I found it very difficult sleeping on Saturday night. Things were beginning to feel different. The period pains weren’t going away and I didn’t have trapped wind. I knew deep down that this was the beginning of labour. I began to feel very anxious. I was a day from being 27 weeks but still so early. I knew I couldn’t dwell on my fears, it would destroy me. I would crumble and I couldn’t do that. I’d come so far. But yet these thoughts kept returning; how big would they be? What would they look like? How poorly would they be? What was going to happen to me? What was going to happen to my girls?
I kept informing the midwife the cramps hadn’t disappeared and she reassured me she would keep a close eye on me. By midmorning I started to feel contractions. They began as mild tightenings but by lunchtime they had developed into frequent contractions. I didn’t want to scare or worry Connor as maybe, just maybe, there was a chance that these could just be Braxton Hicks (false contractions), but I needed him by my side. He wasn’t planning on coming in until the evening as he was busy working on the loft. I decided to text him to say “I don’t want to panic you but I think I’m having contractions and it’s maybe a good idea if you come in”. Why didn’t I ring him? Maybe if I said it out loud it would all sound too real. I didn’t want it to be real. I wanted to keep my girls in for at least another week. I didn’t want my body to be having these contractions. I wanted to tell them to stop but they kept coming more frequently. Connor phoned as soon as he read my message. I tried to sound as brave and calm as I could and forced myself not to cry. Con left for the hospital straight away. Needless to say he arrived more swiftly than the journey should take.
I felt a sense of relief and excitement when he arrived. This was it. I was having contractions. I was actually experiencing a part of labour. The contractions were painful. I soon understood why I had spent seventeen days hearing painful cries from women going into labour. As we hadn’t had any antenatal classes and had spent all our time praying I wouldn’t go in to labour, we didn’t have a clue what we were doing or what to expect. I’d heard you should time the frequency of your contractions and how long they last for. Connor started writing it all down on his phone and soon decided there must be an app for this. He was very pleased with himself when he found an app and his life became instantly easier. I squeezed his hand, clenched my teeth together and closed my eyes every time I had a contraction. I couldn’t concentrate on anything but the pain of the contraction and needed reminding to breathe. After the second contraction, Connor very politely asked if I could not dig my nails in next time. This made me laugh and I apologised. It felt strange experiencing contractions. A good kind of strange. This was what happened in child birth. I wasn’t being robbed of every experience of bringing my children into this world.
In between the contractions, we attempted to watch Wimbledon Men’s Final. This helped keep us sane and I reminded the girls that if they stayed in through the whole of Wimbledon, I would buy each of them a towel. The midwife kept checking on me, asking how frequently I was having the contractions. We informed her they were roughly every fifteen minutes.
The consultant came to see me. I’d met him before on ward round and liked him. He informed me that as my contractions weren’t going away, he would do a blood sample and also check to see if my cervix had opened. I got up to go to the examination room and looked behind to see that Connor hadn’t moved. He said, “What, you want me to come with you?” I couldn’t believe my ears. I replied, “Yes Con, of course you are coming with me.” Honestly, I wasn’t doing any of this by myself, I was dragging him along with me every step of the way. He didn’t mind though. He just didn’t think I would want him there. The consultant explained that my cervix was still closed. “Is this a good thing?” I asked. He replied it was, but we would have to be extremely careful because if I was to go into labour there was a danger of a prolapsed cord.
I wasn’t sure how I felt by this point. The contractions were frequent and definitely not Braxton Hicks. Panic kept setting in in waves and it took a lot of strength to stay calm. I felt embarrassed showing the nurses my pants every time I went to the toilet. I was desperate for them to tell me I wasn’t going in to labour. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, as one of the last times I showed them, they gently said “It’s ok, it looks like your plug.” My heart began beating faster and I fought back frightened tears. “This is it Amy Joan”, I told myself. “You can do this.”
Connor and I spent the next few hours monitoring the contractions and watching Wimbledon. Lunch arrived and I felt sick to the pit of my stomach. I forced a sandwich down my neck as I knew I would need some strength. We discussed what we would call Twin 1 and Twin 2. We felt like Connor’s Grandma, who has now sadly passed away, had really helped us in the weeks before. Her nickname was Judy and Judith was also Connor’s Mum’s first name. We decided to call Twin 1, Charlotte Judith and Twin 2, Esme Ann (my Mum’s called Ann). We were both very pleased with this decision and loved hearing and saying the names Charlotte and Esme together.
The consultant returned mid-afternoon and informed us the blood test results had come back and showed my infection markers had gone from below 5 (normal) to over 70, suggesting I had caught an infection. He decided that because of the blood test results, both Twins being breach and the added risk of a prolapsed cord, it would be safer if I was moved to the delivery suite. I thought this was just to be on the safe side so I didn’t mind being wheeled around. I desperately hoped that I would stay in the delivery suite for the night, my contractions would settle down and then I would go back to my temporary home on the antenatal ward.
