A picture of a New Zealand baby boy next to his stillborn twin’s ashes is sharing a powerful story with millions across the world while the boys’ mother is learning how to navigate through competing emotions of joy and grief.
In the fall of 2017, Cherie and Hayden Ayrton found out that they were expecting again. The couple already had two precious daughters and were hoping for a little boy to “finalize” their family.
Cherie remembers feeling like she was expecting twins before their first ultrasound scan and was delighted when the nurses confirmed her suspicions, but her delight also dredged up worry from a past experience.
Her youngest daughter was a part of Cherie’s first twin pregnancy, but the second baby lost its heartbeat early and was absorbed back in utero by the time she was 12 weeks pregnant.
In a Love What Matters feature she wrote, “In the back of our minds, we were both feeling a little uneasy about telling people until we were 12 weeks. What if we lost one of the twins again? We kept it quiet and only told close family until we were out of what we thought was the ‘danger zone.’”
The couple was absolutely ecstatic when they found out that they were expecting two little boys and were relieved as they both continued to grow healthily.
Worry slowly turned into excitement as Cherie and Hayden began dreaming of how their little family would be perfectly knitted together. They named the two sweet boys Tiger and Johnny.
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“Life would have been perfect,” Cherie told People. “I was looking forward to completing my family. Two boys and two girls was awesome because it meant that my boys had a brother and a sister.”
Soon that excitement would be met with overwhelming grief.
When the expectant family went in for their five-month appointment on Dec. 27, 2018, the sonographer started checking up on Tiger first. Cherie remembered, “He was measuring perfectly. Healthy, heart beating beautifully, wriggling around up on the screen.”
Then the sonographer moved to check up on Johnny.
Cherie remembers noticing that her stomach looked smaller a couple days prior, but she pushed aside any concern and chalked it up to her normally smaller morning belly.
As the sonographer continued checking on the second twin, Cherie immediately knew something was wrong.
“Her whole face dropped, and her eyes looked sad,” she said, describing the sonographer’s reaction.
“She stopped scanning and said to us, ‘I’m so sorry.’ Three words that completely broke my heart and changed my life forever. Johnny’s heartbeat was undetectable, and he was measuring slightly smaller than Tiger. My worst nightmare had become my reality.”
The loss dredged up the same emotions from her first twin pregnancy and she melted into a puddle in the middle of the appointment.
Specialists told Cherie that since she was in her second trimester, that it would be best for her to carry her son to full term. They didn’t have any answers as to why Johnny’s heart stopped, but they paid extra attention to Tiger until Cherie finally went into labor.
“I had to slowly watch my son break down. First, his little eyes, nose and beautiful lips became harder to see. Then his tiny fingers and tiny toes started to look like they were fusing together. Finally, it got to the point where he lost all of his features. It was torture. I dreaded every single scan because I was scared of what I was going to see next,” she wrote.
She held grief of the son she would never get to meet alive in one hand while also holding excitement to see Tiger grow in the other.
“I felt like a temporary coffin. Just waiting for the day to get him out so I could grieve. But then never wanting to give birth, because I knew once he was out he was gone forever. It was me keeping him here. My body. My womb. My broken heart.”
On May 2, 2018, she finally delivered both of her sons.
“We cried, we smiled, we loved, and we enjoyed one night with our two boys together and family surrounding us.”
Johnny’s body was taken to get cremated the next morning.
The newborn photo shoot for two was now only for one, but Sarah Simmons of Charlie Horse Photography had the perfect vision to include both boys in the photo. Cherie was excited to see her vision come to life and to have a photo of her boys together.
“When Sarah sent me the photo she created, I was absolutely blown away,” Cherie said. “It was extremely emotional to see the final product, but I’m so grateful to have such a powerful photo of my two boys together to keep forever.”
Now the picture has been shared with millions around the world, sharing the Ayrton’s story and inspiring those with similar stories.
“I’m broken, I’ll always feel like I have a piece missing. But life goes on, I still have to be a wife, a mother, a friend a boss,” Cherie told People. “Life doesn’t stop and neither can I. So I do the best I can. I appreciate life and my gorgeous family even more than ever.”
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