A summer in the neonatal unit: Part 2

Family and friends visiting

I was so grateful for my family coming to visit us regularly. Connor’s Mum and Dad (Claire and Jim) flew over from Northern Ireland a few times to see their grandchildren. I couldn’t wait for them to meet Charlotte and Esme and I felt so proud when they cried happy tears at how beautiful and perfect they looked.

My Mum, Dad and sister visited daily and enjoyed comfort holding, some cuddles when they were well and reading stories to them through the incubator windows. My brother Jack and his girlfriend Alix came to see their nieces as soon as they got back from holiday. They’d seen lots of photographs of them, yet I was nervous of them seeing my girls so tiny, I worried that this might upset them. However, they were amazing and filled me with strength, saying how resilient I was being and that I was such a good Mummy.

I had to tell my Aunty and cousin off as every time they visited they brought gorgeous presents with them, including some fantastic books. I loved the way they spoke to them and all the compliments they gave. 

Being surrounded by my family made me feel so loved and supported. All their compliments made me beam a very big happy Mummy smile.

I was so grateful that the hospital allowed my friends to come in the visiting hours. Despite being nervous about them seeing my tiny babies attached to tubes and wires, I couldn’t wait to show them off and introduce them to Charlotte and Esme. I was a super proud Mummy of two beautiful girls. I loved spending ‘normal’ time with my family and friends and my babies. Showing them how I did comfort holding, where I kept all of their things, and their clothes and their first nappy, and informing them about how the machines worked and what the different alarms meant (as I noticed their faces going into panic if one sounded). I had managed to distinguish between the alarm sounds and knew when I needed to panic.

I arranged many times for my girlfriends to come and visit but often had to cancel as one or both of the girls became poorly. “Stable“ only seemed to last a few days before something happened. I was forced to live by the day, an improvement at least to living by the hour, and thinking positive thoughts about the future became a challenge. My friends and family sent so many encouraging, wonderful messages that really did keep my chin up and keep me going. I doubt very much that I would have been able to get through the summer without them and I am so grateful that they were all right behind us every step of the way.  One of the best pieces of advice was to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

I sent many photographs and updates to my friends and family and all their responses were uplifting. They often said without their buddy blankets they were unsure who was who. In the messages I called them my Campbell Twins. I enjoyed describing how they danced around their incubators, Esme being the ever more graceful one to Charlotte. Esme would lift her arms delicately over her head then stretch and point her toes whereas Charlotte’s movements would tend to be a little more on the wild side. One of my friends sent a message saying ‘Campbell Twins’ was too masculine and not pretty enough, I should call Charlotte and Esme my ‘Campbellinas’. And there the name was born for my two gorgeous girlies; The Campbellinas. The name was perfect and my heart filled with pride.

Red blanket: Charlotte

Purple blanket: Esme

I was particularly happy the time my school friends and their mums visited as I was having a tough day and Esme had taken a sudden turn for the worst. I needed their cuddles and brave smiles. I was even more nervous about them seeing my girls, especially with Esme not looking as well as she usually did. I needn’t have been anxious, because as always, my friends make me feel a million times better. I remember one of my friend’s mums saying “It is amazing what they can do these days.” and the senior sister replying “Yes, the hospital staff and equipment these days are amazing but they don’t perform miracles.” This sounded so harsh and felt such a fierce slap in the face with reality. I quickly said a prayer to hope my girls would be fine and that they better hang on in there.

One day I was very grateful for one of my friends visiting. As we waited in the milk kitchen for my expressing kit to finish sterilising in the microwave, we witnessed a family consoling each other and leaving the ward extremely upset and the mother running to the toilet to be sick. My friend looked at me horrified and I explained they had probably been told their baby wasn’t going to make it, I had seen it before. We went to go and express, I had a good cry and explained the reality of the ward and what happened on a day to day basis and how this added to the fear of being told this news about my babies. We prayed that this day would never come. Our conversation then moved to the fascination of a double breast pump and how it worked. It’s a good job she’s one of my closest friends.

Time for food

During the day, the time with my girls was limited and I didn’t like to spend too long away from them. I wasn’t allowed to eat in the ward so when I was by myself I either went to the canteen and ate my food very fast or went to the expressing room and juggled with my express pumps whilst stuffing a baguette into my mouth.

