Children services worker Rhiannon Donnelly, 33, is always acutely aware there is a space next to her baby boy that should be filled with his twin sister Mabli, who was stillborn
Image: DAILY MIRROR)
Spotting a gorgeous set of twins in adorable matching outfits. Shopping for clothes for her own baby boy. Even watching as he chatters to another tot.
All these things should fill a new mum’s heart with joy, but for Rhiannon Donnelly they make her stomach sink like a stone.
For, while she cherishes every moment with five-month-old Gruffydd, Rhiannon is always acutely aware there is a space next to him that should be filled by his twin sister Mabli.
“It’s something you never expect to go through,” says Rhiannon, whose little girl was stillborn.
She is one of those who have suffered the heartbreaking loss of a twin – a pain shared by Manchester United footballer Cristiano Ronaldo and his partner Georgina Rodríguez.
“Buying for one instead of two is hard,” says children services worker Rhiannon, who is 33 and lives in Cardiff with her husband Nathan, 32.
“And when I see girls’ clothes in the shops it is very difficult.
“It’s also upsetting when I see other twins in their matching outfits. The first time it happened was on social media, because my algorithms were all twin stuff, so I had to come off it for a long time as that was all I would see.
“When I felt ready to go back on it, I put in that I didn’t want to see twins anymore. It was a stab in the heart.
“Seeing twins is not any easier, whatever age they are. I just think, ‘That should have been us’.
“If I’m out and the grief hits, I’ll give my son a big cuddle, which is comforting, and I feel grateful that he is here and he is OK.”
The couple had been unsuccessfully trying for a baby for five years, and they turned to IVF, with the second round working.
Rhiannon says: “After trying for so long to get pregnant, we felt really blessed to be having two babies.”
But their joy turned to tragedy when, at Rhiannon’s 30-week scan on October 6 last year, they were told Mabli’s heart had stopped beating.
Rhiannon then had to carry her dead daughter for another five weeks, as she was told if they delivered both twins at that point there was a risk Gruffydd would also not survive.
“I was grieving, but Gruffydd kept Nathan and I going,” says Rhiannon. “Feeling him moving and kicking inside was reassuring.”
Gruffydd and Mabli were delivered by caesarean section five weeks later and after five days in hospital, Rhiannon was able to return home with Gruffydd.
And that was when the loss of their daughter became very real.
“Nathan and I had bought everything for them, as we knew with twins they often come early,” she says.
“We didn’t sort their room for a long time. We couldn’t face going in there.
“My eldest brother sold the extra cot and pram so we didn’t have to face doing it. Luckily, we had a lot of support.”
On December 3 Mabli was buried next to Rhiannon’s grandparents at a cemetery two minutes’ walk from home.
And the mum says visiting the grave to talk to her, which she does most days, is what helps when she’s at her lowest.
“The thing that gets me through it if I’m really struggling in that moment is to go visit Mabli as soon I get home,” says Rhiannon. “I talk to her about how her brother is doing, and if he isn’t feeling well I’ll ask her to look after him.
“If we are going away, we go and see her before and I tell her that I wish she was coming with us, but I do find it incredibly difficult going away without her as I feel like I’m leaving her behind. I will never be able to move away from the area.”
Soon, there will be a headstone at the plot with the message, “Always and forever” on it.
“It’s what Nathan and I always said to each other whenever we’ve been apart and we’ve said it to the twins,” says Rhiannon. “I’m also planting a rose there from my grandparents’ garden soon.”
Rhiannon often imagines what Mabli’s personality would have been like.
“During the scans, she was always active and kicking her brother in the face,” she says. “I think she would have been the mischievous one out of the two. Even though she was smaller, I think she would have always bossed her brother around.”
Rhiannon was able to briefly see her daughter after she was born, and while the family don’t have any photographs of her, she finds solace in the fact the two children looked very similar.
She adds: “When I saw them they looked very alike. I find it comforting to look back at pictures of when Gruffydd was born, as it reminds me about what Mabli looked like.”
Rhiannon also takes Gruffydd to his sister’s grave.
“We want Gruffydd to know about her and will be open when he asks questions about her,” says Rhiannon.
“I know twins have that bond where they are closely linked, and I hope that in the future I can somehow see that.
“To me it will be comforting, a sign that she’s around and she’s looking after him.”
As well as support from family, Rhiannon and Nathan received regular counseling from a local charity called Big Moose on Zoom. They were also put in touch with Twins Trust, which supports people who have experienced loss during a multiple birth.
For Rhiannon, it’s important to take things day by day. “I don’t think you ever overcome this,” she says. “However, the thing that helps me the most is going to visit Mabli. It makes me feel close to her. I never want her to be forgotten.”
For support with twin loss and multiple births, see twinstrust.org