Natalie, tell us a little about how you felt when you found out that you were pregnant?
"I was ecstatic. This baby was to be our third and final much loved child. I smile now when I think about seeing those two lines and how little did we know that they meant so much more than pregnancy... two babies!
I had never in my wildest dreams expected to be pregnant with twins, so we were flabbergasted at our 8 week reassurance scan (booked to reassure us because I was so ill). I remember Ed my husband asking to use the bathroom and me turning to the staff member and saying “I’m not entirely sure he’ll come back.” I laugh now but I knew that a twin pregnant brought so much more anxiety for Ed as he was so aware of risks due to having worked in obstetrics when training."
What were your feelings towards your pregnancy and your unborn babies?
"I know I am incredibly fortunate but I felt instant love for them, I have been so lucky to have that immediate rush of love and wishing to nuture with each of my three pregnancies. I know that for many women this is not the case so I have also counted my blessings in this respect. When I found out they were identical girls we were over the moon (due to the pandemic Ed was in the carpark so I had to tell him by text) it just felt perfect. Don’t get me wrong there was anxiety of how will we parent four children and give them all the time they need each. More than the panic though there was dreams, I’ve always been partial to daydreaming and this was no different. In my head we were already exploring the countryside the girls in wellies and dresses, forever being reminded that our labrador did not appreciate dress up or being fed toy food."
At what point were you told that there were complications?
"We were made aware from early on that twin pregnancies were high risk and required very close monitoring with fortnightly scans from 18 weeks. Every scan was going well until my 24+2 scan this is where my world turned upside down. At this scan I was informed that there
were clear signs of TTTS (twin to twin transfusion syndrome). The girls both had significant excess amniotic fluid, there was a significant different in their sizes and there was reduced and intermittent blood flow through the cord. Alice was also not observed to move. It was the most overwhelming news and I will not forget it in a hurry. It was decided I needed review at the earliest opportunity by a specialist team in London which was arranged for four days later due to Bank holiday) We had three days of petrified anguish that I will never forget."
Tell us briefly in your own words what happened when your daughters were born. How did you choose Freya and Alice’s names?.
"We travelled to London the night prior to the appointment, sadly we never made that appointment as I laboured and delivered the girls that night. I’ll spare you all the details as it is very traumatic but due to a scan in London prior to labour I was made aware that Freya had passed away. The girls were born ten minutes apart less than 2 hours later with a very quick labour.
I cannot put in to words the pain you feel knowing that you will deliver your baby sleeping. There are no words that I can think of that are strong enough to describe it. There are no words to describe the pain of watching your husband sit devastated beside you and helpless unable to do anything to make the situation better. To this day I do not know how I found the strength and determination to birth my girls Alice being second and breach perhaps spurred me on to do all I could to save her. In hindsight perhaps I felt because I was delivering them myself that I had some control in a situation where I felt so overwhelmed and out of control.
I’m not sure I do remember the delivering midwife saying to me afterwards though I have never met a woman with such strength or one who loved her husband so much and that really touched me.
Alice lived for 10 days on a neonatal unit and whilst it was incredibly hard the image of her looking at me while I read to her will never leave me it was such a precious moment.
As for Freya and Alice’s names...I am incredibly fenickity with names. I have to love a name but I also choose names because of their meaning. My youngest sons middle name for example means “he laughs” and there could not be a more fitting name. Alice and Freya both mean “noble/ nobility” and I wanted the girls to have noble characters such as being kind, honest and charitable. I also wanted them to be themselves so planned to celebrate their unique personalities too, that’s why they needed different initials for me and names that were dissimilar."
Not a small question, but what has the emotional journey been for you as an individual and you as a couple?
"As an individual it has felt like walking through hell, there is a poem called “I am wearing a pair of shoes" and this is about as close as I can find to describing it.
I feel so changed, my core is the same but I am not which is really hard to explain. I feel I have learned so much about myself and that I am much stronger than I ever would have believed. I’ve learned a lot about myself as a mother too.
As a couple, we have not let this break us if anything we are more united. We understand that we grieve differently and recognise that this is ok. We support each other and our sons together. "
What decisions did you make a saying goodbye to Freya and Alice?
"We are not religious but felt that we needed something a service to recognise the girls place in this world and our family. I contacted Deborah to discuss a celebrant led service and she made a ceremony that was just beautifully fitting for our girls. Deborah was very helpful and recommended an independent funeral directors who were more than happy to travel over 200miles each way to collect our girls and bring them home. "
How what has been hard for family and friends do you think?
"Close family are friends are also grieving the loss of Freya and Alice but I cannot offer them the shoulder I usually would.
I think its knowing what to say too, for fear of saying the wrong thing or in other cases saying the wrong thing and been met with anger. I would advise say something, silence is so much worse. Silence tells a bereaved parent you don’t value their child/ children’s existence because struggling to find words will never compare to struggle to live after losing a child/ children. "
Have family and friends done anything that has been helpful?
"Not being afraid to talk about Freya and Alice, keeping there memory alive means so much and validates that they exist. Friends being able to tolerate talking about the girls confirms they are still my daughter and they matter which I think is actually important as part of grieving. Nothing says we care more than being able to listen and keep our babies in mind as they do our other children."
Do you have any tips for anybody who may know somebody that has suffered the loss of a baby?
"Please don’t be silent. If you are unsure what to say please make contact with them even if its a text saying “I’m thinking of you", “I’m so sorry" or “sending you love”. If you feel able ask them about their baby/ babies and if they have a name use their name. Be gentle and patient on difficult days such as Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries of due dates and their babies death.
Please remember grief is individual to each person and is not linear some days are good and others are not but a child or baby loss is a loss of the future so it will not go with time. There will always be a gap where they should have been."
Finally, the future – how are you all now and how is the future looking?
"Who knows what the future holds. My focus right now alongside my sons and husband is raising awareness about baby loss. I’d like to see a time where this is less taboo and am working hard to raise money for charities that are completing research to hopefully prevent future families having to experience losing a child/ children.
Currently we’re ok, I’m due to return to work soon which will be a big change but things will be ok. We continue to find a way to live on with the girls being with us everyday while we navigate this new and unexpected path of parenting children both on earth and with the stars."
...... and Natalie, along with some dear friends and colleagues raised an amazing amount of money for the Twins Trust in Freya and Alice's memory. You can still donate directly to The Twins Trust via this link: https://twinstrust.org/get-involved/fundraising/donation.html
I'd also like to give a little shout out to Henry's Hope, a small Barnsley led charity who so kindly and sensitively took the keep sake foot and hand prints from Freya and Alice.
If you have experienced the loss of baby, or you know somebody who has, you can also find sensitive support and further helpful resources at SANDS