Monday 5 September 2016, 4.45am. I wake up because my waters have broken. I’m 27 weeks and 3 days pregnant with monochorionic diamniotic (MCDA) twins.
Looking back I was calm about it all. I packed my bag, had a shower, and then woke my husband. We phoned our local hospital who told us to come in straight away. They confirmed my waters had indeed broken, administered a steroid injection, and informed me it was likely the twins would be born within the next 24 hours. They phoned for an ambulance to take me up to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, 36 miles away. Although anxious, we weren’t panicking. Much.
You see, two weeks before, we were really scared. A routine scan picked up an abnormal blood flow in the umbilical cord to twin 2. The hospital in Edinburgh had no beds, so we had to drive to Dundee, 92 miles away. I was 25 weeks pregnant at this point. The obstetrician gave me my steroid injection; we rushed home to pack, and then headed up the road. Neither of us knew what to say. What to think. It took all our effort not to google ‘baby born at 25 weeks’. When we arrived, we were told that they would not be able to do a repeat scan until the next day. I naturally assumed that there could be no great urgency then. Neither of us slept that night. My husband later told me that he did go on google. I didn’t want to know what it said. The next day we had the scan and the results were fine. We had another three scans over the next two weeks; all showing that twin 2 was a bit smaller than twin 1, but otherwise okay.
So, when I went into labour at 27 weeks and 3 days, we felt lucky. Kind of.
I remember phoning my mum. She was on the way to the dentist. I told her not to worry but I was at the hospital and I’d keep her posted!! Soon after arriving at the RIE, the contractions started. Foetal monitors were attached and nothing much happened, but the contractions were getting stronger. I was given gas and air (wonderful stuff!) then the doctor came in to examine me. ‘You are ten centimetres dilated, I can feel the head’. What?!?! All of a sudden, the room filled up with people. I knew twin 2 was breech and had kind of expected a caesarean. Now I was being told that I was delivering my babies….immediately. No time for pain relief, or a caesarean.
I couldn’t breathe. This wasn’t happening. I’d not even written my birth plan. Where were the candles, my carefully chosen playlists? My husband gently rubbing my back and telling me to push? Me, perfectly tuned into my body, breathing through the pain and welcoming my babies into the world with a smile and open arms?
Instead, a team of doctors, midwives, nurses and anaesthetists were preparing for the arrival of two very premature babies. The midwife put a clear plastic bag and a tiny woollen hat at the bottom of the bed. ‘Don’t be alarmed. But we put the baby in the bag to prevent hypothermia’. Bloody hell. This was really happening.
I’ll spare you the details, but at 12.47 and 12.58, my two boys were born. Twin 1 made a noise when he entered the world. Just a small cry. It was the best noise ever. Twin 2 was quiet. Tiny, bruised and silent. It was the most horrific silence ever. Both babies were immediately taken away, resuscitated and ventilated. They were brought into my room for a brief hello, and then taken to the NICU.
I was overwhelmed and exhausted. As was my husband. We were both in shock and trying to get our heads around what had happened. The midwife and doctor delivered the placenta. I heard someone say something about it being ‘ragged’. Over the next hour we tried to make sense of the situation. Then I noticed that I was bleeding. A lot. The midwife took one look and pulled the emergency alarm. The doctor came back in and I was immediately taken to theatre. I remember thinking that I wanted to go to sleep and wake up and it would all be okay.
An hour later, I woke to see my husband standing next to me in green scrubs. Why? Where was I? Then I remembered. We went back to the labour ward and tried to let it all sink in. My husband later told me that after I was taken to theatre, he was left alone in the room. In the space of an hour, his two sons had been born and taken to intensive care, and his wife was taken into theatre for an emergency operation, and he had no idea if they would all survive. It sounds dramatic now but that’s what happened.
While I was in theatre, he was taken to the NICU to see the boys. He told me that the nurse that was looking after one of the babies was so calm and kind, it helped him to calm down too. This is what they do, 24 – 7. Our world had just been turned upside down but this is their job, to save tiny, premature babies.
I was taken round to the NICU in my hospital bed later that day. There are photos of me touching my babies through the incubator but I don’t remember it. They were so small, and bruised. Their skin too fragile to be exposed to the world. It was all so surreal.
Later that night, after my husband went home, I sat in my bed and just cried. I blamed myself, my useless body, for not being able to do its job. I was terrified my babies would die because of something I’d done. I was ashamed of how I reacted to being in labour. At one point I panicked and couldn’t breathe. The doctor told me to focus and I felt like I’d been told off for doing it wrong. I perceived myself to be a strong person, and I’d just fallen apart. Why was I so self-critical?!?! You could put it down to hormones, exhaustion and confusion I guess.
I was encouraged to express breast milk straight away. At last, I felt like I was doing something. Contributing to the care of my babies. I have a diary entry stating that I expressed 3ml at 9am the day after they were born. I remember at the time feeling amazed and in awe at what I had achieved! Little did I know I would go on to express on average 1000ml a day for the three months they were in hospital.
Our hospital stay continued for 12 weeks; 86 days in total. Six weeks in the NICU followed by six weeks in the SCBU at our local hospital, the Borders General.
It was filled with highs and lows. Please join me in discussing our journey and sharing your experiences too.