In the initial weeks after bringing Charlotte home, I put stars up all over our house. Just like I felt closer to Esme when I was out walking the dogs, seeing the stars everywhere in the house made me feel closer to her indoors.
But at least you’ve still got one
As I have mentioned previously I am so grateful for the opportunity of raising Charlotte. She makes me feel extremely proud and honoured to be her Mummy. Experiencing those joys have made me the happiest person. Every new experience I have with Charlotte makes being a Mummy feel extra special, whether it’s a trip into town, to baby cinema, going for walks, playdates or just cuddles on the sofa.
There have only been a handful of occasions when people have said to me, “At least you have still got one.” Each time that has painfully lodged itself in my memory. I have either been sharing a recollection of Esme, or grieving for her, and rather than just listening, they said that to me.
In a fraction of a second those comments make me feel guilty that I wasn’t being grateful enough for having Charlotte but at the same time so hurt and angry. I didn’t need reminding that I felt the luckiest person in the world to be taking Charlotte home, but not taking Esme home and watching her die in my arms also brings with it equal amounts of pain and heartache.
Yes, I know of all people, that I am one of the luckiest to have Charlotte yet I still lost a baby. Twins are two lives, two heartbeats, two souls and my two daughters. It stings so much when people say that to me. It knocks the wind out of my sails and snatches my breath away.
The people who I enjoy speaking to about Esme. most are those who listen, who don’t try to provide answers, give reasons or find justifications, or change the subject to Charlotte, but just listen to what I have to say. They are my most treasured and helpful conversations.
I am blessed that I will always know or at least have an idea of what Esme might look like through Charlotte. It wasn’t until Charlotte and Esme were put in the same cot that it was clear how similar they were. There have been a handful of occasions, especially when Charlotte is asleep, that I have looked at her and seen Esme. It is a nice feeling; a soft, kind reminder that Charlotte is a twin to her beautiful little sister, Esme.
Charlotte continues to live up to her reputation in hospital where she was known as ‘the wild, feisty one’ by the neonatal nurses. Esme was always known as the ‘calm one’. Charlotte lets nothing stand in her way and embraces everything with a cheeky smile and a giggle. I often think about how different or similar Esme would have been.
Twins, twins twins
Oh, how I see that word ‘twins’ everywhere. As time has gone on, or depending on what mindset I am in, the way the word affects me changes. It’s the same when seeing or hearing about twins, whether it’s when I’m out and about, on the television or in social media.
I have found I don’t dislike the word ‘twins’ as much as I used to. Especially during the first year after losing Esme, the word ‘twins’ would momentarily stop me in my tracks. It hurt to hear, to read and to see it. However, I don’t want to be like this. There will always be twins around me. I am a mother of twins. I have a surviving twin. I lost a twin. I don’t want to feel anxiety or pain whenever I come across that word or see twins in real life.
It’s just hard and I imagine it will be a long road I will have to travel until I feel more comfortable with the word. There have even been times when I have got annoyed at ‘twins’ and have been amused by my own behaviour. For example, on a walk in Springtime, I got annoyed that all the bloody sheep had their twin lambs feeding from them. Then I laughed and said out loud “Amy you are being a little bit ridiculous now, loads of animals have two or more babies”, but I still found I felt slightly bitter as I said it and that nature was rubbing it in my face.
When I see twins on social media, I often find it much easier to look at them if they are boy and girl twins or two boys. Sometimes I can look at photographs or videos and I’m ok, other times, often when it is not on my terms, it hurts. I find I am mostly ok to look at them if they are playing together but what hurts the most is if I see the mother holding them both. I crave for the physical contact. My arms immediately feel empty and my heart aches to hold both my girls safely together again, just one more time. Charlotte always helps alleviate this pain and does an exceedingly grand job of giving me a cuddle from both her and Esme.
If I am out in public and I see twins, I find I am fascinated by them. I feel like everything stops around me and I’m unable to do nothing but stare at them. If I see a double buggy coming towards me, I feel nervous that I am about to see twins. A wave of relief washes over me if I realise it’s a toddler and a baby. When passing twins in the street, I soak up how they are dressed, whether they look similar or different and guess what age they might be. I go into this bubble of longing. Longing to know what life would have been like if Charlotte and Esme had grown up together.
