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Claire's story


At my 12 week scan, the sonographer suddenly paused and slowly turned to look at my husband, Kurt and I.
“Oh, ok,” she said, calmly, “I’m just going to get a second opinion.”

She left the room and I began panicking about what might be wrong. Minutes later, she was back with a colleague who took a look at the screen while I gripped Kurt’s hand hoping everything was ok.

“Here is your baby and here is your baby’s heartbeat,” the sonographer explained, “And here is your other baby and the other baby’s heartbeat. It’s twins!”

Tears of happiness and relief filled my eyes. I turned to Kurt and said, “But neither of us have twins in our family!”

Kurt’s mum had been nervously waiting outside the room and we called her in to break the news. She told us that Kurt’s grandma had been a twin but her sibling hadn’t survived. I then called my aunt in Malta to ask if we had any twins on our side of the family and she explained that she was a twin herself although her twin hadn’t lived either.

A month later, my family from Malta came to visit me and took me for a 3D gender scan. I found out I was having a boy and a girl and they were both growing well.

There was good news at all of my appointments until week 26. At this appointment, the doctor struggled to get the correct measurements for Twin B and I was sent for an emergency scan and CTG. I was monitored for an hour and was told everything was fine and I should come back for my next appointment at 28 weeks.

This time, Twin B showed static growth and absent end diastolic flow. The sonographer was concerned and sent me for another CTG. This time, they struggled to get a reading for Twin A and they asked me to come back in the next day.

The doctors told us that it was now very likely that they’d have to deliver the twins early. They were particularly concerned about Twin B’s growth and placenta but they were going to do everything they could to get me to 33 weeks.

I started attending daily CTG scans and was also put on leave from work. The doctors noticed protein in my urine and I was given steroid injections to help the twins’ lungs.

At 30+2 weeks, my blood pressure was very high. The midwives and doctors discussed what should happen next and someone went off to help arrange a visit to the NICU. Before they were able to come back, I was admitted onto the labour ward.

While I waited for an emergency delivery, I was put on a magnesium sulphate drip to help the babies’ brains develop. It was a very busy night on the ward so the doctors told us that we would be the first in line in the morning.

The next day there was more bad news – a lady was in premature labour and her baby would need one of my incubators. I was totally fine with this, and expected I’d be able to go home – I wasn’t in labour after all – and thought they’d call me when there was space for the twins. Of course, this was not the case.

It was then I learnt about Embrace, the company that locates where empty incubators are at units across the UK. Embrace had spoken to all the NICUs that could host two babies of the gestational age of 30+3 weeks and there weren’t any available in Yorkshire. They told me the closest incubators were in Wales. I refused. They told me I only had two options: to get in the ambulance now or to deliver there in Bradford and have the babies transferred after birth. I went with the second option but then was told the last incubators had been taken. I was transferred to Barnsley – 31 miles away.

The ambulance Claire was transferred in

I finally entered the delivery room at Barnsley at midnight. An hour later, Jakob Leslie was born weighing 2lb 12oz. His sister, Isla Christine followed two minutes after him weighing 1lb 14oz.

People ask me how I felt after the delivery. The only way I can describe my reaction was that it was a bit like when you are at the hairdresser and they hold up a mirror to show you the back of your head and you just nod. Well that’s exactly what I did.

While I was in recovery, my husband went to visit the twins and take pictures. A doctor came in to see me and said the twins were doing well. Isla was on CPAP and Jakob was on BPAP and phototherapy for jaundice.

Claire doing skin-to-skin with her twins

I was discharged a few days later but began to panic because Kurt and I don’t drive. I was all set to sleep in a chair by the incubators but then luckily a parents’ room was available on the ward. A few days passed by and the twins were deemed well enough to be transferred back to Bradford. But that familiar problem arose again: there were no incubators available.

Embrace continued to call Bradford for us and soon enough there was space for us. Isla and I went first and then Kurt and Jakob followed on later. We were thrilled to be back in our own town.

Daily blood tests took their toll on Isla, who was still very small. At two weeks old, she required a blood transfusion. Jakob was progressing much faster than his sister and gaining weight well. He came off all the equipment, was bottle feeding and out of the incubator by four weeks old. After rooming in, we took him home the following week.

We were thrilled with Jakob’s homecoming but the next day, Isla had taken a turn for the worse. She was still incubated and her stomach had become very swollen. It was suspected she had the terrifying disease NEC and all feeds were stopped while many tests were carried out. The results came back and revealed that there wasn’t anything medically wrong with her. The doctors had no explanation – perhaps she was just looking for some attention because her brother had gone home without her.

At seven weeks, Isla finally made it into a cot. Before long, her feeding tube was out and it looked like her and Jakob would be reunited at last. But we hit another wall – Isla had taken a turn and was going to need another blood transfusion.

Claire and her partner with the twins

Days later, we were allowed to bring Isla home. I felt relieved and revitalised to be leaving the neonatal ward. The pregnancy and early days of parenting had been a whirlwind. There were so many low moments: I had lost my Mum while I was pregnant, I had struggled to express milk and Isla’s health had been a constant worry. No one will ever understand how much the NICU staff helped me through those darkest moments.

A Bliss volunteer met with me one day on the unit. Her baby hadn’t been as lucky as mine and it put everything into perspective. I was in awe of her – she had lost her whole world but was there to help me regain mine. The volunteers who take time out of their own lives to support strangers are truly amazing. The other work Bliss does is also wonderful – the research they support is invaluable to future parents facing the same journey and the way they champion the need for parents’ rooms to be on units is vital. I don’t know how we would have done the journey from Bradford to Barnsley every day.

Jakob is still much bigger than his sister. He can walk but Isla is still crawling. I’m sure it won’t be long before she catches up!

Jakob and Isla at home

If you have been affected by any of the issues mentioned in this post and would like support, you can call our helpline on 0808 801 0322 or view our online support pages

If you would like to share your story with Bliss, please fill in our online form

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