Wednesday 13th July 2016
I woke up that morning looking like Pamela Anderson. I had an absolute nightmare before getting in the shower. Due to going to zero antenatal classes, having not reached that stage in my pregnancy, I had no idea what was happening to my body after giving birth. Milk started spraying everywhere whilst I was also still bleeding from the after birth (I was totally clueless that the bleeding could last up to six weeks). With limited movement, how was I supposed to cope with this all happening at the same time without getting in a complete mess and having to just spend my day just standing in the shower. Luckily, I had the help of my poor husband who managed to put my knickers on for me. I couldn’t really walk out of the room with two wet milk circles on my t-shirt either. I rang my Mum to see if she could get some breast pads and in the meantime a creative nurse cut a maternity pad into three pieces for me to put down my bra instead. It did the job.
Whilst I was expressing and Connor was in the shower (we were lucky enough to have a room with an en suite), a male student midwife came in to see how I was doing, to do my observations and give me my morning drugs. As I wasn’t expecting anyone to come in, I felt slightly awkward to be sitting there in just my skirt and attached to two breast pumps. Not the most glamorous look. I’d met the student midwife before on the antenatal ward and he’d also visited my house with my twin midwife as part of his training. He was slightly worried that my breasts looked quite swollen and asked if he could feel them. He didn’t want me developing mastitis. I felt my face redden but didn’t mind as he was just doing his job. I started to feel this giggle bubbling inside me, that here I was, with a man kneeling down studying my engorged breasts, attached to the pumps, knowing that Connor was stuck in the bathroom. It took a lot of effort to keep a straight face. I’d heard the shower stop whilst he was feeling my breasts and knew that Connor had no towel or clothes and would be standing behind the door, dripping wet and listening in to this male voice talking about my boobs. After about five minutes had passed and he’d taught me everything he knew about what happens when your milk ducts get blocked (with diagrams), I politely asked if it would be ok to give Connor a few minutes to get changed as his towel was out here. He apologised and went to go and get my midwife to double check my boobs. Well, Connor’s face was a picture. He couldn’t work out why he was talking for so long. I had to quickly tell Connor to “be quiet” as he was returning any minute. My midwife shortly returned and informed me that my full milk supply had come in and there was nothing to worry about, it was perfectly normal for my boobs to look like that. I thanked the student midwife for his help.
I always felt proud asking for the milk key from the Reception desk in the antenatal ward. Over the past three days I had gone from expressing 1ml of milk, to filling two 50ml bottles to filling two 130ml bottles. Connor couldn’t believe how big my boobs had got. I felt such a sense of achievement. It was one of the things that only I could do for my girls and it was one of the best things for them. I had to ask Connor to help massage my boobs (to encourage the milk flow and any parts that felt too full), as I was holding a pump in each hand. I think, for the first time, he wasn’t exactly thrilled to be asked to do this. Sweaty, milky boobs, mmm nice!! I called it good team work.
During ward round, the consultant who had performed my caesarean said he was happy with how the wound was healing and that as long as I was ok with it, I was good to go home. I felt like I’d just been given the ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card. I was allowed to go home? He also informed me that the way he had done my caesarean would allow me to have a natural delivery next time I was pregnant. Connor nearly fell off the bed and politely told him that this was not going to be happening again. The consultant knowingly smiled and replied, “You’d be surprised.” I remained quiet with a hidden grin. Before we left to go home, Connor was taught how to inject my antibiotics into my arm (I‘m pretty sure he took great pleasure in stabbing me) and we managed to borrow a breast pump from the neonatal ward.
(Note the Boots carrier bag is still going strong)
Over the past days I had managed to walk quicker and quicker down the corridor to the neonatal ward to see my girls. We understood the ward was busy but sometimes it felt a very long time until the entrance doors to the ward were unlocked. I got so excited to see the girls and managed my quickest walk from the ward doors to Intensive Care. I was introduced to each of the girl’s nurses for the next twelve hours. I subconsciously spent the first few minutes sussing out each nurse whilst saying “Good morning, it’s Mummy here” to Charlotte and Esme, giving them a little comfort hold and placing my index finger in the palm of their hands to feel a gentle squeeze. Would the nurses do a good job of looking after my girls?
I needn’t have had any doubts about any of the nurses. They are the most incredible, caring and compassionate people I have ever met. Over the summer I felt I made many new friends. Friends who I knew for less than an hour, yet I knew I could trust 100% with looking after my girls. They had the remarkable skill of filling me with hope yet informing me of nothing but the truth. They were able to explain what the consultant had said on ward round in an empathetic, softer way, enabling me to understand exactly what was happening. They looked after us, as much as they looked after Charlotte and Esme. I am forever grateful for all that the nurses and the neonatal team did for my family.
