“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass…it’s about learning how to dance in the rain!”
Learning to dance in the rain
Ever since Charlotte’s waters went at 24 weeks, and I faced the prospect of delivering my girls nearly four months early, I have discovered the importance of learning to dance in the rain. There is no point in waiting for the storm to pass as I never know when the storm will end or the extent of the damage it will cause. If I wait for that moment, would I be waiting a lifetime? Will another storm gather as this one passes? If I had thought that Charlotte might die within hours of giving birth to her or that Esme was going to die, would I ever have picked up my dancing shoes and held onto hope in order to survive the remainder of my pregnancy or my time on the neonatal ward?
There have been many times in the past twenty months when I have felt the storm has almost crushed me. However, while learning to dance in the rain, there have been many times when I have learnt so much about myself, even if that looks as if I put my dancing shoes on the wrong feet!
For me, learning to dance in the rain has been about taking control of what I can, letting go of what I can’t and always putting my best foot forward.
Learning to take control of what I can and let go of what I can’t
I discovered the phrase ‘take control of what you can and let go of what you can’t’ in my Yesmum To Be cards; a pack of affirmation cards which encourage me to start each day with strength and self-assurance. It is a phrase which I placed next to my bed during my time in the antenatal ward. I read it each day while waiting to go into labour and have to deliver Charlotte and Esme prematurely. It is a phrase I have tried to believe in ever since.
Today, I tend to remind myself of the phrase when I am worried about Charlotte and how the bleed on her brain might affect her development, or when I find myself fretting over this pregnancy.
Trusting my little Chazzy
I find it difficult to keep my mother’s worries at bay and often forget to let go of what isn’t in my or Charlotte’s control. I have come to terms with knowing her right side will always be weaker, however, depending on my anxiety I can find it difficult coping with not knowing how much weaker or how it will affect her in the future. The fear of the unknown is the root of my anxiety and learning to overcome this, no matter what the unknown is, is a challenge.
Ever since Charlotte was born, she has known what she wants. Whether that was in the intensive care unit when she tried to rip her ventilation tube out in protest at having her body cleaned with a special wipe, to knowing when she no longer needed her oxygen tubes in and preferred to wear them as a necklace, to demanding her breakfast before she does anything else. She is a girl who has all the fight in her to enable her to achieve anything she wants to.
As Charlotte has developed, progressed, become stronger and exceeded all her therapy goals, I have found it easier to learn to let go of my worries and trust that she will be just fine.
The moment I held her hands and watched her excitedly place one foot in front of the other and proudly walk towards her Daddy, my heart sang. I knew as soon as she took those steps, with a smile from ear to ear, that she will be just fine, no matter what. From that moment, my anxieties about Charlotte’s future have lessened and I have started to let go of my worries about the bleed on her brain.
Trusting my body
One of the reasons Charlotte’s waters may have gone early is because my cervix couldn’t cope with the weight of two babies. Once Charlotte’s (Twin 1’s) waters were gone, the pressure on my cervix was relieved and with great relief I didn’t go into labour at 24 weeks. However, as Charlotte was without her waters, she was susceptible to catching an infection from the outside world. It was only a matter of time before this happened and at almost 27 weeks (three months early) Charlotte and I both caught an infection. This caused Charlotte’s heart rate to drop dramatically and within twenty minutes of her heart rate falling, I delivered them both via an emergency caesarean.
During my current pregnancy, between 20-26 weeks, I am being monitored fortnightly by the consultants. It is during this period when the baby is the heaviest on my cervix and if it is going to weaken, it will do it within this time frame.
So far, at 24 weeks, everything is great and other then the nausea and the emotional side of things, this pregnancy couldn’t be going better. I have congratulated my cervix on achieving a 10/10 in my 20 and 22 week appointments and everything looks how it should.
I try not to panic at the aches and pains, I am growing a baby after all and growing a small human is a complicated business, it’s not meant to be a breeze. In comparison to the girls and other than the nausea, this pregnancy has been a dream. Yes, it has been a mental battle with constantly trying to override the fear and accept it is completely different, but in terms of my anxiety and all the aches and pains I suffered from my body having to grow at double the pace, carrying a single baby has been fairly easy so far.
Overcoming the fear of going into labour prematurely has been difficult and I find myself checking every time I go to the toilet for any bleeding and feel a brief panic before doing so. I have to remind myself each time I go to bed that I haven’t had any bleeding, felt any extra pressure and the consultants wouldn’t let me go or leave it 2-3 weeks if they didn’t feel happy that I would be ok.
