'My Boys Are Both Here, in Different Ways:' Mom's Journey After Losing One Twin


Kevin, Heidi, and baby Marcus, the twin they lost. (Photo: Copyright Kimberly Ray Photography, used by permission)

This story is by Heidi Bohrer, as told to Melissa Walker.

My husband Kevin and I had some trouble conceiving naturally, but IVF worked for us right away — we live near one of the best fertility clinics in the country in Portland, Oregon, and soon I was pregnant with twins! I was excited, but it was pretty abstract to me. My husband and I are both schoolteachers, so we’ve been around kids, but I was 35 and I didn’t know what it was to be a parent, or how to change one diaper, let alone two.

The boys were fraternal, and we named them Marcus and Kellan. I didn’t have any major issues during the pregnancy, and they were growing well at each visit. They each had their own sacks and placentas, and Marcus was always slightly smaller than Kellan, so the doctors said I’d have one big kid and one average-sized kid. There were minor blips along the way — I had elevated blood pressure, which can happen with twins, and doctors monitored me but weren’t concerned.

By 32 weeks, both the boys were standing up next to each other in a breech position and the doctors said they weren’t going to move much from there, so they scheduled me for a c-section at 37 weeks.

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On delivery day, February 25, 2014, I arrived at the hospital at 7 a.m. and the nurses hooked me up to devices to monitor the boys’ heartbeats. They immediately found Kellan’s and thought they found Marcus’s too, but I heard them saying “he’s low,” and then “the heartbeat’s really similar.” Later I would learn what they’d found was an echo of Kellan’s heartbeat, because Marcus didn’t have one.

The nurses’ chatty tone changed as they became concerned about the heartbeat, and they went to get a doctor. I could feel myself going numb, and when the perinatologist came in, she brought in a bigger machine with mobile imaging technology. I remember looking closely at the screen and seeing that Marcus didn’t have a heartbeat, but I couldn’t process it. “What does that mean?” I kept asking the doctor, over and over, as she looked.

Then she said, “I’m really sorry to tell you this, but baby B doesn’t have a heartbeat.” But still, I asked, “What does that mean? Do you need to do something with him when he’s born?” And she said, “No. I’m afraid he’s no longer alive.”

I am grateful for the shock of grief. Otherwise, I never could’ve wrapped my mind around the pain of that moment when my life changed forever.

Although they didn’t think Kellan was in any danger, the nurses pushed to have me go into surgery quickly. Twenty minutes after I found out we’d lost Marcus, I was being wheeled down the hallway, passing nurses and other about-to-be-moms. I felt the shock wearing off and the sadness coming. I knew that I seemed like every other pregnant woman there, but I didn’t want to meet anyone’s eyes. I looked at the floor the entire way.

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They gave me an epidural, and then they were tugging at my abdomen. They got Kellan out, and he cried a little bit and I could see him on the scale. I remember seeing his light, curly hair and thinking, “How can I have a blonde kid?” Then I realized there was more tugging — Marcus. My husband Kevin asked if wanted to see him, and of course I did.

There was the brown-haired baby I was expecting. He looked like me, as much as you can see a resemblance that early. It was like he was sleeping, and he was so beautiful.

I looked back at Kellan, wiggling on the scale, and thought, How did this happen?

The doctors did many tests to find out why Marcus died, and the perinatologist told me he’d passed a day or so before delivery. The immediate feedback I got was that his placenta was tiny and the cord was slightly hyper-coiled, so they assume he wasn’t getting enough nutrients and oxygen. After all the testing, that’s still their best guess — they just don’t know why it happened.

In the weeks to come, my mind would fill with grief — I should’ve known, I should’ve known Marcus wouldn’t make it. I should have pushed for an earlier c-section. The guilt was tremendous.

But in the moment, in the hospital, the surgeon was talking about the incision he’d made — “You’ll be able to wear a bikini again,” he said. And I was like, “You know, I really don’t care about that right now.”

We were put right next to the nurse’s station for recovery, and our room had a small adjoining space where Marcus lay for the first day. The nurses were all very comfortable with the presence of this child who had died; they encouraged me to be with him, to hold him.

Looking back, I kick myself for not spending even more time with him then, and I’ve learned that’s a very common regret with late-term losses. Even though it was just his body, why didn’t I introduce him to more people, or take a video? But I didn’t know what to do, and though we had some friends visiting, I wasn’t ready for them to see him. I just wanted him to be mine, for it to be just us. I was lucky to be around him as much as I was, though.