As I was expressing, I was given a lunch voucher and had to collect this every day from the ward reception. I enjoyed talking to the ward clerks and proudly telling them about the progress Charlotte and Esme were making. It felt good when they recognised me and said “Yes we know which Mummy you are” and would write on the voucher ‘Mummy to twin girls’. I loved seeing that written down. I would collect my lunch from the canteen, every day I got a tuna baguette, a Ribena carton and a KitKat. Heaven forbid if they had sold out of baguettes or the person in front of me had taken the last one. It actually did happen once and I’m sure they felt my eyes stabbing them in their back. I had to have a serious word with myself not to ‘tut’ and when they turned around I had to quickly force a smile at them. Dammit, they’d taken my baguette. They had ruined my lunch.

When Connor was with me or his Dad, Jim, was visiting, we either went to the canteen or All Bar One , which was a short walk from the hospital. I particularly loved it there as they served a shot glass of Smarties with my coffee. This was the second place Connor and I went to, shortly after the girls were born. As I sat there eating my lunch I saw the lady who did my aqua-natal classes and was also my midwife (before I knew I was having twins). I got up so quickly to go and say hi. Connor didn’t know what on earth I was doing. I did some sort of weird shuffle run, shouting her name across the square. I proudly showed her pictures of Charlotte and Esme and explained the rollercoaster journey I was on. She wished me lots of luck and asked me to keep her informed. The only problem with All Bar One was the smell of the toilets. It reminded me of the smell of the cleaning products they had used when Connor and I went skiing. The smell made me feel instantly sick and as I returned to the table I could feel an anxiety attack coming on. Was this because the last time I smelt it, I was so happy and excited that I was pregnant and so much had happened since then? I’m not sure but from then on whenever we went there I kept my legs crossed until we got back to the ward.


Trips into Leeds centre

Once I was feeling physically stronger and  more confident, I found it possible to undertake trips into Leeds city centre by myself. A few days earlier I had carefully followed the washing instructions for a White Company blanket and made sure the tumble drier was on cool. Yet when it came out, I was distraught to see it had shrunk and the softness had disappeared. I thought I would take it into The White Company in Leeds and see what they said. I’m not very good at getting to the point, especially when I’m nervous and ended up telling the store manager the reason I had put it in the tumble drier and not on the line was because I needed it for my girls the next day. If Connor had been there he would have been totally cringing that I couldn’t just say I wanted to exchange it. The manager was happy to exchange it and luckily they had another one in store. He was interested in what I was telling him and asked me questions. I was delighted to tell him about Charlotte and Esme and how strong and resilient they were. I showed him photographs with The White Company elephants in them and he couldn’t believe how tiny my girls were.  

As I started my shuffle back to the bus stop, I heard someone shouting “Excuse me, excuse me.” I turned around to see a lady running towards me. The lady said she was sorry but couldn’t help overhearing my story in The White Company and couldn’t let me go without saying something. She explained that although her story was nothing compared to mine, she had had her girl at 34 weeks and had spent some time in the neonatal ward. She said she had some idea of what I was going through and wanted to say how well I looked and what an amazing job I was doing. I’m pleased I looked this way to others because on the inside I was terrified. There we were, two strangers standing in the middle of Victoria Arcade, both with tears in our eyes. Neither of us needed to speak, we knew how the other felt. I was so pleased she had stopped me. We departed and my eyes glistened with tears. They weren’t tears of sadness but for the first time they tears of feeling proud of myself.

Much to Connor’s delight, I was over the moon when his Dad advised me to go into Leeds and spend some money.  He instructed me to go and do something that makes me happy. It was ridiculously hot and walking was still painful but I needed to stay upbeat and keep myself busy. I was more than happy to go and do some retail therapy. I got a taxi in and headed to Zara. I bought four t-shirts, the same design but in different colours. They had a wide neckline and would be perfect to fit Charlotte and Esme inside. I didn’t have the energy to go too far or look at every t-shirt in the shop. I was also conscious of people knocking into me. I went to a few more shops then decided to get back to my girls and continue the rest of my retail therapy online. I bought myself and Connor a dressing gown each from The White Company and looked forward to the day when we would be at home, watching the television and snuggling each of our girls.

I had to take another trip into Leeds when I embarrassingly had to return some rucksacks I had ordered online from Topshop. The signal at my parents’ house is rubbish and before going to sleep I thought I would order a rucksack to keep all my things in to take to the hospital. I had a moment of turning into my Mum when my phone wouldn’t load quickly enough and I just started tapping and refreshing the screen continuously. The next thing, emails started pinging through and I was slightly mortified to realise I had ordered the same rucksack five times! I decided to leave it until the morning to explain to Connor why almost £200 had left the bank account.

Our most significant trip into Leeds was to register their births. As Charlotte and Esme had been premature and very poorly,  we didn’t know when it was the right time. On the 10th August, four weeks after they were born, we excitedly went to do so. It was a proud moment for both of us.

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