After a very steady drive back, we arrived at my Mum and Dad’s. My Dad and Connor had been very busy working on the loft but our house was still a building site.
It was a strange feeling being back at my parents’ house for the first time since my waters had broken. It felt like I hadn’t been there in a very long time. I felt like a different person and full of confusion. I didn’t know who I was. My head felt so lost and my heart and arms only longed for my girls. I felt like I was left with nothing.
My parents’ house is one of my favourite places in the world. Yet when I walked up the stairs I had climbed thousands of times before, it felt such a struggle to dismiss the feelings of terror I had previously experienced; the spare room at the top of the stairs where my waters had gone and the bathroom where I sat on the toilet trembling, looking at the trail of blood across the floor. It hurt so much to feel this way. This was my home where I had lived for twenty five years; a place where I grew up, loved and that I had filled with fond memories. I went into my bedroom, sat down on my bed and cried. My life felt so detached. My thoughts drifted to being Mummy. I continued to struggle with the fact that I was a Mummy but didn’t feel like a real mummy. I spent my day and night attached to breast pumps and had taken home the scent of my girls on buddy blankets instead of them. I couldn’t protect, hold, hear, kiss, feed or even dress my babies. It hurt so much.
My tears began to dry up as I remembered my conversation with Esme’s nurse. She had mentioned bringing in our own blankets to use for skin to skin instead of using the hospital ones. She also suggested using our own muslin squares to use as sheets for the incubator. These cloths were also used to cover the girls’ nests (rolled-up blankets positioned around them so they felt contained). The nurse had attached a pretty flowery laundry bag to Esme’s table. I started to look for all my muslin squares and the pink blankets I had previously bought from The White Company to wash.
My sister’s old bedroom is next door to mine. I decided this would be the easiest place for my ‘expressing’ station. I set up the pump, bottles, labels, pen and a tub of Milton Sterilising Fluid on her book shelves, and pulled up her wheelie chair next to the bed. It was Connor’s job to change the Milton before he went to bed. I expressed after tea, before I went to bed, once during the night, when I woke up and once before I left to go to hospital. I was still in a lot of pain from the operation and standing and sitting to express was painful. On top of these discomforts my boobs were like rocks and the let-down of milk made my toes curl but I didn’t mind. I felt lucky that I was able to produce milk and knew it was only making my girls stronger. Hopefully one day I could swap the pumps for my babies.
That evening Connor and I opened all the cards and presents that had arrived. We couldn’t believe how many there were. It was touching and heart-warming to see how many of our family and friends had bought our girls gifts. I felt a mixture of emotions as I opened the cards and presents. We had so many cards with ‘Twins’ and surprisingly we only had two cards which were the same. Seeing all the cards up and opening two of everything; bookends; personalised towels, blankets, their names carved from wood, ‘sisters’ photo frame, personalised alphabet picture and two of every toy, I began to feel a very proud Mummy of twins and it was so heartwarming to see how loved my girls were already. At the same time, it also felt very surreal. The girls’ survival, especially Charlotte’s, was still by the hour. I was supposed to come home with my babies and open all the cards and presents together but I didn’t have my girls with me and they were both fighting for each breath. Yet here I was, in my parent’s kitchen, surrounded by beautiful cards filled with optimism and hope. These encouraged me to stay positive and to remember to never give up on hope.
Before I went to bed, I felt a need to phone the neonatal ward. Connor suggested that I should ring as they wouldn’t understand his accent. Connor would have been happy to go to sleep without ringing and settle for ‘no news was good news’ but for peace of mind I had to ring. I felt so proud saying “Hello, it’s Charlotte’s and Esme’s Mummy.” I loved saying their names together and the realisation that I was a mother of twins sank in further. I spoke to each of their nurses and found out how they were doing. They were both stable. The nurses managed to reassure me and encouraged me to get some sleep. I said goodnight and told them I hoped my girls behaved themselves. Propped up on a mountain of pillows, I said a prayer and managed to drift off to sleep.
