This blog is dedicated to a little boy called “Owen.” He was one of the best intensive care roommates my girls could ever had and despite landing in their room through similar circumstances, he fought a much harder fight. His parents showed so much strength that I don’t know I could have had myself. They cheered on my girls as they reached their milestones despite Owen’s poor health. I will never forget the day he came out for his first hug with his parents.Though his life was taken far too prematurely, he will always be present in my memory and I will continue to tell his story to my girls throughout their life.
My twin daughters’ start to life came sooner than was planned. 13 weeks too soon actually.
After being put on bed rest for a week, I started to have contractions. I got on the phone to my partner and mum to come immediately to the hospital and my best friend to watch my eldest child, Malachy. I was examined and as my cervix had already flattened out and dilated slightly so it was unable have a stitch put in to keep it closed. I was given a vast amount of drugs to try and stop the labour (and also to calm me down) but resulted in me hallucinating! (Very humorous now in hindsight so remind me to tell you about them one day!)
After a night of trying to stop labour, my waters broke. My twins definitely weren’t getting on as womb-mates! I was reassessed and it was confirmed I would have to have a c-section as the babies definitely weren’t ready to come down the birth canal. By this time it was about 11am on Saturday. I walked into the surgery and sat on the table, leaning forward to have the epidural in my back. I remember joking around about my tattoos and making light of the situation. Looking back I have no idea why I acted the way I did and think the doctors must have thought I was stupid and naïve about what was to come. Maybe it was the drugs? Maybe I was just nervous? Because despite the bubbly outer-shell, I was shitting myself.
This was not the scenario most parents envisage when expecting a baby.
Once I was prepped and ready to go, they sat Liam next to me. He was jittery, sickly pale and silent. I kept whispering to him that as soon as the babies were out “you have to take as many photos as you can.” He only had an old iPhone as we were completely unprepared and lets face it, I don’t think getting photos was on his mind at that moment. Nevertheless, I needed those photos because I was terrified that the babies wouldn’t make it and photos of them might be all we were left with (I didn’t tell him that though!)
As the operation got underway, I was overwhelmed how many people were in the room. Every now and then my obstetrician (who was very kind, professional and competent) would check in to see if we were okay but I felt that regardless of me being the one operated on, Liam and I were hidden behind the blue curtain away from it all.
It was then announced “twin 1 is being born” and out came our Delphine at 11:44am. We were unable to see her or hear her over the beeping of the machines. I thought something was definitely wrong as every mother listens out for the cry of their child after birth. Then one minute after Delphi, Cheska was born. Again, we didn’t hear anything. However this time I saw her in a plastic bag being whisked away across the room. My heart sank and absolute fear set in. Had she died? Why is she in a plastic bag? I pushed Liam to go take photos. You could see he didn’t want to. He was only gone for 2 mins and then returned to sit with me. Weeks later he told me that one of the nurses told him “this is really life and death at the minute” when he went over to see them as they were being ventilated (He didn’t tell me that at the time though!)
The girls were hooked up to their equipment, stabilised, put into humidicribs and then pushed through the big doors and away. I forced Liam to run after them to make sure they were alright.
I was sown up and then from a room packed full of people, I was pushed into a recovery room with one nurse. I had no idea what was going on and frustrated that I had no control. After waiting for about an hour I was moved into my room that I would be sleeping in. My mother was waiting in there, hysterical. Liam came to meet me and we all just sat together.
We didn’t know what to say to one another and there were long pauses of silence in which I would be taken away with my thoughts. I remember day dreaming about having Malachy and what it is generally like after having a “normal child.”
The birth I had just been through was simply terrifying. I didn’t have any rush of endorphins or immediate love for them (so hard to admit.) It was only adrenalin and fear.
The birth of my daughters was the polar opposite to what having a full term, vaginally delivered healthy baby was like, like my first birth.
I caught myself thinking about the beautiful process that most parents go through after having a healthy child. It was something like this:
- You have your few hours as just mum and possibly dad/partner/grandma etc and baby. Cuddling, bonding, touching skin gazing endlessly into the baby’s eyes.
- You examine intently the similarities the baby holds to his/her parents and come to a final agreement on the name.
- After the birth the mother works on the baby suckling and feeding from her.
