Cherie and Hayden Ayrton were devastated when they learned one of their twin boys did not survive in Cherie's womb

By Char Adams
September 19, 2018 11:17 AM
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Credit: Charlie Horse Photography

Last fall, Cherie and Hayden Ayrton, of New Zealand, were excited about welcoming a set of twin boys to complete their family. But by May 2018, the family would leave the hospital with only one new baby, in a tragedy that Cherie says has changed her forever.

Cherie, 31, was 14 weeks pregnant when she announced to her friends and family that she was expecting twin boys, Tiger and Johnny. In her previous twin pregnancy, with girls, one of the babies did not survive and was absorbed in utero early on.

Despite her past, Cherie, who shares two girls — ages 5 and 2 — and a son with Hayden, says she was hopeful about her latest pregnancy and dreamed of what life would be like with the boys.

“Life would have been perfect. I wouldn’t have a broken heart now,” Cherie tells 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.”

Cherie Ayrton with son Tiger
| Credit: Charlie Horse Photography

Cherie had a normal pregnancy at first, she says, and expected everything to go as planned. But her hopes were crushed on Dec. 27 of last year, when she went in for an ultrasound, only to learn that Johnny’s heartbeat was undetectable.

“It was horrible, losing a child is the worst thing any parent can go through. It’s changed me forever,” the grieving mother tells PEOPLE, noting that the loss brought painful memories of her first twin pregnancy.

“I was gutted that it had happened to us again. When we lost my daughter’s twin it was very early on. I guess I felt more attached to our boy. Months of being pregnant is a long time to get organized and excited for them to arrive.”

From left: Cherie, Charlie-Rose, Hayden, Frankie-Jane and Tiger Ayrton
| Credit: Courtesy Cherie Ayrton

Because she was entering her second trimester, doctors told Cherie it would be best that she carry the twins full term. And, over the next few months, the devastated mother watched as each ultrasound showed less and less of her baby boy.

On May 2, Cherie gave birth to her twins. She first shared her story with Love What Matters, writing of the births: “We cried, we smiled, we loved and we enjoyed one night with our two boys together and family surrounding us.”

She and Hayden decided to have Johnny’s remains cremated, and in the days after Tiger’s birth, Cherie connected with Sarah Simmons of Charlie Horse Photography for the baby’s newborn photo shoot. Cherie says she knew she wanted the brothers photographed together, so she took the ashes along with her and asked Simmons to include Johnny in a picture.

From left: Frankie-Jane, Hayden, Tiger (center), Cherie and Charlie-Rose Ayrton
| Credit: Charlie Horse Photography

So, she did. In a moving photo Tiger is shown wrapped in a cloth that extends to surround a small container that held Johnny’s ashes.

“It was sad and very emotional,” Cherie says of watching the shoot. “[Johnny] should have been next to his brother alive. We should have been getting pictures of them cuddling each other.”

Credit: Courtesy Cherie Ayrton

In the months since the shoot, the moving photo has made its way around the Internet, garnering attention from social media users everywhere. Cherie says that although the support she’s received as a result of the picture has helped her to cope with the loss, she’ll never be the same.

“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,” she says. “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.”