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A Mother’s Unexpected Loss Brings a Gift, Twice

TwinBabiesFeet_400This touching, selfless story is about a woman named Nancy who lost a child… and gained the unexpected gift of two new souls. Her amazing tale spanning 33 years will leave your tears flowing. From Angels on Earth.

Nancy Kropacek sent me an email that was really about two stories—the story of Yvonne Ann, and the story of the twins.

Nancy grew up in the South, and her parents were smart and civic-minded. They protested in support of civil rights in the 1960s and taught their four children the value of looking out for others. When Nancy grew up, she went to live at a spiritual community called the Farm in rural Tennessee. It was there, in 1975, that she gave birth to her first daughter, Irene Elizabeth, on a beautiful starry night. Two years later, she was pregnant again, but this time, something went wrong.

Her abdomen was abnormally enlarged. She was so big, people assumed she was having twins. In fact, she was retaining too much water. She went into labor, and twenty-three difficult hours later, her daughter Yvonne Ann was born. “She was absolutely beautiful,” Nancy wrote in her email. “I was so thrilled to welcome her into the world.”

But right from the start, Yvonne Ann was having trouble breathing. She was rushed to a hospital, where a team of cardiac doctors took over her care. After a few hours, several doctors came out and sat down with Nancy and her husband.

“They told us that our beautiful sweet angel was not going to survive,” Nancy wrote. “It felt as if someone had ripped my heart out.” Nancy went in to see her infant daughter one last time and found her hooked up to tubes and machines. “I told her how much I loved her, and how sorry I was that she would not get to be here with me. Then my whole body collapsed. I screamed and cried and screamed. Grief, guilt, and sadness flooded over me. I cried for days and days, and I prayed to God to help me heal and let me carry on.”

Yvonne Ann passed away from congenital heart disease, which ran in Nancy’s family. Her angel was on this earth for only five hours.

They held a funeral for Yvonne Ann at the Farm. “It was just this little ceremony, and someone read scriptures, and everyone was there to support me and pray for her,” Nancy says. “But the truth is, I can’t remember much about the funeral. I was in total shock. All I remember is the crushing grief. I felt this terrible emptiness, this absence. I was expecting a child, and then suddenly the child wasn’t there.”

Nancy was still in deep mourning when, two weeks later, a midwife at the Farm approached her with a question.

“We heard about a young mother who just gave birth to twins and cannot keep them,” the midwife said. “Would you be interested in caring for them?”

The Farm was known for taking in infants and children who needed temporary homes. The community was a kind of big, unofficial foster family. No sooner had the midwife finished her question than Nancy heard herself utter a single word: “Yes.”

“I didn’t even think about it,” she says now. “It was all instinct. I knew these twins needed me, and I knew they would help me heal. My only concern was my daughter Irene, but she was all for it. And so, that’s what happened.”

The twins had been born two months prematurely to a twenty-one-year-old college student named Mary. Mary had been expecting one seven-pound baby; instead, there were two infants, one weighing 3.6 pounds, the other 3.2. Mary was excited to be a mother, but she had no parents or close relatives who could help with care or money, and raising her twins all alone was overwhelming. “She just wasn’t ready for them,” Nancy says. Yet Mary was adamant about one thing—she didn’t want to give the twins up for adoption, because that meant they would likely be separated. “She had heard about the Farm,” Nancy says, “so she brought the twins to us.”

Something was made clear to Nancy from the start: There was a possibility the mother might not ever come back for her twins. But there was also the possibility she might.

It was Mary who brought the twins—Eliza and Rose—to the Farm and handed them over to Nancy. “They were in blankets, and they were so tiny,” she remembers. Nancy had been prepared to nurse her own daughter, which meant she was also ready to begin nursing the twins right away. “That really made a difference,” she says. “They started getting a little chunk to them.”

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Nancy’s connection to the twins was instant and intense. “I fell in love with them the second I held them,” she says. “They were so small and sweet. I could easily tell them apart, and I had them figured out immediately. Eliza was the quiet one, while Rose was feisty and energetic. And that’s how they were with me.”

Weeks passed, then months, then a year. Nancy stopped thinking of herself as a caretaker to the twins, because that’s not how she felt inside. “They absolutely felt like my own children,” she says. “I had to do everything for them. Early on, the feedings were around the clock. And they needed a lot of extra attention. Thankfully, my daughter Irene loved them as much as I did and loved helping me take care of them.”

One morning, a midwife on the Farm came to see Nancy again. “She told me she’d received a call,” says Nancy. “Mary was ready to take the twins back.”