I was once on playtime duty and my eye caught two girls dressed in the same coat. I looked at their hair, which was cut the same, they wore different pyjamas (it was Children in Need day) but the same trainers. For the whole of playtime I found it difficult to take my eyes off them. They were probably aged four or five. I wasn’t tearful at first but just became absorbed in how they looked the same but different, how one was slightly louder and more rebellious than the other and how they interacted. As I watched them play, I started to imagine what Charlotte and Esme would have been like, that they would have looked very similar at age four or five, but I would easily be able to tell them apart. Charlotte would probably be the slightly cheekier one, be bold and know exactly what she was doing, whereas Esme would likely have been more graceful and slightly quieter. As playtime came to an end the twins went inside. I stopped imagining and my eyes welled up. I felt the icy cold harshness of reality hit me hard across both cheeks. I was hurting and longing for what could’ve been. I’m sure they would have been great friends.
I am still a Mum of twins
It wasn’t until almost a year had passed that I felt or believed that I was still a Mummy of twins. With the help from my counsellor and by talking about my memories of Charlotte and Esme, the feelings of being a proud mother of twins started to return. In my writing and when talking to people I rarely use “my twins”. After Esme died the word never seemed right and I would say “my girls”. It’s been a difficult path to learn how to navigate and accept my life being a twin Mummy to Charlotte on earth and Esme in heaven.
Despite the return of those feelings, I got caught off guard while out Christmas shopping with Charlotte. I imagine that it is certainly not the last time that will happen. I guess that is the thing with grief, though, you never know when it will creep up on you.
I’d had a lovely time in a pottery shop, making Christmas decorations with Charlotte. I asked the assistant if half term had been manic. She replied, “Yes it was, we had twins in who were both crying and I was so amazed that the mother just stayed so calm.” And just like that, my happiness had been stolen. I was grateful for my close friend being with me. Just her presence and knowing that she was standing right behind me was all I needed. I knew she would be there to hold me if I needed to be.
It wasn’t until driving home that day that I realised what was troubling me so much about the assistant’s comment. It was because I wanted the assistant to know that I was one of those mums. I am a mother of twins too except behind my ‘calm persona’, I carry the emotional pain of one of my twins in my heart and the other in my arms. I am still a Mum of twins.
Jealousy or Longing?
For a long time, I thought I was jealous of other mums who managed to carry their twins to full term or who had the opportunity to raise their twins. However, ‘jealousy’ always seemed such a harsh and mean word to apply to myself. A part of me probably is a bit jealous of those mums, but isn’t that only a natural feeling, as they have something I so desperately want but which was cruelly taken away from me?
Fifteen months had passed since Esme had died when I realised it wasn’t so much a feeling of anger or jealousy, but more a feeling of longing. Longing to be the mum of twins that I had imagined I would be. A longing to know how big I would have been if I had carried my girls to full term. A longing to know if Esme would still be here if my waters hadn’t gone at twenty four weeks. A longing to know how different my life could have been if Esme had never caught ventriculitis. A longing to know what she is up to. A longing to see my twin girls grow up together and hold them in my arms. A longing to know how similar or different they would look. A longing to know how they would interact and play together. A longing to know what they would have been like at school.
Every time I have a new experience or go on an adventure with Charlotte, there lingers a longing. Sometimes the longing is just a brief thought, other times I imagine Esme was still here and play the scenario out.
I felt relieved to know and acknowledge that those bitter feelings weren’t all jealousy. Jealousy felt too short-term. Although longing to have the chance to see Esme grow up is far more painful than to be jealous of someone, it is a relief to be able to understand my feelings when I see other twins or parents with their twins.
