Warning: This article contains details of stillbirth
Jaime Beaumont places her hand on the chest of her son, Jethro, whose tiny cries resonate from his incubator at Waikato Hospital’s Newborn Intensive Care Unit.
Her impossibly small boy, weighing less than a kilogram, grasps at her fingers and becomes calm, placated by his mother’s touch.
It’s a tender moment set against the heartbreaking recollection of another: when the little body of Jethro’s identical twin, Arthur, was placed in the incubator next to him. It was the only time Jaime, 27, and husband Hayes Croucher’s babies would be together post-birth.
Since the twins’ May 12 arrival at 27 weeks, in which Jethro survived and Arthur died in utero, their parents have found themselves existing between a state of joy curdled with deep grief.
When they’re not visiting one son, introducing him to their close-knit family and friends, they’re working with a funeral home to prepare to farewell the other.
“We’re kind of existing in the middle,” Hayes, 24, tells the Herald on Sunday from the couple’s home in Hamilton.
“It’s like a pendulum in that you’re feeling this massive amount of joy and we are able to talk to you and be functional and then it swings into grief and you just lose it.”
The twins weren’t due until August 9 but it was discovered they were monochorionic-monoamniotic (MCMA) twins, meaning they were sharing a placenta and embryonic sac. This meant Jaime’s pregnancy was high-risk due to chances of cord entanglement, cord compression and Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS), which means twins share an unequal amount of placenta blood, causing varied growth rates.
As a result, following a scan at 26 weeks’ gestation Jaime was sent to Auckland City Hospital and admitted for close monitoring.
“It felt like overkill at the time, being an inpatient at the hospital,” Jaime says, adding that while it meant she couldn’t work in her job as a school photographer, she also couldn’t receive maternity pay yet. She could find no subsidy for someone in her position.
But after arriving with a bag packed for what she anticipated would be an almost two-month stay, the following week, during a routine scan, everything changed.
As she pauses to recall what happened next, her husband asks her if she is okay.
“I need to be able to talk about this,” she says, before telling the Herald on Sunday: “I’d seen enough ultrasounds by that point to know what the chest looks like and where the heart’s supposed to be. Normally you can see on the ultrasound the heart beating and there wasn’t anything there,” she said of one of her babies.
“I knew before [the sonographer] said anything.”
In shock, Jaime was walked back to the ward where she called Hayes, who was at his new job as a construction worker in Matamata.
“Her voice was wavering and I knew something was really wrong,” says Hayes. “She said, ‘We’ve lost one of the kids’.”
A devastated Hayes made his way to his brother’s home, where he collapsed in grief. His parents picked him up and began the drive to Auckland.
Meanwhile, Jaime had called on Auckland-based friend Raechel Popping, who rushed to her side.
From here it was decided Jaime would be moved to a delivery suite and monitored for 24 hours because they weren’t sure if the loss of one baby would affect the other, or if she could continue to carry both to allow more time for development.
“That freaked me out,” recalls Jaime. “Because I didn’t feel much movement after that. They were pretty wriggly boys and after that ... ”
Jaime was relieved to have her friend arrive. “She was the best person to be there. She’s good in high-stress situations.”
Still in shock, Jaime recalls the kind doctors and nurses who “kept me talking and kept me going” until it was decided that her surviving twin needed to be delivered due to TTTS.
“Very quickly they were like, ‘Okay, we actually suspect what might be happening is the one which is still alive is pumping blood but the other one isn’t pumping it back.”
Jaime wanted to wait for Hayes to arrive but was told they needed to proceed immediately.
“At that point I started shaking,” the new mum says. “I don’t really get panic attacks or anything, but I think it’s probably what it was.”
As the team prepared for an emergency caesarean, Jaime asked if she could be put under general anaesthetic. While she was told it’s not something that’s normally done, it was agreed to.
“I think they realised Jaime was so distressed that it was going to become dangerous,” Hayes says.
Jaime remembers the team running her to the operating theatre, pushing people out of the way and bursting through the hospital’s doors.
“I started freaking out that they thought we were going to lose them both. They didn’t say that to me but because of that reaction … I closed my eyes and I was just praying and I could just feel hands and people and talking and someone was already down there getting ready to open me up.
“It felt like the general anaesthetic people were taking forever. I was like, ‘Please just put me under. Please just put me under.’ That whole experience was terrifying.”
At 11.30pm on May 12, identical twins Jethro and Arthur were delivered.
Jaime sees it as a blessing that she wasn’t conscious for the procedure because she understands Jethro’s heart stopped and he had to be resuscitated and given a blood transfusion.
Meanwhile, Hayes had made his way to the hospital and Jaime’s midwife, Mooney Lee, met him.
“[The midwife] had obviously been looking for me and I sort of collapsed on her.”