Being monitored fortnightly over this anxious period is really helping me and Connor. The next appointment doesn’t ever feel too far away and after each appointment we feel that bit more hopeful that this baby will go to full term and we will get to bring it home.
The appointments with the consultant have also helped us to piece together and provide some closure as to why Charlotte’s waters went at 24 weeks. There have only been a few occasions when I have blamed myself. One of them was during my 20 week appointment. While the consultant was explaining the likelihood it was my cervix that gave way, I suddenly became ashamed of my body and filled with guilt. Guilt that Charlotte had to fight for her life so early, guilt that it was my fault Esme died and guilt that I had failed to carry our daughters to full term.
After being reassured by the consultant and Connor that it was not my fault and it was all out of my control, the guilt has eased. It is not a matter of my body failing, it was purely and simply a ‘twin thing’.
Understanding it was a ‘twin thing’ that I had my girls prematurely has really helped me not to blame myself for the premature birth of Charlotte and Esme and also helped me feel more confident with this pregnancy. I am beginning to feel incredibly proud of my body for growing three beautiful babies.
I am excited to say that this is also a completely different pregnancy because we are expecting a boy.
When I found out it is a boy I was initially disappointed. I’m not sure if it was because Esme was a girl or I had a really cute girls name in mind. However, this disappointment didn’t last for long and I am relieved and so excited that this wasn’t my choice to make.
Naturally, if it was a girl I would have compared her to Esme. Would she grow up looking like her? Would Charlotte have had the same relationship? Is that how Charlotte would have been with Esme? I am so delighted it is a boy and there will be little comparisons to be made.
Although it hurts to think and say that this is an exciting time and new memories will be made without Esme, I’ve accepted that she will always be with us somewhere and this is about a new chapter as a family of four on earth and one in the sky.
Dancing in the stars
My little twin in the stars
Although I so desperately want to squeeze Esme tightly and mother her the way I do her sister, I know deep down that we did the right thing and that was to let her go and to set her free of any suffering.
I have come to terms with understanding she wouldn’t have lived the life her twin sister does, she wouldn’t have lived the life she wanted or deserved to. She had over seven weeks of life. A life in which every second was filled with love.
I’m not sure an hour goes by that I don’t think about Esme. Just as an hour doesn’t go by where I don’t think about Connor, Charlotte or this little bump. I don’t think about anything in particular, I just think about her, her name and simply the love I have for her.
When Esme died I felt I needed to learn how to be a mother to her in the stars. “How do I mother a daughter who I can’t see, hold or hear but still so desperately want to mother?”
I have come to realise it is similar to being a mother to her twin sister, it comes naturally and with time. I talk to Esme, I talk about her to others and I think about her a lot. However, from those seven weeks with her, I know there is nothing that comes closer to being her mother than to love her. My love for Esme will never end and that in itself is enough.
There are no rules, no pressure and no end with love. Love doesn’t depend on or rely on Esme being here but it does enable me to know that I will always be her mother.
Throughout this pregnancy I have been busy doing things I love, such as spending time with Charlotte, going for walks with the dogs and relaxing when I feel my body is telling me to rest, i.e. making the most of putting my feet up during Charlotte’s blissful afternoon naps. I feel very lucky that I haven’t had to return to full time employment and supply teaching has been suiting me well.
I also began my beloved aquanatal classes again. I want to thank the mummies I met during aquanatal the first time around for encouraging me to sign up. It was the only class I managed to do during my last pregnancy and I have so many fond memories of being pregnant there with twins.
Although I looked forward to my first session at 20 weeks pregnant, I was also worried of the questions that might be asked, seeing other mums pregnant with twins and the memories that might return. As with anything that involves overcoming my anxiety, I tackle it head on. I knew I absolutely loved my aquanatal classes, so I didn’t want my anxiety or worried thoughts to get in the way. I know I am better and stronger than that. I wanted to do the classes for myself and for this baby and to not be scared by the past or live in fear of history repeating itself.
I went to my first class with an open mind and decided to talk about my previous pregnancy and Esme and Charlotte if I felt up to it, but above all else I just tried to enjoy it, knowing that it was the start of another adventure.