I also long to know that Charlotte will be ok. When people said to me, “Make the most of it, they grow up so fast”, I found it hard to understand why that would irritate me slightly. I couldn’t help but think “What if I want her to grow up?” It wasn’t until just before her first birthday, that it dawned on me that I was scared of never getting the chance to see Charlotte grow up. What if she was taken from me too? I felt petrified of not having the chance to see Charlotte grow up either. Never seeing her walk, talk, wear her school uniform or drive a car. It wasn’t until I spoke to my cousin about this and she said she had experienced something similar, that I felt much better. It was a normal ‘mummy worry’. I’m never sure what is a common ‘mummy worry’ though, and whether my worries have been heightened because I have lost a baby, or whether I have certain thoughts, worries or anxieties because of what has happened in my journey into motherhood so far.
Taking each day as it comes
If last summer has taught me anything, it has taught me to take each day as it comes. Every day is a new day. The days on which I struggle, I have learnt to just go with the flow and to keep putting one foot in front of the other, best foot forward, always. I have come to learn and appreciate that there are no rules. No pressure to get things done or feeling a need to be in a different place emotionally.
I have taken, and it still is taking me, a long time to learn and to understand how to continue being a mother to Esme. I suppose deep down, I know she is safe in my heart and that should make me feel full, happy and satisfied, that that’s maybe all I need to do to be her mother. However, it took a while to be able to talk to her, whether I’m by her cross, walking around the house, talking to Charlotte or just out and about. I was frustrated, angry that she wasn’t here with me, that I couldn’t see or touch her or that I had no idea where she was or what she was doing.
It took a long time for me to say her name. It wasn’t until I phoned up for counselling, five months after Esme died, that I said her full name out loud. Saying each part of her name hurt. “Esme Ann Campbell” I said to the lady on the phone, whilst feeling choked at each name I said. Through counselling, I learnt to be able to talk about her, without feeling that I was reading from a script or that there were no emotions attached. I now talk to her everywhere and feel comforted when I wonder what she might say, think or do in response.
I take pride in looking for things for her cross, especially on her birthday, the day she died or Christmas. It is slowly becoming my norm of being a twin mummy to Charlotte and Esme and that doesn’t make me feel sad nor do I want others to be sad for me. As that is what has happened, that this is my life and the fact that I’ve accepted it, and learnt to live my life like this, makes me feel good. I love it when people want to visit her cross, or write her name in things, or buy her little presents or mention her in conversation. It is very heartwarming to know they appreciate and understand that Esme is still a big part of their lives and ours.
Of course, Charlotte helps me every single day. Many days have been filled with bittersweet thoughts and memories but having Charlotte by my side has enabled me to survive each one and become stronger. Being a Mummy to Charlotte, I only want the best for her. I wish to have no regrets and no looking back wishing I had raised Charlotte differently as I was too wrapped up in grief.
Charlotte has helped prevent me feeling I am being drowned in my own grief. She is too much fun and brings so much joy.
It’s ok to feel happy
The tough days are difficult, the normal days are good, but the good mornings, afternoons, evenings or whole days are incredible.
During those moments when I feel happy, I have never felt happiness like it. Sometimes I feel nervous at feeling that happy, scared that it will be taken from me, just like Esme was, just like the joy of being pregnant was. I am learning it is ok to feel happy.
Learning to allow myself to be or feel happy, is not something I thought I would ever have to learn to embrace but when I have experienced what it feels like for my heart to be shattered it takes time to build that happiness, and trust in that happiness, again.
24th September, 2017, was one of those days when I felt sheer happiness. I got a pony!!! When Charlotte and Esme were in hospital, our close family friends said that whenever they come home, Ben, their chestnut Shetland pony, would be all theirs. I was ecstatic at hearing the news. Having my own pony has been my single childhood dream.
That afternoon after getting Ben, I sat in my garden, basking in the afternoon sun and wrote this letter to Esme.
Thank you for teaching me what it feels like to feel truly happy. Those moments, when everything feels right, everything feels good, everything is happy.
Without losing you, I would never have known what it feels like to have my heart shattered but I also would never have experienced what the meaning of true happiness feels like.
When happiness strikes, my heart feels full and my world feels complete.
In the words of Roald Dahl, “It’s impossible to make your eyes twinkle, if you’re not feeling twinkly yourself”.
Thank you for helping me feel twinkly Esme.
For me, this letter describes true happiness and being happy is simply one of the best feelings in the world.