The day I found out I was pregnant I could barely believe it. It's amazing how those two lines on a pregnancy test can instantly make you feel excitement, happiness, disbelief, fear and worry all at the same time.
When I was just over six weeks pregnant I had a bleed and thought everything was over. I went for a scan at the early pregnancy unit, the sonographer was silent the whole way through. When it was over she looked at me and smiled "I can see two heartbeats" I couldn't believe it. I went into the scan thinking the worst and came out with a photo of two tiny sacs.
My first trimester was not easy. I lost a stone due to horrendous sickness but my 12 week scan went well and I was over the moon to finally share the news with everyone.
A week and a half after announcing our pregnancy I had a severe bleed whilst out shopping and had to be rushed to A&E. The consultant believed I was in the early stages of a miscarriage and I was admitted to the women's ward for observation. It felt like our world was ending. I was told to be prepared to go to theatre and that evening the on-call gynecologist came to the ward to scan me. It felt like time stood still, I held my husband’s hand so tight and I closed my eyes. I couldn't bear to look but there they were, two tiny hearts still beating. I couldn't believe it. The doctor couldn't explain why I was bleeding so much and appeared almost as shocked as I was.
I was sent home the following morning and told to rest. Over the next few weeks that followed I was so worried it would happen again, but it didn't. My sickness went, my neat little bump started to show and my anxiety began to subside.
Our next routine growth scan didn’t go well. The sonographer told us one of the girls was behind in her growth and that things weren't looking good. We were then taken to a tiny room with no windows, two chairs and a coffee table with box of tissues on it. I remember looking at the box of tissues and thinking this is where they tell you when it's all over.
The consultant did another scan and sat us down in her office, she explained that the girls and both their placentas were measuring small. Twin B was particularly small and there was a chance she might not survive. There was also a chance there could be a genetic abnormality in both babies or it could just be an issue with the placentas.
I don't think anything can ever prepare you to hear that you might lose one of your babies. We had been together for 22 weeks at this point. All I could think about was whether I had done anything wrong and how would I cope if the worst was to happen.
Following the discussion with the consultant I was put on daily aspirin to help the blood flow to the placentas and told to rest. I would be seen again in two weeks and a decision would be made depending on the progression of Twin B.
Those two weeks felt like they were everlasting and I couldn't concentrate on anything else. I was asked constantly by colleagues at work and strangers how my pregnancy was going, I couldn't bring myself to tell them. I spoke to the twins every night and told them we had to get through this together. We had got this far, and the three of us would get to the end.
The scan day arrived and it showed Twin B had made good progress and so had her sister. I can’t put into words how I felt. After the scan I got into the car and broke down. I felt mentally exhausted. The consultant had made it clear we weren't out of the danger, both girls were still small for their gestation and she wasn't sure how long they would be able to hold out for.
Going forward I would be seen three times a week for a scan by the consultant and two CTGs. The aim was to get the girls as close to 28 weeks as possible. At this point I knew neonatal care for the girls was inevitable.
At every scan appointment I had my hospital bag ready in case I was admitted for a c-section. My consultant was amazing and looked after us so well. Week 28 came and passed and we were given a new target of 34 weeks.
Week 33 arrived and I couldn't believe we had managed to get so far. I started feeling really unwell and I was starting to swell in my hands and face. I had nearly been admitted a couple of days before due to my blood pressure being high. I was scanned and the consultant was silent. The scan took nearly an hour and I knew this was as far as we were going to get. The girls had made no progress in their growth, the amniotic fluid was nonexistent in both sacs and their blood flow was only going to their brains. My blood pressure was taken and it was very high and I also had protein showing in my urine. I was told I was showing signs of pre-eclampsia and the girls needed to be delivered before the three of us were put at further risk.
I was given two steroid injections to help with the girl's lungs and the next morning our girls were born via c-section. Olivia weighed 3Ib 5oz and Amelia weighed 2Ib 12oz. Amelia's cord was in a figure of eight knot - a nurse took a picture of it as they couldn't quite believe it. She really was a miracle baby. Both the girls breathed unaided and cried when they were taken out. I was initially told they might not cry so when I heard their high pitched voices I was flooded with emotion.
