Grabbing the camera, I snapped a photo of my twins as they sat by their playhouse, their left arms raised above their eyes. I had so many photos of Jessica and Harry instinctively mimicking each other, it made me smile to know they’d always be together – looking out for each other, being each other’s soul mates.
The sonographer had picked up two heartbeats at an early eight-week scan. ‘Twins!’ I’d gasped, happy tears welling in my eyes.
When I told my best friend Emma, who I’d known since school, she exclaimed: ‘Do you remember what you used to say when we were kids? You would say you were going to have twins, a boy and a girl.’
We decided to wait until they were born to see if my dream was going to come true. My husband Lee, now 38, and I decorated the nursery in bright orange, green, blue and yellow.
With six weeks to go until they were due, I woke up at 5am to see my water had broken. Lee rushed me to Milton Keynes Hospital.
Jessica arrived first in a dramatic ventouse delivery.
‘It’s a girl!’ the midwife said, whisking her away to an incubator. She weighed 1.4kg.
‘That’s Jessica,’ I said to Lee. ‘Will the next one be a Chloe or a Harry?’
Twenty minutes later, the second twin arrived. ‘It’s a boy!’ the midwife said. Lee and I burst into tears. He weighed 1.8kg. ‘Hello Harry,’ I said, gently stroking his head. He had the darkest eyes and stared right at me.
That night Lee and I visited the twins in their incubators, side by side. That’s how I believed they’d always be – side by side.
Two weeks later we brought them home. It didn’t take long for their personalities to emerge.
As Jessica was 20 minutes older, I had presumed she’d be the boss, but it wasn’t so. While Harry was more confident, Jessica was reserved and timid. If we went to the park, Harry would take Jessica’s hand and lead her. Harry was secretly a bit cautious too. He benefited from holding Jessica’s hand just as much as she did. The two instinctively sought support from each other.
‘They have a permanent playmate,’ I’d say to Lee. The house was a scene of bedlam – the twins charging around after each other, giggling and laughing. When they were four, we gave Jessica a doll’s house and Harry a Thomas the Tank Engine train set. We set both up as a surprise in the conservatory, then stifled our laughter as Jessica played with the train and Harry with the doll’s house.
Every year they had a joint birthday party and as I laid out their birthday cake and hung up balloons, I imagined their 18th and 21st birthdays, their mutual friends piling into our home for celebrations. Being twins was their privilege – watching them grow up together was ours.
When Harry was three, he started having coughing fits. Our GP said it was just a cough. But after the twins turned four, a doctor finally diagnosed mild asthma. Harry needed an inhaler, which helped keep the asthma attacks under control.
One day Harry said to me: ‘Mum, I think you should be a teacher.’ I’d always wanted to be a teacher.
Lee’s dad, Lionel, now 65, looked after the twins the day I enrolled on an access course at the local college. Then Lionel rang. ‘You need to come home,’ he said. ‘Harry’s not well.’
Lee and I raced home. Harry was struggling to breathe. I took him straight to A&E while Lee looked after Jessica at home.
At Milton Keynes Hospital, Harry was given a nebuliser and oxygen, and it seemed to help. He was chatty and lively, but they said he needed to stay for a while for observation.
The next evening, Lee brought Jessica in to see Harry. She gave him a kiss. They played together for a while. Then all of a sudden it all went wrong.
He was taken off the nebuliser and oxygen while they prepared for an X-ray, and without oxygen assistance, he collapsed.
I was horrified to see Harry making strange wincing sounds, in terrible pain – he had no energy to cry. He turned blue, his eyes rolling back in his head. Almost immediately, doctors and nurses swarmed us and Harry was lifted back on to the bed and reconnected to his nebuliser and oxygen. They said he’d be OK.
‘Jessica’s seen enough,’ Lee said, scooping her up in his arms. ‘I’ll take her home, you stay with Harry.’
I had just started to think that he’d be fine when Harry started lashing out in his bed, desperately pulling off the oxygen mask. I screamed as nurses helped me keep the oxygen mask on his mouth.