After the first day, Marcus was moved to a special unit for deceased babies, where he stayed for five days, and the nurses would bring him to me when I wanted to see him. One nurse shared a loss of her own, and she was so protective of Marcus. She would say, “That’s my Marcus — I’m gonna go get him for you.” Marcus had his own nurse in the delivery room; when a baby dies, they create a memory box with a bracelet and casts of his feet. But this nurse also went out to the craft store and adorned the box with decorative paper. “I wanted it to be nice for you,” she told me.

So the doctor gave me a good bikini cut, but the nurses? They saved me.

The best gift they gave me was connecting me with an organization called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. It’s a non-profit with volunteer photographers who come to take photos of deceased infants and their families. The nurses told me about it the day the boys were born, and the photographer came that night, around 9 p.m.

Kimberly, the photographer, spent time with Marcus; she made him important and touched him delicately. She photographed him like he was any other child — even thinking to take photos of his little hands and feet. Imagine! He looked like me, and he was gorgeous, and I can see pictures of his baby feet anytime I like.

I hired Kimberly again on the boys’ one-year birthday, and she took photos of Kellan with a number of Marcus’s things. I felt such joy at seeing her. After all, she was one of the people who met Marcus, and that’s a small group.


Heidi and Kellan, on his first birthday, with remembrances of his twin brother Marcus. (Photo: Copyright Kimberly Ray Photography, used by permission)

Before I left the hospital, I asked Kevin to go home and get rid of the extra baby things — we had two co-sleepers, two cribs — I didn’t want to see that stuff. He and a friend cleared it out and donated everything to charity, so when I got home, we were set up for one baby, and I dove into Kellan’s care. I think the fatigue of being a new mother helped me wade through the grief. I had to learn how to care for Kellan, and it was so important a task that it helped me avoid some of the devastation I was feeling.

A week after we left the hospital, we had a small memorial at a funeral home with just Kevin, me, and Kellan — it felt right. Kevin’s and my families both live far from Oregon, and I’m a private person, so I wanted them to wait a bit before coming to see us. They visited a few weeks later, and both Kevin’s and my mother shared stories and wisdom that helped me in my grief.

I’ve found support all around me in the last almost-two years since losing Marcus. Kevin is a quiet person, and after some tears in the hospital, he went into “protect my family” mode; he’s very involved with Kellan, and for me, he’s whatever I need in the moment.

Sometimes people don’t know what to say or what to do, and I get that, but I think the best thing is this: Get past your own discomfort and let me talk about my kid. People have said, “Oh, you can have another,” or “God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle.” That’s not what I need. There are moments when I want to focus on Marcus.

At first, I didn’t want to share my photos of Marcus on Facebook but when I saw other moms who’d been through this type of loss sharing pictures of their kids, I decided to do it. I was nervous, but friends have said things like, “He was beautiful. Thanks for letting us see him.” And I want to show his picture, to share things about him — friends who let me do that and open their eyes and ears to it are giving me validation and support.

The single most important thing I did after losing Marcus was attend a Brief Encounters meeting with six other women. I can still name every single one of them, as well as the children they’ve lost. These women had been there, they knew the triggers that could sweep me into grief so deep I didn’t want to get out of bed and the high-flying moments of remembering that I had this beautiful, awesome son who’s gone. It was a place where we could talk about our dead kids, and it wasn’t weird, and everyone got it. (I also went to a group called Baby Blues Connection, which is geared toward women experiencing postpartum depression, and sought out therapy and support communities.)

They call the child you have after your loss a “rainbow baby.” In that meeting, they told me I was raising my rainbow baby at the same time I was grieving my lost baby. I think for the most part that’s been helpful and good for me, but of course I do worry — Am I as good a mother as I could be for Kellan?

On Kellan’s first birthday, we had cupcakes and sang “Happy Birthday” to both him and Marcus. It was quiet and comforting and it gave us a chance to remember. I talk to Kellan about his brother all the time — he’s woven into our everyday life. There’s an ornament from a Brief Encounters holiday celebration last year that’s hanging in Kellan’s room, and when he sees it, I’ll say, “Oh, that’s Marcus’s ornament.” Or when we read our favorite children’s book, The Snowy Day, which someone gave me at my baby shower, I’ll tell him, “This book was a gift for you and Marcus.”

I know there may be a weird period where Kellan asks questions about his brother, but it’s a part of his story too. I’m hoping he’ll want to talk about Marcus when he’s older, and that he’ll understand why I sometimes am a little depressed or low-energy. I continue to struggle with grief, and I want him to know why.

We have a tree for Marcus at our house. It’s a witch hazel, and it buds in the winter, around the boys’ birthday. It’s right outside our deck, and we can see it from the kitchen and the dining room — this beautiful, growing red bud tree. I look at the tree, and I hear Kellan babbling. My boys are both here, in different ways.

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