That morning, the nurse looking after Esme, asked if either of us wanted to do her ‘cares’. This involved cleaning her mouth using a foam mouth swab with some of my expressed milk, applying powder to their creases (under their chin, armpits, belly button, on their bottom) and changing their nappy. This had to be done through the incubator windows with minimal touch and handling and also being careful not to lift their legs too high due to their fragile hips. As I had already held Esme and felt such an immediate bond, I asked Connor if he wanted to do it. He didn’t need too much persuasion. I loved watching him as he cleaned Esme’s body. I watched with admiration and love as he delicately lifted her arms and legs, listening carefully to the nurse as she guided him through each step. He spoke softly to Esme who remained so calm, occasionally moving her arms and legs in jittery movements. Connor described it as a game of operation (a battery-operated game of physical skill that tests players’ hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills). You had to do everything with your hands through the incubator’s windows; dodging all their wires; lifting their tiny limbs; ignoring any alarms that blasted in your ears as a wire came off and being careful not to rest your hands on any breathing tubes or wires. It was tricky but a skill that soon became second nature.
Unfortunately Charlotte was still too poorly to come out of her incubator for skin to skin contact. All Esme’s observations were good, however the ward was very busy. This meant that the nurses would only be able to take her out of the incubator if there were plenty of staff around. Sadly, this didn’t happen and we were unable to hold either girl that day. These days were difficult as I received so much strength from my little cuddles but I understood safety had to come first.
Red buddy blanket: Charlotte. Purple buddy blanket: Esme
During ward round, the consultant had informed us that both Charlotte and Esme had a PDA (a condition in which the ductus arteriosus does not close. The ductus arteriosus is a blood vessel that allows blood to go around the baby’s lungs before birth). The consultant had detected it by listening to their heart beat. They were going to give them a course of paracetamol to see if that would close it. I couldn’t believe they used something as simple as ibuprofen. This was the first set back we had. We’d been forewarned about premature babies often taking two steps forwards and one back. I was reminded again of Connor’s brother’s advice, “Don’t try and fight anything, just accept it and go with it”. This really helped me cope with my anxiety and I began to learn how to focus on the now and not to worry about the future.
That afternoon, the nurses asked Connor and me if we would check a junior doctor’s information booklet about PDA. The booklet was to be a hand out for parents and he wanted a parent’s perspective on it before it was published. We felt honoured and very privileged. In the café, whilst we were reading through it, we joked that we must come across as quite intelligent. We felt respected and part of a team. I tried not to get too red pen happy. The booklet was informative and the information was clear. By the time I’d finished reading through it, I prayed that Charlotte wouldn’t need an operation.
In previous days, when my Mum had said cards and presents had started to arrive, we felt unable to open them, afraid to open them. It was too soon. It didn’t feel right. What if we opened all these presents; – presents which were filled with so much hope – but then were told things weren’t going to be ok? It was a difficult thought process to agree to opening gifts which celebrated their arrival as everything was so unstable and both girls’ progress changed by the hour. However, today was a new day; our girls were both here and we were proud parents of the strongest and bravest twin girls. It was a brave decision to open them, one which we made together and we accepted this was how it was.
Late afternoon, my Mum arrived in the antenatal ward with two Merrythought bags. Inside each bag was the finest golden teddy bear. Each bear had a beautiful pink ribbon carefully tied around its neck. Mum explained how they had been to the Merrythought Factory and had enjoyed choosing the perfect teddy for each of their granddaughters. Lucky girls.
Opening the presents and seeing the teddies that had been bought with so much love, filled me with pride and hope for my girls. I felt able to embrace the future and believe that Charlotte and Esme were going to be just fine. I had this image, that one day we’d be bringing our girls home and we would watch them play with all their toys that had been so kindly bought for them.
I eagerly walked (fast shuffled) down the corridor to the neonatal ward with two very posh Merrythought bags. The nurses oohed and aahed at the traditional jointed teddy bears and Connor and I excitedly showed Charlotte and Esme their present from their Gran and Grandad. Both girls were under UV light so we were unable to see their faces due to their masks. I described the bear to them and told them that when they were older, they could choose the name for their teddy bear. I apologised to the girls that they were unable to keep them but the bears were too big (and expensive) to sit inside their incubators.
As evening handover approached (7pm) we began to get ready to go home. Leaving the ward and leaving my babies was something I never got used to. I liked to wait until 7pm to find out which nurses were with my girls for the night shift. Whilst Connor stood at the door with my rucksack and a bag of empty milk bottles for expressing, I paced between each incubator, saying “Goodnight”. I could only leave once I saw that both their faces looked happy and settled, they were comfortable and the machines weren’t alarming and were showing all the right numbers. Both girls also had a Zaky hand. The Zaky hand is a weighted bean bag designed to simulate the shape, warmth, weight and touch of the parents’ hands and forearms. These looked rather freaky but Charlotte and Esme loved them. The girls liked it when the forearm was shaped around their back and the hand was cupped around the back of their head. I also made sure that the ‘buddy blankets’ I had been keeping under my bra straps all day (to get my scent on them) were positioned as close to their nose as I could get them.
It was a mental battle to drag myself out of the Intensive Care Unit doors. Were they going to be ok? Would their nurses look after them? What if someone entered the ward that wasn’t supposed to? What if something happened to them and their Mummy wasn’t there to hold, comfort or protect them? It felt the most unnatural thing to turn my back on them but I knew I could trust the nurses and going home was a time to rest, recuperate and regenerate.