We were given a private room and introduced to our new midwife. I listened attentively as the midwives exchanged notes. I took this time to study my new midwife. Did I trust her? Would she look after me and my babies? On first impressions, I wasn’t sure. She didn’t know me. I was sceptical, worried that things might go wrong. We spent the next ten minutes getting to know each other. She attached the heartbeat monitors and achieved two strong heartbeat traces straight away. This settled me. I thought she’s good, she knows what she’s doing. I trusted her.
The neonatal consultant visited and it was the same lady I had met the day before in the antenatal ward. She explained she would be there if I was to deliver the girls that night and there would be a team ready for each baby. I asked “Will they be ok?” I knew the answer but I just had to ask. I needed reassurance, but she couldn’t give it. Nobody could tell me they were going to be ok because they couldn’t read the future. I trusted this lady though and knew she would do everything to help my girls. When I got upset, she gave me a big cuddle and somehow managed to put me at ease, a smile back on my face and made me feel safe. I was in safe hands.
The consultant came in to see how I was doing and to let us know what might happen if I was to go into labour. The midwife interrupted our conversation with the consultant to inform us that Twin 1’s heart rate was dramatically falling. The consultant decided, there and then, that I was going to be going into theatre in the next twenty minutes. It didn’t register at first. Things started happening too quickly. The midwife started preparing things and Connor was given scrubs to change into. He came back in with a smile on his face. He loved wearing his scrubs. My heart soon began to race and the pins and needles started in my hands and feet. I questioned the midwife “Are we going to do this now? Right now? I’m delivering them now? Is Twin 1 ok? What’s happening to her heart rate? What does that mean?” She remained so calm whilst truthfully answering my questions. Connor messaged my family to inform them I was going into theatre. My brother and his girlfriend were currently on their first night of their holiday in Croatia. He had told me to keep them in until they got back.
I was so scared, not for me but for my girls. I didn’t care what happened to me. There was a small part of me that felt excited, that I would get to meet them, see their little features and become a mummy. I was also terrified about seeing them, how big would they be? What would they look like? They were three months early.
Another midwife entered. This was to give me a dose of magnesium sulphate. I was told it was quite a new procedure to help with the Twin’s brain development. It was going to be quickly dripped into me for five minutes. My midwife hadn’t done it before but had been warned that some midwives had wanted to jump out of the window due to the severity of the side effects. I was warned of these side effects. It might make my feet feel hot and I might feel dizzy. I thought that sounded no problem at all and wasn’t too sure why the midwife would want to jump out of the window because of these. I’d had plenty of anxiety attacks over the past two weeks so I should be fine. A doctor came in to get me to sign my consent for the epidural. The drip started and the doctor began to read the disclaimer.
Within a few seconds I suddenly felt like I was going to be sick. I managed to say “I’m going to be sick.” Then rolled over and started throwing up everywhere. The midwife ran to get a sick bowl but I couldn’t stop. My body felt like it had been dropped into a volcano. I couldn’t get away from the heat. I couldn’t speak from being sick. I couldn’t escape or do anything. I wanted to tell the midwife to get the bowl off the side of my face so I had space to be sick. I could think so clearly in my head yet I was out of control of my body. I was going through hell but I knew I had to do it for the sake of my girls. At last, I managed to speak, I gasped “How much longer left?” I had four seconds left. As soon as the five minutes was over, I was back to normal. It was the most out of body experience I have ever encountered. Connor said, in a matter of seconds, I went paralytic and my eyes started rolling around in the back of my head and I was constantly being projectile sick. The midwives hadn’t seen a reaction like that before, but after that experience I felt ready for anything.
The consultant came back in in his scrubs. This was it. It was time.
Connor walked by my side and I was wheeled on my bed into theatre. I went past a midwife I recognised from antenatal ward. She had previously said to me that she hoped to see me still in the antenatal ward when she returned from her shifts working in delivery. She gave me a very reassuring, sympathetic smile. I burst out with “I’m so sorry. I said I would keep them in and I haven’t.”
In the theatre, the mood seemed light. The radio was playing and the consultants and nurses were chatting. It helped us. I was prepared for theatre and sat on the edge of the bed for my epidural. I wasn’t fazed. Connor kept asking me if I was ok and truthfully I was. After the magnesium sulphate experience I felt like I had could handle anything. My mind felt so focused. Twin 1 was in trouble. It wasn’t about me, it was about keeping her safe.
