A couple who were left devastated after losing seven of their eight young children in a devastating farmhouse fire have learned to rebuild their family – and are thrilled to be expecting another child.
Janelle and Ted Clouse of Blaine, Pennsylvania, are still picking up the pieces after the tragic fire claimed the lives of their children – Christina, 11, Isabelle, 9, Brady, 7, Hannah, 6, Heidi 4, Miranda, 18 months, and Samantha, 9 months – five years ago on March 8, 2011.
Since that horrific night, the couple has welcomed five kids into their newly built country home and are now pregnant with a sixth. But the memory of their lost ones are never far from their minds.
A commemorative collage of all seven children is propped up on a fireplace mantle, and Janelle and Ted say seeing the faces of their lost children is a reminder to them that “every single moment” is precious – and that nothing should be taken for granted.
“Time heals our pain, but we always remember and we would never want to forget our babies,” Janelle tells PEOPLE. “All we can do is just keep looking forward. All we have is the future.”
“You have to move ahead, if you live in the past you’re not really living,” Ted tells PEOPLE. “But they will be with us, always.”
Janelle and Ted constantly replay the details of the traumatic March night in their heads – always wondering if there was something more they could have done to save their children.
“It’s forever there in the back of our minds,” says Janelle.
The mother, who was 6 months pregnant at the time, was tending to cows in a nearby barn and Ted, a milkman, had driven to a nearby dairy farm to pick up milk.
The couple’s 3-year-old daughter, Leah, ran to the barn and told Janelle that her baby sister Miranda was “playing with smoke.”
Leah’s seven siblings died that day from a mix of carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation. Leah was the lone survivor.
Fire officials have not been able to determine the fire’s cause, but they think 18-month-old Miranda was holding a blanket too close to the space heater in the kitchen. She then dragged the burning blanket into the living room, where it ignited couch cushions.
“I went to the house and opened the door and the smoke knocked me down,” says Janelle. “I knew if the fire was that strong, there was no one alive in my house.”
When Ted first saw the high-power flames coming from his farmhouse, his “heart dropped.”
“I said no in there could possibly be alive,” he says. “I knew.”
The parents believe the kids, whose bodies were found in three different rooms in the house, were waiting for someone to rescue them.
Janelle gave birth to Gabriel four months after the fire – a “blessing” for the family during a time of great tragedy.
“I was happy, but I had this terrible sense of guilt because it seemed like he replaced my dead children,” says Janelle. “It was a bittersweet moment.”
She adds, “Time healed that pain, though. I realized that he was an innocent baby that needed love.”
Gabriel, 4, was followed by Yvonne, 3, Gordon, 2, and Jedidiah, 11 months.
Ted says he and his wife think of their new children as an addition to their family – not replacements.
“We have 13 children,” he says. “When people ask how many kids we have we say 13.”
Janelle is pregnant with a baby boy due in April.
While the Clouse household is teeming with new life and happiness, there is still a lingering sadness that will never go away.
“We talk about them all the time,” says Janelle. “When the time is right, when the kids are a little older, we will tell them about the brave siblings they never go to meet.”