He was put in a medically induced coma. ‘We’ll put him on a life support machine to help him breathe,’ they said. But his condition worsened. He was taken by ambulance to Leicester Royal Hospital. Lee and I joined him at the neonatal intensive care unit, where he stayed on life support. The doctors at the hospital told us one of Harry’s lungs had collapsed due to a build-up of secretions.
On the morning of March 30, 2009, four days after Harry was admitted to the hospital, the doctors came by to check his vitals. Flashing a torch in Harry’s eyes, the doctor sat Lee and I down.
‘Harry’s pupils aren’t reacting,’ he said gently. ‘He needs a brain scan.’
They wanted to see if Harry was already gone; just the life support machine keeping him with us.
After the scan, the consultant said: ‘I’m so sorry. Harry won’t survive turning off the life support machine.’ He had suffered massive brain stem damage.
Lee’s mum, Barbara, now 64, had just brought Jessica in for a visit. We had to discuss organ donation while figuring out how to tell Jessica this was goodbye. Bereavement support workers assured us giving Jessica the opportunity to see Harry a final time was the right thing to do.
I sat Jessica on my lap. ‘Harry’s been really unwell,’ I said, holding back tears. ‘They can’t make him better. It’s time to say goodbye.’
Lee lifted Jessica up and carried her over to Harry. She leant forward and gave Harry a kiss. ‘Bye bye Harry,’ she said. She didn’t understand.
Barbara took Jessica home. We wanted Harry to be an organ donor, so we said our goodbyes before he was taken to an operating theatre. We’d agreed they could have any organs below the heart. I felt Harry should keep his wonderful, warm heart.
Our beautiful son and Jessica’s twin brother Harry was laid to rest with his teddy bear and colouring books. He was just five. It all happened so fast. Then there was just Jessica, all by herself, no longer beside her wingman, no longer mimicking the exact body language of her twin. Just Jessica, and she needed us more than ever.
While all I wanted to do was lie in bed crying, I had to be strong for Jessica. I had to show her she was our world.
She seemed lost. Too young to understand where Harry had gone, but old enough to know that things had changed forever. Just days later, she said: ‘I want to go back to school.’
But as I took her to the school gates for the first time without Harry, I collapsed in a heap of tears as she ran into school on her own.
In time, Jessica had questions. ‘If I can’t breathe, I’ll die. Will I go and see Harry?’ she asked. I often found her snuggled up on Harry’s bed. She missed him more than she knew how to articulate.
Friends asked: ‘What will Jessica do without Harry there, looking after her?’ Lee and I worried she’d become even more introverted.
We contacted Child Bereavement UK and found Jessica a counsellor. She needed professional help to understand the permanency of the situation. It helped her so much to spend time with other bereaved children and see that she wasn’t alone.
It was hard not to think of Harry whenever Jessica did something for the first time. I cried when she left the primary school they’d started together. Harry had been put on the ‘talented and gifted’ list. His reading standard was above his age; he loved maths. Would he be helping Jessica with her maths homework now, as she heads towards her GCSEs?
They won’t compete to see who passes their driving test first, or who gets a job first. All parents who lose a child imagine what their child would have been. It’s difficult to watch Jessica grow up without Harry, but it’s also comforting. Harry isn’t lost in time. He’s in Jessica. As her confidence blossomed, some friends said she’d taken on a bit of Harry’s character. Lee and I went on to have two more children, Isaac, now five, and Joseph, two.
People say time is a great healer, but the pain of losing your child doesn’t go away, you just learn to live with the scar.
When Jessica turned seven, I felt strong enough to do something in Harry’s memory. On Jessica and Harry’s eighth birthday, we launched Harry’s Rainbow. The bereavement services we’d used to help Jessica through her grief had been vital, and we wanted to help other bereaved children. We bought a holiday home for families to take short breaks and we run adventure activities. We’ve helped more than 100 children so far.
There’s a loneliness to Jessica’s photos now. She’s by herself, a space where Harry could have been. But they had five wonderful years together. With Harry’s legacy, they continue to be the caring, giving twins they always were.
Odette Mould, 38, lives in Milton Keynes, UK, with her husband Lee and their children. The parents launched Harry’s Rainbow, a charity for children and young people coping with the loss of a loved one, by offering advice, support and group activities. Visit www.harrysrainbow.co.uk