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Catherine's Story

Catherine Oxborrow and her family never need imagine what their daughter would have looked like, because they see her twin sister every single day.

They can’t help but wonder how the siblings would now be bonding with each other, having already experienced the twin connection with their identical boys William and Charlie.

Catherine and her husband found out they were pregnant with twins again in May 2015, when the boys were just 18 months old. “I think it’s pretty rare to have two sets of identical twins, so we were shocked when we found out,” said Catherine. “My husband was there and I remember him saying ‘oh my goodness, what are we going to do?’

“It was kind of perfect though, knowing we would have two boys and two girls – we found out they were girls at around 18 weeks and it just felt like we were going to have a complete set. We were really excited.”

For Catherine, the pregnancy was relatively easy. Having had a twin pregnancy before, she hoped it would again be problem-free. The family started busying themselves for the girls’ arrival and were excited to be doubling their children. But at 29 weeks, on 15 October 2015, Catherine started to have contractions and suddenly went into a very quick labour.

It is not known whether little baby Alys died before or during her birth, but sadly she passed away before the family were able to share their first cuddle. Alys was 1124g while Clara was even smaller at 1100g. After hearing the news that Alys had died, the family were told Clara had a grade four bleed on the brain and doctors explained that four was the most serious and it would be a case of ‘wait and see’ to find out if or how this would affect her.

As well as grieving for Alys, Catherine and her family had to remain strong and think positive for Clara, as she remained under constant medical watch for almost two months. 

“We were completely torn – part of me wanted to sob my heart out and completely immerse myself in grief for Alys, but we had to be strong for Clara while she was in hospital and of course the boys. Thankfully Clara is, so far, perfectly healthy.

After the girls’ birth, Catherine and her husband were invited to see Alys and spend time with her in a private room in the neonatal unit. 

 “You inevitably question yourself constantly  – ‘what if I had done things differently?’ ‘Should I have spent more time with Alys  at the hospital?’,” said Catherine.

“At the time I was scared of seeing Alys in the hospital as I hadn’t seen someone who had passed away before. I didn’t know how she would look. I went once, but didn’t go again in case she had changed and I didn’t want a memory of her not looking like my beautiful baby.  I wish I had overcome these fears and seen my daughter again but thankfully the neonatal unit took photos for us to look at later, which has helped. We know what Alys would have looked like as Clara and Alys are identical twins.

“We will never know what happened to Alys – we decided against a post mortem as we didn’t want to know that her body had gone through that process as well. Nothing will bring her back and knowing what happened won’t make a difference.”

Clara is now crawling around the family home in Essex and tries to copy everything her older brothers do. She’s happy playing with Charlie and William, but Catherine can’t help but picture Alys joining in the fun.

“Because we have the boys, it’s really hard because I see that special twin bond they have and I know Clara should have had that with Alys too,” said Catherine. “I can’t help but feel she will be missing out.

“We will definitely tell the boys and Clara about Alys when they are old enough. Clara needs to know she is a twin.”

After the sadness of leaving the hospital and the emotional struggle of having to arrange a funeral for her daughter, Catherine says one of the hardest parts of returning to everyday life was “how the world just carried on when our world had been shattered. We also felt some people avoided the subject.”

Catherine said: “I have a few friends who have been really brilliant at listening to me talking about Alys. Sadly I have three friends who have also lost a baby during their first days or months who have also been supportive to me. Most people asked how Clara was but it was strange they ignored the fact Alys had been born.

“I know it’s because they probably didn’t know what to say but I wanted them to ask questions about Alys too, even though in some ways there is nothing to say. It is upsetting when you can’t point out Clara is a twin when strangers make comments about your children because you’re worried about making them feel awkward. It’s not the done thing to talk about your dead baby.”

Catherine says she is surprised at how prevalent neonatal death and stillborn babies are, given that it is still often a taboo subject that people shy away from. “It’s awful that so many babies die and we don’t understand why,” says Catherine. “Before it happens to you or someone you know you don’t really think about it or appreciate what a difficult thing it is to experience.”

“I think what’s particularly hard is that you don’t have memories of your baby as such, we can’t celebrate her first birthday or her first day of school, and we never will.

“I do think it’s something people should talk about though. I’ll always talk about Alys and never forget her.”


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