When Emma Gawthorpe’s twin daughters tragically died shortly after they were born, the 29 year old was left heartbroken and forced to face an “indescribable” pain. Despite being told that it was unlikely that she’d ever know the joy of raising twins, teaching assistant Emma was given the Christmas gift of a lifetime when she went into labour with twins on Christmas Day in 2020.
Here she tells her story…
“Guess what, Mum? I’m having twins!” I squealed down the phone. Coming from a large family, I’d always wanted lots of children. Now my wish was coming true.
An eight-week scan had revealed I was expecting identical twins, siblings for my son Ellis, then four. My excitement was tempered with nerves, however. Ellis had been born prematurely at 24 weeks after I went into early labour due to a weakened cervix. As a result, he had multiple disabilities, including cerebral palsy and blindness.
There was a family history of premature labour and two of my brothers had died due to early births. But I tried to think positively. I learnt I was having girls and picked the names Remi and Star. I bought dozens of matching outfits and ordered a double buggy.
Then, in October 2018, I woke up with crippling stomach pain. I was bleeding too. I rushed to hospital where I was examined and given crushing news. “I’m so sorry but you are in labour,” the midwife said. “Your cervix is already fully open.”
Because I was only 22 weeks and the girls hadn’t reached the viability threshold of 24 weeks, they were unable to intervene. Remi was delivered first, weighing less than 14oz. She lived for 17 minutes, just enough time to meet her sister Star, who was 15.5oz. Thirty minutes after Star was born, she also passed away. In less than an hour I had met – and lost – my babies.
The pain was indescribable. It was the most traumatic time of my life. Brokenhearted, I went with Remi and Star to a special children’s hospice. I dressed them and cuddled them in my arms. The nurses helped me take copies of their handprints and footprints. Saying goodbye was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
While Ellis was at school I’d spend hours at their grave, leaving letters I’d written and reading them stories. Although I had my son and caring for him kept me busy, I felt empty without my girls and decided to try for another baby.
“Is it possible we will get twins again?” I asked the doctor. He said it was unlikely because I’d had identical twins, which don’t run in families.
In November 2019, I gave birth to a healthy baby girl called Meila. Cradling her in my arms helped mend my broken heart. But I still wanted a big family and when she was a few months old, I discovered I was pregnant again.
It was lockdown and I had to go to the scan alone, where the sonographer gave me some bittersweet news.
“It’s twins!” she announced. I started to cry. My heart and mind were racing. What if it happens again? What if they die too? I couldn’t go through that pain again. But I was also excited. I never thought I’d experience the joy of seeing twins grow up and now I had a second chance. Because I’d gone into premature labour before, I was able to persuade doctors to give me a cervical stitch, a procedure to stop it opening too early.
But the pregnancy was hard. I couldn’t relax because I was so worried. Each week felt like a huge milestone. Then, at 33 weeks, the doctors said I needed to be induced early because of gestational diabetes – on Christmas Eve.
The perfect present
I burst into tears. “I’m going to ruin Christmas!” I sobbed to my mum, Katie. “I haven’t wrapped all the presents yet. What about lunch?”
My family stepped in to look after Meila and Ellis, and I headed to the hospital, supported by my partner, Matthew. The induction took a while to kick in but on Christmas Day 2020, I went into labour.
To help things progress, I went for a walk in the hospital grounds. As I stepped outside, I gasped. It was snowing. It felt magical as snowflakes brushed against my face. At 8.43pm, as Christmas songs played on the radio, my twin boy and girl, Jude and Luna, were born five minutes apart, weighing 4lb 8oz and 4lb 15oz. They were the perfect Christmas present – and I was certain they were a gift sent to me from their older twin sisters. I decided to give them the middle names Remi and Star in their honour.
Because they were born at 34 weeks and one day gestation, they needed to go to neonatal intensive care, wearing tiny red Santa hats to keep them warm. Boxing Day is Ellis’s birthday and I felt guilty I couldn’t be at home, but my babies needed me. Three weeks later, they left hospital and met Ellis and Meila for the first time.
Life was busy with newborn twins, a one-year-old and a seven-year-old with disabilities. But when the twins were a few weeks old, I had a familiar feeling. I felt breathless and very sick – and a fleeting thought entered my mind. Could I be expecting twins again? Surely getting pregnant with three sets of twins was impossible?
Against all odds
Sure enough, I was pregnant, and at my six-week scan, the sonographer said, “It looks like there’s two.”
“Well, I’d be surprised if there wasn’t!” I joked, although the odds of getting pregnant three times with twins were around one in 700,000. My angel babies were blessing me again.
Ezra and Roux, a boy and a girl, were born in November 2021 at 34 weeks – six weeks before Jude and Luna’s first birthday. Until their second birthday this Christmas, I have four one-year-olds.
Matthew and I separated earlier this year so I’m a single mum now, but I get a lot of support from my mum and stepdad David. With three November and three December birthdays to prepare for – as well as Christmas – I have to be organised and I start shopping in August.
I used to be a chef so I’ll cook a traditional dinner with turkey and all the trimmings. Our front room will have the tree and Christmas presents underneath it, while the dining room will be filled with birthday gifts and balloons.
Life is certainly hectic, but losing Remi and Star means I’m very aware how precious my children are. I never take them for granted. The girls are still very much part of our family. I talk to the children about them and this Christmas I will buy them a present each and light a candle. I miss Remi and Star every day, but they sent me the most special Christmas present ever and helped me to smile again.”
Twins Trust offers support to parents of twins, triplets or more, including a bereavement service for those who have experienced baby loss. See twinstrust.org
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