At two weeks old, my twins were separated: Damien came home and Atticus was transferred to Primary Children's Hospital. Primary's doesn't allow child visitors under age 12 into any of the ICUs, or at all during cold/flu season. They were apart for 47 days, and then I brought Atticus home. 10 days later, Atticus was back in the ICU. A week later, he was home.
Not two weeks later, Atticus was back in the ICU. It was an awful stay. Atticus had almost died at home, twice. I was able to save him with mouth-to-mouth and suction (and 911). But it was a temporary solution at best. Essentially, Atticus would throw up at the drop of a hat, including just bile when he was getting all of his nutrition and liquids via IV. He was absolutely unable to protect his airway, and would choke. I literally could not leave the room he was in, because no one else could suction him, which would prevent him from drowning on his own secretions. The "cure" was an operation called a Nissen Fundoplacation, where the surgeon wraps the stomach up and around the esophagus. The idea is that the opening is big enough to allow liquids in, but when the stomach spasms (to vomit), it'll clamp off the esophagus and prevent vomiting. The surgeon didn't want to preform the operation. Guidelines recommend against preforming it on babies under 5 kilos, and suggest waiting until 10. The problem was, Atticus was tiny and obviously not thriving on TPN, while struggling to breathe. Shortly before he was readmitted, I had pretty much begged and wheedled the surgeon (who had operated on Atticus in the NICU, rearranging his intestines and giving him his g-tube) into agreeing to operate the following month. He was also going to repair a hernia which was causing Atticus a lot of pain (which would trigger crying and vomiting). And I knew that nothing was going to change until he got that operation. The hospital was insistent that there were no other time slots. They wanted to send us home. I refused. They said there was nothing they could do for him that I couldn't do at home, so insurance wouldn't cover the stay. I asked them how much each day was and said I'd pay out-of-pocket. There was no way I was taking Atticus home and watching him almost die, again. (Or worse, which was not unlikely, frankly.)They held fast. I finally told them that fine, they could discharge us, but I would camp out in the ER waiting room with Atticus and all his equipment, so we'd be right there, "just in case".
I think that is when they realized exactly how serious I was about protecting my baby. They magically discovered a slot on Monday morning for his surgery, and moved us to Infant Unit. It was Mother's Day weekend, which meant cold/flu restrictions were lifted. And Atticus wasn't in the ICU...which meant I could bring Damien.
When I walked in the door with Damien, Atticus gave us his first ever smile--a wide open grin. I burst into tears. The nurse got emotional as well. Despite having spent such a short amount of time "on the outside" with his twin, Atticus recognized him. And loved him. And smiled at him.
Atticus's recovery from surgery was long and awful. But he came home just before Father's Day, and the fundoplacation lasted almost nine months, long enough for him to learn to protect his airway. The bond between Damien and Atticus grew daily. Damien never yanked on Atticus's cords or wires, never hit him too hard, never plowed over him once he (Damien) was mobile and Atticus was not. I don't know if Damien just picked up from us how fragile Atticus was, or if it was just part of his sweet nature. And Atticus would watch Damien, fascinated. I slowly backed away from all the twin groups, because my boys had nothing in common with other twins--no fighting over toys, no pulling each other's hair, and also no running away in opposite directions. They may not have had a typical twin-ship, but they had the love. Oh, did they have the love.
Everett was born when the twins were 25-months-old. I had been worried about how Damien would react: he knew there was a baby coming, but I didn't think he truly grasped what that actually meant: someone new living with us all the time, needing tons of attention. But it was Atticus who had the harder time. Atticus was incredibly jealous of Everett: this creature who had suddenly taken Atticus's spot in my arms, in the baby-wearing wrap, on the changing table. And worse, Everett didn't provide the entertainment Damien did. Perhaps worst of all, he cried, loudly. (Even as a NICU babe, Atticus hated hearing other babies cry--his heart rate would skyrocket.) Frankly, Atticus pretty much hated Everett for a year. Everett loved him though, albeit much more roughly than Damien ever did, his hands finding Atticus's g-tube button, crawling right over him, stealing his toys, walking without fear of stepping on him.
But still, Atticus warmed to him. When Everett began pulling to a stand, Atticus did as well. (It was amazing.) And Everett crawled even after he could walk, enjoying being down with Atticus. And soon they were friends. Everett would sometimes call Atticus by nicknames only I used ("Diddle Dumpling", "Mr. A", "Wiglet", "Buddy"), and laugh with delight. He would even tell Atticus that he loved him, despite the fact that Atticus was unable to say it back. Damien and Everett both became protective of Atticus. They both liked to help feed him. They'd both tell off other children who tried to use his walker. Damien was realizing that Atticus was different, but he absolutely did not think different was bad. And to Everett, he was just Atti, big brother, maker of messes, a "poop factory" (which I said once, and both of them heard and never let it drop) car companion, constant friend. And nothing and no one made Atticus happier than his brothers. He would watch them play and laugh so hard that he'd either vomit or hurt himself by falling over. He would follow them around, get upset when they left the room (although Atticus of course was permitted to take breaks whenever he deemed necessary), say "Aah, aah, ahh!" to get their attention, pull on their hands and clothing.
Oh, how they all loved each other.
It breaks my heart that Everett will have few, if any, memories of Atticus (aside from pictures, movies, and us talking about him). It's not anyone's fault and there's nothing to be done, but it is deeply painful to me.
Damien still wants another brother. He has asked me repeatedly to get pregnant. It took him awhile to understand that, even if he did get another brother, it wouldn't be Atticus. ("But what if we just took out his missing DNA?" he asked, so smart yet so innocent, an arrow through my heart.) He asks for one less--3-4 times a week rather than a handful of times a day--and still wants to name his new brother Atticus, "even though it won't be the same Atticus". And sometimes, especially when we're in the car or otherwise all quiet, he will tell me how much he misses Atticus. Sometimes he tells me that he likes to pretend Atticus is just at therapy, or Nana's, or taking a nap. (Me too, sweetest, me too.) He's doing better with his grief than he was (and certainly better than I am), but he knows what he lost.
I wish I could get Atticus back. For me and for his brothers. His absence is too large, the silence much too loud. I can't believe it's been three months.