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Jenna's story

My twin boys Caleb and Ciaran were born at exactly 31 weeks after I went into spontaneous labour. Caleb weighed 4lb 5oz and Ciaran 3lb 12oz.

It wasn’t until a few hours after the delivery that I saw the twins for the first time in the special care baby unit (SCBU). They looked tiny in their incubators, hooked up to monitors and covered in wires. I couldn’t believe they were here – it had all happened so quickly.

Caleb in the neonatal unit

Ciaran in the neonatal unit

The first few days were a rollercoaster. I got to hold Ciaran when he was four days old. The nurses placed him on a pillow on my lap. He was so small and fragile. Caleb was undergoing light therapy treatment for jaundice so I had to wait even longer to get the chance to hold him too. The long wait to hold the twins after their birth was upsetting and difficult to deal with. I had been handed my eldest child moments after birth for skin-to-skin and so the stark contrast between the two experiences was utterly devastating.

At first, the twins were given my breast milk via nasogastric (NG) tube but that all came to an end when they started bringing up green bile; a sign of necrotising enterocolitis (NEC). They spent the next seven days on Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN) and antibiotics. Fortunately, the NEC had been caught at such an early stage that no further treatment was needed.

One day there was talk of transferring the twins to another hospital further away from home as Ciaran’s infection markers in his blood were increasing. The doctors performed a lumbar puncture to rule out anything sinister. Once again we were extremely lucky and Ciaran’s condition improved enough so that we would not need to be transferred.

Caleb and Ciaran on the neonatal unit

The SCBU was daunting at first but the more time we spent there the more familiar we became with the environment. We didn’t really get the chance to meet other parents on the unit because the twins were in their own room and I spent most of my time by their incubators.

The staff would update us as best they could and kept us in the know at all times. I would sit by the twins’ incubators and express milk and soon had a huge stock of frozen milk. My fiancé and I were allowed to be very hands on with the twins’ care. We were able to change their nappies, give them milk via their tubes and wipe their mouths when they needed it.

Every day was so different from the last – one day we’d be given good news and the next it was bad news. Luckily the boys didn’t experience any major complications while they were in hospital but things were always very up and down as the doctors tried to get them breathing on their own. The tubes would be removed in the morning and they’d seem to be doing fine but over the next few hours they’d go downhill and would need to be put back on a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) ventilator or oxygen.

The twins at home with Connor

I felt especially torn because I had a three-year-old son, Connor, at home too. We were extremely lucky because Connor was able to stay at his grandparents’ house while his brothers were at the hospital. In the mornings we’d help Connor get ready for school and then travel the 20 minutes to the hospital where I’d stay all day. My fiancé would leave to collect Connor from school and then drive back to the hospital to pick me up. The SCBU allowed siblings over two-years-old to visit so Connor would usually come in with his dad.

After the twins were born, we decided it was best not to try and hide anything from Connor – he knew I was no longer pregnant and we wanted to make sure he understood why the babies weren’t at home. We told Connor that the babies couldn’t wait to meet him but they had to be given special medicine to help them to grow. We had bought a small gift to give to him as a present from the boys which he loved. When he came in to visit, we tried to help him be as involved as possible.

The twins spent 37 days on the unit and they were the longest days of my life. I realise now how exceptionally lucky we had been. The boys don’t have any long-term complications following their early arrival and have now developed into cheeky one-year-olds who love getting up to mischief with their brother. It is such a joy to watch them grow up and develop their own personalities and I am so incredibly grateful to have them in my life.

The twins at home

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