Since arriving home at my parents’ house, it felt like I was living two lives. In the evenings and mornings I had some sense of normality, when I felt the fresh air, saw people living a normal life and had my home comforts around me. Yet I struggled to ever relax and switch off as I lived every minute in fear of my phone ringing and was overwhelmed by a strong sense of guilt that I wasn’t in the hospital with my girls.
Being attached to my phone
The hospital hardly phoned but when the Leeds neonatal ward number did flash on my screen I felt sick before I even answered it. The majority of the time, they waited until we were in hospital and would update us then or if needed, the consultant would call us into the family room.
I phoned the hospital before I went to bed (11pm ish), when I woke up (6am ish) and after morning ward round (11am ish). I would get such a sick feeling whilst I listened to the dialling tone, preparing myself in case when I spoke to the nurses, it might not be good news that they had to share. Once I found out that both girls were stable, I loved hearing what they were up to, how they were lying, if they had kept their milk down, if they had done a poo, if they had their eyes open much. The nurses used to call Charlotte the wild, feisty twin and Esme the calm twin. In one phone call they said Charlotte had pulled her ventilation tube out whilst having her cares done and her nasal gastric (feeding) tube out seven times in one night. Whereas Esme would be practising yoga moves around the incubator! I found their little personalities so funny! I loved finding out how they were positioned and which baby was moving.
It took practice but if I wanted, I could balance a pump on my crossed knee, hold the other pump and operate my phone in my free hand, although there was danger of a pump slipping! One night, an enormous spider ran across the room straight towards me. I’m not normally scared of spiders but this one was huge and I’m pretty certain it was hunting for my milk. It was a ridiculous sight. I totally forgot how short the tubes were and jumped up to try and get this spider with my slipper. Needless to say, milk went everywhere! Connor ran up the stairs wondering what all this commotion was and after hearing about that spider attack, he was impressed with my ninja efforts (he is petrified of spiders).
Expressing was often an emotionally difficult time as it was just me and I couldn’t faff about to keep my mind busy. I always found the express in the middle of the night the hardest. There was no TV to watch and I couldn’t play the radio as it might wake my parents or Connor. I was tired and this was when my mind liked to play tricks. Sometimes I managed to squash the dark thoughts and climb back into bed, cuddle Connor and fall asleep. Other times it was hard. What were my girls doing? Were they being looked after? Were they ok? What was going to happen to them? Would they ever come home? Would I ever be able to hold them? Was everything going to be ok? Would I ever feel like a Mummy? Only a handful of times did these questions get the better of me. On these times, I phoned the hospital around 3am for peace of mind. The nurses put my mind at ease. Both girls were stable and doing fine. They told me what the girls were up to and then they advised me to try to get some sleep. I was lucky that I rarely struggled with sleep, probably due to all the mental exhaustion of my day and the ability to continue believing that everything would be ok. In bed, I would always have to fall asleep giving Connor a hug or have my hand on his back or foot touching his; a need to feel safe, protected and secure.
Creating a home
I enjoyed visiting home before going to visit my girls. When Connor’s Dad came over, they spent time sorting the garden whilst I watched, enjoying a cup of tea. These mornings felt so calm and peaceful. It was good to be sitting outside enjoying British summertime as when I was in the neonatal ward it was extremely hot and there were no windows. The trips home were a chance to see the transformations my Dad and Connor had made, how the loft conversion was coming along. I liked to consider myself as the project manager. I think my Dad and Connor just let me go along with that. During my times visiting the girls I would discuss with them how I wanted to decorate their home and what their nursery was going to look like. My Farrow & Ball paint chart was kept in my handbag. During the ridiculous length of time I spent expressing, I managed to create many Pinterest boards for each room in my house and devised a colour scheme for each one.
By early August, we managed to persuade my Mum and Dad that the loft didn’t have to be finished and that we were happy with getting to a certain point, closing the door and finishing it at a later stage. As much as we loved living with my parents and greatly appreciated all their help and support, we needed our home back.
Over the summer, our family and friends frequently got in touch saying please to let them know if we needed any help. One weekend, we hosted a very successful painting party. Friday morning before I went and collected the paint and all the tools we needed, including plenty of tea, coffee and biscuits for sustenance. I labelled each paint tin with the room it was for. Over the course of the weekend we managed to paint every room, bannister and corridor in the house apart from the kitchen (this was next on our to do list). We had pizzas on the Saturday and a BBQ on the Sunday. The house was transformed into the home I had dreamed of and looked magnificent. We felt very lucky to have such amazing, supportive family and friends.
My brother, Jack and my sister, Kirsty
Despite the house being full of dust and nowhere to sit down (apart from outside) it became our place of sanctuary. When either of the girls became poorly or we had been given devastating news about their progress and development we came home. We would go to Tesco, buy some microwave meals and eat them, in silence in our garden. Our home was our safe place, where we could sit in the garden, be comforted by each other’s silent company, feel the sun on our faces and let the day wash over us.