The screen went up and the anaesthetist kept checking to see how numb I was. The moment I couldn’t feel my legs, I started to panic. I couldn’t run. I couldn’t do anything. I was going to meet my baby girls. What would they look like? Would they be ok? Connor squeezed my hand tightly. He quietly but firmly said “Amy listen, you’ve got this. Breathe.” I calmed down but I couldn’t stop shaking. I thought this was with fear until the anaesthetist overheard our conversation and tweaked a few things behind me. It settled a little.
Connor then warned me the two incubators were now in the room, and there was a lot of people, two of everyone, consultants, nurses, junior doctors, registrars. I looked over and just felt so sick. They were all here for me. It felt so surreal. I was so terrified but felt now more than ever I had to keep it together. I had to be brave.
At 21:27, the anaesthetist announced that Twin 1 was about to be born. I gripped Connor’s hand tighter. I couldn’t see anything. I didn’t even see her when she was delivered. She was taken straight to the incubator. My little girl was here, alive in this room and I couldn’t see her. I couldn’t even say can I see her because I knew they were busy keeping her alive. She had just been taken from me and I had no choice. At 21:30, the anaesthetist announced Twin 2 was about to be born. I didn’t get to see her either. I looked across and all I could see was the neonatal team working away, surrounding the incubators. Despite the noise of the radios the room felt so still.
The anaesthetist said “Congratulations on the arrival of your girls.” It felt so strange to hear the word ‘congratulations’. It didn’t feel right. They were supposed to be born and then straight into my arms. My arms, where I could hold them, kiss them, whisper that I loved them. I couldn’t do any of that. They were busy; busy fighting for their lives.
A very unexpected wave of relief washed over me. It was no longer my responsibility to keep my girls safe. I didn’t have to be terrified every time I felt a strange movement or went to the toilet for fear of a prolapsed cord. I was confident that they were in the safest hands and the neonatal team would do everything they could to keep them alive.
I looked across at Connor and said “You’re a Daddy.” He smiled and said “You’re a Mummy.” The consultant asked if we had names for the girls. We excitedly told him, “Twin 1 is called Charlotte Judith Campbell and Twin 2 is called Esme Ann Campbell.” He replied, “beautiful names.”
We listened to the consultants who had done the operation chatting away about holidays. It relaxed us and there was a strange sense of normality about the whole situation. I turned around to the anaesthetist, who had been amazing and helped to keep us so calm throughout the whole operation and said “You’re very busy.” The consultant who had done the caesarean looked over the screen and jokingly stated “We’re not busy at all.” I had totally forgotten that I was still being operated on as I couldn’t feel anything. I smiled and apologised, thanking them for safely delivering my girls.
Minutes slowly passed and they were still working around the incubators. The nerves about seeing them built up. Eventually, after about twenty minutes, Esme was ready to go. I began to get excited about seeing her. All the fear and anxieties about what size they might be and what they would look like being born so prematurely were out of the window. I couldn’t wait to see her. They wheeled her incubator so it was level with my head. Wow, there she was. My little Esme. I could only see her tiny beautiful face as she was wrapped in a plastic bag, a blanket and a knitted hat and there was a ventilation tube down her tiny throat. She was my daughter and I was her Mummy. I asked if I could touch her and reached to gently stroke her hand. Her delicate hand was so fragile, so light, so perfect. I softly whispered, “Hello baby girl.” She was then taken to Intensive Care.
I looked back across at Charlotte’s incubator. Why hadn’t I seen her yet? Why hadn’t she been wheeled past me? She was born first. I told Connor to go over and see if she was ok. To take a photo so I could see her. He was nervous about showing it to me as she looked much more poorly than Esme. The photo just showed her little face with a ventilation tube and hat on. I could only look at it briefly then closed my eyes tightly and prayed. We anxiously waited until they thought it was safe to transfer her to the Neonatal Ward. All we could see was the clock on her incubator. Time seemed to have stood still again.
Over half an hour passed and they began to get ready to move. I craned my neck to see her as she was wheeled up to me. I had no fears at meeting her, she was mine. She was so precious. She was my little girl. My arms ached to hold her. To give her a big squeeze and tell her I was her Mummy and she was going to be ok. I managed to reach inside the incubator and shakily touched her finger and softly said through tears “Hello baby girl, I’ll see you soon.”
I was then wheeled to the recovery suite. I suddenly felt very hungry and we devoured the tea and toast. It was most probably the best slices of toast I had ever eaten. I tried to wriggle my feet and toes until I couldn’t do it any longer. It was the most infuriating feeling. I had to keep asking Connor to wiggle each of my toes in turn. I explained to him about the sense of relief I had experienced and I felt reassured our girls were in the safest of hands. Connor sent a message around to our family and friends, announcing the arrival of our girls.
