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“Life breaks your heart when you least expect it”

“I will never forget the look on my doctor’s face, or the eerie stillness on the screen, when we learnt our Twin 1 no longer had a heartbeat.”

Photo: Supplied

This article originally appeared on the Courier Mail and is published here with permission.

Every day for the last six months I’ve had to make a conscious effort to be grateful for the blessings I have and not allow myself to drown in a sea of heartache.

There have been days when I’ve lost that battle, and bitterness or devastation have gotten the better of me. Yet more often than not I’ve managed to keep myself going, even amid extraordinary pain, because I’ve come to understand happiness is often just a choice we make for ourselves.

On March 21, an overcast, humid, Tuesday morning, the bottom fell out of my world.

I was at the end of what seemed like a long pregnancy carrying identical twin girls. I had just started maternity leave. I had just put the finishing touches on their beautiful nursery — little white cots sat on adjacent sides of the room with matching soft pink and lilac sheets. In a matter of hours I would learn that life’s most brutal lessons come when you are least prepared.

I was ridiculously diligent about being pregnant. I took my antenatal vitamin months in advance, I drank green smoothies daily, attended pregnancy pilates classes and avoided consuming anything potentially risky from alcohol, to soft eggs and goats cheese.

I even made my husband stop using insect repellent throughout summer.

I had a fabulous obstetrician, top medical cover and more scans than I could count to monitor the common risks of a multiple pregnancy. Somehow, naively, I thought that meant I could control the outcome, just as I had managed to control almost everything else in my life to date.

But March 21 was the day I learnt life is beyond the realms of control, even for the most avid micromanager.

I will never forget the look on my doctor’s face, or the eerie stillness on the screen, when we learnt our Twin 1 no longer had a heartbeat. For months she had already been named — Audrey. We could tell from the scans she had beautiful, delicate little features. There was also an elegance to her movements, even in utero, so the name seemed to fit.

I had worried about almost everything during my pregnancy, but somehow in the weeks leading up to that day, I let myself believe we had made it. I knew healthy, thriving twins born at 32 weeks gestation, and I was now past 34 weeks. They could survive on the outside if they had to, so I assumed we were in the clear.

Life breaks your heart when you least expect it.

There is still no definitive medical explanation for Audrey’s death. For a journalist, who has carved a career out of asking questions and searching for answers, I have to live with never getting an explanation to the greatest “why” of all.

On March 21 I felt more pain than I thought I could endure, and yet the minute hand on the big oversized hospital clock kept moving, as if to remind me that life would not stop just because my little baby’s heart did.

But March 21 was also the day I received the greatest gift of all, my precious little surviving daughter Lillian, born just a minute after her beautiful stillborn twin sister.

The human heart is capable of simultaneously feeling totally incongruent emotions. That day I learnt absolute love, gratitude and joy can exist alongside heartache, devastation and loss.

I only got to hold my two daughters together for about 20 minutes, but in those brief, irreplaceable moments I was able to see the incredible bond between my twins.

Little 2kg Lily, still hooked up to oxygen and monitors, reached out and held on to her sister’s tiny, lifeless hand. It became clear to me right then that my surviving daughter had suffered a loss even greater than mine and my husband’s.

No feeling, no matter how searing or raw, is stronger than a parent’s desire to protect their child. I became determined Lily would not also be forced to endure losing the joyful, positive, adoring mother she would have otherwise had if her sister had survived.

I would find my way through this, for her. In the weeks following March 21, I somehow, with the support of my incredible husband, family and friends, found the strength and resilience I never knew I had.

I also came to appreciate how phenomenally kind people are. I have never experienced anything quite like the outpouring of support we received after losing Audrey.

Friends, colleagues, even people we didn’t know, went to great effort to show us they genuinely cared about what we were going through.

In many ways the six months following March 21 have flown by, mostly in the daze of caring for a baby. But I have learnt that time does not heel all wounds.

The missing part of my soul reserved for Audrey only grows as my love for Lily grows. The questions get bigger too; what would have made Audrey smile for the first time, what little nursery rhymes would she have enjoyed, what would the expression in her eyes have been like when I went to pick her up out of her cot in the mornings.

I will never be the person I was on March 20, I will never experience the sort of uncomplicated happiness I took for granted before my girls were born. But as a mum I have also experienced more love and more joy in the last six months than I did in the 34 years before that day.

My life forevermore will be a patchwork of conflicting emotions. I am a still mother of twins, my journey just looks very different to how I thought it would.

In another six months it will be March 21 again. It will be a bittersweet day. We will celebrate Lily and remember Audrey. More than anything, I hope on that day we feel as though we are continuing to honour her short but remarkable life by loving her sister, choosing happiness and being grateful for the limited time we had with her.

SANDS helpline: 1300 072 637.

If you or someone you know needs help, call Lifeline on 131 114, Beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. In an emergency, call 000. For a correct mental health treatment plan, book an appointment with your GP.

For more information on mental health and treatment options, visit Beyond Blue, Black Dog Institute, Lifeline, RUOK or Headspace.

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