Before the girls were born I imagined I would be driving to the hospital first thing in the morning. But I found mornings were a time for me. I was so mentally exhausted from the previous day. I spent it expressing, sitting in the garden with the dogs and washing Charlotte and Esme’s clothes, muslin squares and any toys that had fallen out of the incubator. I loved doing their washing and spent time hanging it out on the line and neatly folding them. Some mornings, I worked with my Mum to finish making the curtains I had started before my waters went. I would always put a full face of makeup on to go and see my girls. It made me feel better and ready for the day if I knew I looked ok. It was how I wanted the world to see me, happy, looking after myself and staying strong; my brave face.
As I wasn’t able to drive for six weeks I depended on Connor and my parents driving me to the hospital each day. I was extremely grateful to my parents dropping me off and it saved me a lot of time and money. However, I really missed my independence and didn’t want to rely on others to enable me to see my girls. Luckily there is a train station five minutes away from my parents’ house. When I felt fit enough and wasn’t gripping my toes at every corner in the car or holding my tummy as I moved around, I was desperate to get the train in. I don’t think I’ve ever had such an exciting train journey before. I felt liberated to be going to see the girls by myself and experienced a strong sense of freedom. I spent the train journey wrapped in my own thoughts about being a Mummy to twin girls. I was surrounded by strangers. I mused over where their journey’s might be going and wondered if any of them felt as gratified as I did to be on that train that morning. The walk to the hospital was my proudest yet. My stomach twisted with excitement as a walked as fast as I could to go and see my babies. I was beaming with love and happiness and independence by the time I arrived in the intensive care unit.
People would say “I bet you can’t wait to get there in the morning.” But the truth was I could. When Connor was coming with me we often didn’t arrive at the hospital until 2pm. This filled me with guilt. Why wasn’t I setting off to the hospital straight after breakfast? Why wasn’t I rushing in to see my girls? A whole morning would pass and I wouldn’t see them. Would Charlotte and Esme think we didn’t love them? Would the girls’ still remember us? Would the nurses think we were bad parents? Was I a bad mother for not going in? What if something happened to them and I’d wasted all these mornings being selfish and having some time to myself and away from them. These questions used to grind away at me but I found it difficult being there all day. It was a constant battle between my head and my heart. I felt so guilty leaving my girls knowing that their environment had become too much for me but for my own sake and to stay in control of my own emotions, I needed time out.
It’s called intensive care for a reason. Every day I had to witness doctors in gowns; screens going up around an incubator where staff were about to operate on a tiny baby; seeing our precious girls attached to all these tubes and wires and knowing I was unable to protect them; heart jumping and eyes glued to the machines every time an alarm sounded; seeing one of my babies doing really well whilst the other was struggling and seeing their tiny, frail bodies allowing machines to do their breathing for them, thinking they should still be safely inside me. On numerous days I saw families who had just been told their baby wasn’t going to be coming home. It was hard dealing with all this, yet the guilt still came in search of me.
I discussed this feeling of guilt with my counsellor. She explained the importance of allowing time for ourselves and that keeping ourselves well was just as important for Charlotte and Esme as being by their sides. This helped and I learnt the hard way. After falling ill twice and being unable to visit the hospital for 48 hours, I quickly learnt that I had to be kind to myself and listen to my body.
On those occasions when I became ill; catching diarrhoea on one and a cold on the other, I spent these days having some quality ‘me’ time and caught up on Made in Chelsea, TOWIE, Real Housewives of Cheshire and 90210. They were the longest two days of my life, yet as much as I felt frustrated that I couldn’t go in to see Charlotte and Esme I also experienced a sense of relief that I had a justified reason not to go in. This again, filled me with so much guilt but living day in, day out in hospital was hard. The intensive care environment mentally drained me and it took every ounce of strength not to buckle. People asked how we did it and said that we were so strong but we did it for our girls. The truth of the phrase ‘You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only option you have left’ became apparent; when you are left with nothing but love and hope, you learn how strong you can be.
Guilt also took another shape; not being able to talk to my parents.
During dinner time, I would feel terrible that I couldn’t talk about my day and guilty that I couldn’t even talk about my girls. I had spent all day trying to stay strong and live through my fears. I found it difficult keeping myself together as I didn’t want my parents to see how much I was suffering. The only way I was able to do this was by not talking. It’s not that I didn’t want to talk to them, I couldn’t. I tried so many times but the words wouldn’t leave my mouth. This made me feel awful.
I spoke to the neonatal counsellor about this. She had told me personally, “from a Mum’s point of view, guilt is a wasted emotion”. But how was it that something so important to me and something I had always done, I could now no longer do? Alongside this I felt guilty. What if my parents’ were wondering why I couldn’t talk to them but could talk to my friends? How do you escape this guilt? When all I wanted more than anything in the world was to tell them and for them to hold me tightly but I couldn’t do it. I felt like I was pushing them away but yet I wasn’t in control of this nor did I want to feel like this. Maybe it’s a form of self-protection. I’m not sure, but what I do know is that things take time and not to force myself into situations I am uncomfortable with. There is no rush.
I am eternally thankful for having such understanding, marvellous parents; parents who have never pushed me to talk about anything. I take so much comfort in the fact I know they are always there for me. I am grateful that my writing has opened up our avenue for talking again and as time passes I am beginning to slowly feel able to open up my heart to them.
Thank you Mum and Dad. I love you.