The antenatal ward. Part 3: Mind Over Matter

Over the course of the seventeen days I was in hospital, I probably became the strongest I’ve ever been. I learnt how to survive; how to ignore the thoughts of my worst fears creeping into my mind; how to stay strong when being strong is the only option; how to listen and accept news I didn’t ever imagine hearing about me and my babies; how to accept that I couldn’t do anything about the future and it is all a matter of time; how to stay positive and think mind over matter and above all else, how to become truly connected with my babies whilst pregnant.

Whenever it was just me and my girls, I would talk to them all the time. I whispered as I didn’t want other patients thinking I was talking to myself. My lovely bump grew by the day and I loved it when my Dad said, “You’ve definitely got bigger since the last time I saw you.” I was so proud. As the days and weeks went by I got closer and closer to them. Their kicks became stronger and stronger and I could see my tummy move. I always imagined how I would feel when I would see my tummy move. I originally thought it would freak me out and look like some sort of alien was inside me. But instead, it was magical. I feel so blessed to have been given the chance to see these movements, even if it was only for a short while. I loved guessing what body part it was and felt very lucky to be able to ask the midwife if it was their head or bottom. I just loved it. It was a favourite time of my day.

At the end of the second week I had my next growth scan. I had the growth scan every two weeks to check on the girl’s development. After having two weeks of hearing both their heartbeats twice a day I felt quite excited. I even got dressed and did my hair. Connor was at work so a student nurse came with me. She was a lovely girl and I was grateful for her company. It was the same consultant who had done the scan previously. She didn’t seem as flustered this time (i.e. hadn’t rushed from theatre) and seemed more approachable. I realised this time that she had a kind and honest face. Maybe she did last time and it was me who failed to see this, too worried and fearful of waiting in anticipation to hear bad news. The consultant was very pleased with how much they had grown. She reminded me of our conversation during the first scan, that in rare situations, dichorionic diamniotic (DCDA) (each twin has its own chorionic and amnionic sacs) twins might share their waters. She showed me Twin 2’s waters and then Twin 1’s. Twin 2 had shared her waters. This was the first time I felt proud as a mummy. It was such a strong, overwhelming feeling of being proud. Twin 2 had done it. I cried happy, proud tears. I was also equally proud of Twin 1 who was doing so amazing and was growing just fine without hers. Wow, what clever girls I had. The consultant then pointed out that Twin 1 was standing on her cord. She explained that if I was to go into labour, there could be risk of a prolapsed cord. If this happened this could lead to Twin 1 getting into great difficulty and being starved of oxygen. I was suddenly petrified. I’d gone from being so happy and proud to feeling panicky and terrified. The consultant informed me there was still the possibility of going home if Twin 1 got off her cord and the cord moved. Sadly, each of the following scans confirmed they were both still breach and the cord was still presenting.

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I was called ‘part of the furniture’ by the staff and I knew most of their names. I felt like I’d made lots of friends. All the staff were so amazing and really helped me through those weeks. They worked long hours and always made me feel safe and happy, especially when Connor wasn’t there. They would take the time to answer any questions I had and never make me feel like any question was a silly question. The prolapsed cord really worried me and the midwives took the time to draw a picture of what a prolapsed cord was. I was so nervous of feeling a prolapsed cord, what would it feel like? What if I didn’t feel it in time and I would go into labour and then Twin 1 might get stuck and be starved of oxygen. It would all be my fault. I was petrified each time I went to the toilet.

I found it difficult leaving my bed. I would much prefer to lie in my bed, with my legs crossed and hit the alarm or call for a midwife if I felt anything different or unusual. But in order for me to stay sane, the nurses encouraged me to leave the ward. I tried to embrace the looks people would give me. I would make eye contact with them and smile. They would smile back. It made me feel better by showing to them I didn’t need their sympathy and I was doing just fine. I ignored the feeling of wanting to live up to their sympathetic looks and got on with my day, keeping my head held high.

