Updated: Feb 5, 2021
"Grief I've learned, is really just love. It's all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go."
Greta Rae Reynolds Nielsen and Harriet Ann Reynolds Nielsen are our identical twin daughters who were both born still at 37 weeks on February 4, 2018. Despite the high risk label that is automatic for monochorionic diamniotic twins our daughters pregnancy was uneventful. We had an abundance of monitoring to ensure their development and to monitor for a fatal condition called twin to twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS). Thankfully our daughters grew equally and beautifully together. Until the day they did not. What I believed to potentially be the beginning of labor and haphazard contractions kept me up one night. In the morning I decided to rest in bed to prepare for labor. But rest did not come as fear set in about the lack of movement I suddenly felt. Cold water, pancakes with syrup and chocolate milk didn't stir our babies and I knew something was horribly wrong. My sister (who is a home birth midwife and heard their tiny hearts beating at 9 weeks) blamed the batteries in her Doppler when she could not find either of our daughters' heartbeats. A painfully long wait for a sonographer at the small, local hospital gave my mind time to travel to the ends of the earth praying for our daughters to move. The words to confirm my worst ever nightmare came. "There is the chest cavity of one of your babies. There is no cardiac activity. There is the chest cavity of your second baby. There is no cardiac activity." And the world became dark. I watched from above while a woman on the hospital bed held her stomach yelling "my babies, my babies." I watched a father rip the hat from his head and throw it across the room screaming "fuuuuuuck no!"
About 24 hours later my body went into spontaneous labor and our daughters were born naturally as planned. Greta weighed 8 pounds 1.6 ounces and Harriet weighed 8 pounds 3.4 ounces. I find myself sharing their birth weights as often as possible to give merit to their existence, to avoid the questions about prematurity, viability, or TTTS. I want anyone who asks to understand the devastating reality that babies die and families of those babies have hearts that are forever broken.
In the three years that have passed since our daughters died I've learned how inept society is at sitting with others who are deeply grief stricken. Early on my husband I were confused when people referred to our daughters in the past tense. We know our daughters have died but that doesn't negate their existence. We know our daughters aren't in our arms but that doesn't mean we can't find ways to parent them in the present. And we know we will never see them learn to walk, have their first taste of solid food, wear matching dresses to Easter morning service or walk down the aisle at their weddings but that does not mean that they aren't members of our family forever and ever.
At the realization that some people simply can't understand this pain, our separation began from those who could not sit with us without judgment. We sought refuge from places like Star Legacy Foundation, Camp Hope, Faith's Lodge, Peyton's Smile and online bereaved parents' groups. With support from our tribe we've learned that our grief is our love. And both are unending. We have learned to watch carefully for the presence of both of our daughters. We have witnessed the paintings our daughters send from heaven when the sunsets and sunrises are vibrantly pink and purple. We giggle when things go missing from our home and wonder if Greta or Harriet will ever return the library book or rice krispie treat that were both just on the table.
Our hearts find joy when we do something to honor Greta and Harriet like random acts of kindness, hiding our special hand painted "G&H Rocks," supporting newly bereaved families, working on our traveling pregnancy and infant loss awareness display or engaging with organizations like the Alana Rose Foundation.
Our living daughter recently brought home a book she created in school. The pages are colored pink and purple and the letters "G" and "H" are scattered throughout the book. Our son willingly donates the money he earns collecting cans to agencies that support bereaved families. Our living children (ages 8 and 6) have a painfully raw awareness of their sisters' absence. Grief strikes us all without warning. We remind each other that the grief is our love. And whenever anyone asks, I will proudly declare that I am the mother of four children.
Shared with love by Greta and Harriet's mom Angie Nielsen