It was a strange feeling that we were now parents. I kept repeating “I am a Mummy“. Yet I felt so empty that my girls were no longer in my tummy. It was no longer my responsibility to protect them. I felt lost that I couldn’t even see them. They had just been taken from me. There was one woman in the bed next to me and her baby kept crying. What were my babies doing? Could they cry? I lay on the bed, confounded by my own thoughts.
The midwife came and I asked if I was going to be breastfeeding? I was so taken aback by this question as I hadn’t even thought about doing it. Maybe feeding is something discussed in your antenatal classes and as I hadn’t had any I didn’t have a clue. I felt excited by the question. There was something I could do for my girls. She went and found a syringe. It was a very bizarre feeling lying there whilst the midwife massaged my breast to see if I would produce any milk. It wasn’t too long before milk appeared. Oh my goodness! My boobs were producing milk. Where on earth had that come from? The midwife was delighted as it is common to not produce any milk when your baby is born so prematurely. She was so excited and practically skipped round to deliver the two syringes to the neonatal ward, where the nurses could use my milk for mouth care. I felt very proud of my boobies.
She returned looking like someone had punched the wind from her. She hardly spoke and busied herself doing paperwork. The mood had shifted. I asked if everything was ok and she said she couldn’t see much as the neonatal teams were crowded around both incubators. Anxiety kicked back in. Why had her mood changed? Why was she no longer smiling? I felt so hopeless. Time had stood still again. I began to feel sick and wished I hadn’t eaten so much toast.
At 11pm the Neonatal Registrar came to see us. He looked serious. He explained that Esme was stable and doing well but it wasn’t looking good for Charlotte. They were struggling to ventilate her. My world stood still. I couldn’t move and just stared into space. He clarified that she might not make it. He put his hand on my shoulder and said the team were working hard and doing everything. I thanked him and he returned to the ward.
Connor and I were in silence. We started crying and held each other. How could this happen? Please no, not my little girl. Please don’t take her away from me. Please let me have a chance to hold her, to love her, to be her Mummy. I couldn’t help it but thoughts of planning her funeral kept creeping into my mind. I thought about songs I would sing, poems I would read. I tried shaking these horrendous images but they kept replaying. I felt awful for thinking them. Why was my mind already giving up on my girl? I didn’t want to think like this. The neonatal counsellor later informed me it is a very natural thing to do and she has heard it from a lot of parents. You are planning for the worst as you fear that if the worst was to happen you wouldn’t be able to cope.
We waited in hell to hear any news. Every time we heard footsteps we thought it was the registrar returning to tell us if Charlotte was alive or dead. Hearing the sound of any footsteps made me feel sick. My stomach felt empty. Right to the pit of my stomach I felt sick, helpless. Will she ever meet her mummy? Was that it? I had touched her hand. I had only seen parts of her face. I hadn’t even had the chance to meet her properly, or hold her, or tell her how beautiful she was and that I loved her so much. I prayed for my little girl so hard. My body ached. Everything inside me wanted to see her but I couldn’t.
An hour went passed and the sound of distant footsteps got louder. They were walking towards us. The Neonatal Consultant appeared. She had her hands clasped but a small smile on her face. Surely this was good news. She announced that Charlotte was stable. I cried so loudly. They were the happiest, most relieved tears I had ever cried. I was so proud of my little girl, she was incredible. We were so grateful to everyone. She explained that Charlotte was extremely poorly and her survival would be hour by hour. They had given her a blood transfusion and apologised that under normal circumstances they would have asked for our consent. Of course I didn’t mind and was just forever grateful that they kept her alive. Esme was stable and doing well. When we were ready we could go round and see them. At this point I knew Charlotte could do it. She was a true fighter.
The numbness began to lift and I was able to wiggle my toes again. I was desperate to go. I managed to transfer to a wheelchair and we were shown round to the neonatal unit.
The room was so quiet. I could see their little bodies fighting so hard to stay alive. Charlotte’s body was vibrating more than Esme’s. They were both on an oscillator ventilator. It was doing all the breathing for them. Connor wheeled me from one incubator to the other. I couldn’t say much. Words seemed to get stuck. I wanted to be this strong mother I imagined myself to be but I couldn’t. I couldn’t even look after them, hold them or protect them. I couldn’t even bring myself to say I loved them out loud. I felt ashamed. What mother couldn’t tell their new born babies they loved them? I did though. I loved them both with all my heart. I wanted to tell them so much but I couldn’t. I managed to splutter this to the nurse and she reassured me it was ok and in time I would. I gazed into each incubator with overwhelming love. Despite having so many tubes and their faces covered, they were the most beautiful babies I had ever seen. They were mine. I felt so lucky to have met them and to be able to call them my daughters. I was their mother.