I was pregnant with twins and at 21 weeks I had a sudden unease about my condition and went down to the local hospital, expecting to be told I was just being silly. Unfortunately quite the opposite happened; I could tell from the doctor's face that everything was not ok. She told me that my membranes were leaking as she made arrangements for me to be admitted. Even then, I didn't quite understand what was going on until later that evening I was told that I was going to lose the babies and that there was nothing they could do. It was explained to us that I was likely to commence labour at any point, and at 21 weeks the babies had no chance of survival.
I was scheduled in to have surgery to have a stitch put in my cervix, was confined to bed as I was too terrified to move. I went into labour ten days later and was whisked up to the delivery ward, where patches were applied to my abdomen to try and stop it. I was distraught, I was still considered below the "viability threshold". Amazingly, after several hours, the labour pains subsided, but the stitch was removed the next morning and I was told to expect labour to begin at any point. A terrible ten days followed and then I was on the delivery ward with a recurring pattern of labour pains each afternoon which would continue for several hours until quite severe – even to the point where I was expected to deliver. The room would fill with midwives and neonatologists, but the labour would subside.
When I reached the 24 week point, I was given a steroid injection to help the babies’ lungs. The neonatologists remained pessimistic but Neil and I were counting the days, aiming to reach 26 weeks. This was not meant to be and at 24 weeks and three days I went into labour again and the twins were delivered. I didn't even get told their sex, I had to ask – twin one was a girl and twin two a boy. They transferred them into the travel incubators to move them to the NICU and I had the most fleeting of glances through the "portholes" of the incubator, but that is all I saw of them.
At about 2.00am, a call came in to say that our daughter was not likely to survive and did we want to come and say goodbye. I tried to get into a wheelchair but fainted and was made to get back into bed. Neil had to go alone, which must have been agonising for him. Eventually Neil returned to tell me that our daughter had rallied – another miracle. Later that morning the consultant neonatologist returned to tell us that the babies’ chances were 50/50.
Nothing prepares you for the first sight of the NICU – twelve babies, numerous monitors, constant bleeping and alarms. I didn't realise at this point, that this would become my second home for the next 22 weeks. We were told to prepare for the worst rollercoaster ride of our lives – and it was. We were told that the first 72 hours were critical and when these passed, I began to hope for the first time. However, our son, by then christened William, developed a serious infection and died at seven days old.
Our surviving child, Amelia, (Millie) had a very tough time. At three weeks her Patent Ductus Arteriosus (a common heart condition in preterm babies) wasn’t getting any better and she was lined up for surgery. After waiting several days, she was transferred to the specialist heart hospital and was successfully operated on.
She remained ventilated for six long weeks, and needed steroids to get her off it. We remained in intensive care for 16 weeks and during this time Millie had lots of health problems. We developed a ritual of wanting to stay till past 10.12pm (her time of birth) each evening, to celebrate her making it through another day. We spent all of every weekend at the hospital – in fact, our only time away was to attend William's funeral. The nurses became like extended family, they were an enormous support to me during some terrible times, they really are tremendous. Neil and I tried to show our appreciation in small ways by regularly bringing in cakes or treats for them. They encouraged me in so many ways – teaching me all about the equipment, explaining her condition and medications in great detail, showing me how to do 'kangaroo care', even bringing in magazines and teaching me to knit to pass the time!
Eventually after rooming in at the hospital for a couple of nights and exactly five months to the day she was born, we were allowed home on 24 hour oxygen. She still only weighted 6lbs.
Millie is now nine, she is doing extremely well and has never had to be readmitted to hospital. I can’t even think of the last time she was ill and she has never missed a day of school. She is a tall, happy, healthy and active child. Her teacher described her as a joy to teach and a positive role model for the rest of the class. She represents her school in a number of sports and had the great fortune to represent our borough at both tennis and squash in the 2014 London Youth Games.
Don’t give up hope, miracles really can happen.