Mary had completed her education, started a full-time job, saved money, and set up her house for children. She was now ready for the twins. For Nancy, saying goodbye was painful. More than painful—impossible. “I knew they needed to be with their mother, but a part of me didn’t want to give them up,” she says. “It felt like the nightmare was happening again. I was grieving all over again.”

Nancy tried to stay in touch with Eliza and Rose. She sent them cards on their birthday and toys for Christmas and little notes just to say hello. Once in a while their mother sent Nancy photos of the twins, too. They even arranged for Nancy to come visit the twins a year or so after they left the Farm, but “that meeting was really awkward,” she says. “The girls didn’t know what to think or what to do.”

Still, Nancy kept writing, kept telling the twins how much she missed them. But time passed, and Nancy wrote them less frequently, and Mary sent fewer photos, and eventually they lost touch altogether. “I knew when their eighteenth birthday was, but I couldn’t invite myself to be there,” she says. “I knew when they were graduating high school, but I had to miss that, too.”

Somewhere in that time, it occurred to Nancy that the twins had probably forgotten all about her. After all, they’d been only two years old when they were separated, and not many memories—if any—survive from that young age.

“How could such an intense relationship just cease to exist like that?” she wondered. “How could such a deep connection not leave any trace?”

Then, in 2010—thirty-three years after she’d said goodbye to the twins—the email came.

It was from Eliza.

“I have thought of you often the past few years,” her note read. “I have now built up the courage to contact you. Thank you for taking such good care of my twin and me. I would love to know more about you.”

Nancy erupted into tears on the spot.

“I saw her name pop up on my computer, and I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “I can’t tell you what a wonderful, wonderful moment that was for me. To not be forgotten? To be remembered? That was everything to me.”

They arranged to meet in a hotel in Miami, where Eliza was attending a conference. Nancy and her husband, Wally, waited anxiously in the lobby for Eliza to arrive. They hadn’t seen each other in close to three decades—how would they even recognize each other? “Then I looked down the lobby and I saw a crowd of people coming, and Eliza was in the middle of the crowd,” says Nancy. “I knew instantly it was her.”

Then Eliza saw her and recognized her right away, too. “And then she came running at me,” says Nancy, “and she jumped right in my arms.”

Nancy cried. So did Eliza.

So did Wally, and so did the colleague who’d come with Eliza.

So did several other people in the lobby who didn’t even know what was happening.

“We hugged for a long, long time,” says Nancy. “I didn’t want to let go.”

They spent the evening together and sat by the hotel pool and talked into the wee hours. Eliza told Nancy that her twin sister Rose, too, was interested in meeting her, but that Rose needed to approach the meeting at her own pace. “Then she told me how thankful they both were for everything I’d done for them,” says Nancy. “And I told her, ‘No, you two helped me.’ I told her about Yvonne Ann, and I told her how she and her sister had allowed me to heal.”

Then Eliza said what she really came to say.

“It’s because of you,” she told Nancy, “that Rose and I got to stay together.”

That was it. That was the answer to Nancy’s question. How could such a deep connection leave no trace?

The answer was it had left a trace. It had made a difference—an enormous difference.

“Our lives wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for you,” Eliza told Nancy. “You changed our lives forever.”

One invisible thread had preserved another—the thread between Eliza and Rose.

The next day, Eliza gave Nancy a present. It was a beautiful, white-and-black turquoise necklace. “She said she wanted me to have it because it sits close to the heart,” Nancy says. “I still wear it every day.”

Eliza stayed with Nancy and Wally at their home for a week. She saw Nancy’s daughter Irene again, after thirty-three years, and they hit it off immediately. Finally, and sadly, it was time for Eliza to go home. “Even when she was here, it was hard for us to be apart,” Nancy says. “It was physically difficult for us to separate—that’s how profound the connection was. She didn’t want to go, and I didn’t want her to go.” This time, though, they said goodbye knowing they’d see each other again.

Neither Eliza nor Rose had any actual memories of their time with Nancy. All they knew of her was what Mary had told them—that Nancy had cared for them and been like a mother to them.

That, nearly four decades earlier, Nancy had said yes to the twins—in the hour of her own greatest sadness.

And that is how an act of kindness connected not only Nancy and the twins, but also the twins and Yvonne Ann—the sweet little angel whose five hours on earth made a lifetime of difference to two girls she never even met.

Incredibly, Yvonne Ann and the twins even shared a due date: August 8.

“The twins didn’t remember me, but that’s okay, because the connection between us wasn’t in the brain,” Nancy says. “The connection between us was always in our hearts.”

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