After an agonising wait where Hayes was updated on the efforts to stabilise Jethro and concerns about potential brain damage, he was reunited with Jaime.
Together, they named Arthur. It had been their first choice for a son’s name but they decided Jethro needed to be given to their surviving son because “it means prosperity and abundance and it’s got these kind of really positive connotations”, says Jaime.
And they were invited to meet Arthur, who had been lovingly dressed and placed in a basket.
“How they treat babies that pass is really respectful,” says Hayes. “They put a nappy on them and clothes and a little hat.”
“And he looked just like his brother except he had a little lip-tie-type thing, like it’s not fully developed,” remembers Jaime. “But he was just really cute. That was incredibly heartbreaking.”
The days that followed were a blur as family and friends came to meet Jethro and Arthur, who was kept in the room with his parents.
“A lot of them got to hold Arthur, have a moment of grief, because everyone was feeling it, but then they would be taken out to see Jethro,” says Jaime.
After an agonising wait for a day-five scan that would indicate any brain damage for Jethro, Jaime and Hayes were relieved to learn there were no issues detected and that they were looking to transfer the family to Waikato Hospital via helicopter.
“Prior to that we thought we’d still be in Auckland for weeks and weeks,” says Jaime, adding that in addition to packing their bags to go home, they also had to arrange for Arthur to be transferred from the mortuary. This involved notifying a Hamilton funeral director and signing a form confirming her child was deceased “in case I got pulled over by the police on the way home”, said Jaime, who was driven back to Hamilton with Arthur.
Since being transferred to Waikato Hospital, Jethro has been “exceeding expectations … he’s doing the healthy baby things like crying and wriggling around. He keeps surprising people at how well he’s doing. Effectively he’s 29 weeks, if he were still in the womb,” says Jaime.
Now able to hold their little boy and cradle him on their chests, the couple describe the moments as “really joyful”.
“It really calms me down and it makes Hayes fall asleep,” says Jaime, to which Hayes responds:
“I try not to. He just loves it so much. And I love him so much. I’m just so relaxed, you know? I just look at him until I can’t look at him any more and I just fall asleep.”
But amid the joy of Jethro, Jaime says “grief still hits” and it’s a different kind of grief to anything they’ve experienced. Hayes describes it as the loss of what could have been.
“It feels like we can’t fully enjoy being new parents and be fully excited about it, but then we also can’t completely just grieve because we’ve got a son we need to look after and go visit and produce milk for,” says Hayes. “And we need to make decisions about his medical care. And then we have to make decisions about whether we’re going to bury or cremate Arthur.”
Jaime nods, adding, “I had to call a funeral home, you know. I don’t think that’s common.
“One day, I finally got to Jethro and got him on my chest and I just burst into tears. It’s the only time I’ve done it. Every time I’ve been trying to hold it together,” she says.
Although there will be a few milestones Jethro will have to reach before he is able to go home, a nursery that had been set up for two has been quietly converted to Jethro’s room by a friend and Jaime’s sister.
The brave parents know birthdays will always be bittersweet and they will see Arthur in Jethro for his entire life.
“And that’s not just like a sentiment,” says Jaime of her identical boys.
But looking too far ahead is painful, she tells the Herald on Sunday.
“Right now, it’s been hard to even think about the next week, let alone further along. The few times I’ve tried to think about it have been painful though, as I’m having to readjust to the idea we will be bringing only one son home instead of two.”
Throughout the couple’s journey to parenthood, they have been overwhelmed by the charities and organisations who have supported them, including midwife Mooney Lee and nurse Katie Kiyokawa; the team at True Colours Children’s Health Trust in Waikato’s The Upper Room church, who arranged frozen meals via The Culinary Collective; Heartfelt, a volunteer group of professional photographers; Baby Loss NZ, who make casts of babies; the staff at Auckland City Hospital, Ronald McDonald House; Little Miracles Trust, which provides support to families of children in neonatal care; Gateway Church Hamilton; and Woolertons Funeral Home.
Support from family and friends has been wonderful too, say the couple, who describe their community as “more like an army than a village”.
“We’ve been told there are group chats that have been made for various things like cleaning the house. We’ve got a friend who checks on us every day. A friend just messaged to ask how we are for food at the moment and do we want some cooked meals?” says Hayes.
A Givealitttle page has also been set up by Hayes’ brother, Harry, to help with the couple’s finances.
While Jaime had to finish work sooner than expected, Hayes had not long returned to work following a car accident which saw him go on ACC after a tree fell on his new vehicle. A dispute with his insurance company over the vehicle’s value is ongoing.
“Things are pretty tight,” says Hayes. “I had to go back to work early to afford the mortgage. The Givealittle thing is going to help us.”