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It can’t happen to me. Famous last words; another untrue statement, along with “God only gives you what you can handle”. What in Heaven or in Hell made God think I could handle this?

When one of my premature twin boys got sick, I tried bargaining with God. I got on my knees on the floor of one of the NICU bathrooms and prayed. I asked him not to punish my baby for my mistakes. I begged him for mercy. But I’m still not sure if God was listening; if He was, I’ll never know why He didn’t answer.

It all happened so fast. Charlie was the feisty one, the one who weighed more, the one who opened his eyes first. He seemed to be doing fine. He got very sick very suddenly. I could tell something was wrong when I saw more than one doctor in his room along with several new machines. No one was looking at me or telling me anything. Finally one kind nurse sat down next to me and told me not to worry, that it would all be ok. At least this helped me feel better even if it wasn’t true.

That day was the longest and scariest day of my entire life. It dragged on forever as poor Charlie got sicker and sicker, but continued to fight harder and harder. Finally it became clear that we needed to prepare to make some memories with our baby to have for later and to help our other son – his twin Austin – understand when he grew up. We made molds of his tiny hands and feet (which to this day are still in the box because I cannot bear to look at them), and his father held him for the first time. I insisted on being the last person to hold him before he died – I was there when he opened his eyes for the first time, so I should be there with him when he closed them for the last time. I held him for such a very long time. No monitors beeped; it was so quiet in the NICU. Behind our privacy curtain I could hear sniffling and suppressed crying from the nurses. How do you go on living when one twin dies and the other is still critical in the NICU? With a lot of help. We turned to each other and Austin first. We were exhausted, overwhelmed, grief-stricken, confused, angry, hurt, disappointed, and relieved. Yes, relieved. The horrible ordeal was over. No more fear of what could happen, because the worst already had. The only thing that kept us moving ahead was Austin; he was our anchor in the storm.

The support from family and friends was incredible. Traditional gestures like cards, flowers, and food were sent. Phone calls came in (Thank goodness for call display because I couldn’t bear to speak to anyone except my mother). Some gestures were especially overwhelming: Money collected by friends, tiny hats and mitts knitted by hand and mailed to the house, and a little keepsake box with hand and footprints, hair, photos and a card signed by the NICU staff, left in Austin’s room the morning after. The kindness of the funeral home was also much appreciated – they waived the cremation and service fees.

There was one more step we had to take before we could move forward and focus on our son who still lived: returning all the doubles. This was harder for me than calling the funeral home (which actually turned out to be not that bad – everything was handled with one email and one short visit during which we chose a small urn and a teddy bear with a locket that holds a picture of Charlie and some of his ashes. Both items sit on a shelf in the nursery so that both of my boys are together at home. A token from a special friend reminds me “Though everything around may seem unsettled, at the centre, there is the stillness of faith and the promise of a better day.”) Explaining to store managers over and over again why we were returning a crib or a car seat unused six months after purchase was heart-breaking and frustrating. But once all the extra baby items were gone, I began to feel a bit better. I was able to arrange my home and my life around one baby who would be coming home soon.

The one bright spot in the ordeal of remaining in the NICU after Charlie died was Kangaroo Care. Holding Austin calmed me, helped me bond, and helped me grieve for my son. The cuddling started as an infrequent, short duration privilege given only once a visit, but every second was worth it. As Austin grew and became stronger, I focused more and more on my life with him. I tried to eliminate thoughts of doubt and second-guessing. It was still hard not to panic and worry about Austin’s health every step of the way, but, like Harry Potter, my “boy who lived” overcame great odds to survive.

I am thankful every second of every day for both of my sons. I am grateful that they grew together inside me and that they have a bond that can never be broken. Austin is a happy, healthy, busy and adventurous two year old, with NO lasting effects of his premature birth or long stay in the NICU. He talks almost constantly – even in his sleep – and I truly believe that is because he knows he’s not alone: his brother Charlie is right beside him all the way.