Throughout the summer Connor and I received weekly support from the clinical psychologist. That support was so beneficial to us, and her amazing ability to make me rethink the situation from a different point of view and to give me comfort was second to none. I was shocked and saddened to hear that she no longer came round the Neonatal Ward. It’s my understanding that she was ‘borrowed’ by the NICU one day a week from another ward and there may have been a funding cut there. Her support was integral to my mental well-being and my ability to keep going and stay strong for my girls.
I always enjoyed it when she came to have a chat with me and Connor and to see how we were doing. Sometimes I spoke to her next to Charlotte’s and Esme’s incubators, at other times I needed more support and a good cry. The counsellor offered invaluable advice that I still continue to use every day, the main one being “It wasn’t my choice.”
From a selfish point of view I often felt a sense of unfairness that I never experienced a full term bump; I didn’t get the opportunity to pack my hospital bag; I never had my baby shower and a chance to play and decorate the house like everything I had saved on my ‘Twins babyshower’ board Pinterest. Why did it have to be my girls that were born so early and had to fight for their lives? Out of all the above, not having an opportunity to pack my hospital bag troubled me the most. Maybe it was because that was what I should have had ready and waiting before I met my twin girls for the first time? Everything in my bag would have been put together with so much excitement and anticipation. I had even planned to have my bag packed from 32 weeks as we were informed that twins could arrive this early.
Now I will let you into a little secret. One that to this day, still makes me cringe. I have always packed my bags for going on holiday early and one phrase my Harrogate girlies will never let me forget is “So, have you packed yet?’” This came about on a Year 9 school ski trip to Austria. I’d had such a big crush on this boy for so long and always felt nervous about making conversation with him. We’d discussed what we were packing in previous lessons we shared and I had my bag packed with more than a week to go. We were a few hours into the journey to Calais and he was sitting opposite me on the coach. I desperately wanted to chat to him. On the spur of the moment, I turned around and asked, “So, have you packed yet?” Right at that moment the music went off and the bus fell quiet. Well there was uproar! I couldn’t actually believe I had asked that. What an absolute idiot. I just couldn’t think of what to say and for the past three weeks that had obviously been the start of my conversation with this boy. My friends couldn’t contain themselves and have never let me forget that humiliating question. Much to my disappointment, I never did get chatting to him and spent most of that journey reliving how embarrassing I was when I opened my mouth in daunting situations.
During a meeting with the counsellor, I discussed why I felt hard done by and the unfairness I was feeling about my twins being born prematurely. She explained that these were perfectly normal feelings and other mothers on the ward had experienced similar emotions. This made me feel so much better about myself, knowing that I wasn’t alone. She told me about a poem called, ‘Welcome to Holland’ which another mother with a premature baby had told her about and she thought it might help. It’s a poem about a lady describing the experience of raising a child with a disability.
WELCOME TO HOLLAND
Emily Perl Kingsley.
c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this……
When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”
“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”
But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.
The night after my chat with the counsellor, I woke up at 3am to go and express. I decided to read the poem again. I felt like it held a lot of meaning and I needed to explore my thoughts towards it further. As I was expressing I mused over my life now and about having my girls three months early. I thought about how I would feel about going to Italy and then finding out I was going to Holland. After expressing, I decided to write all of these down under the titles; ‘Italy’ and ‘Holland’. I felt sad writing about going to Italy and being denied all these things. I was surprised to see my list for ‘Holland’ easily outweighed my list for ‘Italy’. The more I wrote about going to Holland, the more uplifted I became. I wrote with a heartfelt smile and the words continued to tumble off the page.
- Big bump
- Feeling and seeing my babies move
- Packing a hospital bag
- Finishing the nursery
- Antenatal classes
- Filling maternity dresses
- Aqua-natal: getting the cheer (when I reached full term)
- Going to hospital for delivery when I’m supposed to
- Taking babies home with me immediately after birth
- Feeding them straight away
- Not being apart from them
- Not facing life/death/disability
- Not living by the hour/day/week
- Not leaving responsibility for my babies to strangers
- Knowing I/we can cope
- Becoming stronger as a couple
- Knowing we are made for each other
- Staying positive
- Knowing how loved/supported/respected we are by family/friends
- Getting sleep
- Decorating the house just how I want
- Knowing/understanding what isn’t worth stressing about e.g. work
- Appreciating all the little things in life – wiggle toes/moving legs/love your husband/family/friends
- Holding my babies
- Feel them squeeze my finger
- Bathing them
- Feeding them
- Changing nappies
- Hearing them
- Never giving up or losing faith or hope
- Asking/accepting help
- Reading to my babies
- Noticing all their little features
- Being strong/fighting for what’s worthwhile
- I will get to pack my hospital bag – just at a different time
- Learning lots of things about my babies
- Knowing that having all these feelings is just being human, to accept them and be kind to myself
- It’s ok to have different coping strategies
- Don’t have to go into every detail when telling people what happened
- Every day is a new day, not to worry about the past, to look forward
- To understand and be able to let go of what I can’t control
Before writing this blog post, I hadn’t read through these thoughts about going to ‘Holland’ or ‘Italy’ since I wrote them. As I read through my points about going to ‘Holland’ I was filled with happiness and realisation that in life, deep down, these are what truly matter. As upsetting and traumatic as my experiences over the summer have been, they have highlighted what I should focus on in life and for that, I am forever grateful.