- A few hours after that you send a “welcome to the world” text message with name, birth weight and “mum and baby are doing well and dad is so proud.”
- Followed up by a cute photo on facebook/instagram of the baby in some adorable knitted beanine.
- Then once that photo is up people start sending flowers, gifts and visiting.
This doesn’t happen when you have a premature baby.
There is no cuddle. You only get to stare at them through plastic crib and decide on who the baby looks like despite hardly being able to tell as their face and head are covered by cords and the c-pap breathing machine.
It is hard to bond as initially you aren’t really allowed to touch them because they need to try to replicate a womb like environment and touching them can be too stimulating. All a mother craves after the birth of her child is to hold them, poke them, squish them and kiss them. I remember thinking that this is how partners/parents of people in jail explain that “seeing your loved one face to face is one thing but the intense craving for their touch is a whole other thing.” It was no one’s fault they were born so early but it did feel like we were being punished.
So how do you tell the people around you what you have been through? What you are yet to go through? What your babies are facing?
There was no text message sent out as we were unsure of what to say and what was going to happen. And to be honest, letting people know what was going on wasn’t an immediate priority.
Liam went back to work and for several days most people didn’t even know that the babies had been born. He didn’t really want to talk and just went in, got the job done and went straight back to the hospital to see the girls. This was his way of coping.
I had to stay in hospital for a few days after my operation. I was put on the post-pregnancy ward and would sit up crying at night when I heard the cries of other babies who were being fed. Then I would silently cry through the day as I heard the happy squeals of children meeting their new sibling for the first time.
Even though we knew that we were lucky enough to live in a major city in Australia where our children had a great chance of survival, we were apprehensive and we weren’t sure what to expect. Were they going to live? Was only one going to live? Were they going to have a disability? We had no idea how to “announce” what we were going through.
I was torn between being honest and not sugar coating the fright of what we had been through and fight we were still facing but also not worrying people.
And because they came so early we had barely thought of names. It took us many days before we decided. Liam didn’t want to rush into names just because we didn’t have any. On the other hand, I was incredibly emotional as they were referred to as “twin 1 and twin 2.” It was impersonal and mechanical for me. These were my daughters, not just robots that followed a process or the bananas in pyjamas. Giving them names was a step closer to being able to bond with them and a step closer to telling people they were here.
The day after we had decided on names, we finally decided to make an announcement. I then posted it on Facebook only because it was the easiest means of getting it out there to everyone. I took photos of the girls when they were having their c-pap machines etc refitted so they looked a bit more like babies and less like a bundle of cords. There is a part of me that regrets doing this as many people thought nothing of them being born so early and believed they were fine. Not that I wanted any attention whatsoever but it formed an unrealistic picture of what was actually going on to those unfamiliar with a situation like we were in.
People were unsure whether or not to congratulate us or send prayers. It was awkward. Mostly people congratulated us and hoped for them to grow and be out of hospital soon. Which was really nice. But there was no joking around or talk of who they looked like as was when we had Malachy.
I still don’t know if we went about our situation the right way and I know that there are people in our lives that will probably never understand what we went through with our daughters all because of one birth announcement that I made look like everything was fine. Though this is not our close friends and family, it is many people that I see fairly often, work colleagues and even people whose appointments we never turned up for.
Liam was intensely private through the whole experience and most of the time we were both too proud to ask for help. Some days though when Liam would be struggling at work I would want to scream, “do you know what he is going through?”
I even feel I did other parents of premature babies an injustice as I had portrayed an entirely rosie version of what the experience was like.
But I am finally content with all of this. We were coping the only way we knew how at the time. So even though I feel I could’ve been more transparent to the people around me about the real life experience of having premature babies, I’m not sure it really matters now we have two healthy children? I struggle to imagine (and frankly, don’t want to imagine) what it must be like to inform your friends and family of a child’s passing.
And I try to remind myself of this when I see a birth announcement. I no longer feel the ping of jealousy comparing it to the start to life that my daughters’ were given. Instead I pause and smile as I think of the ecstasy the parents must be feeling and I feel relief that everything is okay for them.
Afterall, this is how our new announcement reads:
Liam and Annie are happy to announce their 2.5 year old girls “Delphine Jane” and “Cheska Pippa” are thriving. Despite their rough start, they are now over 10kgs each and are healthy and happy.
Mum and Dad are doing well.