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One thing I never got used to was the feeling of my waters coming out of me. The only time I didn’t feel it was when I was in the shower. Maybe that’s why I stayed in the shower for so long. I have to say a massive thank you to my Mum who did all my washing and always made sure I had plenty of clean pants. Thanks Mum! At one point my waters didn’t come out of me for 24 hours and I thought “Yes, this is it. Twin 1 is going to be ok, the hole has miraculously sealed and maybe I’ll get to go home.” Unfortunately this didn’t happen and after the 24 hours passed a lot of water came out. I think deep down I did expect this but when it happened my heart sank. This nightmare was still happening. I wasn’t able to go home and experience some home comforts whilst trying to keep them in until I was over 32 weeks.

I would constantly count down on my fingers how many days it was until I was another week pregnant. To get each day under my belt felt like forever. When a week passed, it felt like such an achievement and a relief that they were a week older.  On ward round, the consultant would say how each day I kept them in was essential for their development and at 26 weeks my aim was to get to 28 weeks.  I felt like there was so much pressure on me to keep my girls safe. It was up to me to increase their chances of survival. I had to stay strong for them. My friend went on holiday to France just after Twin 1’s waters went and said she wanted me to keep them in until she was back in two weeks. I couldn’t even bare thinking about what would happen if I didn’t make it until then. Two weeks felt like a different lifetime away, but I did it and she came to visit me when she arrived home.

By the end of the first week in that ward I learnt not to Google. I reached the conclusion that Google is not good for an anxious mind. I googled babies born at 24, 25, 26 weeks and so on. I googled images of premature babies. I just made myself feel even more sick. They looked so tiny and poorly and just not ready for the real world. There were very few positive things I could find about having premature babies and everything I read seemed to include disability, death and small chance of survival. I don’t know why I did it, why I did it to myself. I suppose I was intrigued but in a scared and vulnerable way. Maybe I had to look to protect myself and prepare myself for what might happen. The thought of seeing such a premature baby, seeing my babies so tiny made me so frightened. In a deep, dark part of my mind I could hear myself saying “Would I still love them?” I hated myself for saying this. I was almost disgusted with myself. What mother wouldn’t love their babies, no matter what they looked like? It upset me so much that my mind would even go there. I mentioned what I had googled to Connor and he would say, “Why did you do that Amy? You know it only brings up worst case scenarios! Don’t do it again.” I would listen to Connor, tell him I didn’t mean to search it, I just did it even though I knew it wasn’t good for me. I stopped crying and would try and remember and persuade my mind to understand that those babies on Google were not mine. They were not part of my story.

Our first visit to the Neonatal Ward

During my 26th week (second week in hospital) we were invited to go and visit the Neonatal Ward. I was so anxious about this visit and what I might see.  I waited until Connor arrived and decided to walk to the ward. Shortly after walking through the Neonatal Ward, I felt incredibly hot and nervous and nearly fainted at the thought of what I was about to see. Was I about to see the googled images in real life? The nurse showing us around, went to get me a glass of water and a chair. Connor gave me a firm rub on the shoulder and reminded me this was the best place for our girls if they were to be born early. Despite being petrified, I got my act together. I had to for my girls. We weren’t allowed in Intensive Care and I was slightly disappointed as that would be where I saw what I feared seeing most. We did get the opportunity to see the High Dependency Unit. I nervously looked through the windows and saw the most tiny but perfect babies. They had little knitted hats on and clothes and were lying inside cots or in their parents’ arms. I quickly turned away and felt uneasy. I started crying. The babies were so small. Would my girls look like that? Would they be smaller? I calmed down and looked in again. This time in preparation of what it might be like for me. I saw twins. I was transfixed on them. They were wearing cute little sleepsuits and pink and blue knitted hats. I looked at their parents and studied their faces. The Mum was sitting next to their cot, chatting to the Dad, who was standing up cradling the girl in one arm. They both looked so happy and at ease. Another couple was sitting down, the mother holding her baby and happily chatting away to her partner. They all looked relaxed. I began to feel everything was going to be ok. If they could do it, so could I. We walked back to the ward and were both happier. We felt safe that we were in the best place and our babies would have the very best care.