I woke up once during the night to express. I had to wake Connor to help me out of bed and then to go and put the labelled bottles in the fridge once I had finished. He didn’t complain. As soon as I woke up in the morning I phoned the hospital. I knew handover was at 7am and wanted to speak to the nurses who had looked after them that night. During breakfast, Con took great pride in being in charge of my medication and devised a chart so I wouldn’t miss any. He was very professional and took the job seriously. It made me smile. I was being well looked after.
Before leaving for the hospital, I had great enjoyment with packing my bag. Inside were freshly washed muslin squares, two pink satin edged blankets and a selection of cleverly knitted hats. My Mum and sister had found these hats in a box in the Parent’s Room in the hospital. The box was full of hats and cardigans for premature babies. They were so beautifully made. We used a gift bag from one of our presents to put the milk and ice packs in.
My friend’s Mum had been in touch and advised hugging a pillow if I needed to cough, sneeze or laugh. It was the best advice I was given for coping with the recovery after a caesarean. On the way to the hospital, I dug my heels in at every corner and hugged the pillow tightly. I was so desperate to see my girls. I think even if I flew there, it wouldn’t have been quick enough. Connor and I always got nervous as we approached the hospital. What if something had happened? Adrenaline would kick in and it was often difficult to differentiate between excitement and fear.
As I arrived at the hospital and just before entering the intensive care unit, my milk flow would decide to come in and I would experience the painful let-down. This happened just about every day over the summer. How did my boobs know? The power of nature baffled me. I was unable to hug anyone due to the soreness. Instead, we would stand about a metre apart and give each other a couple of pats on the back. It was always a difficult task to keep a straight face when my milk came in and I had to concentrate hard on what they were saying. It was often a bit too painful and I would embarrassingly say “I’m really sorry but can you just repeat that, I couldn’t listen properly, my milk just came in.” and keep my fingers crossed that I didn’t have two big wet circles staring at them.
Outside the ward we had to sanitise our hands, then entering the ward we had to wash and sanitise our hands again. This was repeated on entering intensive care and before we put our hands inside the girls’ incubators. We did get used to it but it sometimes became frustrating, washing and sanitising my hands every time before I could touch my baby. My hands had become incredibly dry from the continuous washing and use of sanitiser and my knuckles had started to crack. I was very grateful to my friend who bought me hand cream.
We spent the day talking and getting to know the girl’s nurses, making several trips to the expressing room, doing their cares, comfort holding and rearranging and tidying their cupboard drawers next to their incubators.
As the girls got a little better I started to write in their diaries. I had avoided this for fear that these books would be the only memories I would have or that I would only need to write a couple of pages as something dreadful would happen. Like most things I feel anxious about, whenever I face that anxiety and write about it, it then becomes less invasive on my life. When the girls’ were well, I would happily write in their diaries but when either of them became poorly I just couldn’t put pen to paper. In total, I managed to write in their diaries only three times before one or both of the girls became poorly. I couldn’t write in one and not the other. When they were poorly I tried my hardest to only focus on all the good things about my girls and live in denial of what was actually happening, especially when it became a matter of life or death. All my mental power and energy went towards staying strong and being there for Charlotte and Esme. I was unable to write an entry with the unbearable thought that it might be the last one. I wanted the girls to look back at these diaries and read only happy memories and not those where I felt there was only a fine line between hope and despair. During such times I was grateful that my Mum, sister and mother-in-law enjoyed writing in them although I did worry that Charlotte and Esme would grow up and ask why I had stopped writing.
This routine remained the same for many days over the summer. Every day I arrived desperate to see Charlotte’s and Esme’s little faces but often they were covered in sunglasses or a special shaped bandage to protect their faces from the UV light. I would often have to accept that one or both of my babies were too poorly for skin to skin. Connor’s boss at work was fantastic and extremely supportive, allowing Connor to take whatever leave we needed. I needed him there for me; to explain what the doctors had said as I was too busy worrying; to make me a sugary cup of tea and keep me company whilst I was expressing; to hold my hand and keep a smile on my face.
After eight days of not being able to hold either of my girls I finally got to hold Charlotte. It was the most perfect moment I had waited for. When her little body settled and her heart rate had come back up after falling dramatically, her face was sheer contentment. She wasn’t fighting anything. She was, at long last, where she knew she should be; in her Mummy’s arms.