The girls were briefly showed to me and then taken to the NICU. Olivia looked so peaceful and Amelia was so tiny - I could barely see her wrapped up in the towel.
When the girls’ placentas were delivered they discovered that they had actually fused together. Olivia's side was bright red and Amelia’s was grey. I guess even from inside me, Olivia had already been looking after her little sister Amelia.
I found it really hard not being able to hold the girls, they had been with me for 33 weeks and now we were apart. I spent around four hours in recovery and as soon as I could move I went to the neonatal unit.
The girls incubators were side by side and my eyes flooded with tears as soon I saw them. They were so tiny but so perfect, I was completely besotted by them. They both had feeding tubes in their noses and were surrounded by wires and monitors. They looked so fragile, I felt completely helpless peering through the plastic incubators. I was only able touch them, their hands felt so frail. They didn't have any eyelashes and Amelia had a folded ear where her cartilage hadn't yet fully formed. They had fluffy hair covering their bodies and their tiny nappies looked huge.
Amelia had a few issues with her blood pressure and both girls had small bleeds on their brains but thankfully nothing serious and we were told this wasn't unusual for premature babies to experience.
For the first two days the girls received all the necessary nutrients via long lines through their tiny veins. They also needed phototherapy for jaundice. In the great scheme of things we were so incredibly lucky that they were so healthy. The girls were tested for any chromosomal abnormalities and the tests came back normal.
I was able to have my first cuddle the day after they were born. That was honestly the best moment of my life, we were skin-to-skin and I didn't want that moment to ever end. Feeling them so close to my chest brought me to tears. I finally had my little girls in my arms and we had got there. All the tears, worry and heartache was so worth it. The love I felt for them was so overwhelming.
The milestones for the first weeks in neonatal care are completely different to the norm.
I remember feeling so happy when a drip or a monitor was removed and the first time I was able to dress the girls I felt a bit of normality. And the day they were moved out of their incubators into hot cots and then normal cots I felt we were making so much progress.
There's truly nothing better than moving rooms along the neonatal unit - going from the ICU to special care and then to the halfway house - ever edging closer to the door to home.
The girls were in hospital for four weeks. When I think back to the neonatal unit it all still feels incredibly raw. The temperature and humidity was almost unbearable at times. The panic when one of the monitors alarmed would make my heart skip a beat. The rush of doctors and nurses when a new baby was brought in made me appreciate how fragile new life really is.
Every morning I walked into the neonatal unit my heart pounded, I was so scared they would tell me something was wrong, one morning the girls had been moved to the next room and I panicked because I thought something had happened to them. I sat by them and cried. I was so tired and I was really starting to struggle.
I felt an overwhelming amount of guilt and blame for the girls being premature. I felt my body hadn't done its job properly with the placentas and I should have been able to keep them safe in my tummy for longer. I felt like I had let them down before we had even met. The daily tears and pain I had when I had to leave them at night, really took its toll emotionally. I couldn't bear to leave them and I felt like the worst mum. I would spend the 30 minute journey home every night in tears. All I could think about was them crying and me not being there and the constant feeling of anxiety that something might happen whilst I was apart from them.
The world of premature and sick babies is still taboo. People don’t talk about what it's really like to go through emotionally and how it affects you weeks and months later. It’s taken me nearly six months to accept that there was nothing more I could have done. I did the best job I could possibly have done for the girls, but I do really struggle to talk about it and the whole experience will stay with me forever.
Throughout our time in neonatal care we witnessed some very poorly babies and it reminded us just how lucky we really were. The fight they go through is truly incredible but also the strength you see in their parents is amazing. I met many brave mums and dads in the hospital.
I will forever be grateful for the neonatal unit and its amazing doctors and nurses because without them we wouldn't have the two healthy baby girls we have today. They really are a true credit to the NHS.
Olivia and Amelia are now nearly eight months old and are doing incredibly well. We feel so lucky. When the girls are old enough to understand I will tell them what strong, brave little fighters they really have been.
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