Once my girls were born I realised that this was an incredible place. A place where I made great friends with many of the staff and a place which become my second home (or third including my parents) for the next two months. Later on, I realised that the babies I saw on that visit, were doing amazingly well. They were actually quite big, they were breathing by themselves. They were in High Dependency not Intensive Care, the parents could be hands on with their babies and were able to lift them up and do the majority of caring for their little ones. The babies had no wires attached; they were feeding by themselves, i.e. no tube feeding; they were in their own cots and the twins were sharing their cot. This was an image I held onto.

Despite everything I went through each day and night, the majority of the time I was generally ok. I was able to smile and laugh and didn’t cry all the time. I was able to stay strong and only had a few wobbles. I want to say a massive thank you to all the staff, my family and friends and my amazing husband for supporting me and helping me keep this positive mind set. There was one thing that I was missing so much. My dogs.

Friday 8th July

On this Friday afternoon I hit another low point. I was waiting for my friend to visit once she had finished work. I just felt utterly fed up. I was fed up of being in hospital, looking out at the beautiful blue skies and not being able to enjoy the sunny weather. I was fed up of hospital food, not having my own bed or having to share a bathroom with all the other patients. I felt trapped that I wasn’t allowed to go home but I also didn’t want to go home for fear of going into labour. I knew I had to keep a positive mindset as it helped me and it seemed to be helping my girls. But staying positive all the time is hard. It was exhausting ignoring all the fears that constantly crept into my mind. I broke down in tears. For the first time, I just felt really sorry for myself. I had a good cry and then couldn’t stop crying. I needed a big hug. I pressed my alarm button hoping that one of the nurses I had become good friends with (the one who I thought might fancy Connor) would come and see me. A student nurse answered the alarm so I asked if they could get the other nurse. The nurse and a midwife came and we all had a big group hug. It felt so good to be held and feel the pressure from the hug. We had a good chat and I was soon smiling and laughing. They started asking me about my two dogs and I showed them pictures. It dawned on me how much I missed them and started crying all over again. They suggested that Connor brought them with him in the car and we could then go to a park. I quickly phoned him and caught him just in time before he set off to visit me. My friend soon arrived and I told her instead of going to Costa, we were going for a drive with my dogs and Connor. She loved the sound of it. When we were leaving the hospital, with my Boots bag in tow, she said she felt like she was breaking me out of hospital. It was funny. She sat in the front with Connor and I sat in the back with my two Labradors, Hattie and Mila. They were so excited to see me and couldn’t stop trying to lick me. As it was Friday night, we decided not to go to the park but set off for a ride around Headingley. The dogs soon settled and Hattie rested her head on my lap. I’d missed them so much. Connor said that it was the calmest he had seen them for a long time. We went to Domino’s to get Connor’s dinner. By the time we arrived back at hospital, I was in a much happier, stronger place and very grateful for my friend coming with me and cheering me up. I cried when I said goodbye to my dogs and told them to be good.

Saturday 9th July

Throughout the day, I began to feel unwell. Something didn’t feel quite right. During the seventeen days I was in hospital, I kept asking what it would feel like if I was to go in to labour. They described the contractions starting off like period cramps. I had totally forgotten what period cramps felt like. Over the weeks I experienced painful trapped wind and each time I thought it might be period pains and the start of labour. It was such a relief when I realised I just needed a pump!! My observations were all normal and it was still absolutely fine to go out in the car with my friend visiting. I put the feeling of something niggling me and not being quite right to the back of my mind, trusted the midwife that it was fine to go out and off I went for my tour of the ‘real world’ around Headingley. I was very nervous of leaking waters over her brand new car, so sat on my beloved Boots carrier and tried not to move. It was lovely seeing her and laughing at all the very drunken groups of people on the Otley Run. When we got back to the ward, I was introduced to the neonatal consultant who was standing at Reception. She looked very friendly. I smiled and said “Hello” to her and the sister in charge started laughing and told the consultant that she was going on holiday tomorrow and the staff had chipped in to buy a bag to replace my Boots carrier!

Connor didn’t come in that day as he was busy working on the loft. The niggling period-like pains began to get stronger and I could no longer ignore them. Every time I went to the toilet I informed the midwife about the pains still being there and I wasn’t sure if it was trapped wind this time. The pains were making me nervous and I now remembered what period pains felt like. Throughout the night I was very uncomfortable and restless and the period pains did not go away.

 

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