My son is not turning seven today.
He should be, but he's not. His brother, Bud, is turning seven all by himself.
I don't write very much about my son Pal, Bud's identical twin brother, even though he is never far from my thoughts. But he's been on my mind all day today, the day that should be his seventh birthday but is, instead, the seventh anniversary of his death.
I didn't know him long, but I miss him. And, in his memory - in his honor - I want to tell you a story.
For the first trimester of my pregnancy we believed that our twins were monoamniotic - that they shared a single amniotic sac - and were therefore at high risk of having their tangled umbilical cords cut off their blood supplies. At 16 weeks we were delighted to discover that they shared only a placenta, and each baby had his own amniotic sac.
At 20 weeks, we got the difficult news that Pal had spina bifida, the same condition that had taken our daughter from us a year earlier. But, we were told, his condition was mild and his prognosis was good. The pregnancy was high-risk, but it progressed well.
We were shocked, then, when I went into labor at 38 weeks and during the planned C-section our doctor discovered that Pal had died in utero. We thought we had heard his heartbeat only moments before.
We hadn't. The heartbeat we'd heard had been an echo of Bud's.
In the recovery room we got to spend some time with Pal, to meet him, and to say goodbye. A short time later, the perinatologist joined us to talk about our loss and to speculate about what had happened. In fact, he didn't know what had happened. Pal's death was inexplicable.
But the perinatologist did know this: Because our boys shared a placenta, if Pal had died sooner, before Bud was ready to be born, he would probably have taken Bud with him.
I will never know why Pal couldn't stay. But I do know that for nine months he stayed with Bud, snuggling around him, bouncing against him, helping him grow. And then, when Bud was ready, Pal left.
But he never really left. Not really.
That heartbeat we heard in the hospital, moments before Bud was born? The heartbeat that was an echo of Bud's?
I still hear it every time I put my head against Bud's chest.