a healthy baby. Instead, I was overcome with loss and despair.

I felt guilty and ashamed. As a mother my job was to protect my baby. Even though the doctors kept telling me there was nothing I could have done, I blamed myself. I also worried something terrible would happen to Ella.

I tortured myself by imagining what could never happen. I would never walk into the woods with Coran holding one hand and Ella the other. I would never buy them matching outfits or watch them fighting over the remote control.

Carrying twins was burned so deep in my soul that, night after night, during fitful sleeps I dreamt that I was still carrying two babies and that it had all been a terrible mistake. So every morning I woke up and had to relive her death all over again.

Jeremy was wonderful — a total rock. But I know his grief was different. I was the one carrying twins. For him they were inevitably more nebulous.

I felt completely isolated, until I was lucky to get support from the Twins Trust charity who matched me with a befriender — a wonderful woman who had experienced the same thing. She understood the maelstrom of emotions I was going through.

I felt completely isolated, until I was lucky to get support from the Twins Trust charity who matched me with a befriender — a wonderful woman who had experienced the same thing. Pictured, baby Ella in her mother’s arms

I wanted everyone to know about our baby. She never got a chance to live — but she deserved to be mourned. I remember telling one shocked lady in the supermarket queue that yes, I was having a baby but actually I was carrying twins, it was just that one had died.

It was distressing but safe to continue with my pregnancy as long as possible. And on September 4, when I was 38 weeks pregnant, Ella was born naturally. Weighing 7lb 2oz, she emerged absolutely perfect.

But minutes later my heart somersaulted. Coran — barely the size of my hand and with an unnaturally large head — was delivered and laid in a tiny crib.

Over the next few hours our families arrived to meet Ella and say goodbye to Coran. It was surreal. We had everything we wanted in Ella. At the same time, we were living every parent’s worst nightmare.

Everything is double-edged. Days later we had to register Ella’s birth at the same time as registering Coran’s death. It felt so wrong.

With the advice of the Twins Trust, we decided to talk to Ella about Coran right from the start. Pictured, Ella at eight-months-old

I struggled immensely with guilt over those first few traumatic weeks. If I felt happy because I had this gorgeous baby in my arms, I would feel immensely guilty because I wasn’t mourning Coran. When I was grieving, I felt guilty for neglecting Ella.

We held a funeral for Coran ten days after she was born. Ella was silent until the moment Coran’s tiny coffin disappeared behind the curtain in the crematorium. Then she let out an anguished howl.

With the advice of the Twins Trust, we decided to talk to Ella about Coran right from the start.

I am conscious there’s a danger I am projecting my feelings onto her, but I am convinced that she mourned Coran even before she could vocalise. As a baby she hated being left alone in her crib and would cry for company.

When she got older she would often say she missed her twin and talk about all the things they would have done together.

Jeremy and I had only ever intended to have one child but, for Ella’s sake, we decided to have a second baby as soon as possible.

Ella was born naturally. Weighing 7lb 2oz, she emerged absolutely perfect

I fell pregnant when she was 17 months old and was dumbfounded to discover — against all the odds — I was carrying twins again.

Our identical boys, Kayden and Brynley, were born in February 2007. They have always had the close bond I imagined for my girls.

Right from that first day, it’s been both delightful and painful to watch. Sadly for Jeremy and me their birth could not heal the distance that had already started to grow between us, a breach that only grew larger as time passed.

They try not to leave Ella out. She adores them and it makes me really happy when she says she feels lucky to have them.

I worried that every milestone, every birthday, would remind me that Coran wasn’t there. But time really does ease the pain, if not erase the loss. I have never wanted Ella to feel she is less than enough for us.

Coran may be never far from my mind but she doesn’t dominate our lives.

I have been determined to rejoice in every single one of Ella’s milestones — from learning to walk to leaving school (she intends to take A-levels and then hopes to study architecture at university) without letting her know there’s a small shadow.

I worried that every milestone, every birthday, would remind me that Coran wasn’t there. But time really does ease the pain, if not erase the loss. Pictured, Vicky, pregnant with Ella and Coran

Seeing her in her prom dress, I know I will enjoy every bit of the excitement when the big day arrives. There will just be the tiniest flicker of sadness, too.

We will mark Coran’s death — June 19 — this year as we do every year. When they were little, the children wrote her letters and let off balloons.

Now they are older it’s more a day of quiet reflection. I will be sad but, most of all, I know I am immensely lucky to have three healthy children.

I am confident that, in time, Cristiano and Georgina will find the same comfort.

‘Even if Coran had never been mentioned, I would have sensed something was missing,’ says Ella. Pictured, baby Ella with her mother

Ella says:

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know I had a twin.

Even if Coran had never been mentioned, I would have sensed something was missing.

Coran’s death definitely doesn’t overshadow my life.

But losing a twin, even before birth, has a massive impact — it’s like part of you is gone.

And that’s why it’s so important to talk about it — even though at times it’s really painful.

I’m very grateful to have my brothers. They are amazing. But there are times when seeing their bond makes me really sad because I can’t help thinking that Coran and I would have been that close.

They may say they hate each other, but the boys do everything together. They don’t completely understand what it’s like.

They think because I never met Coran, she is less important.

But of course I did meet her before I was born. And being that close together for so many months will inevitably have made an impact.

I know that losing Coran has made me frightened someone else will die. It’s not rational but, even now, if Mum is late home I worry. When I was a bit younger she left me alone with the boys while she popped to the corner shop for a loaf of bread. I had a complete meltdown and was sobbing on the floor when she got back.

’17 months after our girls were born, I gave birth to healthy twin boys. They’re a wonderful, riotous handful. I love them to bits and feel immensely lucky,’ Vicky says

I’m even scared of friends leaving me, so I’m a bit of a people pleaser.

I’ve struggled a little with survivor’s guilt. Why am I still here and Coran isn’t? Did I do something to hurt her?

But there are comforts, too. I feel strongly that Coran is with me — a wiser version of us both — watching over me.

I know I am the lucky one, and I want to achieve things in my life and experience as much of the world as I can, not just for me but for her, too.

Cristiano and Georgina may find it hard to talk about their loss and, in the future, they may think they are protecting their daughter by not mentioning

her twin.

But I think they should talk about him. I am convinced that knowing about Coran has really helped me.

  • Vicky Burley’s book How To Survive When One Twin Dies is available on Kindle or in paperback for £9.99 on Amazon.

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