I spent the first ten minutes of that class wanting to cry with happiness. I had forgotten just how much I loved it and was so pleased I had made the brave decision to return. The part of the class I was most nervous about was the introductions, saying how many weeks pregnant you are and anything else you want to add. If you are more than 37 weeks (full term) pregnant you get a round of applause but during my last pregnancy because I was carrying twins I got a round of applause as well. I secretly loved it.
As it came closer to my turn, I could feel my heartbeat getting faster as I began to nervously rehearse what I was going to say. When it got to me I said, “Hi I’m Amy, I am 20 weeks pregnant and this is my second pregnancy.” I was just going to leave it at that but then before it went onto the next lady I blurted out, “and this time there is just one as it was twins last time.” I heard the surprised reactions among the group and saw people smiling back at me.
The lady next to me began introducing herself and I could feel tears pricking my eyes. A huge wave of adrenaline washed over me. I had done it, I had said in my last pregnancy I was pregnant with twins. Tears began streaming down my face before I could help it. I knew they were the kind of tears which I find difficult to stop. They were tears of relief, tears of letting go, tears of grief and tears of longing for how life could have been. I turned away from the group, discreetly trying to make them stop. I half wanted to interrupt the group and tell everyone the reason behind the tears but instead crouched lower into the water, put my head down and felt my tears trickle down my face and splash into the water.
One of my old aquanatal mummy friends had said a friend of hers was at these classes and told her I was going. I looked up to see this girl looking at me. She mouthed, “Are you ok?” and I mouthed back her name. We smiled at one another. That was all I needed. Someone who was there for me, someone who knew my story, someone who understood. By the time the circle finished, I had managed to stop crying and listen to some peoples’ introductions. I was pleased to hear a lot of them had second pregnancies and I was also relieved that there were no twins in the group. I knew the lady who took the classes well and felt grateful for her support throughout. At the end a few people came up to me and asked about my twins. It was then that I told them Charlotte was a surviving twin and we sadly lost Esme at seven weeks old. I felt comfortable saying this and also proud of myself that people knew I was a mother of twins.
As I drove home after the first class, I felt a great sense of achievement that I faced my anxieties and had come out of it on a high. I had enjoyed myself and was very much looking forward to the next one. It was a perfect way to help me through the next ten weeks.
The following week there was an opportunity to share a story. I was the first one in the circle. I wasn’t going to say anything at first, reminding myself there was no pressure. I ended up saying, “I’m not sure I know of any stories to share (pause).Well, actually I have quite a big story to share.” I told the group how I was feeling nervous about the upcoming weeks as Charlotte’s waters went at 24 weeks and I delivered them at 26 weeks. I explained Charlotte was a surviving twin and then I felt myself not really knowing what else to say as I looked at everyone’s saddened faces so finished off saying and we’ve found out that it’s a boy this time and if I get to 28 weeks I will be the happiest pregnant person jumping around this pool. Everyone smiled and the group went on.
I felt quite shaky afterwards but so pleased I had got it off my chest. I felt a weight had been lifted and my anxieties before starting had now disappeared. The following week, I felt happy just talking about this baby, that I was 22 weeks, I was having a boy and I was going to the Leeds General Infirmary to have him. I enjoy listening to everyone talking about their pregnancies and what their little ones think of their growing bumps. It fills me with hope and excitement that I am in the same boat as them.
Dancing in the rain
Since understanding that it is ok to live in survival mode, I am enjoying the fact that there is no pressure to imagine the day when we bring this baby home and I can just focus on him happily growing and kicking safely inside my tummy. I’ve come to terms with understanding that it is ok to feel nervous about buying this little one anything or imagining my life with two babies in my arms. I’m happy knowing that that day will come in its own time.
That said, I am also pleased to tell you that as this pregnancy is progressing, I am having more moments when survival mode does go out of the window and I feel like I can let go of my fears. I don’t want to feel so close to fear. Who does?
On the occasions when I can allow myself to dream of packing my hospital bag or I imagine Charlotte playing with her brother, or buying him new clothes, fear is at the back of my mind. These moments feel as if a weight has been lifted and happiness and hope joyfully surround me.
I always put on my brave face to tell myself that I can do this, and to let people around me know, too. However, I can’t do it alone. I can’t dance in the rain without my team around me. That team being my family, friends and all those who have followed my story.
As I mentally tick off each day between 24 to 27 weeks, I feel the storm is at its rockiest. However, in the words of Walk the Moon I shall be singing:
Oh don’t you dare look back
Just keep your eyes on me
I said you’re holding back
She said shut up and dance with me